This is a work of fiction intended for adults only, as it contains explicit scenes not appropriate for minors. By continuing to read, you are acknowledging you are of legal age to do so. All Rights Reserved. Copyright © 2012 by AJ Rose
The ceiling hadn’t changed much in the last three hours Grady had stared at it. The shadows illuminated by the window had elongated across the ceiling as the sun traveled the sky into afternoon, but that was about it. Grady didn’t notice, staring sightlessly as he was, lying on his back on his bed, arms crossed behind his head. The denial he’d immersed in the last few months, had worn like a shield of validity in the face of his decision to end it with Ty, was beginning to crack, weaken. It was brittle, filled with anger and hurt, but his stomach had been roiling for the last few days—weeks if he was honest—with a deeper, icier pain. What if I was wrong?
But he had photographic proof of Ty with another man. It was unmistakably Ty. Grady knew every inch of that body, could have picked Ty out of a line of men of similar body type just by the feel of him beneath his hands. He knew the hair on Ty’s forearms, the slope of his shoulders to his neck, the pattern of freckles across Ty’s biceps, the picked-at cuticles of his fingers, the mole on the edge of his jaw by his ear. How many times had Grady kissed that mole, in the aftermath of their lovemaking, during a casual embrace, as a way to say good morning when first rolling over? Too many to count, and he found himself torn between wanting to forget and hanging on to the memory with fierce determination.
If he was honest with himself, he still loved Ty, had loved him from the moment they’d met, though it had taken time to come to terms with loving such a tornado. It was that love, the brutal heartrending pain of it having gone so horribly wrong, that had him torturing himself with the details. Ty had obviously lied to him. Those pictures… there was very little room for denial of their contents. It was clearly Ty’s semi-darkened bedroom, as familiar to Grady as his own, the light falling in through the blinds, alternating stripes of light and shadow over the faces, highlighting the arms entwined in the pictures. The cruelty was the light stripes illuminated the most painful parts of the faces in the throes of passion, spilling over a furrowed brow and closed eyes. Nose bathed in shadow, then lit up lips clearly full and kiss swollen, bitten with lust or O shaped in pleasure. These things cut Grady the most. It wasn’t the explicit nature of the pictures, it was the clear ecstasy of those captured. Even though he’d only looked at them for moments when they first arrived through the mail, the images burned a brand behind his eyelids, flitted in bad dreams, taunting him, laughing at him. Look how little you mean to him, they said. So easily forgotten, thrown away.
Grady felt like one more castaway in Ty’s self-destruction, a destruction Grady had truly believed Ty was trying to prevent before those pictures showed up. He really had stopped drinking. Grady watched closely, surreptitiously so Ty wouldn’t think he was being babysat, but watching nevertheless. He really had been making the effort, angry about its necessity sure, but refraining from drinking anyway. That was why the pictures had been such a sucker punch, besides the obvious. But something wasn’t right. Something nagged, niggled.
First of all, who had sent them? No one they knew would have so viciously ripped them apart without at least trying to soften the blow. Any of their friends would have pulled him aside and said something, broken the news to him as carefully as possible. It could have been a paparazzo, but one of those vultures would have sold the photos til they’d been splashed everywhere, exactingly cropped and on the cover of US or Star magazine. If it had been someone in either of their agencies, again, the subject would have been handled with velvet gloves. All he could ascertain from the envelope’s origins was the zip code matched his own. Typewritten address label, no return address. The envelope was about all he’d been able to bear looking at again. After throwing Ty out, he’d scooped the photos up and shoved them in a drawer. Why he didn’t throw them away or burn them, he didn’t know.
With a sigh, Grady heaved himself off the bed, his back protesting mightily. He felt old. He never thought he’d feel so old at thirty-three. Padding through the hallway to the living room in jeans, chest and feet bare, he sat down in the dark, forehead in his hands. He wasn’t going to figure out what unsettled him about this situation without looking at the pictures again. Besides their origin, which was admittedly a huge issue, he couldn’t quite put his finger on what else bothered him. He’d have to suck it up and look, see if he could tell what he was missing.
“Fuck it. It’s not going to fix itself.” He got up, opened the drawer in his desk and pulled them out, careful not to look as he resumed his seat on the couch and flipped on the table lamp. Steeling himself with a big breath, he lowered his eyes to look. The sting he first felt roared up again, and his eyes clouded with tears, which he blinked away impatiently. He studied them, not looking at the pictures as a whole, but breaking them down in parts, a torso, a hand, an ear. He brought the first one close to his face, studying minute details, lines, telling himself he was looking at someone else, someone besides Ty.
