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    Duncan Ryder
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

Everybody's Wounded - 10. Chapter 10

By noon on Sunday, Josh’s body has re-established his outward unwavering calm. His mind, however, was a mess. He couldn’t eat, he hadn’t slept, and he couldn’t concentrate. Thesis, books, music, video – nothing could hold his attention or calm his agitation.

No regrets.

Who the fuck was he kidding? He had nothing but regrets. He’d broken every rule he’d set for himself since Graham’s departure two years before, every rule that let him maintain his self respect and his sanity.

He’d given in to desire.

He’d let another man into his body.

Worse, he’d let another man into his heart

He’d been there once before, and had vowed never to go there again. But somehow, without even realizing it, he had allowed Scott to creep by all his defences.

No regrets.

He’d only said it for Scott, offered it as a kind of apology, maybe a kind of absolution. There was a sweetness, an innocence to the younger man that he knew he had damaged. He hadn’t meant to. Waking up, his sated body stretched on top of Scott’s, had been so incredibly beautiful – until he’d looked into the heat and the confusion of Scott’s grey eyes and remembered exactly what it was he had done.

Then he’d been full of regret – and had been able to think of no other gesture to protect Scott’s innocence.

He knew the gesture had failed. Scott wore his heart on his sleeve. When they’d kissed goodbye in the car the next morning, Scott’s mouth had tasted of confusion and guilt. Another reason for Josh to hate himself. And he’d had so much of hating himself.

There was something so pure about Scott. The big guy actually believed in fucking where his heart was – and only where his heart was.

“And his heart is not with me,” Josh told himself bitterly.

What the fuck had he done?

No regrets.

He regretted everything. Mostly, he regretted falling in love with the big, gentle guy. It scared the hell out of him.

He wandered restlessly around the condo, finding himself finally in the living room, staring at the painting Graham had left behind. He studied his own face as it stared up into the storm-filled sky. As always, he took enormous comfort in it. The agony that, to him, lurked so clearly beneath the surface. The agony, and the utter joy. The bastard was phenomenally talented – and had known how to bare Josh’s soul so degradingly well.

Mostly, Graham stole from him, a look, an expression, a line, always leaving Josh feeling exposed, abused somehow. But in this painting, and in this painting alone, Graham had allowed Josh to shine through purely, unadulterated by any external artistic purpose.

“Fuck you, Graham,” Josh whispered as he stared at it. “Just fuck you.”

He’d told Scott that the painting was still there because he hadn’t yet been able to bring himself to have the gallery come and take it down. The impression he’d given, he supposed, was that somehow he wasn’t quite over Graham. That’s what most people who had known them as a couple thought. It was true in a way. But not the way they thought it.

The truth was, Josh needed this painting. He needed it to confirm his strength, the freedom he’d finally achieved from the bastard who’d dominated his life for almost four years. Outside this room, it had been seen only once, in a small photograph in the official catalogue of Graham’s work, identified only as “private collection.”. Its official name was “Emancipation.”

“But we know what it’s really called, don’t we baby boy,” Graham had said to him, just before it was finished. “We know it’s really called “Graham, get the fuck out of my life.”

***

It was Christmas 2001, and Josh was in Edinburgh for a few weeks’ holidays with his parents. It was his freshman year; he’d been only 18 and Graham already 40. There were things Josh had never told, and would never tell, about what happened between them, though there were those who suspected it. Graham’s agent, for one, who’d tried to warn the boy Josh had been.

“He’s a great artist,” Nicolas had said, “But a complete and total bastard. Take care of yourself.”

But at 18, Josh had had no idea of how to take care of himself. Not against someone like Graham.

They met in the Oxford Bar late one afternoon. Josh had wandered in there as a kind of tribute to Rebus, his favourite fictional detective. He’d been a very young 18, Josh knew now, the precious, pampered only child of elderly parents. He’d been a private school day boy, and had grown up accomplished and disciplined, but with no experience of anything at all. Graham had pounced upon him like a lion on a lamb.

They’d talked for hours, first standing in a corner in the crowded front room of the small bar, and after that gliding through the streets of the ancient city in a cold, misty night. Josh had been fascinated by the artist, a fascination that would prove almost impossible to shake.

That first night, Graham had been charming and seductive. He’d taken Josh to dinner, and then home with him, pushing him through the studio – “You can see the work later,” he’d said, “in natural light,” – to the sparse living space beyond.

Josh still cringed when the thought of it. He’d been a late bloomer, and up to that point hadn’t really given much thought to his sexuality. Graham recognized it instantly. In the space of a couple of hours, he’d kissed him, stripped him, jacked him, and taken him in his mouth to some other universe before Josh had even known what hit him.

