This story contains explicit sex.
Content warning: car accident (past), child character in a coma, angry/confrontational parenting of a young adult
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Ty stared at the painting that was propped against the gallery wall.
At one time it had been just a study in white and blue, but then some of the angles had become sharp, and the shading had tightened up. Gradually Ty realized he’d been painting a glass, half full of water, casting odd shimmery shadows onto the counter beneath it.
Kelly, one of Ty’s friends, had thrown up her hands on seeing it, and said, “Ty, explain to me why this is so perfect. I don’t even know what it means!”
Ty had no explanation. Like much of his art, he had no idea where the water glass had come from. Of course, he didn’t actually think it was perfect, either, but Grant, the gallery owner, had liked that one best. The water glass was to be the centerpiece of Ty’s works in the small room the owner had picked for him. Ty was going to have his art shown in a gallery for the first time. It was a dream he’d worked toward for years.
Grant’s Gallery was a block off the boardwalk, far enough from the sea that the windows weren’t sown with salt, but close enough that families in flip flops would pad by between parking lot and beach. There was always a layer of faint golden sand on the sidewalk that glittered in the sun.
The gallery was painted turquoise and white, like a seaside cottage, and it was quite small, not even filling its lot. The rest of the space was a flower garden, perhaps the most spectacular one Ty had ever seen, with flowers in so many colors that they might have been a spectrum of light cast by a prism. It had taken Ty a while to realize what was so odd about the garden: there was hardly any green visible. The flowers were so abundant there was barely room to see their stems and leaves.
Ty imagined visitors coming to the gallery for his show tomorrow night, seeing the flower garden vibrant in the golden hour of evening, fading to shades of gray as the sun went down. They’d come inside, and they’d see Ty’s paintings— paintings by Tyrone Curt— hanging on the wall. Maybe people would be unimpressed, but still— it was a gallery show. And some people might be intrigued. They might want to talk to Ty about his art. Someone might even buy something.
But as Ty tried to work out the logistics of the show, making lists and checking things off, his brain wanted to make its own list of all the things that could go wrong. Ty might trip over his own feet and break something. He might suddenly get the flu. He might say something awful when everyone was listening. His work might be compared to that of all the other artists hanging in the gallery, and everyone would agree that he was the worst of them. Maybe he wouldn’t sell a single thing.
Ty tried to live in the present moment. Breathe in, breathe out. He focused on the water glass painting. It should get the best spot in the room, but Ty wasn’t sure where that would be. The place with the least glare? The fewest shadows? Ty certainly wasn’t going to complain, but this little room that Grant had given him had terrible lighting for showing paintings.
The gallery was closed to the public for the day, so when Ty heard someone come into the room, he thought it was Grant, the owner. Ty turned, trying to think of some diplomatic way to ask for better lighting, and froze.
The man who’d appeared was not Grant, small and spectacled. This was an older man, maybe fifteen years older than Ty, at twenty-four. Maybe more, there was a hint of silver in his short brown hair. He was tall, clean-shaven, with wide shoulders and a sturdy build, and oh, his hands. Broad, gorgeous, somehow unmistakably capable hands. Ty instantly felt his fingers itching for a pencil to sketch them.
Ty attempted to speak like a normal human being. “Hi! I’m Ty. I’m—”
“The artist,” the man said. “Yeah.” He gestured toward the paintings leaned against the wall. “I like your work.”
Ty could not decide if he was more flattered by the compliment or by the fact that he had been called the artist.
“I’m Chance,” the man said. “Maintenance. Damn, the lighting in here is terrible. We’ll get that fixed.”
“Oh, you can change it?”
Chance smiled, and Ty realized how stupid he’d been, how inexperienced, to think a gallery would have awful lighting in any room. God, he had no idea what he was doing—
Chance was still talking, sounding reassuring. “It’s all adjustable.” He pointed to the track lighting on the ceiling. “Got any idea of what you’d like to put where?”
“Um— not really.”
“Well, let’s start with that one,” Chance said. “The glass. That’s my favorite. It says something different from the others.”
Startled, Ty turned back to Chance, and oh, how easy it was to let the man take up his attention again. First it had been his hands, and now Ty noticed that there were small wrinkles beside his eyes, crow’s feet. Ty knew the exact angle he’d have to hold his pencil to draw them in short, tapering strokes. “What does it say?” Ty asked, fascinated.
Chance looked uncomfortable, like he was surprised to be asked. “Well, you’re the artist. So you’d know.” He gestured toward the painting. “I just meant— it’s in the middle of something. Someone has to come and drink it or empty it, or add to it, but none of that is happening. It’s just there waiting. Stuck, in the middle of motion. Now, your other things—” Chance indicated the painting of the red shoe lace, the brown-washed study of the snail shell— “those are in the moment. Close up, no background, no scenery. There’s no future, no past, just the here and now. If you’d put the shoelace in a shoe it would be either tied or untied.”
“In the middle of something,” Ty said. “Waiting to change.”
“Yeah.” Chance shrugged. “Anyway. Don’t know if it makes any sense. I see a lot of art and I think I know things.”
Ty was staring at his work with new clarity. “No, that’s— that’s amazing, really. Did you say your name was Chance?”
The man looked fully flustered now. His skin flushed, and Ty ached for his paints, that rosy color on such rugged features, the broad jawline—
“My family thought I was a lucky baby,” Chance said. “Suppose I am, I’ve got a good life. A job I like.”
“Head of maintenance.”
Chance looked amused. “All of maintenance. And groundskeeper, handyman, whatever.”
“The garden?” Ty said. “The garden is yours?”
“Colorful chaos,” Chance said dismissively. “Likes to do what it wants.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more beautiful garden.”
The lights of the room began to glow brighter. Ty looked up at the ceiling. “Oh, that’s better already. Are they on a timer?”
Chance didn’t answer. He’d looked away. “Where do you want the water glass?” he asked, in a fainter voice.
They worked on the room for an hour or so. Chance had a system: multiple lights on each work, particular angles, dedicated lighting brighter than the surrounding room. Ty’s art had never looked better, he thought, and some of his anxiety was eased.
It helped that Chance was such a reassuring presence. He seemed to be able to do anything Ty asked for. Naturally, Ty began to daydream of asking the man for other things. Like if maybe Chance might like to model for him. With his shirt off. With everything off.
God, what would that even sound like? Hey there, I’m into older men with muscles and your forearms are going to haunt my dreams. I know I’m some twenty-something kid on his first show and you know lots of famous artists, but if you’d like to have pity on me, here’s my number.
No. Better for it to be a fantasy. If Ty could just sketch the man’s hands, though—
Just as they were finishing up, there was a knock on the gallery door. Ty’s friends had arrived, fashionably late. Chance unlocked the door to let them in: Kelly and Jill, Andrew, Bertha, and Clay. They swarmed Ty with a familiar pandemonium.
They were artists, all of them, in their own way, forming their own little enclave of creativity. Clay and Andrew were actors, and Kelly a poet. Jill wrote lyrics for songs Bertha composed. Ty was the resident visual artist. The group had a rejuvenating energy when they were all together, like sunlight or rain. Necessary for life. Ty had never had friends like this at home.
(Home was a dark place with a river of quiet rage running through it, and Ty had never quite learned where to put his feet to avoid stepping in it.)
“It flows so well,” Kelly said, on seeing Ty’s art in his given room.
“Well, you just missed the architect of it,” Ty said, realizing with some dismay that Chance had disappeared. “The worker of lighting and other miracles.”
“What, that DILF at the door?” Clay asked, with a cheery smile. “Isn’t he just your type?”
“He’s probably married,” was the first thing Ty thought of to say.
“No ring,” Jill said. “What? I looked, he’s your type. Older, taller. Handsome, with big hands—”
“Oh, my God,” Ty groaned. “How do you even know that?”
“Because you get drunk and tell us these things,” Andrew said.
Ty turned around in the room, trying to take in the pieces from every angle. “I’m so nervous. It’s all going to go wrong. You’ll be the only people to show up here tomorrow, and one of you will buy something out of pity, and that will have been my entire career in art—”
Clay slung an arm over Ty’s shoulder. “Shut up,” he said, affectionately. “We’re going out to celebrate, because you have a fucking gallery show tomorrow night, Ty. The first of many, I’m sure.”
“You should invite your handyman to come with,” Jill said, with a smirk.
Ty wasn’t sure if he would actually invite Chance or not, because he had not reappeared. Probably for the best. They worked in different worlds. Chance was practical, useful, mature, and Ty was chasing some sparkling thing on the breeze, elusive, ethereal, and possibly of no use if he ever did catch it.
Ty wanted to bring beauty to the world. He wanted to say something with beauty, to illuminate some truth. But he’d have to find that truth himself first, and he was not even sure where to look.
Ty opened the fridge and stared at a tray cheese cubes with decorative toothpicks stuck into them.
There were glass bowls of grapes and halved strawberries, carrot sticks and apple slices, plus champagne, several bottles, stashed in the door.
On the counter was a tray of crackers arranged in a spiral. Ty had done those himself. His mother had taught him once while setting up for a dinner party, many years ago now. Ty wished she could have been here today.
Ty’s first art show was in three hours. He’d come into Grant’s Gallery two hours ago, hoping that having something concrete to do would settle his nerves. But there hadn’t been much left. Ty had found tall round tables set up in the main gallery, and a few in the small room where his paintings hung. Brochures were stacked and ready. The crackers had been the only food not prepared. There were champagne flutes on the counter of the tiny gallery kitchen, with napkins and tiny white plates.
Ty had three hours to wait and nothing to do. At least he had a sketchbook with him.
Outside the gallery, you could hear the ocean, only a block away. You couldn’t see it, of course, with all the buildings in the way, houses rising higher and higher to peer over their neighbors closer to the water. There were other, competing waves of sound as well: traffic, people talking, the swish of bicycle tires and thin footwear against the ever-present sand on the streets and sidewalks.
The garden outside the gallery— Chance’s garden— was not insulated from any of the noise, but it seemed a refuge anyway, bright, bold life in the midst of SUVs and stop lights. There was a bench in the middle of the garden, which you could reach by walking the one visible path, and that was where Ty settled.
Chance had called the garden colorful chaos, and it was certainly like no other garden Ty had ever seen. In place of tidy flower beds, it flowed in abstract shapes. Fiery arcs of bright red flowers tapered smoothly into teardrops of blue, which parted like clouds around splashes of yellow. Flowering vines surrounded squat bushes and braided themselves along the legs of the bench.
Chaos, maybe, but a kinder sort than Ty had ever seen, without wars for sunlight or space. Certainly no somber, proper garden master had designed this place, but still there seemed to be some guiding harmony. Ty was hoping he might be able to discover its secret. Of course, the fact that the mysterious, handsome Chance was the creator of this marvel only made it more appealing.
Ty only had his pencil, so the sketches cast the flowers in shades of gray. Without color, pattern and shape became the message, which was profound in its own way. With all the noise of the ocean and the street, it made sense to have a language you could see. Ty began to find it in the angle of a petal, solid and secure against one that wavered in the breeze, a bashful flower with its face drawn in with an exuberant neighbor open to the world, a blossom bending downward to caress a partner beneath it.
Ty ignored the passers-by as he sketched, letting their conversation wash over him. But at some point, something felt different, and he looked up to see Chance standing at the edge of the garden. He was backlit by the sun, which erased the details of his face, outlining his broad form instead, the heavy shoulders, sturdy hips, long back and legs.
And now the form of him was going to haunt Ty. That was clear immediately. Ty’s mind cast Chance’s silhouette onto canvas, repeated in contrasting colors, emotion without features.
“Sorry,” Chance said, on being noticed. “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
“No, it’s all right.” Ty unfolded his legs, realizing that he must have been on the bench for a while for them to have stiffened up. He glanced at his phone. An hour to go.
“May I see?” Chance asked.
Ty handed Chance his sketchbook. He expected the usual immediate, Oh, they’re beautiful! But instead, Chance flipped through the pages with a look of mild surprise and growing fascination. (It was actually a higher compliment, Ty thought.)
“You’ve really captured them,” Chance said.
Ty broke into a grin. “You think so? They’re your flowers, after all.”
“Oh, no, they belong to everyone. So how nervous are you?”
Ty gave a shaky laugh as answer, and Chance looked sympathetic. “Do you have family coming?” Chance asked, as they walked back into the gallery. “I’m sure you’ll have your friends, of course.”
“Friends, yes. Family— no. Thankfully, they aren’t coming. My stepdad is—” There was not a good way to end that sentence in a few words.
Chance went into the kitchen and started putting champagne glasses on a rolling cart. Ty moved to help him.
“So young and on your own,” Chance said.
“I’m not so young,” Ty answered immediately. Then he felt himself blush. “I suppose I am. Of course, the glory comes in being young. A few years and I’ll be just one of the crowd. I won’t stand out.”
Chance raised an eyebrow in faint disapproval. “That doesn’t mean you’ll be any less of an artist.” He put the last of the glasses on the cart and started pushing it back out to the galleries. It must have weighed next to nothing, but Chance seemed to be struggling a bit.
