by Tim Mead
I swear our sex got even better after Russ bought his guitar. I was afraid maybe that was because he still felt guilty somehow for buying it, though there was no reason I could come up with why he should. Or maybe something about having the instrument liberated him from the straightjacket of his job. I couldn't help grinning when I thought that perhaps the guitar, a major phallic symbol in modern culture, reinforced his sex drive.
If it was the latter, there's an irony involved, since Russ, always happiest as a bottom, became practically insatiable. He was often aggressive in our lovemaking, regardless of who was doing what to whom. Mind you, I wasn't complaining
Looking back on it, I'm inclined to wonder whether the frequent, intense sex we had in the guitar era wasn't designed to keep me from suspecting what he was hoping to do. But I don't really think he was ever that devious.
He practiced for about an hour every evening, never failing to apologize if it was bothering me. When he played chord progressions endlessly, it did sometimes get to me, but I put on earphones and listened to cd's as I worked at my computer, managing to shut most of it out. Sometimes, though, he played and sang. When he did that, I usually dropped what I was doing and listened. As I've said, he has a wonderful baritone voice, and listening to him was a treat, even if he did persist in singing those plaintive country songs.
For his part, Russ seemed so happy that I was being, as he put it, "accepting," I felt almost guilty. What had he thought of me before, that he'd expect me to pitch a fit because he was finding such pleasure in music? I kept telling him I'd be playing or singing, too, if I had any musical aptitude.
About a month after my trip to St. Louis when I returned home to find the guitar had moved in with us, we were having dinner -- a dinner he'd fixed, refusing to let me be involved in its preparation. That was unusual, especially since it wasn't my birthday. But I didn't think anything further about it.
As we ate, he said, "I've had an offer."
"Sorry, babe. You can't sleep with another guy. You're mine."
He smiled and shook his head, brushing off my feeble attempt at humor. "I've been asked to be the lead singer in a band."
"Like in high school? Cool!"
"Well, this time it's a country group."
That, at least, was no surprise.
I grinned. "Are you going to practice in someone's garage?"
"No. These guys have been playing together for a while now, and they have a practice room in a community center in Floral Heights. Their singer left, and a guy I know suggested me. They asked me to sit in with them this afternoon, so I took off work. And we all clicked."
It wasn't as if he couldn't afford to take off work once in a while. But it was out of character. Whether he found his job at the brokerage fulfilling or not, Russ was Mr. Conscientious.
"Great! Do these guys get any gigs? That's the word, isn't it?"
He smiled and nodded. "When J. P. was singing with them they managed to land a gig someplace nearly every weekend."
"Yeah. And that's the thing, Bax. If I do this, it'll cut into our time together some."
Some? With time for practicing and one night every weekend, that sounded like more than "some." But this was Russ. My Russ. And he obviously wanted to do this, so who was I to complain?
"You're gonna say yes, aren't you?"
"If you don't object."
"If you want it, hon, so do I. I'll be your groupie and your stage mom all in one!"
I would have said more, but my dinner partner had come around the table, pulled me to my feet and was examining the inside of my mouth with his lasagna-flavored tongue.
`Well,' I thought as I tried to catch my breath afterward, `it's sweet that my approval means so much to him.'
* * *
He didn't want me to come along the first time he played in public with the group, which called itself "Apex." In fact, he kept putting me off. When I finally pressed the issue, he said, "These guys have been playing together for a couple of years, but I'm the newbie. I don't want you to hear us until I've meshed with the others. I think we can be good, Bax, but be patient. I'm just not ready yet, okay?"
"Of course, baby. But you have to know I'm dyin' to see you up there on the stage."
He looked at me through his beautiful eye lashes and I became instantly hard.
"I love you, Bax. I don't want you to be disappointed with me."
"Like that would ever happen!"
After honoring the commitments they already had, the group took a couple of weeks off so that Russ could learn all their numbers and they could all feel comfortable together. Then they began to play again in public, though not in the Zenith area.
They performed in several venues, once as far away as Toledo.
Then one evening at dinner, Russ said, "We're playing at Bud's this weekend. Wanna come?"
"Interesting choice of words there, cowboy. You can get me to come anytime!"
Later, as we were having dessert, I said, "I'll be there."
"At Bud's, gorgeous!"
"Can we invite Mitch and Corey?"
"Have you told them about me being in the band?"
"Well, I've told Mitch. I assume he's told Corey."
"Yeah, can you call `em and ask if they'd like to be there?"
"Are you kidding? They'd cancel a visit with the Queen to be there!"
