The long-awaited sequel to Between the Push and Pull is finally here! If you have not read Between the Push and Pull, I highly recommend that you do as this story is not meant to be read as a stand alone. Embracing the Tension picks up the story three years after Between the Push and Pull and follows Ryan and Erik as they finally find their happily ever after.
One key difference between this story and its predecessor is there is a lot less sex in this story. I know this is an erotica website, but I had to be true to the story, and Ryan and Erik are at a different point in their relationship now. I apologize in advance if this is a disappointment to anyone and I understand if you give it pass. I hope the characters and the story will more than make up for it!
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and reactions, so please comment!
Copyright © 2018 by Hudson Bartholomew. All rights reserved. This story or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Embracing the Tension – Chapter 1
The small room in Toronto was at full capacity, a mix of young and old, business suits and ripped jeans. Erik was surprised at the size of the crowd; did they know what kind of film he was here to promote?
“If everyone can grab a seat, please.” Doug, the event host, waved Erik over to his chair at the front.
“I want to thank everyone for attending this Columbia University alumni event tonight. I’m happy to introduce our guest, Erik Fischer, who holds a Master of Fine Arts from Columbia’s School of Arts. Erik is the producer on a documentary film called Embracing the Tension that is debuting at the Toronto International Film Festival. And he has been gracious enough to take the time to come speak with us while he’s here promoting the film. Would you help me in welcoming Erik Fischer.”
Erik gave his obligatory wave at the light patter of applause. Most heads in the audience were bowed—some over plates piled high with food, others over the glowing screens of phones. The few eyes pointed in his direction looked indifferent or skeptical that this was a good use of their time. He wondered, not for the first time, why he had agreed to do this talk.
“So, Erik,” Doug started the interview, “you’ve obviously been to many film festivals over the years. How do you think TIFF compares to other big names on the circuit?”
“Well, Doug, that’s a good question.” Erik launched into his prepared speech about the holy trinity of a good film festival: just the right mix of film distributors, media attention, and audience interest. He tried throwing a joke or two in to see if he could get a rise from the crowd, but all he got were a couple of under-the-breath chuckles and sympathetic “nice try” smiles.
He turned the floor back to Doug for the next question. As Doug read from his list, the door at the back of the room eased open, and a latecomer slipped through. Erik caught a quick glimpse of him before he dropped into the last row and blended into the audience. The sighting was brief, but Erik could have sworn that he recognized the width of the shoulders and the tilt of the head.
The stagger of seats in the audience made it impossible for Erik to get a second glance at the latecomer. It was so unlikely that it was him that Erik dismissed the unexpected idea as soon as it popped into his head.
Doug had sent him the list of questions over email, so Erik had answers prepared for each one. He presented the canned responses at Doug’s prompting, no longer trying to splice in jokes as he went. Instead, he debated with himself over the identity of the latecomer.
When Doug asked for questions from the audience, Erik blinked in surprise at the number of hands that shot into the air. He never would have guessed that all those people were interested in his opinion, never mind had actually listened to it for over an hour. He was even more surprised when Doug wrapped up the interview and a not insignificant number of people approached to talk.
By the time Erik exhausted all his answers and the crowd thinned to a lingering few, he had almost forgotten about the latecomer with the familiar shoulders.
“Thanks again for coming to speak with us,” Doug said as Erik gathered his bag.
“You’re very welcome.”
“It was a good crowd, eh? Some really interesting questions.”
“Yeah, great questions.” Erik agreed and let Doug usher him out of the room and into the lobby.
They didn’t get more than a few feet before Erik stopped. His eyes had not been playing tricks on him. The hair was darker than he remembered, bordering on black, and it was longer than before, curling over his ears. He still wore the same matte-black earrings that Erik remembered so fondly. He had that beard from the last time Erik saw him. It didn’t hide that lopsided grin and the teasing bahis firmaları eyes.
Doug was still talking to him, Erik realized belatedly.
“Huh? Oh, sorry Doug.” It was rude, but Erik couldn’t quite tear his eyes away, afraid that the vision would disappear on him. “Listen, thanks for organizing the whole thing, it went great. Enjoy the rest of the festival.”
“Oh, yeah. You, too.”
Erik was vaguely aware of the confused glance Doug shot his way and the sound of the heavy front door opening as Doug left.
