Two days later Jim drove Blair downtown to Jerry Lydick's office; papers were signed and Blair was handed a certified check for four million dollars. Blair, awed and shaking, insisted that Jim drive him to the bank immediately, as if the check might turn into a pumpkin if they waited too long. Jim and the bank manager cringed at the idea of putting four million dollars into the basic accounts he could open on the spot, but there would be time later to meet with a financial advisor and consider investments. Blair just wasn't up to that yet.
Blair decided that he wanted to go alone for his appointment with Gerard. Jim had misgivings, especially since Blair wanted to drive himself; moreover, he could have used a little time with Gerard himself to discuss the handjob incident, but he couldn't bring himself to argue with Blair about it. Blair needed to start putting his life back together, and he couldn't do that if Jim kept him swaddled in cotton. So Blair went to his appointment, and Jim checked in at the office, did the grocery shopping, resisted the effort to follow his Guide, and watched the clock.
When Jim returned to the loft, thankfully Blair was already home; he could hear his Guide in the bathroom humming, which he took as a good sign. There was a bag laying on the coffee table, and Jim investigated. A book on gay sex coincidentally one of the same ones Jim had bought. And a videocassette showing two well-built young man, clad only in briefs, embracing passionately, entitled "First Times."
Blair emerged from the bathroom, still humming. He smiled at Jim.
"Hey, there!" he said. "I hope you got more toothpaste. We're out."
"Where the hell did this come from?" Jim said warily, picking up the video.
"I bought it," he admitted.
"You did?" Jim sighed with relief. He'd been afraid it was a prank or something. "Whatever for?"
"I thought " Blair's blush deepened. "I thought maybe we could watch it together. I asked Gerard about it. He said that was a good idea, you know, for me to see consensual sex between two guys as long as I picked the right movie, you know, one that was, like, loving and gentle and so on and watched it with you there to, you know, take care of me. So I asked him to recommend one, and he told me about this one and where to get it. He said it would be good for you too, you know, kind of see how it's done other than in a criminal setting." Blair chuckled.
"Well okay," Jim said, rather excited by the idea of watching porn with Blair, and curious to see a gay video. "But if you start getting upset, it gets turned off right then."
"Anything else about the session you wanted to talk about?" Jim asked awkwardly, starting to put the groceries away. Blair's request to have a session alone had taken him by surprise, especially after Blair's earlier assertions that he didn't want to be separated from Jim. Jim didn't want to pry well, no, actually he did, but he didn't want Blair to realize he was prying.
"Jim, I didn't tell him anything I haven't told you, you should know that," Blair said patiently. "But yeah, there's a couple things. We decided I was ready we're ready, I mean to cut the regular sessions back to once a week, but he suggested that we start going to this support group he runs. He said it would probably do us as much good as formal group therapy, and he thought we could really contribute something to the group, and it doesn't cost anything, not that that's a huge concern, huh? But it's at the Rape Crisis Center, so it's closer to home, and it meets on Tuesday nights, so that works in better with our schedule, too, when we go back to work. Oh, and Max Tompkins from the Rape Crisis Center called to thank me for putting the donation clause into my settlement agreement, and he wants to meet with us Friday afternoon, if that's okay with you, to talk about some seminars and interviews."
"Gerard congratulated me on you know, the handjob thing," Blair said shyly. "He said it was a big step forward, and that the flashback thing wasn't uncommon, so I shouldn't get discouraged. He said that it's kind of my subconscious working against me, using flashbacks as kind of aversion therapy to keep you at a distance so I can't get hurt, and that it's pretty remarkable I haven't had more problems like that before now, and that as you and I had more positive experiences, it would help me disassociate sex and pleasure from rape and pain.
"Anyway, he agreed with you that we shouldn't push things too fast, that now would be a good time to experiment with sensual touching instead of sexual touching you know, hugging, kissing, massages. 'Non-genital touching' was the way he put it. I told him we'd been doing all that stuff for a long time, although I'd been the one getting all the massages, and he just kind of gave me that look and shook his head, you know? And he said maybe it was time for me to maybe start exploring my own body, you know, to start feeling good with myself again." He blushed. "I told him I'd already done that and it went fine. So I got the look again."
