by Tim Mead
One Friday evening I was wiped out. It had been a rough day at work. Carol (THE dean) had been uncharacteristically bitchy all day. Even getting home was a struggle. There was a convention of some sort in town whose participants were clogging up restaurants and public transportation and generally making life difficult for us "natives." Then, just as I was getting off the Rapid after work, the skies opened up and I slogged home through a downpour. I didn't have an umbrella because Stu Scott, the Channel 7 weather guru, had said it would be a beautiful day.
In no mood to go to a restaurant or to cook, when I got home I put a frozen pizza in the oven and opened a beer. I had a second beer before the pizza was ready, and another with the pizza.
When I was finished I threw out the uneaten portion. So far as I'm concerned, cold pizza is inedible and rewarmed isn't much better. Then I collapsed into the chair I preferred when alone, the sofa being reserved in my mind for snuggling with Russ. It would be hours before he called – if he called. I could find nothing to watch on TV, so I put on a CD with something by Debussy and tried to relax.
My thoughts went inevitably to Russ. He said he missed me, and I supposed he did. I noted that my days were busy and my evenings were, for the most part, empty. Conversely, Russ was performing every night, but he said his days were often boring, especially on the long bus rides between cities.
In my imagination I could see him after their performance, still feeling the adrenalin rush from being on stage in front of screaming fans or being surrounded by them afterward. Maybe being hit on by admiring women – or men? I'd been trying to suppress that fear almost from the time his tour started. I knew he loved me, but we hadn't been together all that long before he went on the road. Did he really love me enough to withstand all the various kinds of come-ons he'd undoubtedly be subjected to? I heaved a big sigh. I could only hope.
>From worries about Russ, I turned to thinking about the next evening, which was the dinner with Eric Fane, the one for which he had "purchased" me at the auction. I still couldn't understand why he'd bid on me. He said he was doing it to rescue me from having an evening with that horrible woman from the newspaper. But what was he doing there in the first place?
Eventually I fell asleep. When I awoke (with a stiff neck), it was just after 2:00. A check of the voice mail turned up nothing, so at least I hadn't missed a call from Russ. I clicked off the silent stereo, made sure the doors were locked, turned out the lights and went upstairs. After brushing my teeth and having a pee, I took off my clothes and got into bed. Where I lay awake until nearly 5:00, when I slipped into a blessedly deep sleep.
Thank goodness it was Saturday.
I didn't get up until 9:30. By that time it was too late to go to the gym, which would have been packed by then. So I fixed bacon and eggs and read the paper over coffee. Then I showered, shaved, and dressed before sallying forth to the supermarket, which, of course, was also crowded, the aisles jammed and long lines at the checkouts. On the way home I stopped at the dry cleaners to pick up a suit I'd left there the previous weekend.
I had never been clear about who was the "man" and who was the "woman" in this highly artificial date Eric and I were having. But the fraternity that sponsored the auction had also persuaded various organizations to donate such things as free meals, luxury boxes at sports events, and such. Eric and I had lucked out: we were having dinner at the Powhatan Inn.
Powhatan was the home of Finney, a small liberal arts college about 30 miles east of Zenith. It had been founded by a bunch of abolitionists in the decades before the Civil War. The original inn had been on the stagecoach route from Columbus to Zenith to Indianapolis, but it was torn down in the fifties to make room for a new classroom building. Since that time, the Inn had been housed in a splendid facility of its own with views of the college golf course. It enjoyed a reputation throughout central Winnemac for its fine food and excellent service. The card we'd been given gave us practically no limit for our drinks and meals, and it confirmed that we had reservations for two at 7:00 PM on that Saturday.
I'd called Eric and suggested that since he lived a few miles east of me I'd pick him up. He seemed happy with the arrangement, so we agreed that I'd be there at 6:15. He offered to give me directions to his place in Floral Gardens, the next suburb out from Floral Heights, but I simply put his address into my navigational system and followed the route suggested.
Our dinner was the most pleasant experience I'd had since Russ left. The Inn's service and food lived up to their reputation, and Eric made a charming, not to mention attractive, companion. I'd opted to wear my blue blazer with gray slacks. Eric wore a light gray wool/silk blend jacket and navy slacks. He kept his brown hair clipped short, probably to minimize the slightly receding hairline, but his head was perfectly shaped and, as I've said before, he was quite good looking. He had a longish face, his nose in perfect proportion. His lips were slightly full. His eyes, his most interesting feature, were toward the gray end of the blue spectrum and tended to be more soulful than sparkling.
