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Climbing the Corporate Ladder
Chapter Six: The Rules of Summer
"Evelyn Waugh may be lost on Americans, and not because of literary shortcomings, but the contemporary audience, unable to identify with the setting, will not develop empathy for the characters throughout their journey".
That was the concluding paragraph of Brian's critique of Brideshead Revisited for a 20th Century English Literature class he took in 1978. Brian enjoyed the book, and images of the pomp and splendor of British Aristocracy were a welcomed escape from the bleak stagflation of America's economic misery. But, as he argued in his critique, he could only enjoy the novel because he had had a somewhat similar experience as the book's protagonist Charles Ryder: a window into an elite, aristocratic world where he could see his loved one in his natural setting.
Harry had invited Brian to Newport over the summer.
The Krafts have spent the season in Newport since the turn of the century. Almost 90 years later, they still continued with the tradition of America's royal class, and for several weeks engaged in yachting, croquet matches, lawn parties and garden teas. Several evenings a week there were black tie dinners where all the families paraded their wealth for their friends by splurging on trivial opulence. It was at one such party hosted by the Vanderbilts that Evalyn McLean purchased and wore the hope diamond, just to piss off the other guests. Harry's great grandmother, who was a Vanderbilt and host of the party, never forgave her for the upstage. To her grave she would refer to Mrs. McLean as an Irish trollop.
Harry was alone with his parents and grandmother, and the boredom was making him nuts. His brothers would spend a few days at the house, but since they had graduated college, they were not obligated to remain for the season. Harry was still a "youth" and had to follow the strict class rules. It made for a lonely summer. He knew Brian would be out of place, but Brian was smart, and what he lacked in pedigree he made up for in cleverness. Besides, if anything got out of hand he knew he could protect Brian. That's what he did best.
Brian took the train from Philly, and Harry picked him up at the Newport station in an open door, open top Jeep. He was relieved to have his best friend (and secret boyfriend) with him for a few days of fun. (And sex.) Driving down Bellevue Avenue, his blonde hair blowing in the wind, his smile was beaming, thrilled Brian had arrived. He wore a pale yellow polo shirt, blue seersucker shorts, white canvas tennis shoes sans laces and thick rimmed Ray Ban sunglasses. He looked ever the part of a Newport local.
"It's all about "old" and "new" money. Old money comes here. Or Bar Harbor. New money goes to Martha's Vineyard or those places on the coast. Depending on what money you have, that's where you go" Harry explained. Brian never quite understood why Harry had to be in Newport, like it was a law.
"And you are old money" Brian confirmed.
"My family is, yeah".
"Who's new money?"
"Ummm..." Harry was thinking. "Andrew Levin. His dad started Dycon? Came from nothing. He's loaded- probably richer than my family. But he just made it in the last like 10 years. New money".
"And he couldn't move to Newport?"
"He could, but no one would accept him. They'd kind of laugh, like he was trying too hard to fit in. So they go where new money goes. Shelter Island, for example".
"What if you have no money? Then what do you do?" Brian asked jokingly, staring at the rows of 20 foot high hedges and closed iron gates shielding the wealthy estates from the street. Outside of the gates small gaggles of people were taking photos and pointing, like the homes were part of an open air art museum.
Harry honked his horn and swerved to miss some pedestrians. "STAY ON THE FUCKING SIDEWALK", he yelled, downshifting into second as the jeep slipped past them. "No money? I guess you get a summer job".
"Oh, the horrors", Brian laughed. "So you always come here in the summer?"
"Yeah for a few weeks every year. My dad did as a kid, and his dad did, too. It's a Kraft family rule".
"Wentworth", Brian said pointing to a bronze plaque on the stone column of a driveway. "That's not Evan's family?"
"Yeah we'll see him tomorrow at a party. Look, don't be pissed but I bought you a tux".
"A tux? What for?"
"The party tomorrow night".
"What am I waiting tables?"
"I told you this, don't play dumb. Look you'll wear the tux, you'll talk Princeton and everyone will eat out of your hand. You're friendly, you're cute, you're smarter than everyone else. You'll be fine".
"Jesus. I've never worn a tux".
"I'll help you. You'll do fine".
"Is it gonna fit? How did you know what size to get?"
