I followed Stef up the steps to his flying palace, followed by Julian and Stef’s bodyguard.The flight attendant, a nice young woman named Celeste, was there to greet us pleasantly.
“I will need a car to take me to the Waldorf when we land,” Stef told Julian.“We can drop you off on the way.”That last line was directed to me.
“That’s okay,” I said to him, then looked at Julian.“I’ll need a car to take me to SoHo, but I don’t want it to pick me up until half an hour after we land.”
“Why the delay?” Stef asked curiously.
“To give me time for a quick shower, and to look pretty,” I joked, making him chuckle.
“Then I will trust you all to make those arrangements, and to get us to New York as quickly as possible,” Stef said to his staff.I followed him through the flying room, past the conference area, and into the sleeping areas.“You can have that bedroom,” he said, pointing at the guest room, “but I thought perhaps you could spend some time with me first.”
“Sounds great,” I said, and followed him into his beautiful bedroom.We shut the door behind us, leaving Julian and the others to do their jobs and get some sleep.I pulled out my camcorder and started hooking up video cables to his television, even as we heard the engines winding up to taxi us out onto the runway.
“And what are you doing?” he asked.
“I thought you’d enjoy seeing this,” I said.I rewound the tape to the right position and hit play.“I taped the audience, or more specifically our family, during John’s big reveal.”
We watched as John turned around and the guys pulled his pants down.“He appears a bit apprehensive,” Stef noted.
“That’s why,” I said, gesturing to the screen, where Claire and Jack were obviously pissed.We watched it in normal speed, laughing our asses off, then sat down for takeoff.After we were in the air, I slowed the recording down to half speed to more deliberately study the reactions, and we watched it again.
“Your father and Jake are obviously amused,” Stef said, chuckling.
“You guys are so calm and glacial,” I noted, referring to Stef, Grand, Grandmaman, and Frank.
“Your warning enabled us to appear more composed than we probably otherwise would have been,” Stef said.“I suspect that if we would not have been apprised that he was going to do that, Frank and I would have laughed, while JP and Isidore would still have looked glacial and calm.”
“Makes sense,” I agreed, since that was completely in character with the four of them.“The Hobarts were not amused.”
“They were not, and they were ready to rip Jack apart, but JP averted that by reminding them that their grandchildren had shown great family loyalty with their body art,” Stef said.
“And that satisfied them?”
“I am not sure if they are satisfied, but at least it shut them up, which I think was our prime motivation at that point,” he said, making me laugh.“Thank you for encouraging me to go.It was important, and I had not seen that.”
“I’m glad you made it.You really were one of the key attractions,” I said.He didn’t realize how, when he walked into a room, everyone noticed, and people all followed his movements, just as they would have done if Julia Roberts had been there.My father had spent so much time with him, and was a demi-celebrity in his own right, that he didn’t usually notice that either.
“I think your show eclipsed my fame,” he said.“I was most surprised to see Ryan as part of John’s band.”
“I’m not sure Ryan’s actually part of the band, but he was tonight,” I said.“He’s a little more hard core than John, so he’d be demanding they fix it if he joined it.”
“Fix it?” Stef asked.
“The other members are weak, especially the drummer,” I explained.“For John, it’s about having fun with his friends, and using it as a way to get laid.For Ryan, if he got involved, he’d want it to be good, and he’d be less concerned with hurting other people’s feelings.”
“I would not imagine that, after seeing how cute John’s ass is, he would have any problems finding someone to have sex with him,” Stef said, making me laugh.
“True, but being a rock star, at least in our limited high school circle, helps out a bit,” I agreed.“I think it gives him more confidence than he would normally have.”
“I can see that,” Stef said.I turned off the video and we both sat on his bed, our backs resting against the headboard.Stef had said he wanted to talk to me, and while it was probably a good idea to let him take the lead in broaching the topic, I was pretty much out of patience, plus I wanted to get some sleep on this flight.
“So what happened to you?” I asked.
“It is a sad thing to realize that you are going to die,” he said.
I stared at him, absolutely freaking out.“You’re dying?”
“No,” he said, and patted my leg gently to calm me down.“But ultimately I will.”
“Duh,” I said, smiling at him to lighten the mood.
“Some people, when they get older, embrace the age they are in, and learn to enjoy the benefits of their advancing years.Others do not,” he said.
“I can see that,” I said, thinking about it.“Grand doesn’t seem to let getting old bother him too much, and my father has handled it pretty well so far.Robbie, on the other hand…”It said a lot about how far we’d come since 9-11 that we could think and talk about Robbie and not get completely depressed.
