I was practically ordered by my department chair to do it. God knows I didn't want to. She reminded me, however, that I was up for both tenure and promotion to associate professor, and refusing to do this wouldn't look good.
I told her I wasn't an accompanist, for Christ's sake! I'm a soloist and a teacher, not some goddamned second fiddle to a fiddler.
Okay, I'd better back up. I'm Scott Wainwright. I'm 30. I teach piano at the conservatory of music of a pretentious little college in Ohio. How'd I wind up here? Well, I graduated from Juilliard. Everyone knows that the very best from Juilliard go on to concert careers. The rest of us, good as we may be, usually go somewhere and take an MFA and wind up teaching somewhere. My MFA is from Peabody. Not a bad place, but not Juilliard, either. I have no illusions about being on the international concert tour. But I have done guest gigs with some of the second echelon orchestras in this country and Canada. And I have a few (too few) promising students here in Bumfuck, Ohio, 30 miles west of Cleveland.
It's a tiny town. No social life. I have to drive to Cleveland to find a gay bar. As with any music department or "conservatory," some of my colleagues are gay. There's a really cute guy in the theatre department and another hunk in the art department. Oh, and there's that forty-something in the English department. But we don't mix. Each of us leads his own quietly desperate existence here on the frozen plains a few miles south of Lake Erie.
Actually, I don't mix much with anybody. I have my music and my students. If you don't open yourself up to others, you don't run so much risk of being hurt. Consequently, I've developed a reputation for being crusty, even misanthropic. The reputation is deserved, I suppose, but it's not true. At least about the misanthropy.
Anyway, when Eugenie DuPuy came to my studio and told me she wanted me to accompany Joel Michaels in his next faculty recital, I bristled. As I've said, I told her I wasn't some goddamned accompanist. I didn't dislike Michaels particularly, and I'd always thought the little fucker was cute. Only a couple of years younger than me, he looked like a twink. But I just wasn't about to take a back seat to him. Or to anyone.
You know, they say that one of the great joys of chamber music is being able to create music together, to work with others to make something beautiful. Okay, call me a rampant egotist, I play for myself. Sometimes, I admit, there's that scintillating moment when I feel I have made a three-way connection between the composer, the audience, and me. But I'm not an ensemble player, even if it's an ensemble of two.
Then, when Eugenie told me Joel wanted to do two Beethoven sonatas, that was the last straw.
"My god, Eugenie! There's such a vast, rich repertoire of music for violin and piano out there, what's he trying to prove? We're in the twenty-first century, and he's trying to pretend the twentieth never happened?"
She smiled. "Scott, Joel has the rest of his life to explore the violin repertoire. At this moment he wants to perform an all-Beethoven recital, and I see nothing wrong with that."
"But why me?" I moaned.
She smiled. "Surely you know the answer to that."
Despite myself, I grinned back at her. "Yes, but I want you to tell me."
"You know, I must stroke egos all the time as part of this job. But you, jeune homme, have the ego le plus grand of them all. I want you for Joel because he is the best young violinist we have, perhaps the best in the Middle West. And you, Scott, cher, are, bien sur, the best pianist we have."
"If I'm so good, why must I play back-up? I didn't train to do doo-wops to his lead."
She laughed merrily at that. "Oh, Scott, you are le drôle." Then she became serious. "But, as one says in this country, let us cut to the chase. You will soon be considered for promotion and for tenure. You need to show that you are a 'team player,' n'est-ce pas?"
"Peut etre, mon cher, mais . . . ." Switching to English, she continued, "But you will do this. For yourself, for me, for the beautiful music you and Joel will make together. You can make la belle musique ensemble . . . tous les deux." She paused and looked at me with her purple eyes (enhanced with a delicate amount of eye shadow of the same color). "You will do this, will you not?"
What could I say? The elegant Eugenie, my boss, had me by the balls. Besides, she had brought me to the conservatory, had stood up for me when I'd had moments of "artistic temperament" in the past. If I wanted to get on in my job, I knew I was going to smile, subordinate my own inclinations, and make nice with Joel Michaels.
By this time you probably dislike me thoroughly. Well, join the crowd. An only child and always a disappointment, I'd been completely rejected by my parents since I finally came out to them when I graduated from Juilliard. I'd known since I was 14 that I was gay, and I'd fooled around with several guys in middle school and high school in Springfield, Illinois, where my dad was a successful lawyer and, though he never mentioned it, I think a part-time lobbyist for the NRA.
