GOLDIE AWOKE, aching and alone. He patted the spot next to him to confirm that Jett was gone. Working with other bands and changing the industry seemed to create a zeal in Jett to work hard at any and all hours. At least, that was what Goldie understood to be the reason.
Though they had been together several years, the tabloids never tired of casting Jett as a “bad boy” and often dogged him all day, keeping Goldie painfully apprised of where Jett was and with whom. Goldie tried not to get bitter that any heterosexual couple who had lasted that long would probably be considered stable.
Then again, the two of them didn’t have much prospect for a royal wedding or baby bump to excite the media.
Goldie and Jett could throw a commitment party or go to a state or country that did support gay marriage, but Jett had made the point that they did not need any “heteronormative” signifiers to validate their relationship. He was right. They didn’t need it. But Goldie couldn’t help but feel a little resentful regarding Jett’s sweeping proclamations about Goldie’s wants.
Not that any of that mattered. Between moving forward with signing several bands to their label, their own short tour together, and Goldie’s work on a new solo album, there was hardly time to plan a wedding.
Or for Goldie to give much more than a wistful thought to expanding their family to include a child.
Given Jett’s mocking tone regarding Brangelina and their growing brood, Goldie never broached the subject. Besides, he knew that they were far too busy. These days, they barely had time for each other.
Rolling over, Goldie eyed the clock. He’d slept well into the afternoon, but it had been a late night. After a daylong rehearsal, Goldie had performed with another pop icon at her show. Jett had managed to tear himself away from his work to watch Goldie perform and then accompany him to the after-party. When they got home, Jett was keyed up from a combination of blow and watching Goldie writhe around on stage, so they stayed awake until the sky lightened, enjoying each other’s bodies.
When they got together, Goldie hadn’t thought Jett would be the early riser, but he always had somewhere to be. Goldie started his days alone.
As long as he didn’t end them that way, he tried not to fret.
There was a soft knock at the door as he rolled out of bed. No doubt his personal chef wondering if and when he was planning on eating.
Goldie called that he would be ready in a few and took a quick shower. Following the singing, smoking, and deep throating, Goldie wouldn’t be laying down vocal tracks today, but there was no reason he couldn’t get in a good workout.
After the shower, Goldie plaited his long hair and shaved around his short goatee. “Glam pirate” was what Jett called it. “Glam butt-pirate” to be more accurate, though it was meant affectionately. Jett said he enjoyed any look Goldie wore, but he had seemed gratifyingly aroused by the masculine aspect.
Still, Goldie felt insulted the media portrayed him as feminine–both because it was unfair and because he thought it was a slight on women, who were by no means weak.
At least, not the women he knew.
Goldie traced his lash line with waterproof liquid liner. He paired white leggings with a long, loose, white, cotton shirt that laced up the front. After strapping on a pair of knee-high platform boots, Goldie emerged from the bedroom.
Instead of the chef, security awaited him. Never a good sign.
Grace held up a hand. “Nothing to be alarmed about, but there’s a young man at the front gate, demanding to be let in.”
“A fan?” Their Studio City home wasn’t a stop on the Hollywood Homes Tour, but neither was its Mulholland Drive address obscure. They’d fielded stalkers and other unbalanced people. Some were fans whose adulation overwhelmed them. Others would rather see them dead than acting as positive gay role models–if either could be considered a role model to anyone.
Grace tilted her head to one side, studying him. A stocky woman in her midthirties with dark hair, almond eyes, and olive skin, she’d been a boxer before she became his guard. “Don’t believe so. He’s shouting that Jett’s his father. Think you should see.”
Goldie sighed and rolled his eyes. Another of those.
Usually such claims were made in the media or, worse, in court. Goldie had never known any supposed offspring to show up at their house and start yelling. It was such a Jett thing to do. At least the guy had the character right.
Goldie followed her to the control center and took a seat in front of the monitors. Security cameras throughout the property provided protection from crazy people and paparazzi. At the front gate stood a young man whose resemblance to Jett was so striking that Goldie had to do a double take.
He turned to Grace, who stood behind him with her arms folded. Her lips pressed into a flat line. “That’s why I didn’t call the police.”
Not for the first time, Goldie wished Robbie, his longtime bodyguard and father figure, could live with them 24-7. He’d know what to do.
Goldie turned back to the monitor. The kid had Jett’s dark eyes. His short hair was Jett’s natural color. He had the same cheekbones.
He looked twenty, if that.
“Do you think he’s dangerous?”
Grace snorted. “To himself maybe.”
The kid reminded him so much of Jett on one of his rants that it melted Goldie’s heart. “Go down and talk to him. If he seems okay, bring him in.”
