With a population of close to 40,000 people, Pleasant Hill is a quiet little community located in the East Bay area of the city of San Francisco. A varied landscape of rolling hills and a few valleys, the tiny city boasts a climate of Mediterranean cool, wet winters and warm, dry summers. It is also the area that twenty one year old Ethan Zylko and his twenty six year old boyfriend Justin Wallace called home.
Renting a tiny two bedroom apartment near Diablo Valley Community College, the pair met three years ago when Ethan turned eighteen and moved from Michigan to San Francisco to attend school and be near his cousin, Marine Lieutenant Mack Zylko. It is no secret that the former marine was now well-to-do and swimming in pool of wealth. Ever since he married Eurasian CEO and owner of CHAMBTECH, Jennifer Chambers, the multi-billion dollar power couple had been continually scrutinized by the media and kept their dearest friends close in their inner circle. Ethan happened to be one of them. When the young man informed his cousin and his wife that he was moving to the city to attend school, Mack and Jennifer welcomed him with open arms and supportive him the first few months by giving him a place to stay and a job.
Majoring in music, the gifted college student attended Diablo Valley part time while working nights as a server at one of Mack's gay establishments in the Castro district of San Francisco. Now free to explore his sexuality among other creative, likeminded individuals, Ethan thrived and finally felt comfortable in his own skin; so much so, that he began a three year relationship with a surfer named Justin Wallace.
At 5'10, green eyed Justin epitomized the stereotypical, California beach boy. With a swimmer's physique, a goatee, and long dirty blond hair that fell to his shoulders, the tanned surfer preferred to march to the beat of his own drum. Believing employment to be a detriment to free spirits everywhere, the twenty six year old had difficulty maintaining a job to which left Ethan with the bulk of the responsibility of supporting them both.
Washing a stack of dirty dishes in the sink that Justin refused to do, Ethan sighed as he pushed his long, blond wavy hair back and straightened out his glasses. The 5'9, blue eyed young man glanced over to see Justin sitting on the couch, making crumbs with the bag of Cheetohs in his hand while constantly clicking on the remote. He hoped to get his attention.
"You know," Ethan suggested. "You could help me out here and wash the next set plates in the sink."
Justin kept his eyes on the television. "Sure thing, babe." He pressed channel button on the remote control again.
Shrugging his shoulders, the young man sighed and finished drying off the plates. Wiping his hands with a towel, Ethan headed toward the living room.
"Justin," he said. "Just to let you know, I have an audition tomorrow for the Saintsborough's music program in London. Seeing how you're not doing anything, I thought you could escort me…"
The surfer clucked his tongue. "Babe, you're a big boy! I don't want to go to some boring music audition. I mean the waves will be high tomorrow. I don't want to miss them!"
"I know…" Ethan began. "But I'm a little nervous. I mean what if I blow this audition? Saintsborough has always been my dream. Many famous musicians graduated from there. Bryan Adams. Phil Collins. Dusty Springfield. The Beatles."
"Who?" Justin raised his eyebrows. "I've never heard of these people. Are they like Lady Gaga or Madonna?"
Ethan stared at his boyfriend befuddled. "How do you not know the Beatles?"
"Are they like old people singers?" The surfer asked. "I don't know anything about old people singers. Besides, I'm busy tomorrow."
Folding his arms, Ethan raised his eyebrows. "Justin, surfing won't take you the full day. My audition is late in the afternoon around three. Maybe you could swing by…"
Justin jumped off the couch. "I TOLD YOU THAT I DON'T WANT TO GO!" Ethan backed away. "Jeez, Ethan, you are really started to nag my ass and I don't appreciate it!"
The young man swallowed hoping to appease his boyfriend. "I'm sorry, Justin. It's just that I was hoping you could be really supportive of the things that I'm interested in."
"WHAT DO YOU MEAN I'M NOT SUPPORTIVE?" Justin screamed. "If you haven't noticed, I'm living with you and being the dutiful boyfriend! I've put up with a lot like watching you let yourself go and I've tolerated it because I love you!"
Staring down at himself, the twenty one year old nervously absorbed Justin's words. "Am…I really that bad looking?"
"You're worse," Justin said bluntly. "When we first met three years ago, you were hot." He pointed the baggy hoodie and cargo pants the young man had on. "Now look at you. You let your hair grow out, you stopped wearing your contacts, and you dress like a bum. I'm embarrassed to even appear in public with you! How do you think it makes me feel?"
