Arthur hunches over his desk, his legs tucked under him and his pen in his hand. His notes on Brian Slade are a ragged mess in the corner. It doesn't matter; he's beyond needing them at this point. He already knows the story he intends to tell - that true, maddening story of promise, and of how that promise had soured, how Thomas Brian Stoningham Slade had ended by compounding one deceit upon another.
He also knows that this expose could well be the end of his career, such as it is. Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained - and he's done far too much work and been through far too much frustration to turn back now.
He leans back somewhat, rereads a passage. That old, familiar flush starts to warm his face, despite the fact that he is alone in his empty apartment. He has let himself get too sentimental and reveal too much of himself. A real artist creates beautiful things and puts nothing of his own life into them... He crosses that bit out. Too late, though: the self-doubt has already begun to creep back in, making him fidget and turn away to seek some distraction.
For a moment Arthur thinks of Curt. He is tempted to take the pin from the place of honour he has cleared for it on his desk, just to hold it, but that would be too pathetic even by his standards Besides, he has already done enough of that in the last few days, clutching it almost hard enough to stab his fingers, and daydreaming. He wonders whether - just maybe - he might see Curt again. He had said see you around...
Then Arthur pushes the thought away, as he has done a dozen times. This is not the distraction he needs right now. Besides, it's pointless to wonder about what is so obviously in the past. He has no business wasting any more of his life worrying about what might have been, had his ridiculous hopes actually amounted to anything, or second guessing what he might do to win favour from others. That's something else Arthur did enough of as an adolescent. Worse, he has hardly stopped doing it in the years since the Flaming Creatures broke up and he had been forced to sell his record collection (sell his soul, really) to return to school and to some semblance of a normal life.
That's part of why this Slade piece has been so fucking painful. It's not easy suddenly to find yourself staring in the face all the things you've tried for years to deny yourself. Still, Arthur likes to think that some good may come of all this. He's damned well going to try to put the two disparate halves of his life together in some way or other. Writing this piece just because it means something to him, and just because he wants to - needs it, really, like catharsis - is the first step. And maybe, in writing about something he loved, he might even end up finding something meaningful to do with himself.
More ridiculous hopes, Arthur thinks. The air in the apartment is stifling, despite the cold fall evening outside. He realizes that his throat is dry enough to hurt. He stands up, wincing at the pins-and-needles sensation in his legs, and steps into the kitchen. There's precious little to eat or drink, so he pours himself some water from the tap before reluctantly returning to his desk. It's been a long night.
It's going to be even longer before this article will be finished - and then he'll only just get to start the real work of finding some respectable paper or magazine to publish him. But he can't deal with that part tonight.
He puts his hand to his mouth, absently biting at the nail on his little finger and wondering what might come of this article. Nothing, most likely - how many people would really care or even read what he wrote? Or it might just attract Stone's attention and go horribly wrong for Arthur, he supposed, thinking of the glares that had been so unmistakable even at a distance of twenty feet and over the heads of dozens of other journalists and technicians and fans.
Still, it would be a shame to let one of his rare moments of courage go to waste. With an effort he returns his hands and his concentration to the notebook before him.
It's funny how things work, sometimes. For the first time in his life, with his article on Brian Slade making real waves in the right circles, Arthur may have achieved something noteworthy. It had taken him a while to find a magazine that would publish him, long enough that he had been close to giving up altogether, yet now he almost can't believe the reaction he has received. A number of other papers and magazines have actually picked up his story, enough to force one or two public denials out of Tommy Stone himself. Arthur has even had people recognize him from the headshot that accompanied his article, and stop to talk to him at other concerts that he was covering. That had been shocking, for someone like him, but nice too, in a way.
And what's really funny is that he might just get the opportunity to push his way back into Curt Wild's life, at least for an hour or two. It sounds surprisingly easy, with the editor of
the magazine he published with clamouring for a follow up - even suggesting that a full book on the subject might be feasible. But you need more material, he has been told. I know you're doing this on top of a day job, but you could call around some more, expand this. Did you try that Curt Wild? Lives here in New York...
