Title:  LOVING: All’s Well     

 

Contemporary

Author:  lucel

Characters: Ryan/Andrew, Ray/Nat, Miranda Pacheco, Joe Turner

Implement:  Hand

Series:  Loving:  The Beginning -- Whispers and Thunder & First Christmas

 

It had been a long session, and everyone in San Francisco State University’s Black Box 3a, current classroom for Advanced Production: Workshop II, was tired.  The 12 students plus the professor/director and his student assistant had spent the gray winter afternoon getting to know each other.  They would be performing The Fantastiks in just four weeks at the end of November.  Since 2 pm they had been testing individual talent, learning lines and songs, and blocking and testing choreography for the scenes of the small musical. 

 

Working hard for almost five hours, the 12 students had all been rehearsing in one of the department’s versatile small theaters with Abby, the assistant, pounding on the small upright piano as required.  They sang, they learned dance sequences, and they took turns reading lines.  They also helped each other shift the interior furnishings of the ‘Black Box’ to accommodate the space requirements for each scene.  Now, to finish up, they were all resting sprawled out on the floor or draped over the risers while Professor Lane was quickly going through the history of the play and his interpretation points, which they would be following for this student production.

 

Tired as he was, Andrew Stewart-Williams was glad to be there, but there was something bothering him... It was nothing to do with the class…  This afternoon had been amazing, even after all the excitement of last night.  He had to smile… again… But he was glad to be in this class… Space was limited:  students had to audition for enrollment in the course and be recommended by a Performance Advisor in music, drama, or dance.  Andrew’s Performance Advisor had pushed him to join the hundreds applying for the workshop since it would count towards his degree as both class and performance.  Andrew had been surprised to get in because he had never before done any theater work:  he had always expressed his music by playing guitar alone or in bands and singing a little.  But he had worked hard in the workshop today.  He thought he had kept up with the others, even in the dancing; he just didn’t know why he felt so anxious…

 

Professor Lane was telling stories about his time with the Off-Broadway production of The Fantastiks, and how the “Try to Remember the Kind of September” theme had so eerily and poignantly expressed feelings and emotions after the “9/11” terrorist attacks in New York.  As the theme melody filled Andrew’s mind, he had ‘to remember’ his singing just last night.  He couldn’t help focusing on the fourth finger of his left hand and the simple platinum ring he wore.  Ryan, his wonderful partner, had commissioned two matching rings in Hong Kong on his most recent trip as senior United Airlines pilot on the Eastern Route.  Andrew had to smile; he had been smiling at odd moments ever since last night just from sheer happiness, and he did not know why he should be worried.  Abby, the professor’s assistant, had had to call him to attention more than once.

 

Yesterday, Ryan and Andrew had celebrated the first anniversary of the day they met at a friend’s Canadian Thanksgiving party.  For the anniversary, Andrew had written a special song to surprise Ryan.  A friend helped by bringing Ryan to the very romantic and elegant Oak Room at the St. Francis Hotel on Union Square.  Ryan had been stunned when Andrew was introduced to sing.  Ryan had then taken Andrew dining at Julius’ Castle overlooking the Bay, followed by dancing at the trendy Endup Club.  And the handsome pilot had presented their two rings:  the inside of Ryan’s ring was engraved simply with “Andrew’s,” and “Ryan’s” was on the inside of the ring for Andrew.  The rings were a perfect fit, just as Andrew was certain the partners were a perfect match.

 

A year ago, Andrew would never have thought he would have a home again, or feel secure and well-loved, or have a future.   He had been reduced to working odd jobs and playing for change on the streets after the proceeds from his parents’ limited estate ran out.   Today, thanks to Ryan, he had a real home in San Francisco, and he was enrolled at San Francisco State as a music student in the College of Performance Arts and Music.   He smiled yet again…  And he was very tired at the end of his first Performance Workshop rehearsal.  …In a good way.  …Despite that mysterious sense of misgiving.

 

“Hey, did Lane say The Fantastiks played Off-Broadway for 42 years?!” the student next to Andrew asked as the professor and his assistant were handing out papers.  They were distributing information sheets and class schedules to go with the librettos that each student had been given when the workshop began. 

 

“Actually, I didn’t hear what he said either, but I think that number is correct,” replied Andrew.  “It was the world’s longest running musical, you know.”  He quite liked the look of this classmate.  Though he was of medium height, he had a certain grace and presence. His appearance was also somewhat exotic with his black hair, high cheekbones, and dark eyes with the slightly dangerous tilt.  As the class had begun work on the complicated blocking and dancing for the various scenes, Professor Lane had introduced him as a dance instructor in the department as well as a student.  Apparently he was already an accomplished and well known flamenco dancer.  His name was Nat Pacheco.

 

“Yes, I know.  I have to admit that I have trouble following lectures after working as hard as we all have today,” Nat offered.  “I’m Nat, by the way…”

 

“Yeah, I heard when you were introduced…  I’m Andrew.  You really are something with the dancing.  You certainly ‘have a leg up’ on the rest of us!  Have you been dancing long?” 

 

“…Practically since I was a baby!  ‘Leg up’-- that’s a good one!” said Nat chuckling.  “My Mom and Dad were dancers… it’s kind of the family business.  I’ve been dancing at the Gypsy Cavern since I was sixteen.”

 

“Gypsy Cavern?  What’s that?” asked Andrew, reaching for the papers being passed towards him and Nat.  Andrew took his and passed the rest to Nat.

 

“It’s a nightclub over in the Haight-Ashbury.  We are an old gypsy family, and my grandparents opened the Cavern when my Mom and Dad were young.  We do nightly shows of flamenco music and dance…  It’s just me and my three cousins dancing now, with several aunts and uncles and second cousins helping out.  Since my parents died, my Auntie Mir has mostly been in charge.  She’s a seeress, The Amazing Miranda, so she claims to know when we’re all on track.”  Nat’s eyes were a little sad as he went through this for Andrew.  “And sometime, just sometimes, I get the feeling I can ‘see’ a little, too.  She’s always telling me I have something strong, but none of us are sure exactly what it is… Mostly I try not to think about it!” he finished with a smile.

