Stolen Time – Chapter 12
The following two weeks were a chain of dances on the thin pane of ice. One misstep would have broken the ice under the feet and drowned them both into the cold brutal water.
They worked together as always, that was as inevitable as their termination of the relationship. But Tony watched him closely. He found that because the contract had been ripped off, that wouldn’t mean he could just rip Bernard off of him. In some level, he still was feeling that Bernard was his, might not his to possess anymore, but his to protect at least. Watching Bernard becoming thinner than ever every day ate him from inside. Worrying about him going off to get the pain to a total stranger made him sick. So far, there was no bruises or visible cuts, but that wouldn’t be on any visible places, would it be?
He became a sort of friend with Brendan, only to make him to go lunch with Bernard, so he could at least have a proper meal sometimes. A couple of times, Tony asked Bernard how he was doing, Bernard gave him a short, snappy answer like ‘I’m doing fine. Thanks.’ like he was irritated by him.
In those two weeks, frustration became worry, anger became anxiety, wanting of Bernard only became something bigger, scarier, and more crucial, something more close to his soul. He wouldn’t have kept himself to reach for Bernard if not for the inhumanly heavy workload on the last week of the financial year deadline.
So many analysis reports to be read, too many meetings to attend, too many investment articles to be written, not even to mention internal budget management matters to be signed off by him. He couldn’t even make time for gymming. When it was finally done, he was mentally, physically exhausted.
The first Saturday after the financial year ended, someone totally unexpected called.
“Tony, it’s Victor. I need to talk to you.” He sounded somehow reluctant, regrettable. Tony immediately knew it was about Bernard and not good.
Tony met Victor where they met first time. It turned out Victor’s place was only a block away from the cafe.
“Bernard came to me yesterday. And he,”
“Asked you to give what he wanted.” Tony cut him and finished the sentence. It wasn’t even a question. “Did you?”
“He said you and him are done.”
That was a yes then.
Tony was somehow relieved. It was better Victor than any strangers. But he couldn’t entirely ignore the sinking feeling in the gut.
“I wouldn’t have called you if he didn’t look so lost. It reminded me of when I first met him seven years ago.” He looked tired.
“What happened seven years ago?”
“First tell me what happened between you two.” Victor didn’t want to give away easily before he knew what had happened first. Like Tony had any choice in it when it came to Bernard. He hated this helpless feeling.
“Bernard wanted terminate the contract. I agreed.” Tony shook his head. “There were a couple of episodes happened before. About two weeks ago, he slept over in my place, and we were supposed to go to work together, and he suddenly got a panic attack and blacked out. I had to give him a CPR. When he came back, he got into a terrific hysteria and kept on saying he couldn’t do it. I didn’t know what he was talking about then, but I suppose it was the relationship. After that, he started distancing me away, and a week later asked me to end the contract.”
Victor nodded heavily. His lips thinly pressed.
“So what happened seven years ago? It’s something have to do with his former partner who died, isn’t it?” Tony had this gut feeling that Bernard’s issues such as personal insecurity, self-destructive behavior, panic attacks, all had to do with his dead partner in some level.
“Did he talk about Jacob to you?” Victor’s voice raised as if he heard something unbelievable.
“I didn’t know his name, but he mentioned him once. Told me why he had to drop out of med school.”
Victor rubbed his face roughly. Thinking real hard, a crease formed between the eyebrows.
“I was the first paramedic arrived at the apartment. I found Bernard in the bathroom seating on the edge of the bathtub. He was holding the body, kept on murmuring like a man possessed ‘I love you’s and ‘sorry’s.”
Tony had to drink. He needed something to smudge the day. He couldn’t be sober.
“Jacob was an AIDS patient, quite advanced, he committed suicide while Bernard was at work. Cut the both wrists, along the vein in the bathtub while the tab was running. He wasn’t hesitating and making sure he wouldn’t stand a chance to survive.
“Water flowed over the bathroom and all over the apartment when I arrived. Bernard was lucky he hadn’t been infected despite that he was practically soaked into the blood. The doctor said, it was diluted enough with water.”
Tony poured a glass full of scotch and took two big gulps. Filled the glass again and he sank into the couch.
“I met him again at the police station giving my statement. Jacob’s family was calling Bernard names and blaming him for their son’s death. They cursed him, sword at him and pointing he was the murderer to the policeman. It was frantic. Bernard didn’t even say a word, but it wasn’t ignoring. It was accepting and agreeing in a way. He didn’t even cry. He looked like a murderer who was confessing his crime rather than a reference witness giving his statement.”
Many things that bothered Tony about Bernard made sense. His over cautious condom paranoia, warning him about HIV on the first day.
