His princess has turned out to be more than exacting about what she wants in an apartment, and nothing Justin has found has met her demands. He's not all disappointed in her fastidiousness; she would not be his princess if she were anything less, but it's made his mission to find them a place to live in this city damned hard. After she rejected the last batch of apartments he looked at, which she sees only through the pictures Justin takes with the digital camera he bought for this quest, too busy with her work to come out hunting with him, he realized he was going to have to take his search up a notch to find a palace worthy of his princess. Nothing he's found online or in the paper was going to meet her expectations; he needs to consult a professional.
So he contacted Sam Best, a real estate agent, and a former client. Sam was always the chatty type, filling the empty spaces of their sessions with idle chatter, asking Justin personal questions which Sam would then proceed to create answers for. When Justin told him that he was leaving the business, Sam decided that Justin had found a sugar daddy to take care of him, and Justin didn't deny it. It might even be close to the truth, though Sam would be very surprised to learn the gender of Justin's new benefactor. Justin never discussed his sexuality with any of his clients; until Eleanor, he didn't have any gender preference at all, more of an anti-sexuality, really, a general loathing for humanity at large and a compulsive phobia about being touched. So if his male clients assume he's gay and the females assume he's straight, that's fine with Justin; it was their fantasies he was catering to, and now that he's done with that business, he sees no reason to come out. Sam was disappointed to be losing Justin's services and gave him his business card, offering to provide any professional help of his own should Justin ever be in need of it. Maybe Sam was just being polite, but Justin decides to take him up on the offer and dials his number on his cell phone.
"I sell houses, I don't really deal with rentals," Sam informs him after gushing his pleasure over receiving the call, "But, you know, I may actually have something for you, a house I'm handling for a dear friend...let me make a call and I'll get back to you."
Sam calls back within an hour and offers to show Justin a house in Marina del Rey that day.
"It belongs to a dear friend of mine," Sam explains, "His partner died, just two years ago now, and he still hasn't gotten through the grief. He's been living in Barcelona, trying to forget. And he asked me to sell the house for him. But, whenever someone makes an offer, he turns it down and tells me to take it off the market. He can't stand to live here, because of the memories, but he also can't bear the thought of parting with it. So, it sits here empty, and I manage it for him, keep the landscaping crews, the pool maintenance, et cetera. Today, I convinced him to rent it out to you."
Justin goes through the empty rooms, taking pictures to show Eleanor. This place must certainly meet her expectations, he thinks, just as it will exceed their budget. In this part of L.A., this house is worth millions. When they get out to the deck, with its pool and jacuzzi, Justin lays his budget on Sam, lowballing at first in case he has to negotiate up.
"You do realize what a deal I'm making for you here?" Sam says, and for a moment Justin thinks his former client might ask something of him in return, but Sam continues, "This isn't about money though. I keep this place maintained as best as I can, but something happens to empty houses. It's like they have souls, you know, and they aren't happy if they aren't sheltering someone. I think this house has been calling out for you."
Justin doesn't respond one way or another to the crazy talk. "I love it, but I don't have the final say. I'll have to get back to you tonight."
"Oh, I'm sure he'll love it, too," Sam smiles.
It occurs to Justin that at some point Sam might actually meet Eleanor if they take this house, and it won't look good if the lie he allowed him to believe is exposed like that. "She prefers 'she', actually," Justin says, taking the lie to a whole new level.
"Really?" Sam raises an eyebrow, "That's quite surprising. I mean, it's not often the tranny who takes the daddy role."
"We aren't the most conventional couple," Justin agrees. And that's not even far from the truth.
Now that she's managing the Arthag gallery, Eleanor needs to hire a receptionist to take her former place at the front desk. Stina has been whining about needing a job, so eleanor offers to take her on.
"As long as you understand that at work, I'm your boss, not your friend," Eleanor lays down the ground rules, "And you'll have to dress more professionally. Since this is an art gallery, you can be more creative than corporate, but stay away from the ripped shirts."
Stina smiles and nods, wondering if Eleanor realizes how quickly she's turned into her own mother.
Justin greets Eleanor with extra affection when she comes home from work. "I have some pictures to show you," he says, "I want this house, Elle."
"This house is incredible," Eleanor says as she goes through his pictures, "I mean, I can't believe we can get something like this on our budget."
Justin explains the special circumstances that allowed him to get this house at even beneath the highest end of their budget. "We won't find anything better," Justin says.
"We'll take it," Eleanor says decisively.
"Justin, what is this a picture of?" Eleanor asks s she clicks on the last photo in the folder.
Justin leans over the screen to see what she's talking about. "That's you," he says, "I must have saved it into the wrong folder.
"What part of me, exactly?" she asks.
"The small of your back. And that's my hand on top."
"When did you take this?"
"While you were sleeping. I have more. I've been messing around with your Photoshop."
"I see that," Eleanor says with a slight smile, navigating to other folders he's created on her laptop, "This is actually quite brilliant. We should get these printed out. You have a whole show's worth in here."
"Elle, these are private. We can't be showing these around."
