I started playing with the idea of a gay male/male erotic novel – this first chapter is the result. I plan to continue when I am done with Alice.
The train was loading and we pounded the pavement, desperately trying to catch up in time to be on the 8:45am to Karlovy Vary. It was my fault. I slept in. Danny ran ahead to see if he could stall the train in time for Kate and I to catch up. No luck there. He reached the platform just as the doors closed and the ticket master shook his head through the window. He shrugged off his backpack and set it down for a moment, rubbing his shoulders.
“Should we just take the next one?” Kate asked, her silvery voice shaken and out of breath from running.
“No. We got a fine the last time we did that and I can’t afford another 1200 Kronur.” Danny winced as he rubbed a knot out of his shoulder.
1200 Kronur was around fifty dollars and we were all on shoestring budgets, having saved what we could for a Summer backpacking around Europe. We were only six days in and already we had spent more of our meager budget than we could afford. Kate stepped away to examine the ticket booth and see if there was any way to patch up this latest botch on our scheduled plans, and Danny lowered his voice to a whisper.
“Hey, I was gonna surprise Kate with something today. Look,” Danny turned out his coat pocket to reveal a sparkling engagement ring.
“Oh shit, Danny, that’s fantastic. I am so sorry I was slow this morning.”
“It’s OK. Really. I am going to take her up to Prague Castle and propose. It’s just… um…”
“You want some privacy.” I said.
“Yeah, if you don’t mind.”
“Of course. You two need some time alone. I’ve got plenty to do.”
“Yeah, you haven’t been sketching lately because we’ve been dragging you around. Go get inspired, man.”
“You and Kate… fantastic.” I said, smiling.
“Well, she hasn’t said yes yet.”
“She will though. You two have been inseperable since third grade. Here she comes. I’m gonna take off, OK? I don’t want to be a third wheel.”
Danny started to say something about me being his best friend and never a third wheel, but I didn’t give him a chance to finish. I smiled and waved at them both, grabbing my backpack and making my way up the stairs to the street. My two best friends were getting married. I had no doubt Kate would say yes. She was head over heels for Danny and had been since we were all eight years old and pretending to have lightsabers in Danny’s parents yard back home in McKinleyville, California. Things would change now. They would be a unit, a dynamic duo, and I would be… well, on my way to Sophmore year at Humboldt State University on my second year of a scholarship. I stopped at the hostel and booked another night for all three of us. A mixed dorm bed for myself, always the cheapest option. I smiled and booked a private room for Danny and Kate. It was a hostel, so it wasn’t much, but they would have a bed and a room all to themselves and they would not be surrounded by groaning, farting tourists and stag party frat boys all night. It was expensive, even for a hostel, but I could eat cheaply for a few days. I wanted them to be happy. I checked in my wallet and saw that I had the equivelent of about eight dollars left in my daily budget. Not really enough to do much but find somewhere to sit and sketch a while, and that was actually the best damn thing I could think of. I fished my sketching kit out of my backpack and started off toward Old Town Square.
Tourists crammed into the square, shoulder to shoulder, cameras hung around sunburnt necks, ready to snap photos of the astronomical clock’s procession. I found a seat at a cafe just at the other side of the clock and watched, a waitress bringing me the most expensive cup of coffee I ever ordered. It would do for a while. It would rent me a seat and I would sketch for hours, or until they asked me to leave. I sketched the clock, the tourists around it, the upturned faces and grinning children perched on the shoulders of their proud fathers. I sketched the steeples of the church of Our Lady Before Tyn in deep blue pigment, and the sweet face of an apple cheeked little girl with pastels. Almost an hour had passed and the crowd grew thicker. The clock struck its bell and the show began. A strange clockwork procession of apostles passed on a track in front of the clock face, and mechanical black skeletons ushered out to ring bells. The tourists all looked up and I saw a team of young boys swerving through the crowd, snatching wallets from the distracted tourists. They were gone before I could do anything about it.
