wiwikanggraini (wiwikanggraini) wrote,
wiwikanggraini
wiwikanggraini

SLASH Stranger to Stranger – Chapter VI Fifty Ways

Title: Stranger to Stranger – Fifty Ways
Author: Wiwik
Pairing: Simon & Garfunkel
Rating: NC-17
Summary: What if they didn’t meet as teenagers, but at a later time? Could you imagine them falling in love again?
Review: Thanks for beta'ing it, Nofritari!
Disclaimer: Even though this story is based on several things both Paul and Artie said over the years, this is in no way biographical. It’s an exploration of an alternative timeline.

Here's the 6th chapter of Stranger to Stranger. Paul and Art can't help being Paul and Art.

Chapter VI: Fifty Ways
Paul’s eyes followed a folded up paper being passed from student to student. In the past he would contemplate if he should confiscate it to the embarrasment of victims, or pretend he didn’t see it. These days it made him nervous since he became the victim of some of those crudely written notes. About a week back he put some boys in detention for it and he knew they weren’t pleased. He also knew they were some of the boys who didn’t approve of homosexuality, thought it was unnatural. The gossips had been there before his and Art’s performance during the music night, but they seemed to have gotten more persistent and they seemed to fuel more hate. Paul often wondered if it was his own fault.

That night didn’t quite end on a high. When he stepped out of the dressingroom back into the open, he thought he got weird looks. Could they see what they had just been doing? Did they guess they showered not because of the heated performance, but because of the intimacy behind closed doors? Unlike before they locked themselves away from their adoring audience, Paul couldn’t enjoy all the praise anymore, his mind was too busy analyzing facial expressions, body language, words. He became convinced at least some of them knew. How long could they do this without anyone interfering? How long could they do this in safety? Was it wise to try and make this work at all? What would they think of them? How would they judge them? This was asking for trouble. Yet, on the other hand, he had a taste of paradise. He discovered who he really was and he finally started to understand why his life thus far had not been particurlarly satisfactory. All the choices he made, all the decisions he took, they were not out of passion or love, they were not because he wanted it, they were because he was afraid and worried he would fall out of line and he would disappoint people.

Art made something very clear, there was love to be found beyond the traditional borders. There were good reasons not to bow to general ideas and ideoligies. There were even better reasons to follow your heart and fullfill your life’s destiny. Paul knew he made the wrong decisions landing him in a laclustre life with a laclustre job that didn’t require all the artistic energy bundled up inside of him. Paul had things to say, cultures to discover and art to shape and express all that variety with. Unfortunately, he had no clue how to get going. He also had a family to support; he couldn’t abandoned them because he wanted to go after a dream. He made a vow, he promised to be there through health and sickness, in the good and bad times. Failing in marriage was something he couldn’t face; it was too big a failure.

Maybe he should stop this nonsense and get real and grownup. He had a family to care for, he had no time for games, he couldn’t put himself and potentionally his family in danger. On the other hand, he had never before known so much passion and he had never been more sure about what he wanted to do and who he wanted to be. Could he afford this trip of discovery? Was it even fair to go ahead and try for another life? What about Olive? How was he ever going to explain to her what happened and why? Did he really want to? Why did life always have to throw such hard challenges and problems?

He let the note go, watching students quietly laugh before passing the note on. Students were not his biggest problem, the teachers were. He couldn’t afford making enemies, he couldn’t afford to have the headmaster as an enemy; he needed this job. He was looking forward to the end of the day; he’d be at Art’s tonight. Then he could concentrate on that evening, making music, talking and joking with Art, possibly, no probably more. Art was a good, passionate yet tender lover. Everything they would be doing tonight Paul wanted, with the person he wanted.

***

It was as if Paul could breath again, as if all the heavy load fell off of his shoulder the moment he stepped over the threshold of Art’s apartment. Paul knew his way around, even developed routines because he was there so often, and Art developed his routine around Paul’s. They always ended their routines in the small livingroom which had gone through some changes to facilitate their regular music sessions. Paul had claimed Art’s desk which now was the habitat of many notebooks filled with song ideas and chords. Art’s math books had moved to a small table in a corner next to the couch. The pile was reaching an impressive height. The tape recorder was sitting on the table in the middle of the room so they had easy access to it. Paul’s spare guitar had found a new home between the desk and one of the bookcases. The lounge chair was moved a little so when Paul was sitting in the chair he was facing Art sitting on the couch. They had done this so often now, they had gotten so used to their routines, it almost happened automatically.

