This chapter (along with several others) was cut when one of the plotlines in an early draft of Just Like Honey didn’t end up working with the final story. In between what is now the first and second halves of the book, Ryan considered giving up art and looked for another job. Here he and Ben fight about it. Slight spoilers for the first half of the book.
Ben came back in to what would soon be the main room of QYRA, carrying another can of paint. Jamie had described it as a ‘hang out space.’ Even once the furniture was in it would surely be large enough for twenty or thirty people to hang out in.
Kneeling near where Ryan was working, Ben pried open the new can and filled the paint tray’s reservoir. The torn collar of his raggedy blue and gold UC Santa Barbara sweatshirt flashed a bit of collarbone when he bent down.
“Everyone else good?” Ben asked the room.
Ben circled the room, making sure even those who didn’t request had enough paint. “Bet you guys would all rather be out painting the town instead.”
Ryan wasn’t close enough hear Ben’s faint chuckle, but he knew it was there. A couple guys groaned at the terrible joke.
“Not if we’re painting it this suburban housewife color, miss thing. Give me red any day. Painting the town this bland old color would have us all sedated in an hour.”
“Girl, you’re in bed by eight every night.”
Ben’s rounds brought him back to Ryan, where he accepted the clean roller Ryan held.
“Thanks again for coming.” He kissed Ryan’s cheek before hitting the partially dry area Ryan had already covered. “Probably not the kind of painting you hoped to do on your day off.”
“Happy to help. Glad to be here with you.” An opportunity to spend time with Ben when Ryan wasn’t sure he’d see Ben outside of a few minutes before bed if he didn’t come along today. Still he was happy to help out.
About a third of the Gay Men’s Chorus and many of their partners had shown up to get it ready as part of their volunteer day. They were making quick work of it over all, but even with five other people working in this room it was taking awhile. Perhaps if Jamie hadn’t been so particular about the walls, doors, and trim all being separate but too similar colors. One wall was waiting to be dry enough to be completely redone because the first team that started with it got the colors switched.
“We’ll get dinner somewhere good when we’re done,” Ben answered reading Ryan’s mind about how little they’d seen each other this week.
After the lunch with Ryan’s parents their schedules hadn’t intersected well. Before Ryan might have missed Ben but reveled in the extra undisturbed studio time. Now he was just lonely, depending on Veronica and Gramma for company more often than he had ever before. Everyone else seemed to have no time for him.
Ryan watched the roller mask the walls, a pinky cream covering the old industrial green. They hadn’t primed, no one thought to get primer, so it would be three turns around the room as the paint dried behind them, hoping to get enough coverage. Only able to use his right arm, not switching hands like Ben was, Ryan’s shoulder would be sore later. Another reason to prevent him from his own acts of creation.
“I’m glad this isn’t my regular job, this is hard work!” The man in clean, new painter’s pants behind them called. Ryan uncharitably wondered if the man would be annoyed if he got actual paint on his carefully planned outfit.
“That’s okay,” someone answered, “none of us could do your actual job! At least you can do this.”
Some laughter twittered through the group. Ryan wondered what his job was that no one one else could do. All the possible kinds of jobs had been on his mind this week while he was home alone, doing nothing else.
“Dinner would be nice.” Ryan realized he’d never answered Ben.
“Since we’re on this side of town we could revisit our first date. What did you call it? Ree-shard’s?”
The only Dicks’ Drive-In with indoor seating. The fancy one. Ryan laughed. “I don’t think at the time you properly appreciated how special it was that I took you there.”
“I was too busy appreciating being with you,” Ben said. “I was maybe a little confused about how thrilled you were about something that looked like a 1970s McDonald’s.”
Ryan watched his roller lighten the undercoat, remembering that first night. Someone had given Ben a list of scenic things to do in Seattle so he suggested a walk along the water front, through Myrtle Edwards park. They’d ended up on Lower Queen Anne, a place Ryan had rare occasion to go, and Ryan couldn’t pass up the novelty of Richard’s, always said with the French pronunciation, the only Dick’s Drive-In that you could sit in.
It was maybe then that Ryan fell for him. He was good looking, sure, but he looked so pleased with himself over his juvenile jokes and was so earnest about everything including the jokes.
Two years later and they knew each other much better but Ryan worried the shine had worn off for Ben. Work. Volunteering. He was gone all the time now. He remained something to still be discovered, known better. Ryan just wished they had the time to do it. Ever since his emergency room visit he couldn’t shake the sense that if he didn’t do just the right thing, that their relationship would be in danger.
“I hope we can manage something nicer than Ree-shar’s. Someplace we can talk.”
