WARNING

This story details explicit gay sex between men, teens and boys. If you find this kind of thing distasteful, or if you are underage where ever you live, then stop reading this now, and delete this file. The story is completely fictional, the author does not condone or encourage any of the acts contained herein.

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Chapter 25

We have to put off our trip to New York for about a month because I can't get a room in the city for under $600 a night (rather than the $100 my friend charges her friends). So, we reserve a room for next month, set up the airline reservations, and begin looking at pianos. I ask Jason whether he has any preferences as to make.

"I played an old upright when I lived with my parents. I think it was Sherman-Clay. It was a really terrible piano, and I couldn't keep it in tune. I'd have to tune it almost once a month."

"You'd tune it...yourself."

"Yeah."

"How?"

"I had a little socket wrench."

"No. How'd you get the pitch? Did you have a scope?"

"Umm...no. I just listened."

In-fucking-credible. Jason has perfect pitch. This new bit of information makes me want to spank him again for wasting so much time, as does his next admission.

"You seem to have a fairly broad repertoire of music that you know by heart. I don't think there was a single piece of music that I asked you about that you didn't already know. Why? How?"

"Umm...I can learn new music fairly quickly. The first time I play something new, I need sheet music. Actually, I need the sheet music the first two or three times. But after that I hear the music playing in my head while I play it on the violin or piano. I basically just imitate what's playing in my head. The other way I sometimes learn a new piece is to listen to a recording. If it's simple, like a Chopin Nocturne, I can usually memorize it in one or two listenings. If it's more complex, like Liszt or Bach, it'll probably take longer."

He has left me utterly speechless. I had a boyfriend once upon a time who was a Musicologist. He used to teach at Stanford. He played the piano beautifully, professionally, but I remember vividly one summer he spent learning a couple of the Nocturnes. We're talking a couple of months, here. He would sit at the piano and play certain phrases over and over and over and over, until his fingers would finally do what they were supposed to do. If you had told him that Chopin is simple, he would have laughed you out of the room. But, as I think about it, his process for learning a new piece was probably very different from Jason's. Martin – that was his name – was fixated on the score, on the interaction of "voices," on phrasing, on the historical significance of just a few bars. He was a Musicologist, after all. Jason, I'm guessing, doesn't care about any of that. I suspect he's more intuitive, more emotional in his absorption of a new piece.

"How'd you learn the Chopin Nocturne Number 3," one that Martin had struggled with?

Jason giggles. "Actually, that one was really easy for me. I listened to the Rubinstein recording a couple of times and I had it. I could play it after a couple of hours. Not well, yet, but technically. Once I can play it technically, then I have to play it a number of times to understand what it means to me, to figure out how it touches me, to come to terms with it emotionally. Does that make sense?"

"Yeah. And you can actually hear and remember all the notes in just a couple of listenings?"

"Yeah, for something simple. Usually when I'm listening, I close my eyes and imagine myself playing it. On the piano, I sort of watch my hands. The violin's similar."

I find this just completely unbelievable, although I can do this with poetry – sort of. If someone reads me a poem, it'll take me a couple of readings, but after that I can recite it word for word. But music is far more complex. I'm going to have to see this in action in order to believe it.

After five days of searching Craigslist, eBay, local music stores, want-ads (which are worthless, by the way. The advent of online selling has basically put newspaper want-ads out of business.), we find a guy in Sacramento with an old "Living room" Steinway with a black lacquer finish that he says is somewhat scratched. He emails photos, and it does look a little rough, but nothing that can't be repaired, and pretty quickly. I bought my dining table from a couple who advertised on Craigslist. It, too, looked a little rough, but a friend of mine, a woodworker, polished it up in the course of about an hour. It looked brand new. I email him the photos, and he calls to say that he can have this looking absolutely stunning in no time. Emailing the seller, we agree on a price that's probably Ό of what it's worth. He just wants to get rid of it. The only complication is his Sacramento address, about three hours from us, but we arrange to drive up the next day and pick it up, and I PayPal him half the price to ensure that he doesn't sell it to anyone before we get there.