“Hey.” The latecomer’s voice was the same, deep and gravelly as if he’d smoked too much, though Erik hadn’t seen him touch a cigarette during the entire time they’d known each other.
“Ryan Cote.” The name felt strange on his tongue, like a language that had grown rusty from lack of use. Erik never thought he’d mutter it out loud again. Yet the bearer of the name stood but a few feet away.
And then Ryan grinned and Erik’s insides melted a little bit.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” Erik blurted out.
Dark eyebrows shot up, but the grin didn’t waver. “Um, I was invited?”
Erik frowned; he was sure he hadn’t invited Ryan.
“Columbia’s alumni office sent an email blast to everyone living in Toronto,” Ryan explained with a shrug.
“Oh, right.” Now he felt silly. “I didn’t know you were in Toronto. Aren’t you from Montreal?”
“I am.” Ryan’s grin grew. “But I’m here now.”
A million questions lined up on Erik’s tongue: how did Ryan end up in Toronto, how long had he been here, what was he doing here, and most importantly, why hadn’t he been in contact for the past three years. But his usually prolific brain couldn’t string together the right words, and he stood there with his mouth gapping.
“Um, I don’t know what your schedule is like, but if you’ve got some time, it’d be nice to catch up.” Ryan tilted his head in the way Erik recognized from back in the day, as if he wanted to say more, but his natural reservation wouldn’t let him.
“Yeah, I’d love that.” Erik sneaked a quick glance at his watch. “I’ve got some time now, if you’d like.”
“Sure.” Ryan led the way out into the brisk September air.
“Thanks for coming today,” Erik said as they strolled shoulder to shoulder down the sidewalk.
“Yeah, sure.” Ryan shrugged, gaze focused on the pavement in front of them.
Erik let a beat pass in silence before glancing over with narrowed eyes. “So… why did you come? I mean, I’m glad you did, but I wouldn’t have been the wiser.”
Ryan hesitated before speaking. “It seemed like the right thing to do.”
“That’s all?” Erik let his voice take on a teasing tone. “No ulterior motive?”
That earned him a sidelong look. “What do you mean ‘ulterior motive’?”
“Well.” Erik shrugged. “We haven’t seen each other in three years. Maybe you were curious if I was still as good looking as I was before.”
Ryan chuckled, that disjointed sound that seemed more like a broken exhalation. “Maybe I was a little curious.” He sounded nonchalant, but there was a twinkle in his eyes. “Or maybe I was just trying to be a good friend. You know, in case no one else showed up, at least you wouldn’t be talking to an empty room.”
“I see how it is. I’m glad you have such confidence in my ability to attract an audience.”
“Oh, I have no doubt that you can attract an audience. But you usually aren’t wearing so much clothing.”
Ryan’s tone was so deadpan that Erik almost didn’t realize he was joking. It was the slight crinkle around the edges of Ryan’s eyes that gave it away. Erik chuckled. “Touché.”
A growing grin was all the response Ryan gave.
When they arrived at the coffee shop, Ryan held the door open, and their eyes met as Erik brushed past. Just inches away from each other, Erik could see the playful guardedness in the way Ryan regarded him. It was the same look Ryan had the few times they hung out in New York, when the pressure of sex didn’t loom and they could just be themselves. A quick zing of chemistry flashed between them and sizzled as they moved inside.
It took a while for them to grab cups of coffee and settle at a table by the window. In those moments, Erik pulled his thoughts together.
“So how long have you been in Toronto?” he asked.
“Almost two years now.” Ryan seemed preoccupied with his coffee, twisting the mug around in circles on the table.
“Almost immediately after you left New York?”
“About six months after.”
Erik nodded, “Your sister—she’s here right?”
Ryan chuckled, abandoning his mug and folding his arms across the table.
“What’s so funny?”
“I forgot about your unending questions.”
Erik sat back in his chair, arms crossed in mock arrogance. “I wouldn’t have to ask so many questions if you’d volunteer the information yourself.”
“True.” Ryan agreed, but didn’t offer up any voluntary information.
Erik cocked his head. kaçak iddaa “And?”
A chuckle escaped Ryan before he spoke. “I got a job here. I’m an editor at the Canadian Journal of Psychology.”
“Wow, that’s great. That’s in your field. So all that money you gave to Columbia wasn’t an entire waste.”
