The Park at Sunrise
by Lee Brazil
Now in Paperback
Limited # of Autographed copies can be purchased direct from author for the low price of $6.00
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First they were three, now there are two. Can Jason and Morgan make a relationship work without Paul?
For years the three of them had been inseparable, first as friends, then lovers. It's been ten years since they parted for what was supposed to be a year apart to pursue their dreams. This isn't the reunion they planned then. It's nine years too late for one thing, and they are one man short for another.
In the years since Paul's death, Morgan hasn't exactly been waiting for Jason to reach out to him. He's been too busy trying to forget, to move on. Until Jason sends the right message. Is the painting just an excuse to see his ex again?
The park at sunrise. How many nights had we ended up here? Coffee from the all-night truck stop in Jamestown in hand, steam rising as we walked, searching for that most exclusive private spot where we could see but not be seen. The bench that was sheltered by just the right number of trees, with the best view of the pond and the flagpoles and the sunrise.
Nights of parties, concerts, hanging out, or working had all ended in this spot. When the fun was done, we sobered up as the sun rose here. When we were exhausted from working those double shifts and pulling all-nighters, the sunrise reminded us why we worked so hard. When we were flying high on concert-induced endorphins, it spun wild dreams in our heads that spilled from our mouths in raucous harmony. The three of us, wrapped in one blanket, sipping from one bottle, from one cup, contemplated that sunrise. In snow and rain and heat and cold we huddled here. For four years, this place colored our lives in ways we couldn't imagine.
The bench we'd claimed as ours drew me onward. My feet recognized the path, if my mind did not. In the inside pocket of my too-thin-for-the-Colorado-cold-but just-right-for-California black leather jacket, the crinkle of paper jabbed at my soul. As much as anything else, it was why I was here.
When I found it, the bench was still the same with its old, wrought-iron rails and splintery wooden slats. I stopped. Progressing from here would be harder. The cold seeped through the inadequate leather soles of my knee-high black boots, chilling my feet. Once I'd known how to dress for the cold. Once cold hadn't mattered. I'd had their warmth to keep me warm. For years I'd had a vision, locked in my head. This bench, this park, the sun rising in the background. The first flakes of falling snow drifting down. On the bench, two men whose heads turned as I approached, who jumped to their feet with open arms and welcoming smiles. The first time we met here, the last time we met here.
Today, I had a memory. A sunrise that would start soon. I forced myself forward, placed one booted foot on the seat and hoisted myself into the familiar position, buttocks perched on the topmost slat of the bench. Splinters prickled against the seat of my 501s, but the first changing light as the sun made its appearance caught my gaze. Since the last time I'd sat here, the last time we'd been together, I hadn't sat through many sunrises. I'd observed a lot of sunsets on the Pacific coast, but the sunrise had become a time of regret.
As I leaned forward to rest my elbows on my knees and prop my chin in my hands, the crinkle of the envelope in my pocket and the crunch of dead leaves on the grass behind me competed for my attention. I drew the envelope from my inner pocket as the footsteps approached. I knew who it was. Had realized he would be here, though how he had known I would be was anyone's guess. It appeared to me that I hardly knew what I was doing, catching that plane, leaving behind friends and commitments. Me. Mr. Responsible. Reliable. Dependable. Had I even called in and told the principal I wouldn't be there for the last week of classes? I couldn't recall. He'd figure it out when the Calc I kids showed up for the key to the classroom, no doubt.
The sudden drag of a wool cap being tugged down over my long hair startled me. It shouldn't have. I should have predicted he'd be in this "taking care of Morgan" mode. At twenty two it had been endearing; at thirty two it pissed me off. Deep, calming breaths kept the anger manageable. Come here, do what needed to be done, get on the next plane back to California, back to emotional stability.
"I see you're dressed for the weather as always, Morgan." Jason's voice was husky, hesitant.
A pair of black knit gloves landing in my lap tipped me over that edge from making a snide remark to throwing an uncalled-for hissy fit.