They even settled into an understanding with Joanna. Paul would spend only two evenings at Art’s on Thursday and on Friday, and on the Friday he would even spend the night. The rest of the evenings he was at home with Joanna and the baby, unless they had a performance in one of the clubs. Art always came for dinner on the Wednesday. Joanna always cooked extra so they would have something to eat on the Thursday as well. Paul would take the dirty dishes home that same evening. On Friday it was entirely up to them. Sundays were family time and Paul was expected to be with his family for quality time or to visit family. The Monday was supposed to remain free as well, but on Tuesday Art usually came to get in some extra hours of practice. He always made sure he had eaten before he arrived.

Paul was worried Joanna was suspicious, but she never showed any signs she caught on. Paul and Art did keep to strict rules on Paul’s insistence. They weren’t allowed any touches when at Paul’s house, in case Joanna came walking into the room. Their conversations had to keep to the music making; no discussing of gossips, no discussing new ways of sneaking or better places to hide. It wasn’t hard, they would just focus extra intense on the music. They always got a lot done at Paul’s house.

The Simon’s residence had also adapted to facilitate the music sessions. The attic had been cleaned out and redecorated to function as a makeshift music studio. Paul bought some new recorders and a new guitar which he put in the attic. The guestroom was still Art’s and from time to time he stayed the night on Wednesdays when it got too late to go home.

One such evening, on a Friday at Art’s apartment. They knew they had two days, rehearsals from Friday evening to Saturday afternoon and a performance in a club on Saturday evening. Paul would go home after the performance. Art always looked forward to those evenings, but for some reason he had trouble enjoying Paul’s company. He wanted more, he needed more. He sat daydreaming while he patiently waited watching Paul tuning his guitar. He was also waiting for a good moment to discuss their relationship. He was really looking for a good moment to tell Paul he should divorce Joanna; their marriage wasn’t working. Paul was strained and irritable around Joanna. Art didn’t believe Paul got much pleasure and satisfaction out of his marriage. He even believed Paul was looking for a way out, but he had no idea how to go about it, nor did he really want to discuss it. Art could think of 50 ways for Paul to leave Joanna and even more reasons why he should. Paul dismissed them all out of hand; he didn’t even want to consider it.

Music was Paul’s escape. Art watched him submerge himself putting all obligations off, setting the real world aside for a few moments. Art was all for that normally, but he was nearly bursting now.

“What do you want?” Art suddenly dropped the question.

Paul looked up from his guitar, his fingers still on the strings: “Huh?”

Art pointed from himself to Paul and back: “What is this?”

Paul gave an irritated shake of the head, knowing full well where this conversation was going.

“What do you mean ‘What is this’?” the irritation now also clear in his voice.

Art continued: “What is it you want from me? A side boyfriend for when you had enough of your wife?”

Paul’s brow knitted into a frown: “What you’re talking about?” he avoided answering the question, but reminded Art: “You have a wife too, you know!”

“I’m going to file for divorce,” Art informed Paul. “Our marriage is over and I’d rather be with you, but I need to know you feel the same.”

“I’m not divorcing, if that is what you’re getting at.” Paul was now in full defensive mode.

“Are you so happy with Joanna then?”

Paul shifted uneasy in his seat and started plucking the strings. Art lunged forward and stopped him putting a hand on Paul’s.

“You can’t keep avoiding this conversation, neither can you keep denying your marriage is a failure.”

“My marriage is not a failure!” The outburst might have been full of venom, but even Paul wasn’t entirey sure how sincere he was. Paul took a deep breath to calm himself down. Once he was calm he said: “The marriage is only a failure when it ends in divorce.”

Art wasn’t going to give up: “ And when would you get a divorce?”

“Obviously, when the marriage isn’t working.”

“And when is the marriage not working?”

Paul pulled another annoyed face looking at Art: “Look, we’re here to practice, we have a performance tomorrow and we have a lot to do.”

It was true; they wanted to further perfect some of their harmonies and they added two new songs to their set that desperately needed working out and practice. Art decided to let it go for now.

Paul struck the first chord to set them off. Art matched the chord singing, his melodious voice settling in the melody Paul was playing and embracing Paul’s lead vocal. It was still wonderous to Art how easy it was to fit his voice to Paul’s songs. Paul probably did write towards Art’s voice, to make it fit as perfectly as he could, but it was still ridiculous how little work Art had to do to make these songs sound fantastic. The music carried their earlier discussion away and soon Art had completely forgotten what he had tried to do and make Paul do.


A few hours later, in the middle of the night, Art was stumbling around in his bedroom, putting dirty clothes in a pile near the door.

Paul looked amused at the pile when he came in in just his shorts: “You never going to have clean clothes if you don’t wash them.”

