When they’d headed toward LAX, Adam worried that he was biting off far more than he could chew. He was armed with the number of Jared’s doctor and his medications, including a mild antidepressant. He had a number he could call in Colorado Springs in case he needed help. But even Jared’s doctor concurred that his depression might be helped by a change of scenery. They were seated in the small commuter plane with mostly business fliers, men and women in suits who carried briefcases and black rolling pilot bags going home at the end of the busy week. Adam had checked their bags, relying on his own lightweight laptop to keep himself busy while Jared flipped idly through a series of architectural and decorator magazines. After a while, Jared started murmuring, “No, no, no, no.”
“What?” Adam looked over, only to see him paging through Elle Decor, tearing out glossy page after page of photographic layouts.
Jared leaned his head back and put one hand over his face. “I can’t. I don’t want to go.” Jared’s breathing became agitated, and the flight attendant looked over. “I need a drink.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea with the –”
“Who the fuck do you think you are?” Jared grabbed up a handful of torn pages, crushed them, and stuffed them into the seat pocket in front of him.
Adam pressed his lips together and gazed beyond the seat in front of him to where the flight attendants were beginning to whisper. “Wherever they land this plane, I’m good, even if they have to take you off in cuffs, Jared. I’m trying to help, but you gotta meet me somewhere.”
Jared closed his mouth around a curse. “I’m sorry.”
“I was going to say maybe a glass of white wine.”
“You’re right of course.” Jared looked out the window. “I don’t like to fly when it’s dark.”
“Close your eyes,” Adam told him, surreptitiously raising the armrest between them. He took Jared’s hand in his. “Maybe you can picture the reflecting pool, you think?”
“You’re being kind again.”
“I can’t understand why you’re going to all this trouble.” Jared gazed at Adam. “Is this just because my house burned down?”
“Right now? It’s because I have two weeks off, and I need to feel the mountains under my feet. Can’t you just leave the questions behind? For once just –”
“I’m picturing the pool,” Jared told him. He was trying. Adam knew he was trying.
Jared’s breathing seemed to slow as Adam watched him closely. He had his eyes closed and his free hand had ceased to fidget in his lap. He wore a simple gray pullover sweater and a pair of jeans. Both showed how much weight he’d lost despite the elegant cuisine at the rehab center. His cheekbones stood out in high relief under the rimless glasses he wore for reading. In the light of the airplane, his almost-translucent skin showed freckles that weren’t ordinarily obvious. Adam was taken with his brown eyes, mostly, and the way he blinked at times, as though he were trying to see something more clearly. Adam wanted to understand just what Jared could see and to soothe away the frustration and anxiety it brought him.
“Can you see the columns?” Adam asked quietly. “And the clock face?”
“You noticed that?” Jared’s eyes popped open in surprise.
“Sure.” Adam gave his hand a warm squeeze. “I thought it looked like a person. The columns looked –”
“The clock rippled, and it reminded me of Dali.”
“Yeah,” Adam said. “I guess.”
Jared peered at him closely. “Do you know what I mean by that?”
Adam shook his head. “Not really.”
“You don’t have to pretend to be interested.”
“I’m not.” Adam eyed the flight attendant as she came down the aisle with the cart. “Pretending, I mean. If you want to explain what that means, it won’t piss me off or anything. There’s lots of stuff I don’t know.” Adam prepared to dazzle the flight attendant because she was looking at Jared like an unexploded bomb and he was holding the man’s hand. In all his life, he’d never done anything like that in public.
Not with anyone.
“Can I get you something?”
Adam smiled and asked for a Michelob. Jared asked for white wine with a distinctish new lace of frost in his voice. She was polite and professional, and after Jared paid her, she moved on.
“Keith used to carry a flask.” Jared spoke in low tones as he poured the contents of his little bottle into his cup. “The TSA folks would never let him get away with that now.”
“No, probably not.”
“But you remind me of him. He could sure turn it on with the flight attendants. Every one of them thought they’d get laid by a famous architect, and then he’d have me blow him as soon as we got into the rental car.”
Adam said nothing.
“Why are you holding my hand?”
“I thought you might… I wanted to anchor you.”
Jared shook his head and sipped his wine. “You realize you’re holding hands with a gay man on a commercial airplane, don’t you?”
“Yes.” Adam swallowed hard. “Do you realize you are too?”
Jared’s hand suddenly went clammy. It hadn’t really occurred to him that Adam might be gay. The interest Adam had taken in him, the compassion he’d exhibited, the visits, the flowers… All those things Jared had put down to unfinished business and work-related guilt. He’d imagined that Adam had the world’s most rigid work ethic and simply wasn’t finished with him until he was settled in a new home. Now he didn’t know what to think.
Surreptitiously, he studied Adam’s profile. Adam’s thick blond hair, cut short, stuck out at odd angles this morning. He’d obviously just gotten up and thrown his clothes on. Maybe he’d worked late the night before. Bed head looked good on him. He had high cheekbones and a straight nose, slightly larger than it should have been to Jared’s eye, slightly disproportionate. It had sharp tip, which gave Adam an air of discernment, as if he were the type to look down it, although Jared knew that to be far from the truth. His brows were darker than his hair and feathered slightly upward, which added to the effect.
What was most arresting about Adam’s face was the blue of his eyes, a color so extraordinary and changeable that Jared watched them constantly. They did nothing so cliché as to change with his moods; they were simply such a clean and glacial blue that they tended to reflect any color around them and in different light looked like different eyes entirely.
Jared’s current obsession with blue had its inception in his first glimpse of those eyes. It had to do with past pain and old regrets. With the raunchy marks on Keith’s body when he cheated and lied about it, the noise and the heat of the crowds teeming in the streets of the Asian cities where they’d gone to do business for Kincaid International, the heat of the blaze that destroyed his home, and the association of all his losses with the colors of passion and fire and blood.
When he’d first seen Adam’s eyes, when he’d first looked up from that sound, sound sleep and seen the young firefighter standing over him, exhorting him to move, to get up, to leave his home before it burned, he’d only seen the eyes and followed a cool blue tranquil color that made him feel safe. He had followed that color all the way to the plane on which they currently flew to a respite in another state and an uncertain future, even though he wasn’t entirely certain why.
Adam’s body was fit and strong, built lean from exhaustive physical training and hard work. His hand looked young in Jared’s own — soft and unlined — with strong, square fingertips and short, clean nails.
Jared didn’t know the man who allowed him to clutch at him like a lifeline, but he’d followed him, if only to see himself reflected in the cool blue of his eyes. In that moment, at least, it was enough.