Patroclus woke with a pounding head. Light poured through his one bedroom window announcing that dawn had broken. It was a hazy light which despite the earliness of the day still made heat waves rise viciously from the pavement. He rolled over seeking some respite from the harsh glare only to find his bed, a tousled pile of sheets and blankets still a mess from last night, empty. With a sound of disgust he sat up, before unsteadily placing his feet on the cool wood of his floor. He stood slowly as anger coiled around his heart like a python, its venom a poisoning disappointment. Once standing the pounding in his head grew worse. He knew everything would be quieted once he smoked. He pulled on a pair of boxers, and with shaking fingers grabbed his pack of cigarettes and a lighter. With a well practiced move he opened the window and lept with feline grace onto the rusted fire escape. He blinked several times as his eyes adjusted to the brightness of the day. Here, among his potted plants, he lit up and began to remember.
The whole affair had been a blur, and yet with smoke filling his lungs he could recall every moment, every look, every touch as if it were being freshly imprinted into his memory. Patroclus exhaled, and his anger was replaced with a certain melancholic and nostalgic fondness.
He should have known better than to fall into bed with his boss, his married boss at that. But Patroclus could hardly be blamed. One look from Odysseus and he knew he was gone. There was something in those warm intelligent brown eyes that tugged Patroclus under. Before too long he was drowning in soft upturned lips and clever glances when they thought no one was looking. There was something attractive about flirting with someone you can’t have, and it is all the more delicious when they flirt back. Not only had Patroclus fallen for Odysseus, but Odysseus had fallen for him. At least that’s what Patroclus had believed.
It was all fun and games until Patroclus met Penelope. For some reason he had thought he had had a chance at stealing Odysseus away from his wife, that he was a serious contender for the other man’s heart. And why shouldn’t he? He was a young man in his prime of life, champing at the bit, waiting for someone to show him the world. He had believed that that someone might be Odysseus. Odysseus who had come in like a wave and swept him off his feet. Odysseus who was oh so clever with his hands. Odysseus who’s promises in the dark had been cemented in winsome smiles and winks during the day. He had given Patroclus words and vows all the while forsaking his marital one. Surely that meant something. The kisses had been too good to have meant nothing. The camaraderie in bed must translate to something real outside of the bedroom, right?
But smiles and winks are the things only children can pin hopes to.
Upon meeting Penelope at the gala last night, Patroclus realized that it had all been one cruel, sick game on Odysseus’ part. It was obvious that Odysseus would never leave Penelope. She was perfect, soft, feminine, everything Patroclus was not. She tempered Odysseus’ cleverness with a warm sweetness of her own. And worst of all she had been kind to Patroclus asking him how his father was -- who cared? The man was a bastard -- and telling him how fond Odysseus seemed to be of him -- if only she knew what she was saying. Patroclus felt the truth on the tip of his tongue, but Penelope’s genuine kindness and open expression prevented him from saying anything that might hurt her. Instead he feigned modesty as he felt disappointment turn his palate bitter.
After that he had tactfully made his goodbyes before retreating to lick his wounds and heal his injured pride. Of course, Odysseus had run after him. But that was when Patroclus ended it, he was through, tired of being Odysseus’ plaything. He told Odysseus that his wife deserved better; the older man’s jaw tightened but he still said nothing. Odysseus remained quiet through Patroclus’ entire tirade and when it looked like he might say something they were joined by Circe, Odysseus’ personal assistant.
“Odysseus, they are looking for you, sir.” The young woman put a slim hand intimately on Odysseus’ bicep and that’s when Patroclus realized he hadn’t been the only one. Patroclus’ stomach clenched.
Odysseus only nodded and turned to follow the stunning blonde inside without another look at Patroclus. He had been dismissed. And so Patroclus had left; hot tears burning in his eyes.
Angrily Patroclus stubbed out the butt of his cigarette. His hands were shaking badly, and unbidden the tears from last night were threatening to return. Patroclus ran his hands through his hair several times to calm himself down before reaching for another cigarette.
The rest of the previous evening began to drift back to him as the sun continued her ascent into the sky. After the gala Patroclus had gone downtown to a seedy bar where he could nurse a drink, or three, and find someone to fuck. That’s where he had met...well he didn’t know his name. They hadn’t really gotten that far.
“You’re cute, have I seen you here before?” A man had asked sitting on the stool next to Patroclus.
“Can’t say that you have.” Patroclus’ fingers circled the lip of his empty glass as he contemplated if he should get another.
“Can I buy you a drink?”
“Double shot of Jameson Reserve.” He was already drunk, but at this point what more did he have to lose?
The man looked at the bartender, “make it two.”
The bartender nodded before going to pour their drinks.
“A man who knows what he likes,” murmured the stranger placing his hand on Patroclus’ thigh. “Tell me what else would you like?”
“That’s candid of you-”
“So’s you putting your hand on my leg. Shit let’s forget all the pleasantries.” Patroclus slurred.
The stranger was clearly taken aback. So Patroclus continued brazenly, “Do you want to keep talking or go back to mine?” Here the other man had looked surprised. Clearly he hadn’t been expecting Patroclus to make things so easy for him. And then a wolfish smirk settled on his face.
“I didn’t think such a pretty boy could be so assertive, clearly we’ll have to teach you a lesson.” The man’s hand stroked up Patroclus’ thigh and was happy to discover how hard the other man seemed to be.
Patroclus let out a filthy moan. When their drinks had arrived they shot them down. Patroclus had enjoyed the sweet burn in his throat and nose, and the promise of what the night would bring hung heavily in the air. As he struggled to stand the other man paid off their tab before leading them out onto the street. They had rushed back to his flat, a taxi ride of desperate kisses and rushed groping which soon led to Patroclus becoming a whining mess. The other man seemed so collected as he paid the fare and dragged Patroclus toward the door of the building. That all changed when they were in the elevator as the stranger pushed Patroclus against the back wall and began to suck at the point where Patroclus’ neck met his jaw. For all the hardness of the bone underneath his skin it was a surprisingly sensitive part of his anatomy which had him rutting against the other man like a teenager trying to get off before his parents could catch him.
“Hush, pet. There’s time for that.” The other man had said. Only his ragged breathing suggested that he was as turned on as Patroclus.
Patroclus dragged the man down the hall to his apartment leading him to the bedroom. They fell into bed, the stranger on top of him sucking on his neck.
“Condoms are in the bedside table,” rasped Patroclus trying to buck his hips up into the other man.
The stranger pulled away reaching for the drawer. His hand knocked over the box of cigarettes causing him to look at them. He let out a laugh, “herbal cigarettes. You’re too cute.”
“Are we gonna talk about my smoking habits or are you going to get in me?” Patroclus pouted.
The man smirked before pulling off his shirt exposing sun kissed skin, and taunt muscles which all seemed to lead downward. After letting Patroclus look his fill the man had gone down to remove Patroclus’ trousers and anything else which might prevent him from having Patroclus completely.
“I want you to stay. After. I want you in the morning.” Patroclus said his tongue tripping over the words in his intoxication. “Please.”
The other man only laughed before tearing Patroclus apart bit by bit. It was torturous, but had felt so so good.
Patroclus stubbed out his second cigarette. His head was still pounding and he began to suspect that perhaps it was the hangover and not the desire for a smoke as he had initially thought. He rose leaving the paraphernalia on the landing and went back into his room. His bedroom was dark and cool, a relief from the warmth of the burgeoning day. He stumbled towards the bathroom grabbing the bottle of ibuprofen before heading to the kitchen. There he poured himself a glass of water and sat down. He probably would have stayed there for awhile moping if his phone hadn’t rung at that second.