"Great on all counts, Chief," Jim said, smiling. "How do you feel about the support group idea?"
"Pretty good, actually," Blair said, as if surprised himself. "I like the idea of helping other people."
"Well, remember what Gerard said," Jim said gently. "Don't get so caught up in other people's needs that you forget to let them help you with yours."
"Hey, I won't," Blair promised. He grinned, but it looked distinctly forced. "I was watching the news and they had a segment about my case and the sentencing. I said 'rainy weather' at least a dozen times during a five-minute segment." His smile quivered slightly, and Jim felt him trembling. "It didn't help any."
Jim took Blair in his arms. Sometimes the psychobabble wasn't enough. Time for an Ellison Intervention.
"Try this," Jim said. "Say: I'm pissed as hell at those shit-eating motherfuckers."
Blair's eyes sparkled and he swallowed.
"I'm pissed as hell at those shit-eating motherfuckers." His voice shook slightly.
"I hate their sick perverted guts."
"I hate their sick perverted guts." Softer now.
"I wish I could saw their balls off with a dull butter knife and shove them down their throats."
"I wish " Blair shuddered, his voice trailing off.
Okay, Plan B. Jim led Blair over to the sofa and pointed to one of the throw pillows.
"See that pillow?" he said. "That's Tim Frain's face. Hit him."
"Go on, baby. Give the man a knuckle sandwich. Do it for me."
Blair gave the pillow a ginger punch that probably wouldn't have made a butterfly wince.
"Harder. Hurt him as bad as he hurt you."
"I can't punch that hard," Blair muttered, but he gave the pillow a good hard right this time.
"Better, baby." Jim nodded. "Keep going. Come on. Rearrange that face."
Blair punched the pillow again. And again. And again, and again, and then he picked it up and bashed it against the wall, against the corner of the table, against the floor. He kicked it, he jumped on it. He was crying now, almost screaming, flinging the pillow against every hard surface in the house. He picked up one of the brass bookends and brought it down on the pillow again, again, again; just as Jim thought maybe he'd better intervene before Blair maybe hurt himself, Blair brought the bookend down one last time and collapsed on the floor, sobbing quietly and clutching his ribs.
Jim sat down on the floor and gathered Blair into his arms, feeling a new relaxation in his Guide's muscles. He'd needed that blowup so much, maybe more than either of them had realized. Sometimes words just weren't enough.
"Feel better, baby?" Jim whispered tenderly, cradling Blair's head against his shoulder.
A loud sniffle, then, to his delight, a faint chuckle.
"Actually I do. A lot." Blair chuckled again. "But I think the pillow's pretty much done for."
Jim glanced at the pillow and snorted. It was torn in several places, the stuffing bulging out in little puffs, and more stuffing was scattered across the floor.
"I didn't think Frain had enough brains to make that much mess," Jim admitted.
Blair laughed, a little hysterically, but it was better than nothing.
"You know, I don't think my mother would consider that successful 'processing'," he choked.
"Yeah, well, maybe Naomi doesn't know everything in the world," Jim said quietly, mentally cursing the ditzy woman Simon hadn't yet been able to track down. "Sometimes just sometimes, Blair, not always just letting all that anger loose can be very, very therapeutic."
Blair smiled tremulously.
"I wish I could cut their nuts off with a dull butter knife," he said. "And cram them down their throats."
"Good," Jim said. "One more. 'I hope they have big ugly cellmates named Bubba who love to shove their horse-sized endowments right up the ol' Hershey Highway of cute young ex-college hockey players.'"
Blair almost choked on that one, but he never got it out, because Jim silenced the guffaws with his own mouth.
"Good boy, Chief," Jim said lovingly. "Now let's have dinner, and cuddle, and watch a naughty movie."