The familiar details of Ty’s body were unmistakable, and so Grady took to studying the other man, this Marcus person. The shadows of the darkened room, lit only by the streetlamp outside and a dim stream of light from Ty’s hallway, made it difficult to see much, but Grady kept looking. One picture, then the next. He found the camera angle odd, higher than the window, as if someone very tall had been standing in the corner, which of course would have been noticed by the subjects of the photos. Too high for a tripod if Ty and Marcus had planned the photos. Frowning, he closed his eyes and pictured himself standing where the two had been tangled together on the bed, Marcus in Ty’s lap facing out, Ty’s arms around him, his face buried in Marcus’s neck. As if he were really in the room, Grady pictured himself turning to find the camera. From memory, despite the time that had gone by since he’d been in Ty’s bedroom, Grady pictured that corner. The window was nearby, but not the right shooting angle. A picture on the wall next to a light sconce. Still, not high enough. Grady tried to recall more, but the rest was infuriatingly blank. His memory wasn’t enough.
Frustration thrummed through his limbs and he stood, pacing, the photos scattered across his coffee table, mocking him with their smug destruction of that which he loved most. Periodically, he’d snatch one up and scour it with his eyes, again finding nothing. He got himself a beer and finished it in three gulps, gripping the bottle hard enough he thought it would crack before he tossed it into the recycling. His energy was sapping out, and he sat heavily on the couch again, picking up the last photo. Studying it, he saw nothing that stood out, other than the odd camera angle. Just as he was about to put it back down, a small dot caught his eye.
It was a shot of Ty kneeling behind Marcus, clearly with his cock in Marcus’s ass and his hands on Marcus’s hips to aid in thrusting. And Marcus, who in the previous couple of shots had been on all fours, had knelt up to wrap a hand around the nape of Ty’s neck, his mouth seeking those full lips Grady loved so much, his head resting back against Ty’s shoulder. Ty’s head was turned, ducking to capture Marcus’s mouth with his own. Grady couldn’t count how many times he’d done that very thing, always wanting more contact with Ty’s whole body when they were together. But it wasn’t the position that caught Grady’s eye. It was a freckle, slightly too large to be considered just a freckle, but not all that noticeable as a mole, right smack in the middle of Marcus’s torso, a few inches below his sternum. And then, minutely, a smaller one just below it, about an inch down. If he hadn’t been looking closely, he’d have overlooked them completely.
Grady went cold. “Dude, whoever photoshopped these did a fantastic job,” Ty’s voice echoed in his head. Immediately his eyes went up to Marcus’s neck, which was hidden somewhat in shadow by his chin and by Ty’s head moving in for the kiss. Grady squinted. Was it? He couldn’t be sure. Holding onto the photo he strode over to his desk, hand reaching in drawers to shuffle through the contents quickly, not sure if he still had what he was looking for. In the third drawer, his fingers closed around a handle, and he pulled out a magnifying glass, something someone had given him as a joke on his 30th birthday to help him read as his aging eyesight failed. He drew it out and returned to the couch and the light from the lamp before bringing the picture up and looking at Marcus’s neck again with the aid of the glass. There. It was slightly shadowed, but not enough that the glass didn’t show it for what it was—a faint line, a very slight break between the neck connected to the shoulders and the neck connected to the head. The lines didn’t match up perfectly.
Someone had photoshopped Marcus’s head onto this body, the body Ty was actually fucking. The detail of the job in the photos, once Grady scrutinized the work on each of the necks with his magnifying glass, was exceptional. In most of them he still couldn’t tell. And he looked over them all for the small scar he knew should have been on the inner crease of the left elbow, when that portion of the body was visible, but the scar wasn’t there. The pattern of chest hair was different, too, sparse and tufted whereas it should have been more even, and higher up.
The reason he knew this was because of those two freckles. He knew Ty’s body inside and out in every detail, but there was one other he also knew. His own. Those were his freckles. Ty was fucking him in those photos. And someone, some sick fuck, had photoshopped another man’s head onto his body and anonymously sent the photos to Grady.
With a shout of triumph, he snatched his phone and dialed Ty’s number from memory, pacing and urging Ty to answer. It rang… Voicemail. He hung up and tried again. Again, it rang. Just as voicemail was about to pick up for the second time and Grady decided to leave a message, a female voice said, “Hello?”
Frowning, Grady asked for Ty, politely but with some urgency in his tone.
