The usual disclaimers apply. If for some legal reason you shouldn't read this...don't.
A special acknowledgement to Drew for encouraging me to tell a better story through his edits and suggestions. And a big thanks to Brad for his patient proofreading and editing. Finally, a shout-out to Trab for the final tweaks to get the story 'just right' and to Zeta reader, Rock.
I love to receive feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org. My other stories are listed in Nifty's Prolific Authors section, and on www.gayauthors.org.
Chapter 13, THE STEW NEEDS SEASONING
The howling late winter winds of March rattled the front windows of EatZi's as Jeremy and Zach found a table. With almost mirrored precision, they sat down, took a sip of the cappuccino and both managed to both dot their noses with a smudge of frothy, steamed milk.
"Man, we look like a couple of kids," Zach said with a laugh as he wiped the tip of his nose. He licked at the excess froth and finally managed to drink some of the hot beverage. "But it tastes good once you get there."
"And hot. Man, spring is supposed to happen in two weeks but it always arrives in Chicago six weeks after that." Jeremy followed Zach's lead and enjoyed a satisfying sip. The warmth in his throat matched the heat of the paper cup.
"At least we have some more light in the evening with the earlier daylight savings time." Because of the congressional edict, clocks had been moved forward the past weekend - almost a month earlier than previous years.
"Like it does me any good. If I'm not in school, I'm at Bally's or the other job," Jeremy replied. He decided to toss out this not-so-subtle topic into the conversation. 'It's time for me to let Zach know what's going on in my life,' he thought. 'In a few areas.'
"Buddy, I miss not seeing you around the gym that much. But you haven't told me about this other job of yours." Zach licked a little more froth and took another sip of the hot milk-laced espresso. "I'm not prying...you understand."
"I know. I've been a little mysterious about the new job cuz there was lots to learn and I was on kind of a probationary period." Jeremy took a deep breath, happy that this conversational door was now open, and continued, "I'm in the entertainment business...sort of. You've heard of the Studz Barecats?"
"Hell, yes. Classy male stripper show that performs in a place down around River North?"
"The very same. Your little bro is now an official member of the cast." Jeremy looked at Zach and shyly grinned. "I passed muster and became part of the show a couple of weekends ago."
"Wow, I'm impressed. I understand they're a choosy group and it's a first-rate show." Zach put out his hand for Jeremy to shake. "Damn, I'd love to see you perform but the club's women only...right?"
"Normally, yes. But we do have one 'men-only' show every month and I think that the next boys' night is the last Sunday of March...about two weeks away. I'd love for you and a friend come as my guest." Jeremy was relieved that he had brought Zach into the loop. This was the final step of his plan: only reveal what he was doing after being accepted. Had he washed out, his big brother wouldn't have felt the need to help pick up the pieces.
"I'll probably come by myself. I've been dating a little but have no one yet to take home to mother...or to you."
"That's not a problem. You'll have lots of fun with the crowd there."
"Terrific...I accept. This is something I've never seen and a freebie to your hot show isn't going to go to waste. Ah, here's a question I've always wondered about with dance groups like the Chippendales and yours. Are the guys mostly straight? Or are they a bunch of macho sissies like us?" Zach said with a wink and laugh.
"Sissies? You'd kick sand in anybody's face that dared to call you that."
"Just pulling your leg."
"Well, you could probably pull something else with a couple of the other guys. Everyone else is very gay friendly and I wouldn't be surprised if a few are bi. It's something that isn't really discussed though, but I've got my suspicions."
"Sounds like a great work environment - almost as good as the gym. With a group of hot studs like that, you might find a little lovin'," Zach said with a chuckle.
"More than a little loving. I officially got a boyfriend a couple of weeks ago. That's the other thing I wanted to talk about." Jeremy started rapidly bouncing his leg under the table as he decided it was time to reveal exactly who his lover is...and put it in the context of Zach's recent split with Gio. "The guy is a dancer and his name is Charlie Barnett. Well, like me, he also goes to school. Charlie's a sophomore at Northwestern. Guess I'll be a child bride." Jeremy smiled when he pictured himself in a bridal gown and veil in a caricature right out of The Simpsons.
"Yeah, right...like a couple of years is a big deal. It'll all come together when you start college this fall. Congratulations. I'm really happy for you and looking forward to meeting your man."