Art hummed knowingly as he crawled into bed pulling the sheets up to his nose. Paul lifted the sheets up higher than he needed to catching a quick glimpse of Art’s pale, thin form under the covers. He also held the sheets up longer than he needed to causing Art to shiver. Once he slid in he pushed himself up against Art, his cold hands on Art’s stomach and shoulder causing Art to scold him and try to pull away from Paul’s grip. It made Paul snigger. When Paul leant in to plant a kiss on his mouth, Art stayed put and let Paul kiss him. When Paul sat back Art’s eyes were wide open staring at him.

Paul knew what was on Art’s mind: “I want to be yours, but I can’t just give up on Joanna. We’ve got a baby together and we have to do everything in our power to make this marriage work.”

Art shuffled out of Paul’s embrace to have a better look at his lover.

“What am I to you? A side lover? A friend with benefits? Or just a casual fuck?”

“Art I…”

Art intererrupted quickly: “Why are you with me and not with your wife at the moment? You really believe this marriage of yours is working? Is it really this marriage that stops you from going where you need to go? I get it, it’s not easy to end it, but there are many ways to break it to Joanna. She doesn’t need to know about us. You can ease her into the idea of being apart, or you can just cut the tie, but you have to do something.”

Art paused for breath and to see how Paul was reacting. He was still, his lips pursed, his eyes dark and unreadable; it made Art nervous.

When nothing was forthcoming from Paul, Art added: “I hate to see you hurt like that. I wish I could do something to make you smile again.”

“You can,” Paul’s answer sounding something between a sob and a plead.

Eventhough Art didn’t want to give in, he shuffled back towards Paul and pulled his small frame into his arms. He kissed Paul while he pushed Paul onto his back moving till he was on top of him. He grabbed Paul’s wrist and pushed them next to Paul’s head into the pillow. Paul pushed back a little, struggling to let Art take control. He trusted Art, he’s been nothing but sweet and caring and he made Paul feel things he never knew he could feel. It was okay to give over control sometimes, as long he was going to get it back at some point.

Paul let go of the tension in his arms and he felt how Art pushed them next to his head deep into the pillow. Paul’s chest was heaving with anticipation and nerves. Art lowered himself on Paul’s still tense body, his lips gracing nose and chin before grabbing Paul’s lower lip with his teeth. He pulled drawing a moan from Paul, biting down slightly causing Paul to hiss in pain. Paul wriggled uncomfortably, a little nervous by this new turn of love making. Art’s finger tips were digging into his wrists, his teeth nipping and biting in his face and neck leaving small red marks. His abdomen was thrusting and pushing, hips grinding against each other, almost too hard for comfort.

Paul’s body reacted in heat, the blood flowing taking adrenaline everywhere. His penis becoming painfully erect, throbbing and leaking pre-cum as the testerone did its work. Paul gasped and moaned as Art kept his assault up, his tongue now deep in Paul’s mouth touching in Paul’s throat. His fingers now digging in Paul’s shoulder keeping him down. Paul could feel Art’s hard on trying to find a way in, but Paul was the wrong way around, so Art just kept stabbing him in his groin, rubbing harshly against Paul’s hard on till they both came.

Paul was still trying to catch his breath when Art sprinkled small kisses all over his face and neck, his hands now feely stroking, gentle and warm.

“Paul, I understand if you need some time to work out how to deal with this situation, but at some point you have to make a decision. This is not fair to me…or to Joanna.”

Art studies Paul’s face to see the slightest reaction. Paul’s eyes were still dark and staring away from Art. Art was sure he heard him, he was even sure Paul wasn’t ignoring him.

When Paul didn’t react Art decided to put the discussion to a rest, at least for now.

“Why don’t we both sleep on it tonight,” he said. “Maybe tomorrow you’ll know what you want to do.”

Paul still didn’t react; he lay motionless on his back and remained that way for a while, even when Art slid off of him to go to sleep.


Art’s comments kept Paul awake. The words were floating through his head, prodding and pinching him. Paul knew it wasn’t fair to Joanna, and it probably wasn’t fair to Art either. It wasn’t as simple as Art said it was and if it really was that simple, why was Art still married? Paul just couldn’t face a failed marriage, especially not since Olive was there. Paul made a promise, he took on a responsibility, nothing light-hearted. On the other hand, Joanna was getting on his nerves and he was more often looking for excuses to be out of her way. Then there was Art….

Paul could deny how he felt about Art, it was easy, it was also a lie. Truth was, Paul had fallen in love. How was that even possible? He wasn’t gay. Yet, nothing much mattered if it didn’t matter to Art. Nothing Paul did had much meaning if he couldn’t do it with Art. Never did Paul feel more comfortable and safe than when he was with Art. It was ridiculous how important Art had become to him. It was Art here, there and everywhere.