Harry looked over at him and hit the brakes. The jeep stopped in the middle of the road causing three or four cars behind it to stop. Newport officially had a traffic jam. "You done?" Harry asked. Brian blushed a little and nodded. The sedan behind them honked, and Harry stuck his hand up past the roll bar and gave him the finger. "You'll do fine", he said reassuringly. He took out the clutch and the jeep started to move. "Besides, I think I know your size by now".
Harry made a left into a driveway where some tourists were snapping pictures through the rails of an intricate 16 foot high gate bearing a large gilded letter "K" for Kraft. Harry honked, a little too long of a honk, Brian thought, and the nosey tourists moved aside as the gate opened tearing the "K" in half. Engraved into the stone wall was a name: Everfield Cottage.
It was not a cottage.
The jeep pulled into a circular driveway, at the center of which stood a three tiered fountain of cupids shooting arrows at a bouquet of flowers. Water poured from the stone flowers: roses and tulips and violets and daisies weeping as if the arrows wounded them, causing them to pour out their lifeblood into a collective pool. Brian whistled when he saw the three story Mediterranean style house with heavy stone rustication and red tile roof. The central entrance was framed by two story columns and in its portico hung an oversized black iron light pendant.
"What a dump", he joked grabbing his suitcase.
"Just leave it", Harry said pointing to the suitcase. "You'll have to meet my parents first. Get ready" he said taking a deep breath.
"Honest, they can't be as bad as you say". Harry raised his eyebrows as if to say `just you wait'.
Entering the central stone hallway, Brian stopped short. "Holy shit", he said, a little too loudly, hearing a slight echo. He took baby steps, afraid to move, like he was walking down the center aisle in church at the wrong time and every old woman made a "tsk tsk tsk" in judgment. His eyes wandered around the palatial space: a two story foyer, perfectly symmetrical with twenty columns demarking a square open space illuminated overhead by an enormous leaded glass Tiffany skylight of flowers and trees. Lush kentia palms stood guard in the corners, and each quadrant of the grand room had an exactly replicated seating area of couches and chairs. At the far end a marble butterfly staircase, the kind on which school children assembled for a yearbook photo, floated to the second floor amidst potted plants, flowers and lush red carpet runners. It looked like the St. Regis hotel in Philly, and only reason Brian knew that was because he'd sneak in to use the bathroom.
Harry waited for him to assimilate to the splendor. Though he was accustomed, and knew nothing but this level of opulence, he understood Brian needed to adjust. They had been dating for about 6 months, and over hundreds of hours of pillow talk, he knew Brian was poor. He loved him for it, too. He appreciated things more genuinely and knew how to love more honestly. Harry needed that.
Harry grabbed Brian and kissed him quickly in the hall. "I'm so glad you are here. I really am. If I had to be here without you I would not be able to", he whispered illogically. Brian pulled away slightly.
"Don't get yourself in trouble", he warned. The concern wasn't just for Harry, but also for himself. They weren't out, not yet. Princeton was liberal, yes, but only in theory. It was still extremely conservative in culture, and progress had not yet come to campus. Not in that way. Brian knew that having nothing in this life he had more to lose if people discovered he was Harry's boyfriend. Harry, on the other hand, had everything, and therefore had less to lose if he got caught. A complete and utter paradox- yes. So unfair, but so, so true.
Isn't that just life in a nutshell?
"Granny, mom and dad, this is my good friend Brian Atwater", Harry said presenting Brian like a Price is Right model. Brian thought maybe he should bow. He refrained.
"Very nice to meet you ma'am. Mrs. Kraft. Mr. Kraft", he said with a charming smile and slight hand wave, and much to Harry's delight, in proper order. "Thank you very much for inviting me to spend a few days with you. You have a lovely home". Whew! He got it out all right. Brian was pleased; he had practiced it on the train.
The Krafts were pleasant enough, and they apologized for not "receiving him" but had to "retire" to the "day room" to escape the heat, curious phrases Brian understood...sort of. He noticed that for a group of people who were hot, they certainly dressed like they were cold. Mr. Kraft wore a white linen suit with tie, and still had his jacket on. Mrs. Kraft also wore long pants and pink and white striped shirt with a bright yellow sweater over her shoulders tied at the neck. The grandmother wore a skirt, long to the floor, colorful madras pattern, with a white blouse, and several long gold necklaces. They sat technically "together" on large wicker furniture, but so far apart in the vast seating area, with tables and chairs and pillows and statues and potted plants between them, they might as well have been strangers waiting in a bus depot. `Do they have personal space issues?' Brian wondered, think of Harry who couldn't sleep unless he was touching Brian somehow: holding his hand or arm, laying on his chest, one leg over his, like without the physical connection he'd never rest. Staring at the "family" members sitting so far apart, it made sense why Harry longed to be touched.
