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Once Trevor broke it off between us, I often thought about that riddle of whether a falling tree makes a sound if there is no ear to hear it. If nobody knew of the relationship, if the two involved parties themselves had never acknowledged it in so many words, had it ever existed in the first place? And, if not, why was I feeling such a deep sense of loss? After all, I’d never expected anything more. Until almost the last moment, no promises or requests had been made or even been hinted at. From either side.

*******************

I met Trevor in March of 2002; we were both newly promoted and attending a week-long orientation course for executives at our corporate headquarters. We were playing in the big leagues now and were expected to build networks across the various corporate functions; the orientation course was our CEO’s way of kick-starting the process. There were about twenty of us sitting in the high-tech conference room in Detroit that year, coming from all parts of the world. It was the first time most of us had met, and already during the round of introductions I could start to tell which ones were willing to trample over dead bodies on their way to the top, and which ones were still a little bemused at having been promoted to executive level in the first place. I belonged to the second group. I thought Trevor did, as well.

The course was fairly demanding, with a series of team-building exercises and projects that were meant to carry over after we returned to our jobs. Trevor and I were assigned to the same team and over the period of the five days, I grew to both like and respect him. In theory, we were all good leaders, that’s why we were there in the first place, yet in Trevor leadership seemed like an innate talent rather than something he’d had to painfully learn along the way like some of us (me for instance). There was no question of how intelligent and capable he was; yet, he also appeared laid back, with an irreverent and slightly snarky sense of humor that was aimed at himself as often as at others. He spoke of his wife and two daughters with great affection and mentioned how he’d passed up a promotion that would have required his moving to Germany a couple of years earlier, because his wife’s father was in poor health and she needed to stay in the US. My impression of him was that this was a man who was ambitious, but who also had his priorities straight.

He wasn’t classically handsome, but he took care of himself, exercising faithfully three to four times a week, and he chose his clothes carefully, making the most of his 6’4″ height and athletic build. Much later he confided to me that he had a personal ‘styling consultant’ and that he traveled to Milan once a year. He admitted it was an investment that had stretched him to almost breaking point in the beginning, but that was steadily becoming a smaller and smaller percentage of his disposable income.

“Don’t ever kid yourself, Marcus. Image is extremely important. You’ve got to sell yourself every minute of every hour of every day,” he advised me, despite the fact that he was eight years younger than me, and he was right. I knew for a fact that he consistently scored slightly lower than me in almost every single one of our bi-annual 360-degree evaluations, because he wasn’t bashful about sharing the results, yet he was the one on the fast track, getting assigned to the plum positions, while I languished in the relative backwaters of smaller operations, where we worked just as hard but were lucky if we were ever singled out for a special mention in an annual statement or in our CEO’s quarterly state-of-the-business communications.

From 2002 to 2005 Trevor and I met at a number of corporate events and became pretty good friends. If he noticed that I only spoke of my personal life in vague generalities, he never mentioned it. Our company was predominantly male, as were our clients, and I always followed a strict don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy, especially where Trevor was concerned. In the first place, he liked to gossip — as did I, it was one of the foundations of our friendship — and secondly, I was concerned that if he knew I was gay, he’d also guess I’d developed a crush on him.

Which isn’t to say that I pined away for him or was consumed by my feelings for him or anything like that. In a lot of ways what I felt resembled the crushes I’d had on actors or baseball players, when I was a teenager; comfortable and safe, because there wasn’t a chance of my ever meeting them, simply a nice fantasy to occasionally jerk off to. Uncomplicated. A little harmless escapism, essential in keeping my spirits up, as I fruitlessly tried to figure out the intricacies of the gay scene in Kiev, where I was posted.

In October of 2005, the company held its annual international leadership conference in Berlin. As with every conference, the days were packed with events up to and including dinner. After dinner, people always drifted back to the hotel bar for drinks; I belonged, along with Trevor, to a hardcore group that took pride in outdrinking tipobet365 yeni giriş and outlasting the rest and still being able to show up on time and attentive the following morning. Much as I liked my colleagues, I didn’t intend to pass up on my chance to party in Berlin, and I arrived faking the flu, which would not only serve as an excuse not to hang out with the others, but would explain how wrecked I might look in the mornings. And if things went my way, I intended to look plenty wrecked. Not the most professional of attitudes, but I was on the verge of burning out, and I needed a break.