We didn't speak of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings, but our conversation was far-ranging, though it had eventually focused on books. We discovered that we both read mysteries, that we shared a secret love of Dorothy Sayers' novels, that we both enjoyed Lescroart's Hardy and Glitzky novels. Then Eric mentioned Anthony Bidulka, which surprised me, since Bidulka writes about a gay private detective. After we'd done an analysis of each of the Russell Quant books, he asked me if I knew Michael Craft's mysteries.
"Yeah, he's another of my favorites. But I have to say, Eric, I'm surprised at your interest in gay fiction."
He raised his eyebrows. "Oh? Why is that?
"I've just never met a straight man who admits to reading gay novels."
He smiled. "I know one or two. It was a straight friend who put me onto Ethan Mordden."
"But, Bax, surely you don't think we'd be here in this place right now under these circumstances if I weren't gay."
"Well, um, yeah. I did rather wonder about that."
"Sorry. I thought you'd figured me out."
"Ever since I saw you with that woman at Bud's Place the night Russ played there I've just assumed you were straight."
He shrugged and grinned. "That was Lissa. She's a good friend who's willing to be my beard when I need one. So I'm assuming your gaydar isn't very good."
"Apparently not." I was floored. I'd never picked up on his being gay, even the time we'd had dinner at The Top. Knowing now that he was gay answered some questions, perhaps, and raised some others.
Just then our server came back to clear our dinner plates and ask if we wanted dessert.
"Bax," Eric said, "I'm sure the desserts here are fabulous, but I made a pecan pie this afternoon, and I'd love it if you'd come back to my place for pie and coffee. Then we can continue this conversation."
"You made a pie? As in `from scratch'?"
I turned to the server, who'd overheard the discussion. Before I could tell him we didn't want dessert, he said, "The bill is taken care of, Dean Crouse, but I will need you to sign the slip. I'll have your car brought up and I'll be right back."
Eric quibbled with me when I insisted on leaving the tip, but he finally allowed me to do that. The car was waiting by the time we got to the front of the Inn.
The drive back to Eric's place in Floral Gardens was pretty quiet. I was still trying to process the implications of his coming out to me. And, of course, the big question was whether he thought when he "bought" me at the auction he was getting me not just for dinner but for the night. I didn't know whether I should be angry with him or not. But I thought I'd come to know him well enough to feel comfortable going to his place.
"Your pie," I said, "is amazing. Where'd you learn to make crust like this?"
He grinned. "It's my mother's recipe. It's mostly a matter of not using too much water."
"Oh? As simple as that, is it?"
"Yep. Adding more water makes it easier to work the crust, but also makes it tougher, less flaky."
He suggested we have coffee in the living room.
"Shall I add a bit of brandy to the coffee?"
"Just a little shot. I do have to drive home, you know."
When we were settled with our coffee, I said, "Okay, Eric, what's going on?"
He took a deep breath, let it out, and said, "I've been wondering for days just how I was going to answer that question."
"I'm ready to listen."
"I transferred here a couple of years ago from Pierce-Thompson's Monarch office. They liked my work, but they said if I moved to Zenith I'd be on a faster track for advancement. They knew I was gay, but it didn't matter. And my bosses in Monarch didn't tell the Zenith guys. When I arrived in Zenith, I found out that Russ was the fair-haired boy, so to speak, and that he was gay. I decided not to arrive on the scene with a pronouncement about my sexuality. After all, I didn't know anyone in Zenith except Lissa, whom I'd gone to college with, so no one needed to know."
He looked to see that I was following him. I nodded.
"Russ and I became friendly from the get-go." He looked at me and grinned. "You can relax. There's no chemistry between us. We just got on well."
"Does he know you're gay?"
"I've never told him, and he's never said anything. But I think he must have figured it out – and didn't care one way or the other."
I took a sip of the brandied coffee and waited for him to go on.