Paul watched the light of the moon move through the bedroom. The minutes were ticking by slowly while Art was hugging his pillow and making sleep sounds. Paul tossed around in bed, sometimes too confused to move, other times disgusted with himself and then the next in awe with Art again. A few times during the night he put his hand on Art’s bare back stroking the warm flesh, feeling the muscles relaxed and resting. Paul liked the sounds Art produced when he rubbed his back, the moans and hums sweet in the dark room. Paul wanted nothing else in those short minutes, only to abruptly feel disgusted with himself again. He retreated and turned around, his back towards Art. A few times during the night Paul entertained the thought of going home, or at least leaving this house with Art in it. Yet when he thought he was about to do just that, he didn’t want to leave, he didn’t want to be away from Art, so he stayed.

Paul was snoozing, only vaguely noticing the movement around him. Art got up, took the chance to use the bathroom before Paul was awake. Paul looked so small and so vulnerable; Art wanted to scoop him into his arms, rock him while telling him it was all going to be all right, they would figure it out. Maybe he should make some suggestions, give Paul options how to deal with this situation. Surely, there must be at least 50 different ways to handle this conundrum.

Art took a last look at Paul’s sleeping body before shutting the door behind him. Paul was still in lingering in his head when he was brushing his teeth and Art thought up already five ways to leave your lover before he stepped in the shower for a quick hoze down. The thing was, Art was so deeply in love, he was almost desperate to get Paul out of that marriage. That marriage, Art became more and more convinced, was not Paul’s destiny. Was Paul’s desitny with Art? Art had only once considered building a life with a man, but that didn’t work out either. Men are men and there were no gender bridges to be laid, yet it was still a relationship Art had not been able to nourish or sustain. It was a relationship and like with all relationships, it needed work and it came not only with companionship, warmth and love, but also with compromises, irritations and a whole lot of hard work. Noah had been easy, accomodating and patient with Art, something Paul would possibly not be. No, Art learnt over the last couple of months, Paul was not an easy stroll in the park. Paul was changeable, sometimes charming and lively, other times depressed and grumpy. He also wanted everything done in his particular way which caused many discussions and he could suddenly turn on you without warning. One thing was for sure, being around Paul was quite adventurous and exciting. For the first time in his life Art had sometimes trouble keeping up with Paul instead of running ahead of his partner.

When he stepped out of the shower he came up with another five ways of changing the situation. The ideas became increasingly more about Art getting the upperhand, instead of pushing Paul towards a more satisfying and healthy private situation. Still, they could all work, if only if Paul decided to take action.

Still damp and steaming from his hot shower Art reentered the bedroom where he found Paul sitting on the side of the bed still trying to wake up.

“Hey, sleepy head,” Art taunted throwing his wet towel at Paul.

Paul made no attempt to catch or avoid the towel and it hit him straight in the face. Art moved over to his wardrobe to pull out clean clothes to wear. Instead of going through the labouring process of trying to mix and match he stopped and turned to look at Paul’s sad frame. That need to scope Paul up in his arms washed over Art again. This time his legs made the decision and he walked over and sat down next to Paul, his right arm looping around Paul’s waist and pulling him into his arms. Paul was surprisingly mellow and laid his head to rest against Art’s shoulder.

“You’re right,” Paul started: “I have to do something.

Then it was quiet again. Art contemplated if he should bring up one of his suggestions, but he didn’t want Paul to get angry with him first thing in the morning, so he kept quiet.

“We could have been one of those Tom & Jerry couples,” Paul mused out of the blue.

Art looked up in confusion: “What?”

Paul turned to him: “Back in the 50’s there were a few duo’s, boys, who recorded records as Tom & Jerry. We could have been one of them, if we met earlier.”

Art had a frown on his face: “How do you even know of those Tom & Jerry’s? I never heard of them.”

Paul shrugged: “I hung around the Brill building a lot, listening in on sessions. I saw a few Tom & Jerry’s being pushed around. It stuck in my mind, because unlike them I knew they were being pushed around, but I still wanted to be in their place…” He added almost inaudibly: “With you as my Tom.”

A small flattered and touched smile appeared on Art’s face. Paul pretended he didn’t see it as he got busy rearranging his clothes on a nearby chair. His cheeks were rosy, his eyes cast down. Art watched him bemused, rosy and in love. He leant in to Paul and gently kissed him on the cheeks. Their eyes met briefly, Paul quickly retreating back into himself so he didn’t have to acknowledge his feelings for Art. That was enough for now; Art knew that was probably as much a love declaration he would get out of Paul for now. It was a step in the right direction.

***

Word was going around town there were a new duo singing folk music in harmonies. People were talking, because it was so different to all the electric offerings and all the rock groups going around these days. There was a quieter, more thoughtful approach missing and these two men seemed to be filling the void. They were not signed to any record label, they had no records out, they both had day job at a high school as teachers. They seemed like the most unlikely people to be music heroes.