The first night worked out exactly as planned. Within five minutes of arriving at the dance club the discreet hotel concierge had recommended, I hooked up with a guy, whose name I no longer remember, assuming he even gave me his real name, and we had a fun time until after five a.m.

“You look like hell,” Trevor told me during the morning coffee break. “If I were you, I’d have stayed in bed.” I couldn’t help gloating a little at the memories he’d stirred up — if I’d stayed in bed, it would have been for reasons other than to rest — and hoped he’d interpret my smile as courage in the face of suffering. He didn’t look too good himself, his normally olive skin almost gray, his blue eyes spectacularly bloodshot.

“What time did you guys finally shut the bar down?”

“I’m not really sure. Late. Early,” he mumbled vaguely. “I need another cup of coffee.”

He wandered off towards the coffee table. I followed him and, in keeping with my alibi, opted for an herbal tea rather than my usual triple-shot espresso, so he had to elbow me awake twice during the endless power point presentation on business resumption planning that followed the break. During lunch I went up to my room and snuck a nap and two cups of coffee, and made it all the way through dinner.

Like the previous night, I went back to my room directly afterwards, and changed into a T-shirt, jeans and boots, which was about as dressed up as I ever get. If I ran into a colleague as I left the hotel, I could always pretend to be looking for a late-night pharmacy. I had a quick consultation with the trusty concierge, and set off on foot. Berlin never truly sleeps, but it had been cold, gray and drizzling all day, and the broad sidewalks near Potsdamer Platz were almost deserted.

In preparation for another late night, I’d opted to wear my glasses instead of contact lenses. The prescription wasn’t exactly up to date, and the lenses were misted by the rain, so it took me a couple of blocks to realize that the tall, broad-shouldered guy in the leather jacket ambling along about sixty meters ahead of me didn’t just look like Trevor. Intrigued, I trailed behind him as he walked along the same route that the concierge had instructed me to follow.

I didn’t know quite what to think when I saw Trevor enter the club. It never once crossed my mind that he might simply have been curious or experimenting, or that it was the first time he’d ever done something similar. Over the years I’d seen Trevor nervous and I knew the signs; nothing in his relaxed body language displayed anything other than an almost bored self-confidence as he tipped the bouncer and walked through the door. It wasn’t only the idea that he might be, at the very least, bi that left me almost dazed with disbelief; it was the fact that straight-arrow Trevor, a man whose integrity I’d never doubted, a man who maintained an ever-updated collection of photos of his wife and daughters, when other colleagues would pull out worn baby pictures and have to explain that their children were actually teenagers, would cheat on his marriage. I’d have been as shocked if I’d seen him picking up a woman for a one-night stand.

I briefly considered returning to the hotel, or hailing a taxi and going to the club I’d been to the night before, if only I could remember its name. In many ways I didn’t welcome knowing this facet of Trevor. But… I did know. And I’d had to have been a saint to resist the temptation of pursuing the realization of some of my fondest jerk-off fantasies, if only for one night.

Even though it was a Tuesday night, the club was packed. The music was so loud, it seemed to throb in my chest and up through the floor and the soles of my boots, and the air was humid with the sweat of so many bodies dancing — or some writhing approximation thereof — on the floor. Trevor stood almost a head and a half over the rest of the crowd, and he was easy to track as he made his way towards the bar. I forced a path through the crowd, not even bothering to take off my jacket, despite the heat that was already making me perspire. For a few seconds I lost sight of him, but once I finally reached the bar, I realized that he’d perched on one of the stools, which had had the effect of lowering him to my own 5’10”.

His eyes were on the bartender who was serving a customer at the other end of the bar, patiently waiting to be noticed. I squirmed my way into the space next to him, but tipobet365 giriş he didn’t look my way, even though he must have been aware of somebody standing that close to him, almost rubbing shoulders with him.

