If to love was to live than when Levi and Damien made love late that morning, it was an unspoken way to celebrate that life. In all of Damien’s years, he had never seen anyone as shattered as Levi, nor as loyal, nor as strong. To see the actual grounds where Levi and so many others had been shot and to walk with Levi the lengthy distance which Levi had to crawl to safety without the use of his legs—all while dragging his unconscious friend to safety, fueled by a powerful combination of adrenaline and love—had been quieting. To hear the details, all the gruesome ugly details Levi had previously left unspoken, was—for Damien–to find himself unable to say anything, for any response seemed so trite. Only the language of an embrace and kisses on tear-stained cheeks, arms that squeezed so tightly they gave both sanctuary and reassurances of understanding, and a silent ear to listen to all that spilled out, seemed appropriate.
And yet, this shattered, sweet, loyal, man who had entered his life and was able to relive and face down his demons was also able to, just a few minutes later, greet Damien’s son with a cheer and hugs and kisses. Compartmentalizing this tragedy away, to deal with later, Damien watched as Levi almost visibly shut one door in his mind and threw open his loving, always-wanted-to-be-a-parent heart. Levi gave Track no inkling of there having been any tears or loud hiccoughs of crying just a bit before; he only gave him the smothering of kisses and tickles Track begged for. And when Levi proudly presented the little boy with his best friend from back home in Hollywood—Scarlett O’Hare—Track’s joy was a crazed happiness equaled by Levi’s, leaving the two of them laughing and bouncing around the hotel suite’s living room as they played with one another and the rabbit dressed as a Southern belle.
It was so admirable, Damien thought, for it was so opposite the pain Levi had struggled through when he and Damien walked the same street where he had seen such horrible sights before the bullet wounds and the bleeding had overtaken him, leaving him to awaken in a hospital bed far outside Atlanta for the trauma centers had been overwhelmed and one of the local hospitals bombed. All of the shootings and the bombings part of a coordinated terrorist attack which still left the country humbled years later.
White nationalists, able to congregate openly, plot without detection in the throes of yet another government shutdown–which left the already-decimated intelligence agencies without resources; many speculated intentionally–had done all of that. The multiple mass-shootings. The bombs on the train. The shootings on a jammed highway. The destruction of a residential tower. The bombing of a hospital.
Funny how the word “terrorist” oh so often painted an image of people with such darker skin but. . .no. Not these terrorists. These were white. Just as in Las Vegas.
It was amazing how blind America was when the person planning and plotting to kill had white skin. Color blind, as it were.
Such fine people, these Americans were, given that there were supposedly fine people “on both sides.” They themselves—those who surrendered to the police and SWAT teams–even said they had done it all in the name of America. The land of the free had given birth to gay indoctrinations and post-birth abortions, they said. It made no sense, but what did those days? When you have an adulterer known for using prostitutes become the hero of the evangelicals and that same man a rich, money-wasting buffoon become the hero to the poor, and that same man marry a model and use chain migration policies to bring her family here somehow become the savior of racists opposed to immigration. . . what could make sense?
Of course, the media was hesitant to call them what they were. Being white, instead of being labeled “Terrorists”, they were initially and, in some corners still were referred to as, “disturbed young men and women.” The president merely called them, “Misguided.” Their actions “Horrible” but not much worse. After all, the president said—as if by way of pardoning them—“They did it in the name of America.” An entire city devastated, hundreds killed, yes. But, people needed their guns, the politicians cried, and morons had let Nazism seep into normalcy because they were more interested in what was happening with the Bachelorette and electing an imbecilic game show host to the role of President than taking an hour to go vote with responsibility. Why ensure the country did not destroy itself and was not destroyed by those willing to do the undoing when Kim Kardashian and her sisters had such witticisms to sprout as, ‘Guys! I can’t read!’, as if illiteracy was an admirable quality to which one should aspire.
And there he was, just one more of those wounded by the mindlessness of it all, Damien thought. But look how he just rebounded at the sight of Track. How Track flung himself on his tottering tread toward Levi and squeeled and screamed with happiness. No trace of tragedy, no wanting for wasteful tears. Just Levi, so used to bouncing between moods already, bouncing between his realities—from mass shooting to love—with the skill of a Broadway thespian shifting from one scene’s mood to another.
When Track was sent for his nap that afternoon, in the care of the nanny, Damien made love to Levi and Levi to Damien in a way that, though unspoken, was deeper than any sex they had shared between them in the past. Whereas before, the lovemaking had been sexy and fun, playful and erotic, filthy but flirtatious, this afternoon it was quiet, gentle at times, rough at others, the two embracing something more than just the flesh of the other. Damien was making love to the man who almost died, a man he might never have known. Those bright green eyes might have been sealed forever years before they would have otherwise met. The breath Damien heard shudder as it cautiously stepped from Levi’s mouth while Damien entered him, this gasp of pleasurable pain could have been silenced forever years before.
He was certain, Damien thought, he would have felt that vacant space in his life for eternity. He had been empty for years, living on a diet of superficial men masquerading as depth-filled dreams. He had been starving to a slow death until the day he had walked down that hall and seen Levi at the entrance to that store. No, as his friends had hesitantly reminded Damien, Damien was not even supposed to know people like Levi existed; all too often they were seeking an easy way into the industry, a rich caretaker, or the prestige of being with a well-known personality. Damien thanked God he had taken the gamble on that sweet young man. The man he was making gasp and grunt and smile and cry out was the one thing he needed. To think Levi almost died in a public park, even now as Damien saw the scars on Levi’s back and had earlier licked the scars on his legs, was to ponder a possibility so frightening, it forced Damien to hold Levi tighter and push more deeply inside him, as if to make them both one, as if to bond them together so as to never let them be apart.
Collapsed and spent, panting and shaken, as they lay sprawled across each other’s sticky bodies, Levi reminded Damien what the priest who had visited Levi years ago, while he recovered, had said just that morning when they had found him on Peachtree Street: That while Levi might claim to be an atheist, but one who saw goodness and kindness, the priest had said what Levi was truly seeing was the love of God.
But, being an atheist, God had no place in Levi’s world.
So, no, Levi explained, when he saw the emanations of God: kindness. . .shelter. . .love. . .comfort. . .peace. . .Levi was not seeing God.
He was seeing Damien.
“You are my God,” Levi whispered.
The purity in those sea green eyes at that moment, free of the crazed mania or the serious glum Levi’s mind fitfully raced between, free even of that horrible trauma he had relived just that morning and would have to relive again and again until his dying day, drew Damien’s mouth to kiss their lids, their brows, and the nose and soft lips beneath.
“And you’re my salvation,” Damien confessed, drawing Levi to him, resting Levi’s face in Damien’s chest hair, running his hands through Levi’s tousled blond mop, Damien’s lips tenderly warming Levi’s scalp.
And then Levi, always hungry to bring a smile to Damien’s face, muttered in a teasing tone, “Salvation? That was good but, damn, Damie–you can never let me get the last word in, can you?”
Damien quietly laughed, his chest heaving with giggles. He waited. . .waited. . .and when all was quiet and still and they were both about to drift off in the sleepy embrace of the other, he whispered tauntingly, “Never.”