 

Then Nat brightened again as he said, “It was fun working through the dancing today…  I could tell you probably hadn’t had much formal training, but you seemed to catch on fast.  You moved very well with the music, and when you moved, it didn’t seem awkward or tentative.”

 

Andrew threw his new friend a grateful smile, feeling more at ease as the professor called the class to order one more time.

 

“OK, guys, listen up.  On the production sheet I want you all to notice that there are seven parts, six men and one woman.  What that means is that every one of you will learn every part and play each part, too.” 

 

Professor Lane was interrupted by several students with cries of “hey,” “how’s that going to work,” and “what do you mean?”

 

“It means… just what I said.  I will decide for each performance who will play which part.  Women will most certainly be cast as men, and all of you lucky actors will also have an opportunity to play The Girl in performance.  I want you all to have the experience that each part will give.  And don’t forget, Shakespeare cast boys in the women’s parts, and it’s a time honored tradition of the modern British Pantomime as well as the medieval Commedia dell’ Arte to play women disguised as men.  So when we are working here in the workshop, pay attention and learn everything!  Clear?”

 

“Yes, Sir,” they all replied, more or less together.  Professor Lane nodded and continued.

 

“Now, for homework, I want you all to learn your lines and the songs.  You will have a week before we’re back in here again.  Those of you who are struggling to learn the dance moves should talk to Nat about what studio time he has available for tutoring outside of class.

 

Also, let’s turn right now to the beginning of the second act where the ‘joyous pyramid of happy relationships’ that ended Act One as a kind of family portrait is beginning to fall apart.  Can anyone tell me what is really happening here?”  Andrew raised his hand.  He had always enjoyed how images suggested by verbal or musical phrases seemed to speak to him, make the world shift in some way.

 

“Yes…  Mr. Stewart-Williams.  Andrew, is it?” Professor Lane called.

 

“Yes, Sir.  Andrew is fine.  Um, the pyramid is too strained, too unnatural a position to maintain, especially under the glaring light of the sun instead of the softer, more romantic moon of Act One.  That they can’t sustain the ‘pyramid’ pose physically, symbolizes how there is too much strain for the relationships to hold together. Maybe they are too artificial or too soft.  To put it another way, something has to give…” Andrew hoped he had it right.  He thought he did.

 

“Right.  You’ve got it-- So the question for next time is what is going ‘to give’-- what will happen next, what is the dramatist’s vision.  You might also want to consider what is meant by the line they all repeat in various forms: ‘this plum is too ripe.’ 

 

“So, it’s ten minutes to seven.  Let’s adjourn now so those of you who want to arrange time with Nat can do so.  See you all next week.”  With that the class broke up, and the professor left trailing students who rushed to catch a private word with him.

 

Nat and Andrew stood up together.  They were nearly the same height, wore similar tee shirts and dark jeans, and looked good together.  As Nat opened the small notebook that acted as his school agenda, Andrew turned to him.  “I think I’d like to come to one of your studio classes to practice our dancing.  When are you free?”

 

Several other students crowded close to hear Nat’s answer.  “Let’s see… I’m free after

3 pm Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, and I’m free for an evening studio after 6 pm on Thursday.  If we meet Monday or Tuesday, we could also schedule a second studio on Thursday if need be.  So, how about Tuesday afternoon in Dance Studio 113 at 3:15 pm?  Can everyone make that?”

 

The students all agreed and wrote down time and place.  Andrew wondered, “When will we be finished?  I like to try to make it home by 6 pm if possible, and I have a 20 minute bus ride.”  Andrew was thinking of Ryan again, and he smiled.  Then he thought of their rules, and his smile changed again into a worried frown.

 

“Oh, we should plan to be finished by 5 pm at the latest.  And we may stop earlier, depending on how everyone does.”  Nat was encouraging, but all business.

 

As the other students were leaving, Andrew asked Nat, “Would you like to stop at the Union and get something to drink?  I usually go there to pick up a coffee for Joe, my bus driver, before I start for home…”  For some reason he couldn’t really articulate, Andrew was drawn to the dancer, wanted to know him better.  It wasn’t that he was attracted to the dancer physically.  After all, there was Ryan.  And Andrew just bet Nat had someone waiting for him, too.

 

“Sure, I wouldn’t mind.  Ray won’t be expecting me home for another hour.  And I always get thirsty when I’ve been working hard.”  Nat put on his jacket and picked up his backpack and a small duffle full of dance gear, slinging each in turn over one shoulder.  Andrew shrugged into his own windbreaker, put his backpack on his shoulder, and picked up his rather bulky guitar in its specially made case.

 

“Who is Ray?” was Andrew’s natural question as they walked.

 

“Ray is an architect, and something more.  He’s my boyfriend,” Nat said somewhat shyly, though he thought Andrew would probably understand.  “We live together in a wonderful old ‘painted lady’ that I’m helping him to restore over in the Haight-Ashbury.  We met a year ago on Halloween.”

 

“That sounds interesting.  We live in a ‘painted lady’ near the Presidio Wall at the end of Union Street.  My partner is a pilot for United Airlines, and we just celebrated the first anniversary of our meeting… last night as a matter of fact.”  Andrew glanced down at his ring again, smiling again… though he also had this weird flash of apprehension… which suddenly became a thunderclap of fear freezing him in his tracks!

 

At the same moment Nat jumped and clutched Andrew’s arm, “Andrew!  What was that?”  Nat went pale and began to hurry Andrew along the deserted walkway until the two young men were running full out toward the welcome lights of the Student Union about a half a block ahead of them.  They didn’t stop until they were through the doors and among other students in the well-lit entrance foyer. 

 

“Why… in the world…were we… running so hard?” Andrew got out as he struggled for air.  “I don’t understand… but I feel so afraid…”  Nat had his head down with his hands on his knees.  Then he straightened up and took a deep cleansing breath.

 

“There was a disturbance… something dreadful… and I’m afraid it concerns you, Andrew.  At least, I don’t think it has anything to do with me directly… but I could be mistaken…” Nat’s eyes were wide, he was still pale, and he was trembling slightly even as he tried to calm down.  “You say you feel afraid?  Do you know why?  When did you first feel something ‘funny’?”