“Hello?” Patroclus’ voice was rough, whether from sleep, sex or smoking he didn’t know or care.
“Patroclus, are you alright?”
“It’s me!” The younger man said brightly. “You sound dead. Where are you?”
“Home?” There was a pout in the other man’s voice. It took a moment for Patroclus to realize why.
“Shit, I’m supposed to meet you aren’t I?”
Automedon laughed. “Down at our favorite cafe. No rush though.”
After apologizing profusely Patroclus hung up the phone and began to get dressed. He grabbed his lighter and cigarettes from off the fire escape throwing them into his pocket along with his wallet. He chided himself for forgetting about his meeting with the other man as he ran down the stairs and out into the bright sunlight.
“Shit.” He’d forgotten his sunglasses. He squinted against the radiant glare of the sun, his hangover making him want to crawl out of his own skin and curl up in his dark, cool apartment. Instead he forced himself to satisfy his quieter instinct which was to get some hot, greasy, carb-tastic food into him to soak up the remaining alcohol which was poisoning his system.
After what felt like an excruciating walk, which must be some kind of divine punishment, he made it to the cafe. Sitting out front, because of fucking course he would choose outside over in, was Automedon. Luckily the man already had two large coffees in front of him, one of which he slid towards Patroclus as he all but collapsed into his seat, and a bagel.
“I already ordered. I got you a bagel.” Automedon said cheerfully stating the obvious. He continued in that manner by adding, “You look like hell.”
Patroclus took all this information in and tried to disseminate it. He should have known better, a cafe wasn’t going to do greasy food. A shame really. “I went out.”
“Clearly,” snorted Automedon. “And apparently came back with someone.”
“That’s a pretty big hickey,” Automedon said gesturing to Patroclus’ neck.
In his stupor of getting ready he hadn’t even noticed. Patroclus moved the napkin dispenser towards him to use as a mirror. There, obvious to anyone over the age of fourteen was a dark bruise right under his jaw. He sighed, it was too late to do anything about it now. He pushed the dispenser back to the center of the table when he caught Automedon looking at him with bright eyes.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you get some.” Right. That’s because Automedon didn’t know about the whole affair thing. “So is this person someone special?”
“Stranger I met in a bar.”
Automedon slumped back in his seat. “I’m worried for you, Patroclus. When’s the last time you were with someone?”
It was so tempting for Patroclus to come out with the whole sordid truth about Odysseus. He wanted to, but some irrational part of him was still trying to protect the man. Instead he held his tongue.
“I mean really, when was the last time you were truly happy?” asked Automedon more gently.
Patroclus let out sigh, now that was a harder question. He had thought he had been happy with Odysseus, and there were moments that he had been. But there was always the underlying fear that someone would find out, that Odysseus would leave, that he was never quite enough to satisfy the man. Apparently that last fear was well grounded, thought Patroclus as he remembered Circe’s adoring gaze, He made a face, it was like the happiness he had had with Odysseus was merely heat waves rising from the asphalt, ephemeral and unstable. Perhaps he shouldn’t have chased the other man so foolishly, or tried to pin quite so many hopes to what could only be hot air. He looked up from his coffee to see Automedon watching him with quiet concern.
“I was happy with Brieses, once.”
A grim smile from his companion. Brieses. He hadn’t thought of her in years. They had been high school sweethearts back in their hometown, a place where such a thing still existed. Patroclus had thought that she would be enough for him. For a long time he had convinced himself that she was, but they had been too young, too foolhardy. He had proposed in the height of their relationship, a summer like haze of bliss, but like most relationships winter came and they couldn’t survive the storm.
Automedon frowned. “Have you heard from her recently?”
“No. And honestly she deserves better than me. I fucked up both our lives pretty badly.” Patroclus rubbed his arm. The shame was as fresh as it was all those years ago, but sometimes he could look past it and wonder what had ever happened to the girl he had once loved.
“You’ve made some mistakes, but does that really mean you are undeserving of happiness?” Automedon asked.
Patroclus remained silent. His answer was clear.
Automedon sighed. “Alright. Come on.”
“What where are we going?”
“You took so long to get here that I have a job to do.” Automedon rose leaving cash on the table.
“What does that have to do with me?”
“If I leave you now, you’ll just go back to your apartment and smoke and mope. Come enjoy the fresh air with me.” Even Automedon’s steps had a fucking bounce to them.
“I thought you had to do a job.” Patroclus rose a brow skeptically nonetheless continuing to follow his friend, his half eaten bagel still in hand.
“I’m walking my friend’s dogs. He’s out of the city for a while dealing with some familly stuff, but couldn’t take his dogs. The poor beasts miss him terribly, but they still need to be walked so he asked me to do it. Now step lively, can’t keep the poor dears waiting too long.”
Patroclus sighed, but knew better than to argue with Automedon.
It wasn’t long before they arrived at Automedon’s friend’s apartment. It was in a wealthier neighborhood than Patroclus was expecting, all the brownstones had elegant windows with boxes of plants growing in them. A cultivated wildness that made Patroclus’ own plants look tame in comparison.
“Um, how rich is this friend?”
Automedon merely laughed before going up a set of graceful stairs which led to a solid oak door that was adorned with iron filigree. “Follow me, he lives in the penthouse.”
Automedon unlocked the door letting them both into the hushed interior. He led the way up a set of richly carpeted stairs. As they reached the second floor landing they passed an older woman who was coming out of her apartment.
“Morning, Auto. Coming to check in after the dogs?”
“What a sweet boyfriend you are.”
Patroclus watched as the blood rose to Automedon’s face. His friend stammered out, “it’s not like that.”
The old woman chuckled, “you know I don’t judge. Vive le difference!”
Automedon turned to Patroclus. “We really aren’t dating.”
“But you’d like to?” Patroclus goaded.
Automedon blushed even further, and that was the end of that conversation.
Patroclus didn’t want to be impressed when he saw the interior of the flat. Everything about the building had suggested old world charm, from the richly faded red carpets to the chandeliers collecting dust, so when they finally reached the apartment Patroclus was shocked to say the least. He had been expecting a dark bachelor’s pad, swathed in jewel tones and rich velvets and brocades. Instead the entire place glowed faintly, bathed in mid morning light. The walls were painted a creamy eggshell color, and there were windows everywhere. There was something so resplendent and elegant in its simplicity that Patroclus had no words.
Patroclus barely had time to register all this because at the sound of the door opening two magnificent dogs rushed at them. At first Patroclus wondered if they were even dogs, they were so large that they ought to be considered ponies. One was a golden retriever, its mantle so finely colored it looked like it had been infused with the sunlight of the apartment. The other was an Australian shepherd with a merle coat that looked like he had been washed in moonlight. The two dogs lept at Automedon barking cheerfully, their tails wagging to show their pleasure.
“Sit, Balios. Sit Xanthos,” Automedon laughed. The two dogs ignored him continuing to jump at him, paws catching his arms and hips pulling him down to their level. Automedon couldn’t help but laugh as he looked back at Patroclus with a sort of helpless look.
“Balios, Xanthos. Sit.” Patroclus ordered.
Immediately the two dogs left Automedon and sat on their haunches at a respectful distance staring at their new master with large cowed eyes.
“How did you do that?” Marveled Automedon.
Patroclus shrugged. He wasn’t entirely sure what it was in his voice that had made the dogs listen, but they had. Patroclus made his way over to where the dogs were sitting. Almost tentatively he said, “ok. Good boys.”