“Yeah, exactly.” Ryan scoffed. “And my sister and her husband are here. So…” He shrugged as if the rest was self-explanatory.
“And your mom is still in Montreal?”
Ryan nodded. “What about you? Hot-shot producer now?”
“Ha—” Erik laughed out loud. “I wish. No, this is an indie project, made on a shoestring. If you really want to know, we almost didn’t make it into TIFF. We were turned down initially, but got squeezed in when one of the other films had to pull out.”
“Still, you made it in. That’s an accomplishment.”
“Yeah.” Erik couldn’t help but smile. “We’re really proud of it.”
“Embracing the Tension, huh?” Ryan asked with a grin.
“Yeah.” Erik twirled his tiny spoon in the cooling coffee so he wouldn’t have to meet Ryan’s gaze. He had been wondering whether Ryan would remember where the phrase came from. “I hope the title doesn’t bother you.”
“Why would it bother me?”
He snuck a glance up to assess Ryan’s reaction and was greeted by a carefully crafted mask—just polite curiosity, nothing else.
“Well, the idea was born out of our work together. You remember all those discussions about go-go dancing we had during the scenes? You know, the ones where we were really talking about being porn actors?”
Still no noticeable reaction from Ryan.
“I wanted to know if anyone else felt the same way we did.”
Erik wondered if Ryan was taking this all a little too smoothly, especially given how distraught he had been by the end of their project.
“Some did.” Erik proceeded with caution. “Others hadn’t quite given it as much thought.”
“You mean they were too high all the time to have given it as much thought.” This was said with an amused tone, no real condemnation or judgment.
“Yeah.” Erik smiled sadly. “Or too much in need of the money.”
They shared a look; there were many reasons why people choose to do porn, if they were even given a choice. God knows, both Erik and Ryan had their own reasons. But at the end of the day, Erik considered them to be the lucky ones; not everyone had the luxury to get out of they wanted to.
Ryan returned Erik’s smile, and in the moment of silence that followed, they seemed to mourn the part of themselves they had lost. The silence lingered, comfortable and intimate, one that didn’t demand to be filled. It was nice to just sit and be and have the other person understand exactly what was going on. Erik couldn’t think of a single person—friend or family—that he could do that with, no one except Ryan.
The buzzing of Erik’s phone startled him out of his thoughts.
“Shit,” he muttered as he glanced at the text message. “I’m sorry, I have to go. Our screening is tonight, and they need me to do stuff.”
“That’s okay, you go. It was nice catching up.”
Erik put his phone back in his pocket, but made no move to stand. He had a sneaking feeling that if he walked out that door, he might not ever see Ryan again.
“Listen, are you busy tonight?”
Ryan’s eyebrows lifted in question.
“We have extra tickets to the screening. I can have one held in your name. You want to come?”
Ryan’s grin grew slowly, but when it reached full strength, his eyes crinkled at the edges. “Sure.”
“Great! I’ll text you the details.”
Ryan stood with him as Erik pulled on his jacket. He debated with himself for a second before he pushed his doubt aside and pulled Ryan into a hug. It took a moment before the stiffness in Ryan’s frame softened and he hugged back. When Erik stepped away, his nose twitched with the smell of sandalwood, warm and clean, reminding him of times past when he had found himself wrapped up in that scent.
“I’ll see you soon,” Erik said.
Ryan grinned and nodded in response.
Erik stood at the back of the theater as people filed in. He was too antsy to settle into his reserved seat, and too tense to talk to any of the people he knew. The TIFF organizers had told him that the screening was sold out, but he was unprepared for the stream of people coming through the doors. As the rows filled and empty seats grew fewer and far between, Erik felt increasingly nervous.
In his head, he knew the film was good, its acceptance into TIFF surely must be evidence of that. But this was the first time his baby would be shown to a public audience, one neither familiar with the nuances of the porn industry, nor informed by a discretionary artistic eye. Public audiences reacted with their gut, and porn often elicited poor gut reactions.
On the screen, actors, directors, crew members, producers, and financiers of porn appeared one after another, each with a story of kaçak bahis their relationship with the industry. Some of the stories were light, frivolous and funny, others were heartbreaking; no two stories were alike, just like no two people were alike.
