Don't Wanna Be Lonely Tonight
by Tim Mead
Russ was a busy guy as Apex prepared for their tour with Chace Biggs.
Biggs's organization helped pay for the group to make a promotional CD to be released at the beginning of the tour, and Russ was excited about that. I was, too. He gave away all his complimentary copies, and I bought a bunch more to give to relatives and friends.
Russ said they were pretty snarky at Pierce-Thompson over his quitting. Mainly they thought he should have given them more notice, but Russ suspected his boss wasn't too happy about why he was leaving. "People don't just leave a big, august, national firm like P-T to become itinerant musicians," he said with his sexy grin.
When we bought the condo, Russ and I set up a joint checking account which we used for paying all the household bills. Russ explained to me that he'd arranged for money to be transferred regularly from some private account of his into the joint account so I wouldn't have to worry about him paying his share of the expenses.
The Biggs organization had found Apex an old but serviceable bus to travel in while on the tour, and I wondered about the guys living together in such close quarters for six weeks. On the other hand, I was reassured to remember that all the others were straight. I wondered how their wives felt about this, how the tour impacted on their lives. But I'd never gotten to know much about the other Apex members because "Rusty" didn't want people to know he was gay.
So. The day came. I made a valiant effort to be "up," not to show how depressed I was. But I think Russ knew. He gave me as much of a hug as he could with others around.
"I'll call, I promise."
"That's why you have a cell phone. You sure you packed your charger?"
He grinned and nodded. "Yeah, you saw me do it, remember?"
"Oh, that's right."
And then they were gone.
The problem was our schedules. The group would be performing most evenings, and I'd be at work all day on weekdays when they were on the bus with nothing much to do. I just had to trust that he'd call when he could.
* * *
Although I had lived alone for much of my adult life before Russ and I bought the condo, I was instantly lonely once the Apex bus left town. The house seemed empty, and I was at loose ends. I tended to snack rather than fix meals. What was the point of cooking? Eating is a largely social thing, after all. Worse was the cold bed, with all that extra space. I loved the Logan Smith who had somehow morphed into Rusty Logan, country singer, and I missed him. I felt sorry for myself and was then hit with guilt pangs because I knew how much he wanted this experience.
Their first concert was three nights later. I went to bed about midnight, thinking he'd have called if he was going to. I was still awake when the phone rang a little after one.
"How'd it go, gorgeous?"
"You're still up?" His voice sounded funny. And I could hear people laughing and someone strumming a guitar.
"Couldn't sleep `til you called."
He chuckled. "You aren't expecting me to call after every performance, are you, babe?"
"No, of course not. But you haven't told me how it all went."
"It was okay."
"Well, I hadn't realized it before, but of course it makes sense. We're out there busting our asses to entertain this crowd of seven or eight thousand fans, and all they want is for us to get the hell off so they can hear Chace Biggs."
"Oh! I'd never thought of that. Were they bad?"
"We didn't get booed or anything. But they more or less sat on their hands. And our job is to get them revved up for the main act."
"Baby, I'm sorry. You guys are good."
"Yeah, Chace was cool. He came to us after it was all over and said nobody had ever heard of us. But that word would get around and we shouldn't feel bad if the response wasn't what we'd expected. It would get better, he said."
We talked a while longer. He asked me to repeat myself occasionally because of the background noise. His voice still sounded funny. Then someone yelled his name. Well, they called him "Rusty."
"Gotta go." His voice dropped to a whisper. "I wish we were together, babe. I miss you." Then, in a normal voice, he said "Bye." He obviously didn't want anyone to know he was talking to a guy.
It wasn't until I was standing in the Rapid station the next morning that I realized why his voice was weird. He'd been toking. That wasn't the end of the world, but it was unlike him. Then I wondered what he'd do to stay in shape. He played racquetball weekly and worked out with me two or three times a week. I wondered if at the end of six weeks what I'd be getting back would be an out-of-shape pothead. And then I felt guilty again. Russ had only been gone a few days and I was already being ridiculous.