His boyfriend's words stung hard. Ethan had no idea that Justin felt this way. Was this common among all couples? Did they become so comfortable in the relationship that they lost all respect for their appearance? He was not sure. However, he did sense Justin pulling away from him. He wanted to make his surfer happy and vowed to start making effort on the way he looked.
"I'm sorry, Justin," he whispered. "I'll try to do better. I promise."
The long blond haired man put his hands to his hips. "See that you do. It reflects badly on me. How can I show you off to all my friends when you look like you're homeless?"
Ethan attempted to defend his sense of style. "I've been busy. You know with going to school and working at night. I mean it's hard trying to support us both especially with you not working…"
Justin's mouth dropped. "SO IT'S MY FAULT NOW? I give you constructive criticism about your appearance and you turn it around and put the blame on me! This is one of the things I hate about you! You criticize me for not going out and finding a job and then you nag me about not putting in my fair share of household duties…"
Attempting to calm him down, Ethan hoped to reason with him. "I was just saying that maybe you could help me out with the finances seeing that I have so much on my plate…"
"DON'T I HAVE PLENTY ON MINE?" His boyfriend shouted. "Surfing is a strenuous sport and I'm waiting to garner sponsors that will support me for local competitions! I'm sorry that my dream takes precedence over some job that will take up my time! Ethan, you suck at being a supportive boyfriend!"
"Justin, I'm sure there's a way you could work it out in your schedule…"
"There you go again!" The blond surfer yelled. "Always nagging as usual!" Shifting his feet, Justin grabbed his sneakers and headed toward the door before glaring at Ethan. "Maybe you should look for a boyfriend who can put up with your nagging! He opened the front door and stepped outside.
"Where are you going?" Ethan asked.
"Out!" Justin droned. "Don't wait up!"
"I'll be working late tonight…" Ethan began. Then door slammed behind him. Left alone, he exhaled a breath as he got ready for work.
Rainbeaux was the hottest gay bar on Castro Street. Co-owned by Mack Zylko, his business partner Roy Paddington and Roy's gay brother Reggie, the establishment opened up two years ago to glowing reviews and heavy marketing. Packed every night since it opened, the twenty eight year old former marine sat at the bar counter in his designer suit that concealed his prosthetic leg that he lost while being deployed in the Middle East as he enjoyed the fruits of his labor. Next to him, his wife, thirty one year old Eurasian entrepreneur Jennifer Zylko, admired the nearly naked go-go boys shaking their underwear on the dance floor stage.
Leaning in to Roy who was manning the bar, Jennifer joked. "No matter how long you three will own this bar, I still can't get over the fact that you started up a gay themed establishment."
"It pays to be gay," laughed the African American Roy. Since leaving the military due to health issues, Roy Paddington relished in civilian life. After Mack helped fund both his sports bar Harpers and Rainbeaux, the former marine soaked in the success of owning two profitable businesses. "Plus, Reggie has found his calling." Pointing toward the stage, a tall drag queen stepped out.
Twenty six year old Reggie Paddington approached the microphone wearing an evening dress, heels, a huge wig, and heavy make-up. Going by the stage name Chantee LeBeau, the African American man entertained the audience with joke parodies and lip synch performances to recognizable female artists like Bette Midler, Aretha Franklin, and Liza Minelli. Roy's little brother was a hit with the crowd.
"Look at Miss Chantee go!" Ethan giggled carrying a tray of empty drink glasses to the counter. "You go girl! You go!" He then turned to Roy who was bartending. "Booth Ten has bottle service and requesting cocktails and champagne up the wazoo! I'm getting high tips tonight!" Roy nodded and prepared the orders.
Jennifer opened her arms out to her cousin-in-law who wore a black dress shirt and trousers. "Don't just stand there, Ethan! Give Auntie Jennifer a hug!"
Squealing like a little girl, Ethan embraced his cousin-in-law and held her tight. "Jen, girl! I thought you weren't going to come tonight!" His blue eyes glanced at his cousin Mack to tease him. "Mack, did you finally let your cougar wife out of her cage?"
The former marine snorted. "Yeah, I left the door open and she wandered off. Now this cougar is on the prowl for some younger cubs! Watch out tonight!"