On Tuesday I rent a U-Haul and a bunch of their packing blankets, and load up the tools I'm going to need, along with a four-inch-thick foam-rubber pad to set it on. Believe it or not, I've actually moved a grand piano more than once. You have to take the legs off, disconnect the pedals. It's actually pretty easy. The problem is the weight, so I arrange with the boys to take a day off from school, and we make our way to Sacramento at about 9am. Arriving at about 11:15, the GPS leads me to the house, and the owner greets us, happy, I think, to be able to get rid of the piano. It turns out it was his partner of eighteen years, now dead, that had been the pianist. He doesn't play and has no use for it now. Very nice guy. His partner died of late stage colon cancer last year, he tells me, and I have the impression that the piano makes him sad, reminding him of the music his partrner made. I nod to Jason, and he sits down at the piano, and starts to play a Bartσk sonata that I haven't heard in years. I'd actually had Jason talk to the guy on the phone before we'd agreed to buy the piano. He'd wanted to know about the keyboard action, but the guy had no idea what he was talking about. "Do any of the keys stick," he asked? The guy'd actually left the phone to go into the living room and strike all 81 keys before he returned to say that they were fine, and that the pedals seem to work well also, another concern. Jason plays for maybe five minutes, and I have to leave the room to keep from totally embarrassing myself. (One of the benefits of buying this piano is that I'll be able to listen to music without worrying about drowning the guy sitting next to me.) When I return, dry-eyed, he's just finishing the piece, his eyes shut, a subtle, almost beatific expression on his face. Kenny, Ian and Alejandro are standing at the side of the room, absolutely still, mesmerized. "Is it okay," I ask, moving to the piano and kissing him?

"After the Sherman-Clay?" he giggles. "It's the purest bliss."

I don't think the seller had any idea who he was selling to. In fact, I think he probably thought I was the pianist, and I'd hired the boys from somewhere to help me move it. At the end of the piece, he is absolutely wide-eyed, tearing freely, probably thinking of his late partner. "Jesus Christ," he says softly, and then, looking at Jason, "that was just amazing...just amazing." Jason smiles, clearly happy to be appreciated.

I use the seller's computer to PayPal him the balance of the payment, and then we begin to "tear down" the piano. In my younger days, I used to work at a theater in Palo Alto, helping to produce plays. I did some acting, stage lighting, and, on occasion, helped as part of the stage crew. I've deconstructed a lot of pianos in my day, and this one is particularly easy because it is, after all, a baby grand, and because I don't think it has ever been disassembled before. All the screws are straight and tight. It'll be a snap to put back together. It takes us about an hour to get it loaded into the truck, and then we're on our way, having thanked the seller profusely. "This is a really good deal, you know. I wasn't expecting to find anything of this quality that we could afford."

"Yeah," he responds. "But, I really needed to get it out of the house. It was just too painful to see every day. I realized that I was selling it for a fraction of what it's probably worth, but..." Nodding toward Jason. "Is he the one who's going to play it?" I nod. "Is he professional?"

"Not yet. He'll be training on this piano."

"Well, Jason, my partner, would have loved to hear him play, and he would have been so pleased to know that someone of..." He nods toward Jason, who is waiting by the front door. "What's his name?"

"His name's also Jason," I confide, softly.

The seller gasps, and tries desperately to sniff back the tears that are welling up at this coincidence. He swallows hard. "He'd be so pleased to know that someone of Jason's caliber would be the next to enjoy his piano. I don't regret the price at all," he chokes, and then hugs me. "Take care," he says, finally walking me to the door, where he hugs Jason fondly before we leave house. Standing on the porch for a moment, fishing for the keys to the truck, we can hear the poor guy sobbing on the other side of the door. Jason gives me a quizzical look.

"I'll tell you later," I say, my arm around his shoulders, guiding him back to the truck.

Who says gay relationships are somehow less valid or meaningful than straight relationships?

The ride back to San Jose is long, but uneventful, and as I drive, I recount the seller's story, a story that has Jason sobbing and Kenny sniffing. "Very, very touching," Kenny says, hugging Jason. "I don't know if I believe in coincidences in this case – that the piano's only two owners are both named Jason. That sounds more like fate to me, like you were meant to have it," he concludes, giving Jason another squeeze. Jason nods, still weeping.

Five hours later, we have the piano set up in the living room, having moved furniture around, and Sammy, my woodworking friend, is applying a final polish to the lacquer repairs he's made. "Can I hear it?" he asks. Jason is only too happy to oblige, but before he sits down to play, he goes to the garage and comes back with a socket wrench that he uses to retune just one key.

"It was a little sharp. I noticed when I was playing it this morning." Then he sits down, thinks for a minute, and begins to play Prokofiev's Sonata No. 7 in b flat, one of the most difficult pieces I've ever heard, difficult to follow and, I assume, difficult to play. It's not really my cup of tea, not a piece I'm in love with, though I've heard it several times. The fact that Jason can play it from memory is just flat out incredible, and I'm rapt as I listen, tearing up yet again. In this case, though, my tears aren't for the music; my tears are for Jason. What a fucking miracle this boy is.