"Then he mentioned to me one day that he now had a partner, and a while after that he told me the two of you were buying a house together. I envied him but I was also happy for him, because he's such a great guy. When I met you at Bud's that night, I could see as you watched him, hardly ever taking your eyes off of him, how much you loved him. And I envied him all the more.
"When he announced at the office that he was leaving to go on the road, my first thought wasn't about what would happen there with him gone or what his chances were of being successful as a singer. I simply wondered how he could think of going off and being away from you for six weeks."
He looked at me, searching my face for my reaction.
"You mean, why would a guy willingly leave his lover for six weeks?"
"Partly. But I'd also seen you at the office from time to time when you came by to pick him up. And I couldn't imagine having a guy like you in my life and voluntarily leaving him for any longer than necessary."
"Eric, are you saying you're attracted to me?"
He'd been leaning forward as he spoke, but after my question he sat back and re-crossed his legs. "I would have thought that was obvious."
Jesus! Had I been blind? Stupid? If he'd been coming on to me, it had been so subtle I'd missed it. So what was I supposed to say?
I picked up my coffee cup, but found it empty.
"Would you like more coffee?"
"No, thanks. I'd probably not be able to sleep." I'd probably not be able to sleep anyway after his revelation, but I sure as hell didn't need more coffee.
"I'd offer you more brandy, but then you'd think I was hitting on you."
"And you didn't plan all of this so you could hit on me?"
"No, Bax, I assure you I didn't. I'm very attracted to you. Although I like Russ a lot, I think he was a damn fool to give up his job at P-T and especially for more or less deserting you. But much as I wish I could, I won't try to come between you."
The man looked so vulnerable right then I wanted to hug him, but I knew that would be sending the wrong signal. On the other hand, I knew if I rushed home he'd be hurt.
"Okay, let's have that brandy."
When he came back with two small snifters, I said, "Then you're still not out to anyone but me in Zenith?"
He smiled. "I imagine bidding on you in the auction was my coming out, don't you?"
"Yeah, I suppose it was. And you were willing to do that because . . . ?"
"When I read that you were one of the guys up for auction, I just wanted to be there. To see what happened. And I thought maybe I'd see some appealing guy I could bid on, have a nice date with."
"Eric, you don't need to buy a date. You're a great guy, a great-looking guy."
He blushed. "Thanks for saying that." He swirled the amber liquid in his snifter and continued, "Anyway, none of the guys who were up before you particularly appealed to me. Maybe I could only see you. Whatever. When that awful woman began to bid on you and everyone else dropped out, I just had to jump in. I mean, I knew you would probably ask me to have dinner with you soon to reciprocate the dinner at the Top. But I just hated the idea that you might have to spend an evening with her and was determined that I'd save you from her."
"I don't know what to say. That was so sweet! And you're right. I was planning to ask you to dinner soon. But as a friend. You know I'm committed to Russ, so there's no chance for us to be closer than that."
He gave me what I'd have to describe as a brave smile. "Yeah, Bax. I understand."
We were both quiet for a couple of minutes.
"Eric, let me say this. I like you a lot. I hope we can be friends, still see each other occasionally. And, I've gotta be honest. If Russ weren't in the picture, I'd hop in bed with you in a heartbeat."
"Thanks for that."
"But Russ is in the picture. I love him. And as much as I miss him, as, uh, appealing as you are, I'm going to wait for him to come home. You understand?"
"Yeah, I understand. And I have to say, Russ is a damned fool."
There was an awkward moment at the door as I was leaving. Shaking hands didn't seem right. A kiss, however chaste, might be misinterpreted. Under the circumstances I thought a hug was appropriate. Eric didn't exactly grind his hard dick against me, but I sure as hell knew it was there. And mine began to respond. I had to ignore it.
"Thanks for being honest with me. You're a great guy. I'm sorry . . ."
"It's okay, Bax," he said, stepping back and looking me in the eye. "Just remember. You can have anything from me you want."
"Eric, man, I'm really sorry."
"No problem. I just hope we can still be friends."
"You handled this evening with a lot of class. Of course we're friends."
As I drove home with a hard on that wouldn't go away, I couldn't help thinking I'd probably passed up a great night of sex with a guy I liked a lot. But then I thought of my next phone conversation with Russ. I'd promised him a run-down on what happened with Eric.
