I suddenly realized I was at Rickeys, when it was already too late to turn in. I continued up El Camino Real until I could do a "U-turn", went south until I could make another "U-turn,"  and pulled into the parking lot, sort of in back, so no one would remark the battered Pickup.

That never bothered me before. Who gives a damn about appearances? I looked down at my belly as I got out, and thought "you'd better start thinking -- right about now, asshole!" I could see my toes, but barely. Disgusting. Take it Off!!!

Oh well .  .  . can't do anything about that today. Mike's going to see all the warts and moles, and if he doesn't like it, tough. I hoped. Shit, why can't I just unzip this little pouch in front and toss it in the back of the truck?

I wandered into reception, getting directions for room 206. I think they figured I was a plumber or a tradesman there to fix a leak or something. There was a definite "looking down my nose at you" air on the handsome young buck behind the desk. I imagined nailing him on the carpet in the center of the lobby, his legs pointing at the stars, him shouting "More! More!" and felt a little better. Gay as a goose, flittery hands and glittery eyes, the silver tongue of an adder. He turned away, and I saw he had a broad butt with no definition. Good.

I tapped lightly on the door, my little bag in hand, and it opened as if he'd been sitting in a chair next to it. Maybe he did really want to see me? I swallowed the piece of chewing gum I'd chomped for five minutes trying to get any bad breath monsters exorcised.

"Hey, Will," he said.

"Hey yourself, Michael." I walked into the room, and threw my bag on the stool at the foot of the bed. "Nice digs."

The room was large, more a junior suite than a room, as the bed was sort of in an alcove off to the left of the door, and the main room was set up with a sofa, two big wing-back chairs, small tables a TV console off to the right, and the now-obligatory desk with a computer. All in the best of taste, of course. If you're a New York designer.

"Drink?" he asked.

"Think I'd better shower first," I parried. "Get some of the soil out from under my fingernails."

"Kiss?"

"Thought you'd never ask," I said. We flowed into each other's arms, and looked directly into our eyes as our lips approached contact. It felt . . . familiar yet new. His arms were strong, his look steady. My belly hit him first, but not by a lot -- I sucked it in a little. Okay, a lot.

When our lips actually introduced themselves, our mouths opened in concert, and we were in a passionate lip lock before you can say it. His taste was sweet, like he'd just brushed his teeth, eaten a mint, flossed, gargled, another mint. All this for me?

"I wanted to do that last night," he said when we came up for air. "I wasn't quite sure."

"I know," I said. "I wanted to too, but you just never know."

"Does it ever change?"

"What?" I stole a kiss between. We were still wrapped up in his arms and mine.

"A guy meets someone he thinks is ultra hot, wants to make a move, but is afraid of being rejected."

"Of course," I said.

"When?"

"After the first kiss."

He slapped my butt, not too hard, not too soft, and laughed and smiled with his eyes at the same time. "I can see we're going to have some interesting experiences," he said without thinking. "I mean . . ."

"You got that one right," I said. "If you don't point me at the shower, right now, your smoke alarm is going to go off."

"That hot?" he said with a smirk.

"That stinky, man," I said, and pulled away from him. I lifted my right leg up to untie my boot. "I wanna bath!"

"You got it," he said. Then, in a lower voice. "I like your smell."

I got red. Couldn't help it. Sam said that, too. Stop. Don't compare. It isn't fair. He's older than Sam, he's got different mindsets, he's taller, broader shoulders . . . STOP! I pulled off the boot.

"Help!" I said. "This man has olfactory delusions! Where's the damned bathroom?"

"God, a clean freak!" he said, with a fake air of disapproval. "Over there." He pointed at a door disguised as a part of the wood paneling.

My other boot dropped, and I squiggled my toes in appreciation of the soft carpet. I grabbed my bag,  and disappeared into the woodwork.

It took only a few seconds to get into the shower, and I enjoyed the play of the spray over me, even though it was one of those awful low-flow heads. I was in the midst of shampooing my hair when he walked in, raised the lid and started peeing. I was afraid to look down at him, but my eyes have a mind of their own, and just went right for the bacon.