“Are you all right?” Ty asked. He moved around Chance to take over the cart.
“Just tired,” Chance said. “I was visiting my niece today. That always wears me out.”
Ty was going to prod further, but Grant, the gallery owner, interrupted them, breezing in through the front door and clapping his hands. “All ready, Ty? It’s your night.”
“All ready,” Ty said, putting on a brave smile.
“Excellent!” Pep talk over, Grant disappeared in the direction of his office. Ty liked him, though, and not just because he’d agreed to give Ty his first art show. Grant was curt and not overly warm with people, but he gave off an aura of expected success. Surely if the gallery was a business to him, then he was counting on some of Ty’s art selling.
Ty himself was still not so optimistic. “I’m ready to stand around all night while not a single person comes in,” he confided to Chance.
Chance’s mouth quirked into a smile. “That’s why we have free champagne. They’ll come.”
An hour later, to Ty’s surprise and immense relief, people did. Before long he had the opposite kind of anxiety flowing through him: the type that came from being the center of attention.
Ty’s friends enthused loudly over the paintings, but so did people Ty had never seen before. One lady seemed to want to interview him about his entire life, and a few people asked about commissions. The water glass painting sold. Grant said it would stay in the gallery for a few weeks before he’d allow it to go, though.
Toward the end of the night, Ty was feeling a little light-headed. It did not dawn on him that there might be a cause besides stress, until someone tapped him on the shoulder and Ty turned to find Chance holding a sandwich and a bottle of water.
They stepped into the hallway together. “I forgot food existed,” Ty said.
Chance laughed. “That’s standard for a first show.”
“Oh, well, I suppose it’s good that I’m not more ridiculous than other artists.”
Chance’s happy look softened. “You always compare yourself to everyone else.”
“Art is competitive, whether we like it or not.”
“Fame is competitive. Not art.”
Ty paused before taking the last bite of his sandwich. He looked up at Chance— how he liked looking up at him, so deliciously tall— and saw compassion there. But his artist’s eye, so fascinated with the poor man, picked up something else as well.
The show was still going on just around the corner. The buzz of voices was soft. Here in the hallway, the lights were much dimmer than in the show room, and Chance’s face was cast in shadow, in grayscale like the flowers in the sketchbook. Ty wished he could read whatever message was showing on Chance’s face. Without knowing what it said, he wasn’t sure how to answer it.
“You’re very kind,” Ty said. He wanted to do more than speak. He wanted to stand up on his toes and kiss the man. Just a light thing, really. A brush of lips. Something that could speak for him, could give his own wordless answer that maybe made some sense.
Ty stretched up, just a little taller, a little closer. Chance’s breath caught.
There was an exclamation from the show room behind them, and Ty was startled into turning. Colored lights were shining into the hallway, blue and red, changing into orange, yellow, and pink.
“Did you put colored bulbs in?” Ty asked, as he went around the corner. He found his paintings lit up in a way he’d never expected. They seemed to move under the changing light, brightening and fading depending on the color, one moment in spotlight, the next in shadow.
Chance was standing in the doorway, looking surprised. More than surprised— almost horrified. He stepped back into the hallway and disappeared. Ty couldn’t follow, because people were asking him about the lights.
“Just a bit of something different at the end,” Ty said. “All the gallery’s doing.”
The lights began to fade, their colors washing out, until there was nothing but the original white lighting left.
“Did you see the way the water glass seemed to fill and empty?” Ty’s friend Jill exclaimed. “You should do a whole installation like that. Static paintings come to life. Motions completed and then undone.”
“I’ll have to talk to Chance about it,” Ty said. “It seems to have been his idea.”
Ty had been painting all morning. This was not unusual, but today he was feeling particularly inspired.
Ty, being a soon-to-be-famous artiste, had a very small third-floor walk-up apartment with one large south-facing window for natural light. He didn’t have much furniture. The bed was a mattress on the floor. But the apartment was worth it for the window.
Today it was raining, so the daylight was muted. Ty’s world had narrowed to canvas and easel, and it rained there too. Painted raindrops in vivid color.
There was no color to the real raindrops on the window. They reflected gray skies, the damp concrete of other apartment buildings, and specks of dirt on the pane. On the canvas, it was a different matter entirely. Something wonderfully colorful was being reflected, the source just out of view. Was it Chance’s garden? The colored lights from the gallery show? Or perhaps the window was from a diner, with a neon sign nearby, changing its colors in an unseen pattern.
There was movement in the raindrops, even arrested partway down the windowpane. Like Chance had said about the water glass, they were in the middle of a change, not just of place as they streamed downward, but of color.
Ty had never painted anything quite like this. The piece was objectively pretty with all its colors, but Ty had always wanted to create something that had a message behind it, and this did. He wasn’t actually sure what it was saying, though. Maybe just that ordinary things could be magical.
The door to Ty’s apartment opened and Andrew announced his arrival, with Clay in tow. Ty’s place really was small, and any spare space was filled with art supplies. But somehow, it had become the favorite gathering place of their little group. They were all so young, Ty thought, young enough to lounge on pillows on the floor instead of chairs, young enough to drink cheap wine and laugh and call it a party.
Andrew and Clay had gotten roles in a new play, and wanted to rehearse at Ty’s. They were to play lovers, which was a natural pairing for them, as they were occasional lovers themselves.
Ty paid them some idle attention as they spoke, their repeated lines passing through the apartment like a meditative chant. Ty didn’t find it distracting. There was a spirit of creation coming from his friends, and their emotions buoyed Ty’s efforts. The apartment was a place of art.
When they were done rehearsing, Andrew and Clay raided Ty’s fridge and then sat on the floor, admiring Ty’s work.
“A new direction,” Clay said. “Where did this come from?”
“It’s the colored lights at the gallery,” Andrew said. “That handyman of yours, Ty. He’s a genius.”
“I need to go see him,” Ty said, and that made the others laugh. “Not like that,” Ty protested. “Okay, maybe like that.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to stay?” Andrew asked. Clay was kissing his neck and he tilted his head to give him more room. “The three of us could make an evening of it.”
“Could be four,” Clay said. “Invite your handyman.”
“Not tonight, thanks. Anyway, he’s not like us. He lives in the real world.”
“I don’t know,” Clay said. “That lighting was inspired.”
The gallery was closing by the time Ty got there. The rain had stopped, but it was still cloudy enough that he knew it would be dark early. Ty wandered the other rooms of the gallery for a while, until he caught sight of Chance in a hallway. And oh, good God, the man was wearing a tool belt. It was slung low over one hip. Oddly, the tools inside— hammer, screwdriver, and so on— were not silver and brown, but brightly colored.
Ty waved, trying not to blush.
Chance got a look of pleased surprise on his face. “Hi. All recovered from last night?”
“Getting there. I just wanted to— well, to say thank you for the sandwich.”
“Like I said, standard practice.” Chance kept moving, and Ty followed him into another small room, near where Ty’s paintings hung. The walls of this room were bare, the space empty except for a workbench covered in papers. Chance had a pencil behind his ear and he made a note on a page, and then pulled out a measuring tape. Ty had never seen one that was bright blue with pink polka dots before.
“Is there a new artist moving into this room?” Ty asked.
“Yep. New artist.”
Ty felt his spirits sink, unsure as to why. “You must know a lot of artists,” he said. “Obviously. I’m sure they all find you very— helpful.”
Chance passed Ty one end of the measuring tape, then showed him where to hold it on the wall. He took a couple of steps away, muttered something, and made a note. “You’re very helpful. They aren’t all. Some artists are— they aren’t concerned with how things get done at the gallery.”
“Oh, but they must all appreciate you! The colored lights you did for the show were incredible. Do you usually do that? Surprise the artist? A first show tradition, maybe?”
Chance’s face lost its amusement. He looked away. “I’m sorry about that.”
“Why? I don’t understand.”
“It was a mistake. You really aren’t upset?”
“No, of course not. I loved it.”
Chance gave him an appraising glance. “You’re a different kind of artist.”
“Oh.” Ty tried not to sound worried. “Really?”
Chance smiled. “I mean progressive. Open to new things. It’s good. You’ve got the whole world to draw from.”
“May I draw you?” Ty asked. He immediately regretted it. “Sorry. You’ve sort of inspired me, and I thought maybe I could draw your hands. Because they’re very— uh, capable.”
Chance looked down at his hands, holding the measuring tape and a pencil. His gaze slowly moved up to Ty’s face. His expression was surprised, confused, wary. And hungry.
Ty had always gravitated toward older lovers. Some men were flattered by it, the idea that a younger man desired them. But most older men were put off by that kind of age difference. Chance— he didn’t seem flattered. It wasn’t an ego boost to him. It was clearly something he hadn’t expected. But his longing was clear.
Ty took a step toward him.
Chance quickly looked down, breaking the tension. “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he said.
“Oh. No, that’s— that’s fine. I didn’t mean to—”
“I should—” Chance indicated his work.
“Yes, of course. I’ll leave you to it.”
Ty went for a walk on the beach. Even after the rain, it was crowded, and he stuck to the unmarked sand, away from the crowds. He carried his shoes in his hands, letting his feet sink with every step.
It seemed ridiculous to be upset about the refusal from Chance. Ty wasn’t unused to it. A lot of people didn’t want to appear in someone’s art. It was a deeply personal, sometimes uncomfortable thing. So why was Ty so desperately disappointed, feeling like he’d lost something? Around Chance, Ty’s hands felt unexpectedly empty. What did he want to hold in them? A pencil or paintbrush? Chance’s hand?
Chance was attractive, and he was kind. He was shy and overlooked. He was terribly competent at what he did, the gallery lighting, his garden. But there were other handsome, shy, competent people. What was so different about Chance?
Ty had a suspicion. An ethereal concept, an artist’s indulgence. Inspiration and desperation mixed into an addictive drug. A muse. Ty had never had a muse before. He’d imagined it would be less uncomfortable than this.
It was getting dark by the time Ty left the beach. He walked back up toward the gallery where he’d parked his bicycle. There was someone in the garden in the dying light, and as Ty got closer, he could see that it was Chance. Ty had his silhouette memorized.
Chance was kneeling on the ground near the bench, working among the flowers. Ty fully intended to wave goodnight and leave the man in peace. But something caught his eye. There were lights in the garden. Lights between Chance’s hands. Lights that spun in slow, sparkling arcs.
Ty looked around at the street. No one else seemed to notice it. If they did, they didn’t think it was odd, just a man working. No one was looking closely enough at Chance to see it.
When Ty turned back, Chance had noticed him.
In all honesty, Ty should probably still wave goodbye and leave the man in peace. But Chance didn’t look upset. His hands had fallen still, but every once in a while there was a tiny colored spark between his fingers in the darkness.
“My grandmother used to do this,” Chance said.
Ty came forward at once, picking his way through the flowers to the bench. Chance had a faint smile on his face and he waved his fingers gently. Red sparks formed, and Chance brought his other hand up, sweeping underneath, moving them around until they spun on their own. They brightened for a second, and then faded. A new red flower now grew on a stem, from the soil, as real as any other plant. It should have seemed strange, but it felt completely natural. A question answered.
“The look on your face,” Ty said.
Chance looked surprised to find that Ty hadn’t just been watching the flower.
“You created this place?” Ty said. “You’re incredible.”
Chance frowned. “They want to be, the flowers. I’m just the medium.”
Ty scoffed. “You’re an artist,” he said, laying a hand on Chance’s arm. “A far better one than—” He broke off as several new flowers burst into existence, without Chance shaping them, bright blue and white blossoms curving around each other in a showy arc as tall as the bench seat.
Chance drew in his breath in clear surprise.
Ty looked at his hand where it rested on Chance’s arm, then looked at Chance’s face, flushed in the darkness. “The lights,” Ty said softly. “The colored lights at the show last night. Was that you? Was that— you?”
“It gets away from me sometimes,” Chance said.
“Is that bad?”
Chance’s expression softened. “It comes from happy things.” He met Ty’s eyes with a hesitant look. “So long as you know that it might happen again.”
“I hope so,” Ty said. “I’d like for you to be happy.”
Ty decided, entirely altruistically, of course, that Chance might need help setting up for the new artist’s show. So he biked back to the gallery on the day before.
It had occurred to Ty that he was jealous of the new artist. He knew it was stupid to be jealous. Ty was not the only artist in the world. Other people deserved shows too. That was logical.
But then it furthermore occurred to Ty that he might actually be jealous over something else— Chance. Would this new artist get colored lights at their show? Would they be let in on the secret of the garden? How many people did Chance trust enough to show them his creative genius?
The new artist was there when Ty arrived. Ty glanced at the brochures neatly stacked on the table and saw that his name was Xavier Mills. He was young, like Ty. More expensive clothes. Rich black hair and a handsome face.