So, as an added, terrifying bonus, Arthur once again has the pretext of an interview, the perfect excuse to try calling Curt - and it's not just an excuse. He really does need more
material. Still, he hesitates before making the call. It's a little pathetic how he has never, ever moved on from a one night stand ten years ago, how even the thought of approaching a great man like Curt still makes his palms sweat and his heart race. He can just imagine how inept he'll sound, again, like he did six weeks ago. The thought is almost enough to persuade him not to bother. Then, too, there's the fact that his piece has put Brian Slade back on the front page. That might not go over well with Curt, for any number of reasons. Arthur fully expects more of the hostility he had seen when he first tried to contact Curt weeks ago, rather than the tenderness and candour of their last off the record encounter after the Stone show. He hopes for the latter, of
course - well, really he hopes for more than that, but knows better on both counts. He's not even sure if Curt remembered him. He thinks so; why insist on giving him the pin if he hadn't recognized him from years ago? But Arthur knows that he can't have been very memorable then, just as he isn't now. He has, in fact, never been memorable or meaningful to anyone, in any way.
And yet, he does have Oscar Wilde's pin clipped to the front of his jacket. He sighs. Maybe a definite answer - even a biting rejection - would be better than more doubt. He already feels as if he has been thinking of calling Curt, trying to call Curt, working up the nerve to call, for days. It's pathetic. He has told himself a thousand times that he will grow some fucking backbone, yet somehow, it never really works - certainly not where Curt Wild is concerned.
Not this time, Arthur thinks. He makes the call, introduces himself and waits for Curt's reply. When Curt agrees almost immediately, Arthur has to bite his lip to keep from sighing or, perhaps, laughing out loud in relief.
Their appointment is quite late in the evening. Arthur is, after all, writing this piece on top of a real job which takes up enough of his time already. Just the same, he stops by his
apartment after work but before his meeting with Curt, showers, and ends up changing his shirt not just once but twice. Ridiculous, he knows. His stomach has been growing colder all evening, even though he has thought through exactly what he wants to say. His mouth is dry, too. He pours himself some water, nearly spilling it when he notices the stove clock and realizes that he is actually running late by now.
Arthur takes one last look in the bathroom mirror on his way out. As he does so, he tries to convince himself once more that he looks calmer than he is. Then he walks out the door, grateful that the bar where they are to meet is so close to his place.
Of course it would start to snow just now. When Arthur enters the bar, he is shivering slightly, and his hair and the collar of his shirt beneath his jacket are damp with melting snow. So much for looking presentable.
At first he thinks he has made it on time, at least, in spite of his nervousness and his counterproductive, self-sabotaging delaying. Then he turns to the quietest, emptiest corner of the bar and sees that Curt Wild is waiting for him. The sight of him makes Arthur's stomach twist, once again. Arthur reminds himself that he is a professional and
that he knows what he's doing (more or less); moreover, Curt agreed to this interview readily enough. He forces a smile and goes to join the older man.
"I'm sorry I'm a bit late," Arthur says, sitting down.
"It's fine," Curt says. "Arthur, right?"
Arthur nods. He sits up just a little straighter than he normally would, warmed by the mere fact of hearing his name used.
"Arthur Stuart. And I just want to say, thanks for agreeing to do this."
Curt gives him a half smile.
"I almost didn't," he says.
And then Arthur remembers that he is not in control at all; he can, in fact, hardly even think what to say in response to that particular comment. He bites his tongue, tries to be
professional. He has, after all, achieved the closest thing to success that he has seen in his life. But of course, he cannot pretend that that is the only reason why he's here.
"What changed your mind?" he asks, looking at Curt across the table.
Curt lights a cigarette, shrugging. Arthur notices that Curt looks just a little heavier, healthier. It's more appropriate to his build and it suits him. Off the drugs, Arthur thinks, with some satisfaction, before reminding himself just how uncalled for that is.