Cool drinks were served by two men in grey suits. All the Krafts asked for iced tea, and Brian, not knowing if there was a menu, followed their example. "Iced tea would be great, please". Harry laughed to himself thinking it so endearing to say "please" to the staff. If Granny had heard she would surely have raised an eyebrow. "Their paychecks are their please-s and thank you-s", she used to say.
The conversation remained on topics ranging from the painfully superficial to the patently obvious to the particularly dull.
"How was the train ride from Philadelphia?" Mrs. Kraft asked.
"Very nice, ma'am. I was able to read my book".
"What time did you leave?" she followed up.
"About 11:00 this morning".
"And how long of a ride was it?" Mr. Kraft asked. He must not be good at math. Or wear a watch.
"About three hours. Not bad".
"No, not bad", Mr. Kraft replied. They all nodded their heads in the unanimous consent that 3 hours of train travel, indeed, was not bad. It was now settled as Kraft family fact.
"And did you transfer in Grand Central Station?" Mr. Kraft asked.
"Yes, sir, I had to change trains in Grand Central".
"Yes, you do" Mrs. Kraft confirmed. "But just the one transfer".
"Yes, ma'am, just the one".
"Yes, I thought so".
"Oh, yes", Mr. Kraft nodded. As if he had ever been on a train.
`Riveting conversation' Brian thought.
"Do you know the Carson family in Philadelphia? My sister Margaret married Harold Carson and they have been in Philadelphia since the War. Her grandson Roger is probably your age, but goes to Yale" Granny asked.
"Yale!" Mr. Kraft exclaimed, as if the word offended him.
"Harry, you know your second cousin Roger" Granny continued.
"Yes, Granny, but I don't think Brian knows him", Harry answered.
"No, I don't know Roger Carson", Brian affirmed. Granny looked surprised. How could he be from Philadelphia and not know the Carsons?
"Well you must introduce him".
"Oh, you must", Mrs. Kraft nodded in agreement.
Brian watched her drop a sugar cube from a tiny pair of tongs into her glass of iced tea, stirring it with the longest spoon he'd ever seen. He thought it ingenious- a spoon so long you wouldn't dunk your fingers. He wished he had that as a kid. When he'd drink Ovaltine the spoon wasn't long enough to scrape the bottom of the glass where the stubborn mounds of powder fought aggressively against integration. Longer spoons seemed like a smart invention. She stirred slowly without making the slightest sound, spoon never touching glass, an action which amused Brian. He wondered if the sugar cube would ever dissolve.
It was only when old Granny Kraft innocently asked Brian questions outside his wheelhouse of trains, both travel times and transfer points, did Brian stumble. He was ignorant of the syntax of the elite's English.
"Now, where do you summer?" Granny asked.
"I'm sorry?" Brian replied. Granny thought he hadn't heard, so she repeated herself. He heard. He just didn't understand the question.
"Yes, where does your family summer", Granny replied sweetly. She had no idea her question was as foreign as speaking to Brian in Swahili.
"They summer in Nantucket, Granny", Harry replied.
"Oh", Granny said, leaning back in her chair. Then she forced a smile. "Nantucket is lovely, dear. Just lovely". That ended the "summer" conversation. `New money', she thought. `Well, he is a nice boy regardless'.
"Mom, dad, I'm going to take Brian for a swim.
"Not too much sun", she replied still stirring her tea like it contained nitroglycerin. Harry did have fair skin and hair, and could burn easy, but Brian was pretty sure Harry was well aware of that by now. Most 20 year olds are.
"Very nice meeting you all and thanks again for letting me stay", Brian said politely.
"Yes, nice meeting you, Brian. So glad your train trip was pleasant".
Brian just smiled, and turning to leave thought, `this guy- still with the trains'. Once in the safety of the hallway again, he whispered to Harry, "Nantucket?"