The two dogs rose and began butting their heads affectionately against Patroclus’ knees and hands demanding attention. Patroclus began running his fingers through their fur, scratching behind their ears. The Aussie rolled over on his back, begging Patroclus to rub his belly with large blue eyes. The dogs keened with pleasure, and began exerting more pressure against Patroclus in their search for ear scratches and belly rubs. However, at the sound of their food being poured both dogs ran to the kitchen. Patroclus stood from where he had been crouching to find Automedon had returned.
“Those dogs are possibly the friendliest dogs in the city, but I’ve never seen them take to someone so quickly. And they took orders from you,” Automedon shook his head. “Are you sure you’re not a dog whisperer.”
Patroclus laughed. “Pretty sure. So Balios and Xanthos?”
“Dappled and Blonde. Can you guess which ones which?” laughed Automedon. “We need to wait for them to finish eating and then we can take them for a walk.”
Patroclus nodded and began to drift away to explore the apartment. He looked into the kitchen to find the two dogs eating contentedly. The room had a pristine look to it, like it had hardly been touched. There was nothing on the marble countertops that suggested that someone cooked here. The only sign of individuality was a photograph taped to the fridge. In the picture was a gorgeous young man, with a jawline that could cut glass. His blond curls fell over a high, intelligent forehead. His lips were a tantalizing shade of pink and between them were revealed a set of perfect teeth. But his most striking feature were his eyes. They were a stunning color and even in the photograph they burned bright. There was nothing halfway about this man. It was all or nothing with him. The dawn of a new world, or the destruction of an old one. He traced the line of the other man, fingers hovering over the photograph. He saw the strong arm which wrapped around Automedon’s shoulder, and the stupid smiles which both of them wore.
“He’s stunning, isn’t he?” Automedon said with a sadness in his voice which Patroclus couldn’t quite pin down.
“Let me guess. He’s an absolute heartbreaker, a grade A jackass.” Patroclus said arrogantly, but he knew Automedon would never be friends with someone like that.
“No. He’s not. But it would never work out between us,” Automedon said coming to look at the picture.
“His mother wants him to date someone in her yacht club and his father just wants him to settle down with someone soon. I guess we’re not compatible.” Automedon said somewhat disjointedly. “Anyway, I like being his friend. I don’t want to lose that for the world.”
Patroclus nodded. He continued to look around. He went back into the living room and noticed that there were tons of books on the shelves, personal ones. There was a worn out copy of Tolkein and Lewis side by side. On another shelf were books on music and opera. On the coffee table was a tattered copy of Fitzgerald with post-it notes on more pages than not. Slightly to the left of the table was a stand holding all sorts of assorted stringed instruments. There was an acoustic guitar, a mandolin, a ukulele, and a violin.
“You should hear him play, he has a voice that would bring the angels down from heaven just to listen.”
Patroclus turned suddenly aware that he had been running his fingers over the strings of the ukulele. “You seem very enamoured with him. Is it worth it?”
Automedon smiled. “It’s worth it.”
Patroclus shrugged. “I don’t think anyone is worth worship.”
“How would you know?”
Patroclus threw Automedon a sad smile. He continued to wander the halls like a spectre not entirely sure what he was seeing, Automedon with careful measured steps trailed behind him. There were a few more photographs of the resident in question with an older man who looked like his father. The older man was wearing a naval uniform with enough metals on his chest to sink a boat. Finally at the end of the hall was one photo of the young man with a woman. She shared his blond curls and fine features, but there was something calculated in her smile. She was standing on a yacht with one hand possessively clutching the arm of her son. For that’s what Patroclus decided they must be, mother and son.
Patroclus looked curiously into one of the rooms at the end of the hall and found a perfectly made bed. The sheets were tucked in along the corners and sides, forming perfect angles with not a wrinkle in sight. He turned to Automedon to ask, but the other man sensed his question.
“Army brat. Father sent him off to military academy so fast it would make your head spin. That’s where I met him, actually.”
“You went to a military academy?”
Automedon grinned. “Yeah, but I didn’t stick around. Come on, let’s take the dogs for a walk.”
They returned to the front foyer and upon Automedon’s whistle the two dogs loped over to them. Balios, the darker of the two, kept butting his head against Patroclus’ leg demanding attention.
“He seems to really like you. Why don’t you walk him?” offered Automedon passing him the leash.
“I’m not really a dog person-”
Balios keened missing his absent master.
“Look at him, it would make him happy. I know it.”
Patroclus wasn’t entirely sure who he was trying to please, but he took the leash and attached it to the coller of the dog. Balios’ tail thumped gloriously against the hardwood floor, a display of his obvious pleasure. The dog beamed up at him with a toothy grin, tongue lolling to the side.
The sun was hot that day, bathing the two men’s shoulders and heads in its light. The dogs panted in the heat as Automedon lead the way to the nearest park. Here the light was dappled, and the paths slightly cooler on the paws of the dogs. For awhile the two men walked in silence enjoying the late morning air.
The longer they were out in the fresh air the more Patroclus began to think, and soon his thoughts weighed heavy on his tongue.
“How can you pine for someone who you know is not interested?” Patroclus asked.
They had reached a particularly quiet part of the park where ancient birch trees, elegantly enrobed in white, stretched to the sky. Their branches tangled together like fingers knit together and light filtered through the cool leaves dancing on the path and undergrowth. It was a place of worship, a place to keep a secret.
Automedon sighed. “You mean Achilles.”
So that was the name of the missing dog owner...but that was not in fact what Patroclus had been intending, yet he was grateful for his friend’s self interest.
“Right. I guess I mean how can you love someone who-”
“Because I do. I love him as my best friend, I always will no matter how he sees me. But I’ve accepted that part of me also loves the idea of him. I like how we might fit together one day, the way his lips would taste, how his hands would feel, but I know it’s only a daydream. I’ve made my peace with that a long time ago, but I’ve never stopped loving both him and it. In reality, we just wouldn’t be good for one another. We both need things that neither can provide.” Automedon laughed. It was a giddy, mad thing which startled birds into flight. “I’m ok, Patroclus. Really.”
Patroclus nodded dumbly. He stood rooted to the spot as Automedon walked on obliviously. Thoughts tumbled through Patroclus’ mind as with this new information he reevaluated everything. Where Automedon’s love was sweet and innocent he felt his own indiscretion as illicit and disturbed. It had been wrong. He had sinned. Suddenly the shade felt sinister. It was only Balios’ whine which reminded him to follow Automedon back towards the sunlight. The dog had been sitting patiently at his new master’s feet, but was tired of waiting. With a little jog, much to the enjoyment of Balios, Patroclus caught up with his friend.
They circled around the park once more before returning to Achilles’ apartment.
“You should come help me tomorrow. The dogs seem to really like you.” Automedon said taking the leash off of Xanthos’ collar. Patroclus did the same for Balios, and the two dogs scampered away followed by the sound of them lapping up water.
“I don’t know.”
“Look, I don’t want to pry but you’ve seemed out of sorts recently. Like there something you aren’t telling us. I’m not saying you have to spill your secrets, but these dogs seem to make you happy. Why not enjoy some time with them?”
“Automedon-” The truth was on the cusp of Patroclus’ lips.
The other man turned to him, but there was something that stopped Patroclus from admitting his guilt. “It’s nothing.”
Confusion clouded Automedon’s brow, but it didn’t stay too long. “Come with me tomorrow. Please?”
Patroclus took one look at Automedon’s hopeful smile and wide uncertain eyes and knew he couldn’t stay away, no matter how much he wanted to. “Yeah. Ok.”
And thus began a strange affair between Patroclus and two dogs. Where Balios had warmed instantly to Patroclus it took Xanthos a little longer. It was clear how much the beast missed his erstwhile master. And although he was warm towards Patroclus there was still a feeling of unease between the two. He followed Patroclus’ orders when given, but there was something discerning in the large dog’s eyes as if it was measuring Patroclus against its master and finding Patroclus was lacking. But as the weeks progressed and summer’s firey hold tightened so too did the golden dog warm to Patroclus. By the end of the third week he was showing his belly to the man, tail thumping heavily against the floor as Patroclus rubbed the soft spot.