It wasn't chartreuse or violet. It looked just like any dick does when it's taking a pee. Relieved. He was uncut, good sized, nothing to be ashamed of.. No gross deformities, that gorgeous butt hidden behind his tan chinos.

He looked through the glass at me, too. I sucked in my gut a little when he came in.

"Want company?" he asked as he shook his dick of the last drops.

"Not yet," I said.

"You're lying trough your teeth. Men with erections don't want to be left alone if they're over eighteen."

"I don't . . . " I reached down. My dick was half hard, just from watching him pee. "Piss off!" I said, in as convincing a tone as I could manage under the circumstances.

"I just did," he said. "What do you want to drink before we go eat?" He just stood there, ogling me as he asked, and I was damned if he was going to intimidate me, so I went back to rinsing the shampoo out. My dick was still stretching, I could feel it now, and I'm sure I looked ridiculous. I could almost feel his eyes on me, and it was pushing my switch.

"Got whiskey?" I said.

"Scotch or Bourbon."

"Scotch. Soda or water. No ice." I shut off the water. I wasn't fully hard, but a damned long way from being soft.

"Do I make you nervous, staring?"

"Of course you do, idiot!" I said reaching for a towel. I had to open the shower door, of course, giving him a clear view.

"Good," he said. "I like a man who's honest. Even when he's horny."

"Get me that drink, knave, or you're gonna get nailed."

"Yessir!" he said with a grin, and moved quickly to get out the door. I have to laugh now. He thought I meant "get punched." We talked about it last week when I was writing this all down. I never realized it until then. Oh, well, everything worked out for the best.

By the time I was dry, shaved, deodorized and dressed, with a dash of Dunhill cologne -- the only one I wear -- he had the drinks ready. There was a bowl of popcorn, too. Either room service was incredibly quick, or he had a microwave. Or maybe he'd pre-ordered. No matter - he was a considerate host.

We sat and talked, easily, loosely, about the kind of day we'd had. He didn't discuss work as such, just that he'd had a productive one, that they'd had some laughs at lunch, that he'd missed the traffic jam on Highway 101.

I told him that my job was done at Cielo, and when he asked "so does that mean you won't be coming down here any more?" I told him about being asked to put in a bid for the Star job.

"Isn't that the big office complex they announced last year?" he asked.

"Yeah, right near the Dumbarton Bridge," I said.

"You're that good, huh?"

"The CEO thinks so," I said. "I've never done anything that big, but I've had some fairly big jobs; this is the same thing, just ten times bigger."

"I can believe it," he said. "You have that look."

"What look?"

"A man that knows what he wants and how to get it."

"Most of the time,:" I replied, trying not to look coy.

We talked a little about the stuff I'd be doing. I realized he knew zip about landscaping, and only wanted to know because it would get me talking. So I asked him where he lived: The Oakland Hills, not far from where the Fire (In '93?) ripped through hundreds of homes. I told him of the house I'd had built in Sausalito after tearing down the one that had been there before, right near the Alta Mira  , but far enough south to give me a better view, no restaurant noise, and nice neighbors.

Then I can't remember the talk any more, just the aura we built around us. It was comfortable, relaxing, loose yet well-structured, interesting as hell. I think that's when I first learned that he'd lived overseas for many years, had had only one lover until something happened in 1990, he didn't say what. Had the whole family history, including the sister that married the guy that got done for DUI.

"What really happened there?" I probed.

"We just can't figure it out," said Michael. "He seemed to implode after the arrest and conviction. He never drank before, not really, and yet after, he got drunk all the time, went out for days and didn't come home, stopped going to church, then just walked out, left a note that said he'd take care of Monica (his sister) and the kids, but it wasn't possible for him to stay."

"No explanation at all?"

"Nope. Monica figures it could only have been another woman."

"Maybe another man?"

"Totally against his grain. His family are all strict Catholics, he is too, goes to -- went to -- mass every Friday and Sunday, had a wonderful relationship with Monica. Including the sex part. She couldn't get enough of him, he couldn't get enough of her. He loved those kids like no man loved his kids better."