This was probably insane, but Grace didn’t look put out. Then again, she wasn’t the most expressive person.
“If you’ll just step inside, sir. We can handle this indoors.”
“Yeah, well, we’ll see if the coward shows his face, won’t we?” Cole eyed the guard as she escorted him through the front doors of the massive house and into a sizable foyer made to feel even more spacious by its white walls and soaring ceiling. Windows everywhere looked out on tastefully wild landscaping.
He certainly wasn’t in Kansas anymore. When he’d pictured Jethro Black’s house, he never thought it would be so elegant. He’d imagined dark hardwood, probably scuffed and dry, heavy curtains on the windows, ugly furniture cluttered with empty beer bottles and bongs. He’d imagined it smelling like sex and sweat and drugs, not like lilies and fresh-baked goods.
Money couldn’t buy class, but maybe Jett was smart enough to shut up and let a decorator handle things.
“Right through here, please,” the guard said in her no-nonsense way.
A tingling sensation swept over his sweaty skin. He told himself it was just the air-conditioning after his exertions in the California sun. A deeper part of him knew it was because he was finally going to confront the man whose existence had defined his life and whose absence had denied him justice.
Cole walked into the living room, still brooding. His first impression was of an endless view stretching from the tall hill the house was built upon down to the city in the valley miles away. Hazy mountains were visible in the distance, pale blue shrouded in plum-colored clouds.
It was breathtaking.
His second impression was of someone watching him.
Cole looked away from the picture windows and froze as he realized Goldie was sitting five feet away, munching blueberries from a white ceramic bowl. Heat flared over Cole’s cheeks. A deep, Midwestern sense of mortification rooted him to the spot.
Goldie set down the bowl, wiped his fingers on a napkin, and then stood and offered his hand. He studied Cole’s face like he was searching for something. “I’m Goldie. I heard you outside, but I didn’t catch your name.”
“Oh God.” Cole willed saliva to happen so his voice wouldn’t crack. He shook Goldie’s hand, feeling like a bumpkin. He couldn’t fight the smile blossoming over his face.
It wasn’t as if he hadn’t known who Jett lived with. If he could’ve claimed ignorance, maybe he wouldn’t feel so foolish. He hadn’t considered that Goldie, object of his teenage fantasies, might be at home.
Cole and his best friend Kyle had bonded over Goldie before they’d had the nerve to come out to each other. They’d been outsiders in that tiny town, and when Goldie came out to the world, he’d seemed to be a part of their little club, even if he never knew it.
Cole admired Jett even before Cole’s mom got sick and revealed the truth about his biological father.
Maybe once Goldie knew what kind of man he was involved with, he could find someone less trashy.
Tamping down his inner fan, Cole stepped back and scowled. “My name is Cole Adams. I’m here to talk to my biological father, Jethro Black. He has a lot to answer for, and he’s never answered any of my calls or letters. I apologize for bursting into your home, but I owe him a piece of my mind.”
Goldie’s eyes softened. “Jett gets a lot of e-mails. I’m not sure he even knows how to check them without me there. Will you have a seat? Would you like a drink? Have you eaten?”
Startled by the hospitality, Cole sat where Goldie had indicated. “Why, thank you. A drink would be welcome, but I ate before I came.”
The familiarity of small talk dazed Cole. He’d been psyched for a fight but instead was being treated like a long-awaited guest.
Before he could get lost in Wonderland, Cole said, “Listen, Mr. Goldie, I don’t want to be rude, but I’m here to see my father. Where is he?”
At that, Goldie looked out the window, then turned to the guard. “Could you ask Hasani to bring up some lemonade?”
After she left, Goldie joined him on the couch. “Goldie is a nickname, so don’t feel like you need to put Mr. before it.” He set the bowl of blueberries between them. “I’m not sure where Jett is at the moment. What makes you think he’s your father?”
“Because he had unprotected sex with my mother nine months before I was born.”
Goldie didn’t deserve that. Cole reached out hesitantly to touch his arm in apology. He was probably as taken in by Jett as Cole’s mom had been. “Look, I’m sorry to be nasty about this, but it’s a very sensitive subject for me. I took a Greyhound from Kansas to be here.”
The understated reaction of a raised brow from Goldie made Cole wonder if Goldie was snapped at a lot. “You do look remarkably like him, but I’m pretty sure that the Greyhound from Kansas isn’t going to stand up in a court of law. You have to understand, Cole, there are a lot of people who claim to be Jett’s children, but he’s been very careful.”
Cole had googled how often this situation came up. He’d figured he would have plenty of siblings, but most of those cases were parents of clueless infants who bore only passing resemblance to Jett Black.