"Zach, I need to tell you something about Charlie. You might change your mind about wanting to meet him...and about wanting to be friends with me." Jeremy looked nervously at his 'big brother' and swallowed hard. "Indirectly, you already know Charlie."
"We're too good of friends for me to turn away from you. And I don't remember ever meeting a Charlie Barnett. So, what gives and who is he?"
"Charlie is the guy that Gio was fucking around with that day when...you know, you and Gio split up. Charlie didn't know that Gio was involved with anyone, I swear." Jeremy worriedly studied Zach's frowning face and decided to wait for a reaction before proceeding with more details.
"Hmmm. I hear what you're telling me but how do you know all this?"
"Earlier that day, I was over at Charlie's - he's been in the Studz Barecat for a while and had been assigned to be my buddy in the dance cast - and we were going over some details about the new job. We finished on time and he told me that someone was coming over soon...to study for school. When I left his apartment, I saw Gio going into the apartment building after I was already across the street. He didn't see me. Well, I went in to work at the gym and as you know, Gio arrived a little later. I guess I don't have to say anything more about that and what happened between you two."
"That's Gio's M.O. - just a quick roll in the hay to get off."
"After I found out what had happened between you two, I went back to Charlie's place and confronted him. I was really pissed that Charlie was 'the other guy' in this whole mess. Well, he swore that he was in Treasure Island on Christmas Eve day and met Gio in the produce section. Zach, I was - I am - sure that Charlie was telling the truth. He just saw Gio for what he is...a hot guy who sent Charlie's gaydar into overdrive. And he really felt bad that he unwittingly was the reason for you guys breaking up. Christ, I'm sorry for bringing this all up, but I didn't want you to find about this later on and have this screw up our friendship. Please forgive me." Jeremy nervously fidgeted in his seat and decided to hide his nervousness in another sip of the cooling cappuccino.
"Nothing to forgive. Your friend obviously didn't know Gio was in a relationship and I'm pretty sure that my former lover hadn't planned on bringing that up. I am curious about what you were planning on doing with this information. Were you planning on telling me?"
"Fair question. I had a plan...kind of. The first part I told you. When Charlie gave me his version of the incident, my next action was going to be to confront Gio. I figured that I'd give him a chance to come clean with you. And, if he didn't...yeah, I would have had no choice but to fill you in. But you had already figured things out...so I didn't have to go that far. I really felt bad about seeing you two ending your relationship."
"As they say in The Sopranos, 'fogidaboudit'. This is a life choice that Gio's going to have to deal with and I don't blame Charlie. Gio's one hot dude and I personally know how intoxicating it is when he turns on his charm." Zach slipped his hand across the table and squeezed Jeremy's hand.
"Thanks. I'd like you to meet Charlie but felt you needed to understand the history first. He's a cool guy and has become very important in my life."
"Knowing Gio's taste in men - and I'm pretty sure about yours - he must be a real hunk."
"That's funny. Our relationship is pretty new and I don't think of Charlie as a hunk...but you're right," Jeremy said with a broad grin. "And I've got an idea for you to consider. Why don't you come see the show and then we'll all go out for something to eat afterwards? The show starts at 7:00 p.m. and runs a little over two hours."
"I like that. Let me put it in my BlackBerry right now. He typed in text with his thumb and added, "Done. I look forward to meeting Charlie...Barnett."
"So what did you do, Jeremy - give up sex for lent?" Tommy Turner asked. "Jeez, we haven't been together for a heck of a long time."
"I guess it's time to fill you in. Yours truly has found a boyfriend and this is pretty serious...as in monogamous." It had been a week since Jeremy had told Zach about his relationship and decided that it was time to let his high school buddies - at least, some of them - know what was going on.
"Wow, I'm impressed. So now the guessing game starts," Tommy said as he squeezed Jeremy's forearm while they walked to the school cafeteria for lunch. "I know it's not Robert cuz of the thing that he and Sam have going."
"I'll save you the agony of figuring it out. Charlie - that's his name - doesn't go to school here. I met him at my new job and things just sort of clicked." Jeremy almost instantly regretted mentioning the new job. 'Might as well get this all out, once and for all,' he decided. "I'm still at Bally's on a limited basis. The new job is down by the Merchandise Mart."
"I had noticed that you're not at the gym that much anymore but didn't really think much about it with our goofy senior schedules and all. Where ya working?" Tommy asked as they entered the cafeteria.