Ellis sat across a table watching a blind man feeling around for his drank and his snacks. A few times Ellis nearly jumped to his feet, because he thought glasses where about to be knocked over and snacks shoved to the floor. Nothing of the sort happened, and the blind man happily snacked and drank. At some point his hand felt across the edge of the table till he found Ellis arm.

“I’m so sorry, I don’t mean to be intrusive, but I had to check, I was sure Art told me Paul brought a friend. Are you him? Oh, I’m blind, touch is my only confirmation, forgive me.”

Ellis shook his head realizing too late that had no use, so he replied: “That’s all right.”

Sandy moved his chair closer to Ellis and started a conversation over the humm of the crowd: “How long have you known Paul?”

“About ten to fifteen years,” Ellis roughly guessed.

Sandy nodded: “You met in college? Yeah, so did Art and I. You’re close friends?”

Ellis nodded again to feel really stupid a few seconds later: “Yes, I would say we are. I haven’t seen much of him lately, though. He seems to be spending a lot of time with Art.”

“Yeah, I think he has,” Sandy agreed. “They seemed to have become quite close over the last couple of months.”

Ellis didn’t reply, he was only staring at Sandy trying to figure out what to think of this whole situation. Being around Paul had always been fascinating, Paul really did a lot of things in his way, not bowing to conventional tradition and expectations. Lately, however, it seemed Paul was taking it to another level. From Joanna Ellis understood Paul was spending more and more time with Art. He was more distant and evading of Joanna. So much more even, Joanna suspected Paul wasn’t spending all that time with Art, but had a mistress on the side. Ellis felt sorry for her; she didn’t deserve to be treated like this. Eventhough he was Paul’s old friend, in this case he might pick Joanna’s side.

Ellis wasn’t only there to see Paul play, but he was also curious about this Art person. When he was with Paul, Art was all he could talk about, Art and the music they were making together. It was all very odd. Not only did Ellis want to meet Art, maybe Art knew more about what else Paul was up to; Paul seemed to be telling a lot of his secrets to him.

“Does my style of conversation offend you?” a voice asked.

Ellis was pulled out of his reverie: “Oh, no! No, not at all. I was just thinking of…uh….of the things that been happening lately.”

“Like Art and Paul spending pretty much all their time together these days?”

“Yes, actually.”

Sandy hummed, a thoughtful frown on his face: “You noticed too huh?”

Knowing Art Sandy wasn’t sure how much he could say; he wasn’t even sure Art was doing what he’d done before. Maybe this time it really was all about music, it sure was something Art was very excited about, gushing to Sandy about how good they sounded together and how well Paul wrote for his voice. With Sandy being in Washington DC he had only spoken to Art over the phone. They would update each other about their activities and projects; Sandy would tell him the proceedings about his mission to end blindness and Art would tell him about how boring school was, but how exciting his private life was. The last couple of months had all been about Paul and their music. So much so about their music, Sandy wasn’t sure what Paul exactly was to Art.

“Are you and Art close?” This time it was Sandy being pulled back into the present.

“Hmmm? Uhm, we used to be closer…We’re still good friends….Art is important to me, he basically put my life back on track…and…well…I owe him everything.”

“Everything? That’s a lot!”

“Yes, it is a lot, but it’s also true. Without Art I wouldn’t have been able to finish grad school.”

Ellis decided to see if Sandy knew more: “You feel he’s spending less time with you and more with Paul?”

“Oh, I live in Washington D.C. these days. We don’t see that much of each other anymore. We keep in contact though….He’s been talking about Paul a lot. Why? Don’t you see Paul that often anymore?”

“He seems to be practizing with Art all the time.”

“Yeah, Art does take his singing very serious.”

“So does Paul; he can be relentless….We used to do little theatrical pieces in school. Paul wrote a lot of the stuff and put us through hours and hours of rehearsals. I think I’m still recovering from that.”

Sandy laughed: “They sound like a match made in heaven.”

Ellis looked around noticing the club got quite a bit busier and a lot of excited people were crowding in front of the stage.

“Quite a buzz,” Ellis observed.

“It got quite a bit busier, huh?” Sandy checked his suspicion.

“Yeah, they seem to really come for Paul and Art.”

“You might be right; I actually heard people talking about them earlier.”

“Really!? So they’re actually good?”

Sandy shrugged: “I don’t know, though Art is a good singer, but I don’t know how good Paul is.”

“Paul is a fairly good guitar player. Not sure about his singing.”

“I’m sure he’s good at singing, otherwise Art wouldn’t be so enthusiastic,” Sandy reasoned.

“If you say so,” Ellis murmured.