"The best art usually exposes the artist in some way," Eleanor says, "This is really just too brilliant not to show."
"You want people to see nude photos of you?"
"My face doesn't appear in any of them, so it's not like I can be identified," Eleanor says, "You have an amazing eye. You have to go public with this."
"If you say so, princess," Justin agrees reluctantly.
"Trust me," she answers.
"I do trust you," Justin says, pulling her out of the chair and pressing her against the wall for a kiss, "Would I put myself in this position if I didn't?"
Eleanor sighs, relaxing, letting her cold businesslike personality melt away in his embrace. With him, she can be soft, open, exposed. "I trust you, too," she whispers.
Justin caresses her face, kisses her neck, "Listen," he whispers in her ear, "The guy we're renting this house from...I kind of had to let him think you're a tranny."
Eleanor tries to make sense of that, but is unable to come up with a scenario that would require that particular lie. Rather than question him, Eleanor decides that this is something she'll just have to trust him on.
Justin now has to inform Zach that he and Eleanor will be moving out, leaving him with two empty rooms to rent out.
"You've been here a long time," Zach observes, "I'm going to miss you."
"You can visit us," Justin offers, "Someone has to feed you properly." Justin remembers the sad empty state the refrigerator was in when he first moved in. Zach lived mostly on fast food, the most nauseating kind of food you can find.
Zach throws his arms around him, and Justin actually returns the hug. In his own way, Zach has been an exception to Justin's general revulsion to people. Maybe it's because he reminds him of the kids who used to tag along with him in school. Justin was always solitary and taciturn, even as a child, and even more prone to violence before he learned to control himself and his rages. But he was never a bully, he never took any pleasure in targeting those too weak to defend themselves. He would only pick fights with boys who were bigger and stronger than he was, and those were most easily found picking on groups of smaller boys. Boys like Zach, bookish and smart, and as physically unfit for a fight as they could be. It was never Justin's intention to become their protector, he just took pleasure in beating up and humiliating their tormentors for his own sake. But to them he became something of a knight in shining armor, and they followed him, staying close by him, using him as a bodyguard. By the time he liberated himself from the school system at 16, Justin had come to look on these boys as his own property, a pack to be defended and protected, and Zach stirs that same sense of proprietary interest in him now.
Just as it was his job to find the place, it was Justin's job to furnish it. Decorating was the more pleasurable task, as Justin enjoys shopping and Eleanor didn't require approval, trusting his taste over hers in these matters. As soon as he got the place furnished, the couple moved in.
"It's amazing," Eleanor says when their first tour of the newly furnished ends in the bedroom.
"I bought something for you," Justin says with a wicked smile, "It's on the dresser."
"More clothes?" Eleanor laughs, walking behind the bed to the partially hidden dressing area, "My wardrobe will explode if you keep buying me things."
"Well, this isn't what I expected," Eleanor says when she tries it on.
"I thought we should celebrate," Justin says, taking off his own clothes.
Their bedroom has a wall of windows looking out into the yard, which is surrounded by it's own wall, giving them the privacy they need
He told Sam their relationship is unconventional, but it's so much more than that, trangressing even the rules of unconventionality. They are fluid, switching top and bottom, dominant and submissive, from minute to minute, without struggle, without even having to talk about it.
"I never believed I was just half a person, I thought Jeanette had just made that up," Justin says quietly as they lie together, exhausted, on the bed, "But being with you, I finally get it. We're one whole, finally reunited."
What he's saying sounds vaguely familiar. "Tell me the story," she says, knowing that he's talking about something his sister once told him. It's always a strange pleasure to hear his remembered version of some classic of literature, told to him by Jeanette, reinterpreted through his own world view, and retold as though it were an account of historical fact, not fiction from the imagination of its original author.
"She said people used to have two heads, four arms and legs, and had two sets of genitals. They pissed off the gods, I forget what they did. It didn't seem to matter, the gods were all pretty easy to piss off in all her stories. Like the nuns. Anyway, the gods decided to split people into two to punish them for whatever they'd done this time. So these poor split up people were miserable and spent all their time embracing their other halves, trying to get back together. And that's what we are, half people desperately seeking union with our other halves. I thought it was bullshit. I mean, the last thing I thought I ever needed was another person. But you...if I ever got split off from you, I'd spend every minute trying to get back with you. I wouldn't be whole without you."
"That's Plato," Eleanor identifies the source material, "It's an allegory, a myth."
"It may not be true," Justin says, "But it's true for us."
"I'd like to meet your sister someday," Eleanor says, knowing she's broaching a touchy subject for him.
"It's not going to happen," he says, "I don't know where she is, even."
"It wouldn't be that hard to find her," Eleanor suggests.
"I said no," Justin says firmly.
"I don't understand, you seem to have been close to her once. What happened that you don't want to know what became of her?"
"Elle, it's the past," Justin says with a sigh, lifting her into an embrace, "It's gone and done with."
"But your past is what makes you what you are. I want to know everything about you."
"I'm not my past," Justin insists, "You know everything there is to know."
Eleanor doubts that, but doesn't press it further, knowing he's on the point of closing down entirely.