How Steven met Adrian, and their friendship before This Charming Man. Pieces of this made its way into the book but much was cut from earlier drafts.
Steven and Adrian found each other six years ago. The weekend they met, Steven was in Seattle from Issaquah, the suburb where he grew up, searching for an apartment. The day after that first encounter at Club Broadway, Adrian took Steven shopping for flashier clothing to wear out the next night. They spent the whole weekend together, went for pizza before the club and breakfast the next morning.
Over bitter coffee at the Madison IHOP at 4 am Adrian said, Just come live with me. My roommate is leaving soon and we’re perfect together. Look at us, Adrian waved a hand over the new sparkling red-and-black striped shirt, and red jeans he’d picked out for Steven. We look perfect together, totally irresistible, everyone will want to be us. Don’t you want that?
Steven moved in right before school started.
The sharp angles of Adrian’s face, brutal in their beauty, were heightened by his soft, wide mouth. Adrian was more beautiful than anyone Steven had ever seen in real life. Everything about Adrian, a heady whirlwind of glamour and excitement, was so different than Steven’s previous life that it was easy to be sucked into the drama.
Under Adrian’s influence, the staid, responsible Steven disappeared. He was now constantly waiting for the next big thing, for whatever excitement buzzed around the next corner, just out of sight. Even when excitement didn’t materialize, the waiting became a thrill, anticipation greater than merely plodding through life being practical and reliable.
Still, those first couple of months had been confusing. Adrian demanded more time and attention than Steven’s one previous boyfriend ever had. Yet every time they went out, Adrian hooked up with a different guy. It’s no big deal if you like me, Adrian said casually one night as they got dressed together. We look so perfect together, I know, but you’re not my type. Unless you’re secretly rich. Steven laughed with Adrian at that, and swallowed his disappointment.
After that, they fell into a comfortable pattern of close but merely friendly engagement. Still, Adrian was so beautiful that Steven couldn’t look at him directly. In this moment Adrian was some godlike, an unobtainable ideal. Not sure whether he wanted Adrian or just wanted to be him, Steven circled Adrian, always glad for any attention. Free, flamboyant and out there all the time, every minute with Adrian was a fabulous party, even when it was that kind of party where people got drinks thrown in their faces if Adrian’s temper turned.
Though only a year older, Adrian acted like Steven was some fresh young bumpkin ready to be made into a polished city kid under Adrian’s tutelage. He fussed over Steven and handed him rejected lovers and clothing like each was a benevolent gift of equal importance. Every new experience they shared was another lesson in how to be cool. At eighteen Steven wanted to prove to everyone that their impression of him as reliable and safe was wrong, wrong, wrong. With enough time, he hoped Adrian’s carefree attitude would rub off on him, make him into someone as desirable as Adrian.
Through the fabulous, endless party that was Adrian’s life, Steven managed to attend classes at Seattle Central Community College while working at the Fred Meyer store on Broadway. Adrian had an endless string of jobs. A new one always popped up, bestowed by an admirer or a lover when the last one ended. Adrian’s budget for clothes, drugs and going out far outweighed what he could have earned at any of those jobs, but Steven never asked how Adrian did it. Steven’s good Lutheran parents taught him that you never discussed politics, money or religion. Eighteen year old Steven thought that was sound advice, a grown-up way to act.
Despite the time he spent partying with Adrian, Steven passed his classes, doing well in many of them those first two years in community college. His beautiful Pakistani anthropology professor said that Steven had an exceptional grasp of the nuances of linguistic anthropology. So Steven took more language classes, branching out from his native French and high school Spanish into Japanese and German. He brought home books to study for his future profession, and visited the University of Washington’s Anthropology department, ready to apply when he finished his two-year degree. When high, he told anyone who’d listen about how interesting linguistics was.
He was passionate, but the allure of Adrian’s life dulled that passion. Steven ended up taking two years off before finally getting it together, entering the University of Washington to finish his studies.
The first shade on Adrian’s bright light came from Lisa, a smart returning student at SCCC, six years Steven’s senior. They met through calculus class. The second week of classes, she approached him in the library. I think you’re the only one in our class who has any idea what’s going on, she’d said. Please explain this to me. I thought I was smart enough but this shit is hard. For the rest of the term, Steven helped Lisa with math assignments. They bonded as Steven talked Lisa through her recent break up.