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Working my way through some of my favorite piano music, I discover that Jason has never heard any of Grieg's lyric pieces. This is the chance I've been waiting for. I just can't believe that he can listen to a piece once or twice and play it from memory. That is just a foreign concept for me. We're going to perform the obvious experiment.

All of my music lives on a computer in the attic, where the network originates. We stream it wirelessly to a media server in the living room. I play him Grieg's Es war einmal Op 71. It isn't a particularly long piece, maybe 4 ½ minutes, and, like all of the lyric pieces, it sounds reasonably simple, maybe deceptively simple. As it begins, he leans back in his chair and closes his eyes, and as I watch him listening to the music, I swear his breathing slows. He's relaxed into it and is absolutely motionless. He could be asleep. At the end of the recording, he asks to hear the last 30 seconds or so again, again closing his eyes to listen. When it concludes, he goes to the piano. "Remember, I said that the first few times I play this aren't going to be great. I can usually play it technically, but I haven't `felt' it yet." And then he begins to play. It is note for note perfect, and I would know because I know this piece intimately. It's one of my favorites. It's not quite as nuanced and subtle as Gilels' performance, but it's pretty damned good, and totally amazing for the first time he's ever played it. When he's done, he turns and looks at me, and starts to giggle furiously, and I realize I must be quite a sight. My eyes are wet; my face is wet; and my mouth is open in utter amazement. I don't know what to say, so I get up, walk to the piano, and hug him.

Two days later he plays the piece again. Again, note for note perfect, with a greater depth of feeling this time. "How many times have you practiced this," I ask.

"I haven't played it since I played it for you," he concedes. At some point, I imagine, this will stop amazing me, will seem natural, but right now I am almost speechless. "And you remembered it for two days – without practice?"

He looks confused. "Yeah. Once I've memorized it, I never forget it." I look at him for a long, long moment. "Is this a favorite of yours?"

"Umm...yeah. I love Grieg's lyric pieces."

"Are they're more?"

"About seventy," I chuckle.

"Do you have them?"

"I have about twenty-one of them I think."

"How do I listen to them?" I show him how to operate the media server, and he begins to listen with headphones. By the next day, he's learned seven of them, and by the following day, seventeen. And, by the next day, he's got them all, and begins to perfect them, to "feel" them, as he says, playing them almost endlessly – "in rapid rotation," as the radio guys put it. He is spot on, in interpretation. I once saw a concert by the California Youth Symphony of Mozart's Horn Concerti – well, some number of them anyway. I'd heard the Civil recordings, and Tuckwell in concert in London. They were both very good, but a little stiff. And then I heard this thirteen-year-old horn player, and just descended into tears. He was just so good...so...confident, which you have to be with Mozart, but also so...fluid. Was it because he was thirteen, or because he was just so damned good? I choose to think it was the latter. I cleaned myself up, and went to meet him back stage, gushing in front of his parents. He was almost beside himself with joy that he'd made anyone feel this way, that he'd made anyone feel anything at all. I don't listen to music intellectually. Martin did. I can't. Music speaks to me on a very visceral level, and his horn concerti were glorious.

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Finally...finally...finally... We're finally going to New York, and while Jason is still excited, I believe I'm the most keyed up. I've been looking forward to this for the last three weeks. We've done a lot of research. Jason wants to see Juliard perform the Shostakovich Quintet. I'm not sure how I'm going to cope with that. I guess I'll just surround myself in four adjacent seats with the boys. The Quintet is probably my favorite piece of music (and Shostakovich my favorite composer). I'll never get through it dry-eyed. Jason also wants to go to Joe's Shanghai Restaurant in Chinatown, famous for their soup dumplings. He's read about it for years, he tells me. I don't have the heart to break it to him that I've been there several times, that it's absolutely delicious, and that I can't wait to go back. I figure that, after the dumplings, we can stop in at Sweet and Tart around the corner for dessert. They have a three-bean drink to die for.

