The usual disclaimers, ignored by most, apply.

Note:  The stories of Paul and David are each a sequel to the previous.  If you haven't read Beginnings--Part I, and Of Beauty and Light--Part II, read them first, as there will be parts of this story that won't make a whole lot of sense without the background information.--Harlequin

Nothing Gold Can Stay
                    --by Harlequin

Part III


    "Hey, Tinsmith, I need a custom-made urinal.  Can you do it?" I hollered, half choking on laughter as I came in the door of the Bonito's Custom Jewelry.

    "WHAT?" as Larry came around the corner from the back room, his face a picture of puzzlement and emphasis on irritation.  He saw me and started laughing, "I might have known.  Custom-made urinal.  Boy."

    "Well, I figured it would get your attention."

    "It did, that.  I was prepared to throw you out the door.  What brings you down here?  Whatever the reason, I'm glad to see you," smiling at me.  "How are you?"

    "Fine.  You?"

    "Can't complain," he smiled, "but hang around a bit and I'm sure I will.  What's up?"

    "I came to invite you to a party this coming Saturday night.  We want you to have supper with us, then we'll have the party afterwards.  I think there is someone else coming.  Then spend the night, breakfast and church in the morning and just lay around Sunday.  You never saw the patio.  It's all glassed in and we have a hot tub and a little bit of everything back there.  We can get in the tub and really communicate."

    "Oh, definitely I will be there.  I was trying to think of an excuse the other day for showing up.  What's the occasion?"

    "Larry, you have a standing invitation.  You don't need an excuse.  Just show up.  We're always glad to see you.  With David around, we're hardly short of food.  And the occasion is a birthday party."

    "Oh, for David?"

    "No," I said, "Actually, it's for you."

    "How did you know?  I didn't tell you," he asked.

    "You remember the certificate issued by the City for your business license?" I said.

    "And it has my birth date on it," Larry smiled.

    "Right, and I copied it down.  Anyway," as I continued, "You can have your old room back.  There's clean sheets on the bed, including a clean pair of skivvies which I found under the bed."

    "Oh, that's what happened to 'em.  I wondered."

    "You always stash your Jockeys in people's homes, under their beds?" I smiled at him.

    He started grinning, "Oh, just the people I care for.  That way I get invited back.  Well, most of the time."

    "Well, Mr. Slyboots, it seems to have worked this time," I said.  "I found those and thought, 'Gee, I bet Larry's walking around without any underwear on these days.  Things are probably turning blue with all these winter winds.'  At any rate, we'll see you this coming Saturday at six o'clock."

    Larry didn't say anything, and slowed down, apparently thinking about something else, as we approached the door.

    "Something the matter?" I asked.

     "Paul, can I ask you something?"

    "Sure, what?"

    "Paul, is there something wrong with David?  I know it's none of my business, but I just wondered.  You treat him so gently and with so much love, and David responds to you with such trust.  You were so tender and gentle with him.  The love seemed to shine from both your faces.  I couldn't help but notice it that night at Christmas.  It was -- well, it was beautiful.  I still think about it."

    "No, there is nothing wrong with David mentally, which I assume is what you are referring to.  Actually, he is mentally gifted in his own field which is cabinet making.  He has his own business and the people that work for him practically worship him."

    "The problem that David has is the way in which he was brought up.  He grew up in an orphanage, and a bad one at that.  Those kids were treated something terrible.  That place was more like a prison than anything else, from what David has told me.  Each year for Christmas and various other holidays, the home was given various kinds of gifts from the local churches and other charitable organizations and most of the staff got hold of it and took it home to their families.  The kids never saw any of it -- even the presents at Christmas time.  David said that the food was so bad that all of them, at one time or another, got sick from it.  Diarrhea was endemic.  He was hungry all the time.  There never was any desserts or sweets, that sort of thing."

    "The only time he ever got enough to eat was when he was 14 and went to work for a cabinet maker as a helper and Phil -- that was the cabinet maker -- saw what the home was sending him for lunch and got mad and he and his wife sort of took over and took care of him and saw that he got enough to eat and bought clothes for him.  Imagine this, he was fourteen years old before he ever found out what ice cream was, and only then because Phil bought him some.  Phil and his wife didn't have any children and they more or less adopted David.  They gave him everything they could, including the house we live in.  Phil started buying tools for David and setting them aside so he would have them later when he needed them.  I think that Phil early on realized the talent that David had and taught him everything he could about cabinetry and made sure that David learned it so well that he could do it in his sleep."