Jennifer frowned and playfully slugged her husband on the shoulder. "Hey! I'm not that old! I'm only three years older than you, Mack!"
Mack giggled before wrapping his hands around the Eurasian beauty and planting a seductive kiss to his wife's lips. Ignoring everyone around them, the two went full on as they displayed their affection to the world.
"Okay, you two, get a room!" Roy laughed. "Careful. At the rate you two keep going at it, you'll conceive your third child!"
It was true. Even after four years of marriage, Mack and Jennifer still maintained the passion they had for one another. Considering how the couple met under bizarre circumstances, it always brought hope for all ambitious romantics who savored listening to their love story. Married to different people at the time and struggling with their difficult situations, the two came together by answering a sex ad on Craigslist. After some scandalous mishaps, the two overcame their obstacles and eventually achieved their fairy tale ending. Now blessed with two children, four year old Palmer and two year old Justine, the couple had never been more content. Ethan secretly wanted the same relationship with his boyfriend Justin but it seemed he was putting all the effort in their union. Despite the surfer's distance from him, he remained optimistic that they would pull through.
"Who's watching Palmer and Justine tonight?" Ethan asked the mother of two.
"My Dad and Aunt Tiang have the day off so they've agreed to babysit so Mack and I can go out tonight," she answered. Jennifer was referring to her father Gabriel Downes and her Thai aunt Tiang who married two years ago. The Eurasian woman petitioned for her relatives from her late mother's side to emigrate to the United States where she helped start up a popular Thai restaurant with her new family in Chinatown. She believed in the importance of keeping close to her roots.
"I'm just happy to be out of the house," Jennifer snickered. "With work, the kids, and taking care of my husband, I barely have any time for fun."
"Well good that you're here tonight supporting the GLBT community," smiled Ethan.
Snapping her fingers, the Eurasian woman rotated her head in a comical manner. "Girl, the gay boys love me child!"
Both Jennifer and Ethan exploded into laughter as a pair of familiar faces approached the bar. From the corner of his eye, the young server saw Vince and Wendy Perkins heading toward the bar counter. Twenty six Vince and twenty four year old Wendy hit it big in the internet market, creating online games and bargain shopping sites for consumers. Thanks to the financing of CHAMBTECH, their company Wince became the most valuable commodity share in the stock market as well as a feature article of Forbes magazine concerning young upstarts. The pair enjoyed the immense success of their business and frequently joined Mack and Jennifer in several nightly outings.
"Boy, I've been dancing so much that I'm sweating like pig!" Wendy remarked. She had dyed her blonde hair a darker shade of brown complete with pink streaks. She sat down to order a drink from Roy. "Mojito, please, Roy!"
"You got it," said Roy grabbing their order.
"Make mine, vodka on the rocks," said Vince whose dark hair had grown longer but he still kept the piercing on his bottom lip. "I think one of the gay guys grabbed my ass on the dance floor."
Clucking her tongue, his wife rolled her eyes. "Consider it a compliment, Vince. At least, they find you desirable."
The dark haired internet owner shifted his gaze toward Ethan who was still waiting on the drinks being made by Roy. "E, you're a gay guy. Would you fuck me?"
"Don't answer that, Ethan!" Mack protested. "Vince might not be able to handle the truth!"
Ethan scanned the twenty six year old up and down and shook his head. "Uh…no."
Reggie Paddington in her Chantee LeBeau drag persona sauntered up to the bar after finishing her set. His dark eyes examined Vince before releasing a snort. "We may be gay, Vince, but we have standards."
Mack and Jennifer continued to laugh as Roy finally finished putting Ethan's drink order on the tray. The blond man returned to the private booth of the club and served his customers their beverages and returned to his group of friends.
"So, Ethan, are you nervous about tomorrow's audition?" Jennifer asked as she sipped her martini.
"A little," confessed the young man. "I asked Justin to come but he's busy."
"Your boyfriend's a douche!" Wendy blurted out. All eyes glared at her in annoyance to which she ignored their stares. "What? You know it's true! We can't stand that brain dead surfer! Plus, what boyfriend doesn't support his lover? DOOOOUCHEBAG!"
Ethan shrugged. "He had a lot on his mind."
"Pfft, like seawater," said Reggie fixing his make-up with his compact. Shutting the cosmetic case shut, he leaned in close to the young man. "Ethan, we love you but you're a doormat. Justin is an inconsiderate queen who cares only for himself. I don't care if you guys have been together for three years. He treats you like shit!"