Ian wants to see a revival of Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," starring Bill Irwin (whom I adore) and Kathleen Turner (whom I abominate – but might just be good in this role). And, he wants to go to the Frick. He's been studying art history, and wants to see The Education of the Virgin painted around 1650 by either George de la Tour, or his son, Ιtienne, no one's really sure. I love the Frick, personally, and relish having a look at their collection of Dutch and Flemish paintings. Alejandro has scoped out a restaurant on the upper west side that's a fusion of Brazilian and Chinese, which strikes me as improbable at best, but has earned raves from Timeout New York, so we'll give it a go. He also wants to see Central Park, and to the Central Park zoo. As for me, I want to have the corned-beef hash and eggs at the Fairway Market on Broadway and 74th, and Kenny, innocent little Kenny, wants to go dancing at Splash over in Chelsea. I've been to several gay dance clubs in New York, and have trouble keeping them apart. If Splash is the one I'm thinking of, they typically have between five and ten very hunky go-go boys getting drenched (rained on) on platforms around the club while they dance (and make out) with abandon. And, of course, like most clubs in New York (for reasons that elude me) the urinals are amusing. If Splash is what I'm remembering, the urinals are separated by little walls, which makes sense, but each urinal has a TV screen over it that plays porn all night long. Now, I have no problem with porn, but the one time I probably don't want to watch it is when I'm trying to pee, an act that's inevitably impeded by a hard-on. Dancing should be fun, though. My only concern, frankly, is that I'm not sure they'll admit Ian and Alejandro, who aren't yet 21. I decide to give Brian a call. He's never had a problem with admitting the boys to N'Touch, so I'm wondering what the parameters are for admission.

I reach him immediately, and he's delighted to hear from me – maybe too delighted. I have the impression he's hoping for a return engagement. I explain the New York trip, and ask him if he knows anything about Splash. He's quiet for a few seconds, and then starts to laugh. "You know about the statistics for gay siblings?"

I'm confused, thrown off by a questions that seems to be a non-sequitur. "Umm...you mean that if you're gay, there's about a 50% chance that your sibling is gay?"

"Yup. That's the one. I fit that demographic. My brother is also gay. I don't know what the stats are for gay dance club ownership among siblings, but my brother owns Splash."

Silence. "You are kidding me, right?"

"Nope. Brandon started the club probably a dozen years ago. I don't think he had any idea how popular it would be."

"So, do you think there'll be a problem getting Ian and Alejandro in, given they're not 21."

"Nah. If they were under 18 there'd be a problem, but not under 21. The problem will be getting any of you in. The place is so popular, the bouncers can really pick and choose who they let in. By this time, Splash has a regular crowd. I don't think they typically stray very far beyond that. But, I can give Brandon a call and try to persuade him to host five of my friends."

"That'd be great. I'll really appreciate that."

"How much?" Brian asks, with a chuckle.

"Enough to get you a return visit sometime after we get back."

"Excellent."

And then it comes to me. "So, I'm pretty sure I was at Splash about then years ago. Is this the place with wet go-go boys, the ones getting drenched while they dance and make out."

"Yup. Hence the name: Splash."

"Do they still do that?"

"Yeah, far as I know."

"You think Brandon might be interested in four new boys willing to dance naked in the rain?"

Brian starts to laugh. "Umm...maybe. What'll complicate the question is how strict NYC is about public nudity, though arguably Splash is a private club. Still, New York is not San Francisco, where no one but the Jesus people really care. We'll have to ask him. The other complication is racial, believe it or not. All Brandon's boys are white because that's what his clientele is attracted to. He's tried Black and Hispanic boys before, but hasn't had a lot of luck `integrating' his club. Sort of sad in this day and age. The last vestiges of bigotry in our time. Well, not the last vestiges, I guess, given the Prop 8 vote. Bigotry is alive and well. Still, when I call him, I'll make the offer and see what he says."

"Cool. Lemme know." We chat a bit more about politics before we hang up.

Three hours later, the phone rings. It's Brian. "Brandon would love to have you at the club, and was excited about the offer to dance. He's low on boys right now, so you'd really be helping him out. He's not sure he can get away with letting them dance completely naked, but he said he's got the skimpiest little g-strings they can wear that, when they're wet, show nearly everything. Does that suit?"

"Very well." Brian gives me Brandon's number in New York, telling me to call him and make arrangements for the date and time.

"Do the boys know?"

"Not yet," I say, giggling. "But I'll tell them...probably when we arrive at Splash."

Brian laughs. "You're lucky these boys of yours are so...flexible. Or, is it well trained?"

"Probably a bit of both, but it's their training that will probably come in handiest for what I've got planned, but we'll have to see what Brandon says when I call him."

Brian giggles. "I can just imagine."