The lights dimmed and the crowd was getting excited. There were only two mics, a high chair and a table in the back on stage. The regulars knew what to expect; the duo had been playing here before to great success. The setup was very bare; only one guitar and two voices, but it worked. The sparse setting and instrumentation gave room to the voices soaring and blending together. It was truly something else.

Ellis craned his neck to try and see the stage. Being in the back of the venue at a table meant the view was bad to none-existant. Ellis figured he could get up and leave Sandy behind, but that seemed wrong. Besides, it was all about the music and Art strongly requested him to keep Sandy company. One thing Ellis could already say about Art; he was very caring. But Sandy was not a small child, he was a grownup and an intelligent man with strong intuition.

“You want to go stand closer to the stage?”

Ellis felt already guilty: “No no, that’s okay!”

Sandy was already standing up: “I might be blind, but I can stand in crowds.” He was already feeling around the table and moving towards the stage.

Ellis got up in a hurry to make sure Sandy wasn’t tripping and falling and lead him as close to the stage as they could get. Even their entrance was off beat; they came walking up, Art shyly waving while Paul just nodded at the audience before he walked to the table to put down one of his guitars. The other one he hung in front of his chest checking and tuning the strings one last time. Art stood to the left, his hands on his back, looking at Paul and waiting for him to get ready. Just before Paul was to start, Art started fumbling with the height of his mic now leaving Paul to wait for him. They looked odd; Art towering over Paul, his curls a light, fuzzy mess, an unfashionable sweater and black jeans. Paul looked dark, nearly disappearing in the dim light in his black t-shirt and blue faded jeans. Art stood a little hunged forward trying to lessen the height difference, skinny and pale. Paul pulled himself up to his full height, slick, jet black hair, chest puffed out. They stood still. Ellis looked beside him at Sandy, it was such a shame he couldn’t see this odd spectacle.

The guitar sang its first chords and was soon joined by Paul’s voice singing the lead. Then complementing Paul’s vocals, Art’s voice floated in, like a dream on a summer night. The voices wrapped around each other creating this magical harmony. It really was something else. When Ellis looked beside him, he saw Sandy’s face lifted up towards the stage. Ellis wondered how Sandy experienced this performance.

Sandy sang with Art, back in their student room. Art really taught him the joy of singing and singing together. At some point they had gotten quite good. Listening to Art singing with this Paul was a whole other experience. Sandy instantly understood why Art was so enthusiastic about their music. There was something magical to how the voices blended together. Sandy didn’t even know harmonies, vocals could be this different. He could also tell the rest of the audience agreed, because nobody dared to make a sound, afraid of disrupting the magic. Over the whole performance, they didn’t drop a note, they hardly made any mistakes and when they did, the mistakes were so small, most people didn’t even realize they made a mistake. Just by listening, both Ellis and Sandy could tell Paul and Art put a lot of work and a lot of hours into their craft. It really came to show they were both perfectionists.

After Paul and Art finished their performance, the crowd moved in droves away from the stage, pushing and pulling to get through. It made Ellis nervous since a blind man was clutching to his arm trying to keep himself upright. Sandy seemed braver than Ellis, giving him a knowing smile while he stood his ground while Ellis desperately elbowed some people out of the way struggling not to be pushed over and take Sandy down with him in the process. When Ellis saw some space to move back to a table he gently tugged at Sandy’s arm leading him away from the floor. Unscathed they reached a table and Ellis sat Sandy down with obvious relief.

Sandy laughed: “That was quite an adventure, huh?”

Ellis hadn’t recovered enough to find it funny: “Sure…” he replied not loud enough for Sandy to hear.

“Well, my friend, it seems we’ve been replaced,” Sandy joked.

This time Ellis laughed too: “Yeah, Paul always did complain I never kept up with him.”

Sandy continued: “Mind you, I couldn’t do that anyway.”

“No,” Ellis sighed, “Neither could I.”

Sandy was still confused about Art’s relationship with Paul, so he went back to their earlier conversation: “What do you think about their relationship?”

“Their relationship?” Ellis sounded incredulous. “ You mean, their friendship?”

Sandy explained: “They seem very close.”

Ellis was confused about this line of questioning: “Yeah, sure.”

“Well, they seem very close,” Sandy tried again, this time emphasizing on ‘very’.

“What are you getting at?”

“Art didn’t take just girls to our room,” Sandy explained.

Ellis was dumbfounded; he didn’t see that one coming. He quickly decided it was a ridiculous notion: “No, they’re just friends. Paul is married, you know!”

“So, is Art,” Sandy informed Ellis.

Ellis was once again speechless: “Really!?” There was no way Paul would go that way. Thinking it over, for Ellis it was clear; Paul was straight, so there was no way Paul and Art were in that kind of relationship.

“No no,” he firmly replied: “Paul is straight; he doesn’t fall for men….Are you sure Art has….done…things..like that?”