"I had to save you. You were drowning".
"What did she mean summer?"
"That's just the expression".
"Do you winter?"
"No, you only summer".
Brian put on a fake aristocratic accent. "And where might you be springing this year lad?"
Harry smiled. "You only summer".
"So I summer in Nantucket. Is that good?"
"Not according to Granny. She doesn't think well of you now, but she'll leave you alone".
Brian learned a lot that first day he "summered" in Newport. For example, one changes for the pool in a pool house. Who knew? He found his bathing suit laid out for him along with a towel (and not even the one he brought. No, this one had no holes). `Cool', he thought.
Harry and Brian spent the remainder of the afternoon swimming in the large, irregular shaped pool tucked into a planted corner of the vast gardens, a good 500 feet from the house. Further along the lawn fell off into a rocky cliff, and then dropped dramatically into the sea. Brian could hear the waves breaking below. Harry's house, all the houses, were perched up on cliffs.
"So you don't go into the ocean I guess" Brian noted.
"The bay", Harry corrected. "You can. I'll show you later", he said between mouthfuls of pool water he spit out like a fountain, letting it fall over his own face. The water felt great after the train ride and in the shockingly acute Rhode Island sun, playing in the cool waters was welcomed respite.
"Let's have a catch", Harry suggested. He ran to the tennis court and returned a few moments later with some balls. Harry wanted to play. He was like a big golden Labrador, frisky, playful, just wanting to be loved and petted. His game: run and jump into the pool, catch a ball in mid-air, throw it back before hitting the water. It's a game every guy who has ever been in a pool has played, one of the rule-less and innocent games of mindless summer relaxation. Brian, too, had played it. Granted his pool had about 100 additional strangers, and you had to dodge the old guys swimming, but if the lifeguards at the Y didn't yell at you to stop, you could play. That day he realized the game was much better in private with Harry.
Most things were.
"Ahh!!!" Harry would scream, as he tried to return the ball, falling into the water. Brian threw it purposely too far, and Harry reached out to catch it before realizing it was a trick. "Oh! Shit! NO!" he screamed before bellyflopping into the water. Brian laughed, and Harry swam underwater towards him, popping up and tackling him in a typical guy's water wrestle. They laughed like children, splashing and dunking each other.
They played that game for almost an hour, and Brian never tired of feeding Harry the ball until he could perfect his technique. If only all of life's challenges were this enjoyable, and every obstacle surmountable with loved ones by your side. If they were, every man would eventually succeed.
Around 5pm Harry lay sprawled out resting on the edge of the pool trying to tan, really turning pale pink. Laying on his back, arm over his eyes shielding the sun, one knee bent up, Brian admired the muscle tone in his calves and thighs, the trail of soft blonde hairs that led to his navel, a path Brian knew very intimately. Brian could see the outline of his cock in his bathing suit, one of those tiny bathing suits of the 70's when showing thighs was the norm. It made Brian slightly eager and he wondered when they would have the chance to be together. Mr. Kraft came strolling across the grass in a red pants and navy blue blazer with a wide brimmed white hat and sunglasses. He had changed since Brian arrived.
"Harry, get out of the sun before you burn to a crisp", he shouted. Harry mumbled something under his breath, annoyed to be treated like a child. He rolled his body over the edge and fell stone-like into the pool. "You boys go change for early dinner. We've got canasta at the Hollisters and the Faircloths are bringing Baron Sutton".
Brian had no idea what many of those words could mean. They spoke a different dialect in Newport, like South Africans.
"Race!" Harry screamed running away in his wet bathing suit. Brian was generally faster than Harry, so Harry would cheat. They ran across the sprawling law around the side of the house and through a basement door, dripping wet, barefoot and bare-chested. Cutting through the kitchen a woman yelled.
"Don't come in my kitchen like that Mr. Harry!"
"Sorry Rosie!" Harry yelled back without stopping. Brian followed him down a hall and up a small back staircase. Harry would have called it a "servant's staircase", but Brian didn't know staircases were segregated. Harry darted up, Brian at his heels.
"I kind of want to go exploring in your castle", he said.
"I want to go exploring in your castle, too, but I don't just blurt it out there. And by castle I mean..."
