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 16, DEGREES OF GRADUATION
Jeremy fell into the routine of stopping by the club on Tuesdays after school to pick up his tip envelopes and deposit the cash in his bank at the nearby Merchandise Mart. Memorial Day weekend was approaching and Chicago suddenly burped from late winter to summer. 'Speedo weather at the beach,' he thought as he pressed the Barecats stage door bell, waved at the security camera and waited for the lock to be electronically released.
"Hi, Jer," said the office manager's voice from the speaker. A metallic buzz indicated that the lock was momentarily released. Jeremy opened the door, went directly to the dressing room and retrieved the money from his lockbox. He had just finished counting and organizing the bills when he heard someone walk into the room.
"Hey, buddy. How goes it?"
"Oh...hi, Garin. I didn't think you'd be here." Jeremy shoved the envelopes into his backpack and walked over to his boss. "Final tests this week and then graduation on June 10th." He took the extended hand, shook it briefly and continued, "Everything's cool."
"Really?" Garin asked with a raised eyebrow. "Seriously, between losing your mom and those assholes attacking you all within two weeks - is it really cool?" He looked into Jeremy's eyes and gently stroked the younger man's arm.
"Well...I'm doing mostly okay." Jeremy frowned and looked at the floor. "I keep telling myself that Mom's death was unexpected but probably a blessing - she had a really crummy quality of life. As far as the attack is concerned, my classmates have really been supportive. I guess I was outed in a pretty dramatic fashion but it doesn't seem to bother anyone." Jeremy had discussed his sexual orientation with Garin shortly after becoming a regular in the Barecats cast.
"Sounds like 'mostly okay' is getting closer to reality, Jer." Garin's look expressed concern.
"I...end up crying sometimes when I'm alone - without any warning. And, I've had some pretty rough nights waking up in a sweat, recalling that afternoon. But it's getting better and Naomi's become more of a close friend than simply a sister. The principal at school set me up with a psychological counselor and the sessions seem to be helping."
"Stick with the counseling...it can't hurt. I got professional guidance when my parents divorced and Mom got custody of me. My father didn't seem interested in spending time with me any more and it really bummed me out...big time. I was just a little younger than you are now."
"It musta worked cuz you don't seem to mind talking about it. I plan on seeing the guy through the summer. The school's paying for it and I think I see a light at the end of the tunnel."
"Just make sure the light's not the headlight of a train," Garin threw out, with a smile that quickly faded. "Please excuse the lame joke."
"Joke noted and excused. I do appreciate you looking out for me, too. The only thing that concerns me, though, is the crap of having to be a witness at the trial. I'm not looking forward to that or the publicity."
"Understand, completely. If you're going over to the bank at the Mart, want some company? We can talk while we walk. I've got some ideas on this trial and some other stuff I want to share with you."
"I'll never object to your advice, your company or you being my personal guard when I take the loot to the bank. I'm ready." Jeremy smiled as he gestured to Garin to lead the way out of the dressing room.
He turned off the lights and joined Garin crossing the backstage to the exit. Jeremy hurried a few steps ahead, opened the stage door with a firm push on the crash bar and held it for his boss. They headed out to Hubbard Street and turned west in the direction of the behemoth landmark Merchandise Mart.
"How's the tip money doing?" Garin asked. "We really haven't talked much since you joined us but I notice that the audiences seem to really get turned on during your routines."
"The tips have been great. The money will take care of all my bills and give me a chance to save something for my old age."
"Old age? Like...when you're 30?" Garin said with a chuckle.
"Come on, you know what I mean. Maybe 35." Jeremy stuck out his tongue and continued, "This is a super job and I really thank you for the opportunity. Unless I'm told otherwise, I plan on being here...at least through college. As a bonus, I've also made some great friends."
"Starting with Charlie Barnett? Not snooping, you understand."
"Guess nothing gets by you, does it?" Jeremy snickered as they turned south on Wells Street. "We've become, as they say, an item...a serious item."
"As I told you, I have no problem with anyone dealing from that deck and Charlie is a great guy...a real keeper. The two of you make a terrific couple. Ah, getting back to what we were discussing in the dressing room, I think I've got a plan that will keep everything concerning the attack very low key."
"Any help would be appreciated." Jeremy looked at Garin when they stopped before crossing Kinzie Street. His admiration and respect for his boss had continued to grow since that first dinner last December.