"Any particular queen?"
"Very funny, very funny."
He took the last sip of his coffee and said, "It'd be good to have them there. Better cover for you."
"Cover? What do you mean?"
He looked down at the cheesecake crumbs on his plate. "Bax, the guys in the band don't know about you."
"There's a problem I don't think you understand."
"But you're gonna explain, right?"
He got up and took our plates to the sink, where he rinsed them off and put them in the dishwasher. I did the same with our coffee mugs. Then I took his wrist and pulled him to the sofa, where I pushed him down.
"Now, what's this problem you're talking about?"
"Uh, the guys in the band don't know I'm gay."
I thought about that for a minute or two. "Okay. Your sexual orientation is nobody's business. No need to proclaim it, right?"
"Well, yeah, right. But if you're there when we perform, you'll, well, uh . . ."
"Oh! You really don't want them to know you're gay. You don't want me there because if I am they'll know we're lovers."
He didn't say anything.
"That's it, isn't it? You're ashamed of me?"
He picked up the remote and started the fire. I could see pain in his eyes, and I hated that, but I wasn't too happy just then either.
"Russ, if it's not that, then what is it?"
"I'd never be ashamed of you, babe. But you've gotta understand . . ."
I was upset and not thinking clearly, I suppose. "Gotta understand what?"
"Country music fans aren't the most, that is, uh, well, they tend to be pretty homophobic, as far as I can tell."
"Yeah, well, I suppose that's what you might expect from a bunch of rednecks!"
As soon as I'd said that, I was sorry. But it was out there, and I couldn't do anything about it.
"Uh huh. That's what you've always thought about my music. You've humored me, but you've always secretly thought it was stupid."
"Logan, don't put this on me! I'm excited to come and hear you and your band. I can't wait to hear you sing on stage. You're the one who wants to pretend he doesn't know me!"
"Hon, I never said that. I just said that it would be nice if Corey and Mitch were there with you. And I hope you won't let on that we're lovers."
"You do realize what you're saying, don't you?"
"I think so, but maybe you'd better explain it."
"Your fucking singing group is more important to you than I am!" I was blinking back tears as I stood up and went upstairs.
Russ was smart. He didn't follow me upstairs uttering apologies. Instead, he gave me time to think. And the more I thought, the more ashamed I felt. Here was a chance for him to do something he'd always dreamed of doing. And I'd told him I'd support him, help him achieve his dream. From what little I knew, he was right about venturing into territory where gays weren't particularly welcome. So all he was really asking me to do was to be there as a friend and not to let on that we were lovers. Okay, I sniffed, I could do that!
Then he knocked on the bedroom door.
"Russ, I'm "
"Bax, I'm "
We spoke at once. He came across the room, pulled me up, put my head against his chest, and began to stroke it.
"I'll quit the band."
"You'll do nothing of the kind!" I said into his left nipple.
He must have felt it through the sweater he was wearing, for he gasped.
I pushed away from him.
"I'm sorry for my little snit, baby. I'll be there and I'll be proud of you, but I promise not to get all possessive or anything. I understand why you want it to be like that."
He kissed the top of my head and ran his hand in circles between my shoulder blades.
"Are you sure? I don't want to lose you because of all this."
"You won't!" I promised.
When he'd been very good or I'd been bad, I often included rimming in the run-up to the main event of the evening, and this was one of those nights. I soon had him purring. By the time we went to sleep, we were both feeling happy and satisfied.
* * *
I decided to make the gig at Bud's Place a big deal, so I called Eric Fane, one of his friends at the office, and told him what was happening and suggested he might pass the word. I called Bernie Pedersen, too, and explained that Russ was making his local debut as a singer and guitar player. Bernie said he would be sure to be there and would bring along his girlfriend.
On the big evening, Russ left early. The Apex guys were all going to Hamlin together in the van one of them owned. I was cleaning up the kitchen. He shouted a goodbye, so I didn't see him leave. That disappointed me because I didn't get a chance to kiss him and tell him to break a leg, or whatever one was supposed to say in situations like that.
Mitch and Corey picked me up a little later. Big, sweet, hunky Corey was driving, as usual. Mitch sat shotgun, and I rode in the back. As we drove out the Westside Expressway, I said, "Guys . . . "
"Yeah?" Mitch asked. He was strapped in, so he couldn't turn around to look at me.
"Russ has asked me to downplay our relationship this evening."
"Why?" Corey asked.