"Hold up just for a sec." Jeremy moved over toward the wall and motioned for Tommy to follow. "I'm not too keen on everyone knowing about my other job right now. Except for Robert, you're the only person I'm telling...at least for a while." He paused. "I'm not doing anything illegal...it's just a little different. You're looking at the newest cast member of the Studz Barecats."
"Whoa...holy samolie. That's more than just a little different. Sloan, you amaze me. It's really cool: shaking your booty for all those women."
"Yeah, it is a little out there compared to most jobs. But the money - bucks I need for school - is pretty good and the guys are really neat. I'm not ashamed or anything...just something I haven't got used to telling people about yet. I'll probably fill in the other guys in a couple of weeks."
"Well, hold your horses, old buddy, cuz you're going to find some news I've got very interesting."
"News? Like...what?" Jeremy looked into Tommy's eyes to see if his friend was getting ready to pull his chain.
"Well, a couple of days ago I overheard some of the gals talking about celebrating Rachael's 18th birthday next month at a Barecats performance. Um, I think the weekend right after Easter."
"Oh, shit," Jeremy said with a laugh. "I guess the proverbial cat will be out of the bag after the middle of April. Although with some of the girls, me strutting around in a thong won't be much of a surprise."
"Or, for a few of the guys," Tommy replied. "I'll help you out when you're ready to spread the word. If everything's cool, let's get in line for some chow. Speaking of which, I see Robert and Sam at a table over by the window."
"I'm cool...just give me a while to figure out a way to break the news. Maybe we can round up the rest of the guys for a Sunday breakfast get together at the House of Pancakes the morning after Rachel's birthday party? I can let everyone know what's happening in my life and maybe provide a little gossip about the girls...unless it's too embarrassing. Some of these gals can really get aggressive," Jeremy said with a laugh as they walked over to get a tray. "And I'm not too sure that I want to take tips from my classmates. Maybe I'll let them cop a feel for free."
"Does that include the boys, too?" Tommy went right for the beef stew while Jeremy opted for a chef's salad bowl. Dessert was a Jell-O surprise and each guy grabbed a carton of milk.
"As a matter of fact it does, Mr. Turner. We'll have a 'men-only' night a few weeks after Rachael's birthday. It's on the last Sunday night of April and the only restriction is that everyone has to be 18 or over." Jeremy decided not to mention the March men's show. "An official feel for a few bucks is allowed...not."
"Now that sounds like fun...well, fun for our close, enlightened friends. This could be a great way to have a stag night out just before graduation and everyone scattering to their colleges."
"And you get a twofer - my man, Charlie Barnett, plays the fireman character." Jeremy gave his lunch card to the monitor to be swiped and followed Tommy to the table.
"Fireman, huh? I can just imagine the size of the hose we're dealing with." Tommy snickered.
"That is privileged information. Um, I might as well give you the rest of the details. Charlie graduated from here a couple of years ago. He was in my sister's class."
"Barnett, huh? I'll have to check out my yearbook from 2005," Tommy replied as they approached their friends.
"2005? What's with the ancient history?" Robert Stein nodded at the new arrivals.
"I was telling Tommy about my, um, you know, new boyfriend. Sam, I might as well let you in on the news about the new guy in my life." Jeremy had kept Robert abreast with all the details of the new relationship with Charlie. 'Well, the PG-rated details,' Jeremy thought with a smile. 'Robert could read between the lines.'
"Boyfriend? As in..."
"A serious partnership. We're figuring this out one step at a time. The 2005 reference was that Charlie - Charlie Barnett - graduated from our high school a couple of years ago. He's a sophomore at Northwestern...and no jokes about me being jailbait." Jeremy winked at Sam and opened his milk carton. "We met through mutual friends you guys don't know." He looked at Tommy with a subtle, conspiratorial glance.
"When do we get to meet him?" Sam took a bite from his sandwich and looked at Jeremy.
"As a matter of fact, Tommy and I were thinking about a little gathering sometime next month so everyone in our crowd - well, the guys - can get to know him." Jeremy thought about the expanded meaning of that simple phrase while he picked at his salad. He gently kicked Tommy from under the table to pick up the ball.
"Yeah...we were thinking about the last Sunday evening in April. It'll still be too early for final exams and the teachers will cut us a little slack if we're running a little late the next morning. In fact, I'll go ahead and tell everyone to save that date."