And so slowly Patroclus felt his hurt and anger dissipate. He was able to laugh with Automedon more easily and the pain which had been burnt into his soul was finally beginning to heal. He had quit his job with Citizens for Laertiades and had thrown himself into his studies once more. He started going out with friends and sorrow was replaced with mirth. Perhaps it was this joy which blinded Patroclus to the fact that Achilles should be due back soon, that time had indeed moved forward.
“Achilles is coming home next week,” Automedon announced scratching Balios behind the ears one day. The dark dog cocked its head, ears forward at the name of his master.
Patroclus felt something stab at his heart. He wanted to meet Achilles, but there was also fear that there was no way this man could meet his expectations. For somehow, just by being near Achilles’ objects Patroclus had seemingly fallen for the man. He couldn’t help but be fascinated, and perhaps even a little obsessed. And yet once the real Achilles returned his dream version would vanish for good.
“What day?” Patroclus asked trying to keep his voice steady.
“Monday.” Pleasure tinged Automedon’s tone.
As they were walking the dogs down the stairs of the old brownstone the old woman, whom Patroclus had since learned was named Hecuba, came out to greet them. In her arms were a massive bouquet of flowers.
“Good morning, boys. Off with the dogs again?” She said with a smile.
“It’s supposed to be lovely out,” Hecuba sighed.
“And where are you going?” Patroclus asked missing the warning glare Automedon tried to send him.
Hecuba laughed. “Oh that’s alright, Auto. I’m visiting my daughter Polyxena. She died ten years ago.”
“Oh. I’m so sorry.”
“It’s a terrible thing to lose someone so young and full of life. Remember to live fully, and love fiercely as there is nothing so precious in this world. Enjoy your walk.”
They had been dismissed.
The morning was chillier with the knowledge that this part of Patroclus’ life was coming to a close. There was a quietness which held his tongue. Even the dogs seemed to pick up on it and were more reserved than usual. They walked to the park in silence, each man caught up in his own thoughts. They had reached the birch grove from the first day when suddenly Patroclus felt compelled to speak.
Automedon started. “What for?”
“Inviting me. It’s what I needed.” Patroclus sighed, He finally felt ready to tell the truth. “I was involved with a man who was married. I thought he would end it for me but he didn’t. I met his wife, she was charming, and even though she was my rival I could never hate her. She should hate me, because-” Here he faltered.
“You don’t have to tell me all this if you’re not ready,” Automedon said stopping to look at his friend.
Patroclus shook his head. “No. I want to tell someone. I’m tired of keeping it to myself.”
Automedon waited, he knew Patroclu would speak once he was ready. And so silence reigned until:
“Because the worst part is that a big part of me still want to be with him. After all the shitty things he’s done to both me and her I want things to go back to the way they were before. I miss having him in my bed, as pathetic as that sounds,” Patroclus blinked back tears. “I miss laughing with him and knowing that in those stolen minutes however far and in between he was mine. It’s irrational. I already know that.”
Patroclus roughly wiped the tears from his cheeks with the back of his hand and looked at Automedon for the first time. His friend’s jaw was open and his eyes were full of something that looked an awful lot like pity.
“I didn’t know,” Automedon murmured. “Is that why you quit your job?”
Patroclus nodded miserably.
“He was your boss, wasn’t he.” It hadn’t been a question.
Automedon had only met Odysseus once, but like anyone else who met the man he had been charmed instantly. He suddenly understood just how charismatic Odysseus could be in order to seduce his friend to so drastically break his moral code. The man was a snake.
“Look I know what you must be thinking. That it was all his fault that he convinced me to help him cheat on his wife. But it’s not like that. I wanted it. I flirted with him, and even though I knew he was married I accepted his attentions. We were both complicit, equally guilty.”
“Do you really believe that? Patroclus, he is married. It’s his responsibility to turn down temptation. Sure you probably shouldn’t have flirted with him, but he definitely shouldn’t have encouraged you. That’s on him, Pat. Not you.” Automedon’s hand clenched tightly around Balios’ leash.
Patroclus broke eye contact and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. Something tight was lodged in his throat preventing him from saying more.
The two dogs, who sat patiently awaiting for the walk to continue, turned to look back at the two men reminding them of their purpose. The walk continued on.
After they returned the dogs to the flat and were locking up, Automedon turned to Patroclus. “Thank you for telling me that stuff, and just so you know I don’t judge you.”
Patroclus smiled weakly. “Thanks for listening.”
“Will I see you tomorrow?”
“Yeah. I want to see this to the end.”
Automedon smiled. “I was hoping you would say that.”
One week later and Patroclus languished in bed. The walls of his room seemed to close in on him. Nothing captured his interest, and like a clingy ex-girlfriend he wanted to see the dogs. But their master had returned last night and they had no need for him. Automedon assured him that he could ask to go visit any time, but that made Patroclus feel weird. He had never met Achilles, and all he knew about him came from his personal belongings. Sure they might be able to talk about Keuroc’s On the Road which Patroclus had bought after seeing it on Achilles’ shelf, or maybe Madama Butterfly which he had listened to in its entirety after seeing the album among many others near a CD player. But all too soon these conversations would run out, and Patroclus would be revealed to be a creep. Because who tries to get to know someone through their possessions? No. It would be too awkward.
But as the sun rose the temptation to be out in it manifested and multiplied. Just like those damn dogs Patroclus felt like he needed a walk. Maybe fresh air would help to clear his head. It wasn’t normal to obsess like this over someone he had never met. He wasn’t entirely sure what to do with the information. There was something in him that felt dirty for being so obsessively interested in someone who he never met.
He rose and got dressed. Moving sluggishly through his apartment he grabbed the essentials: wallet, sunglasses, forsaking his cigarettes for his headphones instead. He left his home and through habit headed to the park by Achilles’ even though it was some four blocks farther than the park nearest to his house.
As he strolled through the familiar paths, his head buried in music, he thought he saw two familiar forms over the crest of the hill. They seemed to be darting around, and suddenly with a salutary bark which could just be heard over the blaring bassline one of the dogs began making a beeline for Patroclus.
Instantly the dog was followed by the other and some indistinct shouts were heard as the headphones were knocked out of Patroclus’ ears as Balios’ leap caused him to fall to the ground. The dark dog began licking Patroclus’ face, paws digging into his ribs, as the cold nose snuffled around his own. Another nose buried itself into his side as a golden head appeared near his left hand.
“Oh my god,” came an aghast voice, “I’m so sorry. Balios, Xanthos, heel.”
Shamefully the two dogs withdrew and sat on their haunches at a respectable distance. The only misbehavior seemed to come from Balios who merely keened sorrowfully.
And suddenly Patroclus found himself looking up, far up, at a face he knew well but only from photographs. Here he was covered in dog slobber and grass stains; clothes a wrinkled mess, one earphone falling out from his unbecomingly ruffled hair in front of the most stunning man he had ever seen. The sun made vision spots dance in front of his eyes, but he would recognize this man anywhere. Here at last was Achilles.
Achilles offered his hand and helped Patroclus stand. “I am so sorry. They’re not usually like that.”
“It’s okay, really.” Patroclus shot a sidelong glance to the two dogs who looked up at him with pleading eyes. “I’m Patroclus.”
“Oh, Auto’s friend,” exclaimed Achilles, recognition flooding his eyes.
“Yeah,” Patroclus was baffled that Automedon had told Achilles about him.