Lisa, in turn, supported him through every dalliance and would-be relationship Steven had. She listened with an understanding Steven had never experienced before. However, once early on, when she came out dancing with them, she’d pulled Steven aside and said, Sweetie, how can you be as crazy smart as you are yet stupid enough to stick by Adrian? He’ll break your heart if he doesn’t get you thrown in jail first. I will always bail you out, but you need to look carefully at what you’re into.
At first, Steven chalked that up to how Adrian often rubbed people the wrong way when they first met, but her criticism of their friendship grew over the years, though never enough to dim Steven’s enthusiasm for the rush he got from the ongoing revelry with Adrian.
That first year he knew Adrian, Duran Duran’s ‘Wild Boys’ was their shared anthem. For six years, Steven and Adrian danced and drank their way through endless strings of boyfriends who never stayed longer than a few weeks. They danced to Tear for Fears, Depeche Mode, and Madonna, while the wild boys came and went, as did shared favorite songs, jobs, drugs and friends.
They went to the same round of clubs, recognized and wanted everywhere. Or at least everyone wanted Adrian, and Steven stood in Adrian’s glow, grateful to be lit by him, waiting for Adrian to finally notice Steven’s own light.
Just good friends who had sex when no one else was available meant no jealousy when either of them found someone else. It wasn’t like Steven was in love with Adrian. Adrian was impossible: flighty, unreliable, sometimes outright mean, though never to Steven.
Adrian’s attention was fluctuating, inconstant. His liaisons could last weeks or only minutes. Adrian could wander away with first shiny boy that caught this eye and be back thirty minutes later, rolling his eyes at Steven before looking around for the next conquest. Once, at a house party, a former paramour had approached while Adrian was chatting up his next mark and called him a whore. “You sneaky little slut, taking everything you can get, then just disappearing. I wouldn’t be surprised if you fucking stole from me too,” the man had spat, his face red, close into Adrian’s.
“You needy little troll, you think this will get me back? Not only do you have nothing worth stealing, you couldn’t even make me come, even if you’d been able to stay hard,” Adrian had snapped. The color had drained out of his victim’s face, though he stood, locked place by the verbal assault as Adrian had whirled around and grabbed Steven and dragged him out the door.
On the street, his indignation rising to anger, Adrian had clutched Steven’s arm hard enough to bruise. “Can you believe that little bitch? Girlfriend didn’t deserve this ass to begin with. Let’s go home.” Adrian had released Steven, winding an arm around Steven’s waist as they walked, keeping him close. Slightly drunk, Steven had felt protective and needed. Adrian’s body heat against him, stirring his thoughts, the deeper feelings that stayed locked down, rising up now.
Calm by the time they reached their apartment Adrian had hugged Steven and said into his neck, “I’m sorry if you wanted to stay, but I needed you with me.” Stroking the side of Steven’s face, Adrian’s voice dropped to a whisper, “You never accuse me, never disappear.”
“I’ll always be here,” Steven said, afraid of what he’d reveal if he said more. They stood close, outside the door until Adrian got antsy and wiggled away. “I need to wash this night off me,” he declared. “Will you make me something to eat?”
Steven had never met a man that could distract him from the strange gravity that kept him in Adrian’s orbit. Even when he drifted with the men who took him out, kissed him and fucked him, Steven came back whenever Adrian called. Cooked for him, cared for him, gratified to have someone pleased with the effort Steven put forth, after six years they’d become a unit, though never quite a couple. Now the occasional sex, when it was over, highlighted the puzzle that was Adrian.
Steven wondered if it wasn’t the challenge that kept them together, that he wouldn’t give so much to trying to please Adrian, if he could just solve him, like a math problem. But if the solution was Steven and Adrian together and happy, Steven had never been able to determine what the right equation was to get them there. He only knew that there was a high better than ecstasy or cocaine, though tiny and fleeting, when Adrian brushed a hand across the back of Steven’s neck and said something that Steven could translate as: “Thank you, that was what I needed.”