A block from the condo my phone rang.
"This is Bax."
"Are you okay?"
"Oh, hi, gorgeous! Yeah, I'm fine. Why wouldn't I be? And why are you calling me in the car?"
"Because I can't fucking wait to find out what happened with you and Fane."
I pulled into my parking place behind our building.
"Unless you want me to sit here in the car you'll have to. Give me a minute to get inside and pee and I'll call you back. Should I use your cell number?"
"Yeah. Don't be long!"
"Okay, five minutes."
I made sure the car was locked, went in the back door, and used the downstairs toilet. Then I took off my jacket, kicked off my loafers, grabbed the phone, and collapsed into my favorite chair.
"Did I make it in five minutes?"
"Four minutes, thirty-seven seconds." He chuckled. I knew he hadn't really been timing me. "So tell me about your evening."
"Why don't we start with you explaining why you never told me Eric's gay?"
"I didn't figure I'd need to. You've had meals out with him before tonight. I thought you'd know."
"I swear I didn't. I enjoyed being with him, I'd seen him with what I thought was his girlfriend at Bud's Place that night and just assumed he was straight. Obviously my gaydar needs to go in for a tune-up."
"Do you even have gaydar?"
"The night at the Goodmans' when I first saw you it never crossed my mind that you could be straight, and I knew I wanted to be in bed with you at the earliest possible moment."
He chuckled. "Well, you probably assumed Helene was trying to set us up, and I sure as hell didn't do anything to discourage you, did I?"
"No, you did not." Thinking back to that night made me hard again.
"Now, tell me about this evening. You obviously didn't spend the night with him. So what happened?"
"Bite your tongue! Of course I didn't spend the night. We just had a quickie."
The gasp from the other end was clearly audible. "Bax, don't even joke about that! You are joking, aren't you?"
"Yup. At dinner, which was very elegant and nice, by the way, we talked about all kinds of things, mostly about books. Then he invited me back to his place for pie and coffee. He'd made a pecan pie from scratch. It had wonderfully flaky crust, and – "
"Baxter! I don't give a fuck about the pie! What else happened?"
I was beginning to get the idea that my lover was jealous and perhaps a little worried.
"Relax, gorgeous! My virtue, such as it is, survived the evening. It was sweet and kind of sad, actually. Eric admitted he had feelings for me, but he said he could see how much I loved you and wouldn't try to come between us."
"When you told me he'd won you at the auction, I thought for sure he was expecting to wine you and dine you and take you to bed. Guess he's a better man than I thought. How about you, babe? How do you feel about him?"
"Oh, he's definitely sexy. But he's not you, and it's you I love. Never doubt that!"
"God, I miss you so much!"
"Russ, surely you've had people coming on to you. Of both sexes, I imagine."
"I can't lie. Yes, I have. And yes, both sexes. But I swear, I try to slip away gracefully, suggesting that I'm committed. I don't know how Chace manages. He has ten times as many people mobbing him as I do. But I know he sometimes meets one of his female fans later on. I'm horny as fuck, Bax. Can't wait to get home to you."
"Same here." I didn't think I'd better tell Russ about Eric's parting declaration, that he'd give me anything I wanted. No point in making my baby more jealous than he already was. "Is there any chance you could get home before the tour's over? Don't you have some dates open?"
"Yeah, but it'd be a matter of flying in and out of Zenith the same day, leaving one airport, returning to another, probably, and you'd have to take off work just so we could have a few hours in the sack together."
"I could do that. But you're sounding tired, babe, and I don't want to wear you out. On the other hand, I'll be here with lube in hand if you can arrange to get here."
"God, I'd love just to be with you! Some of the other guys aren't that far away, so I can't tell you what I want you to do to me. We'll have to imagine being together!"
I shivered. I'd been hard ever since the conversation started, and that made me begin to leak a little. "I'm just as horny as you are, gorgeous, and really damned tired of my hand. But I've lasted this long, I guess I can make it until your tour is over if I have to."
We chatted a while longer and then, reaffirming our love for each other, we said goodnight.
