If By Chance
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I'll be the first to admit that I've never been much of an advocate. I mean, yeah, I've seen videos of Gay Pride parades and wondered to myself what it would be like to actually march in one, but to tell the truth, I've held a deep prejudice against them for most of my life. They're always portrayed on television and the news as out of control drag parties, so I took offense because I always felt like they served to drag our cause down.
I guess the thing is, I've never actually stopped and thought about what exactly our cause is. Is it acceptance? Is it equality? Is it liberty? Is it security? I honestly never knew, because the messages were always skewed by the coverage they've gotten from the media over the course of my life.
Now, I'm not making any excuses for myself. I'm an educated, intelligent guy with enough capacity to come to my own conclusions. In my opinion, our struggle has always been epitomized by the unfair laws in this nation that forbid gay marriage. As if I had tunnel vision, that was all I could equate the pain of injustice I've always felt in relation to my sexuality.
Besides that, I've honestly never faced discrimination for being gay. And in reality, was I really being victimized by not being allowed to marry in the past? I mean, who was I trying to marry? I wasn't committed to anyone exclusively, so that particular law wasn't truly affecting my life in any adverse way.
Of course, there are others who have their own plight in our community. Some of them want to adopt children, but the laws in their state won't allow for it. Others have been denied employment or service at a store or restaurant because they were out and proud. There are even those whose struggle began at home, when their bigoted families rejected them. Some of them suffered horrific beatings at the hands of those they love more than anyone, but the pain of those beatings will never be matched by the pain of the emotional betrayal they suffered through.
Yet, through all of that, I had a cozy office in a large office downtown and a really nice house that my family helped me attain. My mom and dad never rejected me, and coming out was an easier than expected ordeal, if you want to call it that. I had no idea how it could be that so many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people could have been suffering. Well, I guess I had an idea, but I could have never put their suffering into words and do it justice.
That's probably why I scoffed at the idea of attending a pride parade when Gerald practically begged me to go with him. I just knew I'd hate it, but I also knew how important it was to him to go, and he really wanted me to go with him. I put up a little resistance, but finally gave in when he gave me a hopeful look that I couldn't resist.
Which is how I wound up walking hand-in-hand with him behind a float down a crowded street in the middle of town. All around us, people were chatting away happily, listening to music, dancing and basically having a good time. There was no chant, no revolt about one big issue, and no angry mob of Christians protesting our presence.
There were several booths and tables set up along the way, most of them manned by people from various organizations representing their own causes. I must have picked up about fifteen colored wristbands, each one representing something different. One was for AIDS awareness, another for tolerance. I have to say that I was a little shocked to see some of the organizations that had turned out, like the American Cancer Society and the SPCA. I wasn't sure what any of these groups had to do with gay pride, so I decided to saunter over to a booth for the Heart Association and ask.
"Gay men and women have heart attacks too, don't they?" the gentleman at the booth said knowingly as he handed me a pamphlet, and I felt a little silly because I knew he was right. Why wouldn't they be there?
Somehow, I knew I was making a mistake, but out of respect to the years I spent working for Peter and the times I was invited into his home, I reluctantly agreed to see him. When I got there, he was dressed in a long trench coat and a brimmed hat that hung low over his brow, a sure sign that he didn't want us to be noticed. It was almost surreal when I saw him sitting there with a cup of coffee and a cigarette, reading the paper. As I approached him, he was taking a long drag from his cigarette, then he exhaled through his nose and lifted his mug, which had steam rolling off the top.
"Coffee and cigarettes this late?," was all I could think to say as I took the stool next to him. "You don't smoke."
"The great stress reliever," he said, taking one last drag before he put the cigarette out in a nearby ashtray. "It's actually not so bad. You should give it a try."
I could read the worry on his face when he folded his paper up and cocked his head my way, but I tried not to let on. He took a long breath and exhaled loudly, then he nervously tapped his fingertips on the counter top before he spoke again.