“Alright, boys,” Achilles said releasing the two dogs from their spots. They padded over wagging their tails. “Thank you again for helping to walk these two. I hope they weren’t too much trouble.”
Patroclus watched Achilles give a hearty pat to Xanthos’ broad back. He knew he should say something, but his tongue was dumb in his mouth. Finally he managed to get out, “Um, no trouble.”
Achilles laughed. “I was just about to go get some breakfast. Care to join?”
Patroclus opened his mouth to demurely turn down the offer when his stomach let out a loud rumble. His cheeks burned with shame.
The smile Achilles gave him was worth the embarrassment. “Come with me.”
Achilles releashed the two dogs and handed one to Patroclus. He smiled warmly and the two continued down the shaded path.
When Achilles had offered food, Patroclus had expected that they would stop at a food cart or even a small coffee shop. Instead they followed the familiar route back to Achilles’ apartment. The blond led the way to the top floor and opened the door. He welcomed Patroclus in and took the two dogs off their leashes.
Patroclus followed Achilles into the open kitchen space and was surprised to find that it was fully stocked. “How did this happen?”
Achilles smiled warmly. These smiles were quickly becoming one of Patroclus’ favorite things. “Auto. He’s too good to me.”
“Are you-” Patroclus didn’t know how to ask what he wanted to know. Luckily Achilles knew where he was going.
“I love him like a little brother, but we could never be more than that. We both know that.” There was some regret in his voice, but Patroclus didn’t want to pry further. “So what would you like. Coffee? Eggs? Pancakes? I have enough food to survive the zombie apocalypse. Now that I look there’s bacon and sausage too.”
Patroclus chose eggs and bacon, and offered to help by making coffee. As Achilles began to crack eggs into the bowl, Patroclus asked “where are your coffee filters?”
“In the cabinet by the window, and the mugs are in the next one over.”
As Patroclus moved from one spot to the other he collided with Achilles, their bodies bumping softly against one another. Achilles arm shot out on reflex to help stabilize himself, his large hand wrapped around Patroclus’ bicep.
“Sorry,” squeaked Patroclus.
“It’s alright,” Achilles murmured. He still didn’t move his hand. The two men watched each other, with only the steady drip of the coffee maker and the sizzle of butter frying filling the air. Patroclus’ eyes met Achilles’ and couldn’t seem to look away. “Um, I should get back to those eggs…”
“Right. Um, mugs…” Patroclus said moving to the left. Unfortunately Achilles had also moved to his right causing there to be an impasse. Achilles let out a laugh which broke the heaviness in the air and endeared Patroclus to him all the more. Achilles skated by him, with a lingering pat to the shoulder. Patroclus tracked the other man’s movement with his eyes, all the while with a smile on his face.
The two men continued their dance, Patroclus circling around Achilles like a planet around the sun. The two dogs traced their course between the legs of their master like two dwarf planets.
“How do you take your coffee?” asked Patroclus as the last of the coffee percolated into the pot.
“Lots of cream and sugar,” confessed Achilles with some abash.
Patroclus, who took his own coffee black, thought it was adorable that this man should be so ashamed in how he took his coffee. He hid his smile behind the opened refrigerator door. Suddenly he felt another hand on his own and the door closed with a snap. Before he knew it Patroclus was pressed up against the cold metal door, hot hands on his chest and waist. Across his neck was a warm breath, Achilles’ scent surrounded him. Patroclus’ own hands moved to clutch the front of Achilles’ shirt, pulling the other man to him.
Patroclus could feel the other man’s lips just inches from his skin, and he knew that as soon as they made contact he would be even more addicted than before.
However, Achilles pulled away before anything more happened.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that.” Achilles retreated from Patroclus, hands achingly tracing across skin and muscle until they too were gone.
Patroclus tried to fight the disappointment which flooded his system, and searched for anything to relieve the tension which had been created. Finding nothing, as all his brain could do was think Achilles, Achilles, Achilles, Patroclus finally settled on just offering to go.
“No, please don’t go. I promised you breakfast, and now it looks like I owe you an explanation...anyway I want to get to know you better, Patroclus. Truly. I hope my boorish behavior hasn’t frightened you away.”
How could Patroclus explain that Achilles’ actions only made him want to stay more. He was irrevocably hooked on everything about the man, never wanted to fall from his favor, irrationally wanted to follow Achilles’ to the ends of the earth. How do you tell someone you met for the first time just mere hours ago that your soul and his were made from the same stuff? So Patroclus nodded mutely before finding his voice. “I’ll stay.”
Achilles tried to hide his smile, but Patroclus was soon finding that Achilles could hide nothing from him as he was learning everything he could about the man. “Good. I’m glad.”
Achilles shuffled back to the stovetop, and Patroclus turned once more to open the refrigerator. The cool air was refreshing on his cheeks which were burning with a blush he had not known was there. He took a moment to compose himself and sort through all that had just happened. After breathing deeply once more he turned on his heel closing the door with a snap.
At the sound Achilles turned his head to glance at the other man. Patroclus could feel those intense eyes tracing over the planes of his face returning his gaze again and again to Patroclus’ own lips. His entire body yearned for a kiss, to know Achilles wholly and completely. His desire felt like being swept out to sea by a the current which takes one by surprise and utterly overtakes a man, swallowing him whole. So charged were the glances between the two, that with a stab of regret Patroclus was reminded of Odysseus. He broke eye contact with Achilles as shame flooded his system as blue eyes were replace by brown, and desire battled with humiliation.
After the food was prepared they sat down at the island, the dogs begging by their chairs. Patroclus dug into his food unaware of how hungry he had been up until that moment. Achilles meanwhile sipped meditatively on his coffee, all the while dropping bits of bacon into the dogs’ greedy mouths. There was something so domestic about the whole thing, like they had been there forever and in years to come this would still remain. Finally, Achilles asked, “is it good.”
“Wonderful. Where did you learn to cook like this?”
“The woman downstairs taught me. I believe you met her, Hecuba?”
“Yes, how did you know?”
A rueful expression crept on Achilles face, and suddenly he couldn’t make eye contact with Patroclus. “When Auto told me about how well you were getting on with the dogs, I’ll admit I was intrigued. I called him more and more often to find out how things were going, what you were like, things like that. I was intrigued, you were a mystery, but somehow I felt like I knew you. I know this must sound so lecherous, but I’m glad I met you in the park. I don’t know if I would have had the courage otherwise to introduce myself. I don’t know if this is making sense, but when I met you I was even more attracted to you. I’m sorry this is so forward. Please tell me what you’re thinking.”
“I want this, whatever you are willing to give...it’s just my last relationship, I was burned badly and I’m afraid that it’s damaged some intrinsic part of me… I haven’t had a normal relationship in so long that I’m afraid that I don’t know how.” Patroclus explained not meeting Achilles’ eyes.
“You don’t have to tell me anything you’re uncomfortable with, I’m okay to wait as long as you need. Let’s begin as friends, no pressure. I just want to get to know you.”
Patroclus looked up to find that Achilles was looking at him sincerely. “Alright. I want to get to know you too.”
Can a friendship ever be truly cemented while the pressures of a relationship loom on the horizon, manifesting and brewing, building until they threaten to burst? But until the levee breaks one must continue on as if the flood waters will never come.
For weeks the two men carried on getting to know one another, they talked about everything that came across their minds: art and literature, philosophy, history and politics, life’s deeper meaning and it’s shallower components. They spent hours together and with every hour cracks formed within the dam, weakening its structure until its inevitable fall.
One morning Patroclus received a call from Achilles. He was lounging in bed and at the sound of his phone ringing a smile graced his lips. There was only one person who would call him so early.
