What most surprised Jason when he met Alders, Peter's father, was how ugly he was. He was little, no more than five-foot-two or three, and slim, wiry even. Peter had informed him that his father was not yet sixty, but his face, dried and wrinkled by too much of the Southern California sun, looked older. His hands and feet were oversized and his arms oddly long, and he had a jerky way of walking and moving about, as if he were filled with a barely harnessed energy. He looked, Jason thought at first glimpse, like a tall monkey.
Which was more surprising than it might otherwise have been because his son, Peter, was drop-dead good-looking. Male-model good-looking, you might say, since he was, after all, a male model.
"Not a star model, though," Peter would insist with due modesty whenever Jason made that comment. "That's the cover boys. I haven't gotten that kind of break," and he'd always add, after a significant pause, "yet."
Still, he was so handsome that Jason, who thought of himself as very ordinary looking, remained, after almost a year, astonished that Peter had fallen in love with him. Almost right off, too. They'd dated no more than a half dozen times, had sexual relations only the last three get-togethers, when Peter had insisted Jason move in with him.
"Isn't it awfully quick?" Jason asked.
And Peter said, "I've found what I was looking for. Why? Don't you love me?"
"Yes, of course I do, absolutely," Jason said. He did, too, if maybe just a little less ecstatically than Peter loved--but that was not surprising, that's how Peter was, extravagant in everything. His gestures, his figures of speech, certainly in his lovemaking. Jason had always been a quiet sort. Secretly he thought of himself as a bit of a bore. Certainly there was nothing flamboyant about him.
He chalked their relationship up to the attraction of opposites and was glad, if a bit bewildered, by it all. Besides, he'd have been a fool, wouldn't he, to have such a good-looking boyfriend and not love him back? Peter was a catch, there was no denying that. You couldn't not love a catch, especially if you're the catcher.
In he moved, and with few reservations. He'd been living in a shared flat in the tenderloin, and Peter's apartment in the Castro, if sparsely furnished, was nonetheless luxury indeed after downtown's noise and muddle. He hadn't much more than moved in, however, than Peter insisted it was time for Jason to meet his father. "I've already written the old boy to tell him about you."
"Did you have to?"
"He calls every day or so. Sooner or later you're going to pick up the phone. Besides, I came out to him a long time ago. He knows the score."
"And he's okay with it?"
"Umm. Well, he's not what I'd call keen on it, but, okay, yes."
"What about your mother?"
"She died in an accident when I was just a boy. So it was always just me and Pops. And you know how dads are, he probably still secretly hopes I'll meet the right girl one day. Like this is nothing more than a passing phase."
Which only made Jason all the more nervous about meeting him, but Peter was adamant, and just a little over a month after he'd moved into Peter's apartment, they flew down to Los Angles "for Papa's blessing," as Peter put it.
It wasn't an altogether successful weekend. Jason was too nervous, and he did what he usually did when he was nervous, which was to clam up. That inspired Peter to do what he did at those times, which was talk twice as much usual, to fill in any empty spaces. And there sat the father, watching them, watching Jason especially, with a look that Jason found difficult to read.
"You don't work?" he asked their first evening--they'd gone out to an old-fashioned restaurant in Hollywood, Musso and Frank's, where everyone seemed to know Alders. He'd been in the movie business for many years--not an actor, exactly, but a stunt man, and he was not quite retired, and not quite not-retired. "Old age isn't an asset for a stuntman," he explained. Jason was impressed, though, to meet someone who was actually "in movies," and downright in awe when Brandon Lester, an honest to goodness movie star, stopped by their table to say hello, like he and Alders were long-time friends.
"No," Jason stammered in answer to the work question. "Well, not exactly. I do a couple of evenings a week at a Burger King."
"Jason is going to school," Peter said. "He's going to get a Ph.D. and teach literature and keep me in style when I get too old to strut up and down wearing leather pants. And you're quitting Burger King, I already told you that. I'm making enough for the two of us."
He seemed rather pleased by the fact, and noticed not at all that his father's lips tightened in disapproval when he heard that.
"Nice if you're rich," he said, and changed the subject. Probably, Jason thought, he thinks I'm a gold digger. No father would want to see his son with a gold digger.
Jason could say one thing for the father, though--he was brimming with energy, and except for his small size and his odd proportions, solidly built. His chest was well sculpted and his belly rock hard. He swam every day, sometimes for hours.
Peter swam, too, if not quite as industriously. Jason, who had never learned to do much more than splash about, mostly reclined on a chaise--out of the sun, which burned him in no time at all--and watched the two of them. It was clear that they were good friends, if a little competitive in that male supremacy way, and they enjoyed one another's company. They would splash and duck and bob like a couple of little boys, shouting and laughing noisily. Jason, sitting apart in the shade, pretending to read a book, couldn't help feeling like a fifth wheel.
So, he didn't exactly have a great time, but he couldn't say, either, that Alders had been anything less than polite.
"He's not a bear hug kind of guy," Peter said when they were on the plane back to San Francisco. "He liked you. I could tell."
Jason hadn't gotten that impression. He hadn't felt like he was being put down, exactly, but he rather thought that Alders had dismissed him as of little consequence. He seemed to have lost interest after Burger King.