Blair wiped his eyes and laughed.
Understandably Blair didn't have much of an appetite, but he ate to please Jim, and that was good enough for Jim. Jim cleaned up the kitchen, and they settled down on the couch in what had become their favorite TV-watching position Jim half reclined on the pillows, Blair sitting between Jim's legs and leaning back comfortably against Jim's chest. Jim hesitated for a moment, then started the tape, watching Blair more than the movie. To his surprise, however, Blair seemed fairly comfortable, and Jim turned a little more of his attention to the tape.
What he'd thought was simply a gay porn movie was actually more of a how-to video couched in a series of dramatized but amazingly tender and realistic love scenes, each involving one or both partners being new to gay sex or to sex, period. Jim picked up the video case and read the back, raising his eyebrows. The actors weren't professional porn actors, but real-life gay couples; that explained the on-screen chemistry. Jim had watched a few gay porn movies, some quite kinky, during his time in Vice, but he'd never seen anything like this. He was watching these perfect strangers all male perfect strangers, mind you have hotter, more loving sex than he'd ever had with Carolyn or any other woman. He'd never pictured gay sex like this; somehow he'd thought caring and gentleness were exclusive to heterosexual lovemaking. The tenderness and passion he was seeing now was intoxicating. He found himself getting hard and tried to think of something else. Anything else. Ice. Snow. Dirty dishes. Joel Taggert in a tutu.
The next vignette featured a beginner who bore a slight resemblance to Blair and had long, curly dark hair.
"Look, Jim, he looks kind of like me, doesn't he?" Blair whispered needlessly.
Jim swallowed and changed Taggert's tutu to a g-string and pasties. He watched the dark-haired man being gently entered and just like that, the battle was lost.
"Is this video bothering you?" he said softly to Blair. "Maybe I should turn it off."
"It's not bothering me," Blair answered, turning to look into Jim's eyes. "But it feels like it's bothering you. Or maybe 'bothering' is the wrong word, because if we follow that line of reasoning, then I'm uh kind of 'bothered' too."
"I don't think the purpose of this was to get turned on," Jim said helplessly, trying not to look at the screen as the dark-haired man moaned and writhed with pleasure under his lover.
"Jim, man, if this didn't turn us on," Blair said patiently, "we'd either be deep, deep in denial, totally impotent, or absolutely not meant for another man. It's okay to get turned on, Jim. Just watch, okay?"
Jim watched; he was almost helpless to do otherwise. He watched male couples performing acts on each other that he'd never dreamed of performing on another person, many that he'd never had performed on him either. He alternately imagined Blair doing those things to him, and him doing those things to Blair, and worried that he was going to come in his pants. He wished that Blair had somewhere else to sprawl. He wished that he dared run off to the bathroom for a few minutes of personal relief. At last the tape ended and Jim rewound it silently, not wanting to disturb whatever processing Blair was doing.
At last Blair squirmed around a bit, signalling to Jim to move into their "Let's talk" position Jim on his back, Blair on his good side between Jim's side and the back of the couch, lying comfortably in the crook of Jim's arm, his head on Jim's shoulder. At least Blair's back wasn't pressing, warm and firm, against Jim's erection anymore, but Blair's erection was boring a hole into Jim's hip.
"So . . . what did you think of all that?" Jim asked cautiously.
"It was really hot," Blair said, wonderingly. "I mean, I've seen quite a few porno tapes, all straight, though, and I've never seen anything like that. I mean, it had, you know, chemistry."
"I know what you mean." He took a deep breath. "Does anything you saw frighten you?"
Blair was silent a long moment before he answered.
"I don't know, man," he said slowly. "I mean, it's hard to say. It didn't, like, make me sick or anything to watch, but watching and doing is kind of two different things. Funny thing, it didn't bother me watching the blowjobs. I mean, I kept thinking, 'I could do that to Jim, no prob.' It's hard for me to imagine getting fucked, even though I could see how much those guys on the tape loved it."
