by Tim Mead
"Never use a long word if you can think of a shorter one that means the same thing," Tim kept saying.
"But don't you lose subtlety, nuance that way?" I countered.
"I said, `that means the same thing,'" he replied.
Later, when I showed him this chapter, Tim said, "You know, Bax, you really make me sound like a pedantic bastard."
"What is Bud's Place?" I asked.
"It's a bar in Hamlin."
Fifteen miles or so from downtown Zenith, Hamlin used to be just a country town. Now it's pretty much a crowded Zenith suburb.
"So what about it?" I turned to Russ.
He looked embarrassed. It was Corey who answered.
"It's a bar."
"Yeah, Mitch already said that. And?"
"Oh, come on, guys! What's this all about?"
"Relax, babe," Russ said. "It's a place that has live country music on weekends. Sometimes they have square dancing and line dancing. Cool place."
"Then why don't we go there sometime?"
"Bax," Mitch said as if speaking to a child, "you know you've never liked country music."
"It's not my favorite, but I don't hate it. I listen to it around here with Russ, don't I?"
"I'd be glad to check the place out with you guys. Just name the day."
"How about next weekend?" Mitch said, almost daring me not to agree.
* * *
The next afternoon Russ had fallen asleep on the sofa while watching an NBA game. I called Mitch.
"Good afternoon, professor."
"Hey, Bax. Last night was great. Thanks for having us."
"Yeah, yeah. Now what's all this about Bud's Place, country music, and my apparent obliviousness to something?"
"What do you mean?"
"You know fucking well what I mean. That scene as you and Corey were leaving last night. You two made it look like there was something important about Russ that I hadn't picked up on. Like I was deficient or neglecting my man. So what's with that?"
"Chill, Bax! You're not really to blame for anything."
"Well, I'm relieved to hear it. Now, would you mind telling me what it is that I'm not to blame for?"
"You're blowing this all out of proportion. It's just that Russ likes country music and he told Corey he used to go to Bud's Place pretty regularly. He hasn't gone since you two hooked up because he thinks you really don't like country music and he hasn't wanted to make you go there if you won't enjoy it."
"For Christ's sake, Mitch, I love the man! Of course I'll go. I can't line dance or do the two step or whatever, but I can sit and have a beer and listen. Better make that several beers."
"I'm glad to hear it. Now, I suggest you go find Russ and tell him that. But leave out the part about having to have extra beer to make listening to his kind of music palatable."
"Okay, thanks. And we are set to go there Saturday night, aren't we?"
"You bet your plump ass we are."
"My ass is not plump!"
He laughed. "Okay, if you say so."
I went and sat so I could look at Russ as he slept. I couldn't help wondering why he told Corey about missing going to that country bar and didn't tell me. But I wasn't going to confront him about it. Maybe I just needed to be more tuned in to his needs, as Mitch seemed to imply.
As is so often the case, or so I've read, Russ looked younger, almost boyish, when he was sleeping. A lock of his auburn hair had fallen across his forehead. Long, curved lashes seemed to guard his eyes as he dozed. One arm dangled to the floor, the other crossed over his chest. His fingers were long and thin.
I wasn't perving on my sleeping lover, I was just caught up in how beautiful he was. Still I didn't want him to catch me staring at him. Just as I had stood up to go find the book I was reading, he stretched and opened his eyes.
"Hi. Whatcha doin?"
"Really? That's nice." He almost purred.
"Russ, you're the best thing that ever happened to me. Don't let me forget it."
Without sitting up, he spread his arms wide. Accepting his invitation, I dropped to my knees. We embraced. We kissed.
Then I said, "With reminders like that, I'm not likely to forget."
"How lucky I am to have you!"
"Oh that." He grinned.
"Bastard! You knew. You just wanted me to say it again."
* * *
It was snowing, of course, the Saturday evening Mitch, Corey, Russ and I planned to go to Bud's Place. They picked us up, and, though the roads were a bit of a mess, Corey's SUV, which had four wheel drive, made it to Hamlin without a problem.
There'd been a bit of a surprise as we dressed for the evening. Russ appeared in jeans and a plaid shirt. That was no surprise. My shirt was striped rather than plaid; otherwise I was in similar garb. But Russ was wearing cowboy boots.
"Where the fuck did those come from?"
He grinned. "Oh, I've had them. I just kept them stowed away in the Land Rover."
"Why did you do that, for chrissake?"
