After shooting a man while on a bender of drugs he was supposed to sell Conrad flees the city and goes to a place where he believes no one will find him, the home of Simon Winters, an old cellmate from his years in juvenile detention. But he knows he can’t stay for long and Conrad’s greed inadvertently causes Simon to confront his past and his life in a small town where memories run deep. How will Simon survive Conrad’s path to darkness?
Saturday morning, Kevin walked to Thad’s photography studio located on Main Street. He was dressed in a pair of slacks, button down shirt with tie, and sweater, but he wore sneakers. Thad hadn’t told him what he needed help with but he wanted to look professional. He imagined it would be a lot of getting babies to look in specific directions, maybe a couple family portraits. He pulled open the front door and stepped inside to find a teenage boy, obviously younger than himself, sitting patiently in the waiting area but there was no one at reception. There never was, Thad said he couldn’t afford to hire someone, and that’s when he made the obvious connection. He looked to the door that led into the photography area, held up his finger to the young man, and walked to the counter where he saw a sheet with a list of names and times.
“Are you Bryan?” Kevin asked.
“Yes, I’m early.”
“No problem, I think I’m late. Just let me check with the photographer.”
The photographer? God, he was overdoing it to sound professional, especially in this town, he thought. Kevin put the list back on the counter and opened the door, looked back to Bryan who winced with anxiety, and left him there. There was a small hallway, a door for the printing room, another for supplies, which he passed until he was in the actual studio area, a large space that had been converted from a general store. In the middle of the room there was all of the equipment needed for portraits and Thad in the middle of it, slightly panicked.
“Oh good you’re here,” Thad said.
“Yeah,” Kevin said before stepping closer.
“There’s someone out in the waiting area, they’re early. Could you deal with it?”
“No problem, I’ll tell them ten minutes.”
“Perfect,” Thad said.
Kevin watched for a moment as the normally calm man double checked everything before turning away and walking back to the waiting area but this time through the door to the receptionist area where he turned on a light. The small area was suddenly illuminated but it only made it look sadder as there was little there, shelves and surfaces were empty. He grimaced at the sight before looking out to Bryan who looked back at him expectantly.
A year or two younger, with glasses and acne, Bryan could have been his friend in high school. If Bryan had been in the theater department, he thought, even then he probably would have worked on the set. He probably wouldn’t have believed in himself enough to try for a part. Even now, as he sat there staring back there was an air or desperation about him, an uncomfortable presence. Gay or straight? Kevin thought he would be straight and slightly homophobic because everyone, even relatives, assumes he’s gay because he talks more about computers than girls. Kevin suppressed a laugh at his own joke and cleared his throat.
“The photographer will be ten more minutes. I guess you’re early after all. He has to let the lights warm up.” Was that a thing? He shrugged his shoulders, it had to be something he overheard Thad say sometime. “I might be able to find something for you to read if you’re bored.”
“No, that’s okay,” Bryan said before pulling his phone from his pocket.
Kevin looked away to the chair and the desk. He could tell easily that the chair would need to be adjusted if he wanted to use the desk. He shook his head. There were intentions. And disappointments. He turned the chair, dusted it with his hand, and sat. He looked up at the backside of the counter and he could barely see Bryan’s eyes on the other side. He groaned and stood, looked down to the chair, to Bryan who was preoccupied with his phone, to the list, the phone, and back to the chair.
“This is going to be a long day,” he said.
“So how was it? Senior class pictures can be a bit of a drag but it’s good money. I bet you’re feeling like I owe you more than a piece of pizza and twenty bucks.”
The sweater in his lap, Kevin looked back to Thad who was putting away the equipment and sighed. His instinct was to say something sarcastic but he stopped himself. It had been a long day but strangely rewarding. For once he looked at the people younger than himself, the high school students, as something outside of himself, something he could no longer identify with because he didn’t worry about the same things, have the same desires or expectations. They worried about how they looked and that this image would be so meaningful, a measure of their life.