Erik didn’t pay much attention to the screen, his attention was on the audience. The entirety of the film’s 78 minutes was spent trying to gauge reactions from the back corner of the theater, and he felt his anxiety level ebb and flow with the pacing of the film. Would the audience laugh at the funny story? Would they tear up at the sad one? Erik held his breath through so much of the film that by the time the audience broke into applause, he was lightheaded.
The question-and-answer session after the screening was a blur, and Erik didn’t remember any of the questions or any of his answers. His brain only started catching up to the rest of his body when he stepped off the makeshift stage and spotted Ryan leaning against the wall, hands in his pockets, with that signature grin.
“Hey!” Erik rushed over to say hello and noted the slight tensing in Ryan’s shoulders at his exuberance.
“Hey.” Ryan smiled but his greeting was much more subdued.
“I’m so glad you made it! We’ve got an after party planned. You’re coming, right?” Any attempts at reining in his excitement were useless with the amount of adrenaline running through his system.
Ryan looked like he was about to decline, so Erik was surprised when he shrugged and said, “Sure, where is it?”
“No clue. But it’s supposed to be close. Just follow the crowd.”
Ryan nodded his understanding just as someone shouted, “Erik!”
Flashing his best smile, underlined with a hint of an apology, Erik reluctantly left Ryan leaning against the wall. Despite his best intentions, Erik didn’t find his way back to Ryan for most of what remained of the evening.
At the lounge, Erik found himself plied with drinks as everyone celebrated the success of the film. From across the room, Erik would spot Ryan with a drink in his hand, sometimes chatting with someone, sometimes observing with his typical quiet reserve. Every time Erik wanted to go over, someone new would stop him, refill his drink, and Erik would lose sight of Ryan again.
It wasn’t until the wee hours of the morning that the crowd thinned enough for Erik to finally make his way over to Ryan’s little corner.
“You’re still here.” Erik knew he had a silly grin on his face and heard the slight slurring at the edges of his words.
Ryan’s warm eyes were pools of chocolate brown in the darkness of the lounge. His beard looked soft, and Erik reached out to see if it felt that way, too. It did. The short hairs tickled the pad of his thumb as Erik ran it across Ryan’s jaw. He felt Ryan sigh at the touch, his eyes drifting closed and his tongue slipping out to wet the lips so close to Erik’s hand.
Just as Erik was about to lean in to taste those lips, Ryan grasped his hand, squeezed it gently and removed it from his face.
“Ready to go?” he asked. “I’ll take you back to your hotel.”
The warmth of Ryan’s hand on his own traveled up Erik’s arm, and he felt himself sway a little toward the solid self-assurance that Ryan exuded. With more restraint than he thought himself capable of, Erik pulled out his phone and showed Ryan the address.
With a nod, Ryan said, “It’s not too far. Do you mind walking? Should be nice out.”
“Sure,” Erik said. He didn’t voice his disappointment that walking would delay their getting back to his hotel.
The chilly midnight air hit Erik square in the face as they left the lounge and chased away some of the fuzziness that warmed his insides. Walking close to Ryan on the narrow sidewalk, Erik let himself brush against his shoulder every couple of steps.
“So what did you think of the film?”
“Honestly?” Ryan asked with a furrowed brow.
“No, I want you to lie to me.” Erik chuckled. “No, of course, honestly. I want to hear your expert opinion.”
Ryan scoffed. “I wouldn’t call myself an expert.”
“Oh, come on. Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten all those amazing scenes we did together. If you’re not an expert, then no one is.”
Ryan’s eyes narrowed in a glare, but he made no dispute.
“Seriously, tell me. What did you think.”
“Seriously? I don’t know how to tell you this.” Ryan shook his head and sighed before shooting Erik an apologetic look.
A mild panic tensed Erik’s shoulders. He hadn’t realized just how much Ryan’s opinion meant to him.
“But… I loved it. It was amazing.”
Relief washed over him at Ryan’s teasing grin. “Asshole.” Erik gave Ryan’s shoulder a heavy bump with his own.
Ryan laughed, the sound bright and clear in the cold air. “I really liked it. I did. It was truthful. Not just accurate…I mean, it was accurate. But there was a lot of truth in it, not just about porn, but life truths, if that makes sense.”
“Yeah, it does. The film isn’t really about porn if you think about it. It’s about people who just happen to work in the industry.”
“How did you manage to get so many people to talk to you? Working in porn isn’t really something most people advertise.”