Nate’s Last Tango
Kevin Klehr © 2017
All Rights Reserved
“I’m nervous,” I said. But my boyfriend, Cam, didn’t hear me. Fortunately, his butler, Roger, did.
“Here you go, Nate.” The loyal servant placed a garishly green cocktail in my hand, complete with a little umbrella. “This will make you so chilled, the next few hours will feel like a hippie folk festival.”
If only that were the truth. I was about to meet Cameron’s parents for the first time, and both he and Roger were busy preparing canapés. They insisted I was as much of a guest as the others were, so I wasn’t to help with the catering.
Instead, I gazed out the window of my boyfriend’s swish New York apartment, trying to imagine what a middle-aged couple who had made their fortune in the funeral trade would be like. My first thought was something as creepy as an older Gomez and Morticia from The Addams Family.
And with that vision came a list of odd relatives I hadn’t met yet. Perhaps a short hunchback that rang church bells. An older brother who slept in the basement during the day and showed off his unusually sharp fangs to unsuspecting women at night. Or a haggard stepsister who kidnapped the neighborhood pets and offered them to pagan gods during midnight rituals.
I watched my boyfriend. He was trying to make art out of smoked salmon and flatbread, but somehow he kept adding too much mayo. The result was something that looked like a squeezed pimple rather than anything you’d put in your mouth. As always, Roger was at his side to fix his creations, and as a pair they worked well.
Through his chic designer glasses, Cam scrutinized what Rog was trying to show him, and he understood until his butler tucked, folded, or did whatever was necessary to make my boyfriend’s attempts look presentable. Although my man wasn’t perfect, that was the very reason I loved him. He’d try. And he had enough people around to support him. His parents had to be equally as supportive, surely.
Any moment they’d swan in the front door, having just flown in from Paris, where they had stayed the night because they’d decided to eat dinner in that romantic city on a whim. His mum, or mom as these Americans say, would offer me her hand adorned in a teal glove and wait for me to kiss it.
His dad would check me out, and while he shook my hand all businesslike, it wouldn’t be until later that his real nature would come out. He’d pull out a joint and tell us about his wild days; of wearing a leather jacket, having wall-to-wall lovers, and the heavy rock band he fronted with regular top-ten hits.
“Would you like another cocktail, Nate?” Roger asked.
“No, I’ve hardly—” My glass was empty.
“Your mind is preoccupied. Let me get you another.”
“No. I don’t want to be drunk before they arrive.”
“Have a cocktail,” said Cam as he ran his finger under a tap after burning it on poached chicken. “If I was in your shoes, I’d be nervous as well.”
Roger took the glass out of my hand and promptly made me another green drink. With the first sip, my mind wandered even more, back to last month.
Cam and I were in Barcelona. We were walking through a crazy unfinished church whose spires were so high, peeping toms could hide in their countless platforms and spy on this city of love. I kissed my man in what seemed to be an alien octopus’s lair. White arms reached down from the roof with glass eyes attached to their joints. White pop-art flowers littered the roof, while Jesus swung from a jellyfish just above the altar.
“My mind thinks it’s on acid, but my body knows better,” said Cam.
“Imagine if Sydney’s Opera House was built around Gaudi’s time,” I pondered.
“There’d be a dragon’s mouth as a stage in the main concert hall, and the seats would be tiered on its tail.”
“No. That sounds too normal.”
“Okay then, what would the Opera House be like if Picasso designed it?”
“Picasso wasn’t an architect.”
“Work with me, Nate.”
“No one would be able to sit on the seats. They’d be jagged and uncomfortable.”
“And what if Tom of Finland drew the initial sketches?”
“There’d be pillars in the shape of—” I chuckled.
“And the stage would look like a giant open, you know, after—”
“Not a place for high art.” I grinned.
He nodded and took my hand.
“Where are you, Nate?” my boyfriend asked. He was now heating sugar to make caramel.
“Back on our trip.”
“Were you at that street party?”
“No. I was at Gaudi’s church.”
He smiled as he kept carefully stirring the pot of toffee. Meanwhile, my thoughts wandered back to Barcelona.