"Yeah I know what you mean", Brian replied. "No serious, this place is crazy and I want to look around".
"We can tonight when they leave".
"What about your grandmother?"
"She's asleep by 9 and is deaf as a doorpost", Harry replied.
The staircase exited to a back hall, and he followed Harry into an imposing second floor esplanade, elegantly apportioned with heavy damask draperies and furniture. The white marble floors were crisscrossed by red and gold runners. Despite the oppressive heat, the marble was cold under his naked feet. It felt nice. Brian followed Harry two steps behind staring at the barrel vaulted ceiling, the gold leaf inlaid coffers and the oversized brass lamps, amazed that people had homes like that. Summer homes. They circled the central foyer passing the grand stairs when they ran into the grandmother. She was shaking her head disapprovingly.
"Harry, dear, you mustn't come through here in such a state of undress". Brian swallowed a laugh, slightly embarrassed to be standing there almost naked. Something about the contrast of soaring space filled with precious art and furniture and the elegantly dressed old lady next to his own JCPenny blue trunks and naked chest made it funny.
"Sorry, Granny", Harry said picking up the pace.
Brian smiled when he passed her and nodded his head slightly. "We do this all the time in Nantucket". Harry snorted a laugh.
At the end of the east hall was his bedroom, an enormous room overlooking the front of the house. It had two beds, one king sized, centrally located, and a single against the far wall. To the side of the single bed Brian spotted his suitcase, opened, the contents laid out on a bureau. He looked at his neatly folded underwear and tee shirts, ashamed he had just shoved everything in the bag earlier that morning, embarrassed that someone had taken the time to organize. He made no comment, concerned that another observation of the sort might begin to irk Harry. It was clear- Brian was not from this world. No need to underscore the point yet again.
"Now, a fun little fact about high society", Harry said closing and locking his bedroom door. "When you are still a youth", he said making air quotes, "as I am a youth, and you have a guest stay, the tradition is the guest domiciles with said youth in his chambers. So..." he continued, wrapping his arms around Brian's waist "for the next 5 nights, you shack up in here with me". He kissed Brian deeply, running his hands through Brian's black hair. Harry's skin let off tremendous heat Brian noticed, feeling the absorbed sun on his muscular back and shoulders. His solid embrace always made him feel protected and safe, and though it had been weeks since they last kissed, their tongues and breath were ever familiar in each other's mouth.
"So who gets the big bed?" Brian asked.
"Hmmm", Harry said. "Let's see". He pushed Brian over to the bed and turning him around he pulled down his bathing suit. Brian's few hours of sun gave him a mild tan and the browner skin contrasted more sharply against his silky white ass. Brian bent him over across the bed, knelt down behind him, spread Brian's cheeks with his palms, and dove into his ass tongue first. Brian moaned.
"Ah man I missed you", Brian whispered. Harry didn't respond. His pale hands were turning red at the knuckles as he pried Brian's ass further apart giving his tongue greater access. He reached underneath and pulled Brian's cock and balls down so in one long tongue motion he could like from his hole to the underside of the tip of his cock. It made Brian almost whimper. He could feel his ass getting warmer, wetter, and he knew Harry wanted it.
Harry stood him up and spun him around, and facing each other, they kissed passionately, Brian pulling down Harry's trunks, struggling because his erection had made the knot of the drawstring tighter. Harry was insanely hard, and Brian knew he wouldn't last long. He never really did...
"I want to suck on it", Brian moaned.
"No time", Harry said curtly. He pushed Brian back on the bed, and remembering an important product, ran to the bathroom, cock flapping. He returned with Vaseline, and within a few moments was fully inside Brian's loving ass. They made constant, unbroken eye contact and kissed in soft, long, deep kisses full of romance and caring. Harry's breathing became heavy, and his moaning more acute.
"I love you", he whispered to Brian, nibbling on his ear. He had said it before, but Brian always loved to hear it.