"In a way, what I'm going to propose is a little self-serving. I don't want the company to get negative publicity, and besides that, I want to spare you any embarrassment. I'd like my lawyer to contact the lawyer for the two boys and strongly urge him to change their pleas to 'guilty' if they can work out an agreement on reduced charges. That should cut down the long waiting time for a trial and avoid any interest by the press."
"Reduced?" Jeremy asked as they crossed the street and walked up the incline.
"I'm told the prosecutors have a lot of leeway, and if it can guarantee a conviction they will probably bundle everything under the hate crimes statute - a class four felony. Even with all the evidence, photos and witnesses of you being bound in that shed, kidnapping will be hard to prove. And without actual...penetration, attempted rape is 'iffy'. Confinement is a given, and with the public statements they made, a hate crime will be a slam-dunk. So, a hate crime is the way to get...those fuckers." Garin sighed and shook his head. "And, I've been assured that there's no wiggle room on that. Boring and Cortez will go down."
"Wow, you really have been researching this. Very impressive." Jeremy's curiosity was aroused by Garin's knowledge of the incident, but he decided not to push it - at this point.
"Some of this is public knowledge if you know how to dig for it. I understand maximum time in Illinois for a class four felony is three years plus community service for the first offense. Since no physical harm was inflicted, their attorney could probably deal for maybe a year in prison and a couple hundred hours of community service."
"Seems kinda light but I understand your point about wanting to keep it quiet. I was hoping to send a stronger message." Jeremy put a smirk on his face and added, "Perhaps they can be someone's bitch boys in the hoosegow."
"With TLC, of course." Garin shrugged and added, "Couldn't happen to nicer guys. Seriously, it will send them a very strong message."
"I just don't want those shits to show up on my doorstep some night," Jeremy said almost in a mumble. "I know they're out on bail."
"Already thought about that. Our lawyer could suggest to the prosecution that the guys be forced to wear electronic monitoring devices now and for a number of years after they get out of prison. You know, like Martha Stewart. If they even thought about getting near you, bells and whistles would go off."
"That would be sweet," Jeremy replied without emotion. "Someone mentioned it's Max Boring's dad who insisted on the not guilty plea. Cortez's family is pretty poor so Max's lawyer is defending both of those turkeys."
"I was told about Mr. Boring's feelings. A friend of mine has offered to go over to Boring's hardware store and apply a little pressure. He's pretty sure he can change daddy's mind."
"If he's anything like his son...good luck," Jeremy replied while he shook his head.
"My friend can be very persuasive and we've got some leverage. Boring's store has a very substantial gay and lesbian clientele and the father needs to understand that the gay community stands together in Chicago. By the time my friend points out that Boring would be out of business by the end of the year, I think there will be a change of heart."
"If Mr. Boring does that, I'd be very happy." Jeremy was aware that Garin had many contacts in the Chicago area and trusted his boss completely.
The men turned onto the front walk of the Mart and passed the first of the large busts of Chicago merchandisers that lined the front of the massive building. Jeremy admired the view as he looked south. The green-cast water partially framed the dramatic high-rise architecture that lined the banks of the Chicago River.
"Listen, why don't you go to the bank and meet me at the Starbuck's in here," Garin said as they entered one of the front doors. "I'll get started on this project and make a few calls while you do your banking."
"Double espresso cappuccino, please." Jeremy winked and added, "Give me a few minutes and I'll join you."
"You're an expensive date."
"I've had good teachers and role models. See ya in a sec."
Jeremy trotted ahead and went into the bank branch off the building lobby to conduct his business. He walked over to an empty standup counter and took the envelopes out of his backpack. No one seemed to be paying any attention to him and he tore open the envelopes and re-arranged the bills for the drop. Jeremy rapidly filled out a deposit slip, verified the amount and turned to find a free teller. Fortunately, late afternoon activity was very light and the transaction only took a few minutes. He smiled when he reviewed the computer receipt and his very healthy new balance; a balance that would grow larger when the police returned his $200.00 impounded for evidence. 'Maybe I should get some advice from Garin about investing this money,' he thought as he exited the bank.
It appeared that he and Garin were the only people in the Mart interested in coffee at this hour. He immediately spotted Garin, talking on his cell, seated in a corner surrounded by empty tables and chairs.
"Guess everyone is in a hurry to rush home without stopping by for coffee at this hour," Jeremy said as he sat down.
"Yes, this is definitely a morning place." Garin flipped his cell phone closed and slid it into his pants pocket. "At 8:00 a.m., you'd have to fight off a long line to get your caffeine fix. Good news. I got in touch with our lawyer and also my friend. Everything's set and we'll just let our plan take its course."
