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 9, LESSONS LEARNED
The older woman struggled to finish the last of 25 leg raises and Zach encouraged her while he glanced toward the gym's entrance. It was 12:55 p.m. and Gio had not arrived for work. Yesterday the lovers had celebrated Christmas in a very low-key way: late breakfast, gift exchange and an elaborate Italian dinner Gio had wanted to prepare. The multi-coursed, heavily carb-laden spread had been motivation for Zach to leave his partner sleeping the next morning and come to the gym early. He needed a serious personal workout before dealing with clients.
"Ma'am, you were terrific today," he told the sweating client, sprawled out on a mat. "If you'll start your cool down stretches, I'll be right back." Zach flipped on his cell and called Gio while he walked over to the desk. He waited for Jeremy to check in a member while his call went unanswered until voicemail cut in.
"Gio...where are you? You've got a client at one. Call me," Zach said.
"I was just about to get you." Jeremy had an expression that mixed concern with embarrassment. "Gio's one o'clock is in the locker room but no Gio."
"We had a pretty mellow Christmas and he was still sacked out when I came over here. Ah, who's the client?"
"Guy's name is Donegan and the appointment was made last week. I think it's a gift certificate deal so he probably doesn't have his heart set on having Gio."
"Guess I won't have lunch for a while...like I need much food after yesterday's dinner."
"You guys pigged out?"
"Gio made a spectacular traditional Christmas dinner. You know - enough food for 10 people and it was just the two of us. Let me finish the cool down with my client and I'll take the appointment. Funny, it's just not like Gio to be absent."
Zach noticed a middle-aged, heavy-set man approach the trainer's duty desk and decided this must be the client. He walked over and said, "Mr. Donegan?"
"Yes. I was looking for a trainer by the name of Gio."
"He's been detained and asked me to begin your program...if that's alright?" Zach replied politely with a broad, reassuring smile. "We work as partners a lot."
"That's fine. This was my wife's idea anyway. I've got a booklet of 10 training sessions. No doubt I could use a bit of a workout, though." Mr. Donegan patted his round, protruding stomach and shrugged.
"Let's get started, then. The goals will be realistic and I'll design a routine that you'll be able to do by yourself down the road. Here's what I suggest: agree on maybe taking off 10 pounds over the next six weeks and go from there...if you want to continue. In addition to the training and workouts, I'll recommend a basic list of foods to stay away from." Zach figured that if the man was serious, he could coach him into a program that would melt off 60 pounds by summer.
"Whoops. Sounds like no pizza, chips, dips and beer for the bowl championships," Mr. Donegan said with a grin.
"It's not like you're joining a monastery or anything. Just consider modification of intake. You know, a couple slices of pizza rather than four or more."
"Easier than it sounds. Maybe three slices?"
"I can buy that...but no extra cheese and ya gotta 86 the chips. If our Bears go the distance, it'll be difficult but doable." Zach proceeded to take down all the essential personal information, weighed the client, measured body fat and walked through the gym to point out various machines they'd be using. While Mr. Donegan was stretching, Zach's cell phone rang. He moved away from the client, looked at caller I.D. and frowned as he answered the expected call.
"Gio, where the hell are you? It's almost 1:20 p.m."
~~~ "I'm sorry, buddy. I forgot about the appointment. I was doing some...other things and didn't have my cell on."
"I started the guy. It's not a personal request so I can handle it until you get here." Zach couldn't imagine what the other things were and was perturbed at his lover's irresponsibility.
~~~ "Be there in ten minutes at the latest. Thanks for covering for me. Bye."
After the stretch and Zach's estimation of the client's flexibility, they started on the first machine to work the legs. By the time the client settled in on the third machine, Zach saw Gio walking through the gym to the locker slightly disheveled and hair askew. As soon as Zach was satisfied that Mr. Donegan could be left alone, he excused himself and went to the locker room and the locker bay where the trainers had assigned lockers. Gio was pulling off his last piece of clothing - a tee - as Zach approached.
"Where have you been?" Zach asked with a little firmness and edge to his voice. "This appointment has been on the books since last week."
"My fault completely. No excuse," Gio said as he tossed the tee in the locker and turned around.
Zach was familiar with his lover's sheepish grin - like a little boy who'd been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He couldn't help but scan the rest of Gio's tight body. What he saw did not please him. He just glared at Gio.
"What...what?" Gio defensively barked with a whine.
"You really think I'm a fucking fool, don't you?"