He ducked his chin in that way that had me close to cumming. "I thought you'd make fun of me."
"Baby, you make me sound like a real bitch. I think you look hot as fuck in your outfit."
That was the right thing to say, for we were kissing and gently humping each other's crotches when Mitch and Corey pulled up out front.
The bar was, first of all, not a gay bar so I had to remind myself to keep my hands off Russ. I'd protested at the early hour the guys wanted to get there, but we got one of the last tables. Obviously the place did a good business on Saturday evenings. The clientele was mostly straight couples, and the men were mostly in jeans and button up shirts. The women wore a greater variety of garb, but denim skirts seemed to be more popular than they would have been in most other bars. There were lots of people in cowboy boots. What set this place apart most, however, was the prevalence of cowboy hats, especially among the men. You'd have thought we were in Texas.
Bud's was a big place, with a bar along one wall and a stage at the back of the room. We got a pitcher of draft beer and four mugs and settled in. Some woman was singing on the juke box. I was surprised when the other three guys began to sing along with her. Okay, so Russ liked country music. But Mitch and Corey? How come I hadn't gotten the memo?
Anyway, we sat there and drank and nibbled peanuts and talked for nearly an hour. Then a group of guys began to set up on the stage, and the noise level dropped. After a few minutes there were four men on stage, along with one woman. A voice on the loudspeaker said, "Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for" and there was a pause "the Crop Dusters!" The crowd must have liked them, for they were greeted with applause, whistles, and some – screams, I suppose.
The female vocalist wasn't bad. After her second or third number, Mitch and Corey were arguing over whether the song she'd just sung had been a "cover" of a Loretta Lynn number. Mitch said yes. Corey said it was Patsy Cline. Finally, they appealed to Russ, who grinned and said, "Well, actually guys, that was a version of a song the Judds made the charts with."
After that the lead guitarist alternated doing vocals with the woman. He was typically cute. Tall, thin, with dark curly hair and a Jeff Foxworthy mustache. Whether you liked the music or not, you had to admit that those lanky cowboy types with their tight jeans, big belt buckles and bigger bulges were hot. It was a shame they had to hide their stuff behind a guitar most of the time. As things went on, I became aware that on almost every number, Russ was humming or even singing the lyrics softly along with the guy on stage. Not enough to annoy anyone, but enough to show me that he knew all the words to all the songs and that he had a very pleasant baritone voice. The guy on stage who was singing had a high, nasal voice, sort of like Willie Nelson without the whiskey, but Russ's voice was rich and mellow. I didn't think he'd go over as a country singer. He didn't seem to fit the pattern. With his voice he would have been good back in the big band days.
When the band took their breaks, there was a DJ and dancing. I could tell that Mitch and Corey wanted to dance, but they knew better than to do that in this overwhelmingly straight and probably homophobic crowd.
"What we need," Mitch said, "is a gay country music bar."
"Mitchell," I said, "when we were together I had no idea you liked this kind of stuff so much."
"Baxter," he replied, smirking, "there are a lot of things about me you never had a chance to find out. One is that I'm versatile."
"You coulda fooled me!" I responded.
* * *
I don't want you to think that suddenly country music took over our lives. It wasn't that way at all. Actually, my life with Russ became routinized, domestic, and comfortable. We drove out to Bud's Place one Saturday a month, perhaps, sometimes with Mitch and Corey, sometimes just the two of us.
But more often we went to Sudz or That Place, our favorite gay bars, on Friday or Saturday evenings. And then there were films, concerts, plays. We enjoyed the richness of living in a fair-sized city with an old, established, well-endowed university.
Russ got to know more of my friends, and I met many of his. So in addition to a full cultural life, we were as busy socially as we wanted to be.
It was all good. I couldn't imagine anyone being easier to live with than Russ, who was laid-back, charming, accommodating. And, as I've said, he was, to me at least, heart-stoppingly beautiful. And the sex? Oh, my! He was by preference a bottom. An active, talented one, too. He didn't just lie there, believe you me! Of course, once in a while we switched, and that was great, too.
So life rocked along.
I nursed him through a case of mumps early that spring. Don't laugh. Mumps for an adult male can be a fairly serious thing. I took slightly longer lunch hours than usual so I could come home at noon and fix him something to eat and generally just check to see that he was okay.