“Can I buy you a drink?”

He’d been leaning his elbows against the bar and his whole body jerked upright in surprise, then went very tense. It took him a long time to turn around and look at me, as if he hoped that if he gave it enough time, my presence would turn out to be a figment of his imagination.

I saw his lips move, forming my name, but if he actually said it out loud, I couldn’t hear him over the music. He stood up and took a step back, putting some distance between us, but he gripped the edge of the bar, as if to steady himself. Even in the ever-changing colors of the swirling strobe lights I could see that he’d turned very pale. It made me reconsider my approach; this wasn’t something we could be flippant about or pretend was normal, which had been my first, ostrich-like instinct.

“Hey, it’s okay,” I tried to reassure him. “We can forget we saw each other here.”

I turned away and I felt his hand grab my bicep. He spun me back towards him.

“Did you follow me?” he shouted. It might have been to make himself heard, but in the span of one second he also looked like he’d gone from shocked to extremely angry. I unsuccessfully tried to jerk my arm out of his grasp.

“Of course not!”

I made a second attempt to release myself. He ignored my struggles, and simply cocked his head and studied me. I’d never before realized quite how strong he was. Suddenly he smiled and leaned down, his lips almost brushing against my ear.

“You don’t really have the flu, do you?”

Surprise at his smile and playful question rendered me still; his warm breath against my ear made me break out in goose bumps. Disappointingly, he let me go and stepped back again.

“Not really,” I admitted, smiling up at him.

I wasn’t really sure what to do or say next. I watched his face turn solemn and uncertain again, and knew that my own expression mirrored his. We’d both been outed, and our friendship and his marital status made things even more awkward than they might have otherwise been.

It struck me that he had a lot more to lose than me; after all, I was already posted in the closest operation we had to Siberia, though I supposed they could always send me prospecting for clients in outer Mongolia or something. Besides, I was just being melodramatic; there were openly gay men in high positions in our company, though they tended to occupy the more predictable spots within Marketing, Human Resources or Design, so I had no reason to believe that I’d experience anything other than a slight discomfort for the period that colleagues who’d known me for over twenty years adjusted their perception of me and gossiped behind my back.

But Trevor… Trevor had presented a false image of himself. In essence he’d tricked everybody, made them think he was the same as them. Every single one of our regional and executive vice presidents was married with children. Sure, some of them were at their second or third attempt, or at the age where they’d moved on to trophy wives, and we all displayed a forgiving “boys-will-be-boys” attitude about what might occur at conferences far from home, but I doubted that forgiveness would extend to being a boy with other boys, rather than with the high class female prostitutes that frequented the fringes of most of our conferences.

The same thoughts had to be running through his head, yet I could see the habitual self-confidence start to seep back into his eyes and posture. He wasn’t totally comfortable, not yet, but as the shock wore off, he probably began to realize that his secret was safe with me. His shoulders dropped and he resumed his perch on the barstool, leaning back against the bar.

“I’ll have a beer,” he told me, reminding me of my offer, and I nodded.

After I’d managed to attract the bartender’s attention and placed and paid for our order, I stood stiffly next to Trevor, looking out on the dance floor. Even though the hotel concierge had promised that the club attracted a slightly older crowd, most of the guys looked as if they were in their early to mid- twenties, which made them a good twenty years younger than me. And the techno beat that made all songs sound identical to me was starting to get on my nerves. For a second I thought longingly of my bed, oddly enough without Trevor in it.

“Has Stevens spoken to you?” he asked me suddenly, referring to my manager, whom I liked well enough on a personal level but had no respect for on a professional one. By now, Trevor was one rung above me, and Stevens’ equal on the corporate ladder, even though we’d made executive level at the same time three years ago. Sometimes I was jealous, but, for the most part, I wasn’t surprised by his rapid progress and was happy for him.

“Stevens speaks to me all the time,” I told Trevor glumly. “Why? What’s the problem now?”

Trevor tipobet365 güvenilirmi smiled.

“I’m not supposed to tell you this, but you won’t be in Kiev for much longer.”