"I'm not sure you can," I reply, with a chuckle. "Thanks for everything, Brian. I'll call when we get back, and we can arrange for your quid pro quo."

Hanging up, I call Brandon, and after a bit of confusion with whoever answers the phone, he comes on the line. I realize that I met him, maybe fifteen years ago, at a party at Brian's. He remembers me instantly, and we exchange the usual pleasantries. And then I tell him what I'm thinking, followed by a moment of silence after which he laughs, a long belly laugh. "I think we can work with that." We arrange to come Saturday night at around 11. New York party boys are a late-night crowd. We won't be out of there until 2am, or later. This should be a lot of fun.

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The flight is uneventful, and actually rather comfortable. As I think I mentioned, I have more frequent flyer miles than I know what to do with, and some of them are scheduled to expire at the end of this year. I decide that we'll fly business class, and am able to get seats for us together, although we're separated by aisles. Jason and I sit together on one aisle, Ian and Alejandro sit in the middle section of two seats, and Kenny sits off on the other aisle next to a very cute Indian guy of maybe 25 who immediately sets off my gaydar, and Kenny's, I think. I decide that we'll fly out of San Francisco so we can get a direct flight. Anticipating some pretty awful food post-9/11, we stop in Millbrae on the way to the airport to pick up Dim Sum from the Hong Kong Flower Lounge. I've done this before, and it never fails to piss off my fellow passengers, who get to take in the full aroma of my lunch while grazing on the Kibbles `n Bits provided by the airline. So many dirty looks – it warms my heart. Kenny, I notice, is sharing his lunch with the Indian guy, something I find hysterical. He truly is a Lothario at heart, or smitten.

After lunch, a couple glasses of wine, and a cursory glance at the airline magazine, Jason and I nod off. We've folded the middle armrest of the seat out of the way, and he's lying in my lap, my hand resting on his shoulder. Ian and Alejandro, too, are intertwined, snoring softly. Only Kenny stays awake for the entire flight, chatting away with the Indian guy, who, I must say, has a dazzling smile. I see why he's attracted. Four and a half hours later, we're wakened by the smiling flight steward, who tells us that we'll be landing soon and need to put our seats in the upright position. He does the same for Ian and Alejandro. Our posture has apparently scandalized the guy behind us, who's whispering with his female companion about "the fags" (us). I look over at Jason, and clearly he's heard the comments as well. He giggles.

"So, where do you want to go first, sweetheart," I ask him, a little overly loud. I don't recall ever calling Jason "sweetheart." It's not a word I use, and for a split second it surprises him, before he realizes what I'm doing, and decides to play along.

"Let's check in at the hotel first," he says, dropping his voice about an octave lower than he normally speaks, to a resonant baritone. "I'd really like you to make love to me before we go dancing."

"That's what I was hoping you'd say," I reply, pulling his face to mine, clearly visible through the gap between our two seats. I kiss him, a long, sensuous kiss, and then we break. "I love you baby," I say. "I was so happy to marry you." I kiss him again, and we finally move apart. I'm hoping we seem like two honeymooners.

There is not a sound behind us. It's almost as if the assholes have turned to salt, stopped breathing. Ian and Alejandro have watched this, and are struggling so hard not to give us away by breaking into paroxysm of laughter. They're squirming in their seats. And the flight steward, too, (clearly "family") is struggling, nearly crimson in his fold-out chair facing us. He's seen and heard the whole little episode. He winks at me, and smiles, and I give him a thumbs-up. What a hoot. We land, and disembark, making our way down the boarding ramp and into the airport, where the couple behind us pushes past, giving us really ugly looks. I smile. "Have a nice day," I call after them. Ian and Alejandro can't hold it back any more, and nearly collapse in the row of seats nearest to the gate, screaming with laughter. Kenny, seated on the opposite side of the plane, has no idea what's going on, and has disembarked with his Indian friend looking totally confused. Jason fills him in, in the most spirited Cantonese I've ever heard, and then Kenny starts to laugh, and explains it in English to the Indian guy, who is also laughing within seconds. What a fucking hoot.

Before we leave the airport, Kenny introduces us to his new friend. "Umm...guys...this is Vijay. Vijay, this is Tim, Jason, Ian and Alejandro." We all shake hands and smile. "Vijay has asked whether we'd like to go to dinner tonight. New York is his home. He know a lot of good restaurants."

We all nod. He seems like a really nice guy.

"What kind of food do you like? he asks, as we walk down the seemingly endless corridors of this airport.

Jason, Alejandro and I look at each other and I wink. "Very, very spicy," I reply.