"You know I love you", Brian replied, running his hand down Brian's chest, feeling the light smattering of hairs. He reached up and cupped the back of Harry's head, pulling him closer, feeling his full weight on himself. They kissed some more, and Brian knew how to put him over the top. He reached around Harry's ass, let his finger find the hole, and slowly pushed in. The further in he pushed, the quicker Harry would finish. Brian wanted his load. He shoved his finger in all the way. Harry turned a rich shade of pink causing his many freckles to pop like a litebrite board. Brian kissed him deeply. He loved to kiss Harry when he reached orgasm; it was like a breath of new life with each kiss. His kissing became full of fire, and Brian could feel the throbbing of his cock and the warm liquid fill inside him. Harry was still cumming when he reached down to massage Brian's erection. He always wanted Brian to cum as close to his own orgasm as possible. Today there would be no problem. With his cock in Harry's loving hand, still feeling Harry's penis inside him, as deep as his post orgasm cock could go, Brian released completely. Harry gently pumped him, coaxing the last few drops out, and when he felt the tap was sufficiently dry, he leaned down and kissed Brian gently. Their love making was soft, tender, sensitive. It was sweet and simple and basic. And, Brian thought, perfect.
"What will you do tonight, Harry?" Mrs. Kraft asked as they were finishing dinner about an hour later. The five sat at the far end of a gigantic table that could seat 30 people. The "youths" did not have to dress for dinner, much to Granny's dismay, but long pants and collared shirts were required.
"We'll just hang out here maybe watch the Red Sox game on TV. Nothing much", Harry said.
"Lovely", she replied, looking somewhere in the distance. It was as rehearsed a reply as Brian had ever heard. For some reason Brian thought that if Harry answered "We'll just hang out here, maybe murder the Swedish Prime Minister and join a Chinese gang", Mrs. Kraft would have replied "lovely". Her questions are obligatory but his answers irrelevant and unimportant.
Still, Brian was glad he had survived dinner, especially as Mr. Kraft loved to talk about his days at Princeton, and with a year under his belt, Brian felt comfortable enough to engage in any Princeton conversation. Princeton football, Princeton Glee Club, Princeton rivalries, this was really a Princeton-centric family. He could not imagine the scandal if a Kraft man wanted to go to Ohio State. Or worse, Harvard.
The meal itself was fairly straight forward, despite being served on fine china and crystal goblets so thin Brian thought he could bite them like a potato chip. They started with a soup, and Brian thought that strange. Who eats soup in the summer? He ate it neatly, not slurping or making noise, crediting an episode of My Three Sons he remembered as a kid. A fish, rice, a vegetable, a salad, peaches with ice cream. White wine was served, too, and being 18 Harry and Brian were offered it. Harry had two glasses, Brian two sips.
"I'm sure they are dining like this in Nantucket, aren't they", Granny commented. Brian nodded and smiled, hoping that would suffice as an answer and she would ask for no additional commentary or elaboration. "When I was a girl we dined in gowns, and 4 or 5 servants would attend. In this very dining room. Back when I married Harry's grandfather".
"Things have changed, Granny" Harry said sweetly.
"Oh, my how they have changed. I notice it every season" she said nostalgically. "Must be nice in Nantucket where they don't have to remember such better days".
Brian smiled again, unsure if his imaginary Nantucket summering family had just been insulted.
"We want to get up early and sail, so if it's OK we can just grab breakfast in the kitchen" Harry said.
"Absolutely not", Granny interjected before either parent could respond. "Arthur, your Grandma-ma would turn in her grave" she said preemptively scolding her son for the permission she feared he may grant.
"Granny is a Vanderbilt and very fond of tradition", Mrs. Kraft said sweetly. "They were much stricter", she whispered to Brian, as if the Kraft family were the epitome of social progress.
Granny was on a roll. "Harry, dear, what room are we in?"
"The dining room, Granny".
"And what do we do in the dining room?"
"Dine", Harry said stoically, as if he had repeated this lesson hundreds of times in his life.
"And in the breakfast room?"
"Do you plan on cooking?"
"Then there is no reason to be in the kitchen. Arthur?" she said.
"You boys just have breakfast in the breakfast room before you sail". Finally, it was resolved, and there would be peace on the earth. Brian couldn't believe the amount of raucous corn flakes had caused. No wonder Harry was such a mess in school. No one could live this rigid without being a little bonkers. If Granny was so fastidious about breakfast rules, Brian wondered what she might think if she knew he had probably, oh, a tablespoon of her Harry's DNA inside his ass. And was there a special room for that...
