By Mickey S
Saturday morning Steve made breakfast as usual but we had a little more time to dawdle over it than during the week. He didn't have classes and I didn't open the shop until ten. He skimmed through the paper as we discussed his plans for the day. He had some errands to run and then wanted to do some housework and some shopping.
"You don't have to do much around here. I'll take care of the cleaning and laundry on Tuesday when I'm off."
"You might have other plans, Tom." He pointed to the newspaper he'd just set down. "The authorities in Arizona have released Richie's body. The funeral is Tuesday morning. You want to go?"
I hesitated. I'd been thinking about nothing but Richie all week but that had all been in the past, so long ago. It hadn't occurred to me that the funeral was still to come and would be local.
"Let me think about it while I'm at work. Would you go with me if I decide to go?"
"Of course. You shouldn't have to go through something like that alone. I'll be there for you no matter what you decide."
* * * * *
Richie's declaration of his love for me seemed to signal a breakthrough of sorts for him. We became much more of a couple after that. We went out together more often although we had to be careful where we were seen. Often we drove an hour or so to the Poconos or New Hope where he could be pretty sure no one would know him.
Another major change was in the bedroom. Our lovemaking usually entailed passionate foreplay, mostly kissing and fondling, with me going down on him in preparation for the main event. But one night not long after his full recovery from the shooting he surprised me. We had been lying on our sides, kissing for several minutes when Richie slid down a bit and began to lick and suck my nipples. He'd done that a number of times before and I always loved the almost electric sensations that caused.
But after lavishing attention on each nipple he continued to move down, kissing his way to my navel and beyond, tracing the very light treasure trail I had down to my pubes with his tongue. He stopped and took my hard dick in his hand, holding it pointing straight upwards. He looked at it carefully as he ran his hand up and down the shaft, rubbing his thumb over the head, spreading my precum around in a slippery goo. Richie had been handling my dick for quite some time and I always enjoyed the attention he gave it, limited though it was. But this time I was shocked when I felt his tongue flick at the edge of my head. I looked down and he grinned up at me and continued to tickle me with his tongue. I was just getting used to that sensation when he put his mouth over my tool, engulfing it in moist heat. I gasped as he tried to take some of the shaft into his mouth. He only made it halfway down when I could feel him gag, but he didn't give up. He bobbed up and down, sucking lightly, swallowing more each time.
"Oh God, that feels great, but you don't have to do that if you don't want to."
He stopped for a minute, took his mouth off my dick and looked up at me.
"I would think by now you'd know I never do anything I don't want to. Now just lie back and enjoy it. I know I'm not as good as you at this but the only way to get better is with practice."
So I did as he requested and did enjoy it, in spite of his using it as `on-the-job' training. After a few minutes he swiveled around so we could sixty-nine, something I'd only ever done with Rob and thought I'd never experience with Richie. We finished off with Richie making love to me, as usual. Afterward, we cuddled as he held me in his arms.
"Was that okay, Tommy? I wasn't too bad at it, was I?"
"No, for your first time you were great. I don't think I did that good on you that first day in the hospital."
"Well, I was pushing you a bit that day as I recall. You might have done better if I'd left you to your own pace, but it was fantastic anyway."
"I probably wouldn't have done anything if you'd left it up to me so it's a good thing you pushed a bit back then."
"Yeah, but as I recall I pushed your head down onto my dick pretty hard, choking you. I had no idea that was your first time, not that I would have acted any differently, I guess. I was pretty self-centered when it came to sex back then."
"You were pretty self-centered for quite a while."
"I know but I must not have been too bad because you kept coming back for more."
"What can I say? I was a horny teenager hooked on dick."
"Was it just my dick you wanted back then?"
"Mostly, although the rest of your body was pretty hot, too. Still is. But if you're asking if I liked you as a person, that came later. You're a bit of an acquired taste."
"Well, I've been pretty much used to having my own way most of my life. And other people's opinions of me don't mean a whole lot to me, except for my family."
"Yeah, you didn't seem to be too interested in who I was beyond my sexual abilities. And you sure didn't let on that you were as interested in my body as I was in yours."
"In a way you were a first for me as well. I'd fucked a few guys in prison but that had been just a sexual release, fucking a hole. With you it was the first time I let myself act on the attraction I felt and it took me a while to admit to myself just how strong that attraction was."
"A while? It's taken over three years for you to suck my dick for the first time. Can I expect you to ask me to fuck you in another three years?"
"Don't push it, babe. That's not ever gonna happen. I'm becoming more of an equal lover but I have no interest in taking it up the ass. I hope you can be happy with that part of our sex life staying the same."
"I can be very happy with that."