"Fool? Whaduya mean?" Gio looked puzzled and was taken aback.
"Take a look at yourself in the mirror. I don't think you were eating Cream of Wheat this morning in the nude and spilling it on yourself," Zach replied with a snarl. "What did I do when I called you a little while ago; take you away from your trick of the day?"
"I don't know what you're..."
"Cut the crap. I'm here covering for you so you can screw with someone." Zach stopped abruptly when he realized that his voice was too loud. "Jeez..."
"Wha...what do you mean, I..."
"I'm going back out to finish the client's training session," Zach replied with barely-controlled anger. "In the meantime, old buddy, you might want to take a quick shower and wash the dried jizz from your pubes and chest hair."
"Wait...I admit I jerked off this morning...that's all I..."
"Bullshit. I suppose you also sucked yourself off, too? Your breath smells like cum...and I know it isn't mine. How the fuck could you...after what just happened a couple of weeks ago?"
"Oh, babe. I fucked up...again."
"Fucked up, big time." Zach turned about face and added before he walked away, "One of us is moving out of the apartment...and I think it should be you."
"Zach, wait. It...it's not like we need to..." Gio said.
"Bullshit, it is like that. Out...today." Zach would have liked to say more but didn't want to upset the few members in the locker room.
He returned to the gym, took a deep breath, switched on the professional smile and caught up with his client. They finished the circuit, went through a cool down and set up appointments for the next month. Zach decided the man might make an effort and seemed to be a decent person. But his deeper thoughts were with the turn of events between Gio and him. He was running through what had happened as he approached the front desk.
"This has been a bitch of a day," Zach said to Jeremy. "I don't even remember if I have more appointments."
"Buddy, you look like you're carrying the burden of the world on your shoulders."
"If you only knew. Where's Gio?" Zach asked.
"He said something cryptic before he split a few minutes ago," Jeremy said. "He said you'd have to cover his next appointment and that he'd be out by four. I re-arranged the appointment but what's the other thing all about?"
"Family problems, little bro. But since you're kinda part of the family I might as well confide in you that things took a turn for the worse between the two of us just now." Zach thought he read more than just curiosity in his young friend's expression.
"Wow. I mean, like, I...don't want to seem nosy, but..." Jeremy replied nervously.
"Naw. That's okay. Just think of this as a learning moment for you. Gio has a bad habit of sticking his dick in places it shouldn't be. I love the guy but he just can't turn down a good fuck...most recently just this morning," Zach replied with a mixture of sadness and anger.
"Christ, why would he want to mess around with someone else when he has you?"
"Maybe it's part of the Lombardi family curse. His dad and brother both play around. But I'm not wired that way...I'm faithful and really expect a monogamous relationship." Zach looked at Jeremy and asked, "I hope I'm not dumping too much on you. I'm pissed and need a sounding board." If they weren't in public, Zach would have pulled Jeremy in his arms and let out a soul-wrenching cry. "Maybe I'm saying too much...if I am, I apologize."
"Not at all. I like this younger and older brother thing we've got going. Guess it's just in reverse this time. I'm old enough to figure out what the deal is. I now know that my uncles succumbed to AIDS because one of them liked getting a little on the side...without protection. I think it was Karl, but that's another story. I don't want to be an alarmist, but have you..."
"That's heavy duty, buddy. What are you, some 30 year old guy in the body of an 18 year old?" Zach said with a snicker.
"My uncles did a thorough job of teaching me about life...in more ways than they ever knew. It's been drummed into my head about safe sex since moving on from puberty."
Don't worry. Gio's fucking around isn't a new thing. We've been...well, protected...for quite a while." Zach stopped talking to greet a member and allow Jeremy to swipe the card. He knew the next appointment for Gio was at 2:30 p.m. so he could take a short break.
"I really appreciate you telling me about the problem with Gio. And I won't say anything to anyone. Promise," Jeremy said while holding up three fingers.
"No scout's honor oath needed," Zach said with a small smile. "Oh, the other thing he said on his way out was an answer to my demand that he move out. He'll be out of the apartment by four," Zach said, shaking his head. "What a mess...an' just because he can't get enough hard dick. God knows I've tried."
"So, that's it?" Jeremy frowned and let out a small sigh.
"With me there's no choice. I'm a one man's man and I expect the same thing the other way around. Maybe we can be friends down the road but that's about as far as it will go."
The final shave and grooming session was a date that Jeremy reluctantly decided to keep. He was very upset that Gio's latest infidelity had been the 'final straw' in Zach's relationship. That the other party was Charlie concerned Jeremy deeply.