"Good. I feel better already." Jeremy set down his backpack and carefully took off the paper cup's lid. He savored the aroma from the cappuccino and brought the cup to his lips. He was careful not to get his nose in the froth of the steamed milk. He had learned that lesson already. "You mentioned that you also wanted to discuss some other things?"
"Yes. I'm ready to move you into doing some private parties...if you feel up to it."
"The only time I have any problems is when I'm by myself. School, Bally's and the Barecats keep me from thinking too much about recent events. And I've got a few modeling gigs coming up soon."
"As far as the show goes, I'm really pleased at your dance solos and the way you fit in with the cast. In fact, you're really making quite a name for yourself. The word's gotten around that we have this hot model stud and the booking agent is getting frequent requests for you."
"I don't know about the stud part - you'll have to ask Charlie," Jeremy said with a snicker. "But I'll soon be doing some magazine fashion layouts for the fall season and an underwear layout for the UnderGear website."
"Hey, it worked for Marky Mark Wahlberg in his Calvin's years ago. Congratulations."
"Garin, I just want to support myself, get through college, find a decent job afterwards and keep my other-half happy." Jeremy rolled his eyes and took another sip from his cup. "And I'm not getting any complaints in the last category."
"Except for noticing Charlie walking around with a shit-eating grin, I'll take your word for it. Are all the modeling shoots in Chicago?"
"Everything except for the underwear gig. "I've got to go to New York next month: it's early in June...the day after I graduate. Scheduled to fly out on Monday and return Wednesday evening."
"Good. Starting next week, plan on some extra rehearsal time at the club so the dance coach can teach you the routines for the private parties. I'll also get Charlie lined up so you can learn the two-man dances with him. It's a whole different style of bumps and grinds when you're performing in front of a small group in someone's home."
"I'm finding out what you meant when you said 'life's a grind'. It's all how you swing it," Jeremy replied.
"Buddy, you're swinging it pretty well...and I mean the 'life' part. However, based on the audiences' reactions, everything else is swinging pretty well too. By the way, if there are any contracts that need your signature, let me have our lawyer look them over first. June's a great photographer but you need someone independent to check any legal documents."
Naomi had invited Jeremy to a celebratory brunch at the North Pond restaurant in Lincoln Park immediately before the high school graduation ceremony. This was in lieu of the post-graduation dinner because he would be working. Jeremy's antenna went on alert when his sister casually mentioned that an intern she worked with at Children's Hospital was also coming.
"Sis, why's this newbie doctor coming? Excuse me for reading between the lines, but is there something going on that we should discuss?" Jeremy remembered Naomi had mentioned going out with someone with whom she worked at the hospital - but she'd said nothing more than that.
"Tom Goldsmith and I have been dating off and on for a while. It's just gotten a little more serious this past month."
"A little more serious?"
"Serious enough that I want the two of you to meet. It's important to me that you approve of Tom. He's only six years older and that's not a big deal. He's going to be a pediatric resident at Children's Memorial in July and I've got two more years of nursing school to get my B.S.N. So, we're both going to be pretty busy for a while. This is just a first step."
"I'd love to meet any guy that really rings your chimes and brunch certainly is a good way to check him out," Jeremy said with a sly grin.
"I'll tell you he's adorable, bright and...well, that's all for now. It's just..."
"I got it: looking for a brother's seal of approval. Kinda like what we went through with Charlie. By the way, does he know that you've got a gay brother?"
"No. I figure that if you want to mention something, that's your prerogative. I will tell you that Tom's originally from Highland Park and pretty liberal about things. I'm meeting his parents sometime next month for dinner."
Brunch at the North Pond went very well. The two men in Naomi's life liked each other immediately and Jeremy did mention his orientation. There was not a moment of hesitation in Tom Goldsmith's demeanor when he said he had been around gay men for quite a while and that included some gay friends in medical school. He smiled when Jeremy mentioned his partner Charlie and suggested that the foursome should get together very soon.
Later, when Jeremy received his diploma, he knew he was ready to move on. Robert Stein - Bobby - was his life friend and he supposed that the others in his core group of friends would continue to be in the picture off and on for many years. Charlie was his anchor and Zach still filled the important role of big brother. In fact, aside from the free membership that he could now easily afford, Zach was now the only reason he still worked at Bally's.
