Everybody’s Wounded


Chapter 13




I followed Josh into his condo thinking: “I know what betrayal looks like.”  I had, after all, learned it the hard way, barely two months before, the first time I’d come here.  Betrayal looks like a beautiful, blonde boy with newly pierced ears.  It looks like a boy I had loved and trusted utterly telling me he needs someone else.  It looks like a boy weeping faithless tears as he kisses my face and says goodbye.


That’s what betrayal looked like to me.  I had no idea what it looked like to Josh.  I could see, however, that it had shaken him to the core.


He turned on lights and led me into his living room.  The windowed wall was a night black canvas, and facing it was the image of him staring defiantly up into that storm-filled sky.  


Josh turned his back to the painting and stared out the window into empty night, his back stiff, his hands clenching and unclenching. 


I watched and waited, but he just stood there, silent.  Finally, I went over and stood behind him, and rested my hands lightly on his shoulders.  “Come sit,” I said.  “I’ll make you coffee.”


He still didn’t move, so I gently propelled him over to the leather sofa.


“Sit,” I said again, and pushed lightly until he sat.


The kitchen seemed unreal.  Josh was almost compulsively tidy, but there were unwashed pots on the stove top, the table was cluttered, and there were several plates of congealed food on the granite countertops.  They looked untouched.  Though it was totally unappetizing, it reminded me that I was starving, and my stomach growled.  I ignored it, found the ground coffee in the fridge, and set up the coffee maker.  While it brewed, I went back into the living room.


Josh was sitting exactly as I’d left him.


“Over there,” he said, pointing to the glass and chrome dining table at the far end of the room. 


I looked over there.  A laptop was open on the far end of the table, which was strewn with papers and packing materials.  I walked over to it curiously.


And then I saw it.


Propped against the wall on the cantilevered wall shelf.


Another of Graham’s paintings. 


I looked at it and froze. 


I don’t know how long I stood there, taking it in.  A long time.  It was at once so exquisitely beautiful that it took my breath away – and such a devastating violation that I wanted to put my fist through it.  I turned back to Josh and found him standing behind me.  He was fighting hard to keep his face calm, neutral, but I could see it breaking up around the edges. 


I pulled him into my arms.  He was trembling.  All I could do was hold him against me, and absorb the force of his anguish.


And understand.


Graham had painted Josh’s face.  Just his face.  Twice life size, flawlessly realistic.  Painted in black and white, like a fine art photograph, except for the eyes, which were touched with the exact, perfect green that was Josh.


It was the expression that knocked the wind from your lungs.  For though it was only his face, it was the most blatantly erotic image I had ever seen. 


I knew instantly what I was looking at.  I had seen that face, that beautiful face, in exactly that instant.  I would remember it perfectly my entire life.  The painting was of Josh’s face the exact instant he had shattered beneath me, his legs wrapped around my waist, his face more naked than I’d ever known a face could be. 


To see that exquisite nakedness captured like this on canvas, like a fly in amber, was a shocking violation.  It wounded me; I could only imagine the pain it caused Josh.  For such a private man, it was a betrayal beyond understanding.  Graham might as well have raped him on canvas.  


In a sense he had. 


We stood like that for a long time, Josh leaning into me, me staring at the painting.  Finally, he pulled away.


“It gets worse,” he said.


He took me over to the laptop and the pile of papers beside it.   “You might as well start with this.”


It was a pamphlet from the opening of a show in London.  Another image of Josh’s face, this time in repose, eyes closed, black and white except for a flushed hint of pink in the cheeks.  “The Joshua Series,” it said.  Graham Campbell.  And the dates and location of the exhibit.  The fine print beneath Josh’s face said, “Number Twelve.” 


“I guess I’m supposed to be flattered,” he said wearily.  “The great Graham Campbell made me into a fucking series.”  


I opened the pamphlet.  There were photographs of ten paintings of Josh’s face; but they were numbered one to twelve.  I looked more closely; numbers ten and eleven were missing.


“Read this,” Josh said, handing me a newspaper clipping.


It was an interview with Graham Campbell.


The first part gave some background on Graham which I admit I read with interest.  I’d no idea Josh’s former lover was such an important artist, according to the reviewer one of the leading realist artists in the world.  He then went on to describe the exhibit, which consisted of a series of ten 20”x20” acrylic portraits.  It described the paintings as Campbell’s only “overtly  homoerotic” work.  “While Campbell’s sexual orientation has never been a secret,” the reviewer wrote, “He has to date largely focused on political themes; never before has he focused his formidable talent so narrowly.” 