* * *
One afternoon about a week after Russ had left, I got a call at the office from Eric Fane. He worked at Pierce-Thompson where I'd met him when I stopped in to see Russ. I'd last seen him the night of Apex's first gig at Bud's Place. He'd brought a date, a good-looking redhead whose name I couldn't remember. Darla? Carla? Marla? Something like that.
When Russ and I became a couple, I asked him to be my financial advisor and assume control of my portfolio, such as it was. Fane was calling to say that he'd been moved into Russ's office and had taken over his client list. He was calling to see if we could get together to talk about my goals and strategies for achieving them.
I couldn't help feeling a bit betrayed. I had no reason to distrust Fane. And of course Russ wouldn't be my broker anymore, but that just hadn't occurred to me. So this guy's call was a bit of a surprise. He asked me if I could come and see him in his office sometime soon. Since we worked similar hours, though I'd have been willing to bet that I worked longer hours than he did, he expected me to take off work and come to his office. Somehow that didn't seem right to me, but I seriously doubted that brokers made "house calls," especially for clients with as little money to invest as I had.
When a couple of afternoons later I went into the downtown offices of Pierce-Thompson, the receptionist smiled and welcomed me by name. But then she should have: I'd been there often enough when Russ worked there, stopping by so we could go to lunch or catch the Rapid home together. She told me Mr. Fane would be with me in a moment and invited me to sit down. The waiting room looked like someone's idea of a gentlemen's club, with walnut paneling, a cranberry-colored carpet, and green leather wingback chairs with Queen Anne legs. The only magazines on the table were copies of
Fortune and Forbes.
Eric didn't keep me waiting long, no more than a couple of minutes, before he appeared with his hand out.
An inch or two taller than me, he was thin, with gray eyes, medium brown hair, and a hairline that was beginning to recede. He wore a thin mustache. My description doesn't do him justice, though, for he was a handsome man. His voice was deeper than I'd remembered.
"Should I call you Dean Crouse or Doctor Crouse?" he asked as we shook hands.
His expensive suit looked as if he hadn't sat down in it yet that day, though it was mid afternoon.
"Call me Bax, please."
"Right, and I'm Eric. My office is just this way." He led me to what had been Russ's office.
"It's good of you to come," he said after we were seated. "I wanted to ask about your investment goals so we could talk about how to achieve them."
He turned his computer so that we could both see the screen and showed me a listing of my investments and their current values. It wasn't much, but it was considerably more than I'd had before Russ took over my investments.
"Russ did a good job for you. I'll do my best to keep this growing." He asked some questions about things I hadn't thought of and made what seemed some sensible suggestions. After a half hour, perhaps, we were finished. As we were shaking hands, he surprised me by saying, "Would you be interested in having supper with me some time? I like Russ a lot, and I think you and I could be friends, too."
I didn't see any reason why I shouldn't have supper with Eric. He seemed pleasant enough, and I was already tired of eating alone.
"Sure, let's do that sometime."
* * *
The second time Russ called me wasn't quite so late at night, and he didn't sound as if he'd been smoking. After the usual greetings and endearments, he told me that he'd come out to the guys in the group.
"How did they react?"
He chuckled. "It was like `well, duh!' They told me they'd already figured us out."
"They had? But we were so careful."
"Well, not careful enough, apparently."
I tensed. Was he upset? He sounded vaguely accusatory. I'd done everything he asked me to so as not to reveal our relationship.
"So, they must not have been pissed about it if they knew it and hadn't said anything."
"Yeah, they're cool. They threatened to squash me if I came on to them, but they were just yanking my chain. I think. I assured them there was no chance of that because I loved you. There were some fairly crude jokes about the `little woman' waiting at home just like their wives were, but that was about it."
"Little woman! I'd flounce if I knew how!"
He chuckled again, sounding more relaxed now. "They also reminded me that it wouldn't do the group any good if it became public knowledge about you and me. I said we'd be more careful." He paused. "I suppose that's not a problem so long as you're there at home and I'm in this fuckin' bus."
"Feeling a little cramped, are you, gorgeous?"