Then we got on to my family a little, and I told him some about Sam. Nothing heavy, just that Sam had died, my family was me, and since my parents were gone and I had no siblings, Susie and Tom had kind of taken me under their wing, from the day after Sam and I got together. I was a sort of uncle to their two kids, Billy and Larry, all that stuff.

We talked non-stop to the restaurant on Castro Street (the main drag in Mountain View, not the San Francisco mecca for gays), all through dinner, over an after-dinner drink in the lobby of Ricky's. Then, of course, he popped the question I wanted to hear, but dreaded answering.

"Will you stay here with me tonight?"

It wasn't phrased like I had expected it. Not "shall we go to bed?" or "would you like another drink in my room?" or "would you like to see my etchings?" or even "wanna fuck?" It was a request not to leave him alone for the night. How could I refuse? I would have been a cad, as well as a complete fool.

"I snore."

"Me too." We left the lobby, side by side.

"Sometimes I fart in my sleep."

"Me too," he said opening the door.

"I like to cuddle, you won't get much sleep."

"Try me," he said turning to me, pressing into my arms, drawing me to him. We kissed the kiss of passionate lovers. It wasn't just a prelude to getting it on, it was . . . more than that. You know what I mean, I hope, or at least I hope that you will if you don't already.

We stood like that for a while, kisses alternating between passion and tenderness, our erections threatening to tear through our trousers. Oh, yes, my friends, we gray-hairs can have erections just as implacable as the under-twenty set, just not so frequently. It makes us more appreciative of them, more concerned with making sure they are used to good purpose, not squandered on the undeserving.

"We'd better get some sleep," he said. "Tomorrow's a big day for both of us."

"What's up for you?" I said.

He looked at me for a second, then turned to open the closet door to get hangars for us. "Oh, just a big software test," he said. "Nothing glamorous or anything, like bidding on the whole Star project."

We undressed side by side, not hurriedly, not slowly, not teasing or titillating, but appreciating. I went to suck in my gut before I took off my shirt, and he said "relax, Will, it's only me," and I felt a twinge of something behind my eyes. Sam said that, too.

"Sleep nude?" he asked.

"T-shirt, no bottoms," I confessed. Sam was convinced it would help me stave off colds. It seemed to work most of the time.

Michael looked at me funny. "I thought only Italians knew that."

Well, maybe there's some Italian blood in me," I cracked. "We don't know who the father of my maternal grandmother was."

The boxers (me) and briefs (Michael) came off, and we almost shyly crawled into the big bed, moving towards each other's warmth on the cold sheets, god bless 'em, every one.

"Are we ready to make love?" he mused. "I think we need a little more time, don't you?"

He does that a lot. Asks questions and gives the answer he's already figured out for himself.

All of a sudden, all the tension escaped from the room, through the fireplace, no doubt, and we cuddled together, kissing frequently, just tender little pecks, not talking much, except to say it felt nice, it was natural, move a little here so you aren't trapped. I caressed his ears, kissed the tip of his nose. My erection drooled a little, but he didn't seem to mind that it was on his leg, and he drooled a little on my hip. But that was all right. His head fit my shoulder perfectly, and as soon as I heard his deep breathing start, I faded into dreamland, my arm around his shoulder. I had an erection the whole night, I think.

My dreams were clear, pleasant and totally forgotten. I do know that there was none of this supernatural bullshit about the former lover coming back and approving, or not, as the case may be. I also know that I had a wet dream, sometime or other. That I remember very well. But it was too comfortable in the warmth of the bed to wake up, so I didn't.

Not until dawn, or maybe a few minutes before, the room just beginning to take on dimensions, did I come to. I was wrapped around Michael like a spoon, my left arm under his neck, my right arm over his chest. My dick was deep between his legs, hard as iron. I couldn't remember the last time I woke up in the morning with a pee-hardon. I can't remember when they stopped, either. I guess they sort of faded away, or maybe all those years with Sam had cured me of them.

"Morning, handsome," he said in a murmur to me.

I almost burst out in a laugh. "Me? Handsome? Not since . . . Sam," I thought, then shut my face before I could make an ass out of myself. I excel at that. One of my true great talents.

"Hey, Sunshine," I said. I'd never used that term before, not to Sam, not to anybody. It's Michael's, nobody else's.