The show ended and the crowd shifted but did not disperse. It seemed odd that they lingered. I stood up to get a better glimpse of the center of the square. That’s when I saw him. I recognized him immediately. Ethan Coldwater. His face was on the cover of Insider Weekly, GQ, Advocate and the Forbes 500 list. Not to mention every tabloid rag I could think of. On magazine covers, he cut a fine figure but here, in the Bohemian sunshine, relaxed, he was even more attractive. He towered over most of the crowd by a half foot or more. He obliged the crowd that moved in around him, letting them snap pictures with him and even signing a few autographs. I could see his dark, smoldering eyes from across the square. He weaved his way through the crowd and I could see that he had his arm around a petite redhead with an exquisite face. They were both dressed in cream and white linen, like something out of a perfume commercial where everyone looks fabulous on a boat. He wore sneakers and she wore four inch heels, even on the cobblestone. From all I had read about Ethan Coldwater, she was likely his flavor of the week, as he had a new one every time he was in the news, which was often. He was openly bisexual, and that alone garnered him attention from every media source, attention he did not seem to invite, but did not avoid either. My mom had a crush on him. ‘Well, isn’t that a fine looking specimen of man; tall, dark and handsome.’
I couldn’t stop staring at him. He was powerful, even while at ease, his hands in his pockets, a smile on his face, and yet something about him seemed dangerous and compelling. A warm flush heated my face. Instant attraction. Not something I felt often in my life. He waved away some of the crowd, and led the redhead through the square. They did not seem real. Perfect people with perfect hair and perfect shoes and perfectly flawed faces. His nose a little too sharp. Her forehead a little too high. Faces that belonged in Old Masters paintings. I wanted desperately to sketch them both. The images in my head formed in rapid fire inspiration. Of course, they would never let me sketch them. Why would they? But I couldn’t lose them. Grabbing my sketching tools, I wrapped them up in the leather case and clumsily laid out kronur on the table to pay my bill, and I followed them. It was a creepy thing to do, I realized when I was a block away, trailing behind them. It was downright stalker behavior, but I just wanted to get a better look so I could remember them. Especially him. It was different than the magazine covers that airbrushed all the good parts out. The little lines of crow’s feet near his eyes, the spark of life he had that anyone could feel radiating even across a crowded square. Just a closer look and then I would find a place to sketch a while and dream in far far away land. I followed them down a narrow alley that opened to a quieter square. He leaned in to whisper something to the redhead as they walked and I heard her giggle. He grabbed her then and pushed her against a stone wall. His mouth claimed hers and I felt like an asshole invading their privacy. But still, I watched, because I could not take my eyes off of them. I saw her sigh, her back arch to him, her feet lifting off the cobblestones as he picked her up and set her back down again. I would paint that. Exactly that. But his eyes; what color were they exactly? The magazines washed them out, made them shadowy. No, they were some dark and rich color… liquid amber.
And so I followed them, and watched as a uniformed driver opened the door of a vintage 1950’s Rolls Royce. Then my heart froze and I held my breath. The redhead saw me, and she smiled, her mouth making a grotesquely beautiful parody of her face, the mouth too large and wide. Exquisite beauty. She kept her eyes on me and said something to Ethan Coldwater that made him close the car door with her inside and stride quickly toward me. Oh Jesus, run, I thought. He might kick my ass. But I couldn’t run. I just stood there, a deer in headlights, as they say. He stopped in front of me, and I expected a punch to the face. At the very least, an angry warning to stay away from them. He stopped, and we were both silent for far too long. He stared at me, examining me the way I wanted to examine him but didn’t have the balls to try. My God, he was gorgeous. Up close, he was a fantasy. Hair the color of chestnuts and ink, eyes so dark and smoldering they seemed almost black until the sunlight dappled amber light into the irises. He was that close. I could smell him, the scent of his aftershave, the smell of clean sweat and something quintesentially male. He spoke then, and the rich, dark baritone shocked me out of my reverie.
“You are following me? Or her?”
“Um… I… Oh God, I am so sorry… I was just… curious and… shit. I am really sorry. Totally inappropriate. I know. It won’t happen again.”
Another long silence and I felt his eyes on me, studying, sizing me up.
“You are an artist.” He said, not really a question at all. A statement.
“Yes, an art student.”