"Do you like Indian food?"

I nod broadly, and Jason nods. I don't think the others really know what Indian food tastes like. "Let's go for Indian," I say, authoritatively. "They'll love it, believe me, although Ian, here, will probably eat all the raitha."

Vijay laughs, slapping a confused Ian gently on the back. "Raitha is a concoction of plain yogurt, cucumber, and mild spices intended to cool your palate after you've eaten something really spicy. I guess you don't like your food quite as spicy as they do?"

Ian giggles. "Umm...yeah. These guys like it nuclear strength. I'm not quite as...caustic."

Vijay laughs, hugging Ian. "We'll find you something a little milder...and order a lot of raitha."

Anywhere else, I would rent a car, but not in New York City. I'm not fond of driving at the best of times, and in a city like this, it would push me over the edge. I had a really good friend who lived in Westchester County. When I came to Westchester on business, he'd take me into Manhattan for dinner and the theater. He was so sweet, so easy-going, but once he'd pass over the Triborough Bridge, you'd see him start to tense, and when he hit Manhattan, he became suddenly very, very "focused." He would cut in front of other cars, weave in and out of traffic, and curse like crazy. He became a New York cab driver. And then, as soon as he got out of Manhattan, headed back home, he became the mild-mannered fellow I knew so well. I asked him about it once, and he laughed. "I gather you've never driven in New York City before."

"No."

"It's something you have to start early. I've driven here all my life. If you don't start early, like when you're just maybe sixteen or seventeen, you aren't going to be able to transform yourself into the flaming prick you need to be to survive here in traffic."

I laughed at the time, but he was right. I did try to drive here, once, and ended up parking the rental car in a parking garage, and calling the rental agency to come pick it up. I was a mess. I don't have the capacity for that transformation.

But Vijay does, apparently. He has a car in long-term parking, a big car that will fit all of us if Ian lies across the laps of everyone in the back seat. And I observe the same transformation in Vijay as I observed in my Westchester friend. The closer we get to Manhattan, the more he steels himself, zipping between lanes, cutting in front of other drivers. I simply could not do this and not die of a heart attack at a very young age.

He takes us to a very modest-looking Indian restaurant, remarkably finds parking, and ushers us inside. This place is no-frills, which is exactly what I like, and is full of Indians, always a good sign. We're seated and begin to ponder the menu. "So," he says, "we can either do this family style, or we can order individual entrees."

"Family," I say, looking around the table. Everyone nods. It's the best way to maximize the number of dishes you get to try. But, my gaze falls on Ian. "Correction," I say. "Let's let poor Ian order something he can eat. Something he likes. Something like...umm...butter chicken. Do they have that, here?"

It has always been my practice to let the natives order. I had a Taiwanese friend years ago who I used to go to lunch with, and who would order stuff that was absolutely delicious...and not on the menu. He'd tell them what he wanted, and they'd go make it. Vijay smiles. "They'll make whatever we tell them to make. Have you ever had butter chicken," he asks Ian. Ian shakes his head. "Do you like beans, chick peas?" Ian nods. "Do you like cinnamon?" Again he nods. "Rather than butter chicken, which is really a disk designed for Americans, why don't we get him a mild Channa Masala? Do you think he'll like that?"

"Yeah, good idea. He'll love it."

"For the rest of us...umm...no, wait." He motions the waiter over to the table, and speaks to him in Hindi. The waiter scurries away, and returns a couple minutes later with a small bowl of sauce with what looks like tofu. "Please taste this," Vijay asks. Each of us dips a spoon into the sauce and takes a significant bite. It is absolutely fierce...and delicious. "This is `nuclear' strength, as Ian put it. Is it too spicy?" We all shake our heads.

"It's perfect," says Kenny, and Vijay beams.

"Okay, for the rest of us, may I suggest Chili Chicken, again some Channa, but spicier than Ian's, perhaps some Palak dal or lentils with spinach, and Kharghosh ka salan, or rabbit curry, the specialty of this restaurant. And, of course, some rice."

"And some pooris, please," I say. "I love pooris."

He smiles. "And some pooris," he says, motioning once again for the waiter. He orders quickly in Hindi, and waiter once again scurries away, returning with hot tea and ice water.

"So, Vijay, were you born here, or in India? You have very little accent."

"I was born in Bangalore, but my parents moved to Canada when I was three. I am Canadian, but have lived in New York for seven years. I went to Cornell for my undergraduate and graduate degrees."

"In what?"