Poring through interviews to see if Jett had mentioned Cole’s mother proved fruitless. He never had. What he had done was mention his early vasectomy.
Though he’d never given the date and time of the surgery, Cole was pretty sure it wasn’t performed on teenagers.
“I’m from before he wised up. My mom’s from the town where that asshole went to college. She met him before he was even old enough to get into the bars he was playing. She told me about it before she died. It’s why my dad dumped me.”
Even to his own ears, Cole sounded brittle. It wouldn’t take much to shatter him to pieces scattered on the fancy rug.
He stared Goldie in the eye, bluffing bravado. “If that jackass needs a DNA test, I’ll do it, but it’s not like he ever responded to me before now so I could make that happen.”
Goldie set aside the bowl and scooted closer. He raised a hand like he was going to pat his arm but withdrew it like he wasn’t sure he should. “I’m very sorry about your mother. And your father.” He took a deep breath. “I don’t think you had contact information for Jett. You probably just had the number to his publicist. That’s usually what’s available to the public. How old are you?”
“Eighteen.” Cole gave Goldie a look that defied pity. “My mom was older than him. She’d go to the bar to hear him. I guess she was having a hard time getting pregnant and thought she’d try with someone besides my dad.”
The corner of Cole’s mouth twitched as he reached into his pocket for an old photograph. His mom sat at the greasy counter of a dive with a very young Jethro Black. His arm was around her shoulders, and she wore a wild, strange smile Cole had never seen in person.
He passed the photo to Goldie. “It was her idea to name me Cole. I guess she thought that was enough thanks for borrowing his genes. She didn’t think I’d look so much like him. Once my dad figured it out, he didn’t want to say my name anymore.”
Goldie held the photo beside Cole’s face, eyes narrowed.
“I thought your eyes were his, but they’re your mother’s, maybe.” Goldie blushed and handed the photo back to Cole. “Sorry. I mean, I’m sure Jett would want more proof than that. Or maybe not. I don’t really know much about what his life was back then.”
A handsome man with dark skin, presumably Hasani, carried in a tray of lemonade and finger sandwiches. He set it on the table. His deep brown eyes widened when he saw Cole.
Goldie gave him a half smile and nodded, and the man left. Goldie took a long sip from one of the tall glasses of lemonade, then sighed. “What is it you’re looking for?”
“I wanna know what he was thinking! I want to know why he thought it was okay to fuck someone else’s wife, to just…” Cole rose and moved to the window. Staring at the horizon distanced him from his idol and the reality of spilling these dirty secrets.
“Jett Black ruined my life. He wasn’t gonna be my dad, but he put me on this planet, and now my real dad doesn’t want me.”
Cole shrugged off the welter of emotions that knotted his shoulders. He took a deep, slow breath, let it out, and turned toward Goldie. “It’s not your fault. This has nothing to do with you. I shouldn’t even be alive. But I’m here, and I’ve got no one, and it’s Jethro Black’s fucking fault.
“I know you love him or whatever. I’ve seen TMZ. But the guy’s an asshole. You could do so much better.”
The irony was, Cole had been excited when Goldie came out and his boyfriend looked like an older version of him. Kyle had already been listening to Jett’s music then, though to Cole it sounded like a bunch of angry noise. He wondered if Kyle had jerked off thinking about his dad like Cole had over Goldie.
Before Cole’s mind could go down that twisted road, Goldie moved closer, a welcome distraction. Goldie’s voice was a soft purr. “For all I know, what you say is true. But I can also tell you, and this is for real: there is none better than Jethro Black. He’s a good man. In that picture, he was a very young man. Maybe he didn’t know she was married. Maybe he knew and was too young to understand.”
Goldie patted Cole’s back with fingers as light as a whisper. “I can’t imagine how hard it is that you lost your mother and your father treats you that way, but Cole, I’m glad you’re alive, okay? No matter what happens with Jett or tests or whatever, I care, okay?”
“What? Why?” Cole blinked. The spell Goldie cast had dissolved when he started to sound like an after-school special. Those gold eyes looked earnest, but it could be an act.
Lull the Kansas boy with pretty words and maybe Jett could slip the noose.
No way was Cole falling for that.
“Why the shit should you care? Let’s be honest. I’m either your boyfriend’s illegitimate son who’s gonna try to sue him for a fuckzillion dollars, or I’m lying to your face about being your boyfriend’s illegitimate son who’s gonna try to sue him for a fuckzillion dollars. Why be nice to me? Is this some kind of game?”
Goldie backed off. Much to Cole’s shame, he actually looked hurt. “No. You just sounded so sad. And if you are his son, then we’d be…” His eyes glimmered when he gazed out the window, but the glassiness disappeared with a blink. “You could’ve gone to TMZ, but you didn’t. You’re either sincere or troubled. Either way, there’s nothing to gain by being rude or dismissive.”