My mother and father were not impressed that I had musical talent. I had dad's build. He played football at SIU before going on to Northwestern Law. I have the same 6'2" 180-pound body he had as a young man. I'm blond, like him, even sharing his blue eyes. I think the musical talent and whatever sensitivity I have came from my mother. (Yeah, yeah, I heard that crack about my sensitivity.) But she was so much under his thumb that if he was unhappy, she would be, too.
Anyway, when it became apparent that I really did have musical talent, they agreed to my lessons, even to my going to Juilliard. I think they just decided to bite the bullet and make the best of having a son who was "artistic" rather than "normal."
It was the gay thing that was the last straw. I'm now persona non grata at home. Since I have no siblings or cousins, in effect I have no family. Well, fuck 'em. So be it. Who needs them?
I suppose by now all you armchair shrinks are having a field day. Well, all I can say is to stay with me. You'll no doubt figure out what's going to happen here before I tell you, so you can say "I told you so" at the end.
Anyway, the day soon came that I had to meet with Joel. I should tell you that he had studied at Eastman-Rochester and then, miracle of miracles, had been taken on as a student of Perlman. No question, the guy was good.
The morning after Eugenie gave me my "assignment," the phone in my studio rang.
"Scott, it's Joel. How are you this morning?"
"Uh, I'm okay, Joel. How about you?"
"I'm fine. And I'm grateful you're going to help me out with this recital."
'Help him out,' huh? That was a nice way of putting it.
"Yeah, well . . . ."
"I realize it's a sacrifice of time and energy on your part, and I'm really pleased you're willing do to it. Do you suppose we could get together sometime today to talk about the pieces I've selected?"
"I have lessons all afternoon, Joel. I suppose we could get together after supper."
"Shall I come to your studio?"
"Sure, if you want. What about 7:30?"
"Uh, that's fine, Scott. See you then."
When he got there, Joel's cheeks, nose, and ears were red from the cold. He was wearing jeans, ankle-high leather work boots, with a black sweater under his leather jacket.
About 5'9", he had dark, curly hair, and dark eyes. He had a slight build and, I noticed when he set his violin case down, a cute little ass.
"Scott, when I asked Eugenie if you could be my collaborator on this recital, she wasn't sure you'd be willing to do it. I want you to know I'm really glad you agreed."
I didn't tell him that I had been practically coerced into it. If we were going to play together, we needed to get off on the right foot, so I mumbled something about looking forward to it.
That first evening we didn't play much. We went over the scores of the two sonatas he'd picked. He explained to me how he wanted to approach each movement. Occasionally he'd pick up the fiddle and illustrate what he meant, and once or twice we ran through a passage together. I must say I was impressed from the beginning with his insights into the music.
We got together often after that. In my studio, of course. (There was a piano in his studio, but it wasn't as good as mine.)
I was fascinated to watch him play. I've never been one to admire "choreography" from musical performers. You know what I mean. Lenny B. danced all over the podium as he conducted, and that's simply not necessary. Glenn Gould wiggled all over the piano bench and hummed (off pitch, yet) as he played. I'm of the sit-still-and-play-it school. Obviously Joel wasn't. He stood with his knees slightly bent and rocked from side to side, often twisting his body. As I've said, I don't usually approve of that sort of thing, but on him it looked good. Even though he was in his late twenties, he looked very boyish. He always had a sparkle in his eyes, he was always enthusiastic. In the weeks we spent preparing, he never seemed to have a down day, was never depressed by the cold, gray weather, indifferent students, faculty meetings, or, apparently, me.
You know what's coming. Yeah. I began to look forward to playing with him. Oh, we argued over phrasing, tempi, dynamics. We both knew that eventually I'd have to play it his way if he insisted, but that didn't keep me from telling him what I thought. And I've never learned to be tactful. Once in a while he'd accept my suggestions, and we'd both mark our scores.
One evening our session had been particularly intense, and we were both a little pissed with each other. It's hard not to be that way when two egos (and all musicians have them) clash over something they both believe passionately. When we had finished that difficult session, Joel put away his instrument, ever so carefully, as always, and came over and sat beside me on the bench. He put his arm around my shoulders.
"Big guy, this would be a good time for me to say again how happy I am that you're doing this recital with me." With that he gave me a kiss on the cheek. I sat there flabbergasted while he slipped into his coat, grabbed his violin, and left.
