There was a letter in Eddie’s locker waiting for him. A cream envelope sealed with tape and when he opened it, there was a single sheet of paper folded in half.
A good soldier has no mistress but duty.
Typed out and unsigned but his hands shook as he replaced it in his trousers pocket. He checked his shave but could not meet his eyes. The thought of Harlan made him shudder.
It would be a conversation, all Eddie needed to do was have Harlan come to him. Then John could talk about the review with him and it would all be settled.
The fact that someone else knew was equally a relief and a nagging, sick ache in his temples.
His feelings had been a animal that hunted him since adolescence, a yearning that assaulted him, threatened him with the power of it. Resisting his sexuality had been like trying to take flight without leaving the ground. The flat, ugly jokes and the fear had made the need to keep that part of him safe. He hid it deep, mocking the merest digression from the sexual identity that was a loud, brash roar.
Harlan had seen through it. A long look that made him seethe at the implication. Shouting the words despite the sharp prickle as it surged up his throat. The ulcer and the blood in the bowl. Fever dreams of taut limbs and downy peach skin.
Harlan, serene and aloof except for an insightful barb that deflated anyone who crossed him. He took a beating, not from Eddie. Avery rose up like Old Testament God, three ball players, one with a ruptured testicle and even that was an accident. More pain than injury which was what scared people about him. Not a sadist but someone who knew that pain was a teacher and broken bones healed faster than memories.
He couldn’t trust himself to touch him. Had to get drunk or high to touch a woman.
Then walking around, one summer, saw him reading beneath a tree with his hair faling in his eyes.
He watched himself approach as though from a distance. What happened was sound tracked with silence as loud as thunder.
What disarmed him most was Harlan’s discretion, handled with a maturity that made Eddie feel like a coy, golden colt being handled by an experienced cowboy.
Years and against it all, Eddie learned that love held a strength but it was outmatched by the weight of expectation. The only time that Harlan had wept was when Eddie had told him about the engagement.
All of it and it had been John Turner who had coaxed betrayal from his heart.
He drove around. Sent Harlan a message arranging for an assignation with an atavistic reflex. He didn’t switch on the radio, love songs stung like hornet jabs and the day faded into a civil, lazy twilight.
Just a meeting but John hadn’t called and Eddie wondered if it had all been a bizarre test. He rolled down the window and looked out at the lonely stretch of road. Part of him had ran down it a million times. Harlan had said that he would take him to New York, that no one who mattered cared about who slept with who anymore.
‘Homophobia is like hating the moon.’ Harlan had said, as they’d laid under the trees one summer evening. Eddie had ground his teeth together, wanting a life but so terrified by the want and the disappointment that haunted him. It had gone unsaid and Harlan had stopped asking.
Eddie knew that he would never stop hoping. He was thinking about him with a power that cut off his senses.
So when he heard the tap and saw the bruised fruit features of Garrett, his instincts were off, rusted with the damp heat of a love just out of reach. He did not recognize him and Garrett had that room temperature iq charm and a convincing story about car trouble. Good enough to get him out of the car and that was where he saw that Garrett had worn gloves. He went for his sidearm but a thick, swollen fist swung into the small of his back and then he was on his knees.
With Garretts fingers clamping a cloth across his face, the fumes shutting down everything, Eddie had time enough for a memory of Harlan laughing in his arms and then nothing.