I finally met his family, but it wasn't until Easter of that first year together. He was over the mumps, but we flew to Cincinnati to save time and so he wouldn't have to make such a long car trip. The whole thing was pretty much as he'd described it. His parents were still in deep denial about their younger son being gay. His brother and his family came for supper on Saturday evening but found an excuse to take themselves and their ill-mannered kids home soon after the meal.
We were dragooned into going to church on Easter Sunday morning. I half expected a sermon on the evils of homosexuality, but it was actually a beautiful service. Though the minister did, I thought, give me the evil eye when Russ introduced me as his partner as we were leaving.
Once settled on the plane the next day, I think we both heaved a big sigh of relief. I looked at him and grinned. "Well, that was interesting."
"Bax, babe, that was fucking awful!"
A woman sitting in front of us gasped.
He continued in a lower voice, "I hope I won't have to subject you to them again."
"Chill, love. I think I can muster up whatever it takes to see them, oh, say once a year."
He chuckled. "Well, that's about as often as any of us want to see one another. So let's forget about `em for as long as we can."
* * *
Zenith had several gay bars. Our favorite was That Place on Fremont, usually just called That Place by its habitués. It was downtown, close to the campus, but since in Winnemac as in most of the surrounding states, the legal drinking age was 21, the only U of Z students who showed up there were likely to be grad students. Mitch and I used to go there, and more recently Russ and I went often. Frequently we'd meet there after work for drinks before we took the Rapid home. Or, we'd go on Saturdays and spend the evening. They had the best burgers in town, and they even served great ribs.
Best of all, they had a DJ most evenings and sometimes live music on weekends. You see, Russ and I loved to dance. The buttoned-up broker and the staid dean could let it all hang out at That Place. I mean we could really get down. Calm, sweet, elegant Russ could become a writhing hunk of hot manflesh given the right music, and I matched him wriggle for hump. Give us a slow number, though, and there we were, as close together as two people can get – well, almost -- swaying gently, pressed together, my head on his shoulder.
As you know, at home I'm usually the top. But that doesn't mean I don't love being held by my taller lover, comforted, snuggled, and squeezed to the accompaniment of soft music. Stereotypes are just that, and people are people. Most folks who looked at Russ and me would assume that the taller guy was the top and the shorter blond guy was the bottom. But Russ had this need that I could satisfy, a need that had him on all fours or on his back with his legs in the air. I loved to be able to make him happy, to take care of his itch, to make him moan with pleasure. Of course, that it was fabulous for me didn't hurt any.
But my gorgeous auburn-haired lover was all man. He kept my ass dragging trying to keep up with him at the gym. And when I tended to get a bit hyper, he was always able to soothe me, to tell me everything was okay. Maybe that's why I loved doing slow dancing with my head on his shoulder, often with his hard dick against my lower abs.
As I said, That Place had its regular customers. Whenever we went, we could expect to see some guys we knew, or some women, for that matter. Mitch and Corey dropped in occasionally as well. Sometimes we met there by prearrangement, but at others we just bumped into one another.
One evening they had come in not long after we had, and we were sharing a table. That particular evening, as I recall, Corey and Russ were having beer while Mitch and I had wine. After we'd all been dancing with our partners for a while, Corey asked Russ to dance. He sort of looked at me for permission.
"He's a grown-up, Corey. He makes his own decisions," I said, grinning to let him know it was okay.
"In that case," Mitch said, "may I have this dance?"
It had been years since we'd danced together, and since Russ and Corey had already moved onto the dance floor, I said, "Why the hell not?"
Mitch raised an eyebrow. "You always were a smooth one, Bax."
"And you were always sarcastic. So are we gonna dance or not?"
The number was an upbeat one, as was the one after that. We stuck with our temporary partners. The place was crowded and was pretty warm. Mitch and I were both sweating when we finished the second number. When the next piece turned out to be a slow, romantic one, I thought we'd switch back to our regular partners. But there was Russ with his head on Corey's shoulder, eyes closed, seemingly lost in the moment.
I felt a pang of jealousy, but then turned to Mitch and held my arms out. He slipped into them and we danced, as they say, cheek to cheek. It seemed weird. We had a lot of history, and I could still remember how much we both hurt when we'd decided it wouldn't work between us. He wanted a dedicated bottom, and though I could stick my face in the pillow from time to time, I couldn't give him what he wanted. But here we were, old friends by this time, dancing together and feeling some kind of emotion. It was love, I'm sure. Just not the same sort of thing I felt for Russ.