 

“Just before we started running.  I don’t know why-- I was just thinking about Ryan and our home… then I got this flash of fear, physical and mental all rolled into one big punch of pain… and I felt threatened… and that I had to do what you said and run!  What do you think it means?”  Andrew didn’t know why, but he was terrified!  And Nat seemed to be afraid, too!  “Nat, if you know, please tell me!  Oh, I wish Ryan were here!”  Andrew was ready to clutch at anything, but he really needed to be with Ryan.

 

“Andrew, I’m not certain, but I think there are elemental forces at work here.  They seem to concern you, and they are not good.  I think you felt them because they are after you in some way, and I… well, let’s just say I’m wired to feel them…Especially when I’m in their path, which I probably am because I’m with you.”  Nat wasn’t sure he was making any sense to Andrew.  Andrew was looking a little wild and quite shaken.  “Andrew, look at me.  Do you still feel something...something extra?”  Nat took Andrew’s hand and gave him a little shake, just to focus his attention.

 

Andrew made an effort to pull himself together, then looked at Nat and answered, “I don’t feel anything nearly as sharp as before.  Now all I feel is kind of a headache, but somehow I know it isn’t just physical… It’s almost as if something terrible is just waiting to happen, to obliterate me… Nat, how can I feel these things?  I’ve never felt anything like this before… I don’t understand it.”

 

“Well, everyone gets uneasy now and then.  Some people are just more sensitive than others, sometimes at one time more than another.  In my family we try to feel and understand forces like this so we can learn to deal with them, protect ourselves… and everyone else if we can… of course, Auntie Mir is much better at it than I am… she knows so much more than I do.” 

 

Nat looked very serious, and Andrew didn’t think his new friend was just stringing him along.  “Well, what do you think we should do?  I know we said we’d have something to drink, but I think I need to get home.  I know I need to see Ryan…”  Despite his trouble, Andrew glanced down at his ring, and a little smile flitted across his face.  Whatever was happening, he wanted to face it with his tall partner.  Ryan!  Oh, no!  A thunderclap of anguish brought a wave of fear to flood Andrew with pain, almost doubling him over with the force of it. 

 

“N-nat!” he stuttered.  “Something is wrong with Ryan!  Help me!  I can’t…”

 

Nat jumped to help Andrew, supporting him to a chair at the edge of the central eating space.  “Take it easy, Andrew,” he replied, “I won’t leave you…”

 

A student who had seen Andrew double over stopped near the table and asked “Is something wrong?  Do you guys need help?  Do you need me to call an ambulance?”

 

Nat knew better than to go for medical help.  Any medical treatment would just cloud the issue, so he replied, “Thanks, but he’s just a little dizzy.  I’m going to help him home in just a minute.  I think he just has a touch of the flu.”  The student looked unconvinced, and Nat had an inspiration.  “What would help is some juice; could you get us some juice and coffee to go?  Here’s some money…”  Nat pulled out his wallet and gave a five dollar bill to the student to cover the request.  To Nat’s relief, the student nodded and moved off.  But Nat knew what he wanted to do.

 

“Andrew, just try to relax and concentrate on breathing.  As long as you’re getting these feelings, I don’t think you should be alone, and I’m not going to leave you.  So here’s what I think should happen.  We should go to your house to see if Ryan is there.  You should also call him to see if he is OK even before we get there.  Then, if we need them, we can call my Aunt Miranda and Ray to help.”  Nat felt raw with trying to hold everything together for himself as much as for Andrew.  He needed Ray, probably as much as Andrew seemed to need Ryan.

 

“OK, Nat, but I’m really worried that something has happened to Ryan.  I can feel it, but I can’t understand it.  It’s as though somebody is whispering to me too low to hear and using a foreign language.  But I’m getting the body language, and it’s scaring me.  I feel as though I ought to be able to understand it.  Why can’t I?  Why can’t I hear it better?” Tears were spilling over from Andrew’s eyes, and the look he was giving Nat was full of pain and begging him for help.

 

“Look, Andrew.  I know it doesn’t seem like it, but what you’re feeling is a gift.  You know something is wrong, and we’re being given the information so we can figure out what to do to help.  Now why don’t you try to call your partner...Ryan, right?  Do you have a cell phone?”  Nat sat down beside Andrew and put his arm around the other young man.  Nat felt fiercely protective of Andrew, and though they had only really met this afternoon at the workshop, Nat felt they were close, as close as brothers.

 

Andrew rested for a minute against the comfort Nat offered.  Then he reached in his backpack phone pocket for his cell.  One tap on number one, and he was listening to first the ring, then the message in Ryan’s “official” voice:  “This is Captain Ryan Williams.  Please leave a message, and I will return your call.  And if this is Andrew-- love you.” 

 

The last phrase had been added since the last time Andrew had called his partner.  Since it was delivered in exactly the same “official” tone as the rest of the message, it took a moment for Andrew to register the declaration.  “Oh, Nat!  Did you hear that?  Ryan put ‘love you’ in his phone message… everyone who calls him will hear!”  Just then Andrew heard the message beep, and said quickly into the phone, “Ryan, call me right away.  It’s an emergency!  I need to know where you are!  Call my cell.  Love you.”  Andrew clicked off and just sat holding the phone with tears slowly tracking down his cheeks.

 

“That’s really special, Andrew.  Ryan sounds like a neat guy.  But why do you think he’s not picking up?  Is he at work?”  Nat gave Andrew a little shake.  “Come on, answer me,” he pleaded.  “We need to start moving… should we try your house or somewhere else?”

 

Andrew drew himself up and visibly marshaled his resources.  “Well, he was only going in to the airport to work on the paperwork for his last trip reports, and I thought that was this morning.  Even if he stayed all day, he would probably be home by now.  I guess we should look there first… It’s also possible that he left word for me if he was going somewhere else or was going to be late.  So we should check there first…  You’ll come with me?” he asked looking at his new friend.

 

“For sure,” promised Nat staunchly, “and I won’t leave you until we know what is happening.  Now, do you have a car?  …Because I don’t.”

 

“No, for what I have to do and with parking so difficult, I’ve just been riding the bus.  In fact, Joe should be along any minute.  He usually comes to the stop in front of the Union by 7:40.  I’ve found it very difficult to get a taxi from here, but we could try.”  Just then the student returned with the juice and coffee.  After thanking him, Nat offered the juice to Andrew and insisted that he drink some of it.  

