There was something familiar about the reflection in the window. Jackson had stopped to admire the display of pearls in window of Soho’s Fine Jewelry. His breath frosted on the window, and he reached up to polish it away, when he spotted the face. The one he’d loved since he’d first noticed him across the gymnasium. The one he’d known was destined to be part of his life the second their eyes met.
It couldn’t be! Orin was dead. There was no way. He’d died in Istanbul. He had his ashes in an urn that sat on the mantel over the fireplace in his slick comfortable condo on fifth. He’d been searched out by the Turkish embassy. The ambassador himself had told him of Orin’s tragic heroic death. He’d saved a child from death in the middle of the oldest section of Istanbul. The child of a government official. He had traded his humble life as a travel reporter for that of a toddler who had run out in the path of a delivery truck.
Orin usually took him along on every adventure. Except those places where being gay was frowned upon. The middle east had been a problem for centuries. They’d had an argument that simmer for the week before Orin was to leave. He’d been so angry at him for going into a hot bed of homophobic hatred. What if someone discovered the truth about his orientation?
Jackson glanced up to the reflection, crystal clear over the shimmering orbs of diversely colored pearls. The creations were sensual. Long snakes of palest pink gleaming globes, scattered among strands of equally opalescent black, white, and champagne. Fat earrings, baroque rings, every color lived together in a harmonious display of elegance. Pearls had always been one of his favorite stones.
There it was again. Did he dare to turn around? He had to know, was this an illusion borne of his deep desperation to tell his love, the man who had completed him, I love you one more time? Or was it really Orin. It had been seven years. Years of regret, of loneliness, of recrimination. How had he let him go at the airport without telling him to stay safe? To come home. That he loved him beyond any silly little disagreement.
The face came closer. There was the mole, the little adorable mole at the juncture of nostril and cheek. Shivers ran down his neck, and goosebumps stood on his thighs and forearms. His heart raced and he couldn’t get his breath. He felt like his head was floating somewhere well above his shoulders.
He clenched the stone window ledge, his knuckles white with strain.
“Jackson? Don’t pass out.”
The sardonic tone had Jackson whirling. With a lightning feint he slapped Orin leaving a bright red imprint across his long narrow face. Individual finger imprints glowed crimson on his cheek between the edge of his goatee and his ear.
“Well, that’s a fine welcome,” Orin didn’t retaliate.
“How long have you been here? How dare you be in the city and not find me first! How dare you go and die on me. How are you even here! I have your ashes on my mantel” Jackson’s questions hissed out. Anger sizzled across the small span between them. Orin was only an inch or two taller than him, but his shoulders were muscular. His chest a dream to caress.
“You’ve gotten so thin you haven’t been taking care of yourself.” Shock radiated from Orin, as he reached out to clasp his lover’s hands. “I’m sorry.”
“The ambassador said you were a hero. You died saving a child the greatest gift a mother could ask. Yours never recovered she’s gone.” Jackson spewed his grief indiscriminately. Orin’s mother has been his own after his parents disowned him.
Orin cringed. “I’ve been to her grave. I’ve left her favorite pink tulips for her.”
“You could’ve called, you should have known.”
“I’m sorry, my love,” Orin stroked Jackson’s hollow cheek. He was so thin the flirtatious dimple he lived to see, was gone. His cheek bones stretched the skin on his face so taut, it was all but transparent. His skull and jawbones revealed as if he were already a skeleton.
Jackson leaned into Orin. “I’m so angry, and so in love. I’m sorry about our fight before you left.”
Orin put an arm around his shoulders. Deep in the artist’s mecca of New York City the pedestrians parted around them, like they were a boulder in the middle of a swift flowing stream. Everyone intent on their own lives, they could have been alone in the deepest woods of Canada.
“You changed your number, and you weren’t at our old apartment. I couldn’t find you when I arrived. I’ve been searching for you for two weeks since I got back, and you were gone without a trace. I found out my mother passed away from the family who bought her co-op. I was lucky to find the lawyer she used to draw up her will. He’s almost eighty now, but he still is part of his family’s practice.”