"Chantee's right," said Wendy gulping her drink. "You're better off without him."
The blond man's face turned crimson. "But…but…we've been together a long time. He's just under a lot of pressure with trying to find surfing sponsorships…"
"How about finding a job?" Wendy remarked. The twenty four year old woman befriended the blond musician when he first arrived to the Bay Area and together with her husband Vince and fellow gay friend Reggie, the trio immersed the Michigan newbie into the San Francisco culture. In addition, the three had been best buddies since he was eighteen and have been inseparable ever since, offering advice to the young man including suggestions on his love life. Sad to say, they never liked Justin to begin with which caused friction between him and his circle of friends.
Ethan defended his significant other. "He's trying to improve his skills in surfing. He doesn't have time to go job hunting."
"So you have to be his meal ticket, Ethan?" Reggie curled his lip. "Baby, you could do so much better. You're young, good looking, talented…"
The blond server blushed. "I appreciate everyone's concern but Justin and I are doing just fine."
"If you say so," Wendy replied with sarcasm. She continued to down her drink. Shifting her eyes to her husband, she grabbed him by the hand and dragged him back on the dance floor as soon as she heard a Beyonce song being played by the deejay. "Come on, Vince! That's my jam!"
Vince scowled. "But I don't want to get manhandled again!"
"Oh shut up!" His wife told him. "We might get lucky and they'll tip you some ones. That'll pay for our drinks tonight. Now come on!"
Vince shot an anguished look at his friends before the pair disappeared into the mass of swimming male bodies. Ethan smiled as he watched the married couple vanish. It must be nice to have the same connection with someone. He thought to himself. He often hoped Justin would come around and share in the same sentiment. Sadly, he knew that was not going to happen anytime soon. Lifting his serving tray, he prepared to get back on the floor to wait on the patrons.
"Ethan, before you go..." Jennifer touched his arm. "I want to say break a leg tomorrow. I know you'll do awesome on your music audition."
"He doesn't need it," added Mack. "My cousin is talented. They'd be dumbasses if they don't accept him."
The young man nodded. "Thanks, guys. At least, I can count on the people that care about me the most to show me some support." He picked his tray and headed back to service the customers.
He only wished that his boyfriend would show him the same courtesy.
Lombardi Village, Villatuono
Leaning against the bedpost, twenty four year old Rafael Garcia stared blankly outside the window of his bedroom to see pair of swallows flying by past the olive trees outside. The 5'10, dark haired, brown eyed handsome man's thoughts drifted off as he admired the straight lines and wavy curves of the natural landscape from the sill. There was a certain admirable beauty in the free form image of the outdoors that intrigued him and he felt inspired to paint something based upon what he had seen. Then a moving head pressed against his groin woke him up from his trance.
"Can you show a little enthusiasm?" Thirty year old Diego Hernandez lifted his face and shot the young Villatuone artist an annoyed look. Rafael's cock started to grow flaccid while gripped in between Diego's fingers. "You're losing your erection."
Rafael shrugged his shoulders. "Sorry, I guess I'm not in the mood."
His lover scowled. "Not in the mood? Merda! I had to reschedule some important meetings so I could see you and this is the appreciation I get? How ungrateful!"
Snorting a whisper, the young artist shoved his married lover away, leaped off the bed to grab his underwear and pants. Locating them by the side of mattress, he pulled them both on as a frustrated Diego Hernandez observed him and ignored his pleas.
"Bastardo!" Diego shouted. "Is this how you treat your lover? With disrespect and no appreciation?"
The twenty four year old smirked. "Appreciation for what, Diego? This thing we have is simply physical. Sex. No feelings. No emotions. Just the way you prefer it."
His older lover folded his arms in disgust. "How can you say that, Rafael? Aye mis dios. What we have is special. I care about you. Hell, I'll even say it. I'm in love with you! I have been since we first met four years ago when I commissioned a portrait for Soledad."
Shaking his head, Rafael went over to an end table of his bedroom where he kept a bottle of brandy and some glasses. He poured himself a glass as he forced himself to listen to his lover's ridiculous explanations.
"Speaking of Soledad," remarked the artist sipping his brandy. "How is your wife? Have you told her that you've taken a mistress who happens to be a man?"
Diego looked away and said nothing.