 

“Ok, let’s try your bus.  If it doesn’t come fast enough, we can call for a taxi.”  Nat drank down the rest of Andrew’s juice.

 

“Right.  The bus stop is just in front of the Union.  We can bring the coffee for Joe.”  Gathering up quickly, the two young men hurried outside, making it to the bus stop just at the big Muni bus pulled up to the curb. 

 

“Hey, Andrew, right on time I see… and with a friend… and coffee,” was the greeting from his friend, Joe, the big black driver who drove his bus as if it were an SUV.

 

“Hey, Joe, and this is Nat.  He’s working with me in that musical I told you about… The Fantastiks, remember?  Here’s your coffee.”

 

“Thanks, Andrew.  Yeah, I remember.  I told you I saw that downtown about ten years ago when it was playing in San Francisco for the second time.”  Bestowing his “shiny” smile on Nat, Joe tossed him a “Hey, Nat,” then looked a bit more deeply, giving Nat a little nod of recognition.  Nat knew that here also was one who was a ‘spirit warrior’-- one who would stand firm as a friend-- against anything. 

 

Nat responded with “Hey, Joe.  I’m glad to know you…”  With his eyes, he drew Joe’s attention to Andrew, and Joe nodded slowly.

 

“Andrew, you look a little under the weather.  Is something wrong?”  Joe looked from Andrew to Nat and back again.

 

“I don’t know… I just have this feeling something isn’t right with my partner, Ryan, and I have to get home, fast.”  Joe heard the desperation and pain in Ryan’s voice and knew there was more to it… But he left it for now.

 

“Well, I’m going fast tonight.  I only have to stop if I see someone waiting… seems no one is that interested in traveling tonight.  Why don’t you guys sit down, and I’ll see what this old bus can do.”  With that, they were off.

 

Nat sat next to Andrew on the long bench seat near the door.  He sat sideways so he could keep and eye on his friend.  From there he could also see Joe, and Joe could watch them both in the rear view mirror.  Nat was beginning to worry about Ray at home.  Ray would be expecting him about now.  Nat pulled out his cell to call.  But first he turned to Andrew.

 

“Andrew, how is it now?  Do you still feel anything?”  Andrew looked up.  He had been staring down at the floor of the bus, feeling numb and shaky all at once, but still trying to hold everything together.

 

“The pain has mostly gone, but something is still there, and Nat, I just have to find Ryan.  I have to be sure he is all right.  I just hope there will be something at home.”  Andrew’s voice was quivery with emotion barely held in check. 

 

Nat knew he needed to direct Andrew to something to hold to-- something strong.  “Andrew, what is the strongest thing you know, something that will never fail?  Can you think of something like that?” Nat reached out for Andrew’s hand, tugging him around to face Nat.

 

“…I-- I-- Yes.  Ryan!  Ryan is that for me…Ryan’s love.  Why?  Why do you ask?”  Andrew’s eyes were wide and full of tears.

 

“I want you to say something for me, over and over, and believe it each time you say it, OK?  Trust me, it will help.  Say this:  ‘Ryan walks in beauty, his love for me is strong. We walk in beauty, and love will never fail.’ Can you do it?”  Nat tried to will his friend strength.

 

“I can do it… ‘Ryan walks in beauty, his love for me is strong.  We walk in beauty, and love will never fail.’ Is that it?”  Andrew looked determined and more hopeful.

 

“You’ve got it.  Now just keep saying it over and over, aloud or to yourself, however you feel it.  You can even just think it, and it will help.”  Nat resolved to join in after he made his phone call to Ray.  Andrew had a curiously inward look has he began to chant rhythmically to himself.  With a satisfied nod, Nat hit Ray’s number.  “Come on, come one… Oh, good, you’re home.”  Quickly Nat told Ray all that had happened at the end of the Workshop.  Nat worried when Ray made no quick response. 

 

Then Nat felt an overwhelming sense of relief when he heard Ray say, “I’ve been trying to ignore the pressures I’ve been noticing all day thinking my imagination was getting the better of me.  But now I think I must have been foreshadowing this trouble you are in… with Andrew, did you say?  Is he someone you’ve known for a long time, someone you care about?”  Ray’s voice was calm, intelligent, concerned, in control.  Nat loved how safe Ray made him feel, even over the phone. 

 

“Ray, I just met him this afternoon, but I am certain about Andrew and his partner:  they are good guys… and I feel I have known Andrew all my life, as if we shared the same blood, the same heart.  I can’t explain it…I feel his trouble is mine to share…” Nat was fiercely passionate, trying to convey how he felt, to be compelling enough for Ray to understand.  “I know we need help, especially from you and maybe from Auntie Mir.”

 

“Well, if you are feeling that way, then what I have felt must be a true reading, and we must act… tell me how to find you, I don’t want either of you moving after you make it to his house.  How do I get there?”

 

Turning to Andrew, Nat was able to break into Andrew’s chant to ask him to give Ray directions. When Andrew heard Ray’s voice, he knew Nat had brought him to strength, that he and Nat could trust him.  Andrew told Ray how to find the house.  Nat had one more thing to say to his partner, “Ray, please hurry!  We’ll be there soon, and we hope you will be, too…  Yes, we’ll be careful…Ok, go ahead and call Auntie Mir, let her know what is happening… Yes, I promise!  Love you, too…”

 

Catching Joe’s eye in the mirror, Nat nodded and again turned to Andrew.  “Come on, Andrew, say the lines I taught you, and I’ll join you.” 

 

Andrew nodded, and looking into each other’s eyes, they began to repeat the strength drawing chant together with each young man saying his own partner’s name. “‘Ryan (Ray) walks in beauty, his love for me is strong.  We walk in beauty, and love will never fail.’”  From his place in the driver’s seat, Joe joined them with “We walk in beauty; love is strong.  We walk in beauty, and love will never fail.”

 

Sooner than anyone could expect, they were at the Union Street stop.  The street was like a small main street for the exclusive and trendy San Francisco neighborhoods of Pacific Heights and Cow Hollow.  Stretching from Van Ness to the Presidio Wall, it was quite busy with people out to enjoy the restaurants, cafes, and bars along with the old movie theater halfway down.  It was also a time of night when there was no one at the bus stop.  The young men gathered their belongings and left the bus to walk the three blocks to the end of the street, the Presidio Wall, and Andrew’s house.

