The third sitting was a week later. Ryan wondered why Harley was taking so long when his previous artists had always got him done in one sitting. But then maybe that was because they screwed him first sitting and were tired of him by the second. At least he knew that wasn't going to happen with Harley. The artist was a good guy. He was friendly and generous, no airs and graces about him as often came with money, paying Ryan a decent amount and inviting him to stay again that second time for dinner. Ryan felt more at ease with him than he had with anyone for a long while. It was just a shame that the gulf in class between them meant they would never be friends. He liked the man's company. Harley didn't make him feel like a second-class citizen the way some of his other clients had. And when he went to Harley's house, it was a relief not to have to wonder if he could get it up, let alone sexually satisfy the person who was paying him.
Harley was down on the terrace when Maria showed Ryan through. He sat facing the ocean, with a tall glass of amber liquid in his hand, a jug of the same in front of him on the table.
His face lit up when he saw Ryan, a smile crossing it, showing perfect teeth. "Hey. Sit down."
Ryan did so, smiling back, pushing his sunglasses into place.
"Iced tea?" Harley asked.
Ryan nodded and thanked him when he poured it. The tea tasted of peaches and was ice cold on his parched throat. It'd been a difficult morning. The money from the few shifts he'd managed at the restaurant wouldn't be due until next week. He was a month behind on his rent again and almost out of food.
He should be grateful he was a man of simple tastes and didn't smoke, drink to excess or shoot up drugs, he thought as he stared out across the ocean, like most other people living in his building. He couldn't afford to have an addiction. He could go to Jamie, who always subbed him, but Jamie was normally in difficult financial straits himself, and these days Ryan hesitated to do it, even though his friend would probably give him his last penny.
He glanced at Harley, taking in the graceful lines of his profile before he looked away and wondered if he would get fed before he went home.
"Are you okay?" Harley's voice broke into his thoughts.
"Yeah," Ryan replied. "Why?"
"You're quiet today."
Ryan was always quiet. He didn't believe in filling silences unnecessarily when he had nothing to say. He didn't see what was so different about today for Harley to have noticed, but the artist was kind of intuitive.
"I've got a few things going on," he mumbled, taking another drink.
"Anything you want to talk about?"
Ryan turned his head to look at him. Harley's amber eyes were hidden by sunglasses too. "No."
"Okay," Harley countered softly. "Well maybe I can cheer you up with the present I've got for you, then." He stood and went back into the house, leaving Ryan watching him in bemusement.
Harley's study was through there, a bright room lined with bookcases, a desk with a computer in one corner. The artist came back with a brightly colored paper bag and handed it to Ryan.
Ryan frowned as he took it. "What's this?" he asked, seeing an oblong box inside.
"Open it and see," Harley replied. He sat again, smiling.
Ryan stared into the bag a moment in confusion. Was this a present? People didn't buy him presents. At least not without wanting something in return. Was this some kind of bribe?
He pulled out the box and set it on his knee, noting the Converse logo upon it. He slowly lifted the lid to see the blue and white shoes within. His mouth opened silently, and he looked across at Harley with the frown still on his face.
Harley stumbled over his words. "I...saw them when I was at the mall and...realized you had a pair the same so...I bought them for you." He bit his lip, studying Ryan's face earnestly. His sunglasses were off, his eyes like honey in the bright sunlight.
Ryan looked at the shoes again and then at Harley once more. He couldn't stop a feeling of suspicion creeping over him, and it must have shown all over his face because Harley all but withdrew into himself, looking very unhappy.
"It's not..." Harley began and stopped.
"It's not what?" Ryan demanded, his voice unintentionally hard. "What I think? If it isn't what I think, then tell me what it is."
"I just..." Harley seemed cowed and chastened before him, this normally laid-back, cheerful man. "Wanted you to have some new shoes," he offered helplessly.
Ryan lifted his own sunglasses slowly so he could look into the other man's eyes. "So you didn't do it so I would be..." He hesitated, choosing the right word, "Beholden to you?"
Harley's face suddenly lost the meek look and turned ice cold. He stood abruptly, looking down at Ryan. "Beholden?" he repeated. "That's what you think? That I would try to buy you into my bed?" He laughed mirthlessly. "If you allowed yourself to be bought with a pair of shoes, Ryan, that makes you pretty damn cheap."
Ryan surged to his feet, hurling the box onto the ground, all the anger and injustice and shame at his whoring career rising to give vent for the first time at the wrong person. He squared up to Harley, taller than the other man, staring him down, fist clenched. At that moment, it would have felt way too good to punch him, and it didn't help that Harley didn't back down, his eyes blazing almost yellow, pupils constricted to a pinprick in the bright sunshine, the sea breeze blowing his dark hair over them.
Ryan abruptly regained control of himself. He stormed off the terrace before he could hit Harley.
He made his way through the study to the entrance hall with the red mist over him, putting his hand up to wrench open the front door before he heard running footsteps behind him.
A hand slid under his arm then slammed against the door to prevent him opening it, while another wrapped around his bare biceps, clenching it hard. Ryan came to a halt and looked over his shoulder.
"Please, Ryan." Harley was breathless, his face full of anxiety. "I just wanted you to have some new shoes, that's all. I swear I had no ulterior motive. I'm not some pervert trying to seduce you. Believe me."
There was a moment's silence during which Ryan became uncomfortably aware of the heat of the fingers curled around his arm. "Let go of me," he warned.
Harley did so, moving back so Ryan could pull open the door. He slid through it without a backward glance and set off down the drive.
Ryan lay sleepless in bed that night, replaying the scene over and over in his mind, appalled at his behavior. Jesus, he'd almost hit Harley. What was wrong with him? Had he got it all out of perspective? Were the shoes an innocent gift, while his suspicious mind told him everyone was trying to use him for their own ends?
Now he'd calmed down, he began to see how he'd ruined his chances for any more work, and hence money, from Harley. Then he began to think about the worst case scenario if the shoes were not an innocent gift. That Harley wanted to fuck him. Was he even gay? He didn't seem that gay to Ryan. That aside, what if Harley did want to fuck him? He had to remind himself that, so far, the dude had paid him as much per sitting as some of his female clients had paid to screw him, so imagine how much he would offer Ryan to fuck him?
He squeezed his eyes shut at this thought and sighed into the darkness. That it had come to this. After he'd turned down an offer to star in a gay porno movie, he was now wondering how much Harley would offer him to sleep with him. What was the matter with him? Had he no dignity at all left?