Monday, less than 24 hours after receiving his diploma, Jeremy boarded the Blue Line train in the Loop for the 45 minute trip to O'Hare International and his flight - his first flight anywhere - to New York. Charlie had finished his spring exams and decided to be Jeremy's escort and tour guide to the airport. He wanted to show his lover the most economical mode of ground transportation and pointers about getting to, and taking a flight from, America's second-busiest aviation hub. At $2.00 per head, the train was cheaper and much faster than driving on the constantly clogged expressway or paying a hefty forty bucks for a cab.
Charlie had suggested Jeremy travel light and lent him a small suitcase to hold the basic necessities. In that most of the time in New York would be spent in a studio wearing UnderGear's latest line of underwear, it was decided to only pack a couple of pair of jeans, socks, a few fitted tees, a black polo shirt, gym shorts for lounging around, Jeremy's black Doc Martens and toiletries. For books and a few documents associated with the job, Jeremy lugged along his backpack. He was very careful not to pack anything that was considered dangerous - hair gels, mouthwash and sharp objects.
At O'Hare, Jeremy was given a quick tour around the American Airlines terminal and a briefing by Charlie before the newbie traveler checked in at the ticket counter. They gripped each other in a firm handshake for a quick goodbye when it was time for Jeremy to get in line for the security checkpoint before entering the gates concourse. By the time he had been herded on board and figured out the seat configuration, Jeremy felt like a seasoned pro, tired of it all.
The Chicago photographer, June Stillman, who had now taken on the additional job of being his modeling advisor and mother-protector, arranged for him to be met at La Guardia. A beautiful, 'lipstick' lesbian model friend of hers was assigned to be the official chaperone for Jeremy during his three-day visit. Aside from the taxi rides, a room in the small, luxury Mercer Hotel, the SoHo photography studio and some restaurants in the Village, he wouldn't get much of a chance to explore the city.
By the time their cab arrived at the hotel, Jeremy decided that he was a little weary from his first plane trip and begged off dinner. He was checked in at the front desk by a woman who could have been a model in the latest Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue and then was shown to the room by a hunky bellman. 'Must be one of those places where all the staff are really actors in disguise,' he decided as he gave the guy five dollars as a tip. The bellman had spent a lot of time explaining all the features of the hotel and sold Jeremy on the idea of ordering room service. 'Heck, I've got a per diem allowance to use. It's just tough to spend it on a $15.00 burger.'
He phoned Charlie to let him know about his maiden air voyage and joked he wasn't part of Manhattan 'road kill'...yet. Jeremy promised to call again the next evening and settled in for a movie on HBO. One of the amenities of the hotel was a complimentary access to a nearby Crunch Gym and Jeremy decided he wanted to take advantage it for an early-morning workout the following day. 'It wouldn't hurt to pump up a little bit for the camera,' he thought as he arranged for a 7:00 a.m. wake-up call. 'I'm not due at the studio until 10:00 a.m.'
A ringing of the room telephone announced the new day and Jeremy immediately answered it. An electronic voice pleasantly wished him a "good morning" and recited the time along with the New York weather forecast. He eased out of the king bed - a luxury he wasn't used to - and got into his clothes from yesterday. Jeremy used a hotel laundry bag to lug his makeshift gear, change of clothes and toiletries around the corner to the gym.
An older man at the Crunch reception desk checked the hotel card, issued a towel and brusquely described the facilities without showing any emotion before pointing in the general direction of the locker room. 'Toto, you're not in Chicago any more,' Jeremy thought as he worked his way back to the men's locker area. It was barely 7:30 a.m. and the gym was very busy. He felt the pace of the people working out - mostly men - was at a more determined, aggressive level than what he was used to. He also noted the equipment was very new and the décor was more current than the Bally's back home.
The large locker room had several bays of changing areas and he found a vacant locker conveniently located in the middle of the room. The guys he saw appeared to be mostly young executive types and he smiled at himself as he felt more than one pair of eyes linger on him for a few extra moments. He organized his locker with the toiletries, hung up his clean clothes, quickly changed into his shorts and secured the door with the lock he had used for the suitcase. One handsome guy smiled and nodded when Jeremy walked out to the gym. 'Guess this place must be have a gay following,' he decided. 'But, then, what decent gym doesn't?'
As he had done many times, Jeremy went through a series of hand weight exercises and used a few machines to exercise his upper body. When he was finishing his workout on the mat in a serious attack on his abs, someone's shadow fell on his face.
"Dude, you're really doing an effective job on your six-pack," came a friendly, low, male voice. "Sorry to invade your space...just had to say 'hi'. I'm Kent. Your wet t-shirt really clings."