"You have a good time last night?"

"Michael, I don't think I could have had a better time if I'd been on drugs."

"You always call me Michael. I like that. I hate Mike."

"It fits."

"Do you do drugs?"

"Never, not since 'Nam, when everything was there to play with, and I got my fingers burned."

"Bad trip?"

"Had an affair with a jarhead who was hooked on speed and grass."

 I told him of Jerry the magnificent specimen, the Marine poster boy who captured my heart, then broke it.

He was the arming tech for the marine F-4s attached to our outfit, and bunked in my tent as soon as one of the 12 beds came free. We banged like bunnies in the corner bunk when everybody was asleep, or pretending to be. I was in more than heat, less than love, but I thought we were making good progress.

He and I got zonked on drugs once in a while. We got some pretty strong stuff one night, and crashed early. For some reason, I woke up and saw his bunk below me empty, and somehow I knew where he was. J.R. had talked about rumors that guys were in the bunkers at night, strictly forbidden.

I had on my sleep shorts and dogtags, nothing else, and crept out of the tent towards the bunker, my heart in my throat, scared to death he was in there and not just on the crapper. I heard the noises you know happen only one way, the grunt-grunt as someone nailed ass, and I looked into the bunker. There was a pale moon that night, and I could see him silhouetted against the light from the other entrance. There was no mistaking his magnificent body.

He was bent at the waist, his legs spread just enough to bring his butt hole to the right level for the guy nailing him, his head up to bring his throat in direct line of the dick pounding into him from that end. There were a number of guys in there, I couldn't tell how many. The bunkers were big enough for a hundred, but there couldn't have been more than fifteen or twenty guys there. I sat in the corner, tears streaming, as one guy after another mounted him, first from the front, then as soon as the place at the rear was free, there. He just stood there, took everyone, his hands on his knees for support, the guy nailing him forcing him back and forth on the dick of the guy in front.

After at least six guys shot their wads into the place I thought was reserved for me, I turned to go.

"Doncha wanna piece?" said a voice from right next to me. "Everybody gets at least one," he said . It was Thomas, the loadmaster.

"He been here before?" I asked, trying not to let the tears creep into my voice.

"Yeah, comes in every once in a while, usually when his main man is zonked," came the response.

"I'm not into sloppy twenty-seconds," I said flippantly.

"Want a fresh piece?" he said.

I said nothing.

"Let's tear off a piece," he said at  me, and took my dick in his hand. I was hard and drooling..

He leaned back and pulled me with him, and lifted his legs around me, getting them under my arms somehow. My body betrayed me, and I just plunged right into him.

"God, you are huge!" he whispered at me. I'm not, only above average, I think. I donít care. Nobody ever said it was too small, and I never slept with a guy who had a bigger one.

I came almost at once. But I was mad, angry, hurt. So I kept going, right through the orgasm, loaded him up with spunk and got him all slippery and comfy, and told him to relax, he was going on a long ride.

"I ain't come yet," he said. "It's gonna happen fast."

"Let it come, Buck, we'll rip off a double header."

"Will?" he said.

"Yeah," I said, nailing him harder, deeper, faster.

"Man, I been wanting this," He whispered.

"Well you got it now," I said, and felt his orgasm hit, the clamping on my dick that says he's spewing his jizz all over himself., unaided, his hands on my hips, pulling me into him. I saw another guy pull out of Jerry's butt, another quickly take his place, a new guy shove his dick in Jerry's mouth, and I pounded Buck all the more. He whimpered in my mouth as I kissed him, moved his hands up to my back and moaned, his orgasm passing, expecting to be cuddled, loved.

But I kept it up, kept nailing him, and felt myself coming to another orgasm, and told him through my tears he was in for a long night. He just caressed my face and said, "Do it Will, take all of it you want. I know." He grabbed my balls with one hand and rolled them all over, and drew my face down to him for more kisses. I came into him again, and it was real good, but I wanted more, and I didn't stop, despite the labored breathing, the sweat streaming down my back, I kept right on nailing him, slower, maybe, but just as deep, just as long.