“What do you want to talk about?” Ben asked.
Ryan paused. Saying it could wait lent awkward drama to the whole thing, anything else started the conversation now. But there was nothing to fight about, no reason not to discuss it quietly in a room full of people.
“I’m going to start looking for another job.”
They dragged the paint tray further down the wall as they moved down the wall. The three men working the opposite wall started softly singing “Don’t Lose the Magic.”
“Doing what?” Ben asked too long a pause.
“I don’t know. Something more stable. More satisfying.”
“I thought you liked working at Nordstrom.”
“Commission isn’t a reliable way to make money when there’s a mortgage to pay.” Ryan heard the words in his father’s voice. Arthur the ultimate in financial practicalities would be so proud of Ryan’s choices. So proud Ryan almost didn’t want to tell him.
They painted down the wall, tension filling the space between them. There was no reason for this to be a big deal, but Ryan regretted bringing it up here.
Ben’s hand brushed low across Ryan’s back. “What this is about?”
“What?” Ryan turned to look, but Ben’s attention was back on the wall.
“Are you regretting your decision? It’s not too late to back out. We’d lose the earnest money, but no real harm done. Well, we’d have to find someplace else to live.”
“I’m not regretting my decision, I’m committing to it.”
“If you’re worried about money— Well, I wish you’d let me help you? Your stubborn pride hurts both of us, can you see that? We could both have what we want.”
“What do we both want?” Ryan shoulder ached, but if stopped running the roller up the wall he’d have to look at Ben.
“You could work less. Have more studio time.”
“Are you boys fighting?”
Ryan flinched at the intrusion. Jamie snuck behind them, Ryan hadn’t even seen him enter the room. “No—”
“Because you should really read M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled. I finished it last night and it’s so good. It’ll really encourage you to do do the work you need to for a healthy relationship. I mean you always have to work on yourself, right?”
“More professional than personal. Ryan’s thinking of switching careers.” Ben supplied.
“Oh to what?” Jamie clapped his hands. “You could always come work for me.”
Ryan imagined he saw shadow cross Ben’s face at that. “What could I do here?” It was meant only a friendly conversational filler, but Ryan was curious what Jamie would say, since he had little idea himself of what he could really do.
“Uh, well, teach art, I guess? We could make some sort of art events for the kids. Hmm, is that really a job? Better than Nordstrom? I can’t offer benefits.”
For all the time when they were together that Jamie had scorned Ryan’s job, now he had a case for it.
“Yeah, I think I need more than that.”
Ben’s lips pressed in a thin line.
“Well, I have a copy of What Color is Your Parachute you can borrow and if I need painting I know who to go to because you’re doing a fantastic job!” Jamie squeezed Ryan’s shoulder, an apology for intruding and moved to talk to the guys working the doors.
When Jamie was out of earshot, Ben chuckled. “I’m always surprised he doesn’t suggest The Celestine Prophecy.”
“No, he gave that up for Khalil Gilbran a while ago. It’s weird though, he wasn’t really that invested in all those books when I dated him. It’s like it’s gotten worse over the years.”
Around the room everyone had taken up singing. Not everyone at once, but when someone stopped to talk it seemed someone else took it up. Ryan wondered if they were all half eavesdropping, wondering why Ben wasn’t joining in. It should have been pleasant, doing good work on an autumn afternoon, surrounded by joyful people, singing while they worked, singing well. But Ryan was too busy searching for a way out of the conversation about taking Ben’s money.
“If I let you help, how will I have medical coverage? I need some place with benefits as good as where I am, otherwise it’s too much of a burden.”
Ben didn’t return to painting. He remained close, his body, rigid, confrontational. “Benefits? You’re going to make this about benefits?”
Ryan shook his cast in front of him. “I couldn’t have afforded this without out it. What do you want me to say? Things have changed I need to be more practical.”
“No, practicality is why you stay at Nordstrom. Something else isn’t going to afford you the same flexibility. Certainly not for the same benefits.” The hostility Ben put on the last word was enough that Ryan was sure now they were talking about something much more than him looking for a job.
“Are you really upset that I said I want a stable job with benefits?”
Ben’s body sagged and he leaned down to pick up his roller from the edge of the tray. Ryan was aware of the silence around them only when everyone else suddenly started talking again as if they hadn’t been eavesdropping.
“I just wish you’d tell me what’s really going with you,” Ben said so softly Ryan had to lean in to hear.
And there it was. Even with Ryan’s post hospital renewed commitment to their relationship, his post mortgage application determination to make their lives more stable, they were still having the same fight. Nothing had changed, but it wasn’t what Ryan meant when he privately wished for a return to the way things were.