Xavier’s art, hanging on the walls of another small room, was a very different style from Ty’s. There was nothing so mundane as a water glass or snail shell. Xavier’s art was fanciful, abstract, and dark. Bright colors were almost entirely absent, but there seemed to be entire worlds concealed in shadow, straight lines where you expected disorder. It was like the viewer was looking into the darkness and seeing something look back.
It was heady, complicated, mature art. It wasn’t to Ty’s taste, and yet he doubted he could produce anything so sophisticated.
“Oh, Tyrone Curt,” Xavier said, when Ty introduced himself. “You just had your show. I heard it was quite successful.”
“Much better than I expected, honestly,” Ty said.
“I don’t know why Grant put our shows so close together,” Xavier said, in a sharp tone. “But I suppose he knows what he’s doing.”
“Is this your first show?”
Xavier smiled. “Oh, no. Definitely not.”
Ty was distracted by Chance walking into the room— wearing his tool belt again, colorful tools inside. On seeing Ty, Chance broke into a smile that was brighter and broader than Ty had ever seen on him.
“Hi,” Ty said, probably grinning himself. “Thought I’d come by and lend a hand, if you need.”
“I’m just about finished up,” Chance said. “Couple things in the kitchen maybe.”
Ty turned to Xavier. “Unless you were going to—”
“To what?” Xavier looked confused.
“Never mind.” Ty followed Chance down the hall and into the kitchen. He found the cupboard of champagne flutes and started setting them on the counter. “He’s very talented,” he said. “Xavier.”
Chance was putting champagne bottles into the fridge. “Yes, he seems to be. I don’t pay much attention to that sort of thing.”
Ty stopped with a champagne flute in his hand. “You gave me an in-depth analysis of my water glass painting.”
“I liked the water glass.”
Ty looked down, trying to hide whatever stupid grin was no doubt on his face again. “Thank you. That’s very high praise from the head of maintenance at an art gallery.”
“All of maintenance,” Chance reminded him.
“Technically, that does make you the head of maintenance. And then you told me about my other paintings as well.”
Chance scoffed lightly, as if he hardly remembered it. But above them, the kitchen light shifted from white to pink. Ty looked up at what he now knew to be white bulbs reacting to magic.
Chance stood up from the fridge, making a noise of exasperation. He turned his hand in a quick motion, and when he unclasped his fingers there was a pink blossom sitting on his palm. He put it into the champagne flute that Ty was holding as the kitchen light turned back to white, the magic having been redirected.
“It certainly is much easier now that you know,” Chance said.
Ty knew he was probably gazing at him in wonder. “So you’re feeling happy.”
Chance said nothing, but his smile deepened.
“I had a commission this morning,” Ty said. “I wanted to tell you about it. Well, let me start over. I made a new painting the other day, of raindrops. It’s not like what I’ve done before. You influenced it, I think.”
Chance looked surprised. “Me? Oh, you mean the—” he waved a hand.
“Well, the colored lights, yes. Anyway, the buyer didn’t like the new one, she liked my old style better. So much for that. But I pitched her the idea of a flower garden. I showed her the sketches I made of yours. She liked that idea, a close-up of a flower to two. I wanted to ask if that was all right with you. I know you don’t want me painting you, but would it be all right to paint the garden?”
“The garden’s for everyone,” Chance said. He’d lost his smile, though.
Ty didn’t get to ask about it, because Xavier walked into the kitchen. “Here you are. So is the whole gallery going to be open tomorrow night or just my showroom?”
“That’s up to you,” Chance said. “However you’d like to be presented. I can dim the lights in the other rooms if you want.”
“Well, since I’m toward the back, yes,” Xavier said. “I don’t want people getting lost on the way to my room. I assume the food is taken care of?”
“I’m just checking the supplies now.”
Xavier made a show of looking at the clock on the wall. “All right. Thank you.” He glanced at Ty. “How many pieces did you sell at your show?”
“Two. And two commissions since.”
Xavier frowned. “We really shouldn’t have had the shows so close together. People have already bought art here this week. Well. We are at the mercy of Grant’s schedule, aren’t we?” He left with the same impatience he’d come in with.
“I do kind of see his point,” Ty said.
Chance shook his head. “Your styles are very different. You won’t sell to the same pool of buyers.”
“Oh. You should tell him that. He’ll probably feel better.”
Chance made a checkmark on a whiteboard attached to the fridge with food listed: cheese, crackers, fruit, champagne. “Most people don’t want art advice from the head of maintenance.”
“Well, that’s— that’s stupid. I mean, you’re— Listen, Chance, will you come to my place tonight? I want to show you some of what I’ve been working on.”
Chance looked hesitant. Ty had expected that. “I’ll make you dinner,” he offered. “Spaghetti with meat sauce from a jar. I’m a starving artist, you know.”
It took a moment, but Chance nodded.
Chance looked amazing walking around Ty’s apartment. He’d left the tool belt behind, and the flannel shirt he’d been wearing over it, and was just in a t-shirt and jeans now. Ty had never had more desire to draw a man in his life. And also to trap him in his apartment and never let him leave. That was probably a bit over the top, though.
“It’s unexplained,” Chance said after studying the raindrop painting. “You can’t tell where the color comes from, but you know it must be real. I like that.”
Ty could hold onto the question no longer. “Chance, do you tell a lot of people about what you can do?”
“It’s easy to misunderstand.” Chance gave Ty a look of appreciation, and Ty felt like he’d won something. Chance was standing by the great window now, and the evening sun glowed softly in his brown hair, setting off the silvering streaks, like they might be just an effect of the light. Ty wondered desperately what Chance would look like in the moonlight.
Ty brought out the sketches he’d made of Chance’s flower garden. “So for the commission, it would be something like this. In color, of course. The buyer wants something bright. Do you have a favorite? I can’t pick, they’re all so beautiful.”
Ty frowned at the sketch. “Well, maybe this one? I can’t remember if it was really red or not, but I thought maybe a cherry red, or even coral—” Ty caught his breath as the flower on the page turned a beautiful shade of coral, as if watercolor paint had been passed over it, spreading evenly to the penciled lines. The flower behind it turned red.
“Sorry,” Chance said. He had his eyes pressed closed. “I’m not used to all this— attention.”
“That’s absolutely incredible.”
“It’s really—” Chance opened his eyes and Ty saw so much emotion in his gaze. It was tangled, and confused, but some of it was clearly desire. Ty picked that one to respond to.
Chance’s skin was cool under Ty’s fingertips as he reached up to slide a hand behind his neck, Ty on his toes to reach better. He pulled Chance down until their lips met. For a moment, Chance seemed stunned, and then he moved in rough motions, sliding an arm around Ty’s waist, the other on his hip.
Chance didn’t entirely kiss back at first, but he let Ty lick into his mouth with hunger, let him taste his full lips, the sweetness of his tongue. Gradually Chance gave in, and then the kiss became deeper and a little wilder. Chance pulled Ty closer now, flush against him, but his hands on him were light, like Ty was some precious, fragile thing.
Ty had expected resistance, and the lack of it made him giddy, the thought that Chance had wanted this, that he’d noticed Ty, that Ty had read his desire for what it was. Maybe it wasn’t as much as Ty felt, but it was enough for this brief moment in front of the window, with Ty allowed to touch, just like the sun did, to slide his hands over Chance’s shoulders, the soft cotton of his shirt, to bring one hand down over Chance’s chest, feeling the broad muscles that worked there.
When the kiss broke, Ty was breathing hard. Chance slowly let go of him, which Ty didn’t really want, but then he caught sight of something new, and he gasped. His easel, with the raindrop painting, was covered in flowering vines, a frame of bright blossoms. They were the exact colors that the raindrops had been reflecting, as if the flowers had been there all along.
Ty stared up at Chance in adoration. “I think you’ve become my muse.”
It was the wrong thing to say. Ty could see that immediately. Chance had looked embarrassed, and now the cheer faded from his face. He stepped away.
“I’m sorry,” Ty said. “That sounds— that sounds like I want to use you. I swear, it’s not that. I liked you before. Before the garden, before the lights at my show. Before I knew it was you.”
Chance’s expression didn’t change. “You like older men?”
“I’ve always dated older men.”
“So it’s a kink, then? An age thing. Or a fling with the maintenance man?”
“No. God, no. It’s just you, Chance. I swear.”
Chance looked slightly reassured, the pain in his expression fading into regret. But that was almost harder to look at.
Lost somewhere, wandering helplessly, Ty gestured at the raindrops. “Will you take the painting? After all, you did half the work.”
Chance seemed to consider it, his eyes narrowed in a way that Ty ached, as always, to sketch. “I suppose we did it together,” he said.
Xavier’s show was the following night.
There was a good crowd, contrary to Xavier’s worries, though Ty wasn’t sure how many people Xavier was used to having at his shows.
Xavier cut a much more dashing figure than Ty had on his night. He was all in black, and it made his pale hands and face look stark and expressive. Plus, all of the mixing with potential buyers seemed effortless to him, where Ty had been so anxious talking to strangers.
The lights in the other galleries were dimmed, including the room with Ty’s work, but the only lights Ty was really concerned with were the overheads in Xavier’s room. Ty had a terrible fear that the lights would turn colors for Xavier as they had for Ty.
However, Chance had not yet made an appearance at this show, which pleased Ty maybe more than it should have. And for Ty it would have been much more enjoyable to find Chance and spend the evening with him, replenishing food trays or whatever was needed, rather than watching Xavier mingle. But Ty wasn’t exactly sure where they stood after the kiss.
Ty kept turning that moment over in his mind, letting the feeling buzz inside of him. Before Ty had spoken clumsily and ruined what had happened, Chance had been warm and strong, holding Ty close. And all the while, Chance’s magic had been creating flowers in beautiful colors, because he was happy.
Ty felt like he was holding something rare and breakable in his hands, and he wasn’t sure how to protect it. The truth was, he did want Chance to be his muse. He wanted to draw the man, his magic, his hands, other parts of him Ty had not yet seen— there was no use denying it. Chance inspired him. When Ty looked at Chance, he could see endless possibilities.
But Ty also wanted to kiss the man again, and then to move beyond kissing. Every part of him that Ty wanted to draw, he also wanted to touch. It wouldn’t be enough for a pencil to outline Chance’s hands when Ty’s fingers wanted to make the journey too, and his lips following behind.
The problem was, Ty couldn’t have it both ways. So he needed to make a choice. He could either say goodbye to Chance now and use what he knew of the man as inspiration for his art— not painting Chance himself as he didn’t have permission, but works influenced by his magic— or Ty could pursue his attraction to him. It had to be one or the other, because Chance was uncomfortable being a muse. If they were to have a relationship— friendship or something more— Ty would have to let that desire go.
In all likelihood, the decision was going to be taken out of Ty’s hands. He wasn’t sure Chance even wanted him around anymore.
“It’s a pretty good turn out,” said a voice behind him.
Ty turned around. “Chance!”
Chance was smiling, but he quickly looked at the ground. “Don’t be so happy to see me,” he chided. “You know what happens.”
“Right, sorry.” Ty tried to look serious. “How utterly uninteresting to run into you this evening, my fellow acquaintance.”
Chance gave him a sort of fondly skeptical look, but the lights remained white.
“How many has Xavier sold?” Ty asked.
“One,” came the answer. It was not from Chance, though. It was Xavier, who had been nearer than Ty had realized, so caught up was he in Chance’s appearance.
“Oh,” Ty said. “That’s wonderful, congratulations!”
Xavier did not look pleased. “It’s lower than my usual rate. Grant has been very reassuring, but that’s his job.”
“I’m sure it will pick up!” Ty said, bravely.
Xavier put on a tactful look. “I appreciate it, Ty. I do. But you don’t know anything about this.”
Xavier’s look softened. “Well— you’re new, is what I mean.”
“Right.” Ty glanced toward the exit to the room. “I think I’ll see if there’s anything to do in the kitchen. If Chance needs help.”
Xavier only then seemed to notice Chance standing there. But a new person walked into the room then, and Xavier went to greet them. Or rather, as Ty had noticed a few times this evening, Xavier went to wait for them to greet him. It seemed like a good strategy, honestly, not seeming too eager. Ty planned to adopt it at his next show. Assuming another gallery would ever offer him one.
“He’s really very rude,” Chance said. “Anyway, there are dishes, if you don’t mind.”
Ty followed him out of the room. But Chance didn’t go to the kitchen. Instead, he went through an outside door that led to the garden. He didn’t say anything, but Ty saw it for the kind gesture it was.
The garden was peaceful in the darkness, even as people and cars moved all around them. Ty sat on the bench and Chance settled beside him.
“I was wondering,” Chance said. “Would you like—” There was light enough for Ty to see him frown, and Ty’s fingers twitched, wanting to twist a pencil at the right angle to capture the lines around his mouth. “Would you like to come to my place tomorrow for lunch?”
Ty felt a tremendous sense of relief, but also of grave disappointment. Chance was making his choice.
“It’s just that I have a garden there,” Chance said. “Well, it’s more— it’s a lot, but if you wanted to see it—”
“I’d love to,” Ty said.