“Good morning,” Patroclus sighed rolling over in his bed.
“Did I wake you?” Patroclus could hear an anxious strain in Achilles’ voice rough from disuse.
“No, I was up. What do you want Achilles?”
“How do you know I want something?” This was dangerously close to flirtation, and as good as it felt Patroclus worried where it might lead. For the only end that relationships brought could be heartbreak.
“You always want something when you call me,” Patroclus retorted.
“Maybe I just wanted to hear your voice,” protested Achilles.
Patroclus bit back a smile. “That, my dear Achilles, is still wanting something.”
Achilles laughed. “Fair enough. And that’s not all I wanted.”
“I knew it!” Patroclus cried. “So what is it?”
“There’s an open mic night at the bar I work at that I was going to play at. I’d like you to come,” Achilles said softly. What he didn’t say was I want to play for you.
“I’d like that.” Patroclus murmured back.
“It starts at 9 pm at The Aureum Myrmidon on 7th. Have you ever been?” Achilles asked.
“No, but it sounds fun. I’ll be there.”
“Good. I’ll see you after my set. We can get some drinks and you can tell me how much I sucked.” Achilles said good naturedly.
“You won’t suck,” promised Patroclus
“You’ve never heard me play,” countered Achilles.
This was dangerous. They were getting too close to the point of no return, and Patroclus loved it.
After hanging up with Achilles, Patroclus spent the next few hours in a minor panic. He wasn’t sure what would be appropriate to wear to an open mic night. And the offer of drinks...was this a date? Butterflies tumbled within Patroclus’ stomach as he tore through his closet, convinced that nothing was right. Did he have time to go out and buy a new outfit? Would Achilles notice if he did? His thoughts were interrupted by an alert on his phone. Wandering over to the device, careful to avoid the clothes strewn across the floor, Patroclus checked it curiously. He wanted to slap himself. It was a reminder that he was supposed to see Automedon today. He had fifteen minutes to make it to their favorite coffee shop, and so tonight’s dilemma would have to wait.
Patroclus made it to the cafe before Automedon and grabbed them a table outside. He placed both their orders by the time Automedon came strolling up. Automedon beamed upon seeing his friend already seated and hurried to join him. Patroclus rose to give Automedon a hug.
“Hi, Patroclus! It’s been weeks!” Automedon said embracing his friend close.
“You’re right it’s been too long,” agreed Patroclus.
“I’m glad you wanted to do this too, otherwise I would have thought you were avoiding me,” Automedon laughed as he sat down.
Guilt nibbled at Patroclus’ insides. He had mentioned to Automedon over the phone that he had met Achilles and they were becoming fast friends, but he hadn’t included all the details of that fateful morning. Patroclus swallowed, “right.”
“Dude, are you okay?” Automedon said studying his friend’s face closely.
“Look there’s something I should tell you,” started Patroclus. “I think I’m falling for Achilles.”
Automedon blinked. “Is that all?”
“What do you mean is that all? Aren’t you surprised or something?” Patroclus asked.
Automedon shook his head. “I know that Achilles is Achilles. One can’t help but love him. And he’s in love with you too you know.”
Patroclus’ brain struggled to process Automedon’s words. All he could say was, “you’re not hurt?”
“Nah, I’m not. I know who he is, Patroclus. And I know who you are and honestly I think you two would do each other some good,” Automedon said matter of factually.
“Look, you know what I’ve told you about us never working as a couple. But if he likes you and you like him why shouldn’t you give it a try. I’m fine, and I’m not just saying that. Don’t feel like you need my blessing to date him. He’s his own person, and the fact that he likes you should be enough for you.” Automedon replied seriously.
Patroclus chose to believe him and smiled. “Automedon, what did I do to deserve you?”
Automedon chuckled. “I dunno, man. But you’re pretty lucky.”
Patroclus nodded. “Yeah, I am.”
“Soooo…did you put an order in for us?” asked Automedon.
“Wonderful! Now anything else I can help you with?” Automedon teased.
“Um actually, yeah. Achilles invited me to an open mic night and I’m not sure if it’s a date or not. I’m just wondering if you have any advice? I mean you’ve known him a lot longer than I have,” Patroclus explained shyly.
Automedon looked kindly at his friend, “It’s definitely a date. Try not to worry too much, he likes you. I promise. Try not to freak out too much, and just enjoy the music.”
Patroclus nodded with relief as the waitress came and placed two coffees before them. Patroclus started to ask Automedon how his life was going as he felt guilty for monopolizing the conversation. Automedon seemed happy to share about how things were going and even admitted to having a blind date next week that one of their other friends was setting up for him. Hours sped by without their notice as the two friends continued chatting. By the end of the meal they made promises to do this again soon before going their separate ways.
Patroclus returned home and anticipation flooded his system once more. He tore through his wardrobe and the piles on the floor looking for the perfect outfit. He tried several things on, but never seemed happy with them. In the end Patroclus settled for a dark tank top, ripped jeans and a canvas jacket. He tried to tame his wild air, and gave up hoping that it looked like after sex hair.
He arrived at the bar with enough time to grab a table off to the side, but still near the front. The place was dimly lit and smelled of beer. Although it was warm from all the bodies huddled in such a small space, the large garage style doors were open letting in the night’s fresh air. There was a sense of anticipation as the lights were dimmed even further and a handsome young woman stepped onto the makeshift stage. Her dark dreadlocks were pulled away from her face, exposing an exquisite neck, and fine facial features. Her eyes were surprisingly light, and accentuated with dark eyeliner. On her nose a metal ring glinted like a warning. Although she was beautiful, there was something dangerous about her.
“Good evening, everyone! And thank you for coming out to The Aureum Myrmidon for a night of music and fun. My name’s Deidamia, and I’ll be your host this evening. To start the evening off we’ve got several local bands. And as a special treat we will be closing tonight with a performance from one of our very own, Achilles! You wouldn’t believe how hard it was to convince him to play for us this evening. Now let’s get things started! Please give a warm Aureum welcome to Leda and the Cygnets!”
Deidamia left the stage and was replaced by a stunningly petite woman and behind her a group of pale nymphet-like women all in white. Patroclus assumed that’s where the band’s name came from. The group was decent, doing several covers of well known songs and the audience quickly warmed to their spunky charm. It also helped that as the set wore on the audience became more inebriated. By the end the crowd was cheering as the pretty young woman bowed before gesturing to the rest of the band to do the same.
Deidamia returned to the stage clapping, her clipboard under one arm. She smiled into the audience, removed the clipboard and said, “Next up we have Moirai! Just a reminder, as the band is setting up, that a quarter of our proceeds tonight will go towards the National Arts Endowment, and drinks are half off so please drink up! We want everyone to have a good time tonight, let’s hear it for Moirai!”
The MC left the stage leaving behind three gorgeous boys. The first had dark tousled hair and skin the color of melted caramel; to his left was a young man with piercing eyes, one blue and the other green, his fingers poised above the strings of a bass guitar; and finally a man with a smile that could bring the angels to earth with dimples that reminded Patroclus of his youth. If it weren’t for Achilles, Patroclus might be in love.
“Good evening!” The lead singer addressed, his voice as sweet as wine. “I’m Lachesis, and with me are Atropos on bass and Clotho on the keys. We’ve got some original songs for you tonight, we hope you enjoy.”
Lachesis counted his band in, and then the small bar was filled with heart wrenching chords as Lachesis’ smooth voice sang about what is, what was, and what will be. Patroclus felt tears burn his vision a little as he listened. He felt Atropos’ dissonant eyes on him, but only for a moment. The entire bar was under these men’s spell, and there was something unifying in that.
