Leon walks on clouds back to the table where half the Literary Circle are arguing over some new topic. Now he knows he’s not imagining the whispers; they’ve risen to surprised and quickly-shushed exclamations at various tables: “Leon and Rain?”
Well, fuck them. He sits down across from Abner, and says it aloud: “Fuck them.”
“Always a reasonable attitude,” Abner says with a nod.
“Leon, let me ask you,” Eli says, leaning forward on his elbow. “Do you think it’s possible for an older man to truly have a loving and respectful relationship with a younger one?”
Surely the question is aimed at him and Rain, he thinks, until he notices the wary look Eli shoots at Abner, and the cautionary one he gets in return. Watch it, that look says.
“Wellll,” he says, drawing the word out. “I think so, probably. I don’t think there’s just one way that works for everyone.”
“I see more coffee.” Abner stands up abruptly. “I shall return to continue this conversation once I am capable of linear thought.”
“What about you?” Leon says to Eli. “Do you think a younger man can really be happy with an older one?”
If Eli has any clue Leon is thinking of Rain – unlikely in the first place – he doesn’t show it. “I think it’s a question of whether the older one can treat the younger like an equal instead of a student.” His eyes don’t leave Abner, who is still fussing with a cup of coffee.
“And if he does? Does the younger man need more excitement than the older has to offer?”
“That’s not the problem,” Eli says, and Leon gives up. This is a one-sided conversation; he just happens to be the wall Eli is bouncing his thoughts off of.
Kimberly, the woman who photographs Diego in his underwear, sits down on Leon’s right. She doesn’t acknowledge him, and a quick survey of the room suggests she likely only sat here because space at the breakfast tables is running out. But a thought occurs to Leon, and he turns briefly to her.
“Kimberly.” She gives him a level look.
“I won’t bother you for long,” he says. “But I know you work with Diego, and he’s… not really speaking to me at the moment.”
Her only response is an unimpressed lift of her eyebrows.
“I’m not asking you to intervene or anything like that. Just… look out for him, okay? Don’t let him get in any trouble.”
Kimberly stares at him and blinks once, slowly. “Yeah, okay,” she says at last. “I’ll keep an eye on him.”
Leon turns back to the table and lets his attention drift while he thinks back over everything that’s happened since last night. Was it really less than twelve hours ago that he stood on the makeshift stage and unveiled his new single? When he thought being praised by an adoring audience was enough? Was it only a day ago that Diego was still speaking to him, that he took that for granted and thought all he needed to do was treat the boy like a good-time buddy?
Outside, the bell starts ringing to gather everyone up and officially end the party. Leon heads for the restroom one last time, getting his baggie of coke out of his pocket. He opens it, taps a line onto his hand mirror. Rolls a dollar bill. Stands there, holding it. Listens to the bell.
He turns on the faucet and washes the mirror, drops everything in the trash can, and walks away.