Chance seemed relieved. He had his hands clasped together and Ty knew now to watch carefully as he opened them. A little yellow flower rested on his palm. “I want you to be happy, too,” Chance said. He took Ty’s hand and set the flower in it.
“That’s very lovely of you.”
“Oh, none of that. You’re just trying to get more flowers.” Ty burst out laughing, and Chance smiled. “There you go.”
“You do make me happy,” Ty said.
Chance lived in a small house on an out-of-the-way street in town. Ty had expected the garden to be wild and wonderful, and it was. The flowers seemed barely contained at best, climbing the front of the house, stealing onto the sidewalk, even claiming the post of a stop sign on the corner. A front walk was barely visible, and the doors and windows were clear. But the whole place felt raucous and joyous and loved.
Chance was waiting on the front step for Ty, and smiled when he saw him, a little surprised, like he hadn’t been sure if Ty would really come. Inside, the house was small and cluttered. It reminded Ty of his studio with the art supplies everywhere. In Chance’s space it was tools and gardening gear, loosely organized into crates and canisters, on the floor and flat surfaces. But the effect was as stunning as the garden.
“There’s so much color,” Ty marveled. Here were more of Chance’s bright tools: blue, gold, and orange. Garden shears were pink. The kitchen table was a deep purple with delicate silver floral designs. Even the walls were all different colors, sometimes in patterns and sometimes in random, abstract shapes.
“Don’t get used to it,” Chance said. “It changes all the time.”
“This is extraordinary,” Ty said. “So you don’t pick what it looks like? Ever?”
“It doesn’t really like to work that way.” Chance moved into the kitchen, where something that smelled wonderful was simmering in a large pot.
“Will you explain it to me?” Ty asked.
Chance gave him a glance as he stirred the pot. “I don’t think I need to. You understand it better than anyone I’ve ever met. You didn’t ask me how I was making flowers and lights. You wanted to know why. You think like an artist.”
“Oh,” Ty said. “I mean I guess I’d much rather be asked why I painted something rather than what brushes I used.”
Chance served soup into two bowls, one blue and one coral. “My grandmother called it Blooming. She had it, too. When I was born, they saw it in me, and so they called me Chance. It’s said to be good luck to have it.”
“Blooming,” Ty said. “I love that.”
“It makes things brighter. Makes them grow.” Chance put the bowls on the table and took a seat (a red one) next to Ty.
“Is that the purpose of it, then? Bringing color and beauty into the world?”
“If it has a purpose, I suppose. But really, it just happens. My life— my life works better when I let it out. Does that make sense?”
“Perfect sense.” Ty looked around the kitchen. There were red flowers painted along the ceiling above the sink that Ty was fairly certain hadn’t been there a few moments ago. “You’re the greatest artist I’ve ever known,” Ty said.
Chance gave him a rare displeased look. “Why compare? Art is something we all share.”
“I suppose we did collaborate once already. On the raindrops.”
As expected, the reference to the kiss made Chance flush slightly, and then Ty’s soup bowl turned yellow. “We collaborate all the time,” Chance pointed out.
After lunch, Ty got a tour of the rest of the house, which was exactly as expected. Colorful chaos. The backyard, though—
They stepped outside and Ty heard a light, melodic clattering noise. He couldn’t tell where it was coming from amid the tangle of flowers, which filled the yard to its colorful fence. But Chance put a hand on Ty’s arm to keep him from walking out farther.
“Sometimes it sort of rains out here,” Chance said, and that was when Ty realized that little bright specks of something were falling from the sky and clattering onto the ground, striking faint notes when they hit. One landed at Ty’s feet, and he picked it up. It felt hard and solid, but then melted away into nothing, leaving a faint sparkling residue on Ty’s fingers.
“What is that?” Ty asked. “It’s almost like hail.”
Chance shrugged. “Blooming. I think it’s for the sound, actually. It’s almost like music.”
“It is music. Like wind chimes. You know, if you think about it, all of your art is like wind chimes. None of it’s on purpose, and you don’t know what it will be until it happens.”
Chance looked pleased by the analysis, or at least amused.
Back inside, Ty paused to look at photographs hanging on a wall. There were four, and only three people in them, grouped together: Chance, a woman who looked about his age, and a young girl.
“Your niece?” Ty asked.
Chance had stopped smiling, and outside, the melodic hail ceased. “Margaret. Her mother was Lila. My sister.”
Ty had a sinking feeling. “Was?”
“They were in a car accident. A year ago. Lila was killed. Margaret has been in a coma ever since.”
“Oh, my God. I’m so sorry.” Ty put a hand on Chance’s arm. Nothing changed color this time. “So when you say you’ve been visiting her—”
“I bring her flowers. I make her flowers.”
Chance wasn’t looking at him now, and Ty’s worry only deepened. He remembered how tired Chance had been that day when he’d been visiting his niece. He didn’t get that way from creating flowers.
Chance’s house was a place of peace and happiness. But there was no evidence of anyone else there. Had it really been just Chance and his niece in the hospital for a year? Just his boss Grant, and a revolving string of artists who didn’t want advice from the head of maintenance? Chance’s life wasn’t all beauty and magic. Who was there for him when things got dark?
“Thank you for having me over,” Ty said.
Chance smiled at him. “I’m glad you’re here.”
Ty had never had a real artist’s block, where he could create nothing. And he wasn’t quite there now.
The canvas in front of him was his fifth and final study of the red and coral flowers for the commission he’d been given, and he was happy with it.
But every other canvas he had sat blank because there was only one thing Ty wanted to paint, and he couldn’t. Worse, he shouldn’t. The Blooming was Chance’s art, not Ty’s. And now that Ty knew how deeply personal it was, he couldn’t simply take it and use it for himself. These flowers had to be the last of the Blooming that Ty painted.
Ty sat with his blank canvases for two days before bringing one of the flower studies to the gallery to show Grant. Ty had another month at the gallery before Grant would give the space to someone else. Fortunately, Grant liked the coral flower, but as Ty carried it into his showroom, he wasn’t nearly as excited as he’d hoped.
Chance walked in a few moments later, and Ty turned the canvas so that Chance could see it.
“It’s beautiful,” Chance said. “Very simple, and bold. You don’t do many with black backgrounds like that.” He was beginning to get a concerned look on his face. “I haven’t seen you in a few days.”
“Just finishing the commission.”
Chance seemed dissatisfied with that answer. His dark eyebrows— and Ty knew the exact paints to mix to get their color— pinched closer together. “I think I’m being quite unfair to you.”
“I mean—” Chance gestured with the green screwdriver he was holding— “I’ve been using you for my art. And I haven’t let you use me.”
“I don’t want to use you. You’re far too important to me.”
The overhead lights shifted toward purple, casting the coral flower as a dark brown. Chance pointed a finger toward the ceiling, smiling faintly. “The thing is, if that sort of thing happened to me on a regular basis, everyone would know about the Blooming. Other artists at the gallery, people who came to my house to deliver a package. It would be no secret.”
Ty was staring at him now. “You don’t mean it’s just me.”
Chance’s face had flushed. “When you first got here, I saw your water glass painting, and I thought you must be brilliant. And then I met you and you were so— well, attractive, full of life and imagination, and I thought, Oh, thank God he’s so young, he won’t even notice an old man like me. I can just admire him from afar. He’ll never know what he does to me. But then you kept smiling at me, and giving me the most ridiculous compliments— and so then you found out. What you do to me.”
“Chance,” Ty breathed.
Chance looked both embarrassed and fond. “You make me feel happy. And I want to do the same for you.”
Chance leaned in to press his lips against Ty’s. He lingered there for a few seconds, just long enough for Ty to recover from his surprise and clutch at Chance’s arm, feeling the warmth of him beneath his sleeve, the taut strength of him. When Chance pulled away, Ty saw that the floor beneath their feet was covered with what looked like golden sand. As he watched, it flashed blue, white, and pink, before fading away.
“That’s not me,” Chance said, catching Ty’s gaze. “That’s us. And you have every right to use it.”
Ty barely let him finish the sentence. He leaned in to give Chance a hard, brief kiss, and then he was halfway out the door already. “Come by tonight,” he said. “Please? See what I’m working on.”
Chance nodded, looking terribly happy. “I will.”
Chance arrived around seven, although Ty had no idea what time it was. Chance must have expected that, because he brought food. He made Ty sit down at his cluttered table to eat a cheeseburger, pointing a finger at him. “No compliments out of you. I want to see this as it is, without the lights playing around.”
Ty scowled as well as he could with his mouth full.
Chance took his time, walking among the three easels that Ty had, and looking at the sketches lying on the windowsill and taped to the wall. What Ty had painted was not the flowers in Chance’s garden or the colorful soup bowls, not the sparkling hail or the gallery kitchen bathed in pink light. He’d attempted something less and more than that for his first real go at the Blooming: abstract shapes, shifting colors, patterns that started tidily and ended up somewhere strange. But he hoped that they all showed direction, following a path that didn’t exist until they went down it, but which still led somewhere real.
“How did you do this?” Chance asked after a long silence. “This is Blooming. This looks like what it feels like.”
Ty was reaching for one of the bottles of apple juice that Chance had brought, and he ended up dropping it on the floor. “What, really?”
“You’ve captured it. I mean the bit where it gets away from me and takes off. I suppose that’s what you’ve seen most.” Chance looked down at his hands for a moment and then back at Ty. “Do you still want to draw my hands? Do you want to draw me?”
Chance shook his head. “No, I want to show you. What it can do if it’s on purpose.”
Ty abandoned the food and grabbed his pencils. He positioned Chance in a chair at the table, with the last of the evening light from the window falling softly on him.
It was a physical pleasure for Ty to finally let his hands put Chance’s hands on paper. Chance had them gently clasped, lying in his lap, and Ty drew them faithfully, every callus and wrinkle and scar. He drew the gentleness of them, the grace that you could see even when they weren’t moving. He used colored pencils to lighten the drawings, enough to give the hands life in their stillness.
Chance had his eyes closed, but after a while, he began to move his hands gently. “I want to make marvels for you,” he said.
Ty laughed. “Your flowers are certainly that.”
“Oh, there’s more than flowers here.” Chance pulled his hands apart and tiny sparks filled the space where they’d been, darting about like fireflies. Chance’s breathing slowed, and watching him, Ty knew what he was feeling. The trance of creation. The fascination that let hours pass without cramped fingers or hunger pains. The place where negative thoughts couldn’t find you. It was a privilege to watch it passing over Chance.
The sparks of light gathered close again and then seemed to pass into Chance’s hands, and his fingers began to glow. Ty kept record, his drawing more white than gray now.
“What’s your favorite time of day?” Chance asked, his eyes still closed.
“Early riser. So am I.”
“I like the light. It’s clear and clean.”
Chance smiled. “I like the colors. Let me see what happens if I think on it.”
Chance sat still, hands faintly aglow, but motionless again, as the Blooming passed through the room. It was just like the light of sunrise, as pink as it was golden, slightly thicker as it came into the world sideways. There was no source to it that Ty could see, no sun. But the air seemed to warm, and the room came alive in a way that it could never do otherwise, as if there were no walls and no ceiling, as if Ty and his tiny studio were alone in a field, watching the sun rise.
The bottle of apple juice on the floor glowed apple-gold. Ty’s white kitchen cabinets were slowly shifting purple-pink clouds. All the ordinary objects in the room were made new by a light that was familiar but wonderfully out of place.
Ty abandoned his pencils for paints, just trying to get the colors right. The details could come later. He lost track of time as he worked, the trance of creation including himself now.
Eventually, the light faded, and Ty noticed that Chance’s hands had ceased to glow. The last thing that Ty drew, back to simple gray and white in his sketchbook, was Chance’s face. Chance looked peaceful and half-aware, weary in a way that Ty knew would feel worthwhile. The same way he felt now, realizing he was thirsty and his hands were tired, that there was paint on his forehead.
“That was incredible,” Ty said.
Chance opened his eyes. “The Blooming wants to happen. I’m just the medium.”
Ty turned his sketchbook around so that Chance could see the drawing of himself. “I’m very interested in the medium.”
Chance looked sort of fondly surprised. “That’s what you think I look like?”
Ty glanced at the drawing again. “That is what you look like.”
“I may be just the head of maintenance,” Chance said, “but that is an emotional portrait by a biased artist.”
Ty put the sketchbook on the nearest flat surface. “Well, maybe I’m the only one who sees you clearly.”
Chance stood up and stretched, rubbing a shoulder as if it was sore. Ty still wanted to draw the angles of him, ankle to wrist, the twist at his waist.
“Are you going to get any sleep?” Chance asked, looking pointedly at Ty’s paint brushes, set down carefully rather than ready to wash.
“As if it’s not your fault.”
“So I am your muse, then.”
There wasn’t any way Ty could claim otherwise now. “Yes.”
“I suppose it’s only fair,” Chance said, “as you seem to be mine.”
Ty’s new paintings sold so well out of the gallery that Grant asked Ty to extend his exhibition.
It was thrilling, and at the same time terrifying. Ty hadn’t really believed he’d find such success. And yet compared with Grant’s other artists, Ty’s record paled, a single show to his name and a following in one small town.