When Harry's parents had departed and Granny "retired", they began the great tour of the old mansion: formal libraries full of books no one ever read; a game room decorated masculine in black and green marble inlaid with bronze, still faintly smelling of whisky and cigars; a white and pale green music room with grand piano and harp, ethereal and feminine with large billowing curtains and wisps of lavender. Harry showed Brain secret doors and passages servants would use to move from room to room, and he recounted childhood stories of massive hide-and-go-seek games played with brothers and cousins.
Around 11pm he led Brian into the cellars for "the best part of the house". In a dark and chilly room, deep underground, he opened a steel door and turned on a light. "Look" he said. Brian looked down a long tunnel, about 7 feet high and 4 feet wide, with light bulbs running off into the distance. He was unable to see the end. "This is the coal room", Harry said walking down the tunnel leading Brian. "Back when the place ran on coal this is where it was stored, but you'd never get coal delivered up the driveway because it was dirty and dusty, so they would bring it in by sea. So they dug this tunnel right under the back lawn and it goes from the house all the way out. You'll see" he said. "Don't tell my parents I took you here. They'd go nuts. We are forbidden to come here, but it's still my favorite spot. When we were kids my brothers and I would dare each to walk this in the dark. It was like a test of bravery", Harry reminisced.
After a lengthy walk the tunnel ended at a large, steel, jail cell type door cut directly into the cliffs with the sea 10 or 15 feet below. Behind the last light fixture, Harry found a strong metal key. "Still here" he said holding it up. He opened the door, and they stood on a massive stone perch overlooking the water. "There used to be a big dock here but it got knocked down once they stopped using coal" Harry explained. "Come on, this is the best part". He climbed down a few large rocks with Brian following carefully, much less surefooted than the experienced resident.
"This is so cool", Brian said. "It's like the Bat cave!" He watched the small waves lap against the cliff and pool in naturally forming recess. The moonlight was exceptionally bright, almost like the sun, and in front of them the open bay was black and calm with small lights here and there from passing ships.
Harry started undressing, throwing his shirt and sneakers in a pile. He pulled down his pants and boxers too, standing completely naked in the moonlight. His pale white skin shined off the rocks like a ghost, and Brian watched him nimbly, confidently step down a few more rocks, perch slightly over the edge and jump into the sea. When he surfaced his radiant smile and bright blue eyes put nature to shame. Skinny dipping off the coal gate was a no-no that made his smile supernatural.
"Come on, lose the clothes, let's go!" he yelled. Brian was slightly timid.
"No one can see?"
"You think I would if they could?"
"Yeah I do!"
"Come on jump in", Harry yelled. Brian undressed and following Harry's steps jumped into the water next to him, shocked at how good the chilly waters felt against his naked flesh. His scrotum immediately shrunk against his body, and the waters tickled his nipples making them perky. They treaded water in the salty sea and their bodies danced in the tide, slowly rocking back and forth getting gradually closer to the rocks. The cliffs looked menacing before them, a natural barrier protecting the estate from intruder or storm.
"Feels good, doesn't it?" Harry said exuberantly.
"Yeah this is awesome".
Climbing back up to the gate was a feat more difficult than Brian had imagined, but with Harry's support and patience he scaled the slippery rocks unscathed. They sat down together, facing the water, their backs to the cliffs and rigid cottage above, feeling the spray of water from the splashing waves below, the quiet of the night contrasting the incredible noise of the sea. After some kissing, Harry lay down, pulling Brian close to him, their naked bodies on full display.
The night sky was bright with stars, and the warmth of Harry's body with the sound of waves crashing provided a beautiful backdrop to their embrace. Brian curled up next to his lover laying his head on his chest, but it felt foreign against his face. He nuzzled closer, looking to find the warmth and tenderness, but the sense on his skin was hard, cold and severe, and it caused Brian to stir. He opened his eyes carefully, knowing instinctively the sun would hurt. Peeling his face off the window, he turned and saw Will in the driver's seat. The motor was turned off, and Will was reading an article on his phone. When he saw Brian stir, he smiled and spoke softly.
"Hey, we are here. You fell asleep".
Brian sat up, rubbing his eyes with his hands. "I'm so sorry".
"Don't worry about it", Will responded sweetly. "GPS got me here no problem".
Brian sounded groggy. "How long was I out?"
"Like an hour".