"Well, you big oaf," Mitch said, "think about it. We're going to be in a crowd of straight people, most of whom are probably pretty much anti-gay." I could see that Mitch had reached across the console and was squeezing Corey's thigh, a reminder that he didn't mean the crack about Corey's being an oaf.
"Yeah, well, it's more than that. He hasn't told the others in the group that he's gay."
"Fuck!" Corey exclaimed.
There was silence in the SUV for about thirty seconds. Then Mitch said, "You know, Bax, that's not good. Russ should start off as he means to continue. If he isn't going to tell them up front, when will he find a good time to let them know?"
"Just what I've been worried about, but what am I gonna do? I want him to be happy, and this means a lot to him."
"Yeah," Corey rumbled, "you got a problem, Bax."
As it turned out, Russ had a cheering section of nine. Eric and another guy from the brokerage had come with their dates. Bernie and his date were there. That made six plus Mitch, Corey, and me. We got two tables close together and pulled up an extra chair. There were three women sitting together near the stage. (We figured out later by their reactions that they were wives of some of the band members.) The band had already set up their equipment, such as it was, on the stage.
We all had beer and chatted. I had been introduced to the two guys from Pierce-Thompson, Eric and Tony, but this gave me a chance to visit with them and get to know them better and also meet their dates. I'm glad they were all there because I was nervous, and making conversation helped me keep my mind off of Russ's big moment.
As I was listening to Tony telling about something that had happened at work, the PA system came on.
"Ladies and gentlemen, Bud's Place is proud to introduce a group we think you're gonna be hearing more and more about. Please welcome Apex!"
When they came on stage, to applause and whistles, I could see only the tall guy with the long legs, faded jeans, green shirt, cowboy boots, and Stetson. Oh, and did I mention the auburn hair, brown eyes, big package? Yeah, as he came onstage he was in profile to us, and there it was, bulging to beat the band. (Okay, okay, Tim! I know!)
God! He was gorgeous!
They spent a few minutes tuning and strumming and listening and tuning some more. Then my guy stepped forward and said, "Thanks, folks. Let me introduce my friends." He went around the semi-circle behind him, nodding and giving names. Lastly, he looked down at the floor. Then he looked up, straight at me, smiled a bashful little smile, and said, "And me, I'm Rusty Logan."
Rusty Logan! Logan Smith, Russ Smith, had become Rusty Logan. It was perfect. He looked exactly like a Rusty Logan. Tall, lean, long-legged, fuckin' gorgeous Rusty Logan. And he was mine! He didn't have to sing or anything. At that moment he was perfect!
There was another round of applause, and then they sang. I have to admit I don't remember much about what was on their program that evening. I do remember being fascinated by the interaction of the group. Friends of mine who played chamber music had told me how satisfying it was to make music together in small groups, and I had understood what they meant on an intellectual level. But as I watched these guys, I could see it. The same thing was going on here. The looks, the smiles, the passing the melody from one instrument to another, the standing closer together when some of them were harmonizing . . . it all seemed so, well, intimate, I suppose. And whether I was caught up in the music or not, I could clearly understand, I could feel the bond these individuals had formed as they played together. They'd accepted Russ. He was not only in the group but an integral part of it. More than that, he was their spokesman, their lead singer, the center of it all.
When they took their first break, Russ came down off the little stage and started for our tables, but he didn't get there. He was surrounded by people who wanted to talk with him. He smiled and answered their questions for what seemed like an eternity. Then he said something to them, looked over at our group, smiled and shrugged, and went backstage.
It wasn't until Apex was finished performing that the star of the evening made his way to our table. I wanted to jump up and kiss him, but I didn't, partly because Mitch put a restraining hand on my knee when I started to. Nine of us stood and began telling him how great he and Apex had been. He seemed embarrassed, but he had enough poise to thank everyone, especially his work colleagues and Bernie for being there.
He did ride home with us. I wanted to snuggle with him there in the back seat, but the seat belts kept us apart. We held hands most of the way home, letting go once in while to stroke a thigh.
"I suppose you're the one who organized Bernie and the guys from work," he said, squeezing my hand.
"That's great, baby. I love you."
"Well," Mitch said, pretending to be hurt, "what about us? Doesn't it count that we were there?"
Russ fell all over himself apologizing until he heard Corey and Mitch laughing in the front seat. Then they told him again how cool the whole evening had been.
"You know, though," Mitch said, "I don't think you'll ever make the big time as a singer, Russ."
I could feel my babe tense up. "Why not?"
"Because your voice isn't nasal and you don't whine when you sing."
Russ laughed. "Guess I'll have to work on that, huh guys?"