“Why weren’t you back sooner?” accusation riddled Jackson’s question.
“I didn’t start to remember who I was until I saw a display of pearls. The big amazing pearls that come from lagoons in the South Pacific. The ones you were talking about getting for the next jewelry collection you were designing. Remember? I was going to bring you some of the baroque pinks and blacks we’d found in a supplier’s catalog. I was going to combine buying with my travel log.”
“Then why was I left to grieve, why didn’t they come to find me?” Jackson twisted the gold and platinum ring he wore. Orin had started them walking toward the Starbucks at the corner.
“I had to change the listing on my passport. You were my emergency contact and not spouse, we were going to get married after I got back. It was the last trip to a country with such archaic beliefs.”
“We fought about it. We’d been living together for so long. You’ve been part of me for over twenty years. I couldn’t let you go.”
“Sit my love I’ll get us a couple of lattes.” Orin watched as he slid into the back booth where they spent so many intimate Sunday afternoons.
Jackson sat with his elbows on the table, his hands over his face. His shoulders slumped forward. He felt a bit like time had tilted and his world with it. His Orin was there, but the empty hole inside refused to close.
“You know how I found you?” Orin asked as he slid a peppermint latte in front of Jackson. He put his own chai tea down and said, “I’ll be right back.”
“Here’s some banana bread.” He dropped onto the bench and slid across until his hard thigh snuggled against Jackson’s. “Eat!”
One tear slipped over Jackson's right lower eyelid, slipping into the crevice beside his lips and hanging for an endless moment on his chin before it plopped onto the table.
“You haven’t forgotten.” Jackson whispered his heart tumbled into love and a tiny spark of hope lit there. Nothing had changed, and everything was changed. He might be able to design that pearl collection. He stared at the banana bread and picked it up in trembling fingers. It slipped through them and plopped back onto the grey white china.
Orin broke a piece off the corner of the moist slice and staring into Jackson eyes raised it to his mouth. “I’m back. I’m going to take care of you. I’m not leaving again.”
“I lost mom three years ago. She started fading the day they told her you’d been killed. Why did they do that?” his disbelief and the simmering anger reared themselves in his narrowed blue eyes even as his mouth watered. The first time he’d tasted his favorite treat in seven long years. The first time he’d been back to the Starbucks, rife with memories.
“Better to have knowledge of heroism, and a death of honor according to the doctor. I was taken to a hospital with a severe head injury and wasn’t expected to survive. When I finally came out of the coma, I had no memory of who I was. It took me years to relearn how to talk, to take care of myself. I had to have someone with me at all times because my memory was short term. Until the day they noticed I reached for the administrator’s pearls. She had a double strand of glorious champagne pearls. Big ones, almost a third of an inch in diameter.”
“They started taking me on short excursions. To the strip mall next to the government home where I was living. To the gemstone convention. Then there was an auction of antique jewelry collections, and they took me to look at the displays. There was a baroque black pearl, set in an intricate lace work gold filigree brooch. I said one word, Jackson.”
“Pearls brought you back to me?” wonder brought more tears swimming, threating to stream silently in witness to love reclaimed. Jackson savored the next piece of banana bread Orin fed him.
“Pearls. And that’s how I knew where I’d find you. I scoured the stores till I found out Soho Fine Jewelry was having a pearl extravaganza. I knew you’d be by. You could never resist studying them any chance you had. I knew I’d find you here.” Orin’s passionate declaration had heads turning.
“I almost didn’t come. It’s the last day before they’re selling the necklaces in a charity auction. I haven’t done anything in design since I lost you. I’ve been working as a repair specialist in midtown, not a block from where I live. I can’t look at pearls or mother of pearl without seeing your face. The only reason I let you go was because of the pearls you were going to bring back.” Bitter regret, and self loathing stiffened Jackson against Orin’s side.
“And now they’ve brought us together again. Forgive yourself. I’ve forgiven myself. I left you without a word too. I woke to my remembering knowing I’d left you with nothing but bitter regrets. I had to fight to come home. Thank the fates, it was a wealthy man’s child I saved. Her name was Pearl.”