* * *
The next day was the longest Sunday I could remember. I stayed in bed, not wanting to face the day, but eventually was so restless there was no point in lying there. Then I got up and threw on a pair of jeans and a shirt. After breakfast I dusted all the surfaces, ran the vacuum, and mopped the kitchen, utility room, and bathroom floors. When I'd finished I had a quick shower, though I didn't bother to shave. No one was going to see me until Monday morning, so why bother? As I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror, I wondered if I should cultivate the "designer stubble" look. But my blond beard was so light it hardly showed. I wondered what Russ would think if I grew a `stache and chin whiskers.
I skipped lunch since I'd had such a late breakfast. I answered some emails. What to do next? `Aha!' I said to myself. I turned on the television and tuned to CMT, thinking that perhaps I could learn more about country music. They were showing an ancient "Dukes of Hazzard" rerun.
So I got out a gay porn flick, jacking off as Josh Weston and Matt Rush got it on in the back room of a New Orleans costume shop. Oh, my, the glutes and abs those boys had!
Once I'd cleaned up the mess, I spent the rest of the afternoon reading. I called Mitch and Corey to see if they wanted to meet me somewhere for supper, but they must have been out, for no one answered. So I opened a can of soup. After all, I'd eaten royally the evening before in Powhatan with Eric.
After supper I read awhile and then turned on the television again. I'd seen promos for a new Masterpiece Theatre series that was starting. I gave it a try, but I found that I couldn't understand half the dialogue because the story was set in some part of England where the accents were incomprehensible. As I flipped channels, I came across one that was showing MMA, so I watched hunky guys "ground and pound" each other into unconsciousness for a little while. But that proved too gory. In desperation I went back to my book.
Apex had two concerts that day, one in the afternoon, another at night. I'd learned Russ was usually too exhausted on those days to call me. He didn't call that night, either.
After a day like that, I was pretty damn happy to be at work on Monday morning. I always thought a properly educated person had inner resources, but I was discovering that without Russ mine were few and apparently diminishing.
* * *
Mitch called one evening that week wanting to know how things had gone on my "date" with Eric. I told him we'd had a pleasant time, had gone back to his place for dessert and a brandy, and I'd been home by midnight, in time to talk with Russ.
"You're sure that's all that happened?"
"Mitchell, it's none of your business. Have you been unfaithful to Corey, and would you tell me if you had?"
"Oh, I see your point."
"Just so you'll know, I'll repeat it. Nothing happened. It was a nice evening. The food was great. Eric's a nice guy and, I hope, a good friend. But nothing happened!"
"He is gay, isn't he? You did find that out?"
He chuckled. "Okay, okay. I'm just looking after you. Remember that Corey and I are here whenever you need us."
"But you weren't, you know."
"I called you Sunday evening, and you guys must have been out."
"Oh, yeah, we'd gone to Borders for a CD Corey wanted. I'm sorry we missed your call. You should have tried again later. Anyway, you do understand we're `here for you,' don't you"
I could almost hear the quotes Mitch put around the cliché.
"Yeah, I know, sweetie. Thanks. Give my love to the big guy."
* * *
A few days later I called Eric to set up a time when I could take him to dinner. It was, after all, my turn. It turned out he had other plans for the date I suggested, so I said I'd call him again soon. When I did call the second time, he told me he'd rather not go out with me.
"It's just too damned hard, Bax. I'm sorry."
"You told me you'd give me anything I wanted. But you won't come to dinner with me?"
"Oh, Christ, if you put it in those terms, of course I'll come. I just don't think you understand what it's like to be with someone you want so much but can't have."
"I guess I'm being an insensitive bastard. I'm sorry. I don't want to hurt you or make your life difficult. I like you a lot. I wish we could be good friends. It's just that we can't – "
"Yeah, I understand. Let me work on my feelings. If I get them sorted out, I'll call you and maybe you can take me to dinner then, okay?"
"Sure, whatever works for you. I really feel like a shit, you know."
"No need. The problem's mine, not yours. I'll get over it."
And that's the way we left it. But I couldn't help feeling guilty.
Curiously, soon after that conversation, my dreams, which had been sex-driven since Russ left on tour, took on a new dimension. I found that the person under me, legs around my waist or over my shoulders, sometimes had auburn hair and brown eyes . . . but sometimes the eyes were gray and the hair was brown.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, being sure to put "Lonely" in the subject line so I'll know it isn't spam. Thanks! --Tim