Looking out the large windows, Samuel saw the world not as a place of beauty but one devoid of color. Snow blanketed the mountains, grey clouds hung heavy in the sky. He knew all he had to do was turn around to see colors. His studio was full of color. Paintings with bold vibrant colors were scattered all around the large, open room. But he had tried that earlier. All it had done was bring miserable emotions up inside him. Anger. Sadness. Worthlessness. Insecurity.
And in a viscous cycle those feelings brought about more anger. He had always been happy, but for the past week or so, he'd had nothing but negative thoughts. About himself and his craft. And that made him angry at himself for feeling that way. He felt angry that he was feeling anger. "Damn it! I hate this," he spoke out loud to himself.
"You know," a firm voice said startling Samuel. "If you talked to me, instead of hiding from me, we could fix what's wrong."
Samuel didn't want to turn around and face Jonah. He didn't want Jonah to see how miserable he felt. He didn't want to be patronized or hear condescending words. "I'm fine. Just getting some inspiration from the view."
"Turn around and look at me."
Jonah's stern, unrelenting voice washed over Samuel. He felt the words and the tone reverberate through his body. His face grimaced, his heart stopped, his stomach flipped, his butt clenched. And his feet obeyed. Samuel was facing Jonah before he consciously made the decision.
"She was wrong."
"No, not wrong," Samuel argued. "It was her opinion. Opinions aren't wrong."
"They are when they are intended to hurt."
Samuel wanted to stomp his feet. He wanted to yell at the taciturn man standing before him. He wanted to scream out his frustration. But he also wanted to sit comfortably tonight at dinner. So, Samuel said nothing.
Staying in his studio was not an option. No matter how much Samuel wanted to. This was the type of relationship he wanted. Where someone-no not someone but Jonah-where Jonah, took control. Especially in the times that Samuel was unsettled. Wanting it and living it were often hard to come to terms with. After a moment, Samuel followed.
"Lock up. You won't be back today."
Samuel walked down the stairs and dutifully locked the door. His stomach flipped and clenched at the same time. He locked the door anytime he wasn't up there working. But to be told to lock the door, when Jonah ordered it locked, then that meant Samuel couldn't go back to his studio until Jonah allowed it. It didn't happen often, but Samuel always felt a sense of loss when it did. The studio was not only the place he worked, the place he painted, it was also his escape. And that was what Jonah was stopping. He was showing Samuel that he couldn't escape his problems. That it was time Samuel shared his problems.
No one was in the shop. It was a weekday and a large snow had fallen the day before. Most of the shops were closed as well as the schools. Samuel had left his coat, scarf and gloves lying on the customer counter.
"Wrap up. Let's go." Jonah's voice was still unrelenting.
Once he was dressed to ward off the winter air, Jonah held open the door for Samuel to go through and then locked the shop door.
The bitter cold that had settled over the mountains stung his eyes. That's why his eyes watered, Samuel told himself. Not because he was tired and miserable and now seemingly in trouble with Jonah. Tilting his head down, Samuel convinced himself he wasn't hiding his tears from Jonah. He was just watching where he placed his feet. There was a layer of ice underneath the snow.
The walk to the small house they were buying was done in silence. The air was too cold to want to pull their scarves down from their mouths to talk to each other. The snow muffled the sounds so all that Samuel heard was his own breathing. Just as they reached their house, the heavy clouds released their burden and more snow started to fall.
Inside the men took off their shoes, hung up their coats and laid their gloves and scarves across the ancient radiator that heated their house. Samuel followed Jonah into the kitchen.
Samuel pulled out a chair and sat at their kitchen table. Jonah leaned against the cabinet and lifted an eyebrow expectantly. Samuel had never been able to resist the silent command.
"I can't paint. Knowing its not good enough, I just can't-" Samuel stopped. He sounded like a child, whining. That wasn't the person he wanted to be.
"No. You won't. Not you can't."
Samuel bit his lip to keep from screaming at the unbending man before him. "Fine! I won't. But it sure feels like can't to me."
"You allow one person's mean and spiteful comments to dictate what you do?" Jonah questioned.
"She was the only one who was honest enough to tell me the truth," Samuel said stubbornly.
Samuel startled. Jonah rarely used curse words. He said he didn't want to get in the habit of cursing because he didn't want to chance saying one in front of his students.
"She's a spiteful old biddy and was just getting back at you for the Halloween prank you pulled on her. Nothing more."