"Yeah. The bunks are so small you scrape your knuckles when you jack off. Thank god we don't have to sleep on it often. I miss you a lot, baby!"
I didn't hear hoots and catcalls, so I assumed this time he was alone.
"I'm not even going to talk about how much I miss you, Russ. How's the audience reaction, still pretty underwhelming?"
"It's been better since that first night. I guess I got discouraged too soon."
I wondered if his discouragement had anything to do with his parents and the things they'd said to him about this venture. I could imagine his awful mother saying he'd disgrace the family, would wind up jobless, homeless, unwanted. Well, I wanted him. But I wanted him happy and fulfilled, so I was going to go along with this for his sake. Even if I had my own doubts about how it would all turn out.
We chatted a while longer, and then said our goodbyes.
* * *
One evening not long after our meeting at his office, I got a call from Eric Fane. He suggested we go to dinner the next evening. I didn't see any reason why not. After all, I'd agreed when he'd suggested it in his office.
"Where and when?" I asked.
"How about The Top at seven?"
"Okay, Eric. I'll look forward to it. See you then."
Actually, I was a bit surprised. The Top was on the 38th and highest floor of the Maumee building in downtown Zenith. Its views of the city to the north and west were spectacular, and its prices were enough to make it a special occasion place for most of us.
I wouldn't have time to leave the office at 5:30, get home, clean up, and get back downtown by 7:00, so I used plan B. I always kept a shaver and a toilet kit in my desk.
I was in the men's room on my floor of the admin building shaving when Zach Portowski, the assistant academic dean of our college, came in.
"Hey, Bax. Got a university function tonight?"
"No, Allah be praised. I'm having dinner at The Top tonight."
"Big evening for you and, uh, your partner?"
He obviously couldn't remember Russ's name. "No, Russ is away. I'm meeting my broker there, actually."
"I'm impressed. You must be an important client." I could tell he was wondering if I was making more money than he was, since our jobs were supposed to be comparable.
"Not really. I'm not sure what this is about. He just suggested we have dinner together. I agreed before I knew where we were going."
"Well," he said, throwing a paper towel into the receptacle, "have a good evening."
"Yeah, thanks, Zach. You, too."
And I did have a good evening.
The ambiance, food, and service at The Top justified their prices. The view of downtown as the lights came on was, as everyone said, spectacular. Eighty years earlier Sinclair Lewis had described the skyscrapers of Zenith as "austere towers of steel and cement and limestone, sturdy as cliffs and delicate as silver rods." I couldn't help wondering how he'd describe the shiny erections of present-day Zenith.
Eric proved to be a pleasant companion. He had an expressive face and a pleasant twinkle in his eye – as I said before, good to look at.
Our conversation ranged from sports to books to our families, the kinds of things two guys getting acquainted would discuss. Before I knew it we were having dessert. Eric opted for crème brulee. I had strawberries in cream. They weren't those big strawberries that can be white and pithy inside. These were smaller, a dark red, with an intense sweet flavor. Heaven! I wished Russ were there. I imagined feeding him berries. I was fantasizing about strawberry juice running down Russ's chin and me licking it off when the white-jacketed waiter brought the check.
Eric reached for it. Not wanting this to seem like a date, I put my hand on top of his. An awkward moment followed. Would people think we were holding hands? I jerked mine back.
He grinned. "It's okay, Bax. You could've left it there."
"It's just that I want to split the bill with you. Let's give him two credit cards."
"Since I invited you it should be my treat."
"I'd really be more comfortable if we did this dutch."
Grinning again, he said, "I'll get this. Next time you can get the tab."
As I rode home on the Rapid, I couldn't help wondering what he meant when he said I could have left my hand on his. Was he just teasing the gay guy, or did he mean something more? I didn't dwell on the question long, though. My thoughts soon turned to Russ. I hoped he'd call.
* * *
It wasn't too long after I'd had dinner with Eric that I looked at my work calendar and found I had a free weekend coming up. In fact, I could even take a half day Friday if Carol, my boss, THE dean approved.
"How's it going with Russ away?" she asked.