"In computer science."

"What's your area of specialization?"

"Well, that has changed recently. I used to write database software, but that has lost it's luster in terms of my interests. Lately I've been sort of dabbling, and teaching comp sci at NYU while I try to figure out what direction to go in. I have an interest in the complex algorithms associated with gaming software."

Kenny looks up instantly, and Jason looks at me.

"Really. That's my field," I say. He looks at me quizzically. I list off some of the games I've personally written, and mention the name of the company in Hawaii that Jason, Kenny and I worked with.

"Oh...you're Tim Jensen. Kenny didn't tell me your last name. I am really honored to meet you. I know your work, and have read a couple academic papers you wrote a year or two ago. Really honored," he gushes.

"And I'm honored that you've even heard of me. I'm not particularly well known."

"You certainly are in the world of gaming," he laughs.

I smile, and the conversation pauses. I look at Kenny, but the Vulcan mind meld isn't working for us this evening. He has no idea what I'm looking for. Finally, I look back to Vijay. "So, what do you do in your spare time?"

He smiles, genially. I think he knows what I'm asking. "Well, I like to ski, and to read. I'm interested in history. And, I'm a film buff."

"Oh, what kind of films?" I ask.

He pauses just a beat. "Mostly gay."

There it is, at last. "So, you're gay?"

"Of course. Surely you're not surprised," he laughs.

"No. You set off my gaydar when we left San Francisco, but my gaydar has been wrong before, though not often."

He laughs. "I was in San Francisco to break up with a boyfriend," he confides. We'd been sort of long-distance dating for several months, but that doesn't really work that well for me, or, more accurately, I wasn't getting enough from the relationship to convince me to make it more...local."

"And if the relationship had been more...satisfying, what might you have done?"

"Well, for a while I was really considering moving to San Francisco, to be with him. I don't really have a career at this point. I mean, yes, I teach at NYU, but it's a part time appointment. I'm essentially a lecturer, nothing that's going to lead to anything. I could have moved with little fuss. My family is in Vancouver, so they're not holding me here. It would actually be more convenient from the perspective of seeing them if I lived in California. But, ultimately, the relationship fizzled. We simply didn't have enough in common... No, that's not true. I think we had probably too much in common, we were too similar in our...tastes...to complement each other."

We're talking in code here, talking to ourselves and not to each other. At this point the food begins to appear, though, and the conversation stops as we sniff, dish up, and begin to eat. The food here is absolutely delicious. I love Indian cuisine, and this is outstanding, an opinion soon express. "Yes, this is one of the best in New York, very modest by New York standards, but truly ethnic, truly Indian."

As we eat, I try to get the conversation back on course. "And what was missing in your relationship that made it less than ideal? Did you have commitment issues. Gay men, in my experience are very hard to know. I am probably very hard to know. We've all been so guarded for so long. It's the legacy of the closet. We come out, but then continue to behave as though we haven't, because we're so used to hiding we don't really know how to do anything else. Does your family know about you, for example?"

"Yes, actually they do, and have no problem with it, and I never really thought they would. I didn't come out to them or to anyone until I was 18. I just wasn't sure what I was. I had to figure that out. Once I did that, I had no qualms about telling others, and never had an adverse reaction. No, what was missing for us was an emotional connection. We just weren't...compatible." He pauses, thinking. "May I ask what your relationship is with each other?"

I smile. I've been doing all the probing. I'm not surprised that he's a tad uncomfortable, although he's handling it very well.

"Our relationships are a bit unconventional. I consider Kenny and Jason my husbands, Jason by an actual state-sanctioned marriage (before the good people of California decided that we weren't worthy of marriage) and Kenny by virtue of a ceremony we had sometime later. Regardless of the circumstance of the nuptials, though, I adore them both equally, though in different ways. Ian is my son by adoption, the son two very good friends who were killed in a car accident, and Alejandro is the stray cat he dragged home one day and we all fell in love with." I watch Alejandro carefully as I say this to see if there's any damage that I'm going to have to repair later. His mouth is full when I get the words out, and he has all he can do to swallow, he's laughing so hard. "I think of Alejandro as mostly Ian's partner, but we all sleep together, all have sex together (for the most part) and all, I believe, love each other." The boys all nod. "I suppose a five-some is a little unusual, but we've been very happy for some time. I should probably add, to put all this in perspective, that part of why we have been happy is because ours is not an equal partnership. I'm the dominant member within the relationship, and the boys submit to my will, and are punished for misbehavior, sometimes pretty severely."