 

Joe came down out of the bus to see them off.  “You guys be careful, now,” he said.  “I’ll wait here until I see you turn the corner… call out if you need me, OK?” 

 

Just then, a dark blue BMW rounded the corner and pulled to a stop next to them just behind the bus.  A tall man quickly got out, and turned towards them.  Andrew was surprised when Nat dropped his gear and leaped towards him with a glad shout of “Ray!  You got here.”

 

Ray gathered his young partner close and just held him.  Then kissing him on the ear, and examining his face, Ray said simply, “I hurried!  Is this your friend?”  He turned, keeping an arm protectively around Nat’s shoulders. 

 

“Yes, this is Andrew.  And that’s Joe, another friend…” Nat could not believe how glad he was that Ray was with them.  There were times, such as now, when he really knew how much he needed Ray’s strength.  There were many things Nat had been able to show and teach Ray during the year they had been together, but he had learned never to take Ray’s curious naiveté as a sign of weakness.

 

When Andrew felt Ray look at him, he felt as though he was being seen and examined at his deepest level, but somehow he stood steadfast under Ray’s heavy scrutiny, looking back into Ray’s warm brown eyes that seemed to also reflect something deeper, something darker.  Then Ray smiled slowly and reached to pull Andrew into a three-way hug with his own Nat as he offered words of comfort. 

 

“Try not to worry, little brother.  You have allies; we will help you.”  With a final hug, Ray broke their circle to greet Joe.  As the two tall men shook hands, a slow and feral smile spread across Joe’s face. 

 

“I cannot believe this… I never thought I would meet you… stand with you… Just ask, and I will be there… Andrew is a friend,” Joe’s quiet words were intense and very sincere.

 

“Yes, I saw.  And Nat is my partner… he has grounded me… given me a real reason to understand what is best and really important in life.  Both young men are worth much:  some people are… I’m glad you were here to help us tonight.”  Ray gave Joe what amounted to an accolade.

 

“What happens next?” was Joe’s question as he looked deep into Ray’s eyes, acknowledging him. 

 

Ray looked around the little group of four, drawing them close before answering, reaching to put his arm around Nat again.  “We go to Andrew’s house and try to find his partner.  We prepare… stand ready for anything.  Come on, get in the car.”

 

“Do you want me with you?” asked Joe quietly.

 

“Yes.  Can you come?” Ray was brief and direct.

 

“I…”  Joe looked up at the bus, then back at Ray.  “If you need me, I can come.  Just give me a minute…”  With that, he stepped back into the bus, set the destination sign to “out of service,” and turned off the engine.  By the time he was back at curb side the others were already in the car.  Nat and Andrew had taken the back seat, leaving the front passenger seat for him.  Ray made fast time to Andrew’s house, but they were all disappointed to find it dark.  They decided to go in to check, all of them… together.

 

“Come in, come in,” said Andrew turning on lights.  “Let’s check in the kitchen.  We have a message board by the telephone… Maybe Ryan left me a message.”  They went through the hall to the kitchen turning on more lights as they went.  There was nothing.  They looked everywhere in the house, and found no sign.  By the time they came back to the living room, Andrew’s fear was growing again. 

 

“Why is this happening?” Andrew moaned.  “Where is Ryan?”

 

Ray was standing with his eyes shut, a look of concentration on his face.  He shook his head as if to clear it and asked, “Have you tried calling him by phone?”

 

“Andrew tried to call his cell from school, but he only got Ryan’s voice mail,” Nat offered.

 

“Try calling his work number, Andrew,” directed Ray.  “We need to hurry, to find out…”

They all watched while Andrew dialed from the phone in the living room.  He was using a staff, not a public, number.  The call was answered and placed immediately on hold.  There was a rising tension in the room.  Then Andrew responded with “This is Andrew Stewart-Williams.  I need Extension 472 for Captain Ryan Williams, my partner…What? No, we haven’t been watching TV… Oh, no!  Noooo…”

 

Andrew went pale and was almost dropping the telephone.  Ray scooped it up and pushed Nat towards Andrew.  Joe moved fast to catch Andrew, who looked about ready to faint.  Joe sat him down on the sofa, and with a gentle hand pushed Andrew’s head between his knees.  Nat sat next to him half supporting him on the other side.

 

Ray spoke into the phone, “This is Ray Jenkins, Andrew’s friend.  Why is he so upset?  What did you say to him?”  Ray looked as though he already knew.  “Oh, I see… Yes… Yes…When will you know?  I understand… OK, we’ll get more information from the TV… yes… we’ll wait for your call.  Thank you. Thank you, you’ve been very kind.  Good luck.  We’ll be with you… thinking good thoughts for you all.” 

 

Ray put the phone down.  He seemed to be looking somewhere far beyond the room.  It seemed to Nat that Ray had been silent for a long time, though in reality only seconds had passed.  Nat had had enough.

 

“Ray!” he said forcefully.  “Tell us!”

 

Andrew raised his head back up, pale but determined. Ray knew he had everyone’s attention. 

 

“There was a bomb at the airport just after 7 pm.  Terrorists blew up the entrance to the United Airlines Concourse and Terminal.  Wreckage blocks the main entrance, and every other access door has been sealed or locked or guarded.  Some people were killed outright, some were hurt.  The terrorists are holding about 100 passengers and staff people hostage.  The planes have been grounded, and San Francisco Airport has been isolated and surrounded,” Ray spoke as though he could see it. 

 

“Ryan has been identified as the UA Official who convinced the leader to let about 30 women and children leave.  They are asking for airplanes to be readied for a long flight or they will start killing the hostages… The deadline is set for 9 pm, in about 20 minutes…”

 

Andrew seemed frozen in place.  Tears kept coursing down his pale cheeks. His eyes were fixed on Ray.  Finally, he moaned, “Ryan… What can we do?  Ryan… I can’t lose Ryan, too; I just can’t!”

 

“Oh, Ray!  We can’t let this be happening!  We have to do something!”  Nat reached for Andrew’s hands as he flung entreaties and commands at his tall partner. 