My jaw clenched tightly. Screw breathing deeply. I yanked the cap from my head, pulling long strands of black hair from the band at my neck, and winced at the tiny pain. I flung the cap to the ground in front of us and looked up the black denim-clad legs to the black pea coat and beyond. My mouth opened to swear, but no sound came out. The hissy fit drained away to something else entirely. My pulse still raced, but for an entirely different reason.
How fair was that? How fucking fair was it that after ten years apart, my hair showed silvery streaks and my face showed my age, but Jason was still the slender, boyish youth of years gone by? Yeah, he'd shaved the dirty blond dreadlocks. Those wire-rim glasses were new, but he appeared as youthful and vibrant, untouched by life, alive as he had when we'd all parted years ago to make those sunrise dreams reality. His black jeans had the telltale smudges of paint, and I'd be willing to bet that underneath those leather driving gloves lurked more paint.
This wasn't the reunion we planned then. It was nine years too late, for one thing. We were one man short, for another.
The bench creaked as he perched next to me on the top slat, and instinctively I grabbed his knee to anchor both of us so we wouldn't topple backward. His hand covered mine before I could jerk it away, and he refused to relinquish it when I tugged. I gave in with ill grace. Jason’s touch stirred physical responses that I’d rather not experience.
"I sent you an invitation to my gallery opening last year."
"I got it."
"You couldn't make it." No judgment. Levelheaded, easygoing, that was Jason. I didn't even understand how he knew to send the damn invitation to the school in the first place. For all I knew, he still lived with his parents and painted in that fucking unheated studio over their garage.
I handed him the envelope. The envelope that had brought me here, as he had known it would, when nothing else could. "I want to buy it."
He shook his head. "It's not for sale. That's not why I sent it to you."
Heat pooled at the back of my neck, and the tiny, irritating noise of my own teeth grinding warned of a potential headache in the offing. I turned, made eye contact for the first time. "Then why? Why send it? Fuck, why paint it? How the hell could you even stand to paint that picture? It kills me that you could have done that, like it doesn't mean fucking anything to you." By the time I spit out the last words, my voice had risen enough to scare off the waterfowl in the pond.
The expression on his face was one I'd never noticed before. I thought I had all their expressions memorized, his and Paul's. Oh, Christ. "Paul." The name slipped out, the memories in. I dropped my head to my knees again, breaking eye contact. I had to create mental distance since physical wasn't possible. I was empty, raw. My stomach tightened and my eyes burned.
"Morgan, it means everything to me. It's all I have. That painting, it's the heart and soul of who I am, who you are, who Paul was." The hand clutching mine drew away, and I nearly protested as cold took its place. Then I felt him fussing. I rolled my eyes as he loosened the band from my hair and combed his fingers through it before gathering it back into a neater ponytail, smoothing the hairs pulled loose by the wool cap. It felt too good to be cared for like that again. I jerked upright and away.
"Damn it, Jason, I don't want to go there. We can't recapture the past! You are not my mother. You are not Paul." I narrowed my eyes and gave him the look that intimidated school board members and recalcitrant football players alike. "Why did you send it if you won't sell me the painting?"
"Were you here? May twenty-sixth, two thousand one? Because I was."
I stared at him. My anger was fading, heart rate returning to normal. The heat from earlier was replaced by a chill that had nothing to do with the low temperature. Surely he was kidding. "Why? Why did you bother? Paul was dead by then. You had to know I wouldn't come."
"No, I didn't. See, somehow, I never thought it was all about you and Paul. Somehow, I thought it was all about you, me, and Paul. I guess I naively believed that without Paul, you and I would need each other even more."
I couldn't speak, but the shock must have shown on my face. With an impatient sigh, Jason jumped from the bench. I automatically steadied myself, swaying slightly as the bench protested the sudden movement.
He tossed the photo from the envelope into my lap. "I have it crated and ready to ship. Pick it up at my parents' house any time. I won't be there."
I didn't look up. I didn't speak. I listened to his footsteps, muffled now by the snow that had fallen on the crunching leaves. As the colors changed and faded from the morning sky, I stared at the photo of the painting that had brought me here. Three men on a bench in a park at sunrise, three heads pressed together, three hands clasped. If one of the images was a little blurry, I couldn't tell if that was the artist's intent, the tears in my eyes, or the snow that fell on the photo.