They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. If this is true, then the walls of Clayton "Bear" Piatt's house would be speaking until the end of time.
Bear was something of an amateur photographer, and his house reflected that. His childhood photos were kept in a huge, leather-bound scrapbook, leaving the space on the walls free for the photos he had taken himself.
The living room and bedroom walls appeared to be, at first glance, a shrine to one person in particular - a young man with short, spiky dark hair, (the tips dyed a bright green), eyes of a deep brown, and a bright, if somewhat shy, smile.
He seemed to be the only person consistently present in all of these dozens of photos, but if you looked closer, you would come to know that Bear had been there for every photo taken, and that each one told a piece of a story that, when put all together, revealed itself to be one hell of a relationship.
A picture on one of the walls in the living room showed this man (Dan, as his friends called him) leaning back in a chair, a gloved hand attached to a hairy, heavily muscled arm inching towards his lower lip with a long, sharp needle. That was the day Dan got his lip piercings - snakebites. When he first told Bear of his plan to get the piercings, Bear didn't think much of it. Dan had three other piercings when he met him, (one in either nipple, and one in his bellybutton, which he said he got on a dare), and two more didn't seem like any big deal. But these would be the first ones that Bear was there to see done.
To Bear's surprise, Dan didn't even flinch the first time the needle went into his lip. He had expected, at the very least, a wince. But no - there was nothing. When he asked his boyfriend about it later, his answer was that he didn't want Bear to see him as a wimp.
"Can't have you thinking I'm squeamish, can I?" He said with a smile, and when Bear leaned in to kiss him, he stopped him with a hand to his chest. When he noticed the confused expression, Dan explained,
"No kissing until my lip heals. Infection."
For a period of two weeks, Bear did anything and everything he could think of to attempt to steal kisses, but Dan held firm.
"It's not happening, man," he said, his ever-present lisp just a little more prominent now, thanks to the piercings. "You can wait."
One of Bear's most fond memories was of the day Dan's piercings finally healed. They made out on the couch for roughly three hours, barely even coming up for air, much less anything else. If Bear learned anything over the course of those excruciatingly long two weeks, it was that absence really did make the heart grow fonder - and not just the absence of a person's physical presence.
Another picture on the wall was of Dan sitting in the living room of the house he and Bear shared, a fully decked-out Christmas tree in the background, and wrapping paper littering the floor. He wore a light gray pullover, tight black jeans, (Bear's favorite pair on him), and a gray and black checkered scarf tied artfully around his neck. The smile on his face was strained - a product of fighting to keep in his laughter - and he held a comically large can of baked beans in his arms, an elbow keeping the can upright, making him appear as though he were cradling a baby.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, Bear's attempts to get Dan to tell him what he wanted as a gift proved fruitless. He took him to countless stores, hoping to find something that caught Dan's eye, but nothing did.
"You don't need to get me anything," he said, holding back a chuckle as he watched Bear search through the men's clothing section in Macy's out of desperation, "really. Christmas was never a huge deal in my family growing up. The best gift I ever got was a pair of socks and one of those multicolored bouncing balls. Mom didn't like to make gift-giving into a big thing. She said it would spoil me."
"Which is exactly why you deserve a great gift," said Bear, pushing hangers further down on a rack full of clothes, so he could see what hid in the middle. The ends of his short brown hair rubbed against the underside of several shirts, messing the strands up, but he didn't care, or even really notice. "You're nothing if not generous. Your parents raised you well, Dan, I'm not disputing that. But in this aspect, I think your mother was wrong, and I'm going to make sure this is the best Christmas you've ever had. Because you're here, and I'm here, and I can."
Dan opened his mouth to argue, but couldn't think of a point to make that wouldn't sound stupid. Bear was being sweet, and if finding a gift for his boyfriend would make him happy, then Dan was just going to stand back and let him do it, no matter how crazy the search drove him.
They wandered the mall for four and a half hours, heading home empty-handed. Bear said nothing on the drive to their house, the only noise the sound of the radio and the truck's tires crunching along the roads.