"Well, not to put too fine a point on it, I miss him like hell. It's been pretty lonely at our house since he left. That's why I stopped in. My calendar for Friday afternoon's clear, and I'd like to take off."
"I don't see any reason why you shouldn't. It's none of my business, and you don't have to answer, but what are you planning to do? Rendezvous with Rusty Logan somewhere?" She grinned when she used Russ's stage name.
"We've talked about that, but it probably isn't going to happen. Weekends are out. They usually have a performance on Friday night, two on Saturday, and one on Sunday afternoon. Not always in the same city. So we've pretty much decided we won't see each other until he's home again. This weekend, I just want to go home and see my folks."
"Don't want to spend a weekend at home alone, Bax?"
"Well, drive safely. Now, about the problem in Atwell Hall . . . ."
We spent a half hour discussing the complaints of the students housed there, and I went back to my own office with a "suggestion" to pass along to the director of residence life.
Carol, who was nigh onto fifty, was a good boss. She also tended to be a bit motherly. She had a mind that seemed never to forget anything, no matter how trivial. I sometimes thought she knew more about me than anyone else in the world. Including Russ. Well, there were some things Russ knew that Carol didn't, but they had to do with sex. The point was that she seemed to care about people, and that's an important trait for a Dean of Students. I liked and respected her, as you've probably figured out.
That evening I called to let the folks in Fort Wayne know I was coming.
Friday, I took the Rapid home, changed into jeans and a button up shirt, threw my bag in my car, and took off, arriving in Fort Wayne about 6:00.
"Bax," Lisa said, hugging me, "it's good to see you. Come on in and have a drink."
Dad was right behind her, and we hugged, too. He already had a drink in his hand, so it was a one-armed hug I got from him.
"Good to have you home, son." He studied my face. "How you holding up without Russ?"
Now you had to hand it to the man. He had never given me a hard time about being gay, had never seemed to be disappointed in me. In fact, Lisa says he's proud that I'm a dean and keeps telling people that some day I'm going to be THE dean. He welcomed Russ when I brought him home. And he understood that I'd be feeling lonely with Russ away for six weeks.
"I'm getting by, Dad."
He patted my back, letting me know that he understood how I really felt.
I took my bag up to what had always been my room, though now it was the guest room. The original guest room had been converted into a computer room/office for Dad and Lisa. Dad's a dentist and Lisa is a real estate agent. (I think I told you he met her at church. She's originally from somewhere near Louisville. Don't know how she found her way to Fort Wayne. I'll have to ask her that sometime.)
Dinner was nice. Comforting. I think I was more relaxed than I'd been since Russ left. We talked about home sales, Dad's practice, Ellen and her family (who were to be there for supper the next night), what was going on at U of Z . . . .
I'd brought a copy of the Apex CD with me to give to Lisa. After supper we sat in the family room and listened to it. Dad was in his chair, and Lisa sat next to me on the couch. As we listened she looked at the picture on the cover.
"He's really a fine looking man, Bax."
I put my arm around her shoulders and squeezed. "Yeah, I call him `gorgeous' sometimes."
She smiled. "You know, he doesn't look like a country singer, though. He looks like a GQ model dressed for Nashville."
"Gee, ya think? With his long legs and great butt, he looks pretty fine up there on the stage."
"Oh, I'm sure he does, hon. But his features are so, well, I don't know, elegant. He doesn't have that been-through-it-all look . . . which doesn't matter the teeniest little bit, though, if he can sing."
"Well, grab the remote and push Play, dear," Dad interjected.
After we'd listened to the entire thing, Lisa, who'd been nodding and tapping along, said, "He can sing, for sure. His voice reminds me a little of Travis Tritt's, though their styles are different."
"Would you explain that for me? You know what a novice I am with this kind of music."
Dad recrossed his legs and looked at her. Looked at her the way I know I often looked at Russ.
"Well, hon, he's a wonderful singer. Nice voice. Nice way with the lyrics. But he just doesn't sound real country. Yet. I'm sure he'll get into the way of things as he works at it. I'm sure he'll learn a lot being able to hear Chace Biggs every night."