“I fear that in that regard, Robbie and I are alike,” he said.“I have always hated the idea of getting old, and now that it is happening, I hate it even more.I have done what I can with plastic surgery and the like to arrest the process, but it is unstoppable.”
“I don’t get it,” I said to him honestly.“I mean, you are still young and vibrant.”
“Look at my hands,” he said, showing me his slender hands.“See how the skin wrinkles here?”He pointed to the area between his thumb and index finger.
“No one is going to notice that,” I said.
“No, but it is a symptom.I could go in and get cosmetic surgery to get rid of the wrinkles, but then it would just look like old skin stretched tightly.”I looked at him, confused.“I have fought this battle against aging, and I am losing.I don’t like to lose.”
I could see his reasoning.“I guess in this case, there is no win-win scenario,” I mused, teasing him.
“Sadly, there is not,” he said.
“So your body is sagging a little bit,” I said dismissively.“That’s such a small thing compared to how amazingly successful and totally famous you are.I think if I was in your situation, I’d feel pretty satisfied with where I was.”
“It is not easy to understand until you have experienced it,” he said, getting a little frustrated, “but I would expect you, especially, to grasp the basic concept.”
“Why?” I asked, confused.
“Because you have also had issues with being in the wrong time, so to speak.For me, I long to be my younger self, so full of joie de vivre.For you, you are looking ahead, thinking you are, as Jack put it, already 25,” he explained.We sat there for a bit while I pondered that, and he gave me the time to do that.I remembered my frustrations, which were so much worse a couple of years ago, when I was 14 with the body of a 17 or 19 year old, and the attitude to go with it.
“I can see that,” I agreed.“When I’m around older guys, like guys in college, I usually feel more comfortable.”
“Or Patrick Christian,” he teased.
“Or Patrick Christian,” I agreed, chuckling.“But how do you get around the successful businessman that you are, and what a positive impact you’ve had on your family?”
He smiled at me, and patted my cheek.“You are kind to point those things out.There are a lot of factors that have caused me to spiral into this mental hell.”
“Surely it’s not that bad?” I asked with concern.
“I am usually quite talented at adjusting to change, especially when I anticipate it, but I am equally unable to force myself into a box that doesn’t fit me.”
“I can see that,” I said, thinking of Stef and his life, and how he’d pretty much marched to his own drummer.
“Over the past few years I have had to tackle several impending changes, in addition to aging.For one thing, as I am soon to be sixty years old, it is probably time to consider what my next move will be,” he said.
“You mean for your business?” I asked.
He nodded.“I need to define my role clearly so as not to confuse the others who work for us.I had hoped that with Buzz Dalby, I had found a partial solution to that problem.”
“That was pretty awful,” I said, and felt sadness consume both of us over Buzz’s loss.
“Your father appears to be grounded now, and in that situation, he is more than able to fill my shoes in the company, and to balance Luke’s analytical approach,” Stef said.
“That’s quite an endorsement of Dad,” I said cautiously, or perhaps it was hopefully.“I think Jake is good for him.”
“I agree, but I think that even without Jake in his life, he will be fine,” Stef opined.
I thought about that.“You think that the whole drama with Marc was like his big catharsis, getting him over 9-11?”
“I do,” Stef confirmed.“I plan to be gone more now, with JP retiring, but I do not know what that means, and what I will do.I am not sure whether I want to enjoy a life of leisure, or try to change the world.”
“Why do you have to make that decision now?” I asked.“Why can’t you just go with the flow?”
“To a degree I can, but when there is a large company and many people’s careers on the line, I have to be more organized,” he said.
“What are you going to do?”
“I have not figured that out yet,” he said.
“Have you talked to Dad and Luke about this, said the same things to them?” I asked him.
He grimaced.“Not exactly.I suppose I should do that.”
“I suppose you should,” I said, smiling at him in a teasing way, then changed the subject.“Why have you had such a hard time dealing with me?”
“I have been challenged by you, because you have the same bon vivant attitude toward life that I had,” he said a bit carefully, as if he was worried he would piss me off.
“It’s who I am, but if anyone made me that way, it’s probably you, watching your example,” I told him.“You always seemed to love life, and enjoy it with such a gusto.It seemed like a good approach.”
“I should note that imitation is the ultimate form of flattery, and find that rewarding?” he asked, then smiled.“I probably should.And I do not want you to change who you are, or give up that approach to life.It has just taken me some time to grapple with the fact that I am no longer like that.”