“Look, I don’t want to disrupt your life. I just want to talk to him. If you don’t know where he is or when he’ll be back, let me give you my number so you can have him call me. I’ll just…” Cole’s voice faltered.
He hadn’t thought past showing up at Jethro Black’s door and demanding justice. At this point, he didn’t even know what justice would be. He just wanted to shout at his bio dad, but now he was worried about how Goldie might feel.
Then he remembered this was his asshole father’s boyfriend and rallied, unwilling to look weak or lost in front of him, no matter how kind Goldie was. “I’ll be waiting to hear from him. If he doesn’t call, I’ll be back.”
“All right. I’ll take your number.” Goldie’s tone sounded measured, and, though he looked casual, one corner of his lips turned up like he was amused. “Or if you let me know where you’re staying, we could arrange a visit. I’m sure he’ll want to see that photograph.”
“Oh, I’ve got a friend who lives, uh, downtown.” Cole winced at the lie. It didn’t sound remotely convincing. He didn’t have a credit card, and from his understanding, he’d need one to rent hotel rooms or cars.
He rattled off his cell number, hoping Goldie would drop the subject and leave the remnants of his dignity intact. “Look, it doesn’t matter. It’s a cell phone. I’ll answer. I’ll show up. Bam. Done.”
Goldie‘s tone remained neutral. “We can do that. Or, you know, he always comes home at night. You could hang around. I was just going to work out before I heard there was some maniac at the front gate.” Those pillowy lips twitched. “We have a nice home theater system. You can watch movies unless you and your friend have plans today.”
Cole’s heart stopped.
Goldie was going to let him stay. In fact, his expression appeared to brook no argument.
Did Goldie like him? And if so, was it because of Cole, or because he looked like a younger version of Jett? Would someone like Goldie ever find him cool?
“You’d let me do that?” Whatever else Cole thought of the situation, staying here was his best bet. “Okay. So, TV. I like TV.”
“Yeah, unless you have somewhere else to be. I’m probably going to swim after the workout.” Goldie pointed at a lap pool just beyond the porch. Then he turned his attention back to Cole. “There’s cable, movies on demand, anything you want. You’ve met Grace. She’s security, but if you need a cab or anything, she can help you. Hasani is the chef if you get hungry. I’ll be down the hall in the workout room. I’ll leave the door open so you know which.”
Goldie flashed that smirk again. “I don’t know when Jett will be home or what shape he’ll be in when he gets here, so you may need to call your friend and warn them you’ll be late.”
Goldie took a large remote from a drawer in the coffee table. When he pressed a button, a portion of the wall drew back to reveal a flat-screen television. As Goldie demonstrated for Cole how to change channels, they landed on a gossip news show displaying a static picture of Jett sitting with a group of people. A young woman appeared to be whispering something into Jett’s ear that he looked pleased to hear.
Goldie’s jaw set. He snapped the television off and handed Cole the remote. “Anyway, that’s how it works.”
It was obvious the image on the screen had bothered Goldie. On impulse, Cole hugged him, then stepped away. He knew he should drop the subject, but he couldn’t. He gestured toward the screen. “So you don’t know what shape he’ll be in when he gets here, huh?”
Goldie winced. “Those shows… You can’t judge Jett based on that. And there’s probably a really good reason why they showed a freeze-frame rather than what happened in context. That’s what those shows do. You have no idea how many actresses and models the media connected me with based on the fact that I stood next to them at some event. Some of them I didn’t even remember talking to. She could’ve been telling him she had some good weed.”
“What a great role model.” Cole punched the power button and turned up the volume to hear the reporter explaining the woman with Jett was from a band the label was trying to sign. After a few seconds, he muted the volume.
Cole eyed Goldie. The fact someone so awesome would ignore the reality of who and what Jett Black was brought something savage out of Cole. “So that woman’s not really random, then. Probably they’ll be spending a lot of time together in the studio, huh? And you’re cool with that? If I was your boyfriend, I’d be here all day every day just to make sure nobody talked their way into the house and tried to put the moves on you.”
It wasn’t until Cole saw the look on Goldie’s face that he realized how presumptuous he sounded. His ears burned, but he didn’t look away.
Goldie’s pallor remained, but his anguished expression morphed into a confident mask–one Cole had seen on album covers and billboards. “Well, I trust him. And I’m sure he trusts me. I don’t let everyone into the house. You just… You’re a lot more like him than you know.”
When Goldie looked away, his gaze rested on the screen. Despite the brave face he wore, Cole detected real anxiety in the defensive hunch of his shoulders. “Anyway, he spends time with a lot of people in a lot of studios. If I worried over each one, I’d go crazy.”