"I can't dismiss the words as easily as you!" Samuel shouted. "The doubt is there. It stops me from painting!"
"No. YOU stop you from painting."
Samuel wanted to scream. Jonah didn't understand. He had an inner core of steel. He had a confidence that Samuel seemed to lack.
"But right now I am stopping you from painting. You are not to go to your studio until I say you can." With that Jonah pushed himself away from the table. Samuel watched as the big man stalked to the large shelf that acted as a pantry and storage.
He saw Jonah pull out a spiral notebook. Jonah kept many of the notebooks and pencils on the shelf for students who couldn't afford the basic school supplies. They'd just gone shopping to restock on the items as the middle of the school year was when so many of the students ran out of their supplies. As tough as Jonah was, he was also the most thoughtful, caring person Samuel knew. He did so many things for his students that no one ever knew about. Jonah just did what needed done for the kids without making a big deal out of it.
The notebook landing with a soft thud in front of him, brought Samuel out of his musings.
"I want you to write this down."
Samuel picked up the pencil that had accompanied the notebook and waited for Jonah to tell him what to write.
"The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever being able to do it."
Samuel dutifully wrote the sentence. Then he asked woodenly, "How many times?"
"Until I tell you to stop."
Samuel started writing. His grip on the pencil so tight, his hand ached. He kept on writing, so focused on completing the task, that he didn't notice Jonah moving about the kitchen. When he turned the page for the third time, Samuel shook his hand, trying to shake the cramp out of it. The repetitive motions of writing, the quiet of the room, had lessened the tension that had built up inside him.
"Here." Jonah had set a cup of coffee down next to him. "Drink a bit, then back to it."
Samuel picked up the mug and sipped. Jonah had fixed it just the way he liked it, just a drop of coffee in cream and sugar. He wrapped his aching hand around the mug letting the heat that radiated from it loosen the muscles. He fiddled with the notebook, turning back to the front of the notebook and then looked through each page. The sentence was first written in a dark, almost block lettering, but by the third page, Samuel recognized his own flowing handwriting. The task had released some of the stress he had been feeling. He read the line again.
"I've heard that before," Samuel said. "What's that from?"
"Its from a book I first read a long time ago. A book I just rediscovered and decided to read again," Jonah said as he poured another cup of coffee. "Back to it, Samuel. We'll talk when you are through."
Samuel set his coffee down and picked up the pencil again. He felt more settled. Jonah's voice hadn't changed in tone. And Samuel had always known they'd end up talking things out. No the difference was that Samuel was feeling more than the negative words that had been so cruelly thrown his way.
Settling a little more comfortably in the kitchen chair, Samuel resumed writing. His hand still ached but not like before. The grip on the pencil wasn't as tight. The script of the writing became fancier as Samuel wrote the line in calligraphy.
"That's beautiful. Your handwriting is an art within itself," Jonah said. "Put down the pencil and lets go in the living room. I've built a fire."
Samuel obeyed and soon was cuddled on the couch with Jonah. As strong and stern as Jonah was, he also had a soft side that he only allowed Samuel to see. Usually it was when they were inside their home, and no outside eyes were watching.
"So what is the book? That the line is from?" Samuel asked as he leaned against Jonah.
"Its from Peter Pan."
Astonished, Samuel asked, "Peter Pan? When did you ever read that? I know that there was a big blow up about the movie and it was never shown in our city."
"I still haven't seen the movie. But I did read the book when I was young."
Samuel couldn't believe what he was hearing. When had Jonah had the chance to read that book? He couldn't hold back the question. "Its not the kind of book I think of you reading. Especially when you were younger. When did you read it?"
"When I was young. Did you know I went through a bit of rebellion?" Jonah asked. He laughed at the look of disbelief on Samuel's face and amended, "well, a very quiet rebellion, but a rebellion all the same. I was young. About 13 years old. When all the other boys were starting to talk about girls, all I thought about were those boys. I didn't know that was even possible, but suddenly I was feeling things that didn't fall in line with what I had been taught. Before that I believed everything I was taught."
Samuel waited when Jonah stopped talking, giving him the time to remember and to feel comfortable enough to continue.