Vijay has had a bite of Channa in his mouth for what seems like several minutes, a bite he stopped chewing at about the same time he went wide-eyed. He's been taking it in, and now starts to chew again, and to swallow. "And you clearly have no qualms about your relationships. You seem pretty open about them."

"And why not? I am so much in love I can usually barely contain myself, and so proud of them most of the time, feeling so very lucky to be part of this family. This trip, for example, is a reward to all four of them for recent remarkable academic achievements. I adore them all. Love multiplies, I think. It's not diminished by the fact that there are five of us. I know that Jason loves me, sometimes to distraction, but I also know that he adores Kenny, who loves Ian dearly, and Alejandro. I don't see a problem in this. Love is always good."

"But you say you punish them for misbehavior. Does that...impede the love?"

Jason picks up. "No, actually it enhances it. It keeps us focused on what's important. It proves to us that Tim knows what's important, for each of us, that he's paying attention, and wants the best for us. Umm...it's one of the reasons we love him so." He looks around the table, and they're all nodding. I reach over and squeeze the back of Jason's neck.

Vijay is wide-eyed again, but nodding. "I understand. This was what was missing for us. Caring, or at least some indication of caring. Greg, my boyfriend, was very needy, emotionally very immature. He needed constant care that I didn't really know how to give him because...umm...because..." He's tearing up suddenly, looking down at his plate. "...because I'm...umm...the same way. I loved him, but I couldn't guide him...because I couldn't even guide myself. I have an advanced degree in a field I hate and a job that pays me nothing because I haven't been able to pull myself together. It sound like you guys all have a pretty idyllic life," he says, looking up and smiling bleakly.

Now it's the boys' turn to be wide-eyed. None of us were expecting this. Vijay sounded so confident ten minutes ago, but has crumbled, maybe a long time ago. He's teary-eyed, and making the waiter intensely nervous. He comes to the table and begins speaking to Vijay in Hindi. Vijay shakes his head, and the waiter backs away. I reach over and squeeze the back of Vijay's neck. "You okay?"

He looks over at me, and smiles bleakly. "No," he says, "not for a long time."

It's time to go. The meal is done. I pay the bill, and go to the restroom to wash my hands. 15 seconds later, Kenny follows. "Tim, please can we take him with us, take him to the hotel?"

"I don't know if that's such a good idea, Kenny."

"I'm...concerned about him."

I give Kenny a long, long look. He looks so worried, and I have the feeling that there's something missing, something he's not telling me. "He's offered to take us to the hotel, to drive us. Let's see how it goes."

Vijay and the boys have left the restaurant and are waiting for us on the sidewalk. We pile into Vijay's car, and he drives us across town, to Broadway and 81st, parking in front of the building. I look at him. He looks so sad. "Why don't you come up and join us?" I suggest. He looks back at me and shakes his head. "I think you should, Vijay. I know the boys want you to. They've already asked me." He looks around to the back seat, and all the boys are nodding.

"Please come," Kenny entreats.

Finally Vijay nods, and we pile out of the car, handing the keys to the attendant, who will park it in the underground garage. Entering the foyer, I knock on Wendy's door, the owner of the building, and in a few seconds, she answers, smiling, hugging me. "My god, Tim, this is a crowd, and the room is very small. There's going to be a lot of togetherness tonight." I laugh, and she hands me the key. "Have fun," she says with a wink.

We pile in the rickety elevator, and make our way to the fifth floor where we unload. We have three suitcases for the five of us, thank god, because the room is tiny. One king size bed and that's about it. No telephone. No TV. And we share a bath down the hall. But, it's actually really homey. Wanda is a darling who has put me up for years. I love her dearly, and god can she cook, and does, providing meals to any guest that wants them. She's a doll.

We stow the suitcases under the bed (which is made of plywood and 2X4s at just the right height for such stowage, strip, and climb into bed. It's a king, but it is really cramped with six of us. But the room is plenty cold and the bed is plenty warm, and there's no way anyone's going to get pushed out because both sides of the bed are right against the wall. We have to crawl in from the foot because there is no room on either side. Kenny is on the left, followed by Vijay spooned against him, followed by me, followed by Jason, followed by Ian, followed by Alejandro. I've never felt so much like a sardine in my life. I hug Vijay tight and kiss the back of his neck. He turns his head, his eyes moist. "Thanks, Tim."

I kiss his neck again. "No problem, Vijay." And we drift off to sleep.

Published first at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Nemo-stories/