There were so many narrow side streets that had to be discovered. So we strolled, losing ourselves in the clothes and assorted gifts that beckoned us from the shop windows.
“What do you think of this one, Nate?” Cameron held what looked like a mini lime-colored school bag.
“It will be hard to match with an outfit.”
“Maybe I’m going through a new phase.”
“What phase is that? Ultra-camp?”
“Very funny, my sarcastic Australian. No, I meant I’m discovering color.”
“That’s not color. That’s someone’s idea of a joke.”
“What about this one?” He pointed to a red bag.
“That would work better in New York.”
“Nathan, the green one would also work in New York.”
The tall shop assistant finally butted in. “Can I help you with anything, gentlemen?”
“Just looking,” I replied.
“May I suggest”—he took a cardboard box from behind the counter and opened it—“this one!”
It was still a miniature school bag but one that demanded respect. Its distressed black leather and oversized tarnished zipper had us drooling like men in a sex club.
“Oh yes!” I said. “This is the one, Cam.”
“I’ve gone to bag heaven,” he replied. “We’ll take it!”
As the assistant was tapping on the computerized cash register, my boyfriend was stroking his purchase like a pet that needed calming. Soon we were out of the store, our feet taking us in the direction of several hipster cafés. When we agreed on which had the best-looking waiter, we took our seats.
“I’m in love,” said Cam.
“I know,” I replied.
“With my bag.”
“I know. I owe that shop assistant a heap of gratitude. Trust me, Cam, if you bought that green one, it would have sat in the wardrobe forever wondering why it had been banished.”
“I’m glad we’re doing Barcelona.”
“Because of the shopping?”
“No, Nate, because of us. Yeah, we had Tokyo and it was fun. Two scallywags on vacation.”
“Scallywags? Since when did you become an upper-class British pirate?”
“Roger referred to us as scallywags before we left for the airport. It’s a word.”
“Lime-green bags and scallywags? Bring back my boyfriend!”
The waiter arrived to take our orders. I asked for a bottle of wine before we checked the menu. He was quick with a recommendation, then left us to peruse.
“We got the sexy one to serve us,” I stated. “And see how calm he is?”
“Nate, we’re not having this debate again, are we?”
“Not a debate, just an observation.”
“I get it. He’s not underpaid like American waiters. You’ve said it over and over again.”
“It’s criminal. Imagine if I worked as a waiter in your home country—”
“Nate, it’s your home country as well at the moment.”
“I’d never make a decent wage. I’d never have backpacked with my friends to Europe. I’d never have met you in Prague.”
“I know, Nathan, I know. Now, can we drop this subject once and for all?”
Our waiter returned with our wine and promptly filled our glasses. We apologized for not looking at the menu yet, so he quickly ran through some of the specials. We ordered from his suggestions, then toasted each other after he left.
“Before your rant about American wages and scallywags, I was talking about how nice it is to be in Spain with you.” He held his glass close to his cheek. “We’ve still got half a week left, but if there’s something I’ve learned about myself, it is how much in love I am with you, Nathan.”
“Do you? Do you know how I feel when I wake up and the first thing I see is your face either sleeping or staring back at me?”
“That’s creepy. Do I really stare?”
“Nate, I’m being romantic. Shut up for a minute.”
I kept quiet. We both held our wine glasses, yet neither of us sipped. He spoke about his own cautious beginning to our relationship and how he’s learned that love is not a fairy tale. I was going to interrupt, saying that our relationship was like a fairy tale as no one else I knew traveled as much as us, but I stopped myself.
“What I like most about you,” he said, “is that you make me laugh. Sure, Roger makes me laugh, but you have a dark sense of humor, and it’s rubbing off on me.”
“Friends can make you laugh.”
“But I don’t gaze at them after they’ve made me laugh and think how lucky I am that this person is in love with me.”
“Earth calling Nate,” Roger called. “Your daydreams are traveling faster than the speed of light. What’s on your mind?”
“How lucky I am,” I replied.
Cam gazed at me as our grins widened.
“Another drink?” Roger asked.
“Of course. There’s a lot to celebrate.”
Again I stared at the Manhattan skyline as my favorite butler worked his magic with the cocktail shaker. But New York was not where my mind was at.