He didn’t have those worries, not exactly. He had been through a year of college, had an internship, was saving money, and there was Thad. He was working with these high school students as a photographer’s assistant, maybe if he did it a few more times, asked some questions it could be something he put on his resume. But there was something else, their secret. They were lovers of a sort, a couple. Were they a couple, he asked himself. No, there was no commitment there, just limited options.
“It’s not like I had anything better to do,” Kevin said.
Thad looked to him.
“No that’s not how I meant it. I’m sorry, it’s just kind of weird being your assistant. You know, working for you. And they’re all from my high school. Some of them probably know who I am even if I don’t know who they are.”
“You’re that famous?”
“Well, when you beat the hell out of three football players in a locker room... but, I’m not one to brag.”
“It’s a long story,” Kevin said.
“You’ll have to tell me someday,” Thad said. “Sorry if it was boring but thanks for helping me. I had quite the night and I was running late this morning.”
“No problem,” Kevin said. “I was guessing who was gay and straight all day.”
“I used to play that game.”
“So why were you late anyway?”
“Oh, uh, no big deal, just my ex-boyfriend called me last night. His father died and it was kind of a surprise. No one really expected it. We just got to talking.”
Kevin felt his stomach sinking as Thad talked. He wasn’t sure if he regretted asking Thad the question or if he should dismiss somehow, forget about it.
“It’s kind of crazy when you get to talking with someone and you realize it’s been years. I hadn’t really thought about it for some time. I mean it’s like I enjoyed everything about getting older but then someone dies, an ex calls, and it’s like bam, this is life. But, anyway, it’s not something to really talk about right now. Where do you want to eat? Or do you want to go back to my place?”
“Let’s go back to your place,” Kevin said.
“Yeah sure,” Kevin said.
Together they closed the studio and walked out the side exit, down the alley to the parking lot where they got into Thad’s car. Kevin looked around but there was no one to see him, to see them. He had been known as the town queer since high school and his very public outing but for Thad a reputation could be ruined. Would those high school guys feel comfortable with a gay photographer? Would their parents? It’s not like he was in the closet but there were no rainbow flags, no visibility.
They drove to Thad’s home, a Victorian style house that looked too big for one man, too expensive. Anywhere else, Kevin told himself, but this town is going down the tubes and property value with it. He probably got it for a steal, he thought every time he saw it. He pushed open his car door and looked back to Thad who seemed to have everything he needed in his hands. He followed the man up the stairs and to the front door. Thad stopped to check the mail. Kevin looked back at the other houses, up and down the street. He saw some children in the distance riding bicycles, trying to live out the last hours of the summer break when the sun always seemed to linger just on the horizon. He heard Thad put the key in the door and it snapped him back to the moment, to Thad who smiled back.
“Come on inside,” Thad said.
Kevin followed after him into the house where he instantly felt at ease. He half expected a dog to be there but Thad told him before that he had too many dogs in his life already and he wasn’t going to get another one until he was an old man. The home was comfortable, lived in. He smelled vanilla and something else. Thad walked around the house and turned on the lights to the living room, the hallway, and the kitchen. He looked through his mail, set it on the counter, and opened the refrigerator door.
“I think we should order in.”
“There’s only one place that delivers,” Kevin said. He walked to the kitchen and stopped on the other side of the refrigerator door.
“You don’t like their food?”
“It’s fine. It just sucks that there’s only one place.”
“God, I used to order from like five different places when I lived in the city. Thai, Japanese, and real Italian food, my favorite was Japanese.”
“Well here we’re going to have to settle for pizza,” Kevin said.
They looked each other in the eye, both of them were tired but they wanted something else. They didn’t want to eat. Thad closed the refrigerator door. He moved to Kevin and took hold of his belt with one hand, the other went to Kevin’s face. They kissed, deeply and passionately. They pulled at each others clothing and dropped it to the floor. Kevin began to step back and pull Thad with him. They broke from their kiss.
“What about the food?”
“Forget the food,” Kevin said.