“He’s in the shower right now. Can I take a message?” The woman’s voice was polite, but flat. Grady’s frown deepened. In the shower… with company in his house. That was unlike Ty, who zealously guarded his privacy even from their long time friends.
“Can you please tell him Grady called, and I really need to speak with him soon? It’s pretty important.” He tried to impart the significance without making himself sound desperate or rude. The old ‘protect our relationship at every turn from the public’ instinct kicked in again. He realized he was thinking of it in terms of the present again, protecting ‘our relationship’. Because for the first time in weeks, he felt there was something worth protecting, something to salvage.
“Sure, I’ll tell him,” the woman said politely if distantly. He thanked her and hung up, holding onto his phone to wait for Ty to call back.
The clock ticked away, silence becoming deafening. Grady’s dog Maximus raised his head from the floor, his collar tinkling out the only sound. Increasingly desperate, Grady paced, waited, checked the time, opened and closed his phone looking for the call, waiting. After more than an hour, it became clear to him like an anvil landing square on his chest, knocking the wind out of him. He’s not going to call. He doesn’t want to talk to me. He supposed he deserved that, after not even listening to Ty talk when confronted with those photos.
Okay, he won’t call me back? I’ll just have to go see him. Throwing on a t-shirt and flip flops and grabbed his keys, the most incriminating photo, and his magnifying glass. Pulling up to the curb across the street from Ty’s house within minutes, the sun bathed the houses on Ty’s side of the street in golden sunset hues. Just as he was about to exit the car and go save his relationship, Ty’s front door opened and a blonde girl stepped out, followed by Ty, who locked the door before turning to her and slinging an arm over her shoulder as they walked to Ty’s car. He was smiling, something she said making him laugh and throw his head back. She was a cute girl, wearing a summer dress and her hair pulled up in a clip off her neck, and Ty was wearing Dockers and a button down shirt. Grady’s heart sank.
He’s on a date.
Ty was moving on. He looked happy. Grady’s ears rang in the silence of his car, and he started the engine, slowly pulling away from the curb, heading in the opposite direction as Ty backed his car out of the driveway. Grady was back home in minutes, despondently tossing his keys on the table by the door and setting his ‘evidence’ on the coffee table as he flopped down on the couch, throwing an arm over his eyes. He let the sting well up, and his lip quivered slightly, a single tear escaping the corner of his eye as Maximus came over to rest his head on Grady’s chest. Grady looked down at the dog, lowering his arm to scratch Max behind the ears. “I think I fucked up, buddy,” he told the dog conversationally. “I think I really lost him for good.” Maximus’s soulful eyes only looked back at him before his warm pink tongue darted out to give the back of the hand still resting on Grady’s chest one lick. Grady stood, looking down at the dog. “Come on, pooch. Let’s go for a walk.” Max gave a happy wag and danced in excitement.
Veronica pressed ‘end’ on Ty’s phone and then accessed the call log, selecting the option to delete the last two entries with Grady’s name and time stamp, and then returned it to the position it had been in before Ty could get out of the shower. “I’ll tell him you called when hell freezes over,” she mumbled.
Later, as they were leaving, she was surprised when Ty put his arm around her shoulders. “For someone who almost threw me out of his house a couple weeks ago, you’re becoming awful fond of me. Maybe I won’t even have to use you to get to my parents. Unless you want me to use you.” She smirked as he laughed, noting he didn’t actually decline the offer.
As they backed out of the driveway headed for the Thai place she’d sworn to take him to, citing botulism from the toxic food in his fridge, Ty didn’t put the car in drive right away, and Veronica looked over at him after a pause.
“Everything okay?” She noted his gaze on the rearview mirror and craned her neck around in time to see a car’s brake lights flash before turning the corner and disappearing. She was glad her face was turned from Ty and his gaze was on the rearview mirror so he missed the narrowing of her eyes, the flare of irritation in her nostrils. She quickly composed herself. She knew Grady’s car, had seen it parked in Ty’s driveway countless times. It looked as though there were some tweaks she was going to have to make to her plan. Those photos should have been more than enough to keep Grady away permanently. Dammit. She hated rushing perfection.
“Yeah, everything’s fine. Just thought I saw someone I know. Well, someone I used to know.” Ty put the car in drive and continued on down the street, his long awaited good mood sobering. Then he shook his head as if to clear it and turned to her. “Let’s go stuff ourselves stupid full and get a suck ass movie to make fun of while we lament ever eating so much.”
“Deal,” she smiled at him, but her mind was on other things, recalculating, rearranging, rejuvenating. Nodding to herself, she thought, Time to step it up.
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