After they were done there was silence. Numbly people began to clap as time resumed its constant pace once more. Clotho and Lachesis were smiling broadly bowing to the audience, while Atropos remained as stoic as ever. From the back of the bar people called out for the next number and the band was only too happy to comply.
Once the set was over there were a few solo artists left to perform until finally it was Achilles’ turn. Patroclus found himself sitting on the edge of his seat, leaning heavily on the table top. He could feel the condensation of his beer trickle down the bottle, but he didn’t care. All he could see was Achilles’ bright head shuffling behind Deidamia’s back.
“Alright, everyone, thank you for being with us tonight. This is the last set of the evening. Might I welcome to the stage a dear friend of mine and anyone who comes to the Aureum, Achilles!” There were cheers as Deidamia left the stage and then there was only him.
Achilles smiled into the audience, his acoustic guitar across his chest. “Hi, everyone. Glad you could be here tonight. I want to dedicate this song to one of my closest friends who’s here this evening. You know who you are. I hope you enjoy.”
Achilles’ deft fingers plucked at the strings, drawing a soulful chord from them. He hummed from the back of his throat and then began to sing. The song had the same intoxicating effect on Patroclus as the alcohol in his veins. Slowly he began to feel a warmth in his gut, which soon spread through his entire body. His fingers tingled and felt completely separate from the rest of his body, in fact all his limbs felt as if they had been disassembled and reassembled to create the man that Achilles saw in him. He was drunk on Achilles’ words. As he tried to regain control of his motor functions Achilles looked directly at him and all attempts were lost. Was this what love felt like?
Heat burned through his body, like a tide crashing over his head. But it wasn’t shame or lust like it had been with others before. This was pure euphoria, a high like nothing else. Bliss.
As the song ended Patroclus felt like there was something he was supposed to be doing. He was sure of it. Mechanically he looked around and found people clapping. He forced his hands to do the same, but he knew his hands could never give justice to the performance Achilles had just given. On stage Achilles was smiling as he waited for the crowd to settle down once more. But they didn’t seem to want to, perhaps due to his talent or the lateness of the hour and their intoxication levels, nobody seemed to be stopping.
Instead Achilles just began to play the intro to his next song. It had a mesmerizing effect which soothed the restless crowd and once more they began to listen. The song was bright, and warm. It rolled over the audience like the tide, loosening their limbs. People began to sway in their seats, others tapping their feet or hands to the beat. One young woman started to dance in front of the stage pulling her date up with her. In all this madness Achilles’ eyes cut through the gloom once more finding Patroclus. A small smile tugged at his lips quirking them madly. How Patroclus wanted to kiss those lips, take them against his own and make them his. Achilles’ eyes were bright as if he were thinking the same thing.
At the end of the song the crowd quieted on their own this time and expectation hung in the air.
“Alright, one more song.” Achilles said torturously pulling his gaze from Patroclus. “Do you want a song of love or a song of good health?”
“Love!” Most of the audience cried.
Achilles laughed. “Too bad, I only have a song of good health. Here’s to good drink, good music, and good company!”
Around the bar people raised their glasses echoing the cheer. The last song had a cheery beat to it, which lead everyone to feel like there was a reason to celebrate. Life looked good, and people wanted to partake in it fully. Once the final song was over Achilles began to pack up his guitar. People began to wander to the exit paying their bills on the way out, but Patroclus was rooted to the spot. A couple of people came up to Achilles to talk to him, so he was delayed in making his way to Patroclus. Several more joined the makeshift circle, some of them patting Achilles on the back to congratulate him. It looked as if they would talk for hours, but gracefully Achilles made his excuses and extricated himself from the situation.
He bounded over to Patroclus’ table and sat down, his demeanor bright from the adrenaline of his performance. “I’m glad you came.”
“You invited me, you goof,” Patroclus replied trying to play for time.
“Still you didn’t have to come,” Achilles blushed. “I’m glad you did, though.”
“You already said that,” Patroclus said, the weight in his chest feeling heavier and heavier by the moment.
Achilles looked down at the table, blush dusted his fine cheeks. His ears were tinged in scarlet. He looked up, eyes meeting Patroclus’ own, and seemed about to say something when someone else joined their table.
“Hey, Achilles! You were great!” The young man was clearly a waiter at the bar. “I can’t believe you finally deigned to play for us.”
“Shut up, Ganymede,” Achilles laughed playfully. “It’s not like that.”
“Sure it’s not,” joked Ganymede in return. He turned his iridescent eyes on Patroclus, “are you going to introduce me to your date?”
“Ganymede, this is Patroclus. Patroclus, Ganymede. Now if you don’t mind I’d like to have some time alone with him,” Achilles said courteously.
Patroclus’ head was spinning at Achilles’ words that he barely caught Ganymede’s response. “Sure thing, boss man.”
Achilles rolled his eyes at that which served to deepen Patroclus’ confusion. Before he could ask about it however, Deidamia sauntered over to their table.
“Great job tonight!” she said wrapping a friendly arm around Achilles’ shoulders.
“Thanks, D. You liked it?” Achilles asked burying his frustration with a pleasant smile.
“It was amazing. You really should perform more often,” Deidamia gushed. She turned and noticed Patroclus as if for the first time. “Hi, I’m Deidamia. You must be Patroclus, I’ve heard so much about you.”
“You have?” asked Patroclus.
“Oh sure-” Deidamia was about to continue when Achilles elbowed her playfully. She took her arm off him and gently punched his bicep sticking out her tongue.
“How do you two know each other?” Patroclus asked watching this exchange with some trepidation.
Deidamia threw a sidelong glance to Achilles who just shrugged. “You don’t know?”
“Know what?” Patroclus asked.
“Achilles owns this bar, he hired me to be the manager,” Deidamia explained.
“You own a bar?!” Patroclus turned to look at Achilles.
The other man laughed easily. “It was a gift for my 21st birthday from a friend.”
“That’s insane,” Patroclus replied.
Deidamia laughed. “Rich people. I’ll never understand them. Anyway, Achilles was just a kid then. Had no idea how to run the place so he hired me, et voila! I better go check in with my staff. I’ll see you two around I’m sure. Pleasure to meet you, Patroclus.”
Deidamia drifted away leaving the two men alone.
“Come on, let’s get out of here. I’m craving somewhere quiet, maybe coffee too,” Achilles said. He grabbed Patroclus’ hand and pulled him up.
“What about your guitar?”
“D can watch it, close out your tab and let’s go!” Achilles begged.
Patroclus nodded and headed to the bar. Once he had paid they walked out into the night hand in hand. The city seemed loud as everyone was out at bars or clubs looking for a good time. Achilles with his long purposeful strides led the way and soon they found a quiet little restaurant which was still open despite the late hour. Only a few couples were inside, chatting intimately over glasses of wine or cups of coffee. Achilles looked at Patroclus, a question in his eyes. Patroclus nodded, and Achilles led them into the warmly lit establishment.
“Hello,” a waitress greeted them. “Welcome to Elysium. How many?”
“Just two,” Achilles replied.
The young woman led them to the corner booth by one of the windows. Beyond the glass, vines twisted on a trellis draping their heavy leaves in front of them, hiding them from the world. Fairy lights had been woven into the plant and reminded Patroclus of fireflies back home. With those thoughts came the nostalgic remembrance of Brieses and a somber mood fell over him.
Achilles didn’t seem to notice as he put in an order for two cups of coffee. However as his attention turned to Patroclus he sensed his heavy mood asked, “is everything alright? You know if you didn’t like the music you can tell me.”
“It’s not that. This place just reminds me of home,” confessed Patroclus.