“The shrink and I agreed that somehow Bernard thought he deserves to be punished for what he’d done, but nobody did anything to him, so he does it to himself. But it never enough to erase the sin, so every time he feels happy, that amplifies the guilty in him and triggers the urge to be punished.”
Victor didn’t know what was the story before that terrible event, Bernard never had talked about it. “You must mean something significant to him if he mentioned Jacob at all. If Bernard is anything to you at all, please don’t give up on him.” Victor said, but it wasn’t needed, he wasn’t about to give him up, not without a fight.
But how? When he was pushing away everyone? When he didn’t want to be sheltered?
The sharp offensive sound dragged him out of the torment. Another unexpected person, he thought.
“I thought you wouldn’t answer. Don’t hunt Matt down.” Liz’s words were light, though it failed to hide her nervousness.
“It depends. How have you been?” Actually just listening her voice made him put a tiny smile on his face despite the agony he was in.
“Are you drinking? It’s only one o’clock afternoon in South Africa, isn’t it?”
“How do you know whether I’m drinking?”
“You have that husky, rough bit in your voice. I take it as you are not as good as I dared to hope.” The guilt was apparent in her voice.
“No, I’m not good at all, but it’s not because of you. Not because of our divorce, not even the rumors. You know, I don’t give a shit about it anyway.”
“Then what is it babe? What’s happening in your life? Don’t even think about lying to me or down play on me.”
He chuckled quietly. He could picture in his mind Liz’s stubbornness appearing on her beautiful face.
“I met someone Liz, I think I deeply care about him.” He could tell Liz, he needed to tell her. If anyone in the world he could spill his gut, it would be Liz.
A sharp intake flowed in through the line. “That’s, that’s good, Tony, I’m really happy to hear that.” A small tremor was in her voice. She sounded relieved. He knew she truly was. “But why you don’t sound as happy as should be?”
“Liz, he wouldn’t let me in his life. He wouldn’t let me take care of him. He’s damaged. He is hurt, and I don’t even have a clue what I can do for him.” He put down the empty whisky glass on the table. He felt his body under alcohol, but it didn’t dim the pain in his chest even a bit.
“You said ‘he’”? Liz asked him, but he didn’t need to answer. She knew it from the beginning. There was a long pause, but it wasn’t her awaiting his answer. She was thinking. Maybe shocked a bit by him confessing about this new person he cared was a man. “When I met Philip, babe, I haven’t told you about this, but I fell for him as much as he did. I didn’t do anything about that, in fact, I was horrible to him. Guess I didn’t want to accept how I felt about him. I hated myself to fall for him when I have you, I disgorged my self-hate, frustration and the guilty toward you on him. You know what he did for me?”
He remembered the first time she mentioned Philip whom she met in the state during the movie shoot, all flushed and girly, then he knew it was the time finally freeing Liz. But he was selfish enough to hold her back one more year.
“He just kept on loving me Tony. Gave me the assurance that he would love me regardless.” Liz’s warm voice wet Tony’s chest, made him sorrier not to give her to Philip sooner.
“But Liz, it’s not the same thing. We’ve met the day I arrived in South Africa.” He shook his head. How insane to think the friction of a second they had known each other, and how deeply he fell before he knew it.
“Don’t say that it’s not love babe. Love take lots of things like trust, devotion, giving yourself, but time was not one of them, not necessarily. You love him, and I know it. You told me sometimes I know you better than yourself. Well, this is one those moments.” She was close to tears. “I’m so happy to hear you finally found the person to give your heart to. And really sorry this is not easy for you.” She got emotional, sniffed a little, but found her cool quickly. “Well, now I know how you felt when I told you about Philip. I’m jealous.”
Tony shook his head as she was in the same room.
“No, you are not.” Tony smiled. Liz, if someone asked him what she was to him, he couldn’t answer, not at least in one word. He loved her, and that would never be changed.
“Liz, I’m here only temporarily. I will be off to London few months later. Is that even fair for him if I shake his life with my feeling?”
“That’s such a BS, and you’ve known it before even you asked me. You have enough money to retire right this moment and can still live like a king until two-hundred years old with your partner.”
“It’s not a bullshit Liz, I have to play the role, Leslie’s house is on the bet.”
“That sly bastard! He can’t do this again!”
Oh, yes, he could. That was how Marcus’s brain worked. Didn’t matter how he got it, as long as he got it at the end of the day.
“So how’s Philip?” He changed the subject. Being angry over Marcus with Liz was not a good idea. She didn’t need it in her life and shouldn’t be her concern anymore.
They talked about what had been happening in their life for the last few months just like any brothers and sisters would, and Liz promised him that she would visit him soon with Philp.