"You should've woken me", he said stretching his arms between his legs. He took off his seatbelt and they exited the car. His 55 year old body felt stiff. He could still smell Harry, still hear his voice. They were so close and suddenly, instantly, he was gone.
Will grabbed their overnight bags from the back of Brian's SUV and followed him to the house. He had always heard about "the Hamptons" and was excited to see it for the first time. The last few miles of the drive while Brian slept he admired the twenty foot high hedges and large, closed gates that protected the privacy of the elite community. He wondered about the people who lived there, the parties they threw, the lives they lead. He wondered if he was on the trajectory to become one of them someday, one of the rich.
"So this is where you summer?"
Hearing those words made Brian stir, like a wave of nausea came over him. "You know that expression?" he asked.
"I've picked up some of the lingo".
Brian's beach house was a classic Hampton's style two-story cedar shingle with large, open decks and shuttered windows. It sat on about two ocean front acres of grass with a discreet infinity pool and tennis court tucked into the corner along the road.
They entered a great room, easily 50x40, with a wall of windows overlooking the ocean. It had a high peaked ceiling, an A-frame, with large wooden beams running along the ceiling rafters and across the room, all painted a brilliant and severe white. Everything was stark white: the walls, the furniture, the curtains and the carpets. The ebony stained hardwood floors offered a striking contrast. Its simplicity and minimalism was noticeably different than Brian's 5th Avenue penthouse. It was a stunning space, sleek and clean lined, and Will blurted out "holy shit" a little too loudly. He made no additional comment, concerned that another observation of the sort might begin to irk Brian. It was clear- Will was not from this world. No need to underscore the point yet again.
"Well, it's a little cold, but the pool is heated, so what do you think of a swim?" Brian asked.
"Awesome", Will said.
They played in the pool for about 20 minutes, and Brian liked looking at Will's tight body and electric tattoos. Next to the ultra-stark white setting, his arm was the only pop of color and stood out brilliantly. Will watched Brian swim laps and noticed how elegantly he glided through the water, effortless, natural.
"Hey is there a shed near the tennis court?" Will asked.
"Yes, there is". Will got out of the pool and ran towards the tennis court, retuning in a few moments with some balls. "Let's have a catch", he said playfully. Will wanted to see if he could jump into the pool and, in midair, catch the ball and throw it back to Brian before landing in the water. Brian agreed to play. Once he purposefully threw the ball long, causing Will to lay out for it, and falling for the trick he ended up bellyflopping into the pool. Brian laughed heartily.
Brian never grew tired of feeding Will the ball letting him perfect his technique.
With all the water splashing his face he was sure Will could not see his tears.
Years ago Brian had learned the Kraft Family was putting up for sale their Newport cottage, a 40 room national historic landmark along the famed Cliff Walk with servants' wings and secret passages, an architectural and artistic masterpiece of the gilded age. However, the former summer retreat of the wealthiest families in the world: Vanderbilts and Carnegies, Astors and Dukes, had become a dinosaur, and the rich had all moved on. New money now dwarfed old money, and old families had broken their stodgy traditions with the attempt to modernize and compete in the world of hedge fund and internet moguls being born by the hour. Newport was a mausoleum town, a location for three day weekends and destination weddings. Everfield Cottage, ancestral summer home of the Kraft family, full of asbestos, lead paint and leaky pipes sold to the Hilton Corporation for just $10 million.
That same year Brian bought the land, just the land, in the desirable Hampton Bays for $25 million.
Times really had changed.
Brian participated in an invitation-only open house the weekend Everfield Cottage went on the market. The home had been stripped of its contents, and he noted how empty and sad the shell of a building was. It had been decades since he stepped foot on that grand staircase, yet he could still see Harry's sun burnt face and blonde hair as he ran half naked to the pool.
Brian was finally able to slip away from the realtors, and he descended a servant's staircase to the sub-basement into the coal room, walking down a 600 foot tunnel, and behind the last light fixture, still in its place, as tradition and rules of the Krafts demand, he discovered a strong, steel key. He unlocked the jail cell like door and stood on the stone perch staring at the rocks below and the rough sea splashing against the cliffs as it had done for millennia. The bright sun made it hard to see well, especially after the darkness of the tunnel, so he's not exactly sure where about the key landed. He just knew he threw it far.
That door, Brian determined, would now be open forever.