What did that mean? Looking back, I'm surprised, but I don't think I had considered whether Joel was gay or not. I mean, I know lots of musicians who might be thought gay by the straight populace but who were in fact totally hetero themselves. With his wiry body, longish hair, and enthusiastic manner, yeah, I suppose he could be taken for gay. But I have no gaydar. I'm dubious that such a thing as gaydar exists. So I was still in a quandary. Besides, the kiss probably didn't mean anything. Musicians are a touchy-feely bunch, after all.
From that night on, however, I looked at Joel differently.
One evening when we had been working together for a couple of weeks, perhaps three, he asked me to come by his place for a drink. It had been a smooth session, and I felt we were beginning to gel.
"Sure, I guess so, Joel, why not?"
"Great, let me just drop the fiddle off at my studio."
His apartment was the second floor of an old house in the southwest part of town. When we got there, he took my coat and hung it on an old-fashioned coat stand inside the door.
"How about a cognac?"
He brought the drinks in little snifters. I swirled mine around, took a whiff and then a sip. "Joel, this is the good stuff!"
He smiled and said, "I'm glad you like it, Scott. Does kind of take the cold off, doesn't it?"
"Yeah, man. In the nicest way."
"Listen, I hate to bring up the recital, but I've been meaning to ask you which order we should use for the two sonatas."
He had chosen the number 7 in c minor and the Kreutzer, number 9 in A major. "Well, there's the theory that you put the more difficult piece first and do something lighter afterward."
"Yeah, but I think I'd rather finish with the Kreutzer."
I took another sip of the cognac. "That would get my vote."
Again, that radiant smile. "Great! I'm relieved you agree."
"Well, Joel, you know it's your recital. I'd go along with whichever way you wanted. But you asked."
"Look, Scott, it's OUR recital. The piano is extremely important in the Beethoven sonatas, and, like I said from the beginning, I'm so glad we're working together on this."
I had to admit to myself that Joel was a brilliant violinist, the best I'd ever played with, not that there had been that many, given my reluctance to be an accompanist.
I held my glass up to him in a toast and said, "Here's to a successful gig."
He grinned, held up his glass, and drank.
After that we talked. We talked shop. You know, faculty politics, students, colleagues, music. And he kept pouring more cognac.
Then somehow he managed to ask me why I was such a tough case. Oh, he didn't put it that directly, but that's what he wanted to know. And, do you know, I found myself telling him? About growing up gay in a homophobic community with the king and queen of homophobes for parents. About deciding at an early age to rely on myself. About being afraid to get close to anyone for fear of being hurt.
I was drunk and getting maudlin. I had never told anyone all that stuff, and I wasn't sure why I was telling Joel. But he did make a good listener, smiling, frowning, nodding in all the right places.
Sometime after midnight, I realized I had a long walk back to my apartment on the other side of town.
"Joel, I'm sorry I dumped all that on you. I don't know what came over me." Then I grinned. "Besides that excellent cognac, of course."
He peered into my face. "Scott, you shouldn't go home tonight. It's really cold out there, and it's a long trek to your place. Why don't you stay here? You can have my bed, and I'll sleep here on the couch."
"No, thas all right," I said, swaying a bit as I did.
"It's not all right, my friend. We can't have a distinguished member of the conservatory faculty wandering the streets drunk in the wee small hours on a frigid night, can we?"
"Well, at leas' let me use the couch. I don' wanna put you outta your bed."
He grinned. "Okay, big guy. Sit down there and take off your shoes. I'll go get you a blanket."
By the time I got my shoes off and stretched back on the sofa, which was fortunately long enough to accommodate my frame, I was practically asleep. The last thing I remember is Joel covering me with a blanket. Then I'm almost certain he kissed my forehead. But perhaps I dreamed that.
I woke up to the smell of coffee and looked at my watch. It was 8:00. I had to pee. I had a hard-on but no hangover, thank god. Throwing the blanket back, I sat up, looking around, bleary eyed.
Joel came into the living room from the kitchen. "I hope you feel better than you look."
"Yeah, I'm okay, Joel. Thanks for letting me crash here."
"No problem. I've got a student coming in at 8:30, so I've got to go. There's orange juice in the fridge, coffee in the pot, and cinnamon buns on the table. Help yourself. When you leave, just pull the door closed behind you and it will lock."
"Oh, okay. Thanks, Joel. And I apologize for laying all that stuff on you last night. I don't know what came over me."