When we got home he wanted a shot of Jack. I'd had beer in front of me all evening, but I'd been too excited to drink much of it, so I had some Jack with him. When we were finished we went upstairs.
He asked me to help him get his boots off. "Man, those fuckers aren't the best things to stand around in."
"Judging from the reaction of the crowd tonight, you guys are gonna be a hit. So you'd better get yourself some comfortable boots, cowpoke."
"Yeah, I think I'm gonna have to find some better ones."
After we'd done the bathroom chores and were in bed, I asked, "So, are you whipped? Need to get some z's?"
"No, man, I'm pumped! You wouldn't mind if I, uh, that is . . . ?
I chuckled. "Rusty, are you telling me you want to fuck me tonight?"
"You wouldn't mind?"
"Mind! I've never been fucked by a star before. Now, grab that thar lube, podnuh."
"Oh, cut the cowboy shit and let me at that cute little ass."
* * *
Some time after the debut of Apex at Bud's Place, two or three weeks maybe, I was at home reading. Russ was with the guys working on some new numbers or arrangements or whatever, so I had the place to myself. And then the phone rang.
"Could I speak with Logan, please?"
I knew that voice. Or perhaps I should say I recognized the tone of voice.
"Hello, Mrs. Smith. I'm sorry, but Russ isn't here."
"Do you know when he'll be back?"
"Probably not until close to midnight."
I heard a stifled huff on the other end of the line.
"This is Baxter, isn't it?"
"Yes, ma'am." I felt as if I should be tugging on my forelock.
"Then tell me something, please. Is it true that he's singing in some sort of country band?"
"I can't believe he'd do something like that. What must his employers think? What will our friends at the Country Club think?"
"I'm afraid I don't understand the problem, Mrs. Smith."
"You may as well call me Eleanor, since you seem to be, well, that is . . ."
"Yes, ma'am. You were saying?"
I could almost sense her gathering herself up to say what was on her mind.
"He would never have done anything so ridiculous before . . ."
"Before he met me?"
"You know he has always loved to play the guitar."
"I thought he'd gotten over that."
"And that he has a beautiful voice."
"Such a shame to waste it. He could be singing in a church choir every Sunday. I suppose you encouraged him in this . . . this . . . ." Words seemed to fail her.
"It wasn't my idea. I'm not especially fond of that kind of music. But of course I encouraged him when I found out that's what he wanted to do. First of all because I love him. Second, he finds his day job boring and unfulfilling."
"I'd think he'd be fulfilled by being a responsible member of the community. After all, his work does help others."
"Yes, I suppose it does."
"Please ask him to call me if he gets home before ten. If not, then definitely tomorrow."
I promised to deliver the message.
It wasn't until the next evening that Russ called home. I'd gone upstairs to give him some privacy. I'd just finished an email to my dad when he came into the room. I stood up and we hugged.
"How'd it go?"
"I can't believe her! She's upset because she thinks what I'm doing isn't `respectable.' And somehow she has the idea it's all your fault."
"She as much as said that to me last night. She'd like to think it's because of me that you're gay. So why not assume I'd lead you astray in other ways, too?"
"God, Bax, I'm so sorry!"
"It's okay, gorgeous. It doesn't matter. Here, let me show you how much it doesn't matter."
Fortunately our bed was in the next room, so I didn't have to drag him very far.
We made love slowly, gently, reaffirming our connection. When we finished we showered, pulled on boxers and went down to the kitchen for cookies and milk.
* * *
One of the givens of Russ's job was that it was strictly nine to five. No evenings. No weekends. I, on the other hand, had to attend a number of university functions as part of my job. Thus I treasured the time Russ and I could spend together. It was great when the two of us went out on the town, but I was equally happy just to spend an evening snuggling with him as we listened to music or watched television, or to sit across from him as we read. Life doesn't have to be one party or concert or play after another to be good!
We'd planned to have friends over a lot when we bought the condo. And we did until he joined the band. After that, with my on-campus obligations and his rehearsals and gigs, we didn't have nearly as many evenings together. For the first month or so I went to all of Apex's performances, drank lots more beer than I wanted, and learned by heart the words to all their songs. Though I never admitted it to Russ, I was growing a bit bored with those evenings.
But it was Russ who suggested that I might want to stay home more often on gig nights. He was having trouble explaining what I was doing there each Saturday, regardless of venue. That, his buddies in the group thought, might be a little above and beyond for someone who merely shared living space.