"That's rad. We need a final boys' night out before all the graduation stuff starts," Sam replied. "Works well cuz the entire month of May is goin' to be crazy."
"But good crazy. Well, except maybe for the senior prom. Rachael wants me to take her and I guess I'm doing it," Robert said. "Sam's taking Susan Prell and we're thinking about doing a double date."
"Ha...I wonder who's going to get laid in the back seat of your dad's car," Tommy said with his mouth full of food.
"That's a moot question...not going to happen." Robert raised his eyebrow and added, "Rachael and Susan know it's just friendship dates. If anything happens it'll be after we drop off the girls."
"But not in the back seat of a car," Sam added. "I'm checking out a few gay hotels in Boystown."
"I heard those places put a mini-tube of lube on the pillows at night rather than chocolates," Jeremy said.
"Right. And battery replacements for the toys at no extra charge." Robert said with a deadpan expression as he looked up at the ceiling. Everyone else had a good laugh.
"But do they know the reason behind the friendship thing and why you all are double dating?" Tommy swallowed his bite and washed it down with milk.
"Maybe. It's something that has been kinda acknowledged without going into the details. Everyone knows that Sam and I have become great friends...just not why."
"Boys, do you have an announcement to make?" Jeremy said with his forehead furrowed as he looked at Robert.
"Nothing as dramatic as you, Jeremy, but..."
"But, we're also working on something," Sam said with a positive finality. "That's just between us guys at this table."
"Perhaps by next month we'll have a couple of reasons to have that party?" Tommy scooped another forkful of the stew meat and bit into it.
"Yeah...could be." Robert smiled stoically and winked at Sam.
Jeremy felt a liberating sense of freedom by sharing his relationship with a few more of his close friends. He only hoped that the family dinner meeting would go as well. It was scheduled for next Monday...after the men only show.
'It is a little strange to see only men in the club,' Jeremy thought as he peered from behind the curtain to survey the assembled audience. 'But they said the performance is sold out.' He spotted Zach sitting by himself halfway along the runway. However, he did seem to be having a friendly conversation with a few other guys nearby. Jeremy found it interesting there was such a broad age-range in the crowd showing up - from guys his own age to geezer material. 'Geezers with a bankroll,' he remembered. Charlie had told him that some of the older men could be quite generous if the dancer played to their group.
"Hey, babe. Checking out the boys?" Charlie lightly patted Jeremy's butt as he came up to his lover. It was ten minutes before the opening chorus number and the entire cast was quietly milling about. Everyone took his job of entertaining very seriously and considered the 'men-only' night to be a special evening. A gay audience were much more appreciative of the dancing and respectful of the dancer's equipment.
"Primarily to see where Zach is sitting. See the blond guy about midway on the left? He's wearing a green sweater." Jeremy stepped back so Charlie could get a better view.
"That's Zach? He's a good-looking dude. Gio was a fucking idiot for screwing that up."
"Tell me about it. But that's behind them and Zach really wants to meet you. I made reservations at Marché for the three of us after the show."
"I wonder if we could increase the reservation to four people?"
"Four? Whatcha got in mind?" Jeremy asked as he turned to face Charlie.
"This may seem a little self-serving but I'd love for there to be a reason not talking about the whole Gio mess. An uninvolved third party does just that and I think we have a chance to play cupid."
"Let me explain. Will Jacobs spoke to me the other evening and verified what I had picked up on some time ago. He told me he's been out to his family since college and has only met a few friends in Chicago. He joined the cast about a year before I did and apparently - no surprise to us - he's really had a tough time meeting quality guys because he works every weekend. So, I told him to keep tonight after the show open - nothing more than that. I wanted to check with you first before I went any further."
"Hmmm. Will Jacobs is a pretty conservative guy...until he gets on stage as the cop. But, yah, I could buy into that as long as Zach doesn't suspect that he's being set up for a blind date."
"Actually, I told Will that it would be a good time just to let our hair down and get to know each other better. He's really not sure about us...at least it's never been mentioned. I think we could all become good friends. And if Zach lives up to only 50% of your advance billing, there's a possibility of a homerun."
"Okay, here's what you say. Tell him that a good friend of mine from my other job, Zach Carlson, is my guest and that it would be fun for him to be included for dinner. I also think we should tell Will that you and I are serious boyfriends." In this gay-friendly environment, Jeremy was thinking of Will's ease of mind.