 

Joe kept muttering, “I knew it was something big, I just knew it!” as he looked around the living room to locate the TV remote.  He hit the power button, then selected channel four as the most likely local channel.  The screen was suddenly filled with a picture of the front of the main airport terminal practically obscured by police and army vehicles.  Then it shifted to an interior shot of the rubble strewn entrance to the United Airlines Concourse.  

 

An announcer’s voice could be heard saying, “There are unconfirmed reports of airplanes being readied to meet the 9 pm deadline set by the terrorists.  Police officials and National Guard officers have been deployed around the airport, and all traffic in or out by land or by air has been halted.  To recap, an unknown number of terrorists brought a bomb to the first checkpoint of the United Airlines Concourse, and it was detonated just after 7 pm this evening.  The United Airlines Terminal has been taken over, and approximately 100 passengers and United Airlines Staff are being held hostage.  At approximately 8 pm a group of about 30 women and children were released.  They carried a detailed message listing demands for airplanes ready to fly for long distances.  Several of the group identified this man,” the screen showed a formal full-length picture of Ryan in his pilot captain’s uniform, “Captain Ryan Williams, as responsible for talking the terrorists into their release. Captain Williams is a senior pilot assigned to the Tokyo/Orient route and makes his home in San Francisco…” 

 

At Andrew’s choked sob, Joe mercifully muted the sound and turned to Ray.  “What now, Ray?  What can we do?”  Joe stood ready, willing his strength to his companions, to the innocent hostages, and to Andrew’s Ryan, who was already doing whatever he could.  The doorbell, followed by urgent knocking, broke the tension and paralysis of discovery. 

 

Before anyone of the four could go to the door, it burst open and a small dark woman flew into the room.  She was dressed mostly in black:  black leather jacket and boots, with a sweeping skirt of a deep peacock blue and a black cowl-neck sweater.  She wore a necklace of several strands of deep turquoise and old silver, and her abundant reddish black hair was bundled at the nape of her neck in an old-fashioned net.  Though wrinkled by time, her face had beauty and strength, which was also in the knowledge of her eyes. 

 

“Auntie Mir!” exclaimed Nat by way of greeting.  “We so need you… how did you know to come?  And so fast…”

 

She nodded to Nat as she walked into the room, taking in the condition of the four at a glance.  “Ray called me to stand by, but I knew I should come, and come fast.” She had a smile for Nat and Andrew as she bent to give Andrew a hug.  “You must be Nat’s friend, Andrew.  I know you are worried, but we will work through this together.  You are not alone.” 

 

She continued on to Joe, offering him her hand and arm in the greeting of comrades.  “Joe,” she said.  It was recognition.

 

Then she came to Ray.  “I am honored,” she said as she grasped his hand in both of hers, then reaching up to pull his head down for a resounding kiss on the cheek.  “You are doing well to stand for your friends, your family, and your partner.  But I am sure we must hurry…”

 

Ray flushed with pleasure, and his eyes thanked her for her acceptance and support.  “Yes,” he said, “I concur; we must.”  With a tone that allowed no delay or question, Ray commanded, “Everyone up.  It is time to act, not fret or mourn.  Stand here with me.  We must face the airport to the north.  Joe, you are to my left; Miranda, you are to my right.  Nat, you stand here in front of me and Miranda; Andrew you stand beside Nat in front of me and Joe.  Miranda, Joe.”  At his word Joe put his left hand on Andrew’s shoulder and his right on Ray’s.  Miranda mirrored his action by touching Nat and Ray.  Ray then made sure Nat’s left arm was firmly around Andrew and Andrew’s right arm around Nat.  Then Ray completed their twining by putting his right hand on Nat and his left on Andrew.   

 

“Now, Everyone... Think… think of a flow of strength passing through each one of us, gathering force, stronger and stronger, until it becomes an avenging torrent, until it will quench the evil we see in our enemies, until it will open the way for the rescuers, until it will pour safety and healing to those in harms way, until even our enemies be turned from dark ways, until love vanquishes hate!”  With the last word a veritable thunderclap of power seemed to rock the room, the house, the street, leaving the intertwined group of five clutching each other for support.

 

“Wow!  Ryan felt that, too!  I know he did.”  Andrew was pale and wide-eyed, but curiously sure and triumphant. 

 

Then with his voice beginning in a whisper and ending in a shout, Nat pleaded for their attention.  “Look!  Look at the TV!  Turn up the sound, Joe, Andrew, someone…”

 

As one body, almost moving in slow motion, the five turned to look, and Andrew reached for the remote to release the mute.  At first there was nothing to be heard, and all they saw was the station logo screen.  Then a slightly skewed picture came on with a very disheveled announcer speaking excitedly into the microphone. 

 

“Ladies and gentlemen, it has just now been confirmed that a surprise attack by Navy Seals from the Bay side of the airport has been a complete success.  All of the terrorists are in custody, and there were no casualties, repeat no casualties, except for the death of one terrorist who belatedly realized that an attempt to retake the airport was actually coming from the water.  All hostages have been released with no loss of life.  Repeat:  No hostages have been hurt or killed in the fighting.  We will take you behind the rubble as soon as we are allowed back there.  It is amazing! Just minutes before the deadline, all we saw from this vantage point was the light from the attack.  It looked like a bolt of lighting or an explosion without the ‘boom’-- who would have thought the attack would actually come from Navy Seals swimming in to the airport from the San Francisco Bay itself!”  Someone off camera passed him several rumpled sheets of paper. 

 

After reading briefly, the reporter continued, “And there are now reports that some of the hostages heard the beginning of the attack and responded from the other side, apparently led by Captain Williams, the pilot responsible for the release of the women and children earlier…”  The picture on the TV screen wobbled.  “We have to move our cameras, so back to you, Ron, in the studio.”  The screen returned to the station logo.