There were three other artists with space at the gallery at the moment. Ty confessed to Chance that he was nervous even to talk to them.
“And how do you think you look to some unknown artist, when you have a gallery show to your name?” Chance asked. “Intimidating. But you’re all just idiots with paint under your fingernails.”
“Thanks very much,” Ty said, but Chance was right, of course. When Ty bravely introduced himself to the other artists, he found that they were simply people. One of them even said very nice things about Ty’s apple juice painting.
Xavier was the exception. It seemed that maybe Grant’s Gallery was not the right place for Xavier’s style of art, because he wasn’t making many sales. And despite what Chance said about Ty and Xavier having different audiences, somehow Xavier seemed to think Ty was in his way.
It came to a head one day when Ty brought his sketchbook with him to the gallery and set it down on a table. Xavier picked it up, and his expression sharpened.
“You know, this could backfire,” Xavier said. “Blow up in your face. If other people knew what you were doing.”
Ty was in the middle of unwrapping one of his abstract Blooming paintings, to replace the apple juice piece, which had sold. It took him a second to realize Xavier was flipping through his sketchbook, looking at page after page of drawings of Chance.
“People might think you were doing it to get favors from Grant,” Xavier went on. When Ty didn’t answer, he asked, “Isn’t this— handyman like twice your age?”
“That’s between him and me.”
Xavier scoffed. “Oh, what, this is a romance? Your screwing the maintenance man has nothing to do with Grant extending your stay? Or are you drawing Grant too?”
Ty tried to speak calmly. “Grant extended my stay because my paintings are selling.”
“Well, I would hope so, or all your work—” Xavier gestured at the sketchbook— “would be in vain.”
Ty might have been young, but he’d had this type of conversation before. He’d faced a cutting voice and angry words, and he knew not to put fuel on the fire. Anything he might say would only be thrown back at him.
Ty hadn’t seen Chance yet that day, which was unusual. Chance knew Ty was bringing in a new painting to hang, and somehow he always seemed aware of Ty’s arrival at the gallery. Ty figured that was as good an excuse as any to leave Xavier to himself. He set the Blooming painting on the floor, leaning against the wall, and retrieved his sketchbook in silence.
Xavier smirked, watching him go, as if Ty had admitted defeat. “People are going to hear about this,” Xavier warned.
Ty didn’t doubt it was true. But all fears of consequences left his head when he found Chance in the kitchen, sitting in a chair with his eyes closed.
Ty had drawn Chance countless times. Never had his skin been this shade of gray. A terrible suspicion grew in Ty’s heart. He knelt down in front of Chance and took his hands. They were cold. And much worse— the lights in the room stayed white. No fireflies sparkled in the corners because of Ty’s touch. “You’ve been visiting your niece,” Ty said.
Chance had opened his eyes, and he smiled. “I just got a little worn out. I’ll recover before I go back tonight.”
“Take me with you.” Ty folded Chance’s hands in his smaller ones, trying to warm them. “Please. I want to help you.”
Chance’s niece, Margaret, age ten, lived in a long-term care facility called Evergreen. It seemed to be a lovely place, but it wasn’t as homey as its decor tried to suggest. Though there were plenty of comfy armchairs by electric fireplaces, there was also the smell of industrial cleaner and the unyielding surface of high-traffic carpet beneath their feet.
Everyone on staff at Evergreen knew Chance, and seemed pleasantly surprised to see him with a companion. They gave Chance brave smiles. Ty wasn’t sure if those were just because of Margaret’s particular situation or if all cases at Evergreen were scarce on hope.
Margaret’s room was small, with an east-facing window. She had clearly never seen it. Margaret didn’t take up much room in her bed, which had pink sheets and fluffy pillows. She breathed easily on her own, but she didn’t react when Chance took her hand and spoke to her.
There were several vases in the room full of flowers that Ty recognized as Chance’s, exuberant sprays and bold colors. But those expressions of love and happiness could not be what was making Chance so exhausted.
Chance settled into a chair by Margaret’s bedside, still holding her hand. He had brought a book, but he didn’t open it.
“She’s my only family,” Chance said, no doubt reading Ty’s expression. “She doesn’t deserve to live like this.”
“It’s been a year, you said.”
“What do the doctors say?”
“They don’t know what I can do. Look, her— her burns are gone. Not even a scar. I was able to heal them.”
Ty realized that Chance’s hand, clasped with Margaret’s, had started to glow. And Chance had begun to look faintly gray again.
“What is this costing you?” Ty asked.
“It doesn’t last. I recover.”
Ty dropped into another chair. “I know this is your family. It’s your decision. But I’m worried about you.”
Chance managed a smile. “Don’t want to lose your muse?”
“Yes, that’s it entirely. Selfish of me.” Ty wanted to argue, to raise his voice, to plead. To protect Chance. But there was no good answer to the heartbreak in this room.
Ty reached for the book in Chance’s lap. “What do we have? The Green Fairy Book. Oh, my mother used to read me these.”
Ty read for about half an hour, tales of magic and enchantment, until Chance seemed too exhausted to continue what he was doing. Ty drove them both to his own apartment.
Ty had imagined what it might be like to have Chance spend the night with him. Chance would complain about the mattress on the floor, saying he was too old for it. Ty would attempt some quip about making him feel young again. They’d make love, and heaven only knew what Blooming would come from that. Ty expected a serious light show, at the very least.
This was entirely different. Chance didn’t remark on the mattress that they laid down on. There were no jokes. And there was not a single spark of Blooming in the whole apartment, even when Chance put his arms around Ty and held him close as he fell asleep.
When Ty woke, he was alone in the bed. He sat up to see Chance wandering through the apartment with a mug of coffee.
Chance stopped at one of the easels. “What’s with the apple tree?” Chance asked. “It doesn’t seem like you’re happy with it.”
“I can’t get the lighting right.” Ty yawned as he climbed out of bed, his feet protesting when they hit the cold floor.
“What time of day is it?”
Ty laughed. “Pick one. I can’t get any of them to work.” He poured himself a cup of coffee.
“That’s unusual for you. Lighting is one of your strengths.” Chance backed away from the painting, frowning at him. “You could try a night scene, with a lantern hanging on a branch. Really focus the light.”
“That’s worth a shot,” Ty said.
Chance smiled, and his cheeks were rosy in the early morning light. “Don’t move,” Ty ordered, abandoning his coffee for his sketchbook. “Maybe I can at least get you right.”
Chance was used to the command by now. He stayed still as Ty’s sleepy fingers fumbled with his pencils. “It’s nice not to have you so gray,” Ty said.
“I feel better,” Chance said. “Better than I expected.”
“Then you should let someone take care of you more often.” Ty glanced at the clock as he finished the rough sketch. “I’ve got to meet the gang for breakfast. Want to come with me?”
Chance looked away. “Oh, well. They’re your friends.”
“They’d be your friends too, if you met them.”
“All right. Stay here and go back to bed, then.”
“It’s a mattress on the floor,” Chance said, sounding irritated.
Ty grinned at him. “Listen, there is one thing before I go.” He walked up to Chance and put his arms around his shoulders, feeling the warmth of the sun on his skin. Chance let himself be pulled close, let Ty tug on him until he was near enough to kiss.
It was a slower kiss than they’d had before. Gentle, unhurried. Chance managed to fumble his coffee mug onto the windowsill, and then put his arms around Ty properly. He seemed content with that, hands resting at the small of Ty’s back, their bodies still a polite distance apart.
Ty cradled Chance’s face in his hands as he kissed him, thinking of a lantern on an apple tree, of focusing his attention on something small and terribly important. After a moment, there came a growing sense of rhythm to the kiss, something skipping ahead, going faster.
Chance gave a little groan into Ty’s mouth and then his hands gave up their manners and slid down to grasp Ty’s ass. Ty gasped in pleasure, and their hips came into contact, neither of them fully hard, but both clearly interested.
The kiss stopped there, but Chance didn’t pull away.
Ty kept his eyes closed, breathing in Chance’s scent, painting him into his mind by feel, the length of his arms, the breadth of his shoulders, the curve of his wrist.
“So what did we set blooming in my apartment this time?” Ty asked. He was surprised to be kissed again, soft but lingering.
“Something beautiful,” Chance said. “As always.”
“I think I might finally know what I want to say,” Ty announced, rotating a pencil through his fingers. “And I’m thinking of a new project, to say it.”
Chance was fixing a leaking faucet in the gallery kitchen. Ty was unashamedly watching his forearms tighten as he used a navy blue wrench. “And what do you want to say?” Chance asked.
“I’m not really sure I can describe it with words. But, like— the difference between art and not having art. Before and after, shadow and light. You know how you— how you browse at a store and find some gadget that will make your life easier? Like, I don’t know, a pot lid with holes in it so you can drain the liquid? And then you realize how you didn’t know it existed but now you can’t live without it?”
Chance raised an eyebrow. “I’m a pot lid then, am I?”
“Oh, that’s very modest! Who said I was talking about you?”
Chance was smirking. “What else do you talk about?”
Ty threw his pencil at Chance. It bounced off his shoulder. “I’m talking about art. Anyway, I’m not the one who just painted the kitchen because I got a compliment.”
Chance looked up to see a delicate blue floral design decorating the wall above the kitchen window. “Huh,” he said. “Do you think Grant will notice?”
“I don’t think he’ll mind. It’s pretty. Reminds me of the one on your kitchen table, if that’s still there.”
“No. It’s some geometric thing now. Looks like snowflakes.”
“I’ll have to come see it.”
Chance was smiling. “You should.”
“But I need to get home. My stepdad is stopping by.”
Chance stilled, the wrench in one broad hand, the metal catching the light while casting a shadow over Chance’s fingers. Ty wished he hadn’t just thrown his pencil.
“I thought you didn’t get along with your stepdad,” Chance said.
“It’s— complicated. I didn’t know my real dad. My mom married my stepdad, George, and then she died, and he remarried, so stepparents are all I have. But I get along pretty well with May, my stepmom. It’s George I can’t stand.”
“So why is he coming over?”
“Because what money my mom left went to me when she died, not him. It’s not vast wealth, but it lets me have a tiny apartment and make art instead of having a real job. That’s what she would have wanted, I’m sure of it. But George thinks I owe him something. I only humor him because I get along with May.”
Chance looked concerned, his gaze very sharp. “I’ll come over after work then. Make sure you’re all right.”
“That’s very sweet.”
Chance reached out and hooked a finger in Ty’s belt loop, pulling him close. His other hand caught Ty’s shoulder in a soft grip, then slid up behind his head as Chance bent to kiss him.
Ty leaned into the kiss, wrapping his arms around Chance’s neck. It was a classic lover’s embrace, easily drawn— four separate feet, bodies growing closer as you went up, until they were one piece, not even far apart enough to breathe air that didn’t come from each other.
Ty had never been so ravenous for anything as he was for Chance, had never had the feeling that he could breathe better when kissing someone than when he wasn’t. But he made himself pull back, far enough to break the kiss. “We probably shouldn’t do this here.”
Chance smiled. “I can repaint the kitchen if I need to.”
“No, it’s— it’s just that the other day Xavier said he thought I was trying to get something from you. From Grant, I guess, through you.”
“Xavier may find this hard to believe, but Grant doesn’t take the advice of the head of maintenance on how to run his business.”
“Does Grant know about us?”
“You’ve got a painting of my hands hanging in this gallery. I don’t think anyone here is unaware that we’re— close.”
“I just don’t want you to get into trouble. Or fired.”
Chance looked amused. “Well, so long as you’re not even younger than you say you are—”
“You know I’m twenty-four.”
“Then Grant’s not going to care what you and I do. Except for the kitchen painting, maybe.”
Ty looked over his shoulder to see a spiraling black border framing the window, as complex and intricate as frost. “You can just tell him I did that.”
“I mean, you did.” Chance pulled Ty close and sought his mouth again, giving a little sigh as Ty eagerly gave in. Ty kept his eyes open long enough to see black spirals start to appear on the opposite wall.
George Curt, Ty’s stepdad, was not a fan of art. He never had been, but any possibility that he’d like Ty’s new inspirations was dashed as Ty watched him walk through the apartment. It was so different than the way Chance and Ty’s other friends did. Chance would look at Ty’s work silently for a while and then give insightful comments. Ty’s friends would bounce from painting to painting, clapping and exclaiming loudly about their favorites. Lately any works with Chance in them got Ty a lot of teasing, of course, but all of them, all of Ty’s chosen family, were other artists. They tried to be for each other the rising tide that lifted all boats.
George walked hastily among the easels (not that Ty had even invited him to do that) and looked quite skeptically at what he found. Right now that was an apple tree with a lantern and an abstract piece that resembled sunrise over a roofless house. Ty knew the only thing George would really want to see was the prices Ty was charging for the works, and that was the last thing Ty wanted him to know.
“How’s May?” Ty asked.
“Oh, fine,” George muttered.