"Morning, Kent. I'm Jer." Jeremy's curiosity was piqued and he decided to sit up for a better look. Standing above him was a handsome young man with a trim body. Kent's dark hair was a contrast to the light complexion and blue eyes. "No coyness with this guy,' he judged. 'Is this a New York thing?'
"I'm usually here every other day but I don't recognize you," Kent said as he lowered himself to a squat position next to Jeremy. He extended his hand and Jeremy instinctively grabbed it for a brief shake, pointedly ignoring Kent's bulge in his shorts.
"That's because I'm visiting." Jeremy noted that Kent didn't release his hand right away. It felt warm and strong. "In from Chicago for work and I return tomorrow."
"Welcome, then, to the Big Apple. You're a nice addition to the scenery."
"Aw, shucks, Kent. I bet you say that to all the guys," Jeremy replied with a laugh. 'Hmmm. I can only imagine where this is heading,' he thought. 'I think we both verified what's on his mind.'
"Only the cute ones." He sat down on the mat and allowed his leg to rest next to Jeremy's arm. Kent pressed slightly until his leg hair brushed against Jeremy's arm hair.
"You're pretty cute, yourself." Jeremy decided to play with the guy and see if he could navigate in these Manhattan, shark-infested waters.
"Score one for the visitor from Chicago. By the way, what kind of work do you do?"
"I'm getting paid to pose in underwear," Jeremy said with an impish shrug. "Actually, I'm doing a photo shoot for a company's website. They make, among other things, briefs and stuff like that."
"Explains why heads turned when you were walking around the gym. I'm sure you're very well qualified to do your posing." Kent winked and continued, "Listen, if you're about finished, why don't we clean up and I'll treat you to some breakfast. There's a neat café around the corner in the Mercer Hotel."
"That's where I'm staying. It's cool...only..."
"Only, what?" Kent pressed his leg a little harder and casually moved it up and down against Jeremy's arm. "You wanna skip breakfast and go on to the main event?"
"In your dreams. I'm not interested in anything else except a little conversation and maybe a bagel. I've got a boyfriend at home."
"Jer, the boyfriend is 800 miles away and I usually get my way. Especially when the guy is as tasty as you are." Kent moved his hand down and rested it on Jeremy's hand. "Do you know who I am?"
"A handsome man who's on the make with someone not available." Jeremy looked sternly into Kent's eyes, pulled his hand away and rotated around to a sitting position. "Who are you that I'm suppose to know?" He briefly studied this aggressive stud and decided he didn't have a clue as to Kent's identity. "Other than being a walking fuck machine," he added with a smile.
"You really don't know?" Kent feigned surprise and continued, "I'm on 'Westport Wives'. I get most of America's women's panties in a wringer every afternoon during the week at 1:00 p.m. Noon in Chicago."
"Oh, the soap? I don't watch it but I'm sure you do that with the women...and probably several of the men. You're an interesting combination of a bright, good-looking guy who is atypically modest for an actor," Jeremy said with a laugh. "Probably need some counseling in developing self-esteem."
"Ha, looks like I've met my match." Kent pulled away and joined Jeremy laughing.
"I don't know about that but I am off the market."
"Not even if I dangled a romantic dinner tonight over in the West Village?"
"Even that and all the battery-operated toys in your apartment. I'm saving myself for my boyfriend...and that's no bullshit." Jeremy was having fun sparring with Kent but decided to bring this topic to a close.
"Here's the white flag. I get the point and reluctantly accept defeat. Truce?"
"Truce...absolutely." Jeremy impulsively took Kent's arm and squeezed it.
"Bullshit aside...since I can't get in your pants, why don't we get cleaned up and settle for just breakfast? Even if I can't dazzle you with my sexy looks, maybe we can amuse each other for a little harmless repartee while we eat."
"I'm up for harmless repartee. Let's go." Jeremy pulled himself up and waited for Kent to do the same.
"This guy you're with..."
"Charlie must be a helluva man. You two have ruined my batting average." Kent lightly patted Jeremy on the shoulder in a friendly manner as they walked away from the mat area.
"He is. We're fairly new at this steady stuff but it's the real thing." Jeremy was intrigued as the show biz Kent was replaced by a much more likeable real guy.
"Then maybe we can all get together some time when I'm out your way this fall. My hometown is Glen Ellyn and the folks still live out there. I usually get out there a couple of times a year."