He smiled, put his hand on my shoulder for a moment, and said, "Maybe I inveigled it out of you. Anyway, Scotty, I'm flattered you trusted me enough to tell me. And I feel like I know you a lot better now. Gotta run. See you Thursday for our next session?"
"Yeah. Thanks again."
"Scotty?" Were this guy and I becoming friends? I guessed after opening up like that to him the night before, I was using him like a friend. But I didn't have friends. Didn't want friends. Didn't want to be hurt. But I didn't want to hurt Joel by pushing him away, either. Oh, god, what was I going to do?
At the next rehearsal things went as usual, mostly. He did manage to suggest rather tactfully that I was being a bit heavy-handed on parts of the "andante con variazioni" that made up the second movement of the Kreutzer. Two weeks earlier I'd have bridled and dug in my heels, but what the hell, it was his time to shine, so I lightened up. You should have seen the smile he gave me when I played it the way he wanted.
The last week's rehearsals were in the conservatory recital hall so we could get used to the hall's acoustic and I could get used to the concert grand there.
When two musicians play together, they must watch each other constantly. Since most of the time I was taking cues from him, I was paying attention to him, either out of the corner of my eye when I was looking at the music or directly when I wasn't. After that evening at Joel's apartment I often caught him looking at me when he didn't need to be. He was always studying my face, not my hands, and whenever he'd catch me looking at him, he'd smile. Each time he did that, I was momentarily disconcerted (no pun intended) by the unfamiliar warm feeling I got inside. It got so I had to avoid looking him in the face so he didn't distract me from the music. I wondered if the little fucker was doing it on purpose. But knowing he wouldn't do anything to mess up our performance, I decided he just didn't understand the effect he was having on me.
The night of the recital when I first saw Joel backstage in his tails, my breath caught for a moment. He was so adorable! He came over to me, reached up to put a hand on either side of my face, kissed me quickly on the lips, and said, "We're going to show these people how Beethoven should be done, aren't we babe?"
Flustered, I gave him what must have been a goofy grin and said something profound, like "Yeah!"
But we did show 'em. Joel's performance was flawless, masterly, and the audience comprised mostly of conservatory students and faculty knew what they'd just heard. They gave us a very rare standing ovation.
The conservatory has a tradition of no encores at faculty and student recitals. As we left the stage after our final bow, Joel put his arm around my waist, and we walked side by side backstage.
"Scott, thank you! I don't know what else to say, man, but it couldn't have been better, and I couldn't have done it without you."
"Bullshit, Joel. You're a brilliant musician. I'm glad Eugenie kicked my surly butt into doing this."
"We have to go accept the accolades now, but would you come back to my place afterward for a private celebration, just the two of us?"
I grinned. "Yes, I'd like that."
A radiant Eugenie came up to us as we entered the room where the reception was being held. "Ah, mes chers, you were both formidable, perfect together. It was ravissant!"
Joel put his arm around my waist again and said, "Eugenie, I can't thank you enough for persuading the grumpy bear here to do the recital with me. It turns out he has a soul, as I found out when we first began working on these sonatas, and as everyone else found out tonight."
She kissed Joel and then she kissed me. Twinkling at us, she said, "Now, jeunes hommes, go accept your kudos."
We spent a half an hour having our hands shaken and being congratulated on our performance. Neither of us had time to get any of the finger foods or wine provided by the conservatory on such occasions. Since it was a weeknight, however, people began to drift away, as they had to be up and in classes or lessons the next morning.
When the crowd began to thin out, Joel hugged some well-wishers and then came over to me. "Ready to go now, Scotty? I've got a surprise back at the apartment."
"Not more of that too-good cognac, I hope."
He chuckled. "Not unless you want some. This is a little different."
We scooted out the side door, went to the parking lot, and jumped into his car. We were at his place in five minutes.
Upstairs, he took our overcoats and put them on that hall tree. We stood there looking at each other. I admired him once again in his tails. He was breathtaking.
"Come to the kitchen with me?" He held out his hand. Bemused, I took it. In the kitchen, he opened the refrigerator and took out a bottle of Moet et Chandon Brut Imperial. With the finesse of someone who'd done it many times, he popped the cork and poured the champagne into two flutes. Handing me one, he led me back to the living room. Then he touched his glass to mine.
"To many more successful collaborations."
I grinned. "I'll drink to that."