"Have you talked to Robin?" he asked, and I shook my head. "She was supposed to sit down with you this morning."
"She hasn't said a word to me in days," I replied, and a nervous smile spread over his face.
"Dennis, let me ask you something," he said introspectively. "How long do you think I've been with the company?"
"A little over thirty years," I told him, and he nodded in the affirmative.
"That's right," he said. "I was working in your office when you were in grade school."
"What's your point?" I asked him matter of factly, not interested in a dressing down on my own time by someone who was reeling in the aftermath of his own mess.
"My point is this," he said, turning his stool on its pivot to face me. "Do you think that after thirty one years with this company, the company that I love and helped build, that I would do anything to jeopardize my job or the standing of this company with our investors?"
"That's what I don't understand, Pete," I said, looking him in the eye because at the moment, he held no power over me. "Why didn't you just do the right thing?"
"Dennis, I know you don't understand," he said with a sarcastic chuckle that I took as desperation because he had no answer for me. "Look, there are things you have no idea about for a reason."
"What things?" I asked skeptically, and he looked down, then back up at me. We met eyes again, and if I didn't know Peter as well as I do, I might not have seen the fear register on his face.
"Look, all you need to know is that I'll be back next Monday," he said, his eyes darting away from mine. "There are people above us that don't want this to go any further, for the good of our share price."
"And if it does?" I asked, daring him to threaten me.
"You don't want to know," he said in a clear voice. "If you choose to pursue this, there'll be nothing I can do for you. I took care of you this time, Dennis. At this point, you can expect a call from Alana thanking you for your concern and your report. I suggest that you be courteous and receptive, then let it drop."
"I don't know if I can do that," I said, straightening up on my stool. I think the idea that Alana was somehow connected to the whole thing was even more disturbing to me than knowing that Peter was involved.
"Dennis, I want you to listen to me," he said, employing the commanding tone he'd always employed in the past. "Your job's on the line, and I won't be able to save it this time. If this gets out, it'll be a public relations nightmare and you'll be more than fired. As the Controller, you'll be implicated, and if you don't go to prison, you can rest assured that you'll never get another job. Don't make this anymore of an issue that you already have."
With that, as if it were business as usual, Peter reached into his trench coat and produced his billfold. He tossed a ten on the counter and got up, almost as if I weren't there, then he walked out of the diner and into the night. I watched him walk through the parking lot to his car, then I watched his brake lights and blinker as he made a left out of the parking lot.
The rest of the week at work was even more awkward than it had been before I met with Peter for coffee. Robin was giving me uneasy glances when we were in each others' presence, and every time my phone rang, I felt a sinking feeling in my gut that it was Alana. I couldn't believe how much I was dreading her phone call. I kept telling myself that there had to be some kind of mistake, because this wasn't what I signed on for when I agreed to come to work for the company.
It just wasn't supposed to be this way. I went to college, got straight A's, wrote a thesis on Ethics and graduated a member of Phi-Beta-Kappa from The College of William and Mary. My reputation for excellence proceeded itself, and the very idea that the people I agreed to serve with honor and loyalty would compromise that reputation was disheartening to me.
Gerald started to notice my stress at home, and I felt awful for it. I found myself coming home after work and locking myself in my study so I could think in peace, and I didn't even think about how it was affecting him. One night I was sitting at my desk, reflecting on my career when I heard a timid knock at the door.
"Dennis, is everything okay?" he asked apprehensively when I opened the door for him. He must have been able to read the stress on my face, because as soon as he asked, he looked down, as if to acknowledge that he had asked a stupid question. All I could do was sigh and smile at him sympathetically before I stood up and kissed him on the lips.
"I'm sorry, honey," I said in my softest, most loving voice. "I've had a lot on my mind."
"I know," he said solemnly, then he gave me an unsure look. "Is it going to be okay?"