"I told you, Chief, if you're not comfortable with that, we don't have to do it," Jim said quietly.
Blair squirmed a bit so he could see Jim's face.
"Did you imagine us doing those things?"
"Was there any of that that turned you off?"
Jim considered, then shook his head.
"Blair, I'm not sure how to answer you on that. There were a lot of things on that tape that would turn me off big time if I pictured doing them with anybody but you. Maybe I'm not really bisexual. Maybe I'm just, I don't know, Blairsexual."
Blair grinned widely.
"Blairsexual," he said. "I like that. Wow. I guess that means that all these years I've been a closet Jimosexual. So do you think you got anything out of that?"
"Yeah, I did," Jim admitted. "Well, apart from the woody, yes, I got a lot out of it. I learned a lot about techniques and so forth, but mostly well, I was surprised and relieved, too, that it was so loving and gentle. I'm glad you had the idea, Chief." He sighed.
"You don't sound glad," Blair said worriedly.
"That's not it. I was just thinking about those couples."
"What about them?"
"Oh " Jim flailed for words to express himself. "They were so uninhibited, so free with each other, the way they showed and said what they liked and what they wanted. I liked that."
"That's called good bedroom communication, Jim," he said. "A lot of people are like that. I " Then his voice changed. "I used to be."
"Baby " Jim pulled Blair close, careful of his ribs, holding the younger man's head against him. He tenderly kissed the curly hair. "Do you have any idea how wonderful this is for me? This, right now, right here just lying on the couch holding you and thinking about how much I love you, thinking of all the possibilities of our love, looking forward to all the good stuff to come. Do you know that during my whole marriage with Carolyn, we never had anything this good? Neither of us was the lie-around-and-cuddle type. There's no hurry about sex, Chief. What we're doing right now is making love, and I love every minute of it."
Blair nuzzled Jim's chest; when he glanced up, his eyes were full.
"Man, you make me want to cry," he whispered. "Because I love you so much, because it's so good feeling how much you love me, because I'm so sorry you had a marriage like that, because I'm such a turd that I'm glad your marriage didn't work out so you'd be here with me today. Man, that more than anything makes me want to get better, to be able to really make love with you and do all those things we saw on the tape. You've had at least mediocre love and I've had lots of great sex but neither of us have had the best of either one or both at the same time, and man, I think we're both missing out on the big one. And that makes me want to cry too, because I want to give you everything and I don't know if I'll ever be able to."
"Blair, you already give me more than I've ever had, so much more, more than I ever dreamed of having," Jim said softly, stroking his hair. "Everything would probably kill me. Do you know anything about SCUBA diving?"
Blair blinked at the apparent change in subject.
"Just watched a lot of Jacques Cousteau."
"It was one of the things I had to learn in the military," Jim said, stroking Blair's hair. "When divers spend much time on a really, really deep dive, they can't shoot straight back up to the surface. They've pushed their body into a strange new environment where the pressure is intense, and their bodies can't shift back too fast. They've adapted to the depths, and suddenly the surface has become the whole new world for them, something they have to adapt to all over again. The divers have to take it slowly as they ascend, and they have to stop every so often at certain depths, wait for their blood to reabsorb the nitrogen bubbles in it. It's called decompression, letting their bodies reacclimate to the lesser pressure at shallower depths. If they try come up too fast, those bubbles in their blood expand and can block blood vessels. That's called the bends, because of the horrible muscle cramping it can cause, but it can be fatal, too, if those bubbles block a blood vessel in the heart or the brain. Divers who get the bends have to be put in a decompression chamber and start the whole thing over again, only this time taking days and days to do it. All from shooting up to the surface too fast, not giving their bodies a little time to readjust."
Jim rubbed Blair's back soothingly.
"We're decompressing, Chief. You're coming back up from your rape, and me well, I'm coming back up from Carolyn, and we're both surfacing in a whole new world. Hurrying is a bad idea. I don't want either of us to get the bends."