“Individually, these are portraits of a beautiful young man, with a range of expressions open to interpretation. While  intense and revealing as individual portraits, it is the sequencing that reveals them to be overtly sexual, portraits of a man being slowly aroused, at the peak of passion, and then at peace.


Some will find it disappointing that what one can only expect to be key paintings in the series – numbers ten and eleven -- are missing.  When asked about them, Campbell says only that they are “too personal” for him to show or sell.  He has kept Number Ten for himself.  Number Eleven is in the hands of the model, whom he describes as a former lover.


The writer concluded the article with an oddly sympathetic view of the artist.  


“Campbell’s style is meticulously hyperrealist, almost photographic.  Yet he denies ever working from photographs.  In the case of the Joshua series, even the subject was lost to him. 


“The series was painted entirely from memory,” he said.  “This boy was my muse for almost five years, and it’s been hell escaping him.  For a year, I locked myself in a room and painted, exorcising him from my soul.  These paintings are the results.”


One can only wonder at the intensity of a passion that burned so deeply into the mind of such an artist.  And one can only wonder if this boy, this Joshua, understands the scars he has left behind. 

 “Fuck,” I said softly, putting the article down.


“There’s more,” said Josh wearily.  “He sent me the entire series.  With the missing portraits included.”  


He reached for the laptop, and started a slide show he already had set up. 


Number One was the public Josh, the calm, controlled man I knew so well, with green eyes meeting mine frankly from the screen.  By Number 2, the control was already slipping.  As the series progressed, all his constraint and control is lost, and his face becomes pure, raw emotion, deeply moving to observe. 


Number Ten, the painting Graham had kept for himself, was undeniably the most painful – literally and metaphorically.  I knew, both from its place in the series, and from my own experience, that it captured Josh’s face at the exact instant of fast, hard penetration.  Everything was there – the yearning, the pain, the desperation, captured in taut skin, straining muscle, a sheen of sweat, and a flash beneath the skin. 


I reached to advance the slide show, but Josh stopped me, continuing to stare at the image on the screen.


‘The bastard,” he said softly, as he stared at it, his voice oddly calm.  “He kept that one to remind himself of the power he had over me.  The one he sent me – it was so I would remember that, too. He never let me forget it.  His power over me.  He always wanted me on the brink. Always on the brink.”


I found myself looking from the screen to Josh’s face.  I didn’t like the weariness I saw there.  Or the acceptance.  He should be angry, I thought.  I was fucking angry; he should be, too.  It would have been much better for him if he were angry. 


“Fuck, Scott,” he said.  “I feel like one of Picasso’s models.  Except he stopped beating me to capture my pain, and started fucking me instead.”


Stopped beating him?  I wanted to hit something.


“You might as well read it all,” he said, leaving me then, and heading back over to the window.




When I finished reading, I closed the file on his hard drive, removed the CD, and put it back into it is jewel case.  Then I gathered up the letter, the clippings and the CD, and returned them to their wrappings.  Then I wrapped the painting and returned it to the shipping case, and slipped the envelope in behind it.


There was only one thing I didn’t include in the shipping crate; the letter that had accompanied it.  It was on plain white bond, with faint red and black smudges of fingerprints.  Paint.


“Here you go, Baby Boy,” he’d written in a vicious black hand.  “It’s the least I can do for my muse.  I won’t sell mine.  You do what you want.  The entire show is pre sold, £12,000 a pop.  Nicky says you can probably get twice that for Number Eleven.  I’m sure he’d handle it for you; he always had a soft spot for you, and I didn’t think he had any soft spots.  Or you can burn it, for all I care.  That, and the one I left on your wall.  Maybe it’s over for you, Baby Boy, but I can just hope the fuck it’s over for me.”


“You want this?” I asked Josh’s back.


He didn’t turn around.  “What?”


“The bastard’s letter.”




I tore it up.


“Did you save the slide show to your hard drive?”


He shook his head.  “No.”




I stood up, put the painting by the door, then walked over the window and stood behind him. I didn’t touch him, but the inch I kept between us was enough for me to feel the heat of his body, and for him to feel the heat of mine.  All he had to do was step back into me…


And finally he did. 


“I’m nobody’s fucking muse,” he muttered.


“It doesn’t matter,” I said.  “That’s not you. Its paint and canvas and someone else’s memory.  It’s not you.”  I folded my arms around him, and pressed him close.  “This is you.”


“No,” he said bitterly.  “That’s me.  He knows it and I know it.  That’s what he did.  He stripped me naked in so fucking many ways, and took it all.  You don’t know.”

“So tell me,” I said.


But he shook his head.


I turned him in my arms and pulled him against me.  He was right, of course.  I didn’t know.  And if he didn’t let me in, I couldn’t know.      