When the truck pulled into the driveway and they went inside, Dan headed straight for the fridge. Bear pulled off his coat and hung it on the wooden rack near the door, then turned around and followed Dan into the kitchen.
The man was already chowing down, his gloves still on. He held a large glass bowl full of baked beans in his arms, one hand dinging into the food with an oversized metal spoon that they usually reserved for when they needed to scoop large quantities of sour cream out of a tub of the stuff in order to make chili.
"What are you doing?" Bear asked, chuckling.
"Eating," Dan replied through a mouthful of beans. A blush rode the tops of his cheekbones, but the embarrassment didn't stop him from bringing another spoonful of the food into his mouth.
"Why?" It was all Bear could think to say.
"I like beans." It sounded so uncharacteristically childish that Bear had to turn and walk back into the living room in order to keep from bursting into peals of insane laughter.
When Christmas morning finally rolled around, the two weren't able to open their gifts for each other right away, since they had to make stops at both Dan's parents' house, and Bear's parents' house. When they got home, it was almost ten-thirty at night.
Dan was ready to head to their bedroom, get changed and sleep, but Bear stopped him, saying,
"Wait. We still have to open our gifts from each other."
Dan turned back around with a tired smile.
"Are you sure we can't just do this tomorrow?" He asked. "I'm exhausted, and no one will know the difference."
"We'll know," was Bear's reply. "Now sit down on the couch. You can go first. What do you think?"
"Bring it on," Dan said through a yawn, taking a seat on the couch, just as Bear had said to.
Bear walked over to the tree and came back with a package the shape of a large octagon. When he sat down beside his boyfriend and handed him the gift, Dan was a little surprised at the weight of it.
"What is this?" He asked.
"Open it and find out," Bear responded with a sly smile.
Dan ripped the brightly colored paper off and dropped it to the floor, at his feet. When the gift was revealed, he started laughing before he could stop himself.
"This is what you get when you don't tell me what you want." Bear leaned over to give Dan a kiss on the cheek, the skin shaking beneath his lips as the man continued to laugh. "Beans."
A picture in the bedroom showed the two standing in front of the Eiffel Tower during the trip to Paris that Dan had surprised Bear with for his birthday one year. Dan stood with his back to Bear, head turned towards the camera they had set up, Bear's hands locked around his waist and smiles on both their faces.
Another picture showed Dan on a motorcycle, trying to keep a straight face. He had succeeded in molding his expression into something resembling seriousness for long enough that Bear was able to take the photo, then he rushed over to his boyfriend and ordered that Dan get off the bike before he killed himself.
There was a shot of Dan singing into a microphone during open mike night at some random bar. Bear could remember exactly how Dan's voice (which came out sounding deep when he sang, as opposed to when he spoke, with no hint of the lisp he possessed) had shocked the half-drunk audience members into quieting down, and then when Dan invited Bear up to sing the rest of the song with him, how the clapping from the pleasantly surprised groups of people had filled their ears. It was a wonderful night.
There were several pictures of Dan jokingly flipping off the camera - something he did often when Bear took his picture without permission - the upraised middle finger obscuring most of his face, thanks to forced perspective.
Nearly ten photos showed Dan kissing Bear's cheek, as well as a few others where the roll was reversed. There were pictures of Dan sleeping, of him sitting in a computer chair, staring at the screen with an utterly serious look on his face, as though he were working on something of grave importance, and a picture of him making a peace sign with his index and middle fingers, one of Bear's arms around his neck, and the other invisible, holding out the camera, so they could be in the photograph together.
Pictures showed him in mid-laughter, surrounded by nature, his eyes bright with mirth. Showed him blowing out candles on a birthday cake. Showed him smiling against Bear's lips as they kissed.
Every picture was worth a thousand different words. Every picture told a thousand different stories. But the underlying theme was always the same - perceptible not to the naked eye, but obvious to those who paid attention: love.