"Welcome back to my web," Charlie said when Jeremy walked into the apartment. He was wearing gray sweatpants and a short-sleeve sweatshirt with Greek letters.
"Let's get this over with so I can get home. It's been a long day," Jeremy said without emotion. He automatically took off his coat and tossed it onto a chair. 'No way I'm going to be the fly caught in his web,' he decided. He could tell from the bulge that Charlie was not wearing any support under the sweats.
"Ah, you want a beer? Seems you've got sumpin on your mind." Charlie looked at him with a quizzical frown.
"Yeah, Charlie. One of my best friends split up with his boyfriend cuz the guy was cheating on him. Maybe a beer would be good." Jeremy sat down on the couch and looked at his host. "We need to talk about something."
"Let me get a couple of beers...I'll be right back." Charlie walked back to the kitchen and returned with two bottles of Heineken. He handed one to Jeremy before sitting down next to him on the couch.
"Thanks. I'm not a big drinker but I need this." Jeremy looked at the label and took a generous swig. He let out a tiny belch and shrugged. "You know a guy by the name of Gio...Lombardi?"
"Gio? Ah, yeah, I know a Gio...just casually. Don't remember his last name."
"Don't remember his last name? Shit, I saw him here yesterday when I was leaving. And you told me that a guy was coming over to study? What a crock..."
"Okay, okay...Gio was here. And I admit he wasn't here to study. What's the big deal?"
"The big deal is this: you lied to me - Gio's no student - and you're part of the reason that my friend is breaking up with the guy...after four years together as life partners."
"What? That's harsh...although I admit I wasn't exactly up front with you yesterday. I only met Gio last Sunday and really didn't remember his last name," Charlie said. He took a sip of beer, put the bottle on the coffee table and looked at Jeremy with raised eyebrows. "I guess that I need to be completely open to you. I'm...gay. Just wasn't ready to talk about it."
"You're what kind of gay?" Jeremy was rapidly digesting this new information. "Sometimes, all the time, bi...what is it?"
"As a goose. Didn't figure things out until my senior year of high school. I won't bore you with the details...well, actually they aren't that boring...but I came out over a year ago. My fraternity brothers are cool with my orientation and the folks took it okay...well, mom did. Dad just doesn't acknowledge it, one way or the other."
"Okay, we can deal with being gay...later." Jeremy looked at the ceiling and blinked rapidly as he processed this news. "You weren't honest with me; screwing around with Gio - who's just as good as married - doesn't wash."
"I really regret I wasn't more upfront with you...I was goin' to tell you tonight about my sexuality. And I swear that I had no idea that Gio was involved with anyone. He's a sexy guy but I don't knowingly break up marriages - whatever the gender."
"I wanna believe you...trust is a big deal from me. It's just that I've been witness to Gio going behind his partner's back twice in the last month and when I saw him at your doorstep, I freaked. Especially when you weren't truthful about who was going to visit you." Jeremy looked at Charlie with determination.
"Jeez, I fucked up, haven't I? Please believe me when I say I'm sorry. We've gotten off on the wrong foot and I want to square it with you. Can we put this behind us and start again...as far as trust is concerned?"
"Maybe. Let's talk about Gio," Jeremy said as he turned to face Charlie. "You say you just met him last weekend?"
"At Treasure Island on Broadway...in the produce department. That store is really a homo-heaven and the cruising is quite interesting. We just started talking while checking out the romaine lettuce. He told me he was going to make an Italian dinner for his family on Christmas day. We B.S.'d for a while and when he said he'd like to see me, I told him to come over on the 26th around noon."
"Wow, I didn't know shopping for groceries could be so complicated. So that was it?"
"Just that I mentioned that even though it was noontime, I didn't serve food," Charlie replied. "It was just about having sex with a neat guy...that's all. I really feel bummed out. You said that Gio has a lover of four years?"
"Did. So if you're interested in the guy, jump in. My friend Zach tossed him out and he needs a place to stay."
"That explains the messages I received from Gio...probably looking somewhere to crash. He's called twice tonight and I haven't had the chance...or interest, really...to return the calls."
"Interest? The guy is hot even though he's a slut."
"Yeah, hot is an understatement. But the vibe I got from him yesterday was exactly what I was doing: it was only a good fuck...that's all. He was polite but I knew he was only interested in getting his rocks off - that's not unusual with a lot of guys - and moving on. Now that you tell me that he has someone at home waiting for him...it makes a bit more sense."