The European city breathed us in, making us part of its after-hours sophistication. Our shoes clicked like a flamenco dancer’s fingers as we stepped on the paved streets. The latest fashion called us to the overlit windows of the many chic outlets. Shirts with angular collars and trousers of light blue had me dressing, and undressing, my charming American in my mind. The need to shop had not subsided.
“You’d look good in that, Nate,” he said.
“I was picturing you in that outfit,” I replied.
“I think I’m more…” Cam pointed to a classic tan jacket.
“It would match your eyes, but I think it’s something I would wear rather than you.”
“Remember how I borrowed that suit jacket of yours for Sally’s dinner party?”
“Yeah. Strange choice, but it looked good on you.”
“Our fashion sense is melding. Soon we’ll look the same, Nate.”
“How long have you liked that suit jacket?”
“I admit, when I first saw you in it, I thought nah! But after one of our theatre jaunts, we sat at Kev’s Deli, and you were wearing it. I couldn’t take my eyes off my stylish Australian.”
“Do you mean you couldn’t take your eyes off your stylish Australian, or your stylish Australian’s jacket?”
“Both. I thought to myself, my man has taste.”
I held his hand as we continued to stroll. Nineteenth-century streetlamps lit the bright yellow walls on a small street we ventured down. A golden glow was cast. A few random stragglers smiled at us as they made their way past.
“Why did you talk me out of visiting Paris?” Cameron asked.
“Look at this place. It’s magic.”
“Yes, but Paris is the city of love.”
“But Barcelona is Paris lite, with people willing to share their city.”
“What are you saying? Paris people aren’t nice?”
“They’re nice, but this is a smaller city, so of course it’s friendlier. And just wait until you see the gay scene tomorrow night.”
“Paris has a gay scene.”
“Paris has a gay scene like New York or Sydney have a gay scene. Disjointed. The gays still party here instead of picking up someone on an app.” He gave me a quizzical look. “I’ll prove it to you tomorrow night. Lucy, Ben, and I had a blast. I’ll just have to make sure our hotel room is equipped with hangover cures.”
We approached a street where a multitude of umbrellas in every color greeted us from above. They had been strung up from windowsills and each housed a light, turning them into lanterns. But people were crowded at the far end, watching something around the corner. Then we heard it.
“You’re right, Nathan Jones. This place is magical.”
We hustled over in their direction and saw the purple haze of the night sky come to life with firecrackers. The street folk reveled as they held the magic sticks that spewed sparks high above their heads. A band played while older women danced as if long-lost passions had been rediscovered.
“I need to learn to be as spontaneous as these Spaniards,” I said.
“You’re better than you were, Nate.”
I looked at Cam. His face flickered in the bouncing light, while flames leaped, reflecting in his glasses. He noticed me gazing. His nose rubbed against mine before our lips locked in a kiss that lingered. Men cheered, children laughed, and then, people clapped.
And all this time, I was an addict to his kiss. A spell so potent the world didn’t exist. His tongue slipped in, caressing me, making me light-headed. As his head tilted, I fell deeper, trying to become one with my Cameron. His man scent was the drug that again had me hooked.
He broke away, grabbed the back of my head, and brought his lips to my forehead. This moist touch spirited my worries away while the bristly stubble made me want to lick and play with every part of him that reminded me he was a man. The tip of his nose once again led a trail down mine before my cheeky bugger dabbed me with the point of his tongue—a paintbrush stroke to the end of my nose.
I chuckled, but as I was about to wipe my lover’s mark, his mischievous tongue entered my mouth, calling my own tongue to action. With our bodies on automatic pilot, we explored what passion could be. A warmth that goes beyond lust, yet lust was very much part of the journey. Tenderness lay with it. Fondness whispered in my ear, reminding me I’m in a safe place.
This was the perfect moment. We both knew it, and we didn’t need to say it. Finally, after our initial rocky start, we were in synch. We were connected. We were in love.
“Let’s go back to our hotel room,” Cam purred.
“I had the same thought,” I replied.
We ran like outlaws being chased, sprinting past puzzled locals. We rushed into the elevator. Lips locked all the way up.