Tony rest his head on the couch. The mat and modern ceiling and elegant chandelier harmonized with each other beautifully. He wondered if that also was Bernard’s choice, and this was what would be like in his dream house. Old and new, modern and tradition, luxury and humble, monochrome and colors, Bernard and himself.
Jeez, he was drunk.
Love, as Liz said. If this poignant feeling was called love, he never had loved anyone before in his life, not even Liz.
Two bottles of cheap wine, the taste was horrible, but it would do the same once it got down to his stomach.
He couldn’t sleep, he couldn’t keep down food long enough to extract nutrition, he could absolutely not think about Anthony McKnight.
Every night he drank, only to lose his conscious, but amazingly enough five o’clock every morning his body woke up, telling him to go to work, where actually he allowed himself to see Tony. He was disgusting. He was the one got freaked out and ended it whatever he was doing with Tony.
He dared to covet Tony, the guy of great worth, tender and strong heart, mischievous grin and powerful physique. Perfection. Whereas, himself had nothing to offer, an ex-go-go boy, a college dropout, a ruiner- yeah, never forget that one. He knew how that would have ended, and he wasn’t going to stick around to watch it. Coward? Yes, selfish? Oh yes.
He parked his white city golf at the lot and walked around the building to the front door. He really wished the elevator would work by now. He didn’t actually have the energy to fly up the fourteen flights of stairs. The security guard said the mechanic would arrive just now, but it could be anytime between ten minutes later and the end of the universe.
“Need a drinking buddy?” The man, never would have belonged to this shithole, leaning on the front gate, saluted at him. He stopped walking, looked up at the perfectly tanned beauty.
“What are you doing here?” His heart already started pounding, the stomach fluttered in full force, he had to swallowed hard to push down the bitter acid. His voice was unbelievably cold and rough even to himself.
“I was in the neighbourhood.” Tony casually lied, as if he would have any business near here.
“Ah, really? I don’t need a drinking buddy, thank you very much.” He scoffed and passed him to get into the lobby. Tony’s steel grip pulled him back by the upper arm. As weak as he was, he shook back like a rag doll.
“Let me in.” The humor earlier was gone.
“If you want to talk to me, wait until Monday. I don’t believe we have any urgent business that can’t wait one more day.”
“You want me to talk to you in the office? That’s what you are saying?” Tony asked back incredulous.
“Yes. And I don’t want to hear anything that inappropriate to talk about in the office.” He couldn’t do it in half way, he just couldn’t. Have him or hate him, no middle. Though there was no reason to hate him in the first place.
“I’m not here to have sex with you Bernard. I told you, I wanted to be your friend. Here I’m volunteering your drinking buddy.” He spread his arms wide as if he showed all his cards and surrendered. “Or are you afraid you might jump to me if we are in a closed space together?” He raised one eyebrow jokingly.
There he was, Tony being Tony, all honest and charming. He shook his head.
“You are not that sexy.”
He blew his stray locks on the forehead.
“I don’t have anything you would enjoy drinking. It’s just a cheap wine.”
“Bernard, the company will be enjoyable. What we are drinking is not really my concern.”
“My place is really messy. Maybe go somewhere else then?”
“No, Bernard. Quit bullshitting and let me in already.”
“You are persistent.” He scanned the tag to open the front gate. The security guy was nowhere to be seen, they were absent more than present as always.
“Like you didn’t know it by now.”
Once glance at the elevator and Bernard sighed in disappointment.
“The elevator is not working. We have to walk.” He didn’t look back and climbed up to the stairs. Seven floors and fourteen flights. When he finally reached his door, he was soaked wet with sweat, panting hard. On the contrast, Tony didn’t even break a sweat. The guy ran 10km after swam twenty laps for heaven’s sake.
“Are you sure you don’t want to work out with me again?”
“No, thanks. If I want to work out, I would rather join one of the gyms close to here, or work.”
“May I ask you why? It’s free and private, not busy, has good facilities.”
“Because Tony,” He rounded on Tony, Tony was smudging the line again, like he couldn’t see what Bernard drew over the last few weeks. “I’m not living there. It’s residents only, remember? And you are crossing the line again, and you know it.” He opened the door, got into the tiny space. He wasn’t kidding to Tony about the messiness. Aside the fact that this apartment permanently smelled like mold, a the faint alcohol smell lingered in the air. Tony frowned in a crystal clear disapproval, but he kept quiet. Bernard brought two unmatched glasses and poured the wine liberally. This wine was not to be savored, the alcohol diluted by grape juice, was what it was.