Cole considered all the shenanigans someone like Jett Black could get up to under Goldie’s avoidant nose. Things that went on under Cole’s father’s nose. Things that happened after Jett knocked up Cole’s mother and went on to do God knew what to God knew whom.
Special rules applied to Jett Black. Rules that didn’t apply to his progeny, no matter how similar they looked.
The sickening thing was that while Cole was grieving his mother and pining for the best friend who wanted any boy but Cole, his ”father” could put his dick in the most beautiful person in the world but didn’t bother to hang around.
So here Cole was, shoving Jett’s likely infidelity in Goldie’s face. Here he was, looking so much like Jett, and there they were, alone–kinda–in this place, and Goldie hadn’t so much as shot a lusty glance in Cole’s direction. Either Goldie was a fucking saint, or Cole was as pathetic as everyone seemed to think.
He glowered and flopped onto the couch.
“Whatever. He still doesn’t deserve you. You’re fucking Goldie.” He changed the channel; he couldn’t stand to look at his father any longer than he had to. Cole’s gaze landed on the lemonade meant for him. He snatched it and drained half the glass.
Suddenly Cole didn’t want to be on the couch, but he had nowhere else to go. A terrible feeling that his father had fucked Goldie on every piece of furniture in the room crept over him. It made his stomach churn. Nowhere was safe to sit.
Goldie was watching him. His clever mask had slipped, and his brows furrowed, somewhere between concern and irritation.
“You don’t need to babysit me. I won’t steal anything.”
“I’m not babysitting, and if I thought you needed to be watched, I wouldn’t have asked you to stay. I was going to point out that since you seem so agitated, you might enjoy the punching bag in the workout room.”
Without waiting for an answer, Goldie turned and stalked down the hallway, giving Cole a view of white leggings that left little to the imagination.
Watching Goldie work up a sweat would be worth the price of admission.
Cole scrambled to his feet and left the TV on and the remote on the couch as he trailed after Goldie. He caught up inside the gym and bumped their shoulders together. Affecting a cool he didn’t feel, Cole asked, “You’d let me work out with you?”
Goldie gave a warm, genuine smile. Much to Cole’s chagrin, it held amusement instead of lust. “Let this be lesson two on how the media doesn’t portray the life of the rock star very accurately. I normally spend all day alone like this. And you didn’t see any other hot eighteen-year-olds breaking in to see me.”
He kicked off his tall boots, put on a pair of running shoes, and hopped onto the stationary bike. “Actually there wasn’t even one for me today, because you were here to see Jett. So, really, the company will be my pleasure.”
Cole was so busy staring at Goldie’s ass that it took a few moments to process the fact Goldie had called him hot. Then his skin burned and his cock stiffened so fast he was sure he made a sound. He sidled behind another bike to put something between his crotch and Goldie’s line of sight.
“I am so fucked up,” he muttered, disgusted with himself for wanting his father’s boyfriend and resentful that his father was dating someone so much younger–more appropriate to Cole’s fantasies than an old man’s.
Trying to be smooth, Cole pulled off his shirt to reveal the tank underneath. For a moment, he wondered if the choice made him look even more like Jett; the rocker rarely appeared in public in actual shirts. Then he let out a brash laugh at the thought that his well-defined six-pack had to look better in it than his junkie-thin, tattooed, heavily scarred father did.
Cole climbed onto the stationary bike, deciding he wasn’t afraid of Goldie noticing a bulge. Why did it matter? He was eighteen and a virgin. What else could be expected?
Maybe Goldie would be flattered.
“So you spend a lot of time alone? Huh. I always thought you and Jethro must spend all day writing music and practicing together. Shows what I know.” Cole cast a sidelong glance at Goldie, allowing his gaze to linger on the faint sheen of sweat glazing the perfect profile.
What would it taste like? How would that stubble feel under his tongue?
“I could arrange to keep you company more often, if you wanted. I mean, Jethro’d freak out, I’m sure, but I really love your music, and you seem real. Not what I expected.”
Goldie smiled and inclined his head. “Ah, well, we did practice together at first, when we put out the album together, but now I’m doing my solo album, and he’s doing the community relations for our record company. Gives TMZ a lot of fodder. We should charge commission.”
Maybe Cole was imagining it, but he thought Goldie’s gaze roved over his torso before he faced the wall again.
“I wouldn’t mind it if Jett wanted to help me with my solo work. Or even make it another Black Gold album, but I guess he’s too busy schmoozing. I love collaborating, though. Do you play?”
Cole had never considered playing music until this moment. Now he regretted never trying. How cool would it be to jam with Goldie?