“Ah, I see. Katriana has a beautiful face, doesn’t she?”
“Yes, stunning. I just… wanted to sketch her.” And you, I thought. “I meant no harm.”
He took one small step forward and I felt the sun baked stone of the wall against my back.
“You are visiting Prague,” he said. Again, not a question.
“Yes, backpacking around Europe.”
“And you are in Prague for how long?”
“A week. I just got here yesterday… with some friends.”
I felt sweat forming on my brow.
“I don’t see your friends.”
“They’re um… off on their own. I just wanted to sketch today.”
He did the most extraordinary thing then. He licked his thumb and pressed it against my cheek, just under my eye, wiping away a smudge of charcoal. He smiled and raised one eyebrow. I was pressed so tight against the stones, the heat was beginning to burn my back.
“You want to sketch her?”
I looked at the car, the redhead’s flame hair the only color in the silvery white casing of the vehicle. All I could do was gulp and nod yes. He pulled away then, and held out his hand the way gentlemen hold out their hands to women. I felt awkward taking it, a little less masculine, but I took it anyway and felt the large, warm hand cover mine. He led me to the car and opened the door. Inside was cool, almost cold, a welcome respite from the heat outside. The redhead grinned, that wide mouth alarming me again. He kissed her, long and deep, then tapped at the leather roll I kept my art supplies in.
“Show me your sketch book.” He said. No arguing with him, really. He had that kind of power.
I handed him the sketchbook and felt like someone was peering into my soul as he turned each page and studied my work. The man owned one of the most impressive private art collections in the world, and he was looking through the pages of my sketchbook, giving each page more attention than I expected. He flipped past pages of hastily sketched farmhouses in the German countryside that I saw on the train from Berlin to Prague. He turned up his nose at the hazy sketches of random people and the still life sketches of fruit bowls and arden gates.
“This is shit.” He said. My heart fell.
He turned to earlier pages in the book, figure studies I had done in art class, and he lingered there a while. On the next page, he found the one thing I had always felt was unabashedly good; a figure study of Kate, who was posed on the chaise lounge in an old hotel, wearing a green satin dress. It was good, and nothing anyone could say could convince me otherwise.
“This.” He tapped at the page of oil pastels. “This is beautiful work. Very evocative. Something twinkling in her eyes, like she is in love with someone standing close by.”
“That’s Kate. She’s here in Prague with me.”
“No. My other friend here is Danny. She’s his girlfriend. Well, fiancee now. He was standing there when I painted that.”
“Yes, I can see it. You painted love in her eyes. Very good work.”
“Thank you. Coming from you, that means more than you can know, Mr. Coldwater.”
“Ethan. You can call me Ethan. And you are?”
“Andrew Thorne. Everyone calls me Drew.”
I shook his hand. He gave an order to the driver in Czech and we were off, weaving through narrow Prague streets. Determined to memorize every moment for future sketching and writing, I found myself staring at him, which he did not seem to mind. He tapped the leather roll again and gestured out the window.
“Find a place to sketch her.”
“Um… OK.” It was like being abducted by impossibly glamorous aliens. I watched the fairytale facades of baroque buildings pass by and considered sketching her there, by an old riveted door. But no. She was stranger than that. Finally, I saw the place, but I feared that if I said my plan, he would laugh and kick me out of the car. It was a puppet shop, one of the many in Old Town, but this one was possibly the oldest. A frightening puppet of a fairy tale troll ung over the open ancient door. A wooden sign above the door boasted that the shop had been in business since 1512 and that the puppet makers made dolls for royal children throughout their history. A large puppet theater was set up just outside the door, and an old woman sat in an antique velvet chair. “There! I want to sketch her there.”
I expected a laugh, a you-have-to-be-kidding-me and maybe even a roll of the eyes, but what I got was a nod that looked like admiration.
“Katriana, he will sketch you there. In the puppet shop.”