“So instead, you have to be more like a sage,” I said, both a statement and a question.
“Yes, and that means I must be more like JP, and then I get irritated with him for the same irrational reason,” he grumbled, making me chuckle.
“I think that you have, and will find, your own style,” I said.“You are too extroverted to be like Grand, but by being around him, he tends to calm down your rough edges.”
“How interesting,” Stef said.“I could say the same thing about you.”
“I guess you could,” I said.“So far in this conversation you haven’t really told me about problems, you’ve just made me happy that I have you and Grand in my life.”
He reached over and gave me a big hug.“I think back to that day you moved up to Palo Alto, and ponder how rewarding that has been for all of us.That was a good decision.”
“Thanks,” I said, feeling a little uncomfortable since sometimes I’d been a royal pain in the ass.
“Perhaps the most frustrating parts of aging can be the toll it takes on how one’s body functions,” he said, changing the topic.He looked away and a tear fell out of his eye, prompting me to hug him again.“JP is not the only one who sometimes has difficulties.”
“I am so sorry,” I said to him, getting why this had been such a big deal to him.When Grand couldn’t get his dick hard, it was horrible, but he dealt with it.For Stef, with the way he’d always prioritized sex, this must be a death blow.“It’s a good thing you like to bottom.”
He laughed, and I laughed with him. “It is indeed a good thing.JP and I are having to learn how to work around these challenges.It has made our lovemaking different, and more scripted.It is still satisfying beyond my wildest dreams,” he added hastily.
“At this stage in my life, I have to be careful because I’m always ready,” I grumbled.
“And now, comparing our situations, you can see the stark differences as you age,” he pointed out.“In the end, I find that my life is in transition, and it has been difficult to handle.”
“I can understand that,” I said.I’d dealt with that myself, and I’d be dealing with it again when I went to college.
“I have been jealous of you because you represent the ‘me’ I can no longer have.It is a bit like watching someone put on my favorite jacket and wear it better,” he said.
“I could never match your sense of style,” I said emphatically, which wasn’t what this was about, but I needed to say something supportive.
“I have also been angry and jealous of JP because of how well he handles these changes, and because it has been easy to accuse him of dragging me into old age.”He held up his hand to stop me from instinctively defending Grand, which was just what I was about to do.“He has claimed the role of sage, and does it so much better than I could.So I look to you and you have appropriated my prior role, and I look to him and he is firmly entrenched in the role I was supposed to occupy.”
“Then maybe you should just be yourself, be who you want to be,” I said.“Seems to me that’s when you’ve been your happiest.”
“That is good advice,” he said, smiling at me.“I had planned to spend some time in the world of fashion, but JJ has made that less attractive.”
I laughed at that, because it was funny and because it was a relief that Stef finally got how frustrating JJ could be.“JJ is difficult to deal with.Maybe now you can see how annoyed with you I got when you were defending him?”
“I can see that,” he grudgingly allowed.“I truly do feel bad about the party and how that upset him, but his action in setting off the alarm was very embarrassing for all of us.”
“How so?” I asked.
“Because it became the topic of gossip at the whole show, and because it exposed a family rift in a very public way,” Stef said.“It was also embarrassing to me because it exposed my last ditch effort to make myself feel better about my mid-life crisis. It made me look pathetic.”
“Or perhaps it just made you seem human,” I said.
“Perhaps,” he said dubiously.“To be honest, now that I have gotten some clarity on my issues, I dread going back to New York.”
“You didn’t have to go back,” I said, more of a question.
“I did, because we needed to have this conversation, and because I need to grit my teeth and apologize to JJ,” he said.I laughed again, because dealing with JJ tended to be either exasperating or hilarious.
“So do that, then we can fly back on Sunday,” I said. “Then you can plan out what we’re going to do next year.”
“I understand Australia is on our list,” he said. “I am excited to go back there.”
“I’m stoked,” I said.“Are you and Grand OK?” It wasn’t really my place to ask, but I figured since he was opening up to me, it was allowed.He seemed to come to the same conclusion.
“As he noted to you, we are soul mates.I forgot that we were making this journey together, and now that he has reminded me of that, the future looks much better,” he said.
We lay down in his bed and I told him all about my drama with Dillon and with Zach, and somewhere along the line, when there was a pause in the conversation, it was long enough for me to drift off to sleep.I was awoken with a surprising thud as the plane landed in New York.“I think we’re here,” I said to Stef, even as I yawned and stretched out.I looked at the clock and it read 6:00am.Presumably that reflected Eastern Standard Time.