"A couple things," Curt says, bringing Arthur's mind back to the question he had asked. "At first I just figured some tabloid reporter had made the connection - the name you write under meant nothing to me. Then when other people started picking up on the story, I took a look at it, and recognized your headshot. You looked good, by the way."
Arthur feels his face flushing. He had been so keen to be discreet, and had tried so hard to protest when his editor had insisted on that damn picture. And now Curt Wild wants to talk to me - and, what, pick me up? - thanks to it...
"Thanks, I guess" Arthur says.
Curt shakes his head. "There's more to it, though." He looks down at the cigarette in his hand. "I just want you to know why I'm here."
He laughs, a harsh laugh that leaves Arthur confused and wondering what's coming next.
"For a while there I really thought I had misjudged you last time, and that you were just some son of a bitch trying to make a buck by dragging up other people's problems- until one of the guys in my band said I should actually read your article, and I liked what you had to say."
Silence falls. Curt inhales again; Arthur can't quite decide whether to smile or to try to maintain that thin veneer of disinterest. He racks his brain for something to say, rejecting another "why" or "thanks-I-guess", and at length decides that the best course may be to let Curt continue for a while.
"I thought you were smart, and I thought you really - get it. I guess you wanted to raise some hell, writing that, which is great-"
"I - wanted to make people think," Arthur says. Immediately he finds himself wishing he'd kept his mouth shut. I must sound so pretentious...
But Curt just smiles at him.
"Yeah. Close enough. I guess you remember that time in your own life..."
That touches a nerve. Arthur's heart begins to beat faster, irregularly. So much for professional disinterest, he thinks. He wishes he had a drink to soothe his dry throat, but doesn't dare turn away from Curt to order, and wishes he could ask the question that has been on his mind for so long, now, but finds that the words just won't come. Instead, he breathes in as deeply as he dares, seeking refuge in the purported point of this meeting.
"I really didn't want to damage Brian or his career," he begins, watching Curt's face closely. "In case you're still... close. But -"
"I understand," he says. "And believe me, I don't give a fuck about Brian or his career at this point."
His face hardens; Arthur is not sure if it is from pain or envy, or perhaps both.
"If anything, your brilliant article has just made him more famous than ever, for now," Curt adds. He takes another drag of his cigarette, holding it just a little too tightly between his fingers. Envy, Arthur thinks. He could apologize, but he's already been awkward enough tonight. Instead, he offers what he hopes is a reassuring smile.
"Well, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about, and all that," he says.
An answering smile - a real, radiant one - lights up Curt's face. He is absolutely breathtaking in that moment. Arthur wonders how he had ever looked away from him, and keeps staring at Curt's face even after the smile fades. It takes Arthur some time to realize that they're sitting in silence once again, and that he should say something to
bring the conversation back to his failed or failing interview.
"If you could tell me a bit about how things got to this point," he begins. Curt holds up a hand, cutting him off.
"I'm not done yet," he says. "I just want to say that I did remember you. I recognized you right away when we met last month or whenever it was."
A thrill runs through Arthur. His stomach is suddenly light - a floaty, almost dizzy feeling - even as some inane part of his mind thinks, Not right away. He ignores the
thought, and stares at Curt's face with wide eyes. "You -"
"Death of Glitter concert, ten years back. I recognized you but I probably gave you -" he hesitates - "pretty shitty closure last time we talked." He laughs. "You were really fucking sweet when you were young."
The word is like dischord in a song, jarring and distasteful. Sweet is definitely not what he has waited so long to hear - just when he had been beginning to feel almost desirable, almost okay.
"I was a lot younger back then," Arthur says. His face flushes even deeper. Stupid thing to say; that would be obvious... "Anyway, do you mind answering my questions?"