We sat on the sofa again, on opposite ends.  It was almost nine, we hadn’t eaten, and frankly, I was starving.  I’d been on my way to dinner from the gym when Josh showed up.


“When did it come?” I asked him suddenly.


“Monday, Tuesday, I don’t know.”


I studied his face, the bowed head, the gaze steadily focused on his hands that lay still and fragile like dead sparrows on his thighs.  I thought of the congealed food in his kitchen.


“When was the last time you actually ate?”


He shrugged, shook his head.


I stood up and headed into the kitchen.  “I’m going to make us dinner,” I said.


“Thanks.  Do you mind if I take a shower?”


While he headed to the bathroom, I tidied the kitchen.  There wasn’t much in his fridge, but I managed to find some dried pasta, a jar of sauce, and enough slightly wilted vegetables to doctor it.  Which I did, with mushrooms and onions and half a hot pepper.  The salad stuff in his fridge wasn’t too far gone, and I was able to pick through it for enough to make a passable salad.


I waited for him to get out of the shower before I put on the pasta.  Half an hour later, he still hadn’t emerged.  I wondered where he was.  Then I realized I could still hear the water running. 


I turned off the burners and headed out of the kitchen to the other end of the condo.  His bedroom door was wide open, and the door to the ensuite, as well.  I stuck my head into the steamed-up room.


Josh’s ensuite is large and luxurious, with a tub at one end, and a huge walk-in shower at the other. The shower is tiled in stone, and has a glass door set in a glass wall.  It’s got a rainforest showerhead and a row of body sprays, and I knew from the last time I was there just how good they felt on a tired body.  Josh had the sprays on hard, adjusted to knead at his shoulders and the small of his back. 


He hadn’t heard me come in, and through the glass I could see him scrubbing at himself with a luffa in his right hand.  He seemed to be in a kind of trance.  As I watched, he scrubbed fiercely at his left arm, then across his chest, down his right thigh, then his left thigh.  Then he switched the luffa to his left hand and scrubbed his right arm, then across his chest, right thigh, left thigh, and luffa back into his right hand and he started all over again.


I watched for another minute and realized he had no intention of stopping.  He seemed totally unaware of what he was doing.


I knew what I was watching.  It didn’t take a rocket scientist.  I knew that kind of almost ritualistic cleansing was not uncommon for victims of violence, people who had been raped, people who had been violated.


I watched him repeat the cycle again, arm, chest, thigh, thigh, switch hands, arm…and I knew it had to stop.


I took off my sweater and socks, and undid my jeans.  Just before I dropped them, I thought of my promise to my uncles, the one about keeping it in my pants.  I remembered what my uncles had said, what Brandon had said, and weighed their caring, and the wisdom of their words against the pain and vulnerability of the man standing in the shower. 


I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t walk out of that room, knowing Josh was standing there, alone in the steam, trying to scrub away some symbolic stain on his skin that that bastard had left there.  Getting naked had nothing to do with it.  This had nothing to do with sex, and I knew I could keep my cock in my metaphorical pants.  I dropped my jeans and boxers and slipped into the shower.


He jumped when I opened the door and eased in behind him.  The body sprays were on full force and very hot, and I winced when they hit my skin. I reached around him to turn down the temperature and turned off the sprays, leaving only the much softer flow of the rainforest head.  Then I turned him towards me, and took the luffa from him and set it down on the cedar bench behind me.


“I’m nobody’s fucking muse,” he said to me again, and there was a kind of fury in his eyes that was so much better than the weary acceptance I’d seen earlier.


“Josh, that’s not up to you,” I told him.  “But it’s not your responsibility either.” 


I massaged his shoulders with my fingers, feeling his heat, the water, the sudden shuddering breath.


“You can’t decide to be or not to be his fucking muse.  That’s in his head.  But it doesn’t have to be in yours.  It isn’t you.”  I gave him a gentle little shake. “This is you.”


He stood there, his face frozen as he looked directly into my eyes, his hands hanging loosely at his sides. I stood there and waited.  And waited.  Until, a million heart beats later, he stepped forward to me, buried his face in my neck, and finally, finally, began to cry.


It was the release I knew he’d needed, that I knew he’d been fighting from the moment he’d opened the damned painting. 


One good thing about the condo, the hot water never ran out.  Good thing, because we stood under the pounding spray for a long, long time.


When he quieted, I held him a little away from me, and kissed his forehead.


I picked up the body wash, squirted a little in my hand, and began to wash him, slowly and gently and thoroughly.  I used only my hands, starting at his neck, working the lather up gently, then rinsing the soap away with water in my cupped palms.   