"Another Chicagoan...well, almost." Jeremy had never been to the Western suburb and only knew the name and its reputation as a mostly white community whose citizens strived hard to be considered 'upper-middle class'.
"Close enough. After high school, I went through Northwestern's drama school and graduated a couple of years ago."
"Charlie will be a junior at Northwestern this fall." Jeremy moved slightly ahead when they entered the locker room entrance.
"Is he in a fraternity?"
"Phi Delt house. He's very active." Jeremy stopped at the bay and added, "My locker's here."
"I'm in the next one. By the way, I almost pulled an inexcusable faux pas."
"Faux pas? As in..."
"A Phi Delt never, ever goes after another Phi Delt's girl...or guy. I'm a Phi Delt alum from the same chapter as Charlie. Small world, isn't it? See ya in the shower."
"Okay." Jeremy chuckled as he removed the sneakers and damp clothes. He wrapped a towel around his waist, grabbed the mini-bottle of hotel shampoo and followed the corridor down to the wet area. He saw Kent in the middle of the shower room. There were a few guys in the tiled room and it didn't seem strange for Jeremy to choose the shower next to Kent.
"There you are. I'm not going to take long cuz I don't have to shave right now," Kent said. He discretely scanned Jeremy and added in a low voice, "Brother Charlie is a lucky man. What's his full name, by the way?"
"Charlie Barnett...and I'm the lucky man." Jeremy winked and unscrewed the shampoo bottle. "Oh, I don't have to shave, either." He had been told not to shave for a few days. The photographer wanted the opportunity to take a few sets with a casual stubble effect. There was to be a person at the studio who would groom the models for later in the day. The following day's schedule was primarily to do re-takes of any shots that were judged not satisfactory.
The two men finished their shower, got dressed and went to the Mercer Hotel's café. Over coffee and scones, they traded more details of their lives.
"This is another first for me, Scones...who'd have thought?" Jeremy said with a laugh as he signed the check before Kent had a chance to grab it.
"And, clotted cream plus strawberry preserves - all very English. Only thing missing is a pot of tea. You're sure I can't pick up my share of the tab?"
"Naw. It's all paid for by a per diem allowance I have. How about a little more coffee?"
"If you've got time, I'd love one more cup. Especially since I'm with this stud from Chicago," Kent said, and established eye contact with the waiter for service. "I've really enjoyed getting to know you better, Sloan. The modeling will be a great way for you to pay the school bills. You can make some good bucks and the hours aren't bad."
"I haven't done it too often but the money is good. And as a fringe benefit on this shoot, I can keep any of the underwear I wear on the shoot. Actually, I have another part-time job you should probably know about if we're going to be friends," Jeremy said cautiously. "I'm also kinda in show business."
"You ever hear about a male dance show in Chicago called the Studz Barecats?"
"Sure. It's a great group. I saw the show last fall with a group of friends. Wait...you mean that you're also a dancer?"
"Thought you should know. I'm always upfront with people I want as friends."
"Well, I'm not some sort of Bible-thumping Baptist if that's what you're concerned about. I think it's rather cool that my new friend is a Barecat."
You might as well know the rest, Kent. It's where I met my partner. Charlie has been in the cast for about a year."
"Wow...something they don't include in Phi Delt initiation. I probably saw Charlie when I was there. What's his schtick? Um...role in the show?"
"He's the fireman with all the equipment," Jeremy said with chuckle.
"Sonofabitch, I do remember him and his...equipment. Brother Charlie is one sexy dude. You guys probably make a great couple, I expect."
"We'll all get together this fall and you'll see. I think Charlie will enjoy getting to know you. It'll be fun."
They finished their coffee and decided that working on a friendship would indeed be worthwhile. After Kent left the restaurant, Jeremy went upstairs to brush his teeth and grab his backpack. His official chaperone and car was due in ten minutes. Jeremy could hardly wait to tell Charlie about the meeting on the telephone that night...and did so in animated detail...glossing over the initial pick-up attempt.
The two-day underwear photo shoot went well - if the positive comments were any indication - and after some minor extra shots at the studio, Jeremy hustled directly to La Guardia for the return American shuttle late on Wednesday afternoon. He was thankful that he had been advised to pack and check out of the hotel before going to the studio for the final day of shooting. As the 737 approached cruising altitude, he thought over the final words from the New York photographer: "Kid, don't lose that innocence you have for the camera. I have several clients who can use you."
He smiled, closed his eyes and thought, 'Innocence...if he only knew.'
TO BE CONTINUED