"See, Diego," Rafael noted. "You haven't. You still can't admit to yourself or your family of what you are. A lying cheat who enjoys sticking his dick in another man's ass!"
"You can be incredibly cruel, Rafael." Diego replied. "You know I can't disclose my bisexuality to my family. The Hernandezes are very powerful here in Villatuono with ties to royalty and not to mention very Catholic. Homosexual activity is frowned upon and if I come out to my family, I might be disowned or lose my title as Baron Henandez. Think about the scandal."
"As usual, Diego, you're looking out for yourself." Rafael pointed out.
The wealthy Baron glared at the young man. "You think you're so morally above everyone else. What about you, Rafael? You're the illegitimate son of the King Hernando of Villatuono but you refuse to acknowledge him and accept his support even though he is willing to claim you as his only male heir. King Hernando has no sons and as the only male you have a right to the throne…"
"I DON'T WANT THAT RIGHT!" Rafael screeched. "I never wanted the king's money or his support and I never accepted it. My mother might have been his mistress but we've supported ourselves just fine without his assistance! As for the throne, let someone else have a chance at it! I have no interest in being part of the monarchy!"
"Then you are fool!" Diego directly stated. "King Hernando's health is not doing good these days and without a prince to claim the throne, the country's Parliament is considering a deal to annex ourselves with either Spain or Italy. It's no secret that as an independent island we border between these two countries and living under control of an old monarchy but if the king dies then our government representatives will be forced to sell us to either nation."
Rafael drank his brandy. "Good. Maybe we can have a uniformed language instead of this ridiculous Romananzi dialect that mixes Spanish and Italian. A little change will do this country good."
Diego shook his head. "You can't mean that, Rafael. Are you willing to give up your birthright and patriotism so another country force us to assimilate into their culture while destroying ours?"
"What I want," said the young artist. "Is to be left alone. No more talk of heirs, thrones, and all things dealing with the king. More importantly, what I want is a break from you, Rafael! Go back to your wife, enjoy your Baronhood, and leave me the hell alone!"
The older Baron turned pale. "Rafael, surely you don't mean that! What about all those times we spent together? That's got to mean something!"
Glancing over to look at Diego, Rafael remembered the first time they met. He had to admit he found the man striking, charismatic and charming but after their secret trysts together the young artist's interest in the Baron seemed to diminish. He no longer held the same infatuation for the older man as he did four years ago.
"It's funny," grinned the twenty four year old. "I was broken hearted when you married Soledad after leaving my bed. I closed myself off and tried to forget you."
"So did I," said Diego as a small tear formed in his eye. "I wish I could take it back and find a way to end the engagement but duty and title prevented me from doing so."
"Yet that still didn't stop you from seeing me in private," said Rafael. "You made me into your male mistress and we've carried this affair for four years."
"We can still continue it," said the older Baron. "No one has to know. We have a good arrangement here. Why spoil it?"
"The fact is, Diego," he explained. "I'm growing up and becoming less interested in this arrangement. I want more and I don't think you're the right person for me to help me find it. So, I think it's in everyone's best interest if we end this situation between us."
The Baron's eyes widened. "You don't mean that!" He dropped to his knees, crawled over to the artist and hugged his legs to sob into the material of his trousers. "No, Rafael! I can't live without you! Please don't send me away!"
Lowering himself to his same level as his lover, Rafael clutched both sides of the Baron's face. "You'll survive this, Diego. Your first duty is to your title and your namesake. Go back to your wife, give her children, and forget about me. It's time to move on."
Diego covered his face and wept for a few seconds before forcing himself up. Sniffing and wiping away his tears, he composed himself and began to exit from Rafael's bedroom but not before facing the artist to say one last thing.
"I love you, Rafael," the Baron commented. "This isn't over. I will fight for you and we will find a way to be together." With that said, he ran from the room and out of the door of the private villa.
Rafael Garcia sat down on his bed and sighed. Normally, he would have felt a strange pang in his heart after an intense break-up with his lover but instead he felt nothing. No piercing of the heart. No emotional distress. Nothing. What he needed instead was a chance to get away from Villatuono. He wanted to express his creativity through this artwork.
Rising from the bed, he went over to the desk drawer of his room and opened a drawer. Removing a college brochure, he opened the catalog and perused the enrollment application.
"London's Saintsborough Arts Academy," he said. "This sounds promising."