He kept moaning, and I kept nailing, and I saw two more loads emptied into Jerry's ass, and it kept me going for some reason. I was still crying, but not as deeply, and Buck was caressing me, urging me, slowing me down, kissing me all over, licking the salt of my tears away, not minding that I wasn't stopping, I was gonna nail him until dawn. Somebody came over to our corner, and I felt a tongue on my butthole, wet and warm. I kept nailing Buck, and I could feel him getting closer, not there yet, but close.

His insides were perfectly lubed, now, with my double load, and I moved in and out of the velvet fist with no problem. The tongue kept laving me, and I saw a guy get under Jerry and start sucking him, just as another guy sprayed into him and dismounted, and the guy in front took his turn.

The tongue went into my butthole a tiny amount, and I felt my trigger cock. I felt Buck start to clench up, and he started to moan deep into my mouth. The tongue went into me a little more, and Buck clenched me in his vise, as his second orgasm ripped into him, his come spraying all over us both. I realized someone's hand was under me, jacking him, and I exploded into him again, my asshole tightening around the finger that was suddenly up my butt, squirming all over my nut as I came.

I stopped, just as Jerry spit out the dick in his face and said "I'm cumming, take it you fucking squid!" and put his mouth back on the erect dick in front of him, screaming his release around it. The guy in back kept on nailing.

I stopped.

"You okay?" asked Buck.

"Yeah," I said. "Thanks."

"Go back to bed, Will. You don't wanna see any more."

My eyes were getting accustomed to the dark, I guess. I looked over at Jerry, that beautiful body plugged at both ends, one by a fat old master sergeant who I despised, the other by the payroll master, a skinny guy with bad breath and worse acne -- a real nasty piece of work. There were at least fifteen or twenty guys sitting watching the show, and another four of five in line behind the skinny guy, waiting their turn in the mouth and butt of the guy I once loved. The Master Sergeant shot into Jerry, and the Paymaster quickly took his place. The guy behind moved up to Jerry's mouth and pushed in. One of the guys sitting down stood up and took the back of the line waiting for the mouth. It was like an assembly line.

"Yeah," I said. "You're right."

I got up and went to the shower, cold as ice cubes, and washed away the night and my feelings for the jarhead. Buck washed me, held me, dried me, walked with me back to my bunk. Jerry was still gone.

"Try to sleep," Buck said. I was in the top bunk, so his handsome face was just above me. He just stood there and held my hand, gave me a couple of kisses on the forehead, and I sorta drifted into a half sleep. I don't remember him leaving.

Three hours later, Jerry came back in the tent, just as light was beginning to break, and crawled into his bunk.

"Have a nice time?" I whispered. They were the last words I spoke to him.

"Yeah," he said. "You?"

I didn't answer, and went to sleep with no problem. I never said a word to him again, not when we were in the same mess line, not when we were on the line, not when we were in the tent, not when he found out he had the clap, not when he got booted out for conduct unbecoming. He infected at least thirty guys. They stayed. He was only a male pussy, and a jarhead at that.

I nailed Buck from then on, until he rotated, and he promised me nobody else would nail him as long as I didn't nail anybody else, but as soon as he was rotated, he'd be free to do as he pleased. I figured that was a pretty good deal, and he left only two weeks before I did, so at least we had steady sex with no risk of the clap. He was nice to me, and me to him, but it wasn't love or anything like that. I never heard from him from the time he left to get on the "Proud Bird with the Brass Ass" 707 for the nonstop trip home to the USA and his discharge.

Oh yeah. The point of all that. I never took dope of any kind again. Ever. I don't even take aspirin if my back hurts after a long day.

"You know you had a wet dream last night?" Michael asked.

"Oh, shit," I said. If it had been more light, he would have seen me blushing. While I was relating the story about Buck Thomas and the jarhead, he had turned to put his head on my shoulder, like when we'd gone to sleep. "I'm sorry. Did I make a mess?"

"All over me," he said. "Like a firehose."

"You've been reading too many porn stories, I laughed at him conspiratorially. "It's never more than a tablespoon, according to Kinsey, and guys over forty are usually around half a teaspoon."

"Well., at least a tablespoon, he giggled. "I woke up just as you went off, between my legs, under my nuts."