Sandy smiled at Ellis’ doubt and disbelief: “It was pretty clear.”

Realizing Ellis was shocked, Sandy apologized: “I’m sorry, I didn’t think. I’m so used to Art and how and what he is, I sometimes forget some people lead more traditional lives.”

Ellis was staring ahead, not responding to Sandy. Did Paul know? He should warn him.

Sandy by now had the feeling he was talking to a brick wall: “Listen,” he tried to sooth Ellis’ mind: “I’m not saying he’s in a love with Paul, I was just wondering what you thought. If you say Paul is totally straight, I believe you.”

“I’m sure they’re just really close. You know, like best friends. I know other men who are best friends like that.”

“Sure,” Sandy agreed. “They could be just close friends.”

Sandy understood Ellis needed time to process this new information, so he once again decided to drop the subject. To his relief Art came to their table to take them backstage. Sandy wasn’t even sure Ellis was following them when Art led him to the dressingroom.

Art was once again excited: “What you think of us? Paul wrote all the songs, aren’t they great? And he’s a great guitar player as well.”

“Yeah,” Sandy agreed, “you both were great.”

It turned out Ellis did follow them to the dressingroom and soon they were out of the club and sitting somewhere quiet with beverages and snacks discussing Paul and Art’s performance. Both Paul and Art were in good spirits; the performance had gone well. Sandy noticed the way Paul and Art interacted with each other, only needing half a word, making in-jokes and sometimes even finishing each others sentences. They behaved like a married couple. Ellis was very quiet, observing their banter and analyzing their behavior no doubt, possibly collecting proof Paul and Art were just good friends. Sandy wondered if Ellis was going to confront Paul, Sandy sure hoped to have a good conversation with Art before he went back to Washingto D.C.

***

Art was helpful as always, packing Sandy’s bag and getting him ready to go back to Washington D.C.

“Before I leave, let’s talk; we haven’t talked properly yet.”

Art paused to look at Sandy who sat on the bed waiting for Art to react.

“What you want to know?” Art easily gave in.

“Are you in love with Paul?”

Art was afraid that was what Sandy wanted to know. He played a bit with a piece of clothing, putting answering off as long as he could. Eventually he asked: “Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why do you want to know that? Do I look like I’m in love?”

Art grimaced at his own question mumbling: “Sorry.”

“Figure of speech,” Sandy waved it away. “You do sound like you’re in love.”

Art threw the clothing in the bag with an exasperated sigh.

“Maybe. Yes..I don’t know!”

Sandy could tell something was nagging at Art: “He’s not in love with you?”

“I told you, I don’t know!”

“No, you didn’t tell me…I talked to Ellis….Paul’s friend…”

“Yes, I know who Ellis is,” Art was now unpacking Sandy’s suitcase and folding his clothes all over again.

“Ellis seems convinced Paul is straight as an arrow.”

Art was laying the neatly folded shirts back in a pile in the suitcase whispering: “Oh.”

“So, what is going on between you and Paul? And what are you doing to my clothes?”

Art lay the last shirt in the suitcase and closed it: “I’m packing your suitcase.”

“Didn’t you already do that?”

Art went to sit next to Sandy: “Paul’s married and he’s not willing to give up his marriage.”

“Does he love her? Did you two do things?”

Art sighed again: “Yeah, we did, And I think his marriage is pretty much falling apart at the moment. He isn’t home a whole lot, seems to be evading Joanna…Oh, that’s his wife’s name, Joanna.”

“Because of you?”

Art smiled, eventhough he knew Sandy couldn’t see it. “You know Sandy, there’s nothing you can do about this. I appreciate your interest though.”

Sandy huffed: “Interest!? Oh no, it’s purely self-interest. If you run off with Paul, I’m going to have to find another best friend.”

Art laughed: “Naah, you don’t need me! Besides, you’ve got a wife now who can let you out.”

They both laughed. Sandy knew Art didn’t want to talk about it any further, so he let it go.

***

Paul sat on Ellis’ couch eating a salad and suspiciously looking at his old friend. What got into him, he was so quiet? Paul had the dreading feeling Ellis suspected something, but Paul wasn’t ready to talk about it, or explain what was going on. Hell, he hadn’t even quite figured it out for himself.

Still, he hated this silence so he cautiously tried to start a conversation: “Are you okay? You’re very quiet.”

“You’ve been spending a lot of time with Art lately.”

Paul was immediately suspicious about where the conversation was going. “Does it bother you? I know, I should have called you at least.”

Ellis gave a polite smile: “That’s okay, it’s just…I was talking to Art’s friend, Sandy. He told me Art used to bring boys to their room. I mean, I don’t know if you know that about him.”