"Are you happy, Bax?"
I twitched because he'd talked into my ear.
"You mean right now?"
"Well, uh, yeah."
"Yeah, Mitch. I'm glad that we're okay with each other enough to be doing this."
"Me too. You know I love you even if you haven't figured out yet that you were supposed to be a bottom."
I chuckled. "You wish."
He nuzzled my ear. "Well, there was a time when I did wish. But you've gotta know how much I love my big teddy bear."
"It's pretty obvious. I'm happy for you. And for Corey. He's the greatest, and he seems to be devoted to you."
Mitch grinned. "Yeah, he's smarter than he looks. Smarter than you, for instance."
"Bitch!" I said. Then I twirled and dipped him. When we straightened up, there were Russ and Corey gliding past us, pretending they didn't know we were there.
"Bax, you are sure Russ is happy, aren't you?"
"I think I'd know if he wasn't!"
Nothing more was said about that, but I wondered as Russ and I rode home in a cab whether I would know if he was unhappy. And what did Mitch know that I didn't? For that matter, how would he know something that I didn't?
Even though I knew Corey through Mitch, and Russ had met Corey and Mitch through me, Russ and Corey had become pretty good friends. Maybe they compared notes on how to handle their feisty lovers.
* * *
I made several efforts to identify any causes of Russ's so-called discontent and got nowhere. He admitted he was a bit disillusioned with his job. He was making good money and generally pleased his clients and his company, but he found it boring. And then there was his family. He sent them perfunctory emails every other week or so, but he didn't go home, didn't talk with them on the phone. He admitted that he felt much closer to my family than to his own.
And so life went on. I was happy as could be, and Russ gave me every assurance that he was, too. Certainly when our jobs let us be together, we managed to find contentment.
That summer we managed to get a week off together, which we spent at P-Town. Neither of us had been there before. It was great lying on the beach, swimming, boy-watching and then hitting the gay spots at night. I felt a little old with all the twinks parading around, but I've always looked younger than I am, and Russ got more than his share of being hit on. So it was fun. We had several invitations to participate in three-ways or four-ways, but we refused. That was a tremendous ego boost, but the idea of sex with strangers, no matter how good looking, didn't really appeal to either of us.
Later on that summer we were able to get another week off together. We spent it in Western Massachusetts going to plays at the Williamstown Theatre Festival and concerts at Tanglewood. Neither of us had been to that area before, and we both enjoyed it.
That fall, after we got past freshman orientation, which I was primarily responsible for, I had to attend a conference. I flew to St. Louis on Sunday evening and got back home on Thursday afternoon. Like most professional conferences, it was overlong and boring. It was the first time Russ and I had been apart for that long, and I was eager to get home. I'd had enough restaurant meals for a while, and I was planning to fix something for supper when he got home, even if it meant I'd have to go back out to do a little grocery shopping.
It was still warm in mid-September, and I was frazzled from living out of a suitcase for four days and from the flight. I don't actually mind flying, but the airport routine is a pain in the ass. Anyway, when I got to Zenith International, I decided to spring for a cab home. The Rapid has service that goes through downtown and comes on east to Fair Hills, but I didn't want to schlep my bags all that way. I paid off the cabbie, who set my stuff on the sidewalk in front of our condo.
When I got inside the front door, I took a deep breath and hauled the luggage up to our bedroom. I really wanted a nice soak in the bathtub but realized I didn't have time if I had to grocery shop and fix supper, so I stripped off my clothes and took a shower instead. I put on clean boxers, socks, and jeans. It was warm enough that a short-sleeved polo would be just the thing, so I dug out one of those and put it on. Then I went down to the kitchen, where I inspected the pantry and the fridge. It looked as if Russ had lived on TV dinners while I was away, but there were no fresh veggies or fresh meat.
So, it was off to the grocery store. When I got back I fixed up a nice salad and put it in the fridge. I'd gotten lamb chops to broil and some decent looking asparagus. And some crusty rolls from the deli section. I brought all that in through the kitchen door, since we parked our cars out back. Once I'd gotten everything set up in the kitchen, I grabbed a longneck Sam Adams and went into the family room. I had flopped onto the couch and taken a swig of the beer when I noticed something in the corner. I must have walked right past it without noticing it when I got home. There, looking very new and very out of place, was a black musical instrument case. By its shape I could see it had to be a guitar. Next to it was a folded-up metal music stand lying on top of a stack of music
When I heard Russ come through the back door, I went to the kitchen, where we exchanged a marathon kiss, along with some humping and butt squeezing. When we had to breathe, he said, "Mmmm, malt and hops. Can I have a beer? And then you can tell me all about your conference."