"Shit, Michael, I didn't mean to . . ."

"Waste it?" he said, with a quick peck on my nose.

"That's not what I meant!" I protested, but I was laughing.

"It's okay. They change the sheets every day."

To this day, Michael loves retelling the story of me making love to him in my sleep, before we'd even gotten serious enough to decide to make love together. Sometimes I'm not sure if he's trying to embarrass me a tad, bring me down a peg, or brag about my body knowing what it wanted before I did. He never once brought up the jarhead, Buck Thomas, or any other person unfortunate enough to have suffered my dick before we met. That's a rare gift, to be able to not be jealous of someone's past. We all have pasts, and when you meet someone and you're over forty, your past is liable to have some unpleasant things in it.

The next week flew by. I saw Michael the night after we slept together, but only for a quick drink before I went back to Sausalito. For the next week, I was up to my eyebrows in meetings with the general contractor on the Star campus, getting plot plans together, preparing the estimate, all that stuff. When I presented my part of the proposal on Thursday afternoon, I didn't even stutter when I quoted the figure: fifteen million eight hundred forty thousand plus a contingency of six hundred eighty thousand for toxic waste disposal if the test borings proved representative. There was a layer of mud with mercury contamination, probably old mine tailing debris from up in the hills, in the three borings we'd done. Rather than do a full test, Star wanted a quote now, with contingencies. Harrison was in a hurry.

Michael and I spent an hour or two on the telephone every night when we weren't together. We talked about everything under the sun, and a few that weren't, like the probability of life on other planets outside our solar system (100%), how long it would be before we explored the nearest star with people, not robots (end of the next century), that sort of thing.

We spoke of dreams of the future, trouble in the past, opportunities in the present. We met for dinner in the City a couple of times, once at a small restaurant in the Castro with really decent food and cute young things as waiters, the other time in a smart restaurant in North beach, very authentic Italian. At evening's end, we said good night, went to our trucks, and head out for our respective warren, him south, me north.

I started dreaming about him at night. I envisaged his head on the pillow below me, falling into his eyes. Of the two of us on a boat on some lake, drinking cold ones and hauling in a fish a minute, all brown trout. Of being up north, in the Coastal Redwoods, walking on needles so thick, they muffled all sound.

Then came the news I had hoped desperately to hear. The Board of Star approved Dan Harrison's selection of the Carter Construction company as general contractor for the new corporate campus. Baker Landscaping, Inc. was listed as one of the major subcontractors. I had just landed a fifteen million dollar, five year project, to add to my other business which was then grossing no more than half a million a year. It took only five working days from the beginning of my discussions with Carter.

Jim Carter, the owner of the company that bore his father's name, called me that afternoon to congratulate me. I had tried calling him to do the same thing, but his secretary told me he was buried under a barrage of enquiries from papers, pressure groups, politicians and prospective subcontractors, and would probably not get back to me for a few days. He told me the choice was clear. "You're one of only two who believed in the project from the economic/esthetic standpoint as well as the environmental standpoint, and were willing to take on all the other aspects of the job," he said. "And Dan Harrison likes your work. So do I."

I was totally over the moon, I called Susie right away to tell her, of course. Her answering machine picked up. Shit! Then .  .  . my first choice was Michael. I had told him all about the work I was doing, I told him how excited I was about doing it, how good it would be to have a good long-term contract I could really get into. Wow, was I excited!

I had no idea how to reach him at Nasa. I called Rickys and left a message for him to call me. I was bursting!

I called my crew leaders, my project manager over on the East Bay job, then started calling the people I wanted on my team. Karen Frusca, a great botanist as well as a super project designer, Dennis Bloom, best project manager I ever had in the old company, Darrell Griffin, the leading guy in formal California Wetlands engineering. Just courtesy calls, of course, nothing else. All three asked to be considered for my team. That was one more than I'd hoped for, two more than I expected. It just kept getting better.

At five thirty I got off the telephone. I wanted to talk to Michael. I called his hotel. He hadní't come in yet. At six, the phone rang.

"Hello, Will Baker," I said in my business tone.