"There was an old man, Joseph, who lived just outside the city limits. He was ostracized and an outcast. None of us kids knew why and we were told to stay well away from him. Of course being kids, we wanted to do the exact opposite of what we were told. We'd ride our bikes by his house hoping to see this man. It was an old house, not well maintained. Nothing special and certainly nothing to tell us why he was a forbidden entity. We never even saw him." Jonah stopped and then took a deep breath. "Until one late rainy evening. I was by myself. Angry, confused. Hurting from yet another round from my father's belt. I'd gone for walk instead of riding my bike. Bike riding with a freshly leathered ass was not comfortable. I walked for miles in the rain. Eventually I found myself in front of old Joe's house. I felt like that house; old, worn out, just outside the limits of acceptable society."
Samuel heard the despair in Jonah's voice. His heart ached for the boy that became this strong man. Gently Samuel stroked his hand down Jonah's arm.
"By that time, I was soaked through. My jeans were sopping wet and rubbing horribly on my sore ass. I decided to slip into the shed in the back of his house to dry off and rest before heading home. I'd only been in the shed maybe 5 minutes or so, when the door opened. There stood this old man. His shoulders were arched forward, his back hunching from old age, hands riddled with arthritis. And then he smiled at me. Samuel, his smile was like the sun coming out. Then he asked me if I wanted to see his secret."
"And of course you said yes," Samuel said.
Jonah laughed and gave him a kiss on the head. "No, even then I knew secrets were not a good thing. And I told him so."
"God! You were born a Top," Samuel laughed.
"That's what Joe said. Then he told me that the only secret he wanted to show me was one of knowledge. He had me move a few boxed and beneath them was an trap door. It went to an old root cellar. Joe climbed down the ladder and told me to come on down. I'd heard so many stories about him that I was certain he was going to kill me or something. Then I thought what the hell. He was an old man. I was a fit kid, I could take him. Besides the comment about secret knowledge intrigued me. So I clamored down after him."
"And the room was full of porn, eh? Stacks upon stacks of dirty movies," Samuel guessed.
Jonah gave him a playful slap on the side of his thigh, then rubbed the sting out of it. "No, you dirty minded Brat. It was books. Floor to ceiling bookshelves filled with books. Books that the government had deemed immoral or otherwise, for the population. Authors I'd never heard before. Books I'd never even dreamed existed. Joe smiled at me again and said, good secret, yes? All I could do was stare. Joe walked over and pulled out a book. He told me that he'd seen me several times and that I'd reminded him of it. The book was Peter Pan. Joe let me read it. He wouldn't let me take the book home. But I read a good portion that night. I went back every night until I finished it. Then I read another. And another. Joe never let me take any book home. He was protecting me. If anyone had ever found out about his little library and that he was letting me read these books, he knew we'd both suffer for it. He became a friend. And a mentor. We'd talk for ages. He told me that my feelings for other guys, getting sexually aroused, was ok, despite what I was taught. He also talked to me about Tops and Brats. About the man who was his lover, his life, and his Top. How his Top had protected him and how he had protected his Top."
"Kind of like you and me," Samuel stated.
"Yeah. Like you and me," Jonah smiled. "I'm man enough to admit that you protect me just as much as I protect you. You help me fly, Samuel."
Samuel swallowed the lump that was in his throat. Love overwhelmed him. Finally he choked out, "and you help me fly, Jonah."
They sat in silence for a few moments. Then Samuel asked, "what happened to Joe?"
"He passed away two years later. I learned more in those two years than in all the years of school before. He taught me about myself, about literature, and about flying and believing. That line from the book, the one about flying, was one we talked about a lot. Joe always told me that I could fly and see things I'd never even dreamed about. I believed him."
"I'm glad you did," Samuel said softly. "You do make me feel like I can fly, Jonah. And not just with sex, but with everything."
"There are different kinds of flying, Samuel. We get to fly in our freedom. In our sex lives. And you in your painting. Don't let anyone take that from you. You'll cease to be if you do."
Samuel's heart hurt. That was the crux of his problem. He didn't want to cease to be. He softly admitted his fear. "I'm so afraid I'll cease to be."
Jonah kissed him. Softly at first and then with passion. "Samuel. You'll never cease to be and some old lady can't change that. We'll fly together for a moment and for ever."
Kissing turned into more and soon Samuel believed he really could fly as Jonah made love to him. His doubts and insecurities hadn't disappeared but he knew he'd paint again. The wound from the hurtful words would heal, Jonah would allow him back into his studio, and the world would still turn. Maybe they'd even watch the movie and fly to NeverLand.