 

Auntie Mir turned to Nat and gave her nephew a hug.  Then it was Andrew’s turn.  “Andrew, your Ryan seems to be a hero,” she said.  Andrew could not stop smiling and neither could she.  She finished the hug with a bracing pat on the back and a resounding kiss on the cheek.  “Now, everyone, I think we need some sweet tea or some hot chocolate while we wait for Ryan to come home.”  She chuckled when she saw Andrew’s surprised and hopeful look.  “Oh, yes,” she said.  “I think we can count on him being here shortly.  Now come along, Andrew, you can help me find something for us all to drink while we wait…”

 

They had their drink, they watched the television for further information or announcements, and they talked.  After about an hour, the telephone broke the false serenity of the room.  Andrew leaped to answer, and the group could tell from his delighted “Ryan!” just who was calling.  He had called to let his partner know he was coming home, that he was all right. 

 

Soon they could hear the distant wail of sirens coming closer and closer until the flashing lights and sirens were in front of the house and could be seen from the living room windows.  Andrew went racing to greet Ryan at the door. 

 

After a final “Thanks for everything,” a last handshake for the escorting policeman, and a jaunty wave, Ryan raced up the front steps and into the arms of his partner. 

 

“Andrew!  I…” 

 

“Ryan, Ryan, you’re back!  I was so afraid… afraid for you… afraid I would never see you again, that I would never have the chance to tell you one more time how proud and glad I am to be your partner.”  Their kiss was quiet and intense and thorough.

 

Then Ryan smiled his slow smile, his tired blue eyes delighting at the sight of his worn younger partner.  As they turned to go into the house, those same tired eyes filled with gladness brushed briefly over the small brass plaque by the side of the door. 

 

Andrew pulled Ryan into the living room saying simply to the now standing group, “Here’s Ryan.”  Ryan stood tall as though for inspection, one hand tugging in a futile attempt to straighten his torn, stained, and hopelessly wrinkled uniform.  If his blond hair was not as tidy as usual, his eyes were direct and clear and filled with emotion that ran deep.

 

Ryan’s grateful gaze rested briefly on each of the mismatched group, then he shook hands and embraced first Ray, then Nat, then Miranda, and Joe.  “How can we ever thank you enough?  You helped Andrew, and you all gave us strength at the airport  Suddenly the whole place lit up bright as day, and I knew it was time for my group of hostages to do what we could to fight and distract the terrorists.  We came at them from one side, and those Navy Seals hit them from the other. Your good will worked to make all of our effort count… Yesterday was magical for Andrew and me because we could celebrate finding ourselves… but so was today when we almost lost everything. 

 

“I kept wanting to tell Andrew what was happening, to let him know how much I care… I was so afraid that we would be parted… forever.”  Ryan found himself looking deep into Ray’s warm brown eyes, almost understanding the shadows there.

 

“Well, Ryan, I’d say you and Andrew will be pretty close for a long time, as long as you keep trying to reach each other and honor your commitments.”  With that and an approving laugh, Auntie Mir reached up and gave the tall pilot a special hug and a kiss.  “You did good, son, and so did your partner!”  She pulled Andrew in for a quick hug and a kiss as well.  “Well, it’s been a long and exciting night.  …Time for me to go.”  Putting on her leather jacket, she was rather startled when first Nat then Ray pulled her close for a hug and a kiss.  

 

“See you at the Cavern,” Nat said.  “Thanks for hearing our call.”

 

Then just Joe was left, and he gave her his big “shiny” smile, grabbed her by the waist, and swung her around.  “You are some lady, Auntie Mir!” he said.  “Come ride my bus sometime…”  As a gentleman, he saw her to the door. 

 

“I’ve got to get back to my bus,” Joe said turning back to the others. “If it’s still there…” 

 

“Joe,” said Ray.  “We could not have done what we did without you.  Thank you for helping us.”  He looked steadily at the big black man, with respect, and shook his hand. 

 

Joe’s eyes were suspiciously bright when Andrew stepped forward and threw his arms around him.  “Thanks, Joe,” he said, “for being my friend and coming with us.”

 

“Yeah, Joe,” Nat chimed in, “you were amazing!  I’m really glad to have met you.”  He also hugged the big man. 

 

Ryan wrung Joe’s hand, one tall man looking very directly at the other, again with respect.  “Thanks, Joe,” said Ryan, “for helping my Andrew… for helping me!  It means a lot!”

 

Joe nodded, too moved to say anything further.  He looked one more time around the room at the four other men, then turned to go.

 

“Wait,” said Ray, looking at Nat.  “It’s time for us to go as well, and we can give you a ride back to your bus.  It’s late, and Ryan and Andrew need some time alone.”  He reached out and put his arm around his young partner as they both faced Andrew and Ryan. 

 

“Andrew, despite everything, I’m glad we met at the workshop today.  I hope we’ll be able to continue to do some things together-- just hopefully not so dramatic…Except maybe in The Fantastiks!”  Nat was very glad to feel Ray’s strong arm around him.  It had been a long hard day.  He was very surprised when Ryan leaned down and planted a kiss on his cheek, and he was surprised again to realize that Ray had permitted it.

 

Andrew followed Ryan’s kiss with a rough, but heart felt, hug.  “Thanks, Nat.  I don’t know what I would have done without you today…I’m glad we’re in the play together.”

 

Then Ryan joined in by saying, “Thanks, Nat, for being there for Andrew… He is lucky to have you for a friend, as am I!  And, Ray, thanks for backing up your partner.  For a while there today, I thought I was a dead man…”

 

Ray shook his head and laughed softly.  “Not possible, Ryan…  You couldn’t possibly meet death while a loving commitment holds you.  Believe me, I know.”  He looked with great love at his intrepid young partner.  “And your young partner is worth a lot… so are you…”  Ray held out his hand to Ryan.  “We will keep in touch… through our partners.  Maybe you would like to see where we live, someday.  We’re restoring a ‘painted lady’ over near Haight Street.”

 

Ryan took Ray’s hand in both of his.  “We would love that.  And again, we are very grateful for this chance to go on…” 

 

They all moved to the door, and final good-bys floated through the air.  Andrew and Ryan waved from their front porch, then turned back into their home.  In the foyer, they went naturally into each other’s arms and kissed, tongues caressing and striving to deepen and express their sense of mutual strength, commitment, life.  They stopped to breathe.  They floated up the stairs to the first landing where their kiss was again reaffirming their love, and they breathed together and opened to one another until there was no Andrew and no Ryan just the two of them as one. 