"Had. He and Zach are history as in divorce. My friend's not interested in sharing his partner with anyone else." Jeremy leaned back and took another long pull from the bottle.
"Just for the record, I agree with your friend. Christ, I'm sorry I ever went shopping and met Gio. And I really feel shitty about being the reason for them breaking up."
"In all fairness, if it hadn't been you, it would have been someone else," Jeremy said with a shrug.
"So, you probably look at me as some horny predator...right?"
"Horny? Yeah...a bit. But as I told you, Gio has a habit of wandering so don't beat yourself up too much."
"Jeremy, please accept my apologies...this is not the way I operate."
"I hope I don't regret this but...I believe you. I need to trust someone to help me get comfortable with this new job. Someone I can be a friend with. You understand what I'm saying?"
"Trust is the key word, Jeremy. You mentioned his partner, your friend, Zach...?"
"Like Zach, if I ever find someone to call a lover and partner...that's it. No straying and no checking out other guys. That's not who I am and not something I'll tolerate."
"The person to be pissed at is Gio. So, yeah, let's drop it. All this stuff is pretty deep for a young guy like me."
"How about sharing your deep thoughts? I'm a good listener."
"Okay, confession time. I, ah...just came out to my best friend and a few other guys last week. For the record, I'm absolutely sure I'm gay. There, I said it." Jeremy felt that whatever misgivings he had coming over to Charlie's apartment were very rapidly fading away.
"Confession? That's more of a headline. I'm honored you'd share this info with me."
"We both need to make a clean start." Jeremy managed to turn on a slight smile.
"First of all, welcome to the club. You figured out things at the same time in your life as I did. You're okay with making this big step, coming out?"
"I realize now it's who I am. How far out I am has yet to be decided. All the guys I came out to are also gay."
"As they say, 'one step at a time'. Your high school years are almost behind you. Promise me that you'll come to me if you have any questions. I went through the same thing a couple of years ago." Charlie smiled wistfully as he sat back.
"I might take ya up on that sometime. And just for the record, what you did for me in the shower was...really good. And I don't mean the shaving."
"Taking care of that sausage of yours wasn't exactly a burden...I guess you understand that. But I'd really like to get to know the guy who's who attached to that gorgeous...appendage. I hope we can get this shit behind us and be friends." Charlie took another sip of beer and placed his hand on Jeremy's shoulder. Jeremy shifted a little and but not to free himself from the touch.
Charlie moved over and kissed Jeremy on the cheek. "A buddy peck. I want you to trust me and understand that I'll help you get through this as a buddy and teammate. I'm serious about being a good friend."
"Okay...deal. To being buddies and friends." Jeremy took Charlie's hand and squeezed it firmly before shaking it. "Let's finish our beers and get to work with the razor, cuz it's getting late. I've got a photo shoot in the morning and you're dancing."
"Let's toast to a new leaf...seriously." Charlie picked up his beer and nodded for Jeremy to do the same.
"A new leaf," Jeremy replied. He clinked his bottle on Charlie's bottle and they took one final sip.
"You know the drill. Peel off your clothes and I'll meet you in the bathroom." Charlie stood up, grabbed the two bottles and went to the kitchen.
"You need to strip tonight, too. No clothes for either of us in the bathroom." Jeremy went to the bedroom and was down to nothing within moments. He felt relaxed about what was to happen next - two buddies, however unorthodox, helping out each other. A moment of truth had occurred and a comfort level was now achieved. He looked at the door as Charlie came into the room.
"You look pretty good from here," Charlie said as he pulled off his shirt and tossed it aside. "Go into the bathroom. With the stronger light I can see what we may have missed...and what you need to do for me." He pulled the drawstring loose, pushed down the pants and stepped out of them.
"Gottcha." Jeremy decided not to stare too long and tempt his libido with this physical image of young manhood. He felt he had everything under control but didn't want to push it. "I need to make this pretty fast...I'm at the mercy of the bus schedule."
"I understand, champ. But don't worry about the bus; I'll drive you home. That's what buddies are for."
After the last training session, Zach changed without a shower and promptly left the gym. Between appointments, he had arranged for a locksmith to meet him at the apartment around 4:30 p.m. He had calmed down but was determined that the relationship with Gio was over.