The next Saturday I did indeed stay home. And I went online, setting out to find out whether "Rusty Logan" was the first gay country music singer. It was a most interesting evening.*
I waited until the next morning after we'd had our breakfast to haul him back to the computer to see some of the things I'd found. Willie Nelson even had a video called "Secret Cowboys," that is, cowboys in Texas who "fall between the sexes." When I'd finished, he said, "I knew about some of those people, hon. And Rufus Wainwright's turning out to be quite a star. But the guys in my group wouldn't like having an openly gay guy out front. Trust me."
"Then why don't you find a group that wouldn't care?"
"Bax, these guys gave me a break by letting me sing and play with them. I owe them. And it's just an outlet for me, as you know. It's not like it's a big thing."
Apex became the most popular country group in the area and Rusty Logan achieved a certain amount of local celebrity. I saw less and less of him. But I also recognized how energized he'd become since he'd joined Apex. He'd found something to make up for the satisfaction he didn't get from his job.
One afternoon he called me at work. He suggested we meet for drinks and supper at a little restaurant we liked that was within walking distance of his office and mine. He sounded worried. So, of course, I worried. Meeting me in a restaurant? It was something of an urban legend that when your lover wanted to meet you in a restaurant, it was bad news. Did that mean he was going to dump me in public where I wouldn't make a scene? I thought we were good, but then you never know, right?
He was already seated when I got there, looking smashing in his light gray suit, darker gray shirt, and yellow tie. We didn't hug, of course. We both had our positions to think of, especially in a popular upscale restaurant in the heart of the city. But he managed to touch my hand as I sat down.
After the waiter had taken my drink order and I needed Jack/rocks, not wine at that point I blurted out what was on my mind: "Please tell me you're not dumping me!"
He looked stunned. "What? No! Of course not! Why would you think that?"
I slumped in relief. "I'm sorry, Russ. It's just that your wanting to meet here made me think . . . well, forget it. So why are we here?"
"Let's wait until your drink gets here."
"Uh oh, it is bad news?"
He smiled vaguely. "I hope not."
When I had my Jack in front of me and was cupping the glass in both hands, he continued. "Actually, this is supposed to be a celebration. Only I'm not sure you'll think so."
I waited for more. He seemed to be searching my face.
"For God's sake, just tell me what's going on!"
"You've heard of Chace Biggs, haven't you?"
I'd done my homework. "Sure. He's a big country star, but he can't sing as well as you do."
He blushed and then shook his head. "Thanks, babe. But, yeah, Biggs is a real star. And you'll never believe it. He's starting a new tour soon, and he's asked Apex to go along to open for him!"
I should have congratulated him. I know it was great recognition for Apex. I wondered when Biggs had ever managed to hear them play. But again, I asked the first question that came to my mind.
"How long will you be gone?"
"You don't have that much vacation time coming, do you? Or are you gonna ask for a leave of absence?"
"No. If all of this is okay with you, I'm going to quit my job."
Stunned by his announcement, I didn't respond immediately. Too many things were running through my mind. I knew Russ wasn't happy in his job but assumed that he would either tough it out or look for a position with another firm. After all, Pierce-Thompson wasn't the only game in town. But to give it up, to go chasing after ephemera? What was he thinking? Sure, he sang well, sure Apex had been popular in the Zenith area, but they couldn't make a living doing that. Were they good enough to hit the big time? Chances weren't in their favor.
Selfishly, I didn't want him to be away for six weeks. I knew it would seem like forever. And what would happen then? If Apex was as good as someone seemed to think, they could be on the road most of the time. And if not, then Russ would come back home in six weeks out of a job.
Those beautiful brown eyes searched my face.
"You hate it, don't you?"
I did, but I couldn't tell him that. "No, babe, I don't hate it that you're getting a chance to follow your dream. But are you sure about quitting your job? That's a pretty big step, isn't it?"
"I think I'd have quit sooner or later anyway."
I took a deep breath and shook my head. "You're too young to be having your mid-life crisis, so this must be the real thing. You know I'm with you."
As soon as he got me home, we kissed, not passionately, but gently, with love.
"Oh, I am gonna miss that. Gonna miss you!
"Bax, sweetheart, I'll miss you, too. But it's only six weeks."
`Yeah,' I thought, `and what happens after that?'
I pulled him to me again. "Go get `em, Rusty," I said softly into his ear.
*See www.queermusicheritage.us/mar2005.html for a fascinating history of gay country music. Bax
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, please do so at email@example.com, being sure to put "Lonely" in the subject line so I'll know it isn't spam. Thanks! --Tim