We chatted to the accompaniment of the television. After watching the ten o'clock news out of Chicago, since all of us had worked that day, we all went to bed.
"Sleep as late as you want," Lisa had said. "Your daddy and I will probably go to the gym first thing. But that's no reason why you have to get up. There's sweet rolls on top of the fridge, and juice inside. You know how to make yourself some coffee."
I gave her a kiss. "Yeah, I'll be fine. Thanks for letting me come."
"Baxter, this is your home, and you're welcome anytime, baby."
Dad gave me a hug and said "Sleep well, son."
But I had trouble getting to sleep. It was the same bed I'd had as a kid, but they'd replaced the mattress and springs. The noises outside weren't bad, but they were different noises. And I kept thinking about Russ. I wondered if they'd had a big Friday night crowd in, let's see, where were they? Denver, I think.
I couldn't help wondering if Lisa was right, that Russ hadn't managed to get the country style down yet. And how did I feel about that? How did I feel about his career? If he and Apex were really successful, he'd be on the road most of the time. And how could I deal with that kind of prolonged absence? On the other hand, if after this road trip they were forced to come back to Zenith and be merely a local band, how would that affect the man I loved? Would he be unhappy? Probably. Disappointed certainly.
It looked to me as if either Russ was going to be unhappy, or else I was.
I fell into a surprisingly deep sleep sometime after 1:00. Since I had no reason to get up early, I managed to stay abed until 9:30, when I got up, showered, shaved, and dressed. Downstairs I had the juice, pecan rolls, and coffee Lisa had mentioned.
She and Dad stopped at the supermarket on their way home from the gym, so it was late morning when they got back. After lunch, Dad and I went to the cemetery where my mother was buried. I hadn't been there in years, and I felt guilty about that. Tears came to my eyes as I remembered Mom.
I noticed that Dad had teared up, too.
"She was wonderful, Dad, but I'm sure she approves of Lisa."
He smiled. "Yeah, son, I think she does. And I'm pretty sure she approves of Russ, too."
We walked back to the car with arms around each other's shoulders.
That evening my sister Ellen, her husband Mark, and their 10- and 8-year-old sons Tyler and Taylor were there for supper. [Tim
made me put those hyphens in. Fussy, fussy, fussy!]
At the table Tay, the younger boy, asked, "Uncle Bax, where's Uncle Russ?"
"Oh, he ran off and joined a band," Ty said.
I remembered Dad saying when he was a kid there was the expression that somebody had run off and joined the circus, usually a teen or young man who wasn't happy at home. And that, of course, made me wonder: could Russ have been unhappy with our life together? I didn't think so. If he was, I'd been clueless. But the next time we talked, maybe I should try to find out. But he was so sweet, would he have "run away" just to keep from hurting me?
Amidst the general laughter about Ty's remark, I was grateful to my sister. The boys had only met Russ once, and he'd obviously made a hit with them. But it had to have been Ellen's idea for them to call him
"Speaking of Uncle Russ," I said, "I have something for you guys." I turned to my younger nephew, who had finished eating. "Tay, would you go up to my room and get the CD on the bedside table?"
"Sure." He was back in a flash. "Wow! I thought you said Uncle Russ was in a band. But he's not wearing a uniform. He's a cowboy!"
That brought another round of laughter. It was Tyler who laughed the hardest, while Taylor looked confused.
"What did I say?"
"It's okay, sweetie," I said. "Uncle Russ is in a country music band. You know, like you see when Gramma Lisa watches CMT."
"You shouldn't call me `sweetie,'" Tay said quite seriously. "I'm eight now."
"That's because he's gay," Ty said.
"Tyler!" Ellen exclaimed, though I noticed she was having trouble keeping a straight face, as were the others.
"I'm sorry, Tay," I said. "I forgot you were such a big boy now."
"No problem, Uncle Bax," Tay said magnanimously.
After dessert, Lisa and Ellen shoed us men out of the kitchen, though I offered to help clear up.
"Don't do that," Mark said, grinning. "You'll just spoil `em."