The apartment seemed to be clear of Gio's gear, clothes, laptop and small personal possessions. No note was left behind but nothing of Zach's was missing. Their mutually purchased items like the TV or stereo had not been taken. The locksmith arrived a few minutes early and made haste to change the locks. For good measure - more for overall security than barring Gio - he asked that an additional deadbolt lock be installed. While the work was in progress, Zach got a call on his cell. He knew who it was without looking at the caller I.D.
"Hi, Gio. I see you've got your stuff moved out."
~~~ "Yeah. I'm staying with one of the other trainers for a while until I can figure things out. I guess...I'll probably find a studio."
"I can bring mail to work. We also need to figure out what I owe you for things we bought together?" Zach really felt strange discussing untangling their relationship.
~~~ "That's not a big deal...most of it is pretty old. Listen, I know I don't deserve this...but is there a possibility we could just meet for a beer and talk? I feel rotten and want to apologize for being such a shit."
"I dunno...I suppose we should after four years. What do you have in mind? I don't want to get together here at the apartment."
~~~ "How about a beer and a burger at Goose Island around six?"
"I can handle that. See ya then." Zach disconnected the call. He didn't want to talk any further on the phone.
The locksmith accepted a Visa card for the charge for services and was on his way a little after five. That gave Zach plenty of time to enjoy a long shower, to get dressed and to watch the first part of Nightly News. He looked casually around the room and remembered other items of Gio's that was no longer their place: a small trophy from Penn State, the Lombardi family portrait photograph, an A.C.E. certificate. At 5:45 p.m., he bundled up and walked over to Clark Street and the brewpub. The temperature was dropping that evening and Zach felt fortunate the walk was only a couple of blocks.
"Over here," Gio shouted, with a wave from a table.
Zach nodded and took off his coat while he walked over. He sighed and sat down to the waiting beer. He took a sip from the mug and looked at his now former partner.
"Here I am as promised." Zach had lost count how many times one or the other ordered without having to ask what they wanted.
"Thanks...I know I don't deserve any consideration. We've been through a lot...mostly good, though. Oh, I ordered two burgers, medium rare with cole slaw."
"Yeah, mostly good. In fact it's been pretty great except for...this crap you keep pulling. I'm not even going to ask you why. The guy must have been quite a knockout to risk running our partnership into the ground?"
"It was my dick thinking - like the other times. He was intriguing, I'll give you that...but I take full responsibility. I don't exactly know why..."
"Gio, I'm not going to psychoanalyze you. You do what you do because it excites you for whatever reason. We could discuss the male predator theories but it's just that...theories. Do you realize how much you broke my heart? How whatever trust we had was just flushed down the drain? How I can't be in a relationship when I never know when my lover is getting a little on the side?"
"Pretty bad, isn't it? I really fucked up. I guess trying to convince you that we can work it out won't fly this time?"
"You don't get it. I can't accept an open relationship. That's really what you want: warm cuddles...most of the time. And I'm supposed to turn my head when your little head leads you astray. That was never our agreement nor my understanding."
"So, whatever I say about figuring out a way to get back together...you won't buy it?" Gio stopped when the server brought the food then, waved her off to indicate they wanted privacy.
"Do you...have any idea...how I'm trying not...to explode? You and your brother should get your heads together and figure out why you do this. Forget about your dad; he's too old and your mother found a way to deal with it. For Christ's sake, your brother just went through wife number two and you've lost me." Gio's lack of a quick retort was evidence that Zach had hit a raw nerve. He tried to remain calm as he picked up the burger and took a bite.
"This is the end...really?" Gio was trembling and a few renegade tears appeared.
"Really...I have no choice. I won't let you hurt me...again." Zach continued to eat while Gio watched, unmoving.
"Okay. Here are the keys to the apartment." Gio finally said. He reached into his pocket and put the apartment keys on the table.
"I've already changed the locks," Zach said coolly. "But, thanks." He calmly - in a very controlled manner - resumed eating the food and took a few sips of beer. He made absolutely no eye contact.
"I...I gotta go. See ya at the gym." Gio grabbed his coat, threw a twenty-dollar bill on the table and hurried out of the restaurant.
Zach said nothing as Gio departed. He was in pain as he felt the four-year relationship come crashing down in one final thud. At the same time, he was relieved he had made the choice to break it off. No more wondering with whom his partner might be screwing around. Philosophically he reasoned this was a big reason for hetero married couples divorcing and for many gay men not making a commitment. He shook his head with a bitter smile as he tried to picture himself - a buffed out, six-foot male in his prime - as the scorned woman.
TO BE CONTINUED