“Ah.” Achilles knew a little bit about the struggles of Patroclus’ childhood, the fights he had had with his father, but Patroclus had yet to tell him of his infidelities to Brieses. He was afraid that if he did he would break some sort of spell.
“You know, we can leave if you want. We can just go back to my place and…” misinterpreting Patroclus’ silence, Achilles hurried on, “I didn’t mean to sound so lascivious.”
Patroclus laughed and placed a hand on Achilles’. “No, you’re fine. I want to be here with you. And I wanted to tell you your music was the best I’ve ever heard. I loved it, it inspired something in me. Thank you for sharing it with me.”
Achilles flipped his hand over so their palms were touching. He entwined his fingers with Patroclus’ all the while gauging Patroclus’ reactions.
“I want this with you,” Achilles said. “I want you. I know you want to take it slow, and I’m willing to wait. I just need you to know that I want to be with you as more than just friends.”
Patroclus thought his heart might burst at those words. He bit his lip and inhaled to respond when their waitress returned with their coffees. Using that as an excuse Patroclus pulled away from Achilles. Achilles tried to hide the hurt look on his face as he thanked the waitress and assured her they wouldn’t need anything else. Once they were alone he turned to Patroclus.
“What is it?”
“There’s something I should tell you before you make proclamations like that. It might change your mind about me...and I want you to know everything before you get too attached,” Patroclus said picking at the sleeve of his coat.
Achilles brows furrowed. “There isn’t anything you could tell me-”
“Stop. Don’t make false promises like that, just hear me out. If after you know this stuff and you still want to be with me then...I’ll be over the fucking moon. If not, I completely understand. I’m not a good person, Achilles.” Patroclus’ voice was rough with unshed tears.
“What do you mean?”
“When I was younger I was engaged to this girl back home, Brieses.” Patroclus savored her name on his tongue. “We were each others’ whole worlds. I thought she had hung the fucking moon, and she was crazy about me. We were young and in love and thought we could take on the world...but then we began to get into fights over the stupidest things. I was hurt and got drunk and made some dumb decisions. I cheated on her. While she was staying over at a friend’s house I brought another woman into our bed and slept with her. It was stupid, but in the moment it felt good. We broke up shortly after. I fucked up that relationship pretty badly. I still wonder where we might be if I had never…but it’s too late for all that.
Then this past year I was involved with someone, my boss. Only he was married. I didn’t mean for it to happen, but it did. It was easy for me to ignore any thoughts of his wife while I was having him. It was like she wasn’t real. I thought maybe I could make him mine. I thought I was happy. I was a fool. I met his wife and she was the darlingest women in the world. She doesn’t deserve that scum, and I felt like the worst man alive. I broke it off with him that night, but since then I’ve realized that me and him we’re the same. The people in our lives don’t deserve us. I guess I’m not made for monogamy even though I desperately want it. I never want to hurt you that way, or have you look at me the way Brieses did...but I’m afraid that I’m broken. That I’m destined to be a cheater, that this...this will never change about me. I’m damaged beyond repair, Achilles. Now you know the sordid truth. If you never want to see me again I understand.”
After his speech Patroclus met Achilles’ eyes for the first time. Patroclus saw the other man’s eyes and read the repulsion written clearly across his face. He turned away to hide his tears. However, Achilles moved quickly coming around to Patroclus’ side of the booth. He knelt before the other man taking his hand in his own. Confused Patroclus looked at him once more, and decided maybe he had misread the man.
“You are not the same as your boss. You are honest, and show remorse, and that you desire to change. I still want to be with you. I’m crazy for you, Patroclus. We can work through this, so long as you’re by my side and I’m by yours. Let me love you,” begged Achilles.
Patroclus tried to blink back his tears, but despite his best efforts they continued to fall. He scooted across the booth until he fell into Achilles’ open arms. Achilles helped him stand and wiped tears from his cheeks.
“May I kiss you?” He asked.
Gently Achilles placed both hands on either side of Patroclus’ neck. Patroclus wrapped his arms around Achilles’ back clutching at the fabric of the shirt for dear life. Achilles leaned forward, sealing his lips on Patroclus’. The connection was hot, causing Patroclus to hold on even tighter pulling Achilles closer. Achilles smiled into the kiss and began using his tongue to slowly work at Patroclus’ own sealed lips.
Achilles’ heady scent surrounded them, smelling like incense mixed with his cologne and sweat. It was intoxicating. Once Patroclus’ mouth opened he could taste the sugary coffee on Achilles’ tongue. Teeth clashed clumsily together, and if it had been anything but their first kiss it would have been awkward enough to call an end to it. However, the heat pooling in the pit of Patroclus’ stomach told him to keep going. He enjoyed the sensation of Achilles’ probing tongue, and wondered where else it might feel so sinfully delicious.
Achilles’ hands moved to Patroclus’ hair and begun to gently tug at his dark locks. In response Patroclus’ own hands had begun to roam across Achilles’ broad back appreciating the toned muscles he could feel beneath the other man’s shirt. Achilles moaned quietly as he pressed himself into Patroclus, and Patroclus swallowed every sound he could.
All too soon they pulled apart gasping for air. Patroclus took the moment to peer around the cafe to see if anyone had noticed, but due to the seclusion of their booth and the dim lighting it appeared that no one had witnessed what had just happened. Meanwhile Achilles was taking stock of his work. The other man was breathless, his cheeks were flushed, his pupils blown. Patroclus had never looked so enchanting before in his life.
“Wow,” muttered Patroclus.
Achilles laughed. “Is that all you can say?”
“You kinda robbed me of my higher brain functions at the moment,” accused Patroclus lightly. “So pardon me if wow is all I can handle right now.”
“You have a sharp tongue,” Achilles commented.
“You didn’t seem to be complaining when it was in your mouth!”
Achilles smiled. “Are you always like this after you’re kissed?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know,” Patroclus retorted.
“I should get you riled up more often,” Achilles replied.
Patroclus blushed. “Don’t you think we should sit down like normal people and finish our coffees?”
Achilles gestured that Patroclus should sit first, before moving to his own seat. “Once we’re done I’ll walk you home. But don’t get any ideas, we’re taking this slow, remember.”
Patroclus rolled his eyes as if anything about that kiss had been taking things slow. “Whatever you say.”
“Patroclus, I mean it. I don’t want either of to rush into something we’re not ready for. I want to respect your wishes too, I’m sorry if you feel like that kiss was a violation-”
Patroclus’ eyes widened comically. “No! I-I liked it. I just find it funny that after that kiss we would go back to the way things were before as friends.”
“Who said anything about going back to the way things were before. I’ve already broke that illusion by telling you that I liked you. I want to take you on dates, and get to know you. I want to hold your hand and to kiss you again. I want us to be a couple.”
“I want that too.”
They continued to talk quietly before paying for their drinks. Instead of heading home, however the two men walked through the city hand in hand. It was late and it seemed like there was no one else in the world but them. They strolled through the park and watched as one by one apartment lights were turned off. Achilles spoke softly about everything he wanted to do with Patroclus, and Patroclus let the words roll over him. As if to prolong their time together, Achilles took the longest path back to Patroclus’, making plenty of stops in order to kiss him. But in the end true to his word Achilles walked Patroclus to his apartment giving him a chaste kiss on the lips goodnight. It was sweet and lingering, a promise for the future.
Patroclus was still awake just as dawn curled her soft rosy fingered light around the tall skyscrapers of the city, seeping into the streets like a delicate breath of fresh air. A world reborn. No one stirred. All was still and quiet. Only the pigeons cooing and thoughts of Achilles kept Patroclus company. The sun continued its ascent as Patroclus fell asleep, a smile on his lips. Maybe change would come.