Dad and I chuckled. Even Lisa grinned. Ellen said, "Oh, you'll be sorry you said that come suppertime tomorrow evening, Mark Federovic!" Mark just shook his head.
Mark and Dad settled in to watch television in the family room. Tyler sat on the floor and played with some sort of portable electronic game. Taylor surprised me by coming up to me with a book.
"Uncle Bax, would you read to me?"
"Come on, Tay," Mark said, "Bax probably doesn't wanna do that."
I'd been reading to Tay since he was a toddler. He was almost old enough to read to me, but I think he just wanted to keep our tradition going. "I'd be happy to, sport. Let's go in the living room." He took my hand and pulled me along until we were settled side by side on the sofa. He snuggled close to me and handed me the book.
"How far have you read?"
"I just got this at the library and Dad hasn't had a chance to read it to me yet."
`Good for you, Mark,' I thought, `you read to your kids!'
We were still reading when Ellen came and told Tay it was time to go home.
During the general goodbyes, Ellen hugged me and said, "Missing your man, huh?"
"Yeah. But coming home this weekend has been great. It helps me feel grounded to have all of you guys."
"You know we all love you, little brother."
I chuckled. "You haven't called me that in a while, sis. And I love you, too. Oh, by the way, those are great kids. You and Mark are doing a super job with them."
She grinned. "Some day you may get a box from FedEx with the two of them in it."
I squeezed her. "Any time!"
"You know, brother, I can tell how much you love Russ and how much you miss him."
"Oh, you can, huh?" I said, grinning at her.
"I can always read you."
I remembered some times when her ability to do just that had been embarrassing.
"Yeah, and that's not always been a good thing."
She smiled and put her hand on my face. "Just hang in there. Russ will be back eventually. And you know he's worth waiting for."
"Thanks, Sis. You're right."
"When he gets back, be sure and bring him for a visit, okay?"
"That sounds good."
* * *
My cell phone rang about 2:00 AM, waking me from a rare deep sleep. Russ had obviously forgotten that he was a couple of time zones west of us.
"How's my favorite country singer?"
"I'm good, babe, I'm good. Things are going great. You can't believe the audiences! And now we have our own fans, not all of `em kids, either, who are out there to see us. We need more security to get from the bus into the venue and back than we did at the start of the trip. People standing down front like at a rock concert and waving their hands and singing along and all that shit."
"It's not shit, gorgeous. It means they love you guys. And, I'd bet, mostly you."
"Well, maybe just because I'm out front doing the main part of the vocals."
"Maybe because you're the sexiest thing that ever pulled on a pair of jeans."
He sort of whimpered. "Oh, God, Bax, I miss you, baby!"
"Me, you, too. But it's only three weeks and counting now."
There was an uncomfortable pause.
"Russ, are you still there?
"Yeah, I'm here. Barney says – "
"Who's Barney?" I asked interrupting him.
"Oh, he's Chace's business manager."
"Well, anyway, he says this tour has been even more successful than anyone ever imagined. Chace was big when the tour started, but he's really hot right now. So Barney is trying to extend the tour. And he says we're part of the package."
"Um, extend the tour for how much longer?"
"Dunno yet. Barney said he just wanted to give us a heads up so we wouldn't be too surprised if the tour went on a while beyond what we'd expected."
"Oh," I said, trying to sound positive, "that's great. Isn't it?"
"You aren't pissed?"
I wasn't pissed. I could honestly say I wasn't pissed. But how could I tell him about the rock that had suddenly appeared in my stomach?
"No, sweetheart, of course not."
"Bax, I've got to tell my folks, too. Imagine how my mother's gonna react!" His voice got husky. "It means a lot to me, baby, that you're cool with this."
Still working to seem enthusiastic, I said, "This is big for you, gorgeous. You've gotta do what makes your dream come true."
After we'd hung up, I could feel the depression settling over me: what about
my dream of having Russ to myself on the sofa in the evenings, of waking up spooned against him in the mornings?
To Be Continued
Thanks to Drew, Mickey, Tinn and Bill for invaluable help with "Lonely."
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