Paul’s thoughts were racing through the options he had. He could pretend he didn’t know and act shocked. He could admit he knew and deny anything was going on between and Art and him, or he could come completely clean with Ellis. He wasn’t sure he was ready to come out, but he also wasn’t sure he could lie to Ellis. Right now the middle option seemed the most workable.

“Yeah, Art told me. He’s very open about it.” Paul studied Ellis face to see his reaction.

Ellis seemed unsure for a moment; his mouth half open, a question on his lips. Paul hoped he wasn’t blushing, he hoped Ellis couldn’t read the guild off of Paul’s face.

After a moment hesitation Ellis inquired: “Has he ever hit on you?”

Now Paul was sure he was blushing and he quickly turned to his salad taking a bit bite hoping Ellis didn’t notice. He took his time chewing and swallowing the salad, trying to control his composure.

When he finally swallowed he carefully formulated an answer: “He told me early on he falls for guys. I told him I didn’t.” Paul was actually quite content with the answer, because it was only half a lie. He quickly looked at Ellis to confirm the answer was accepted. Ellis seemed content with the answer too.

Paul felt a little shock going through his body when Ellis dropped a last question: “So you and Art are just friends?”

“Yeah!” Paul replied too quickly to his own liking, but the reply satisfied Ellis.

Ellis had his confirmation, but something was still not right: “Are you spending all your time with Art?”

Paul seemed disappointed the conversation wasn’t finished. In frustration he couldn’t help but snap: “Yes! Why!?!?”

“Joanna thinks you’re cheating on her.”

Paul let the fork descend into his salad. For a moment he didn’t know what to say.

“You are spending a lot of time away from home. You’re sure there’s no-one else?”

It slowly dawned on Paul Ellis thought he was seeing another woman: “No, there’s no-one else! I’ve been working on our music with Artie. Honestly!”

Ellis was staring at him, trying to decide if he should believe Paul and trying to figure out how to make clear something was wrong in his marriage.

Paul sighed as he put the salad on the table with a clunk: “Okay, you’re right; Joanna and I aren’t doing great at the moment. Marriage is nothing like I imagined it to be. It’s hard, you know. I just need some time to work things out.”

“Shouldn’t you be talking to Joanna about this?”

“Yeah, I’m going to,” Paul assured Ellis.

Ellis didn’t seem convinced, but he let it go with an: “Okay…”

***

Art noticed Paul was particularly restless, moving around Art’s small living room without direction or goal. Art sat on his couch watching; he could guess what was bothering Paul. Since their performance, the one Sandy and Ellis attented, Paul’s visits had been less frequent. He was catching up with what Ellis was doing, was Paul’s excuse. That was fine, but what Art didn’t like was Paul retreating at school as well. Paul was not an easy talker, not when it came to personal issues. Another reason why they hadn’t discussed their relationship and how to proceed was Art’s inability to talk emotions and personal relationships. On top of that, every time they tried to discuss their relationship, somehow they couldn’t seem to be able not to start squabbling. So all that needed saying remained unsaid and Paul kept wandering the room like an aimless zombie with Art sort of ignoring it.

Art was about to suggest to just start practice when Paul stopped wandering around, sighed loudly and turned to Art.

“Ellis asked if I knew you fall for guys. Ellis also thinks I’m cheating on Joanna. He’s been talking to her; she might have put that idea in his head. I think Joanna thinks I’m cheating on her.”

Art stopped playing with the paper in his hand and gave Paul an exasperated look.

“It’s hardly surprising Joanna thinks you’re cheating on her,” Art said.

Paul gave a defeated look back as Art continued: “You are cheating on her,” emphasizing ‘are’.

Paul knew where this conversation was going and he was already waving it away when Art started his whine.

“Paul! You have to do something and I still think it’s best to end things with Joanna.”

“It’s not that easy, Art!”

“No, nothing’s easy about this! Talking about this with you isn’t easy! Talking to anyone about this isn’t easy!! Doing this, being in a relationship with you isn’t easy!!! Just doing the relationship with you isn’t easy!!!” Art was really shouting at this point.

Paul gritted his teeth, his lips curling in anger, his eyes dark like the night; a storm was oncoming.

Paul was seething: “Unlike you, I treat people with respect. I take my responsibility and unlike you, I don’t live in a dreamworld where everything goes according to Art Garfunkel’s ways,” his voice was a low, calm threat, one with menace and controlled anger.

Paul’s anger only fed Art’s and Art preferred to avoid fights like these as much as possible. Without even thinking about it he got up and stormed out of the room and out of his house cursing and spitting while he did it.

Paul was left behind, still gritting his teeth and staring angrily at the door Art had just disappeared through.
Tags: simon & garfunkel, stranger to stranger
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