“Well, I’m coming for dinner next month, so I’ll see you both then. If there’s nothing else—”
“Heard you have a boyfriend.”
It took a minute for Ty to figure out how George knew. “You came by the gallery.” Of course he had. To look for the prices. He must have seen Ty with Chance. It gave Ty the creeps to know they’d been observed so critically.
“Your, uh— your buyers know?”
“That I’m gay? That is most definitely common knowledge.”
George was undeterred. “They know how old he is?”
“I would think that’s obvious for anyone who looked at him.”
George looked disappointed, and it made Ty wonder if he’d been looking for something to blackmail Ty about. George switched tacks. “A man that age has money.”
“Okay,” Ty said. “That’s enough. It’s been a lovely visit—”
George’s voice rose. “Ty, look, I wouldn’t ask, but May’s in some trouble. She doesn’t want me coming to you, but—
“Oh, bullshit. I talked to her last week. She’s been saving up to get the kitchen redone.”
George took a few steps closer. “You don’t use that kind of language with me. I took you in, Ty. I took your mother in. The least you owe me is respect.”
Ty felt his pulse racing, his hands shaking. It was always like this, trying to pick a safe path where there really was none. “Don’t talk about her,” he hissed.
There was a knock at the door, and it opened without Ty responding. Ty felt both grateful and mortified to see Chance standing there.
Chance, for his part, looked furious. But he spoke calmly. “Ready to go, Ty? We’ve got reservations.”
They didn’t, of course. But Ty took the lifeline. “Oh. Yes. I’m ready. Sorry, George, we’re heading out.”
George had turned to face Chance, and his expression was equal parts disdainful and threatened. When Ty didn’t immediately move, Chance came to him, putting an arm around him, heavy and strong, his fingers folded over the edge of Ty’s shoulder.
George seemed like he was ready to give some nasty answer, when the door opened further and Ty’s friends burst in, carrying food and bottles of champagne.
Bertha was in the front. She seemed surprised to see that Ty had visitors already. She raised a bottle in her hand. “Kelly finished her book!”
“What?” Ty exclaimed. “That’s wonderful! Um— George was just leaving.”
Ty’s friends had run into George before. It was telling that no one invited him to stay for the party. Scowling, but outnumbered, George made his way out the door and slammed it behind him.
Ty was still trembling, and now everyone was looking at Chance, who was holding Ty in his arms. He seemed not to know what to do with their audience.
“So this is the muse,” Clay said appreciatively. “He’s better looking than your drawings, Ty. You don’t do him justice.”
Ty snorted. “Oh, for heaven’s sake. Everybody, this is Chance. Chance, this is everybody.” He put his arm around Chance’s waist, drawing strength from his solid silence. “We’d love for you to stay,” Ty told him.
Chance looked hesitant, out of his element, but he nodded. Ty kissed his cheek and then went to throw his arms around Kelly. “Congratulations!”
Kelly grinned, her blond curls bouncing. “I’m happy with it. It finally says what I wanted it to. And I already have an idea for the next one!”
Andrew elbowed her in the side. “Break first! Don’t let yourself burn out.”
They settled onto Ty’s few kitchen chairs and the bed where it lay on the floor. Chance looked out of place among the company, but still very at home in Ty’s space, so it was definitely a start, Ty thought. He wanted to perch in Chance’s lap, but settled for a chair beside him with his legs thrown over Chance’s thighs. Weighing him down, perhaps, in case he decided to run for it.
Chance got lots of questions during the party, of course. Everything from the polite How did you become a maintenance man at an art gallery? to the slightly rude How old are you? and onto Have you ever modeled for Ty naked? That, Ty declared, was the end of the questions.
But they also talked about art and grand ideas. Chance could hold his own there, even if his art was intensely private, and Ty’s friends folded him right into the conversation. The impromptu celebration went on until midnight, when Ty kicked his friends out. Andrew never drank, so he drove them home.
Ty closed the door and looked over the mess everyone had left. It felt right, his apartment being a place of chaotic joy. A needed cleanse after George’s visit. “They loved you,” he said to Chance. “I knew they would.”
“They’re very nice people.” Chance came up behind Ty and put his arms around him, fitting there like he was supposed to.
“They’re loud and obnoxious,” Ty said.
“They are that, too.”
Ty laughed. “Thank you for coming. And for staying.”
“I had to stay, I wanted to kiss you some more.” Chance’s voice grew breathy in saying it, and Ty turned in his arms, seized him, and pulled him down so that their mouths met.
This was not like their kisses in the gallery, in daylight, in a building open to the public. They were alone in Ty’s apartment at 12:30 in the morning, with just enough light to see each other. Ty felt something in him unstick, rising free. He cradled Chance’s face between his hands, kissing him with a purpose.
There was a slight groan from Chance and then his hands clutched at Ty’s waist. He lifted Ty and set him on his kitchen counter amid glasses and pencils and plastic forks. Ty could reach Chance better now, and he pulled him in, parting his legs so that Chance could move between them. And there Ty kept him, trying through desperate contact to explain things he didn’t understand himself.
Chance pressed ardent kisses to Ty’s neck, down to his collarbone, soft and hot and shiver-sweet. His hands caught at the buttons of Ty’s shirt, and then he stilled.
“Yes,” Ty said, his eyes closed, leaning in to press his mouth to Chance’s again. “Yes, please—”
When Chance still didn’t move, Ty opened his eyes. Chance put a hand under Ty’s wrist, and raised it.
There were flowers on Ty’s skin. They moved like light cast by a prism, dancing colors that started bright and then faded away. Ty couldn’t feel them, but they were on both his arms and apparently, his throat, where Chance traced them with a finger, an artist with his canvas.
“Make love to me,” Ty said.
Chance met his eyes in the dim light. “Who knows what will happen,” he whispered, a smile on his face that was sort of dazed, like he was still somehow surprised by the flowers or the kissing or maybe by Ty himself.
“I can’t wait to see,” Ty said, and Chance kissed him again.
Chance might have been shy, but Ty could tell from his kisses that he was experienced.
That was no surprise, because Chance was wonderful, and surely other people had discovered that over the years. But it was its own torture, knowing Chance had loved others. Knowing Chance’s attention had fallen on others, that perhaps his art had found different inspiration. Ty had been with older men before, and he was rarely their first lover. Never had he felt so blindly, uselessly jealous.
Chance seemed to feel the tension in Ty’s body. He’d lifted Ty from the counter and settled him in his lap on a kitchen chair, with Ty’s legs split around him. Now Chance’s hands gentled, sweeping from Ty’s waist up to his shoulders and down again. It was the last thing Ty wanted, for this to slow down. But Chance kept kissing him, just softer now.
Ty opened his eyes and found Chance’s eyes closed in concentration, his expression rapt with a quiet pleasure, and Ty suddenly felt entirely the opposite way, hoping that Chance had found this before, with someone. Hoping some other man had made him happy enough to shimmer the air with sparkling lights, which were falling around them now like indoor rain. The lights winked out before they hit the floor. Ty wished they’d accumulate like sand.
“Somehow you’re the part I fear isn’t real,” Chance said, against his mouth. Their pose, with Ty’s legs spread around Chance’s waist, was erotic, but Chance’s tone was romantic, and his touch somewhere in between, with his hands on Ty’s ass, but gentle, reverent.
“I make you happy,” Ty said, glorying in it. “You want me. That’s real.”
Chance let his hands return to Ty’s waist, catching the hem of his shirt this time, pulling it over his head.
“I’ve imagined this,” Chance said. “What you must look like. Beautiful and young.” His hands returned, broad and callused, grasping, like Ty might be made of clay, something Chance could shape. “I’ve imagined you on the bench in the garden. In your room at the gallery. In sunlight, on my bed. But you are— you are more than I can imagine. I suppose that means you must be real.” His hands came down once more, to the waistband of Ty’s jeans. “Let me see the rest of you.”
Ty climbed off Chance’s lap, in the dim light of his apartment, stripping naked for his lover. This was what Ty had to offer, a body in its prime, his ass taut and his cock hard, something an older man might value more greatly, something that Ty had to give. But Chance wasn’t looking at him the way Ty expected. Chance’s expression was full of desire, yes, but not lust. Like he wanted to appreciate rather than consume.
It was heady, disorienting. But Ty did want to be at least a little bit consumed. “You now,” he said, pulling at Chance’s shirt.
Chance helped him, baring his own skin slowly. “So long as you’re going to touch me, and not your pencils,” Chance said, teasing, and Ty did touch him, his stomach with its padding of age, his chest with its wiry hair and broad nipples, his shoulders where Ty could feel muscles moving warmly beneath his skin.
Chance was hard, too. And big.
“I want you in me,” Ty said.
It started there in earnest, Chance’s happiness. Maybe something broader than that. The apartment hummed gently around them. For every line of Chance’s body that Ty traced, for every angle he felt with fingers, thinking of ink and paint, Chance’s art bloomed too. Ty could feel it, when his eyes were closed, could sometimes even hear it.
Chance liked to kiss, Ty’s mouth or jaw, his chest or hip, the tip of his cock, the base of it. On the bed, Chance took Ty’s cock into his mouth as he worked his broad fingers inside of him, and this was a drawback of being so young. Ty began to realize he wouldn’t last, not with Chance, not with this man he wanted so desperately.
Ty came into Chance’s mouth after a choked warning. His eyes opened in the midst of his pleasure to see galaxies on the ceiling of his apartment, swirls of dark colors and stars. They lasted even after Ty’s climax had waned, his body trembling in Chance’s arms.
“I need you,” Ty said, when Chance’s mouth found his own again, when he could taste himself, and above him, the galaxies brightened.
Chance maneuvered Ty with clumsy motions, his control holding only roughly, until Ty’s legs were around his waist again, and Chance could push inside of him. Ty’s cock half hardened at this knowledge alone, that Chance was so hard for him, that Chance wanted to sink his body inside of Ty’s, to find relief there for his desire.
“All right?” Chance breathed, when he was flush with Ty’s ass, the hot, hard length of him insistent even in its stillness.
“Oh, fuck, fuck me,” Ty begged. “Please, now.”
Chance did, and probably the whole place bloomed with it. Probably there were flowers and stars and rain, but it all faded from Ty’s awareness. So did thoughts of pencils and sketchbook. Now it was just Chance, inside of him, now it was just them, joined together. The pleasure was immediate and complete, needing no art to celebrate it.
Chance fucked Ty in powerful strokes, moving above him with rough grace. He closed his hand around Ty’s cock, slick with sweat and his previous release, bringing Ty to the brink again. Chance began to lose his rhythm, and that was wonderful, the two of them together, sharing their pleasure in an imperfect dance.
Chance gave a weak cry as he came, his cock pulsing, filling Ty with heat, and his expression was both rapturous and relieved. Ty could see now how badly Chance had wanted this, had wanted him, how he must have imagined Ty over and over, naked and welcoming. Ty came again at that thought, of a need for him burning hot beneath Chance’s skin.
As their ardor cooled, they watched Ty’s skin bloom once more with flowers, lover’s gifts.
“Is that what you saw?” Chance asked the next morning, a mug of coffee in his hand. Ty had been up for hours, painting feverishly, galaxies and rain.
“Don’t be smug,” Ty said, over his shoulder. But his concentration flagged when he saw that Chance was walking around his apartment naked.
“I’m going to clean up the party mess and make breakfast. Unless you want me to stand here so you can sketch me.” Chance paused in the light of the southern window.
Ty growled in frustration, putting his paintbrush down and reaching for his sketchbook. “Don’t be smug,” he ordered again. But there was no way around it: this sketch would be of Chance smiling.
“You can’t possibly think a man my age wouldn’t be smug about this. Anyone would be, to have you.”
Ty’s pencil fell still. “Oh.”
Chance said nothing else, so Ty let his pencil explore him. The first naked drawing. Ty felt his stomach grumble and ignored it. It was going to be a very long morning.
But a shrill noise interrupted him. A phone ringing. Chance looked puzzled as he dug through their clothes on the floor. “No one ever calls me,” he said. His expression darkened further when he saw the screen of his phone.
As Chance spoke softly, Ty put his pencils down and found a shirt to pull on, and shoes (he was wearing pants, at least). He dug through a cupboard for two travel mugs for coffee and filled them. By the time Chance hung up, Ty had his clothes ready.
“Your niece,” Ty said.
Chance was pale, with yellow undertones. “She’s not breathing well. It’s an infection.”
“I’m coming with you.” Ty wasn’t sure if he needed to say it. They were together now, but the boundaries of “together” were still unclear.
Chance did not object.
Margaret had an oxygen mask on her little face. The hiss of the gas and the raspy sound of her breathing filled the room. Chance sat in the armchair by Margaret’s bed, and their hands glowed where Chance had clasped them together. The rest of Chance’s skin was turning gray.
Ty left after a few minutes, walking outside the facility to stand on the sidewalk in the morning light. The nursing home had well-kept grounds, succulents and rocks and shrubs, all needing less water than grass. Ty wondered if Chance’s flowers ever needed watering. If they ever closed and died, or maybe just disappeared.