We both knew what "it" was, but we both understood that we weren't to discuss "it." That was hard, because I wanted Gerald to be part of everything in my life. Not so much the stressful parts, but I didn't want there to be secrets between us. In reality, it wasn't a secret, per se, but he wasn't hearing about it from the person he deserved to be hearing it from.
Instead, he was getting all of the office gossip and innuendo. I knew it had to be hard for him, especially since it was practically common knowledge at work that we were an item. People still found a way to gossip in that office, but they tried to be as discreet as possible about it. I knew, though, that Gerald was just a privy to it all as anyone else in the office. So, I knew I owed him an answer.
"I'm sure it will," I said quietly, wrapping my arms around his firm torso and resting my head on his shoulder. "No matter what, we'll be okay, though. I promise."
"Everyone's saying you're going to leave the company," he told me, and I chuckled. I figured that someone would start a rumor like that, and I just took it for granted that one of the girls in Robin's department was responsible for it.
"I'm not going anywhere," I assured him, but of course, I wasn't exactly confident in what I was saying. "If I win the lottery, all bets are off. But barring that, I'll still be there."
"I love you Dennis," he said, then he lifted his head from my shoulder. I lifted my head too, and when I did, he leaned forward and pressed his wet lips to mine.
"I love you too, Gerald," I told him when our lips separated. "Let's go do something."
"Something?" he asked seductively, wagging his eyebrows at me for emphasis. I cut my eyes at him with a grin, then moved forward with my lips for another kiss.
"We can do that something too," I said. "I mean, let's go somewhere or do something this weekend."
"We can always do the Pride Parade," he said quietly, lightly brushing over my eyebrows with the tip of his right forefinger. "It's this weekend."
"Hmm," I said with a nod. "I'm not sure about a parade, babe."
"Why not?" he asked curiously.
"I don't think I'd fit in," I answered, and he gawked.
"You're worried about fitting in at a gay parade?" he asked incredulously, and I had to stop and apply logic to the point he was making. Of course, it made perfect sense when I thought about it in his terms, and I had no way of arguing against it.
I suppose that besides the various booths for organizations that I would have never thought to equate with a Pride Parade, the last thing I expected was to hear the familiar strains of Jesse by Carly Simon blaring out of the speakers of the float behind us. I turned when I heard the song, and was immediately caught off guard when I saw a trio of Queens in drag, acting as if they were singing in the background for a man who had to be in his late fifties. He was Holding onto the microphone and dramatically mouthing the words as if he were putting on the performance of a lifetime. All around the float, people were clapping and singing along, and I was a little shocked that I actually remembered the song, word for word.
I looked over at Gerald, who was laughing by the time I realized that I had let myself go and was loudly singing along with the CD. I turned his way and touched the end of his nose affectionately, singing to him as if he were Jesse and I were Carly Simon. Once that song was over, another came on, then another and another.
It suddenly dawned on me that I was having one of the best times I could remember, and I owed it all to Gerald for talking me into coming. By the time things wound down, I was on an emotional high from the parade. We found my car and got in, but before I could stick the key in the ignition, Gerald was leaning over in his seat, fiddling with my zipper. I looked down at him in shock, but his reply was a mischievous grin before he went back to work on my zipper.
"I've never had it in my car before," I told him once we were on my way. I felt him pull off of me just long enough to say, "Me neither."
He then went back down on my throbbing manhood while I tried to concentrate on the road. At the very least, I can say, I didn't wreck. I won't lie and say that my vision wasn't blurred when I presented Gerald with my gentlemen's relish, but we made it home in one piece.
Unfortunately, when we pulled up to the house, a familiar Audi was sitting out front, a lone figure sitting on the driver's side. I cautiously pulled into the driveway and opened the garage door so I could pull in next to Gerald's Mustang.
"Let me handle this," I said stoically, my playful mood gone. Gerald didn't say another word, instead opting to go inside while I walked down the driveway to greet Alana Cary, who got out of her car and was walking toward me with a purpose.
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