"I like it. Why don't you figure out a way to talk to him in the dressing room while you two are getting ready?"
"If you're sure...yeah, I'll find a time when we're alone to mention it." Jeremy silently swelled with pride at the thought of telling someone else about his partnership.
"Buddy, if it wouldn't screw up the makeup, I'd give you a big hug and kiss."
"To hell with the makeup; you want Joe College to go on stage with a big boner?" Jeremy replied just as the opening chords of the Village People's "YMCA" announced that the show was about to begin. This was the special 'final call' song used to alert male audiences.
Young man, there's no need to feel down.
I said, young man, pick yourself off the ground.
I said, young man, 'cause you're in a new town
there's no need to be unhappy.
Young man, there's a place you can go.
I said, young man, when you're short on your dough.
You can stay there, and I'm sure you will find
many ways to have a good time.
It's fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A.
It's fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A.
They have everything for you men to enjoy,
you can hang out with all the boys ...
It's fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A.
It's fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A.
The audience quieted as the house lights dimmed and a pink spot focused on the center curtain. The music grew louder and the club became dark. Suddenly, the heavy beat of drums announced the start of the show. On cue, Kool and the Gang sang the opening number, "Celebration." A combination of backlighting, strobes and laser beams cranked up the energy of the room as the entire ensemble gathered on stage in their detachable formalwear. Jeremy knew he wouldn't be able to see Zach's reaction until he completed his first solo number and took a stroll down the runway.
After the opening number, Garin was the leadoff dancer while the rest went back to the dressing room to change into their character. Everyone was pumped by the enthusiastic reception of the audience: the appreciative cheering was like a psychological aphrodisiac to the dancers.
"This seems like it's a really hot crowd," Jeremy said to Will, the banker supervisor by day. He was finishing changing into his policeman uniform for the next number.
"Your first time with the boys, right? It'll be fun...and profitable."
"Charlie gave me the rundown on how to entertain the crowd. From I felt from their reception to the opening number, this is really going to be a gas."
"Yeah...definitely. Oh, Charlie mentioned we were all going to get together afterwards,"
"I look forward to it. A good friend from my other job is in the audience and he'll join us. His name is Zach Carlson."
"Where else do you work? I mean, I know that you're finishing high school...but that's about it."
"I work a couple of front desk shifts at Bally's on Clark Street. Zach is a personal trainer there and we've become really tight. He's kind of the big brother I never had. Zach graduated from Penn State a couple of years ago." Jeremy thought it wise to give Will an indirect heads-up on his big bro's age.
"Sounds like a nice guy. Oops, I hear Garin's final song coming to an end. See ya in a bit." Will grabbed the cop nightstick, put on the hat and slipped his hand down his crotch for a final adjustment before leaving the dressing room.
"I saw you talking with Will. Everything go okay?" Charlie had his fireman's slicker on for the next act after Will's.
"He's looking forward to getting together with us. I emphasized that Zach is a big brother friend and nothing more. You're right; Will could be a good friend for Zach...and us. I'll mention our relationship a little later."
"Babe, I like the way we talks things over before acting on them." Charlie squeezed Jeremy's arm and departed.
For the next 10 minutes, Jeremy paced around the backstage area. He had found being by himself before his solo numbers gave him calm confidence. Finally, he heard his cue with the Big 10 marching music, got into position in the wings and waited for the proper chord of "We're Loyal To You Illinois" to be struck. As he came into view, he was a little taken aback by his wild reception as he danced the 'Joe College' routine. 'Oh, yeah,' he thought, 'these boys are really getting into it.'
At the end of his solo number, Jeremy briefly exited the stage, wiped the sweat from him and quickly returned as "Shake Your Booty" started playing. He was amazed at the number of men who were now at the edge of the runway with fists full of money. Jeremy did as he had been trained and proceeded to encourage tips with slightly suggestive bumps and gyrations. Except for a few of the younger guys, most were ready to tip with at least a five-dollar bill. Several were waving twenties and Jeremy decided that they weren't taunting him or planning for a last minute switch to a lower denomination when he maneuvered his crotch to provide easy access. He also remembered Charlie's advice about giving male audiences a good view of his backside. A couple of times he turned and quickly squatted for someone who preferred that part of the anatomy.
