They had season tickets for the opera, a special treat they had to stretch their budget to afford – good seats, not the most expensive, but in the center and with good acoustics, worth every penny it cost them. So many pleasures crowded into one night, the music not the least of them, and the possibility of one of those rare unforgettable performances they would talk about for years. It gave them something to look forward to, five somethings in fact, one every other month while the season lasted, five evenings to savor, a momentary escape into elegance from the humdrum hassles of day to day existence, like Cinderella at the ball.
Like Cinderella they had to rush to get their chores out of the way in order to go, but they had no Disney mice to help them finish the job. Like Cinderella they would exchange their grubby work outfits for fashionable tailored clothes, in their case suits, not gowns, and they had to put them on themselves for no fairy godmother would wave her magic wand so that when they looked in the mirror they would see themselves magically groomed and decked out in a way that made it seem they belonged there among the rich and famous.
Like Cinderella they would travel there in style, though no cab driver can pass for a liveried footman and they paid for the taxi out of their own pockets. Like Cinderella they would rub elbows with people so wealthy that they thought attending the opera as mundane as champagne for breakfast, summer in the Hamptons, a luxury cruise or a weekend in the Caribbean, beautiful people who would notice them for their beauty and whisper to each other wondering who they were. “Those two men, have you seen them before? By any chance did they dine at the same restaurant as you?” No, they had grabbed a sandwich.
Like Cinderella they would live a dream, until midnight found them back in their shabby apartment looking the same as always, their fine clothes put away and their lovely evening no more than a memory. Unlike Cinderella they would not go to bed alone, for both of them had met their Prince when they met each other.
Nick had known nothing about opera until Sandor introduced him to it. He used to picture it as hours of fidgeting in a seat deafened by loud, dreary, rhythmless tunes screeched at him by fat ladies wearing horned helmets. Sandor had grown up on it, listening to the Saturday afternoon broadcasts, and when his parents thought him old enough to go out at night alone, waiting hours in line for standing room. He’d had a subscription for two since he got out of college. After his boyfriend walked out on him he’d gone twice alone, selling his extra ticket at the door, and had felt more like Cinderella than ever. Then he’d met Nick at a coffee shop, chatted him up, and without thinking invited him to Carmen. It was not exactly Nick’s idea of a first date and he didn’t expect he’d enjoy it – he almost turned him down when Sandor asked, “You do own a suit, don’t you?” and said that if he wasn’t familiar with the work he ought at least to read the story first – but the man struck him as a friend worth cultivating, both interesting and personable despite his bizarre tastes in entertainment, not to mention extremely handsome, and while not quite contagious, his enthusiasm for the art did arouse his curiosity.
His first exposure got him hooked, on the opera and on Sandor. Though Nick still liked the things he used to, Sandor had taught him a lot, broadened his horizons and given him new and unimagined pleasures, not the least of which was what they did in bed. He liked sitting side by side in the dark, his hand on the armrest under Sandor’s and feeling his fingers tighten around him when a sound so beautiful came from the stage or the pit that you seemed it hear it in your gut. He also liked to see the expression that settled on the faces of his old friends when he told them about his new-found love of opera, and – something he would never have believed, to all appearances more implausible than turning into a pumpkin or even an opera buff – he liked to get dressed up and put on a tie (how to make the knot was another thing he’d learned from Sandor), though he would not have liked to do it more often than once every two months. He had discovered how intensely erotic it was to slowly undress a man in a suit, more erotic than undressing one in a uniform, and equally erotic to be slowly undressed when you’re wearing one. He liked to tease Sandor when he was in his best outfit and they were ready to leave by kissing him dreamily on the lips and placing a hand on his groin, and he liked Sandor’s reaction, always the same, how he looked at him seriously and tsk-tsked, “Silly boy – impatient, impatient. Not now, we’ll be late. Afterwards.”
In spite, or perhaps because of all that, Nick could not conceive of going to the opera alone. If he and Sandor ever separated he would probably never attend another performance. Sandor was to him part of a night at the opera, and if he went there alone the magic would disappear and it would seem as if he sat listening to all that glorious music in rags, like Cinderella.