With his hand pressed to my chest, he walked me backward toward the bed. I fell willingly, bouncing lightly on the mattress. He stood above me like a demigod about to send me to a magic kingdom of brazen nymphs, playful centaurs, and wicked cherubs. And I’d go wherever he led.
One by one, he popped his buttons before flinging his shirt, discarding it like yesterday’s news. I sat up and tugged at his belt buckle. His jeans slithered to his feet as a welcome friend extended a greeting under his crisp white jocks. My hand caressed the cotton.
Cam reached for my shirt, but I waved him away. With one jerk, his underwear fell, and I pulled him by his finest feature onto the bed. Wet trails were marking my jeans as his knob rubbed against the denim. My arms wrapped his naked body; my man slightly vulnerable yet secure in my embrace.
We kissed again as he groaned for skin on skin.
“Your mind really is on another planet, isn’t it, Nate?” Cameron asked as he tasted toffee from a wooden spoon. “You can’t hide anything from me, Mr. Jones.”
“You’re blushing,” Roger stated. “It’s not hard to work out what part of your trip you’re reminiscing about.”
“Yeah, caught red-handed,” I confessed. “My memories were X-rated.”
Cam shared a grin as wicked as a cat who’d dined on the family goldfish. “You’re thinking about that time you stayed dressed in our hotel room, aren’t you, Nate?”
“That doesn’t sound sexual,” said Roger.
“Believe me, it was sexual. I eventually got his clothes off.”
Roger comically rolled his eyes. “Another drink, Nate?”
“I’ve still got—” I looked at my glass. “Geez, I’m going through these like—”
“Zsa Zsa Gabor went through husbands?”
“Never mind, dearie. I’ll get you another drink.”
As Rog made his way back to the kitchen, I felt a strange shiver. Like a ghost walked through me. And with the serenity of my loving man pouring caramel over a homemade ice-cream cake and his butler meticulously measuring the alcohol for my cocktail, came an unwelcome sense of dread.
“You Australians have such a quaint accent,” said Cam’s mom. “It’s kind of British, but it’s kind of not.”
“Don’t patronize the young boy, dear,” her husband reprimanded.
“I’m not. I’m not patronizing you, am I, Nathan?”
I shook my head.
“See? I know the type of man my Cameron would pick.” She studied my face. “You’re an earth sign, aren’t you?”
“I’m a what?” I asked.
“An earth sign. Let me guess. A Taurean.”
“I’m a Virgo.”
“A Virgo. You can’t be. Not with those ears.”
“Another drink, Mrs. Charlton?” Roger asked. He’d already slipped another cocktail in my hand.
“Yes, dear. Can I have a martini?”
“Right away, madam.”
So there we were, seated on the modular lounge. Mr. Charlton sat on the edge of the bit that juts out, with a scotch on the rocks in one hand and his smartphone in the other. He kept checking the electronic device as if it beckoned him through mental telepathy.
But what I couldn’t take my eyes off was his comb-over. It was as if somebody had drawn straight lines across his scalp with a permanent marker. Surely, with his money, he could have visited a hair replacement clinic.
Mrs. Charlton was charming. Ditzy, but charming. She finally got my name right after five attempts, mistaking me for Mark, Maverick, Norbert, and Niles, in that order. She had a habit of smoking indoors, saying she didn’t respect all these new rules and regulations. And she had Cam’s smile. Cam’s mesmerizing smile that made me feel at home in her presence.
“You’re leaving Cameron?” she asked me.
“Only for a month,” I replied.
“What have you done to this poor boy?” she asked her son.
“What do you mean?” he replied.
“Oh, there’s no marital problems if that’s what you think,” I said.
“Well, there must be some reason such a gorgeous man like you is leaving my son for such a long time after… How long has it been?”
“Six months,” Cam replied.
“Six months of freeloading in our son’s apartment,” said the father. His eyes were glued to his phone.
“Dad. Dad, look at me when I’m talking to you. You know Nate and I have gone into business.”
“You call that a business?”
“Designer T-shirts are a business.”
“And we’re making good money,” I said. “We’re making several hundred a month after paying the local artists, but we’re going to expand to online after I make my trip back to Sydney.”