She looked pleased, though she said nothing. Inside the shop, he walked too close behind me and I was keenly ware of his presence with every step. The shop was small and narrow, with creaking wooden floors warped by decades, perhaps centuries of shuffling feet. Katriana walked ahead, her flame mane of hair marking her in the sea of dark, rich hues. Her dress was white, edged in eyelet lace, an exquisite thing. No way did that come from a department store. She brushed her fingertips over the wooden marionette dolls that hung from the ceiling and looked over her shoulder at Ethan. He called over a barrel chested Czech man who worked the counter and whispered something in his ear. The man nodded and his eyes widened. A moment later, the elderly woman outside was retreating to a back room, the burly man was pulling the velvet chair indoors and taking several dolls from the wall. It dawned on me what the set up would be. Ethan had arranged it, that I would sketch her in the chair, surrounded by creepy puppets. Fantastic. I opened my mouth, to say something like thank you, or great idea, when Ethan snapped his fingers at Katriana and she stepped forward.
“Yes, Sir.” Her silvery voice was accented lightly with something between British and Russian. Hmm, Sir?
“Clothes,” he said. “Off. Now.”
Without hesitation, she reached behind her to untie the delicate little straps of the sun dress. The whisp of fabric slid to the floor and underneath was nothing. She was naked. It was a struggle to maintain my composure with him behind me, so close I could feel the heat of his body, and her, exposed as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Maybe it was. She kicked away the scrap of sundress at her feet and I gulped, looking at the elegantly small breasts and the neat little triangle of hair between her legs, as ginger red as the hair that framed her face.
“Do you like her?” Ethan asked. My God, his breath right against my ear. My cock was growing hard and I had to try and maintain something like professionalism.
“Do what you want with her.”
What the fuck did that even mean? Sketch her. Of course. What else could it mean? Nothing. Just sketch her.
“OK, um… Katriana, please sit on the floor, surrounded by the puppets. That way I can get the velvet of the chair, and the grain of the wood. And… your hair. Wow, that’s amazing.”
She did whatever I asked. When I said turn slightly to the side, she did, and she did not speak at all, though her eyes twinkled as if she knew something I didn’t. I sat cross legged on the floor and watched her. My hands flew over the paper with sepia toned charcoal. I sketched everything but her hair in charcoal, then went in with pen and ink to capture the vivid red pigment of her hair. I smudged it with water, made it drip off the figure, alive. It was like automatic writing in a seance. It was electrifying and it was the best goddamned work I had ever done, by far. I sketched for hours and she sat there, her fingertips tracing little circles on the old wood floors while Ethan stoicly watched from too close. Several times he knelt beside me and watched me work, studying me like an experiment. When it was done, I sat back, exhausted.
“Now, this is good work.” Ethan stated.
“Thank you. I’m glad you like it. She is a fantastic model.”
“I am commissioning you for several more. Proper works, of course. I have several submissives I would like portraits of. You are available this week?”
Submissives? He meant people who work for him, didn’t he? Subordinates? Who has paintings done of employees.
Yes, I was naive then.
“Well, I… um…” Commissions? From Ethan Coldwater? It had the potential to make my career as an artist. Career? What career? I was a psych major at Humboldt State. Art was not a way to make a living and as much as I dreamed of being an artist, I couldn’t toss away a scholarship like that. But to be a real artist, to have work in The Coldwater Collection? A dream opportunity. “I am with friends but I can talk to them and maybe stay a few days longer than planned.”
“You will do so. Where are you staying?”
“Celenska Hostel. Ostrovni Street.”
“I will book a room for you and your friends tomorrow evening.”
“That’s… very generous of you.”
“The Kirovsky Hotel is where we are staying. You will have a room there. I expect to see you in the morning each day for sittings. My assistant, Paolo will negotiate your fee. Until then, you can reach my assistant at this number.” He gave me a small black card with the name Paolo Giovanni and a number beneath the name.
“Mr. Coldwater… I mean Ethan, I can’t thank you enough. This might change my entire life. Thank you.”
“I trust you can make it back to your hostel on your own?”
“Yeah, I’ll take the tram.”
“Excellent. Well, Andrew Thorne, it is a pleasure.”
He shook my hand again and I watched Katriana blow me a kiss from the back window of the Rolls Royce. And that was how everything changed. In a heartbeat of a moment, I knew no matter how crazy it was, I would follow him anywhere.