“No. I like music, but I never learned. I’m more physical.” Cole wondered if that made Goldie think less of him. He didn’t know how much was the urge to compete with Jett, but he desperately wanted Goldie to like him. “Jethro doesn’t seem that physical. More like a geek made good. You, though, you’re amazing when you dance.”
In spite of the insult, Goldie laughed. “Oh, he’s physical enough.”
Seeming to realize what he had said, Goldie blushed and ducked away. “Anyway, I’m a geek made good. Ballet isn’t exactly the sort of hobby that attracts the studs.”
Cole poured on the speed, pushing himself despite the fact the stationary bike was going nowhere. If nothing else, he outstripped Jethro when it came to athleticism. He beat most people at that. “I bet you’re in ten times better shape than him. You’re here working out while he’s having a liquid lunch. In ten years, he’s gonna look like Axl Rose, and you’re gonna have to dump him.”
Goldie increased his pace to match Cole’s, then pedaled faster. Goldie raised a brow, daring Cole to keep up.
Cole grinned and pushed himself harder. He focused on the movement of his legs, the burn in his muscles, the steady in-out of his breathing. Everything became simple, beautiful, when reduced to sheer action.
At first, it felt like he could go forever, but Cole tired after a few minutes. Laughing and embarrassed, Cole slowed to a cooldown phase. “Okay, maybe you’re in ten times better shape than me too.”
Goldie slowed also, though he didn’t appear winded. It made Cole wonder just how long he could go.
“I do this every day. But you know, if you do decide to hang around more…” Goldie gave him a longing look, more lonely than sexual. That was a strange emotion to ascribe to Goldie, but Cole felt a thrill of satisfaction that maybe he’d lessened it. “You are in good shape. I think Jett might pull something trying to get on the bike. Then again, he’s surprisingly flexible.”
That insinuation was difficult to miss. Goldie’s smile seemed lost in fantasy.
“Ugh, gross!” Cole climbed off the bike. His legs felt like jelly. He didn’t want to know that kind of stuff, but he couldn’t stalk off in a huff without falling on his ass. “Well, now you owe me the best dinner on earth, because nothing else is gonna whet my appetite after that.”
“Sorry!” Goldie giggled, high-pitched and oddly infectious. Cole found himself laughing along, though he wasn’t sure what was so funny other than Goldie’s red face.
Goldie hopped off the bike and blotted his forehead with a towel that sat on the handlebars. “All right. We have a personal chef, so what do you like?”
“Chocolate cupcakes. And Chex Mix.” Cole sidled closer. The scent of Goldie’s sweat sent a shock of want through him. He bit his lip as his gaze went blurry. The moment reminded him of his last birthday, when he and Kyle had eaten just that as they curled up together on the couch. That night, Cole thought maybe they would get closer, but Kyle started talking about college. Cole had no way to pay for it, and the evening ended awkwardly.
Cole shook it off. “Root beer floats?”
“Oh, you are eighteen, aren’t you?” Instead of seeming repulsed or angry, Goldie pulled him into a tight hug. “Okay, it sounds like you like crunchy salty. I’ll get Hasani on that. However, you will have vegetables. As long as you’re under my roof, I will not let you be a junk-food junkie.”
Goldie held Cole at arm’s length, looked him over, and then pulled him close again. After a few moments, Goldie patted his back. “You’ll need to get cleaned up. I’ll set out something for you to wear in one of the guest rooms. I think we’re about the same size.”
Cole rested against Goldie’s surprising strength. He looked so slender, like he might disappear if he turned sideways or vanish into a sunbeam, but he felt solid, comforting to hold. There was something satisfying about hugging him, almost like his mom before she wasted away.
That thought reminded Cole why he was here, and he jerked away as if burned. He bolted from the room and stood in the hallway like an idiot, not knowing which way to storm off to. He wanted to yell or hit something, but he remembered Goldie saying, “You’re more like him than you know,” and held it in.
His mom had said something similar. “You have his fire. It wasn’t random, Cole. I wanted a child with that fire.” But Cole didn’t want it. He wanted to be like Kyle: laid-back, stable, happy.
Goldie followed without comment or question, which was almost as demoralizing. Was Goldie used to this because Cole was behaving like Jethro?
When Cole had come in, he’d passed a grand spiral staircase in the entryway, but Goldie took him to the end of the hall and up a modest set of stairs that led to a long gallery overlooking the foyer. At its end stood large double doors, presumably the master bedroom. Of the five other doors along the path, Goldie opened the one in the middle.
The room shared the amazing view of the valley that he’d seen from the living area. The floor was the same polished blond wood, but inside was a play on the sterile elegance of downstairs with quirky accent pieces like a retro lamp and amber throw rug.
