Here’s another excerpt to whet your appetite this time from Chapter Two of “Blue Notes.”
Note: Pre-publication excerpt, may differ from final publication
BACK at the apartment several hours later, Jason sat on the chaise portion of the sleek, Italian sectional (another of Rosalie’s sophisticated touches) and checked his e-mail, while Jules prepared dinner in the kitchen. Jules had insisted on cooking, and Jason—knowing that the kid saw this as a way to thank him for his generosity—had obliged. They had stopped at a small supermarket on the way back, where Jason had let Jules select the ingredients for their meal. Now, as the smell of butter and shallots wafted from the kitchen to the living room, Jason pondered whether he should ask Jules to spend the night again.
It’s already getting late, he told himself as he gazed out onto the dark street. Tomorrow, I’ll send him on his way. As soon as he made the decision, he felt better: in control again, as he preferred to be.
DINNER was delicious and quite simple: chicken breasts in a delicate cream sauce, pureed vegetables, a leafy salad with Jules’s homemade vinaigrette and, of course, the obligatory bread and cheese to follow. For his part, Jason had purchased several bottles of wine, choosing the white Pouilly-Fumé with its dry, smoky flavor to pair with the chicken. John Coltrane’s classic jazz album, Blue Train, played softly in the background. But for the fact that his companion was a man, Jason was reminded of the intimate dinners he and Diane had shared when they had first dated. They talked about less personal things this time—of how Coltrane’s style had changed after he’d quit drugs, of trends in jazz and classical music, and of the difference between French and American cuisines. Jules surprised Jason with his understanding of each subject and his wit. There was no mistaking that Jules had lived on the rough streets of the Paris suburbs, but it was just as clear that Jules had transcended his difficult surroundings.
Over coffee, Jules asked Jason about the recent negotiations in the US Congress over the budget, easily comparing the American system of governance to the French parliamentary system. They discussed the latest French political sex scandal, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and its implications for the US military, and the financial crisis in the European Union. During, and even after the dinner, Jules did not flirt with Jason, although Jason found it difficult to separate Jules’s outgoing personality with some of his more flamboyant behavior. Agreeing with little comment that Jules would spend one more night in the guest bedroom, the two men cleared the table, Jason insisting on doing the dishes over Jules’s vocal protests.
The dishes done, they returned to the living room, and Jason settled back onto the couch. Jules pulled out his neon violin case and asked, “Mind if I play a little?”
“You kidding?” Jason replied. “I’d love to hear you play.”
Jules grinned and clicked open the fiberglass case, pulling his bow out first, tightening and rosining the hairs, then picking up the violin and planting it beneath his chin. He closed his eyes to tune the instrument and opened them again to ask, “What should I play for you?”
Jason had not been expecting the question. “I don’t know,” he shrugged. “I guess something that you love to play.”
“D’accord,” replied Jules, his mismatched eyes glittering in anticipation. “Bach. Sonata no. 2 in A Minor.”
The choice surprised Jason, but he said nothing, instead propping a pillow behind his head and leaning further back against the sofa. Jules took a deep breath and closed his eyes once more, gently laying bow to string and beginning the opening phrases with their insistent, rhythmic repetition sounding below the melodic line. The simplicity of the piece was both stunning and heart wrenching. Each phrase built upon the next, rising in intensity and in pitch. It reminded Jason of a prayer, powerful in its stark beauty, and he heard Jules’s soul poured out into every note. And then it was over, and Jason was left sitting in silence, staring at Jules as he had in the club, transfixed.
“Well? What did you think?” asked Jules.
The words woke Jason from his reverie. “That was… beautiful, Jules.” There were tears in his eyes, and yet he could not put into words why the music had so stirred his heart. In that moment, he saw the boy in a different light—no, “boy” definitely was not the right word—the look in Jules’s eyes was anything but childlike.
What are you thinking, Greene? he asked himself. You’re letting this get away from you.
Jules rested the violin and bow on the case and sat down next to Jason. He hesitated for a moment, watching the older man with uncomfortable intensity, then reached for Jason and brushed a single tear from his cheek. For Jason, the touch was electric, and his physical response unexpected.
“Bach always touches my soul,” Jules half whispered. His fingers still rested against Jason’s cheek. “He must have known great love, and great pain, to write something so powerful.”
Jason realized that his own pain must be showing on his face, because Jules, too, looked sad.
“I’ve never been religious,” Jules said, his eyes never leaving Jason’s, “but I played this piece in a tiny church once. It was like God was there with me, speaking through me.”
When Jason remained silent, Jules leaned forward and kissed him lightly on the lips. At a loss to explain the intense emotional and sexual response of his own body and equally unable to stop himself, Jason reached for Jules and returned the kiss. The younger man’s lips tasted of wine and musk, and Jason realized that he was hungry for more.
What are you doing? With this thought, he pulled abruptly away from Jules, stared at him for a moment, then frowned and stood up. His heart pounded in his chest and he felt dizzy. You’re straight, remember?
“I’m sorry,” he mumbled, his throat dry. “I shouldn’t have… I’m tired. I’m going to sleep.”
“Of course,” Jules said, appearing to be just as stunned by their brief embrace as Jason was.
IT TOOK Jason nearly an hour to fall asleep, and even then, his sleep was restless. He could not fathom his reaction to Jules’s music, at first telling himself (as he had before) that his response could be blamed on alcohol and jet lag. And yet he knew that he was only denying the truth: he was attracted to the younger man. In that moment, he had wanted Jules. He had wanted to feel Jules’s body against his own. He had wanted all of him.
It’s not as if you’ve never considered what it might be like with a man.
The vague memory of Robbie Jansen’s blue eyes, the feel of the other boy’s chest under his fingers, a high school party and the drunken hand job afterward in a friend’s basement came to mind. It had felt damn good, but then it hadn’t happened again, either. It had just been easier to be with women—they had always been plentiful and eager. Still, he couldn’t help but recall the feel of his lips on Jules’s and the scent of his skin.
Damn, he smelled good.
At last his mind slipped into sleep, succumbing to his body’s deep exhaustion.