So our relationship became even more `normal' with a few major exceptions. While I was out at school I couldn't tell any of my friends about Richie or even introduce them to him, which meant not having anyone to the house. And since I wasn`t yet out to my parents, even though they`d met Richie, they had no idea what our relationship was all about. And of course there was his marriage and job, which pretty much guaranteed our relationship would stay a secret, part-time thing. Okay, so maybe things weren't very normal.
As my senior year passed, I had to think more about what I was going to do after graduation. My enthusiasm for the theater hadn't diminished, but I was thinking less and less of making it a career. I wanted to continue living with Richie, although I knew there wasn't much of a future in that. Morristown was within easy commuting distance of New York, but theater hours were long and late, so even though there were opportunities there it would mean a big change in my lifestyle. At the beginning of my final semester I began looking into jobs in theaters in the city, just to see if there was anything that interested me but I didn't find anything that fit my life. Maybe I was being too picky, looking for the perfect job, but I was in no hurry. I liked working at Sol's store and even after graduation I knew I could continue there until something better came along. In the back of my mind I knew that was procrastination, putting off making the inevitable decisions about the direction of my life, but I was happy with the way things were and wanted them to stay the same as long as possible.
In early March, though, an event occurred which forced a change. Sol had a stroke. It wasn't a major one although he did spend a week in the hospital and had some impairment on his left side. He was transferred to a rehab facility where he was assured he would recover most of his movement and strength but it would be a long haul.
Obviously, the store was closed the week Sol was in the hospital. When I first went to visit him I noticed he wasn't moving his left arm much and he had a slight slur to his speech, but other than that he looked like the same old Sol. After discussing his condition we talked about what we could do with the store.
"My wife Betty put a sign on the door saying we're closed temporarily due to illness. It's not so bad being closed for a week but they say I'll be in rehab for a month or two. I might as well go out of business if I'm closed that long."
"Well, I can't do anything about my class schedule but I'm sure I can put in more hours at the store. I can keep the place open a couple of afternoons and evenings during the week and all day Saturday."
"I don't want you to mess up at school, Tom. You're so close to graduation."
"Don't worry about that, Sol. I'm doing fine so far and a few hours more at the shop won't interfere. Do you think being open part-time would be enough?"
"It would have to be. What choice do I have?" He shrugged. "Betty offered to help out but I'd go nuts lying here thinking about her alone in the store."
"I'll do what I can but there are aspects of the business you always handle personally that I`m not familiar with." That was as close as I could come to referring to the fencing side of the operation.
"I know, Tom, and I wouldn't want you to get too involved with that. I can probably handle most of that end of things from here. When one of those suppliers comes to the store, send them to see me in rehab and I'll make arrangements."
So that's what we did for the next several weeks. I ran the store by myself, keeping it open as many hours a week as I could, sending the shady characters who came by looking for Sol to rehab. Sol would then call me with instructions and the next day they'd be back with a delivery of merchandise. Sometimes someone from New York would show up almost immediately to pick up the merchandise, sometimes I'd put it out on sale at the store, whatever Sol wanted. While it was clear to me this was all illegal, I didn't know for sure, so as they say, ignorance was bliss.
Sol was discharged from rehab the week before graduation and was able to return to the store using a cane. He still had to go for physical therapy a few times a week but he scheduled that around my hours so we were able to keep the store open full-time once more. I was thinking that things were just getting back to normal when he dropped a bombshell on me. He'd decided to retire, to either sell the shop or just close it. So my plan to put off making a career decision fell apart.
My graduation was fairly low key. My parents had a family gathering at their house and a couple of days later Richie took me to dinner at a very expensive restaurant in New York. We'd never gone out in the city because he knew too many people there but he carefully chose a place he'd never been and no one he knew frequented. Afterwards, we came back to the house and made love. As a special graduation present he arranged to spend the night with me, something he wasn't often able to do.
After breakfast the next morning we cuddled on the couch and Richie asked me about my plans. He had twice recently asked me the same questions, once at the beginning of the semester and again after Sol's stroke, and I'd answered him so abruptly he knew I didn't want to talk about it, but we both knew it was time for me to at least weigh my options, if not make a decision.
"What would you think about taking over Sol's business, Tom? I know you like being in retail."
"I've thought about it, and while there's lots I like about the store, I don't think it's right for me. Besides, I haven't got any money to buy him out."
"Don't worry about money right now. You can always borrow if it's something you want to do. What don't you like about the business?"
"You mean aside from the not-so-legal part of it?"
Richie grinned. "That's a nice way of putting it. Yeah, aside from that. You know I'd never encourage you to get messed up in any activity like that."