Slowly and thoroughly, I washed his neck, his arms, his chest and belly, then turned him around and did his back, down to his waist.  I turned him around again, and knelt on the tile floor before him, washing his hips, cock, balls, thighs, shins, feet.   Then I turned him around again and did the same down the back side of his body, the small of his back, his ass, the backs of his legs. 


His body was beautiful, hard and long, lean and well muscled.  As I washed him, I took great care with it, studying its lines and curves, its light and shadow.  I spent no more time, and no less, washing his cock and his balls and his ass than I did the rest of him.  I handled them with the exact same care and thoroughness.  He hardened, and I hardened, and I ignored it. 


When I was done, I stood up again, took a bar of soap I recognized as Body Shop men’s facial soap, and lathered up my hands.


“Close your eyes,” I said, and rubbed the soap into his skin, massaging the bones of his face with my fingertips.  Then I rinsed it all off with my hands and the softly flowing water from the rainforest head. 


When I was done that, I shampooed his hair.


Then I turned off the water, opened the shower door, and guided him out onto the mat.  I found towels, and dried his body as carefully as I had washed it.  There was a terry towel robe hanging on a hook, and I helped him into it, knotting the belt around his hips.


“It’s done now,” I said softly, looking straight into his eyes.  “You’re clean, and it’s done.”


He just looked at me for a moment, and then he nodded.  His face for the world was firmly back in place, calm and impassive.  I wrapped another towel around my waist. 





How do couples set out the rules of domesticity?  I have no idea.  But Josh and I, who weren’t a couple, not then, maybe not ever, fell into it as naturally as breathing.  Our rhythms were synchronized, and we fit together as easily and as perfectly as we had in bed.


I knew he was still upset, but the immediate crisis was past.  He was getting perspective.  I knew more than anything else he needed food and sleep.


We got dressed and went into the kitchen together.  My parents are both serious recreational cooks, so my sister and I developed our kitchen skills early.  It was clear that Josh was equally skilled, and it surprised me how easy we were together in the kitchen He turned on the pasta and dressed the salad while I reheated my doctored sauce.  He took the wooden spoon from my hand and tasted it.


“More garlic,” he said.


“Couldn’t find any.”


He opened a cupboard and took a head from a small clay pot.


“Shall I open some wine?”


I shook my head.  “I need to work tonight.  I’ve one paper left to finish.  All my research is done and I want to finish the first draft before we fly to New Brunswick tomorrow afternoon.  My laptop is in my back pack.”


“You can set it up in my office,” he said. 


That was all.  No invitation extended or accepted, just my assumption and his quiet certainty that I would stay.  


Josh didn’t work that evening.  He settled in the living room with a book.  From his desk, I could look up and see him there, stretched out in a black leather recliner reading quietly as I worked.


Around 11 he brought me tea.


“Almost done?” he asked.


“Another hour or so.”


He rested a hand on my shoulder.  “I can’t make it that long,” he said.  “I’m dead.”


I turned around in his chair and looked up at the exhaustion carved into his face.  He hadn’t eaten for days, and I suspected he hadn’t really slept either.


“Go to bed,” I said.  “I’ll try not to wake you up.”


He stood like that for a moment, very still, with his hand on my shoulder.


“I really am sorry,” he said.


I put my hand over his and gave it a little squeeze. 


“Go to bed,” I said again.


“Thanks for tonight,” he said softly.  “I don’t know why it unhinged me so much.  I thought I’d dealt with all this a long time ago.”


Later, when I climbed into bed beside him, he stirred.




I slid naked under the covers and spooned up behind him, pulling him against me.  He smelled warm and drowsy and very good in my arms.  “It’s me.”


He sighed, and moved so that his head rested on my bicep. 


“I love you,” he murmured, not really awake. 


“I know,” I said, kissing the back of his neck.  “It’s ok.  Go back to sleep.”




My body’s pretty much conditioned to get up at an obscenely early hour to go to the gym, but I didn’t go that morning.  I wasn’t sure of the bus schedule, and I didn’t want to wake up Josh, who was sleeping deeply and peacefully.  So I got up, showered, did a little more work on my paper until I heard him stir.  Then I made breakfast for the two of us. 


I had decided that I would take the painting and all the other stuff Graham had sent with it to my room, and keep it there until Josh was ready to deal with it.  We left with it in hand, leaving enough time to drop it off in my res room on the way to my first lecture.


Josh and Luc live in the same building. 


Luc and I take the same courses and have pretty much the same schedule. 


It should have come as no surprise, then, when the elevators doors opened and he got in.


It shouldn’t have, but it did.


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