“You see, you’re going back to Sydney,” Mrs. Charlton interrupted. “Why, Cameron? What have you done to this poor boy that he has to leave you so soon?”
“My friend, Lucy, is interested in opening a Sydney version of our store. She currently runs a coffee shop, but with her expertise, the new Art-Wear Shop should be up and running by the time I return to New York.”
“The Art-Wear Shop down under. How sweet. Isn’t that sweet, Carl? And a trustworthy Virgo is going down there to make sure our son’s business is a success.”
“It’s not just my business,” Cam said, correcting his mother.
“Shouldn’t you set up the online store first?” Cam’s dad asked. “Before large Sydney rents add to your ongoing budget!”
“Now, Carl. You used to be so kind and supportive to Cameron when he was growing up. You listened to his dreams and encouraged him. You wiped his tears when he was fearful. What happened to the man I married?”
“What happened is that we all got older and wiser, some more than others.” He looked back to his phone. “And in my own way, I am being supportive. I’m just saying that the next logical step is an online store. Their current local shop only makes a few hundred a month, which is nowhere near enough to cover commercial rent in Manhattan. And now they’re thinking Sydney? Yeah, go boys! A second version of a store that is already losing money.”
And so the parents went on. At some stage, Roger oversupplied Cam and me with cocktails, as both of us realized we had a drink in each hand. I downed one and drank half the other. As the parents droned on, we were saved by Roger’s alter ego.
His continuity error to the evening was disruptively noticeable, yet it was a godsend. The butler was now Rowena in a backless cocktail dress, appropriately black in color, and a dark wig that could rival Marge Simpson’s in height. She wheeled in a stylish drinks trolley and continued mixing more concoctions than we could drink in one night.
“Tell me, Nathan,” Cam’s mom said in an obvious effort to change the subject. “Tell me about your past loves.”
I looked to my boyfriend.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “She always asks everyone she meets.”
“Yes, I do. You can learn so much about where a person has been and where they are headed to.”
I looked to Cam again for a way out, but he smiled and gave me an approving nod.
“I’ve had a few that are hardly worth mentioning.”
“But they wrote the story of Nathan. A Virgo’s story.”
“Go on, Nate,” my boyfriend said. “Tell my mom about Elliot.”
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“I don’t think my wife is sure about anything.” The father was still glued to his phone.
“Nathan, tell me about Elliot,” his mother bade.
“Well, Elliot was different to Cameron. Queenier, if you like. And he had a heart as big as the world. But he knew how to cut through the bullshit. You see, he could console you when you were down, but if you were ready to give up, he’d slap it out of you with his words. That’s why we all loved him. That’s why the sun shone through the clouds just for him. Or why the world would grin back as he smiled. Why that blond curl in the middle of his forehead—”
“Oops!” Rowena spilled scotch on Carl’s skull. Strands of hair were now covering his face like dangling spider legs. It was the most expressionless he looked all night.
“Oh dear,” was all Cam’s mother said.
Like a trooper, our cocktail-dress-wearing butler used his sleeve to wipe Carl dry. Yet Mr. Charlton continued sitting perfectly still, even as the strands found new paths across his face.
“Is something burning?” my boyfriend asked.
“I can’t smell a thing,” I reported.
“The couch is singed,” Rowena replied.
“Oh, sorry. It must have come from my cigarette ash!” Cam’s mom proclaimed.
“What are you talking about?” the father grumbled. “My wife is clumsy but she—”
Our hired help picked up the soda siphon and aimed it at the scorched material. She somehow slipped, missing her target.
Cam and his mom were drenched. Droplets dripped from the bottom of Mrs. Charlton’s dangly earrings, and Cam couldn’t see a thing as the water covered his glasses like spray paint. He stood, untucked his shirt, and wiped them, only smearing the droplets over the lenses.
Mr. Charlton grunted like a moody ape while Mrs. Charlton chuckled like a hyena. I started giggling too, somehow from the floor. Why am I stretched out on the carpet? Cam saw the joke and slowly worked himself into a full belly laugh. As his laughter subsided, he looked to Rowena who simply sighed in relief.