If it had been Ty in that bed, ten years old and unwakeable, his mother would have tried anything, gladly giving of herself. Ty’s step parents would not, not even May. Ty and May were pleasant to each other, and it was such a contrast to George that Ty had welcomed it. But it wasn’t love like this, Ty realized.
Ty was glad Margaret was so loved. But so was Chance.
Ty went back into the room after half an hour had passed. The sun was climbing in the sky, unremarked by most of the people in the care home. Things had shifted while Ty had been out. Margaret was breathing easily again, her mask set to the side, unneeded. Chance was unconscious.
Ty gently separated his hand from Margaret’s, watching as the glow went out of both of them. Margaret’s breathing continued undisturbed. Ty waited a moment, hopeful and then hopeless again, as she still showed no sign of waking.
It took an hour for Chance to wake up.
Ty perched in his lap, since the armchair by Margaret’s bed was big enough for it, and he was quite a bit smaller than Chance. Ty felt especially small now. Young. Inexperienced. Unsure.
The problem was that Chance’s color improved as soon as Ty curled up with him. The gray-yellow pinked up, like Ty’s kitchen cupboards in the sunrise light of Blooming. Ty welcomed it, and yet was heartbroken by it. He knew what Chance would say when he woke.
And Chance did. “I always feel better when you’re with me.”
Ty kissed him, a brief, pained thing.
Chance regarded him with growing unease. “You’re angry with me.”
“I can’t be.” Ty rubbed at his eyes even though there were no tears, and climbed off of Chance’s lap. “You’re saving her life.”
“And you may be saving mine.”
“Don’t say that.” Ty lowered his voice, ashamed, though Margaret remained impassive. He worried she could hear them. The last thing a child needed to hear was adults arguing. “Come take a walk with me.”
Chance stood, shakily, and Ty helped him with the first few steps. It felt so wrong, that this broad and capable body with its strong lines and solid muscles could seem so frail.
The sky had clouded over in the last hour, and now the world was shaded. Ty helped Chance to sit down on a bench among the succulents and decorative rocks, thinking how wonderful Chance’s flowers would look here. But Ty knew there was a reason that Chance had given his niece so few flowers, that they didn’t grow outside her window. Chance was always too exhausted here.
“This isn’t what it’s for,” Ty said. “That is the cruelest thing I think I’ve ever said, but it’s true. The Blooming isn’t supposed to make you ill. It comes from somewhere happy.”
“I imagine her well.” Chance was still a bit subdued, folded over himself on the bench. “I remember happy times.”
“But this is hurting you. I can’t fault you for doing it, but don’t ask me to help you.”
“But you do help me. I feel better with you here than I ever have.”
Ty pressed his hands together. His fingers were jumpy, wanting a pencil, because Ty’s mind wanted to back up and look at this scene like an artist, instead of living it. “Have you passed out here before?”
Chance’s face bore a great sadness. “She isn’t usually so sick.”
“But would you have gone that far, if I wasn’t here? Would you have taken a break instead, if you were here by yourself? You used to take breaks, go back to the gallery and wait to return until you were rested. But you didn’t today, because I’m with you. You thought I could wake you back up.”
“And you did.”
“And what will you risk next time? Do you think I can bring you back from the dead? Chance— I can’t let you use me for this.”
Chance was quiet a while. It was an uncomfortable, exhausting quiet, full of Ty’s imaginings of what Chance might say in anger, of his own emotional responses. Finally, unable to bear the tension, Ty said, “I’m sorry.”
Chance’s expression softened, the lines of his face relaxing. “I know. You mean well. You’re just so very young—”
“Oh, stop. I’m old enough for you to take to bed.”
“And I suppose you think I’m old and foolish.”
“No. I think you’re in an unwinnable situation.”
“And you don’t want to be there with me.”
“Not if I’ll only help you to lose.”
Chance looked down at his hands. “I think we have some things to figure out.”
“It’s because I care about you.” Ty stood up from the bench, feeling as stiff and cramped as if he’d been there for hours. “Please tell me that you know that.”
Chance gave him a gentle, sad look. “I know, Ty. I care about you, too.”
Ty ended up at the gallery a couple of days later. Chance did not appear to greet him. It was a strange situation, and one that did not go unnoticed.
Ty had brought in two paintings to show Grant. “Your new style,” Grant said. “Indoor rain. I like it. Ty, I need to talk to you about something.”
This was unusual. Grant wasn’t much for talking, usually all business. Ty sat down in a chair opposite Grant’s desk. Grant’s office was small and neat, without a single piece of art except a drawing done by a child, in a gold frame on the wall.
“Your hands are clean,” Grant said. “That’s always a bad sign with an artist. Not working?”
“I have plans. I was planning something. I’m just a little— adrift right now.” Ty rubbed his eyes. “If this is about Chance—”
“It is, but you’re not the one in the hot seat. And not Chance either,” Grant added quickly, no doubt seeing the emotion on Ty’s face. “Xavier came to me. He’s got more talent than brains, and not enough talent to make up for it. I’ve asked him to leave the gallery.”
Grant leaned on his desk, looking weary. “This is a very small place. I don’t have room for someone who can’t play nice. What you and Chance do is no one else’s concern.”
Ty felt a harsh protectiveness in him. “Chance would never try to influence you.”
Grant huffed out a laugh. “Truth is, I probably would listen to him if he ever spoke up. We’ve worked together for twelve years. The man’s got a good eye.” Grant’s gaze fell heavily on Ty. “But he keeps his thoughts to himself. He kept everything to himself, until you.”
Grant looked sympathetic now. “Ty, let me give you some advice. And you can ignore it, because I’m not an artist myself. But I know you have something with Chance that’s very strong. I’ve seen your art of him. He’s obviously your muse, and I don’t blame you in the least for it. There’s a depth to that man that goes far beyond what people see, and I love that you’re exploring it.
“In my experience, artists always fall in love with their muses, at least a little. But it’s a different relationship than you’d have with a lover, because there’s a third person: your audience. You and your muse are making things for other people. So my advice to you is to remember that sometimes you have to tell everyone else to fuck off. Your relationship really is just about the two of you. Without that base, everything else will fall apart.”
Ty wandered the gallery that afternoon, ending up in front of a painting of Chance’s hands, callused and worn, holding clouds, pink with sunrise. It had sold the week before, and Ty had been happy for it, imagining Chance’s magic reaching as many places as possible. But why? Was that a nobler goal than waking up a little girl from a coma?
Xavier was in his room, packing up the last of his paintings. Ty was going to keep walking, but Xavier spoke to him. “You’ll be happy to hear I’m not out in the cold. A gallery across town was more than willing to give me space. And a new show.”
“I am happy to hear that,” Ty said.
Xavier looked surprised. “Are you?”
“Someone very wise told me that art is not a competition. Only fame is.”
Xavier taped the last corner of one of his smaller pieces. Covered in brown paper, they all looked the same, and for some reason that struck Ty as terribly sad.
“Fame is what puts dinner on the table,” Xavier said, sounding entirely practical.
“I’ll have to tell him that.” Ty felt the weight of it hit him again, remembering that it wasn’t going to be as easy as wandering down to the gallery kitchen and interrupting Chance’s work day.
Xavier looked hesitant now. “I can see you’re not— well, you’re alone. I know I’ve been an asshole, but I didn’t mean for that to happen.”
“Believe it or not, Xavier, not everything is about you.” Antsy, Ty picked up some tape and started helping Xavier with his next piece. Xavier looked at him curiously for a moment, but didn’t object.
“I hope it’s not irreparable,” Xavier said. “I can’t imagine what it must be like to lose a muse.”
“You know, Grant says that’s not the point. He says we have to have something more than art.”
Xavier frowned. “Well, Grant’s not an artist.”
“So you think the art is more important.”
“I think having a muse is a profound thing. It’s bigger than both of you. Like being a parent, maybe. There’s something you’ve created that’s independent of you, and you need to nurture that.” He set another wrapped painting on the floor. “Of course, I’ve never had a muse before. I envy you that.”
Ty stared at him. “You envy me something? Oh. Because it sells.”
Xavier smiled at him. “You’re getting the hang of this now.”
“Only if I want to be like you. And I don’t think I do.”
When Ty got home, he texted Andrew. An hour later, his apartment was full of his friends. “I need your help,” Ty told them. “I’m starting a project.”
“About Chance?” Kelly asked, her expression sadly sympathetic.
“No. For him.”
Two nights later, Ty texted Chance and invited him over. It had been a week since they’d seen each other. I’ve been figuring things out, Ty wrote. And I miss you.
Chance answered immediately. I miss you too.
Ty’s friends were at the apartment when Chance arrived. They stood in a loose group, all of them a little excited, clearly hopeful.
“They’re not staying,” Ty assured Chance, when he came in. “But they were helpful, and they wanted to see you.”
“We’re so sorry to hear about your niece,” Andrew said.
“Oh. She’s doing all right. Thank you.”
Clay spoke up. “Ty tells us you’re an artist, but he won’t say what medium. So we’re all curious as hell.”
“Don’t be nosy,” Bertha scolded.
Ty gave Chance an apologetic look. “You can ignore them. But if you’d like to demonstrate, I’m sure they would love it.”
Chance looked away. Ty had never drawn him from this angle, but his fingers stayed motionless, not tracing any imaginary pencil lines.
“There hasn’t really been much,” Chance said. “Since—”
Ty felt a terrible guilt settle into him, sticky and sharp. “Oh. I’m sorry.”
Chance seemed to be feeling no better, clearly uncomfortable. “It’s not your fault, Ty. I’m glad you texted. I wasn’t sure you’d want to see me.”
“Of course I want to see you. I love you.”
There wasn’t a sound in the apartment after that, and Ty was glad. He didn’t want anything in the way of those words, nothing that could break up the waves of air that carried them. The truth was there now, bold and dark as paint.
What swept through the apartment after them was light and sparkling.
Ty heard someone say “Oh, my God,” as the lights began to glow pink. The floor grew far brighter, until it glittered in waves of shimmering colors, as if they were standing on jewels.
“Very showy,” Ty said softly. He was grinning and his heart was racing, as if the Blooming had passed through him too, giving him new life.
Chance stepped across the glowing floor and pulled Ty into a kiss.
Ty lost track of the Blooming then, as he was caught up entirely in its creator. Chance was gentle with his kiss, but emphatic, as if he was saying something in the plainest way he could. Ty opened his mouth to let Chance taste him, wrapping his arms around Chance’s neck, feeling the muscles of Chance’s shoulders, familiar and terribly missed.
And oh, Ty wanted to draw him. Clothed, naked, turned away, upside down, anything. Just to have Chance in his sketchbook, in his hands again.
Ty was in Chance’s hands now, the broad fingers splayed across his back, partly a caress and partly a firm hold. Perhaps it spoke of desperation on Chance’s part, but to Ty it felt like security.
When they broke apart, Ty could hear the melodic hail again, and turned to see it falling past the window to the sidewalk outside. The apartment was glowing gold, and Ty’s easels were covered in flowers.
Chance paid the Blooming absolutely no attention. His gaze was steady on Ty’s face, earnest enough to seem almost heartbroken. “I love you, too.”
Ty nodded, almost laughing with relief. “Yeah, I got that.”
Naturally, Ty’s friends didn’t want to leave after that. They wanted to know if all of Ty’s fanciful new paintings had been things he’d witnessed— colorful raindrops and glittering galaxies.
Chance insisted that Ty’s interpretations of the Blooming were the real genius, but Ty’s friends, of course, soundly disagreed with him. Eventually, they were persuaded to leave after Chance promised future demonstrations.
When the door finally shut, Ty glanced at his bed, the mattress on the floor. The pale sheets glowed warmly in the light of Blooming. But (unfortunately) there were more important things to do at the moment.
Ty took Chance’s hand, slowly, as if he still thought Chance might be scared away. There was an edge of worry to Chance’s happiness, a downward tilting of his eyes robust enough that it could have been sketched.
“Chance, I’m sorry,” Ty said. “For everything that happened. But I think I might know a way— well, everyone helped me come up with it. My friends that just left, and Grant, and even Xavier, if you can believe that.”
“I find that doubtful,” Chance said. He slid an arm around Ty’s waist, pulling a little, until Ty stood closer. Perhaps he was also worried that they might still part.
“Well, I don’t think Xavier meant to help. But anyway, the consensus was that you and I are a special couple. We’re not just lovers. We’re creators. What we do affects more people than just us. And the primary example of that is Margaret.”
Ty looked into Chance’s eyes, unflinching. “I was wrong to say I wouldn’t help you. What I should have said is that we need to find a better way. And I think I may have found one. My new project. Can I show you?”
Ty cleared a few flowers from one of his easels, making enough room to put a blank canvas there. He opened a row of pots of acrylic paints and put a paint brush in a jar of water. “All right. I want you to paint what you’re afraid of, with Margaret. Not the thing literally. Your feelings. What does your fear look like?”