“Why? Where am I going?” I asked with considerable trepidation. One thing I was sure of, and that was that I didn’t want to end up reporting to Trevor. Not before, for reasons too tangled, and even petty, for me to want to delve into, and most certainly not now.

“They’re starting up a new team; process management and harmonization. You’re going to be leading it. I’m surprised Stevens hasn’t mentioned anything yet. Kim is going to be announcing it the last day of the conference. You’ll be reporting directly to him.”

Kim was a Regional Vice President, which meant that I was also being promoted to the same level as Trevor and Stevens, if not immediately, then within a short time frame provided I didn’t royally screw up. Big geek that I am, I was excited. I’d been pretty vocal about the need for driving more efficiencies into our processes, for ensuring that the local operations worked off common templates, even if they had to localize them to some degree. I was probably the one executive who’d put most of his time in the smaller operations, and I knew from first-hand experience how easily things could fall apart in physically remote countries where the financial results were never large enough to stand out until they did so in a spectacularly negative way, and everybody had to scramble. The fact that I’d been listened to, and been chosen to lead the effort, filled me with pride.

Trevor slapped me on the back.

“Congratulations, Marcus. Well-deserved. Try and act surprised when Stevens finally tells you.”

“He wanted to speak to me at lunch today, but I ducked out to take a nap. It was probably about that.”

I couldn’t help the wide grin on my face and my head was a jumble of thoughts that ranged from wondering whether I’d be based with one of our larger European locations or in Detroit (anywhere I actually spoke the language was fine with me) and whether I’d travel frequently enough to merit business class for even the short hauls according to our travel policy, to how large a team I was being given.

“Hey. You’re thinking about work. Stop. You’re going to start jotting down priorities on a coaster any minute now.”

“Got a pen?” I laughed, reaching out as if expecting him to hand me one.

Instead he grabbed my wrist and jerked me towards him, standing up at the same time, so that I stumbled off-balance against his chest.

“Let’s dance, Marcus. This is what we came here to do, isn’t it?”

“Not with each other,” I said, a little breathlessly, pushing against him.

He let me put a couple of inches distance between us, but then wrapped one arm loosely around my waist and the other around my shoulders, and moved against me in sync with the music. It was more dancing than an overtly sexual move, but my body started to respond regardless.

“I’ve never danced with a friend,” he said simply.

I moved out of his arms to take off my jacket and drop it off at the coat check, then returned to him. Falling into rhythm with Trevor was easy, as easy as our friendship had been until that point. I thought and felt a lot of things during those two hours of dancing with him.

I’d never even flirted with a guy I knew to be in a relationship, much less fucked a married man. It’s not that I particularly believed in monogamy or looked down on adulterers, but I felt oddly quixotic about not wanting to take my short-term pleasure at the expense of somebody’s long-term dreams, even if I didn’t know that somebody, even if I also knew that the cheating partner would simply find another willing mouth or ass.

I doubted that Juliet, whom I’d met on a couple of occasions, knew about Trevor, and I felt sorry for them both. After my initial surprise and disappointment, I found that I couldn’t think of Trevor otherwise than as the fundamentally honest and open man he’d seemed to be until that night. He couldn’t have been faking his love for Juliet, and certainly not for his girls. I didn’t know why he’d got married in the first place, but I wasn’t in a position to pass judgment from my own closet. I might have been a free agent, but that was due more to not being very ambitious, and to not having met a woman that I thought I could make an honest attempt at compromising with; certainly my independence hadn’t made me any braver than him about being open about my sexuality or living my life on the terms I’d have preferred.

After a while — and this led to the biggest lie I ever told myself, born that night and reiterated over and over for the next four years, until I believed it to be true with all my heart — I got to thinking that Trevor was better off with me, than with a series of risky one-night stands, that Juliet was better off if Trevor satisfied his needs with a friend, who had no ulterior motive or other designs on him and who expected nothing further from him, who cared enough for him not to put his career, family or the life he’d so painstakingly built in jeopardy. At the time, I didn’t even know if Trevor was reluctantly or willingly bisexual, if he was the least bit attracted to me or if he even wanted to be ‘saved’. It was all in my head.

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