"No. Fine." Curt's voice is so rough, and his eyes are so intense, that Arthur can feel the hairs at the back of his neck beginning to prickle. The small, empty space between them is almost palpable. Arthur has to look away, now. For the umpteenth time, he wishes he
had could think of something smarter and more interesting to say. He can't tell if Curt is just trying to give him that closure he mentioned or if there is more to it than that; even if there is, he is, as always, too self-sabotaging and afraid to act on that. If only he had the courage to grab and snog this man right here, right now, or at least say something that would win him over...
"I just hope I didn't embarrass you or anything," Curt adds. Arthur glances up at him again. He is frowning, tilting his head slightly to look at his cigarette. For the first time Arthur realizes that this is awkward for him, too.
That's all he needs. He grins, suddenly reckless, as if a weight has lifted from him.
"Not a bit," he says. "Actually, I'm really glad that of the hundreds - or thousands - of people you must have slept with, you remember me."
Curt grins back at him.
"Tens of thousands," he says, reaching one hand across the table so that his fingers
just brush Arthur's wrist. Arthur shivers and edges closer. The bluff is so ridiculous that he almost wants to laugh.
"All right, then, tens of thousands."
Arthur knows that he can forget about getting any work done tonight. His heart is racing again, and the blood is beginning to flow to his groin. Once again, he is every bit the groupie teenager aching to touch the dream of his youth. He decides he doesn't care, and reaches for Curt's hand, tentatively.
Within a moment they have come together in a deep kiss, knocking the small table between them out of the way such that it scrapes several inches across the floor. The sound is as striking as the taste of cigarette smoke on Arthur's mouth and the feel of Curt's tongue running over his lips, demanding entry, penetrating him. Then Curt breaks the kiss as suddenly as it had begun. Arthur sighs. Reluctantly, he straightens the
table and looks around. They're as alone as can be expected, but just the same...
"I guess we can't do that here," he says.
"I guess the question is, your place or mine?" Curt counters. "Although I think you said when you called that this place was close to you."
Arthur had. He thinks of his shabby apartment and single bed, and once again finds himself at a loss for words.
"My place isn't anything much," he begins, then reminds himself that Curt Wild wants to come home with him. I should stop sabotaging myself, he thinks. "But I'm sure we could make do."
Arthur wakes up to the smell of cigarette smoke filling his bedroom. A smile spreads across his face, slowly. For a moment he closes his eyes again and thinks of the previous night - the look on Curt's face, the ragged need in his voice, the way he had whispered nonsense in Arthur's ear while fucking him. You're so hot. You're so
beautiful. Every nerve in Arthur's body had been awake, reminding him of how dull the rest of his life was, how he had hardly ever been properly alive before, except for a few hours on a rooftop a long time ago.
He lies there for as long as he can before finally opening his eyes and sitting up. For a moment he does not even want to look at Curt for fear of the awkwardness that he knows will ensue, and of the stark certainty that Curt will just walk out of his life again. He
pushes the thought away.
"Hey," he says, "I hope I didn't wake you or anything."
Curt turns to look at him.
"Nah, it's fine - although you were right."
Arthur hopes he is not imagining the warmth in the other man's voice. "Right about what?"
"You really don't have a lot of space here. Or a lot of records or anything."
"I, um, sold most of them," Arthur replies before he can think. "I - needed the money."
He winces, imagining how this will sound. Still, he supposes that any interaction is better than none, and is relieved to see Curt shrug his shoulders.
"Sad," he says. "Anyway, I can take you home to my place next time. If you want there to be a next time." He grins wickedly. "I think you still need to finish that interview."
The words are almost too much for Arthur's tired mind to comprehend. He stifles a laugh.
"Yes, definitely - to both of those."
Their eyes meet. Curt takes a step closer, cupping Arthur's face in his hand and pulling him down to kiss him. For a moment Arthur feels almost as real and as alive as he had the night before; when they break apart, he can't keep himself from smiling like an idiot.
"What's your phone number?" Curt asks. "Here, not at your work. I'll call you."
"Great." Arthur gives him the number, then pulls Curt even closer.
"I've still got a bit of time now, though."