Andrew Carrington and I were friends, and nothing could weaken our bond. I think his so-called "news" only made it stronger. He looked like Michelangelo Buonarroti's David while he sat for me that afternoon. He spoke to me while I painted him. There was a strange parallel to his nudity and how naked his words made him seem then.
"I dreaded telling you this, Jason," he said. "I guess I was afraid of your reaction. It's never easy to say you're dying."
I didn't know how to take this at first. Andrew was a prankster, and he loved to test people's gullibility. "Stop kidding me, Andy," I said. "This is no time for you to joke--especially about something like that."
"I'm not," he said. "Honestly. I don't think I could joke about being HIV-positive."
I almost dropped the paintbrush then. The paint I used for his eyes streaked across his chest before I could steady my shaking hand. "How?" I asked him. "How long have you known?"
"I guess one of the condoms E used broke," he said. "You know he's the only guy I've ever had sex with, and we're usually safe. I shouldn't've kept it from you for almost four months. I haven't told him yet, either."
E was Evan. I also knew him as Mister E. I didn't know much about him yet. He and Andy'd only been seeing each other off and on for about a year. "You're damned right," I said. "I don't know why you waited so long."
"I didn't know how you'd deal with it," he said. "We've known each other for almost forever, and I couldn't risk losing our friendship now. I need your emotional support."
"You'll always have it," I said. "I've told too many secrets to you from our sleepovers until now. I wouldn't turn my back on you, Andy. You might use it all against me." I smiled. "Over 16 years must mean something to you. You can tell me anything, and in confidence."
"Really?" he asked me. I nodded. "It can't hurt me to bare my soul to you then since I've already bared my body." He laughed.
"Spill out your guts to me, Sexy!" I said and smiled.
"Okay, how's this for honesty?" he asked me. "I've found it hard to say a lot to you. I'm not as open as you. I have nothing to lose now, though. Brace yourself for the truth."
"Can the dramatics, Andrew," I said. "What's up?"
He sat there reclined on the settee, and his sprawling beauty was breathtaking with every inch of it in perfect symmetry. He seemed about to tell me his secret then hesitated. I guess he was mustering up courage.
He finally let out a deep breath and said, "I'm in love with you, Jason. I have been since high school." He immediately bowed his head and looked down at the Oriental rug. He was embarrassed.
"You shouldn't feel nervous about it," I said. "It's very flattering to know I caught someone's eye. I never thought the love I've been looking for was under my nose all along."
"Things could've been so much different if I'd spoken up sooner," he said. "I wasted too much time, and look where it's gotten me. I'm in a so-called 'relationship' with a guy I barely see and, when we meet, it's only for sex. It's not his love I long for; it's knowing he'll be around to cater to me in bed. He's like my escort, and neither of us is committed to anything but fulfilling each other's desires.
"I know so little about life, Jason, and I can't die without feeling like I did something with mine. I want to mean something to someone. I need to know my being here was important." He began to cry. I walked over and sat down beside him after he sat up.
"Don't do that, Andy," I said. "Why would you think you don't already mean something to me? Your being here is important. You can't start feeling sorry for yourself."
"It's a lot easier to do that now," he said.
"Why?" I asked him. "Having HIV doesn't mean you need to change your outlook or daily routine. Live while you still can."
"I don't have long to live, Jason," he said. "Doctor Spencer told me from a year to a year and a half. That's why I wanted you to paint my picture. It's a present for you. I need it to be done before I start showing lesions. Things will go downhill from then on. My chances for work won't be good."
Andy was a print model, and he'd done ads for Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger. He had an athlete's body, black spiked hair--it was blue-tipped today and, although it was his favorite color, it better suited his despondent mood--the slightest hint of a so-called "soul patch" above his chin and tropical-ocean-colored eyes. He was gorgeous, and I envied him his washboard stomach and six-pack abs. I think anyone-- whether they were male or female--would've found him irresistible. I was angry with him, despite this. "Drop your defeatist attitude, Andrew," I said. "I don't want to hear it anymore. Let's go out for a while. I insist on it. It'll help us both to get our minds off it."
"Okay," he said. "Let me go pee and primp myself first, though."
"You look fine, Andy," I said. "Hell, you are fine." We both smiled.
"Thanks, Jason," he said. "I knew you'd make me feel better. You're good-looking, too. Your sandy-brown hair and ultramarine-blue eyes mesmerize me."
"Only a few people were supposed to know my hair's bleached out," I said. "You and I'd be like carbon copies if I let the roots show. Let's keep that secret for forever. Your British accent fascinates me. It's a shame we couldn't travel to England sooner. I've learned a lot of European slang by listening to you talk."
He hugged me then. He held me close to him for a while, and I could've lingered in his embrace. We looked into each other's eyes as he let go of me and drew back. I sensed him wanting to kiss me, but said, "There's no open-mouth kissing allowed. It's the doctor's orders. This is better under the circumstances." I kissed his left cheek, and he kissed my right cheek. "Go pee and hurry back. I'm sick of this place."
"Yes, Sir," he said. He snapped to attention, grabbed his clothes from the floor beside the settee and ran toward the bathroom. I grazed his ass with my right hand's palm before it was out of reach.
I walked toward the easel, looked deeply into the painting on the canvas's eyes and thought, I'll finish it for you, Andy. I promise. I'll finish it before AIDS finishes you. I only had time enough to wipe away a falling tear before he walked up behind me and touched my right shoulder. "I'm ready," he said.
"Me, too," I said. I dropped a sheet over the painting after double-checking to see if it was dry, and we left the studio.