"I know, and I wouldn't want to be involved in that. But because I'm not familiar with it, I don't know how much of the business that entails. In other words, I don't know if the legitimate part of the store makes enough profit to support me."
"You know as long as you live here you don't have to worry about money, don't you, babe?"
"I know, Richie, but I don't want to be totally dependent on you. I want to support myself."
"I can understand that. Okay, legality and money aside, is there anything else you don't like about the business?"
"Well, I don't mean to be judgmental, but a lot of the stuff Sol sells is crap. He has some great merchandise, but it's surrounded by junk. I'm not sure I could be enthusiastic spending my life selling stuff like that."
"You've got good taste, Tom, and I know you've been studying art and design as well as theater. Let me think about this and maybe I'll come up with some ideas."
So we dropped the subject for the time being. It was nice to realize that Richie was planning on continuing to be part of my life, not that I'd been afraid he wouldn't be. But graduating from college, ending the formal education that had begun when I was five, signaled a big change in life and I was grateful for that bit of continuity. Sol was in no hurry to close up so I had a job while I tried to think of something else to do.
One day the first week of June Richie's car was in the garage when I came home from work. He greeted me in the kitchen with a kiss.
"Come with me. I have something to show you."
"Where are we going?" It was unusual for us to go anywhere together locally during daylight hours.
"You'll see when we get there."
I knew better than to try to pry information out of him so I followed him to the garage and got in the car with him. We made small talk as he pulled onto I-287 and headed north. For a while I thought maybe we were going back to the Reservoir Tavern, the place where we'd run into Uncle Johnny, but we went past the exit, getting off at the next one in Boonton. Even though it wasn't far from where I lived I wasn't familiar with the town and I looked around as we drove up the narrow, hilly Main Street. Richie found a parking spot on the street in the center of town and pulled over. We got out and walked a half block down the street and he stopped. We stood on the sidewalk and he pointed across the street.
"What are we looking at?" I asked. "There are a bunch of small stores. Is that supposed to mean something to me?"
There was a break in the traffic and Richie grabbed my arm and half-dragged me across the street, stopping in front of a store called Carla's Antiques. When I saw the For Sale sign in the bottom of the window of the door I realized what we were doing there. I turned to him wide-eyed.
"Now don't say anything until you've seen it. Just keep an open mind, Tommy."
He opened the door and we went into a room crowded with furniture and all kinds of other merchandise. The place was a lot smaller than Sol's store and the atmosphere was far more luxurious but it was still a feeling I was used to. A woman in her fifties came out from behind a counter at the rear of the room.
"Mr. Messina! It's so good to see you again. Is this your friend?"
"Yes, Mrs. Martin. This is Tom Webber, the young man who might be interested in your store. Tom, this is Carla Martin."
"My, you're so young," she said as I shook her hand. "I wouldn't think someone your age would know what an antique was."
"Well, I'm not an expert but I do know a bit about them, both from work and school."
"Just look around and let me know if you have any questions. I've already given your friend a lot of the details about the business."
Richie and I circled through the main room and then went into a smaller room to one side that wasn't anywhere near as full as the first one. A couple of times I tried to question Richie about what we were doing but he just shook me off, saying I should just look the place over and we`d talk when we got home. When we went back into the main room Mrs. Martin took us into the back where there was an office and a nearly empty storeroom.
"Why are you selling the store?' I asked.
"My husband is taking early retirement and we're going to travel."
"Then I guess you're ready to retire as well."
"I've had the shop for eight years and that's enough. The store has always been more of a hobby than a business for me. "
"So it doesn't make all that much money then?"
"Oh no, I make plenty of money. but that was never the important part to me. Mr. Messina has gone over the books and can assure you of that." I glanced at Richie and he nodded. "I usually have more merchandise in stock but I've known this was coming for a while. You`d have enough to get started but would have to start re-stocking right away."
We looked around a little while longer and then left, with Richie telling her we'd get back to her. When we got in the car, Richie asked me what I thought of the place.
"How do I know? I don't know anything about business. I wouldn't know where to begin to evaluate something like that."
"I'm not talking about the business end of it. I've looked over the books and you can take my word that it's a profit-making venture. You won't get rich running the place but if you do as well as she does you'll do fine. I meant, what did you think of the store itself, of the idea of operating a place like that?"
"I don't know, This is all kind of sudden. I've been thinking in terms of getting a job, of working for someone else, not being in business for myself."
"But when I asked you about taking over Sol's place you had ready answers for me."
"That's different. I've worked there for years so it was easy to wrap my head around the idea of owning it. This is kinda scary, jumping into something totally new to me. In so many ways I still think of myself as a kid."