Having Tony in his place was more painful than he had expected. After Tony had left, Bernard would remember how he stood leaning against the kitchen door frame, how the living room felt like with the big man dominating the space. He emptied the glass in three large gulps.
“Whoa, Berny, would you please slow down?” Tony snatched his glass.
“What’s the point to drink this shit then?”
“Come here, sit down.” Tony led Bernard to his battered couch. “I don’t suppose you’ve eaten anything today. Why don’t we order a pizza?”
Thinking about pizza stirred his stomach. He pulled a face despite himself. “No, no pizza.” Swallowing the bail.
“But you love pizza.”
“Apparently not anymore.” He felt sick, his stomach turned. But he didn’t want to show Tony anymore of pathetic himself. “You said you need to talk to me something? What’s that?” He wanted to chase Tony out, but Tony wouldn’t leave before achieving his goal. He looked worried but sighed a big sigh in resignation.
“I need you back.” Tony held out his palm. “No, listen to me first.”
Bernard bit inside of the cheek hard, he tasted blood. He stood up, opened the top button of the jean pants.
“What are you doing?” Tony grabbed his hand. He yanked free and stripped his t-shirt off. “I asked you what you are doing?” Tony jerked his both hands and pinned at the back. Their chests were pressed together, Tony’s masculine body scent set his libido on fire despite the situation.
“I didn’t know you are the kind of type who needs a closer. Why don’t you fuck me now and get it over with? I have told you, I din’t need hearts and flowers. Should I bend over the couch? Or do you want me to ride you? Come to think of it, I haven’t ridden you. So, what would it be?” The hurtful words he spat out, came back at him as a blunt knife, tore his chest, dug into his heart slowly. He wanted to scream but instead, bit his lip to keep it from escaping. Tony suddenly shrug him off in disgust. He almost fell down backwards.
“What part of ‘I’m not here to have sex with you’ is so bloody hard to understand?” Tony growled at him. His eyes were glistening with what most certainly looked like an anger.
I need you too, more than you ever imagine, I greedily covet you, what wouldn’t I give to have you. But I don’t have anything to give, that’s the thing, anything at all. I don’t have anything worthy left in me. I will drag you into my poor and pathetic misery and take away your much deserved happiness. I’m a ruiner. I’m broken. And I can’t be fixed. Because the best of me died with Jacob a long time ago. The least thing I can do for you is setting this fuck up I created to straight.
“Then I really don’t get it why you are here. Do you want to tie me up? Beat me? You know you can. I’d much enjoy it that way.”
Tony shut his eyes hard, clenched the jaw. He looked as if he wanted to punch him.
Yes, that’s it. Rather be angry. Tell me, I’m disgusting. Just fuck me stupid and get out.
“Don’t make what we had was just another kinky sex. You know that wasn’t all it. I cherished every moment with you.”
He was obviously hurt. Mission accomplished. Good job Berny.
“Tell me Bernard, how can I win you over? I need to have you, all of you. Not just for the 6 months. I want you to be with me……” He swallowed and took a deep breath. “…indefinitely.”
Bernard’s gut twisted, the bile threatening to back up, almost hanging at his throat.
The words tickled his tongue, which he swallowed hard. He wanted to do right by him, not funking up for once in his life.
“You want to win me over? Okay, here are the things Tony. I want everything that you had shared with your ex-wife Liz Brown, buy me a big mansion preferably in Sandhurst, forget about going back to London,” Tony’s face was getting paled as more words coming out of his mouth. “Who knows, if you showed me that much dedication, I might change my mind.” His heart pounded hard, too hard. “Why Tony? Can’t you do that for a piece of boy ass?” He stepped over Tony’s pride with the shit dirty feet, scoffing Tony’s sincerity, scattering the soil at his pure blue eyes. Tony went dead still. “That’s what I thought. Now, if you don’t want to fuck me, please kindly remove yourself from my apartment.” Sarcasm was thick in his voice.
“Is that all?” Tony roared. It was rather a vibration. Bernard didn’t dare to look his face. Despisement was clear. Maybe disgust too. Tony turned, strode away. Bernard wanted to hold him, beg not to go, he was sorry, he didn’t need anything, not money, not any commitment, not coming out, just Tony, his master, Tony’s strong arms, his big heart, that would be all he ever wanted and needed. But Bernard planted his feet stubbornly on the floor, didn’t even look back to Tony.
“Eat something for god’s sake.” Tony scolded and closed the slightly unhinged door hard behind him. As soon as Tony was gone, Bernard ran to the toilet, turned his gut inside out. Tears and sweat covered all over the face. Breathing hard, Bernard sank into the bathroom tiled floor.
He did it. He did the right thing for someone precious to him. He did right by Tony.
Then why he felt his heart was no longer beating?