"This is Michael," said The Voice. I got chills up and down my spine. Something was up. He never spoke that formally.. "I've been invited to a dressy dinner party in the City. Can you come tonight?"

"Sure, but . . ."

"Pick you up at six forty-five. You'll like these guys. See ya," and he hung up. I've got the greatest news for him since we met, and the fu**ing bugger hangs up on me! I was spitting mad. Instantly. I called Susie. I really needed to tell somebody, before I burst! Damned answering machine again.

I resolved not to dress, No, stupid. Dress. No, stupid. Shower first. I managed to shower and shave, actually get dressed, fuming all the while. Rude son-of-a-bitch! Didn't even let me get a word in edgewise, just tells me to . . . " and so on. You know the rote. We've all done it. Us honest ones, anyway. (Yes, I know it's not grammatically correct Miss Hawkins, but it suits my mood, so f*** off.)

At six twenty-nine, the doorbell rang. I went to the door, ready for a fight, but when I opened it, there was this guy in a gray uniform, with a hat in one hand and a single, perfect red rosebud in the other.

"I think you . . . " I started.

"Mr. Baker?" the guy said.

"Yes?"

"Mr. Michaels sends his regrets that he can't meet you here, and asks that you come with me in the car."

He handed me the rose. "What the f*** is this all about," I wonder to myself. "Can't take the time to meet me, has to send some . . ." there was a card. I opened it, my fingers trembling with frustration.

"Will - We have to talk. Go to the restaurant with Charles, Will explain all there. Should be at the restaurant a few minutes after you get there. Wait. Please. It's important."

"Oh Christ, what's wrong?" I go from being completely angry to being completely worried. "NASA finds out he's gay, wants to sack him. No -- not legal.  NASA isn't military. His project is canceled, he's out of a job -- no sweat, I'm gonna make a bundle, I can . . . no, he's government employee, can't be just sacked like that.  Has AIDS, just found out -- no, he had the test last week, they told him he's okay."

By this time, I'm in this Limo - brand new Lincoln, can't have more than twenty miles on it. We head out in the wrong direction, towards the Alta Mira, and of course in this long wheelbase monster, there's no way to turn around. We're going away from the freeway, not towards it. I knock on the glass. The guy doesn't answer. I pick up the intercom. It buzzes. No answer. What the f*** IS GOING ON HERE?"

The car pulls into a steep drive, up and around. It's the Alta Mira. What the . . . ?

One of the uniformed guys from the hotel opens the door.

"Mr. Baker?"

"Yes."

"Mr. Michaels will be here shortly. Would you go to the main restaurant floor sir? A concierge will meet you there."

Grumpily, I got out of the Lincoln. Bloody waste of money to send a car no more than four blocks to pick me up. What the hell was going on? And why the cheap trick of the red rose?

I half stomped my way up the stairs, past the little garden, into the big reception area of the old dame.

A very attractive young man, strictly GQ, met me at the top of the stairs. "Mr. Baker?"

I nodded, getting more and more confused. What was all this elaborate nonsense?

"Come with me please, sir," said the vision. If I were twenty years younger, I'd take a shot at nailing him, just for the sport of it.

We walk down a long hall, to a large spiral staircase, up a flight, back down the same hall, but one floor up, to a blank door.

"If you will wait in here, sir, Mr. Michaels will be here shortly." Say the lips, a little puffy, no doubt from pulling on a . . .

He opens the door, and I look at him, then take a step into the little room. Except it's not . . . a . . . little . . . room.

"Congratulations!" cried out six voices at once, and I'm surrounded. Susie, Tom, Billy, Larry, Karen Frusca and her husband, Tony, and -- most of all, Michael Michaels.

"How the heck?" I said, not quite believing all this. Handshakes all around for the guys, kisses from the girls.

"Gosh, you're getting taller and taller every day," I say to Billy. Its true, he's still growing, at seventeen, Six four if he's an inch, looks like his dad did when I first met him.

"And you're getting better looking,:" said Billy. I started.

"Hands off," said Michael without hesitating. "He's taken. Go find your own."