And that pretty much defined the first week of their relationship. By the time it got dangerous, Josh was already in love, and it was much too late.

Graham was working a series of faces that were to be his contribution to an exhibit called “9/12…13…14….” The show consisted of portraits of pain and grief, the aftermath of the tragedy of the World trade Centre. Graham was committed to five canvases, each with two or three of his highly realistic faces, all ages, sexes, races. He had them sketched in, but he was increasingly frustrated at his inability to capture the expressions he wanted.

“Pain and betrayal,” he kept muttering. “Pain and betrayal.”

Graham was a highly disciplined artist; he painted every day from 9 until 4, in the best of the pale northern light. Josh had arrived one afternoon at 4:00, and found Graham in a frenzy, ranting and raving about the studio. Josh had watched him quietly until he’d wound down, slumped in a chair in the corner with a tumbler of Laphroaig.

Josh had stood bedside him, leaned over, and said, “I love you.” Very calmly.

It was the first time he could remember ever saying it to anyone.

Graham had frozen. “Really, baby boy?”

Graham had looked into his face, studying it intently. It would be years before Josh understood what that look had meant; at the time, he thought it meant love.

Graham had stood up slowly, grabbed Josh by the front of his shirt, and kissed him. Hard.

And then he stepped back, and slapped him brutally across the face, so hard that Josh was knocked backwards, and hit his head against the floor. Graham grabbed the front of his shirt again and pulled him to his feet, throwing him up against the wall. Then he grabbed his jaw in a paint smeared hand.

“Look at me, baby boy,’ he’d ordered, staring into Josh’s face. “Look at me.”

The thought of it still made Josh sick with shame.

Then Graham had stripped him.

Josh had tried to stop him, but the frenzy was on Graham again, and his long, wiry body had a vicious and unstoppable strength. Josh had been terrified. Only that. Terrified.

Graham forced him onto his back on the floor, which was cold, bare concrete. Then he pushed Josh’s legs up and over Graham’s shoulders. Josh was completely and utterly exposed, completely and utterly helpless. There was no tenderness, no foreplay, and the only preparation was an unlubed condom, and that only because Graham always took good care of himself.

Josh had screamed and begged. He’d never done this before, never. He had been so terrified. But Graham had just ignored him, studying his face as he rolled the condom over his dick. Then…then he’d just plunged it in, and fucked him, brutally and agonizingly, pounding him into the concrete.

And the whole time, Graham had watched his face. Every time Josh tried to look away, Graham would grab his jaw.

“Look at me, for fuck sake,” he’d say, and force him to look. He’d slap him again, his viciousness increasing with each stroke.

It seemed to go on forever, and Josh had truly wanted to die. He remembered only shame, and horror, and the pain of Graham brutalizing his ass and slapping his face, over and over and over.

And then, finally, Graham upper body had frozen, and he thrust his dick even deeper into Josh’s battered ass. Even as he exploded inside him, Graham’s eyes never left Josh’s face.

“You’re so fucking beautiful, baby boy,” he’d said afterwards, and pulled Josh into his arms. “Even your pain is beautiful.”

And then he’d rocked him against his chest as Josh had wept and wept. Before he let him go, Graham had fucked him one more time, slowly and carefully, crooning to him of beauty and pain.

Josh had thought it was an apology.

A declaration of love.

And forgiven him.

For the entire week after that, Graham had painted in a frenzy, and though Josh had gone to him every day, Graham had turned him away at his door. On the eighth day, he let him in, and shown him the paintings. Josh looked at the pain in those faces, and his heart broke.

Graham had eyed him thoughtfully. “You know, you’re my muse, baby boy. I don’t fucking like it, but there it is. Just look at those faces. Look at them. All that pain is yours. All of it.”

Now, Josh stood in front of the painting in his living room, and tried to push away the memories. Why did they have to come tumbling back now? He’d dealt with it. Two years of therapy and medication. He’d put it behind him.

Besides, that was the first time Graham had hit him. The last time, Josh had hit him back. He’d finally redeemed himself.

So why was he crying now?

Finally, he pulled on his jacket, wrapped his scarf around his neck, and headed out onto the deserted beach.

No one walked a Nova Scotia beach in late November; it stretched out, stony and forbidding, with the waves pounding in bitter grey wind. It was freezing cold and he found no comfort it, but there was power and a kind of elemental strength that he needed.

He walked for miles, until dusk was falling and the fog was rolling in. Then frigid with cold, he headed back to his condo.

Copyright © 2011 Duncan Ryder; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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Josh's history is heartbreaking. It's understandable why he is so guarded. I am crossing my fingers for all of them. As always thanks for the work.

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The emotional intensity is communicated through deceptively simple, taut language.   Seriously well-written 

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