“Let us hope that ‘here’ is New York,” he joked, making me chuckle.“I will leave you to use my room to get ready.”
“Just ask them to put my garment bag into my car,” I said to him.I had an easy change of clothes for after I showered in my backpack.
“I enjoyed our time together,” he said, and gave me a big hug.
“So did I,” I said, hugging him back even stronger.I held the embrace for a long time as I savored the close connection I had restored with this man I loved so much, and felt the anguish that our conflict had cause me slowly evaporate.We broke apart and he followed his entourage out to his car while I went into Stef’s bathroom and took a shower, brushed my teeth, and otherwise got myself ready to fuck Patrick Christian.
My grooming activities had only delayed me 30 minutes, as I had hoped, and fortunately there wasn’t much traffic on an early Saturday morning.It only took another half an hour to get downtown.Patrick had given me his address, but I’d never been to his loft.I called him when we got out of the Holland Tunnel.“Hello,” he said, sounding pretty awake for this early in the morning.
“Hey,” I said cheerfully.“I just got into Manhattan.I’m almost there.”
“Dude, that is awesome!” he said enthusiastically, making me smile.“I’ll meet you downstairs.”
“Cool,” I said, and ended the call.The car drove up to an older building on the 500 block of Broadway.It looked pretty basic from the street, but had some ornate roof work that made it slightly unique.I signed off on the car receipt, tipping the driver well, then got out and threw my backpack over my shoulder and took my garment bag.I strolled into the lobby to find Patrick waiting for me, wearing shorts and a t-shirt, looking like a jock who was lounging around the house.
“Welcome to New York,” he said.He took my bag and put it down, then gave me a big hug and a monster kiss, then picked up my bag and led me into the elevator.He put a key in and it whisked us upward.
“It’s good to be here,” I said somewhat desperately, since that one kiss had sent my libido into overdrive.We got out on the fifth floor and he led me into a loft that was pretty huge.It was decorated in a tasteful way that was just a little flashier than I would have chosen, but it was still pretty nice.The great room was huge, even after the kitchen took out a chunk of its space.There was a large open space in the great room that looked about the length of a runway, so I was guessing he’d used it for that purpose.Those two rooms probably took up a good 2/3 of the apartment, while the rest of the space was occupied by a single bedroom, an office, a huge closet, and a master bathroom that was mostly done in black marble, which made it seem really masculine.
I wasn’t really all that into the condo, I was into Patrick.While I took a few minutes to hang up the shit in my garment bag, he did this hilarious strip tease, acting like he was probably my age.I struggled between finding him hilarious and irresistible.I returned the favor, stripping in just as goofy a fashion, then climbed into bed with him, slid over, and laid on top of him.He kissed me for a while, then rolled over on top of me, and took me on one incredible sexual ride.It was pretty refreshing after Dillon’s clumsy blowjobs to find myself in the hands of a very experienced lover.
We lay in his bed, flat on our backs, side by side, as I tried to catch my breath after one incredible orgasm.“Damn,” he said, only his Alabama accent came out, and it sounded more like ‘dayum.’
“That was worth a cross country flight,” I said as we smiled at each other.
“It was really nice of you to come out here just because I asked you to,” he said to me sincerely.
I leaned in and kissed him.“This booty call was worth it.”He laughed with me, then seemed to get a little more introspective.“She’s gone,” I said, since I figured he was thinking about Ella.
“Went to Milan,” he said, telling me something I already knew.
“How are you doing?” I asked, and tried to do it in a way that was casual and not prying.
“Kinda lonely,” he said, “but I’m pretty happy anyway.”
“That mean you’re over her?” I asked.
He shrugged.“I think I was over her a couple of months ago, it just took her longer to get over me.”That made sense, since it seemed like when the relationship got bad, it could slowly kill off the feelings.I felt a twinge of sadness when I thought of Zach, and wondered if that’s what was happening to us.Since we hadn’t talked since I hung up on him, it seemed like that was the case.
“I’ll bet everyone asks you about it at the show,” I said, incorrectly assuming it would be like a high school break up.
“Not really,” he said.“They just talk about me when I’m not around.I don’t have many real friends in this city or business, people I can talk to about shit that happened, so I just go on like nothing changed.”
“I’m trying to decide if that’s better or worse than being bugged about it,” I said, chuckling, and he laughed with me to humor me.
“It’s been a little tougher with the show, because she used to help me keep things on track and organized,” he said nervously, then looked at his watch.“I’ve got to get up and get ready.”
“I’ll help you,” I volunteered.