He spotted Zach...whooping it up and singing along as the music changed to "That's The Way I Like It." He gave Jeremy a broad hand of applause above his head and nodded vigorously. Jeremy winked before passing by Zach to greet additional appreciative men. It had reached a point where no one was flashing one-dollar bills. In addition to all the excitement, he was now having a problem stuffing all the bills down into his crotch...there was only so much room. But he prevailed and energetically finished the stroll after the soundman put on an additional song, "Do You Wanna Go Party" to get him off the runway.
Jeremy was dripping wet and felt the bulge of moist paper money in his crotch as he returned to the dressing room. He grabbed a brown envelope and pulled out the cash that surrounded his privates. He next felt around the band of his thong and retrieved the rest of the tips that had been inserted. The routine was for each dancer to take whatever tip money had been received, put it in an envelope and secure the contents in a small lockbox that was assigned to each dancer. Most left the money overnight due to the mugging potential on the streets of Chicago after the club closed.
"Holy fuck, those guys are terrific," Jeremy said to the dancers in the room. He had no idea what amount of money had been gathered, and he would wait until sometime the following week to find out. As an athlete would do, he pulled off his soggy thong and put it in a mesh laundry bag. He pulled at his wet, flaccid cock to separate it from his equally moist scrotum. He murmured an audible "Ahhh" as he gently yanked at his knob with one hand while he grabbed a large, terry towel. There would be approximately a half-hour before Jeremy was due to perform his second solo set and then take part in the closing chorus number. He started wiping himself down, headfirst.
"The guys are very generous...it's a shame we couldn't draw this much every night," Will said. Like the other dancers waiting for the second act to begin, he was dressed in a tee shirt and sweats. "You seemed to enjoy your first boys night."
"I'm already looking forward to next month. By the way, I spotted Zach in the crowd and he really seemed to be enjoying himself. When you're on the runway, be on the lookout for a handsome, blond guy in a green sweater on the left side. That's my friend." Jeremy continued to towel down and cool off.
"I'll do that."
"And, just for the record, I wanted you to know that Charlie and I are boyfriends."
"Hmmm. I guess I'm not surprised but I appreciate your frankness."
"We thought it was only fair to let you know officially we're all marching to the same song." Jeremy raised his fist and the two young men tapped each other's knuckles.
"Thanks, Jer. I respect you guys and hope that we all get to know each other better. So, is Zach, you know...?"
"Completely. I mean he doesn't prance around with fairy dust but Zach apparently came out to his folks when he started college." Jeremy had saved his crotch and ass crack for the last area to towel. A little talcum powder and deodorant freshened him up for the second act.
"We'll have to compare notes, then. I did the same thing my freshman year at Wisconsin."
"It'll be fun and casual tonight." Jeremy tossed the towel in the hamper, reached for his tee and slipped it on. "I gotta conserve my energy for the second act." Next came the sweats. "I'm gonna chill in the lounge and have some water."
"Okay. See ya later." Will patted Jeremy on the arm as they both walked out of the dressing room.
The rest of the evening at the club moved along with the same high energy, audience enthusiasm and generous gratuities as the first half had. While Will was performing, Jeremy told Charlie he had revealed their partner status. By 9:30 p.m., Will, Charlie and Jeremy had groomed themselves to be presentable and left the theater to meet Zach. Because of the tight space backstage, it had been agreed that they would rendezvous at Marché.
They arrived at Marché, walked past the heavy velvet curtains that shielded its entrance from the winter winds and entered the dynamic dining room. Although it was late on Sunday night, the room was still more than half-filled. The three men checked their coats and headed further into the restaurant.
Jeremy smiled and waved when he spotted Zach. "There's my big bro." He led the way over to a table in a raised area near the center of the room. "Hope we didn't take too long," he said when they arrived at the table.
"Naw. I've been here for maybe 15 minutes." Zach stood up and extended his hand as he added, "Since I know you as the fireman and the cop, can I safely assume that you are Charlie?" Zach smiled as he shook Charlie's hand. "And, by the powers of elimination, you must be Will Jacobs?"
"Guilty. Hi, Zach," Will said as they all sat down.
"Ya know, I normally don't have much of an appetite. But after tonight's performance, I'm ready for something red and hot...in the form of a steak," Jeremy said with a sly grin. He looked around the table and decided that he was pleased to be here with his four friends. He took his knee and bumped Charlie under the table. Charlie nodded towards the two guys - strangers until a few moments ago - happily chatting with each other.
TO BE CONTINUED