It was an unforgettable moment, one I'd never have believed possible a few weeks ago. There we stood, the two of us alone in Joel's apartment wearing full formal wear and drinking a champagne toast to playing together again. I was sipping the very fine bubbly and pondering all that when Joel set his glass down and said "Be right back." He went to the kitchen, brought the bottle into the living room in a bucket, and put it on the coffee table. We removed our jackets and then sat, rehashing our performance and the comments we'd received afterward, in a glow that was partly produced by the champagne, partly by the rush that always comes when you've played well in public and know it.
When the champagne was gone, I looked at him and said, "I suppose I had better go."
"Scotty, do you want to go?"
"Well, I, uh . . . ."
"I'll take that as a no." He stood, held his hand out for mine, and pulled me up. He led me to the bedroom, where he toed off his patent-leather slip-ons. I had to sit on the bed to remove my lace-up shoes. Then I stood, facing him. Looking me in the eye, smiling, he removed my waistcoat. I removed his. Then, still smiling, still looking into my eyes, he pushed my braces off my shoulders and began removing the studs from my shirt. I stood there as if paralyzed, looking back at his beautiful face. When he had finished removing the studs, he had me put them in my pocket so I wouldn't lose them. Then we had an opera buffo moment when he couldn't get my shirt off over my hands. He laughed, removed the cuff links, and then took off my shirt. I raised my arms, and he pulled my undershirt over my head.
He looked me up and down. "As I suspected, Scott, you are magnificent," he said.
I've never been good at accepting compliments, so I simply smiled at him and removed his waistcoat. I then followed what he had done and removed his shirt studs. They were garnets, I noticed, and I thought them the most wonderful studs I'd ever seen. I avoided his mistake and, after shoving his suspenders down, removed the matching garnet links from his cuffs before trying to take his shirt off. Then I removed his undershirt and stood back, admiring the musculature of his upper body. He wasn't big in the chest, but he had well-developed triceps, biceps, and abs. His chest was covered with curly black hair, and it looked as if he was the same below the belt.
As I stood there silently admiring him, he asked, "Not too disappointed?"
"Far from it, stud!"
He unfastened the catch of my trousers, unzipped them, and let them fall, leaving me in my black silk boxers. I stepped out of the trousers and picked them up. He took them, folded them neatly, and put them on a hanger. Then he came back to face me. I released the button on his trousers, unzipped them, and watched eagerly as they dropped to the floor. He, too, was wearing black silk boxers. We chuckled over the coincidence as he hung up his pants and put them in the closet.
By that time both our cocks were tenting our boxers, and I could hardly contain my desire for him. We used his bathroom and then collapsed into his bed. I was exhausted and exhilarated, giddy, perhaps. Until that night I had never been completely sure that Joel was gay. I hadn't had sex with anybody in a year or more. I was ready, but savvy enough to know not to rush things.
We spent an hour just rubbing and feeling and licking each other. He was a cute little bear, and I had lots of fun nuzzling the hair on his chest and stomach. As we kissed, I loved running my fingers through his tight curls. He said he admired my relatively hairless body, with its patch of blond hair between my pectorals and the pubes I always kept trimmed.
Our sex that night wasn't mind-blowing and passionate. It was slow and gentle, I'd have to say loving. When, after all the stroking, kissing, licking, and nibbling, I asked him to fuck me, he didn't bat an eye. I'd never been much of a bottom, but that night it was what I needed.
"If that's what you want, big guy, you shall have it!" Have it I did. Impaled on him, I felt more at home than I'd ever felt.
When he came, I still hadn't come yet, but I didn't care. Joel collapsed onto me, kissing me hungrily. After he softened, he pulled out of me and removed the condom. Then the adorable genius who had just played what Eugenie had described as "ravishing" Beethoven crawled between my legs and took my still throbbing member into his mouth.
"Joel, you don't need to do that."
"But I want to, Scotty."
It didn't take long.
"Oh, baby, I'm about there," I said, so he could pull away. He didn't. He just kept sucking, and soon I exploded into his mouth.
Then he stretched out along side me and kissed me, allowing my seed to mix with the saliva in both our mouths. I think he knew exactly what he was doing just then. Sharing our cum symbolized our union.
The next morning when I woke up, he was lying there smiling, just looking at me.
"Good morning, Scotty."
"Good morning, Joel."
"That was some collaboration we had last night, wasn't it?"
"Think we should continue to collaborate?"
I pulled him close to me and stuck my nose into his hair. He smelled wonderful. "Yes, petit maître , I think we still have a lot of music to make."