Which made it all the more worrisome when Peter suggested they move in with him. It came about because Peter was offered a part in a television soap opera that filmed down in L.A.
"Can't you just go down during the week," Jason said, "and fly back for the weekends? It's only a thirty minute flight."
"And five days every week we'll be living apart? You think I want you hanging out by yourself in those Castro bars? You'd discover in no time what a poor catch I am."
"I don't even like the bars, you know that. And what about school?"
"Your semester is up in just a week or so. You can enroll at UCLA. That's nicer anyway, isn't it?"
"Why can't we just get our own apartment?"
"We can, but they want me to start right away, meaning we'd have to hotel it 'til we found something, which could take weeks, and I hate living in hotels. Besides, Pops has acres of room in that house, you've seen it. He'll be glad for the company. And we can take our time looking around for a place of our own. Maybe we'll buy a house. I'm thinking West Hollywood."
On this subject, father and son thought exactly alike. "Don't even think about living in a hotel, for Pete's sake," Alders said--they were on the speakerphone. "I'm just rattling around by myself in this damned mausoleum. It'll be nice to have somebody here." Even my son's gay non-working boyfriend, Jason heard, but Alders didn't say it. He sounded really quite sincere. Well, straight men could get lonesome too, he supposed.
So, that was that. Everything from their apartment--there wasn't much, they'd been together only a few weeks--was packed up and put in storage. "We won't need anything but our clothes and our personal stuff," Peter said, and to Jason's great surprise, he went out and bought a car, a Jaguar sedan, forest green.
"It's not like here," he said. "You can get where you need to go on the Muni, but everybody drives in Los Angeles, so you wouldn't get around otherwise."
"It's kind of pricey, though, isn't it?"
"Moving advance, which is like found money. Besides, status counts in Hollywood."
They drove down along the coast, stopping in Santa Barbara for a romantic evening, and the next day, the Jaguar was parked in the triple garage, alongside Alders' far more modest Honda. Which surely had no status, and was the first inkling Jason had that maybe Alders wasn't actually rich, despite the big old almost-mansion overlooking the Sunset Strip.
"Should we be paying rent?" he asked Peter their first night there.
"He'd never permit it. He'd be mortified if we even brought it up."
Inevitably that reminded Jason of the Burger King business from their first meeting. Maybe Alders really did need the money. Maybe he'd been disappointed to learn that Peter was keeping him. He even hinted at that, but without much success. "I live pretty simply," Alders said, and thereafter avoided the subject of money.
They arrived on Sunday afternoon, and bright and early Monday morning Peter was off to the studio, driving in his status-rich new Jaguar. Jason had intended to enroll right away at UCLA, meaning he'd be spending his days at school, but there was some problem over his transcript from San Francisco State, and it turned out he couldn't get into UCLA until next semester. He found himself instead sharing his days with an almost-sixty straight man who wasn't too keen on homosexuals and maybe was strapped for cash.
It wasn't as uncomfortable as he'd expected, though. For one thing, Alders got up before the sun, and by the time Jason stumbled out of bed, the older man had run up and down the steep streets and was already doing laps in the pool. He came in for a quick breakfast--most mornings a smoothie--spent some time in his den on the telephone, and then it was back to the pool.
By this time Jason was poolside, back in the shade, and after an energetic swim, Alders took a chair beside him. He'd brought a book out with him, and Jason was surprised when Alders initiated a conversation about books. "You'd enjoy this one," he said. "You know, there's a whole room full of books in there."
At first, Jason thought he was just being polite, but after that first day he found himself in the library, looking for a book that Alders had mentioned to him. He was reading it the next day when Alders clambered out of the pool and dropped into the chair next to him. Alders didn't comment on it, but Jason saw that he noticed, and thought he looked approving.
After that, they talked more. Jason was not much of a talker, but he found himself opening up easily with Alders. Jason himself was, he knew, a bit of a prig, but Alders was not. He quickly learned that there was no subject Alders would not bring up and discuss frankly. Even with Peter, Jason shied away from certain subjects, but Alders knew no such restraint.
"Do you use condoms?" he asked bluntly.
Jason blushed, and admitted in not much more than a whisper, "Yes. Most of the time. Peter says since we're in a committed relationshipE"
"You don't fool around?" Alders interrupted, giving him a sharp look.
"No. Neither one of us." He looked back at Alders to see if that met with his approval, but Alders' expression was noncommittal. "Anyway, Peter says since we don't, it's okay if we don't sometimes. Use protection, I mean."
"Youth," Alders said with a little sigh and a shake of his head. It was impossible to know exactly what he thought of that. "You all think you're immortal."
Jason repeated the remark later to Peter, and Peter said, "Maybe we are." Father and son often disagreed. An alpha-male thing, Jason thought, but did not say. "We're young, we're beautiful. That's immortal."
"But we won't always be."
"I will. I don't intend to get old. But someone like my dad, he would never understand that."
Jason didn't think he did either, but he let it go. Anyway, he didn't know that he actually wanted to be immortal. It would get--well, it would get old, wouldn't it?