"You're a responsible young man, Tom, not a kid. You can handle this, I know you can. It seems like a perfect fit to me. This kind of shop has all of the good things you like about Sol's place and none of the negatives."
He had a point. The merchandise was better and the store was small enough for me to work myself without help. And it wasn`t a front for a fencing operation, at least I didn`t think it was. If Richie had found the place it might be connected to his business operations in some way. I asked him about that.
"I`m disappointed you would even ask. You know how hard I`ve tried to keep you out of my business, not even discussing it with you for the most part. You're the good part of my life and I want to keep it that way. I'd never try to bring you down to my level."
"I know, I'm sorry I questioned you. I just wondered how you found out about this place."
"Well, it seemed to me from what you said about Sol's that an antique shop would be the perfect business for you. I knew there were several in Boonton so I took a ride up here to check the town out. I was actually thinking that we might rent an empty store for you and stock it with the good stuff from Sol's, at least to start. Then I saw the For Sale sign and talked to Mrs. Martin."
"But I could never afford to buy an ongoing, profitable business like that. Even starting a store of my own I couldn't afford. I've only got a couple thousand dollars in the bank."
"Don't worry about money. I've got plenty."
"No fuckin' way!" I hadn't meant to sound so vehement but the words just exploded out. "I mean, it's bad enough I've been your kept boy all these years. I won't allow you to set me up in business, too. You just said I'm a man, not a kid. I have to stand on my own at some point."
Richie didn't respond but gave me an odd look I couldn't figure out. It was almost as if he were hurt, but I was sure that couldn't be it. Richie wasn't the kind of guy words could hurt. He didn't say another word until we were back home. There he poured himself some scotch, sat down on the couch in the living room and pointed back and forth between himself and me..
"Is that how you think of this, Tommy? That you're just my kept boy? I've told you that I loved you. Doesn't that mean anything?"
"Of course it does." I sat in a chair opposite him. "I know there's a depth to our relationship that goes way beyond that, but how am I supposed to feel? I`ve lived here rent-free for nearly three years. You pay all the expenses of the place. When we go out, you pay. You buy me gifts. All I do is take from you."
Richie blew out a long breath. "You do so much more than take, baby. You give me things money could never buy. Not just your body, although you've been very generous with it. But you love me. You love me in spite of who I am, what I am. You know the bad parts and you forgive me for them, see past them and always try to find the good. You've brought out good in me that I didn't know existed. Money means nothing compared to that."
I didn't know what to say. Richie wasn't much for talking about feelings or even showing emotion, unless it was anger. But here he was, his voice trembling, looking like he was about to cry.
"I know you think of yourself as a tough, nasty guy, but you've never been nasty to me. You've always shown a tender, generous side, even when you tried to cover it up with gruffness. I want you to know that I appreciate all you've done for me but it's time for me to do something for myself. I can't keep taking."
He nodded slowly. "I can understand that. I'm not good at expressing softer feelings, so too often I let money do the talking for me. I didn't realize that maybe I was undermining your self-esteem. I admire you for wanting to do this yourself, whatever you decide to do, but don`t think you have to do it all alone. You can at least ask for advice. And I'd like to give you one word of advice before I shut my trap. Sol."
"Yeah. He's an expert in this kind of business so make use of him. Take him up to Boonton and show him the shop, have him talk to Mrs. Martin and look over the books. He can give you better advice than I can."
"But I still can't afford it."
"Then do what everyone else does. Go to the bank and take out a loan. You may not have much of a credit history but, on paper at least, you own this house free and clear. And you've been in the same job for three years in the business you want to go into. You shouldn't have too much problem getting the financing you need."
* * * * *
"So that's what I did." Once again, Steve and I had talked all evening and we were cuddled up in bed.
"You managed to get the store without Richie's help?"
"Pretty much. I went to Sol and told him what I had in mind. He really went out of his way for me. We'd worked well together and after his stroke I'd taken on a lot more responsibilities so he wanted the best for me. He gave me advice on the store and helped negotiate a good deal with Mrs. Martin. I managed to get the bank loan on my own although Richie ended up helping me with the down payment. But I made it clear that was a loan to be paid back."
"And did you pay him back?"
"I started to. I made regular monthly payments to him for over a year, but then his life was turned upside down and everything changed."
"Tomorrow, Steve. I'm exhausted and even though you're off, I have to work tomorrow."
"Then I'm coming to the store with you. I'm not gonna wait until tomorrow night to hear the rest of this." He paused. "What did you decide about the funeral?"
"I want to go. I'm not sure who will be there but we can stay in the background. I think I need to say goodbye to Richie one last time."
To be continued.