I’ve been awake since first light, gazing and happy. Bronze, white and black: bronze the colour of Pete’s skin, white the sheets on our bed, and the shining black of Pete’s hair. Pete opens his eyes, and smiles to find me watching him.
I hear Pop take a breath on the far side of the door. It’s a wake-up call and an alarm. He whistles the opening bars of The Sun Has Got His Hat On.
I touch my mouth to Pete’s. It’s a kiss and also resuscitation, of both him and me. We plump our pillows behind ourselves and sit up. Ready to receive.
Pop finishes his tune and the door opens wide.
Mom is revealed.
I have designed sets of clothes for her. She writes me thank you cards decorated with pressed flowers from her garden, and hangs the clothes in the closet in my old room. She never wears them. Instead she designs and sews her own.
‘The costumes I make are not fashion, dear,’ she explains. ‘I’m too old for that. But these are clothes I dreamed of as a girl. I’m making my childish dreams come true.’
The frocks that she makes parachute out when she spins. Today’s is the yellow of lemon ice-cream, banded with trims of white lace. She steps into the bedroom and twirls around. The move is functional, for she has to turn to pull a trolley in behind her, but the dress spins obligingly, like the petals of a rose as it stirs from bud to blossom.
She reverses, pulling her trolley with her. Pop enters next, also walking backwards. He slides his trolley around Pete’s side of the bed, while Mom slides hers under mine.
‘Good morning, lovebirds,’ Pop says.
He ruffles Pete’s hair and smiles across at me.
‘We should be treating you to breakfast in bed,’ I tell them both.
‘And spoil our fun?’ Mom says. ‘We got up in the dark to plan all this, we were so excited. Look at you two. Such fine young men. It’s every parent’s dream to wake such men with food.’
Two poppy-seed bagels have been sliced for each plate, and filled with a thickness of cream cheese and lox. To help it down, there are tall-stemmed glasses of mango juice, and white china cups of black coffee. A lone marigold, backed by a feathery leaf from a fennel plant, stands in a crystal specimen vase on the corner of each tray.
Pete picks up his bagel and takes one bite through to the centre. It fills his mouth.
Pop looks on admiringly. He reaches down to the trolley’s bottom shelf and comes up with a magazine. It’s the latest issue of Athletes Today. ‘The vendor’s astonished,’ he tells us. ‘He normally finds it hard to shift a dozen copies in the week. This issue’s only out this morning and we bought the last one.’
Sometimes it startles me, the very fact that waking up with Pete is a treat unique to me. Now his face smiles out from a best-selling front cover. Many thousands will wake to their subscription copies, and be made happier before breakfast. The high cheek bones, the Roman nose, the long lashes, the artful way his hair is spiked by the sweat of his brow alone. Though I love Pete already, I love him afresh through this picture.
‘Look at you, Pete,’ Pop says. ‘That would be a lovely cover picture of someone else, but of you? It doesn’t do you justice. You’re such a picture of health and youth. When I was your age, I was already Arnold’s Pop.’
‘We don’t want kids,’ I remind him.
‘That’s not my point, Arnold.’
‘Pop sees you as his biggest achievement,’ Mom assures me. Attention, like natural lighting, is best when it moves around. ‘Your father looks at Pete and admires him, as any man must. You break records, Pete, but you’re not known for what you create. You are beauty in motion, perfect in yourself.’
I fill my mouth with bagel to free my hands and pull the bedsheet up over the mound of my belly. Its flesh is smooth and hairless and makes a perfect pillow for Pete’s head. Without Pete’s head upon it my stomach sometimes seems redundant.
‘Pete tells me I’m as beautiful as he is,’ I remind people.
‘You’re very kind,’ Mom tells Pete.
That lunchtime Pete takes a flight out to Atlanta and settles in the athletes’ village. He rooms with a swimmer named Drake. Drake’s a blond who’s shaved his head and waxes his body. Pete’s into waxing too but wears a cap for his swims so he can keep his hair. When I am awake at night I imagine myself in their room. They lie still, asleep on separate beds, their muscles rippling like waves in an ocean when viewed from on high, and I take in the scents of steak from their breath, the salt of sweat and the adolescent whiff of chlorine. I’ve added chlorine to my aftershave range. It smacks of poolside summers and burgeoning sexuality.
Mom and Pop and I flew to Atlanta for track and field week. A week ago. The closeness to Pete while being apart makes me lonely. Mom and Pop are loving it. They make repeat visits to the stadium soda stands like they have their own concession, passing cups along the rows to new friends.
I retreat to my hotel room, in the hope that Pete might phone off-schedule. His daily call comes at 6 o’clock. Drake has left with the non-diving swimmers, so the room is his own. Pete managed to say, at the end of his last breathless minutes of excited news, that he missed me. I said how I longed for his performance.
It isn’t true. I ache for his event to be over and to have him back.
It’s stupid to stand outdoors and watch the triathlon live. Men dive into open water and race into mere specks. They rise out to mount bicycles that vanish into heat haze. They park bikes, switch shoes, and run from view.
Go Pete Go Go Go.
I was there at each stage, my tough manly shouts coming out as squeals of excitement.
I’m sure he heard. He was fifth out of the water. Third when the men dropped hold of their bikes. A Bulgarian and a Russian were ahead. The Russian was called Dmitri Sholokov. His face was sculpted like his ass, sharp lines of bone and flat slopes. His head was a block and his eyes were granite. You don’t keep a man like that at home. You send him off to conquer countries.