Chance didn’t object, but neither did he obey. “I don’t know if I’ve ever done that. Made something out of sadness.”
“Well, that’s what the paint is for. You’ll have to stoop to using my method.”
Chance stood by the easel for a moment, and then dipped the brush into white paint. In tentative strokes, he began to cover the canvas with it, white on white.
It made sense, Ty thought, heartbroken. The white paint was the opposite of Blooming, pale and plain. This was what Chance felt at his lowest.
Chance put the brush down when the canvas was covered. The lines were thick, the paint still wet.
“Okay, stay with me now,” Ty said. “I hope this will make sense.” He pulled up one of his kitchen chairs and made Chance sit down. Just in case. “Now— now show me what you do, when you want to bring her back. But not too much. I don’t want you fainting. Please.”
Chance’s expression was complicated. Ty drew it in his mind, preserving it, studying it, the close-drawn eyebrows, tense mouth, cheeks faintly flushed. Chance closed his eyes.
The canvas shifted slightly, as if it had been bumped, and then a painted flower began to appear in the center. But it wasn’t like Ty had ever seen before from Chance. The flower had to push its way through the thick, wet paint that still covered the canvas, slow and struggling. Some petals never showed, covered entirely. The ones that did were pale and small.
“Stop,” Ty ordered, his hands shaking. “Chance, stop.”
All the Blooming in the apartment had ceased now. White lights shone down on them, making everything seem dull.
Chance looked surprised, and gently grief-stricken. “This is what you saw with Margaret,” he said.
“It isn’t Blooming. It’s amazing, and it’s miraculous, but it’s not Blooming. It’s just you. And I think— I think it could kill you.”
Chance didn’t react to that. He just kept staring at the canvas. “It doesn’t even work,” he said.
“No, it does. It has.” Ty put a hand on Chance’s arm, sliding it down to entwine their fingers together. He couldn’t help pressing a finger to Chance’s wrist to feel his pulse point, steady and strong even under grayish skin. “You’ve been healing her, I’ve seen you do it.”
“But it’s nothing, compared to—”
“Us. Yes!” Ty said, with relief. “You were right about that. We’re powerful when we’re— when we’re together. We were just going about it in the wrong way.”
Chance tugged on Ty’s hand, and Ty immediately climbed into his lap, straddling his waist, needing Chance’s touch, the reassuring bulk of him. Chance’s hands spread out across Ty’s back, covering the whole span of it.
Chance met Ty’s eyes, so close now, and his look was heavy, a physical thing that Ty could feel on his shoulders, weighing him down, keeping him centered on the man beneath him.
Ty’s body began to react to their intimate position, his breathing speeding up, his cock swelling in his jeans. Ty put his hands on Chance’s chest, fingers splayed, marking the breaths Chance took in and out, the lines of his ribs, the rhythm of his heart. When Ty shifted, he could feel a new hardness between Chance’s legs.
“That was not the point of this,” Ty scolded, breathless.
Chance’s gaze shifted from Ty’s mouth to his eyes. “I missed you. I could hardly breathe with it. I thought we would come to an end, but not that soon.”
Ty looked at him in shock. “End?”
Chance’s expression was mournful. “You’re a beautiful, twenty-four-year-old powerhouse, Ty. The most brilliant artist I’ve ever seen come through the gallery. And you’re beloved already. Do you even realize that you’ve broken all of Grant’s sales records?”
“It’s not the best measure of success, in my book. But you certainly scare the Xaviers of the world. And I was so honored to be a part of it, that you found me interesting, even before you knew about the Blooming. But I thought, in a few years, when you’re having shows in Los Angeles, New York, London, I’d be happy if you even remembered us. I knew that In time, you’d find another muse. You’re destined for brighter things.”
“But you’re not just my muse,” Ty protested. “I love you.”
Chance ran his hands up Ty’s arms, slowly, watching their progression, each finger curling firmly around Ty’s shoulders. It was an ordinary touch, but Ty shivered with it. “You are my brighter thing,” Chance said.
The lights flickered and went out. In their absence, Ty’s skin was faintly glowing.
“Tell me,” Ty said, breathless. “Think of your fears. But tell me how much you love me.”
Chance smiled, seeming content, his expression warm. “Endlessly.”
There was a cracking sound, and Ty turned his head to watch the white-painted canvas crumble, the dried paint falling to the ground as flowers bloomed beneath it. Real flowers.
Ty’s new project, the first one where he claimed to know what he was trying to say, became an installation at a local art museum six months later.
Grant helped arrange it. Ty was leaving soon after for a year’s study at a prestigious art school in nearby Los Angeles. He’d won a scholarship. Chance was not surprised.
The installation project was about love. Which, Chance conceded, was not the sort of cutting-edge subject favored by hungry young artists. But, as Ty told an interviewer, “Art is not a competition.”
The centerpiece of the installation was a painting of Margaret, half in shadow, with her eyes open.
Six months earlier
Walking into the care home that day was one of the most difficult things Chance had ever done. He’d visited Margaret countless times, trying to heal her back to wakefulness, but he’d never quite had the hope that he did today. And that was what made this visit so costly. If she didn’t wake now, from this— then maybe she never would.
After Lila and Margaret’s accident, Chance’s life had slowed down. He walked like his feet were too heavy to lift, and his thoughts seemed mired in a sucking mud. It was a quiet grief that Chance saw only one remedy for. He visited Margaret daily in the hospital. He put everything he had into her care.
And Margaret lived. Her burns cleared. Her broken bones mended. The doctors didn’t call it a miracle, but they did say she had remarkably good luck, all things considered. But along the way, that luck ran out. Margaret settled into a coma.
The Blooming fell completely still for a while. Chance’s flowers wilted as if overwatered or heavily shaded. But eventually, things began to grow again. The Blooming did want to happen. It was a force of life against all the plain, unending light and darkness of the world. Chance didn’t have to be deliriously happy for things to Bloom. He just needed to be able to find beauty somewhere.
The garden at the gallery gradually came back to life, followed by the ones at his home. The rooms of Chance’s house started to change color again. Flowers grew in vases for Margaret as she slumbered on. Flowers grew on Lila’s grave. But the Blooming wasn’t as active, as exuberant as it had been before the accident. Until Ty.
Chance had seen Ty’s water glass painting resting against a wall in the gallery, and he’d been instantly fascinated with it. There was so much to the piece, not least the part where if you looked at it from a certain angle it wasn’t a water glass at all, and had never been one, had not been intended to have shape or a purpose. But step to the side, and there was a water glass, useful, half-full even, solid and real as anything.
Chance had not expected the painter to be so young. It certainly did not help that Ty was also handsome, and not just in a youthful way. He had strong features and intelligent dark eyes that would last him his whole life, would make him distinguished as an older man.
In Chance’s world, physical beauty was a fleeting thing. Whatever the Blooming created was soon replaced with some other lovely thing, so while Chance did appreciate beauty, he never grew attached to it. What was on the inside was a much stronger draw, and Ty was such a beautiful person. He wasn’t conceited. He didn’t possess a greed that drove him to a relentless self-promotion, overwhelming his ability to appreciate what others could do. He was kind and open and loving.
And he liked Chance. That was apparent immediately, from the first blatantly appraising look that Ty gave him in the gallery— Ty was perhaps too young to know how to cloak that sort of expression— to the fact that Ty continually sought Chance’s company, even if it called for doing unpaid labor.
Chance was blindsided and bewildered. He was unused to getting much attention, and to have it from a vibrant, talented young man was bizarre. Chance thought he was handling it well, though. He thought he’d kept himself a step back, waiting for Ty’s infatuation to run its course, as he was sure it would. But the first time Ty stood close to him, quite obviously thinking of kissing him in the middle of his first gallery show, the Blooming burst forth around them, coloring the lights.
That did not happen often, even before the car accident. The Blooming came to life unexpectedly sometimes, but it was usually small things, just a bit of surprise that came from some new happiness. This was something else. Ty was something else. As it turned out, they were something else together.
It felt natural that Ty should know the secret of Blooming, that he should recognize himself in what was created. But being in love with Ty was something else. Chance had known it was love from the very start, as unrestrainable as the Blooming itself. Chance’s heart delighted in Ty, even as Chance tried to talk himself out of it, to cling to the edge of logic, sure that a man half his age and so beautiful would never feel love for him in return. Perhaps Ty desired him, but it was as muse, not as man.
But it was so easy to be with Ty. They were natural friends. And gradually, Chance started to hope that maybe the Blooming was not so much a creation but a sign. Maybe it had never been about art and muses to begin with. Maybe the flowers grew for Ty because Ty gave them what they needed: a peaceful space and the light of love.
Ty’s love shone even through their quarrel and it today it shone brighter than ever. Ty held Chance’s hand today as they walked into Margaret’s room. They’d chosen a time when Chance knew Margaret’s doctor was present at the facility. In case— in case it worked. The staff were used to seeing Ty now and waved. Chance didn’t wave back, too caught up in his anxiety.
In Margaret’s room, Ty shut the door. Chance could barely look at Margaret in the bed. She seemed smaller today than she had been, not big enough to be ten years old.
Chance remembered her as a toddler, wispy blond hair clipped into a blue bow that she repeatedly removed and put into her mouth. Lila would take it away and put it back in her hair. Eventually Margaret tired of the game and handed her mother the bow, as if to say she was done playing with it.
Ty took Chance’s other hand and brought it to his lips. He offered Chance a smile. “Relax.”
“Then let me help.” Ty lifted up on his toes and kissed him.
Kissing Ty was a heady, often disorienting thing for Chance. There was a part of him that was very focused on Ty and what he was doing— where his hands were, his lips, what he tasted like— and another part of him seemed to fly away, lifted on a wind Chance did not control, and could not even predict. This was the part of him that bloomed, and nothing had ever bloomed like Ty did, entirely without Chance’s direction, sometimes without his even being aware of what was created.
It had frightened Chance a little, at first, but perhaps it was always like that with one’s muse: art inspired by someone else was never really under the artist’s control. With Ty, the Blooming might be flowers or lights, jewels or rain, and sometimes things Chance couldn’t entirely describe. But Ty could, of course, with his pencils and paint, his talented hands.
Today Ty kissed Chance patiently, and Chance didn’t try to hold things in. He pulled Ty tightly to him, thinking how ironic it was that Ty, exuberant and young, should be the one of them that was the anchor, holding them steady.
When Chance pulled back, the room glowed softly pink.
“I like it,” Ty said. “It’s Margaret’s color.” He kissed Chance softly. “Now. Tell me how much you love her.”
Chance thought of a canvas covered in drying white paint, brittle and wet at the same time, clumping and sticky. Colorless. Motionless except where it grew tighter and dryer and more fragile.
Chance thought of the accident, of receiving the phone call at three in the afternoon at the gallery. The white walls of Margaret’s hospital room. The white walls of the funeral home where Lila had lain. He thought of a blue hair bow clutched in a toddler’s hand, a silent argument over whether it was an object of beauty or of fun. He thought of Margaret in her bed at the care home.
“Help me,” Chance said, and Ty looked both grief-stricken and determined as he put his arms around Chance and held him tightly.
At that moment, Ty was warm where Chance felt cold. He was warm enough for the both of them.
All of the pieces of Chance that felt fear began to crumble like drying paint and fall away. Inside himself, Chance shook them off and thought of love. Of this man he hadn’t expected, of a life with him that he’d never anticipated, of a connection that neither of them completely understood, but had come to trust.
Chance thought of Margaret, Blooming.
“She’s my family,” he said to Ty, his mouth against Ty’s dark hair. “I remember her playing in the ocean, her little feet in the sand. I remember her bicycle helmet was purple with unicorns. When she was learning to ride, her mother put a sticker on the helmet for every time she fell off and got back on again.”
“Chance,” said Ty. Chance wasn’t sure how much time had passed now. “Chance,” Ty said again, insistently.
Chance opened his eyes. The walls of the room had turned pink.
“Well,” Ty said, breathless. “Are you going to introduce me to your niece?”
The room was a flurry of activity once word spread that Margaret had her eyes open. Chance sat on her bed and she leaned against him, confused and quiet, but awake. Awake. Chance gave her a handful of sparkles to play with and no one even seemed to notice.
The next day, Ty moved into Chance’s house. It was easier to help care for Margaret that way. She came home after a week, and by the time of Ty’s installation at the museum six months later, Margaret could help them set up. Her gait was still a bit unsteady, but she ran around the room anyway, pestering Ty and his friends with questions.
When Margaret tired, she climbed into Chance’s lap. Chance took the reassuring warmth of her skin, the racing of her heartbeat, her bright eyes open and curious, and made flowers of it. He twined them into a lopsided wreath to set in her hair. Margaret immediately took it off, and Chance laughed.
Los Angeles, where Ty was going for school, was an hour away, depending on traffic. They’d have him home every weekend. After that, no doubt his career would take him all over the world, if he wanted. Ty seemed entirely unconcerned about it.
“My art is here,” he’d said, pressing a kiss to Chance’s mouth. “And my family. So we’ll just see what blooms. Together.”