Goldie gestured to a door at the end of the brushed-steel bed. “That’s the bathroom. I’ll grab some things for you to choose from and leave them on the bed.”
Cole nodded and walked into the bathroom to undress. He felt exposed even with the door closed. The hairs all over his body stood on end as currents from the air conditioner brushed over his heated skin.
He pressed his ear to the door, listening for Goldie to return with clothes. A soft rustle sounded like fabric being placed on the comforter, and Cole suddenly wanted to walk out naked to see what Goldie would do. He wanted to masturbate right in front of him and force Goldie to look at him as a man and not a child.
Then the wild urge passed and his Midwestern decency prevailed. Just because Jethro Black had given Cole half his DNA didn’t mean he had to act like trash. He might be angry with his mom, but she’d taught him better.
He listened for Goldie’s footfalls heading away before he turned on the faucets and climbed into the shower. He rushed through bathing, half afraid of what he might do or think about if he stayed in too long. Afterward, he crept out of the bathroom and pulled on a pair of jeans and a shirt that each had to cost more money than Cole had ever had. He felt stupid, but there was something undeniably cool about hanging out in Goldie’s house, wearing Goldie’s clothes, eating dinner prepared by the star’s personal chef.
Cole made his way downstairs and followed his nose toward the kitchen. If he steered his thoughts carefully, he could avoid thinking about Jethro. There was no sign of him in the neatness and order of the household. Goldie might as well live alone as far as Cole could tell.
“Goldie?” Cole’s voice echoed through the house.
Hasani poked his head out of the kitchen. He had a sweet smile and long, black hair combed back. Though he was on the short side, he was fit. It was hard to imagine leaving Goldie alone with a man like that. And hard to believe that Goldie felt alone with such an attractive man bringing him food.
“You’re almost there. The dining room is just past. Took some liberties with your Chex Mix, threw in some dried edamame for protein. Shouldn’t change things much, just a bit healthier.” He winked and vanished back into the kitchen.
Goldie waited in the airy dining room, wearing a purple mandarin-collar shirt and black jeans. His damp hair hung loose on his shoulders. He gazed out the window like he was a million miles away.
Cole shuffled his feet.
Goldie spotted him and stood. “That outfit really suits you. You should keep it.”
“Oh, I couldn’t. It’s not my style. I always–” Cole cut himself off before he could announce he got most of his clothes from Sears. He thought a moment. “I’m usually a lot less flashy.”
The words “unlike my father” remained unspoken.
Cole pulled out a chair next to Goldie and sat. He wanted to talk about something important to make him sound like more than a stupid teenage fan or some lame rock star’s son. Nothing came to mind. Hasani appeared with Chex Mix and a salad, and Cole perked up. Even if it was supposedly healthy, it looked pretty great. It tasted better.
As Cole waited for Hasani to leave, he chomped a few mouthfuls, then pointed to where Hasani had been. “So Jethro is cool with you lounging around the house with sexy guys? That’s pretty arrogant.”
Goldie smiled and poked at his salad. “I think the word you’re looking for is trusting. He trusts me as I trust him. It can be difficult to maintain that trust with people picking at it.” He gave Cole a pointed look, then returned to his food. “So you find Hasani attractive?”
Blood rushed to Cole’s cheeks. “I don’t know. I didn’t say me! Are you saying he’s not objectively a good-looking man to whom you might be attracted?”
He hadn’t bothered to hide his interest in Goldie, but Goldie was used to everyone being interested in him.
As he thought about it, Cole’s anger built, as rapid-spreading and uncontrollable as a wildfire. “I’m gay too, okay? Like you, not like my father. Real gay. Not fake ‘gay for you,’ like his bullshit. He’d fuck a tree stump if you put some lipstick on it!”
Between the look on Goldie’s face and the shouts ringing in Cole’s ears, he realized he’d crossed a line.
“Sorry.” He ducked his head sheepishly, ate another mouthful, and peeked at Goldie from behind damp bangs. “It’s just hard, where I come from. You caught me off guard. I know you weren’t being ugly.”
Goldie patted Cole’s hand. “I used to wonder if Jett would suddenly look at me and realize I’m a man and that he’d made some horrible mistake. But the truth is, Cole, there’s more than gay and straight in the world. Jett’s not into labels.”
Before Cole could protest, Goldie went on. “How was it to be gay in Kansas?”
“Look, I don’t hate Kansas. It’s a good place to live. It’s a nice place full of nice people, and it’s part of me. Jethro probably said it sucks and it’s not cool, and he got out as fast as he could, but I didn’t want to leave. I wanna go back, actually. I wanna go to school. I want a life there, a normal life, with normal things. It’s why I’m here.” The words tumbled out in a rush, and it wasn’t until Cole caught his breath that he realized he still hadn’t answered.