“You do not have to do that,” he said emphatically.“You should lounge around in bed until ten, get ready, and meet me at Bryant Park around noon.”He was being sweet, but also a little annoying, because I wasn’t about to let him dictate my plans for the day.
“I’m going to get ready with you, and I’m going to help you,” I pronounced, even as I got out of bed.“Let’s go.”
“How’s this going to work?” he asked, trying to figure out how to explain my status to these people I’d be interacting with.
“You never had an intern?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Not one I fucked,” he said, making me laugh.We got in the shower, and I washed his hair for him in a fast but sexy way, because with each passing minute, he got more tense and more task oriented.
He looked at my clothes as I put them on, checking the labels to see who designed them.He seemed a little annoyed that none of the stuff I was wearing was his.“Stef dressed me today.”
“You look great, but then again, you always do,” he said.
I gave him an appreciative kiss.“So do you.Of all of us, JJ is the one who wears his clothes the best.He can look good in almost anything.”
“I can see why you’d think that, but I think that for me, you and Darius look better in what you wear.JJ almost seems like a model, like his stuff is too crafted, while for the two of you it’s more natural, and it flows better,” he observed thoughtfully.
“Thank you,” I said, since I wasn’t sure how to feel about that, other than flattered.“Let’s get to work.”
That morning we both learned a lot about each other.I spent most of my time working with the models and helping them get organized.They were, almost to a person, hopeless airheads who, unless they were actually on the runway, didn’t seem to know which way was up.There were also a few really bitchy divas, but I had no patience for that bullshit, and I had enough star power because of Stef and my family to shut their bitchy asses down.At one point, Patrick pulled me aside and whispered in my ear “you are amazingly organized, and a born leader.”I beamed with pride at a compliment like that from him, and was so happy that I was actually helpful.
On my end, I got to watch Patrick become a true fashionista as he worked to put the finishing touches on his models and his line of clothes.A piece of jewelry here, a scarf there, or the use of other accessories made a huge difference, and I had a whole new respect for his sense of style.
It was fifteen minutes before his show started when he pulled me aside.“Alright, you did a great job, but it’s time for you to take your seat.”
“I’ll just stay back here and help out,” I insisted.
He gestured to the crowd where the front row was almost full except for one empty seat in between Stef and Paris Hilton.“You got a reserved seat.Say nice things about me.” It was strange, almost as if he was reminding me that my proper place was out there in the crowd, and not here with the people who were working.I internally rolled my eyes as I thought how JJ would appreciate the snob appeal of that concept, and noticed that he was sitting next to Bellona, who was on Stefan’s other side.
“Alright,” I said fatalistically.I strolled out the back of the stage and then made my way around to the main entrance, and worked my way back up to the front row.It would have been so much easier to just walk out onto the runway and jump off and land in front of my seat, but this place seemed to require a classier tone than that.
I got to JJ first.“I didn’t know you were going to be in town,” he said in his frosty way, as if to remind me that he was pissed off at me.
“Surprise!” I said with exaggerated enthusiasm, and gave him a hug, which he returned for propriety.“And what a pleasure to see you again,” I said to Bellona, kissing her on each cheek.
“How wonderful to experience your charming presence again,” she said stiffly, but with a slight smile.
“Darius asked me to send his regards,” I said, with just the slightest of smirks.
“Please convey my greetings backed to him,” she said, and blushed slightly, which was hilarious.I gave Stef a big hug.
“I saved you a seat, which was not easy,” he noted.
“I appreciate you watching out for me,” I said, then moved on to greet Paris.
“Hey there, little Willie,” she said, kissing me in a sexy way on the cheeks.
“Baby, there’s nothing little about me,” I teased.
“Right,” she said skeptically.
“Dude, I’m bigger than Rick Salomon,” I said.She’d dated him, and done a sex tape with him, so that was a pretty good slam, one that made us both laugh.
“You might be fun,” she said, flirting.
“Only if there’s another guy involved,” I said, making her giggle.I bantered with her and the people around us, then settled down when the show started.I thought Patrick’s stuff looked good, but I kept my mouth shut, because I was surrounded by people who knew their stuff.
When it was over, Bellona looked at Stefan for his opinion.“I think he is much improved,” Stef said.
“And what do you think?” she asked JJ.
He glanced at me, and with that one look I demanded that he be fair, and kind.“I think he’s finally finding his own style.”
“I agree,” Bellona pronounced.“He has made some significant changes over the past few weeks, and I think those will help his career considerably.”I wondered if she was referring to his designs, or to Ella being gone, or both.