Everybody laughed, including Billy. I wasn't sure I'd heard that quite right, but I was too flustered to react. A door opened behind us, and we were ushered into a private dining area, where one waiter held a tray of glasses of champagne and the other a tray of hors d'oeuvres.

When everyone had a glass, Tom raised his glass, and said something I canít remember, and we all had a sip of the bubbly, then we got relaxed, and just chatted for a while.

"How on earth did you arrange all this?" I asked Michael as we all sat at one oval table overlooking the bay and the Bay Bridge in the distance. It was a clear night, no fog, and the Bay sparkled.

"Suzie's the culprit," he said. "I just called her for help, and she tracked everybody down."

"How'd you get Suzie's number?" I asked, confused. "You've never even met!"

"You talk about her and Tom and the family all the time," he laughed. "All I needed was Information for the telephone number. The rest was easy."

"Wow!" I said. We had a wonderful meal, talking, laughing, gossiping and just enjoying each other.

"How's your track record," asked Billy at one point, looking at Michael.

"For?"

"Partners."

I looked for a place to spit the mouthful of prime rib I was about to lose.

"Fair," said Michael with a sparkle in his eye that I had already grown to distrust. "Buried all three of them within a year."

"What?" said Billy, not realizing he was being had.

"Got some nice settlements," he said.

Billy finally realized what had happened and burst out in braying laughs, then the rest of us joined in.

"You guys gonna live together?" asked Larry. Fifteen year olds can be dangerous.

"Now Larry, don't butt your nose into other people's affairs." Said Suzie.

"It is my affair," said Larry. "Will's my uncle."

"Oh Larry, don't be ridiculous," said Tom. He really knows how to deal with his kids. "Will's not going to stop being your uncle just because he settles down with someone else."

"Taking Uncle Sam's place!" said Larry, the resentment as loud as cannon.

"Not taking his place," said Michael. "Just standing in. Will's not the kinda guy who'd jump ship on you. Promise."

"Kewl," said Larry, and I started to breathe normally again. I think

The food there is fairly good, and the view unparalleled. Wine was plentiful, and delicious, as I recall. Even Larry and Billy got a little. They were impressed that the waiters served them.

Around ten, the dinner broke up. Tomorrow was a work day, and everybody but me lived an hour away at this time of night.

Michael and I said goodnight to them as they left. It felt good to have him by my side. I was proud to have him there

I turned to him and asked the question. "Will you stay with me tonight?"

"Of course," he said. "Where else?"

We went downstairs to the parking lot, and I looked for Michael's Ram. Nowhere to be seen. The attendant took his keys from a peg, and disappeared down to the parking area.

"Michael, that was the biggest surprise, the nicest surprise I could have hoped for," I said, leaning into him a little.

"It was nice to have somebody to do it for," he said. His hand rested on my arm, lightly. Just enough to conduct the waves of affection I was feeling.

A slinky car pulled up, and I moved out of the way. They were taking their time with his Ram.

:Let's go," he said, slipping some money to the attendant.

."This is yours?" I said, looking down at the car I lusted after from the day I saw it: the Jaguar XKS, drophead, creamy Connelly leather, deep Windsor blue, not a thing out of proportion, nothing forgotten,

"Yeah," he said as we got in. "Boy and his toy."

"I love it!" I said.

"Which way?" he asked.

"Huh?"

"I don't know where you live," he laughed. "I need directions!"

"But . . ." and I realized that I had never had Michael to my home. I got nervous for no reason, except I wanted everything to be perfect, but of course it wasn't. Oh well. I gave him directions, and we were there in less than two minutes.

"Let's put this in the garage," I said, pushing the little remote control thing on my key chain. The door raised, revealing the MG, the SL, and my pickup. "Let me pull the pickup up a space."

One of the nice features about my house: I have a four-car garage above the living space, cut into the hill, plus four off-street spaces. The street is too narrow to park cars on, so this is a necessity if you want to have people in for drinks or dinner.

I was so nervous I might as well have been a virgin. "Stupid old man," I thought to myself.

Then Michael was out of the car, and there was no turning back. We walked down the stairs to the front door, me holding my breath. When I went to put the key into the lock, he put his arms around me and said simply, "I love you, William Chester Baker."

Yep, he knew the Password.