Cole stared into Goldie’s eyes as he spoke. “It’s like hiding. Being ashamed and confused and always afraid you’ll never meet anyone else who’s gay. It’s like you’ll just live alone and die alone, and then when you die they’ll find your porn collection and refuse to bury you in the nice cemetery with the decent folks. It’s like that. It’s taking gym showers with these sexy guys and being terrified someone’s going to beat your face in for getting turned on even though they don’t think they should get their face beaten in for staring at girls and getting hard. It’s wrong. It’s not fair. I didn’t ask for this.”
“Jett doesn’t talk about Kansas much, but I get the feeling he didn’t feel comfortable either.” Goldie pulled his chair around to sit next to Cole. “So you came all the way here to get back to Kansas?” Goldie looked pensive, then tapped his lips. “Reminds me of Dorothy Gale who goes all the way to Oz. Her black-and-white world goes Technicolor, and then all she wants to do is get back to that life. I never understood it. Do you really want to live somewhere that you feel threatened?”
Cole snorted at that comparison. He wondered how anyone missed that Goldie was gay. Still, it was apt.
As Cole brooded, he grew aware of how close Goldie was, how beautiful his eyes were, and how wonderful he smelled. “There’s no place like home?”
That smile lit the world. Cole wanted to keep impressing him, to earn more of those smiles. He tried to look and sound grown-up and thoughtful. “When my mom died, the medical bills ate all the money she’d saved for my education. I thought my dad would step up and help, but he wants nothing to do with me.”
The blood drained from Cole’s face. His skin felt numb. “He said he knew no son of his would be a faggot, that he should’ve known when I came out to him. He said I wasn’t his and he didn’t owe me a damn thing.”
Cole’s righteous fury ignited in his belly and drove out the chill. It gave him strength.
That sense of rightness was all he had left.
“That’s why I’m here. Jethro Black is my father, and he needs to accept responsibility for destroying my mom’s life and mine and my dad’s and…” He balled his fingers into fists. “He fucked it all up, and he ran off, and he’s all famous and rich and doesn’t give a shit about anything but himself, and he owes it to my mom to make sure I go to college.”
Goldie frowned like he was working something out. “Cole, you came out to your father? When did your father leave?”
“I guess I was twelve when he left. He and my mom weren’t working out.” Cole frowned at the recollection. He reached for Goldie’s hand, like holding on to another human being would make it easier to feel those things again.
“Anyway, when the cancer got bad, I went to live with him while she was in the hospital. That was like two years ago, I guess.” Cole hesitated to make sure Goldie was still interested.
Seeing Goldie’s brows furrow, Cole went on. “It was stupid, but I got drunk and tried to kiss this guy one night. I thought he liked me. The next day the truck had Fag spray-painted on the windshield. Dad didn’t kick me out or anything. He still tried to love me.”
That night, even Kyle had seemed angry with him, though as far as he knew, Kyle didn’t know that guy, let alone like him. But the man Cole had thought was his father had swooped in and taken care of the situation.
“Then Mom told us who my father was, and Dad didn’t want to see me anymore. It was like she’d given him the excuse he needed not to be related to a faggot.”
Cole’s warm, fuzzy memories of his dad’s love were ruined by the fact that it had all been an act, one he dropped at the first excuse. A rough-edged sob lodged in Cole’s throat until he coughed and forced it out. His shoulders shook. The enormity of all he’d lost crushed him.
Goldie wrapped Cole in his arms and kissed his cheek. “I don’t know how anyone could be so cruel to such a good kid. Where have you been living since then?”
“I was staying with my mom’s friend, Lucy, but she can’t afford to keep me indefinitely. I was gonna go off to school, but then there wasn’t any money left, and…” Cole’s face warped with misery and he clung to Goldie, barely aware he was doing it. “When you try to get grants or loans or whatever, if your legal parent makes too much or won’t sign or whatever, you’re screwed. It’s so unfair.”
Cole rubbed his face on Goldie’s chest and gave him a pleading look, hoping he’d understand. “I sold my truck to get money for this trip and pay Lucy back. I didn’t think further than that. I just thought that if there’s any justice in the world, then that asshole will own up to what he did, and he’ll fix this. You have to make him fix it, Goldie. You’re a good person.”
“Oh, honey.” Goldie smoothed Cole’s hair back tenderly. “If you need money for school, that’s not a problem, no matter what, okay?”
Goldie’s voice broke and his head jerked up in alarm. “Jett!”
Copyright © Clancy Nacht & Thursday Euclid