 

Then Andrew pulled back, removing himself from the solace of his tall partner’s arms.  At first he could only look down; he could not bring himself to look into the clear blue of Ryan’s eyes. 

 

“Andrew.” Ryan’s soft voice was full of love and concern for his younger partner.  “What is wrong?  Why do you pull away?  Why don’t you look at me?”  He placed one finger under Andrew’s chin and gently forced Andrew to look at him.

 

Andrew’s beautiful dark eyes were filled with tears and remorse.  “After everything we’ve done and come to mean to each other, after everything that has happened today, I’ve let you down.”  Ryan tried to put his arms around Andrew, but again he stepped back.

 

“This morning and all afternoon at the Workshop, I would look at my ring, and I had the feeling something was wrong, but I couldn’t understand it.  Then something was wrong, and you were in such danger-- I knew it, but I didn’t know what to do, or if there was even anything I could do.  I was actually in pain to be so helpless.  I thought my worry before then was a foreshadowing.  But since all the trouble and the struggle, I’ve had time to think.  Suddenly it all became clear to me.  Nothing in this world is totally safe and perfect-- we have to work all the time to keep our relationship, our commitment, our partnership strong and whole.  We have to know and understand the dangers that can hurt us so we know how to fight.”  Tears were falling continuously, and Andrew wiped angrily at them. 

 

“One way we can do that is by keeping our promises to each other.  Last night I was so wrapped up in my big surprise for your anniversary present, that I completely discounted the promises I made to be there when you got home or even to leave word when I wasn’t.  I realize now, especially because of what we have just been through today, just how worried and disappointed you must have been.  Ryan, I…”  Ryan could hear the tears echoed in Andrew’s halting voice, the shamed resolve and appeal.  “Ryan, I need… I need to make it up to you and to our partnership.  Nothing will be quite right until I do.”

 

Ryan pulled his young partner to him, not allowing him to pull away again.  They just stood there for a minute with Andrew listening to Ryan’s strong heartbeat and Ryan with his cheek on Andrew’s dark hair.  Then firmly, Ryan took Andrew by the hand and drew him up the rest of the stairs and into the study. 

 

“Take down your pants and stand in your corner,” Ryan directed.  Beginning to feel apprehensive, Andrew nevertheless did as he was told.  He could hear Ryan moving some books off The Chair, then placing it in the center of the room.  Then he could hear nothing, and he wanted to turn just to be sure Ryan was still there, but he held himself still.  Finally, Ryan said, “Andrew, come here.” 

 

Andrew turned to find Ryan seated on The Chair just as he had expected.  His expression was stern, and if Andrew had been aware of anything but his growing apprehension, he would have also seen how deep in Ryan’s eyes there was also pride and love.  Firmly, Ryan took hold of his young partner and before he knew it, Andrew found himself looking at the muddy tones of the old carpet he had grown to hate.  He tried to be brave as he felt Ryan pull his briefs back and down to his knees.  It was hard to believe he had almost as good as asked for this.  What could he have possibly been thinking?  He felt Ryan lay his big, competent, pilot’s hand in the center of his rump.

 

Because of the blood rushing in his ears, Andrew almost didn’t hear Ryan when he said, “Now, tell me why we are doing this.”  Andrew tried to find words.  “Andrew, I’m waiting.  If you don’t speak now, we will begin, then we will stop to hear what you have to say… and then we will begin over again…”  

 

“No, Ryan, Wait!  I-- I broke our rule about being home when I say I will, and I didn’t tell you all the truth about what was going on last night.” 

 

“And what else?”  Ryan was determined to be thorough, to not let his young partner down.

 

“What else?” Andrew almost squeaked in dismay.

 

“Yes, what about giving me a scare?”

 

“Oooh, yes.  I didn’t think about how you would feel to find me missing…”

 

“That will do,” said Ryan as he brought his hand down right in the center of Andrew’s bottom with a loud smack that sounded like a thunderclap in the quiet house.  Ryan continued to rain blows down, moving from spot to spot, but making sure to hit in the same place often enough to bring a deep red color to the exposed area. 

 

Andrew stayed silent until the third hard blow, when he was forced to cry out.  The pain grew so intense, that he tried to squirm forward away from the blows, but Ryan held him in a vise of strong arm and leg.  Andrew tried to defend his burning backside with his hands, but Ryan held them fast out of the way.  Soon Andrew was sobbing hopelessly, and Ryan would allow nothing, especially not Ryan’s own loving sympathy for Andrew’s pain, to stand in the way of this fair punishment. 

 

Finally, the blows stopped, and Ryan lifted the sobbing young man up in his arms, and they held onto each other with Ryan rubbing soothing circles on Andrew’s back while Andrew sobbed into his shoulder.  Finally the sobs were quieter and came further apart, then they stopped, except for an occasional catch in Andrew’s breathing. 

 

“Why don’t we go warm up in the shower,” Ryan directed as he helped Andrew to stand.  “Then we can get nice and comfortable in our bed-- It’s been a really long day.”  At that understatement Andrew smiled a watery smile that looked like the sun to Ryan.  Soon they were lying spooned together and warm in their bed.  It felt like heaven for both of them.

 

Before Ryan could fall asleep, he felt Andrew shift to look at him.  “Ryan.  This feeling that we have right now is what I meant in my song.  You remember, in the last verses:

 

Now Loving rules heart

And binds every tie,

No longer apart,

Our Loving flies high.

 

Love takes us higher--

As high as the sky--

Shines us with fire

And thunders on high.

 

And all that has happened, the danger you were in, my fear, meeting our new friends, having them help us, my punishment, all of that was ‘burnishing’ our love, our partnership.  That’s in The Fantasticks; that’s what my professor wanted us to understand about what the play is trying to say.  That nothing real and lasting for us can be only sweet and romantic.  We have to be hurt, we have to be tested, ‘burnished by the sun’ or ‘the plum’ will be ‘too ripe’ and it won’t be good and it won’t last.”

 

Andrew felt Ryan hug him impossibly closer and place a very satisfying number of small kisses on his neck, his ear, his shoulder.  Then Andrew heard his tall partner speak.

 

“Andrew,” Ryan whispered.  “I’ve got you, love…  Now go to sleep.”

 

 

 

 

The End (or as another put it, All’s Well That Ends Well)