"Look, I've got everything ready for dinner, and it won't take long to fix. Would you rather have a quick fuck than a beer?"
He grinned. "Oh, yeah! I've really missed you, little stud."
I was in such a hurry to get him upstairs and naked that I didn't even comment on being called little.
Later, as we were having chocolate sundaes, I asked, "So, hon, what's with the guitar in the other room?"
He smiled, and his eyes lit up. "I bought myself a present."
"I missed having the guitar. When I was in high school, I used it in our garage band, but playing for myself was also a great stress reliever. So I thought, `why the hell not?'"
"Any reason why you did it while I was away?"
I only realized how accusatory that sounded when a hurt look crossed his face.
"No, of course not. I just didn't have any reason to hurry home when you weren't here, so I did something I've been thinking about for a while. And I've spent most of each evening since practicing, trying to get back into the groove."
"That's great, babe. Will you play me something?"
"I dunno, Bax. I'm still pretty rusty."
"You're always pretty, Rusty!" I said.
He blushed and then grinned. Then he leaned over and gave me a chocolate-flavored kiss.
"Yumm! That was tasty! But does it mean you'll play for me?"
We put the dishes and spoons in the dishwasher and took our coffee into the living room.
He got out the guitar and fussed with it for a while, adjusting the tuning, strumming, adjusting some more. He brought a chair in from the kitchen, sat down, hooked a heel on one of the rungs, and began to play. I was surprised at what he chose. It was a guitar version of a very familiar Bach piece that's usually played on the piano. And it was lovely.
"Bach!" I said when he finished. "That's really nice."
"Well, yeah, didn't you mean to say, `That was really nice, but . . . something?"
"Okay, I am a little surprised by all of this. Not that I'm complaining. It's just that you never said anything about buying a guitar."
"I'm sorry, hon."
"It's not like you needed my permission. It's just, as I said, a bit of a surprise. What I didn't say, though, was that the Bach wasn't what I'd expected. I thought you were gonna `twang it fer me,' given your fondness for country music."
He grinned. "Well, you have to understand that I'm seriously out of practice, but there's one I think I can do. It's not country exactly, but close enough."
Then he played and sang,
Do me wrong, do me right,
Tell me lies but hold me tight,
Save your goodbyes for the morning light,
But don't let me be lonely tonight.
Say goodbye and say hello,
Sure enough good to see you, but it's time to go,
Don't say yes but please don't say no,
I don't want to be lonely tonight.
Go away then, damn you,
Go on and do as you please,
You ain't gonna see me getting down on my knees.
I'm undecided, and your heart's been divided,
You've been turning my world upside down.
Do me wrong, do me right (right now baby),
Go on and tell me lies but hold me tight.
Save your goodbyes for the morning light (morning light),
But don't let me be lonely tonight.
I don't want to be lonely tonight.
No, no, I don't want to be lonely tonight.
I don't want to be lonely tonight.
Except for in the shower and singing along at Bud's Place, I'd never heard Russ sing before. Certainly never like that. His beautiful voice and the way he looked at me as he sang blew me away.
"Wow! Russ, I don't know, that was, well, wow!"
He gave me the cutest aw shucks smile, and I practically melted.
"Isn't that a James Taylor song?" Even I knew JT.
"Well, the Isley Brothers and Eric Clapton both had recordings of it, but I think JT pretty much owns it. Though I hear he may have had a collaborator on writing it."
"I love the way you sing it. And baby, you ain't gonna be lonely tonight – or ever if I have anything to do with it."
As we were brushing our teeth that night, Russ said, "You know, Bax, you may get pretty tired of me practicing. The problem with an acoustic guitar is that you can't listen to it on earphones."
"Don't worry about it, gorgeous," I said. Then we shared a Colgate-flavored kiss.
To Be Continued
Thanks to Drew, Mickey, Tinn and Bill for invaluable help with "Lonely."
This story is my intellectual property. Do not post it to another site without my express permission.
If you'd like to email me, do so at firstname.lastname@example.org, being sure to put "Lonely" in the subject line so I'll know it isn't spam. Thanks! --Tim