Pete shaded the Bulgarian with two thousand metres to go. I heard the news on the car radio as I was dropped at the finish line. He was chasing Dmitri’s shadow and closing in.
I watched the largescreen monitor for the final moments. Go Pete Go Go Go I tried to shout but the breath got caught in my heart somehow and I only whimpered. They ran side by side for ten, eleven, a dozen paces.
Go Pete Go I yelled, and now the sound was glorious, for my love sang full-throated from my chest.
Dmitri could never know such love. Pete’s next stride was lengthened by an inch as he pushed toward me. He surged again, his chest thrust forward, his heart racing toward the line. The camera clicked for the photo finish but I knew I knew I knew. Pete had won.
I had no breath to speak but I jumped and I waved. Pete had fallen to his knees, Dmitri beside him. They raised their heads to watch for the official result. It flashed through but they knew. Athletes know. Gold for Pete, for America.
Both men stood. Dmitri raised his arms and held them wide. Pete stepped into them and the two men hugged. A bear hug. It went on, and then on. They released their hold for Pete to do his solo pump of hands into the air, before he turned to take Dmitri’s hand and lift that high.
He saw me in the end. Came and flapped me the residue of his hug. His face blazed, his sweat coated me, the light in his eyes dazzled, and he was pulled away for the cameras.
I stood in the stadium as he mounted the rostrum, Dmitri to his right and the Bulgarian to his left. The gold medal shone against his chest as the flag rose, his lips shaping the words of The Star Spangled Banner. As the anthem ended, as the crowd roared, he lent to the side. Dmitri looked up, smiled, and offered himself. Pete planted a kiss full on the Russian’s lips.
The stadium screen caught the moment, which lingered and lingered, and oh how much the crowd loved it. The Bulgarian got a peck, for mere form’s sake, and the two losers climbed to the winner’s platform where all three men linked arms and grinned. It’s the moment, the headlines say, when the cold war finally melted.
Bullshit. It was cruel. It was obscene. It hurt.
I clapped at heats of the men’s 4x400 metre relay. I clapped again at the final this afternoon, when the team romped home to Pete’s second gold of the games. I watched the stadium cameras swing to connect with Dmitri among the Russians in the crowd. He punched the air at the moment of Pete’s victory, his mouth opening into some dark primeval roar.
It’s the best of the Olympics, they say, when sport erases the boundaries between old enemies. Well excuse me. I don’t think so. I have a new and profound hatred for all things Russian that’s tearing me apart.
* * *
Pete bursts into my room. He’s brazen that way. Mom and Pop knew he was coming so they’re in here with me. They don’t want to miss him.
Pete’s pushing a trolley. It holds three ice buckets and three bottles of Cristal champagne. Five flutes stand ready on the white linen cloth. As Pete picks up Mom and swings her round, then clasps Pop in a more grounded hug, I’ve guessed the truth. Dmitri emerges from the shadow of the corridor.
Mom shimmers with excitement though she knows the sordid truth. That’s celebrity for you, for it dazzles even her. Pop looks at me and dares to wink, as though life isn’t crashing down around me. He ushers Mom outside the door, claiming there’s a parents’ reception in the lobby they need to rush to.
‘Dmitri’s flying out this afternoon,’ Pete tells me as the door closes. ‘I felt we all should meet.’
Dmitri’s T-shirt is a joke. It’s raw silk spun from silver threads, stretched in the manner of a cobweb to reveal the trim white button of his navel and the dull white washboard of his abdomen. It’s one of mine.
‘It suits him, no? I knew it would.’ Pete pops a cork and pours three glasses. ‘His team flies out in uniform. This is the photo the papers will show though. Dmitri dressed in Arnold couture. He’s agreed to represent you in Moscow. He will open Eastern Europe to the Arnold range. Brilliant, isn’t it?’
This should have been our moment. Pete’s and mine. Just the two of us in the warmth of his victory. I had no heart for business.
‘Are you lovers?’ I say.
Bubbles fly from the glasses and hang there, I swear, frozen in time before bursting.
‘Dmitri wanted to come,’ Pete says. ‘I’ve told him so much about you.’
‘To friends,’ Dmitri booms. ‘New friends!’
He downs his glass in one. Me too. There’s no point pretending to enjoy it. Pete refuels us.
‘I want see the man he loves,’ Dmitri says. ‘To love!’
He swallows. Me too. He shifts to the window and looks down over Atlanta while Pete refills our glasses. The light from outside catches Dmitri's eyes. They’re not granite, I notice. They’re blue.
‘America. It is good. Good country.’ I guess what’s coming. I’m right. ‘To America!’
We drink. I shouldn’t. It’s wrong. I know better. I can get weepy on champagne but I lose all hold on righteousness.
‘You got beds this big in Moscow, Deems?’ Pete says. I guess they’d been drinking before they got here. He climbs on the kingsize and starts jumping up and down. Dmitri joins him. They’re like kids.
‘Arnie’s been lonely,’ Pete tells his pal. ‘He’s phoned me from this bed. A big lonely bed. I’ve brought him company. Come on, Arnie. This is your bed. We need you here.’
What the hell. Bed jumping’s not an Olympic sport. I’m hardly disqualified. I grab a bottle by its neck and climb on board.
Pete’s right. We can never be lonely. Even when one of us is idle, the other is collecting some richness out of life. Something to share.
Deems, Pete, and me. I’m a designer, but they’re tri-athletes, so together we’re an event that comes in threes.