    "So, as David is now, he can't get enough to eat.  The first thing he says when he comes in the door at night is 'I'm starved, let's eat.'  And he loves sweets.  I've never made so many cookies, pies, cakes, brownies, etc. in my life as I have since David and I have been together.  If his metabolism wasn't as high as it is, his weight gain would be phenomenal.  I can't cook fast enough for him.  I spend most of my days in the kitchen.  You can imagine what our food budget is each week.  And, of course, you saw how he reacted to the Christmas presents.  He's never had any until Phil and his wife sort of took him in.  I'm surprised he didn't take that tree ornament to bed with him; and I wouldn't have stopped him, either.  He's almost childlike in that respect."

    "There was a fire while David was still at the orphanage.  All the records were destroyed.  So we don't know when he was born, or where.  We don't know who his parents were or whether he has brothers or sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins.  Nothing.  I can't help but think that he must have relatives somewhere, but we don't know.  He truly is an orphan in every sense of the word."

    "There was little if any affection ever shown to those kids and I try my damnedest to give him all the love and attention to help make up for what he didn't  get.  Aside from the intimacy between us, I sing to him and with him.  He's a very tactile person and loves to be touched, so I hold him in my arms, I touch him, read to him, dance with him, everything I can think of to let him know just how much I love and care for him.  And I do.  Oh, so much, so much.  I tease the daylights out of him and he hands it right back.  He thrives on it.  Our life together is so beautiful, so full of love for each other that it's almost scary.  I keep looking over my shoulder."

    Larry shook his head as though not quite able to fathom all of what I told him.  "Holy shit.  Man, I'm sorry.  I don't know what to say.  I just didn't realize.  Damn, and I thought he was -- I'm sorry, Paul."

    "It's all right, I understand; now you understand.  At least you asked; some people wouldn't.  He's not mentally deficient or retarded in any way.  God may have taken a number of things away from him as a child but He gave him one heck of a gift to make up for it.  Let me tell you, there's magic in his hands.  What he can do with a piece of wood is nothing short of miraculous.  And the people who work for him know it, too.  They think he walks on water."

    Larry interrupted, "Ah, he made the cabinets in the kitchen; didn't he?"

    "You noticed.  Yes, he did.  I spent almost a week designing that kitchen, what I wanted and where.  David spent about the same time designing the cabinetry and then building them.  And then when we gutted the kitchen, we ate out for almost a month-and-a-half while he was building those cabinets.  I didn't push him either, I wanted him to do the kind of job he wanted to do.  Those cabinets are works of art, the seams, the finish, the jointing, the little ideas that he put in at the last minute.  I've never seen anything to equal it in any of the cabinet shops or home shows or anyplace else.  We ate in some good restaurants but we also had so much junky fast food that the thought of another hamburger or hot dog makes my stomach roll."

    "Yeah, it gets old fast.  I noticed the cabinets because of the simplicity and craftsmanship.  And when you combine that with beautiful wood and fixtures that are practically jewelry, you have something that's -- that's, I can't think of how to express it -- it's a joy to the eyes.  I've never seen wood with such colors.  It almost glows, like it's alive.

    You and David are so blessed."  Larry looked at me, his eyes saying what he couldn't put into words.  "I keep hoping and," and didn't finish.

    "Oh, Larry, David and I both hope that for you.  We both know what loneliness is."

    "I'm sure you do.  I guess we all have our private miseries."

    "Oh," I said, changing the subject, "Just remembered.  I was going to mention it earlier, why don't you pack a suitcase and throw it in the closet.  That way, if you happen to be at the house and don't feel like driving home, you can crash there.  You're welcome any time.  We both like your company and David's asked about when you were going to be over again.  Probably wants to give you some more artistic guidance," grinning at him.

    "Oh, just what I need, artistic guidance from a cabinet maker!  But Paul, thanks for the offer about the suitcase.  I'll take you up on it.  I'll even bring extra underwear -- I do have extra pairs, you know.  You want me to bring anything to this party -- my party?"

    "Just yourself," I smiled, leaned forward and laid my hand on his shoulder and in a conspiratorial whisper, "You know, I shouldn't be telling you this, but we even got someone lined up for you."

    "What?" Larry leaned back, looking at me and trying to decide if I was serious or this was another of my jokes.

    "Oh, wow, Larry, you're absolutely going to go ape.  She is just gorgeous.  Beautiful eyes and what a shape.  Boy, you are going to have the time of your life."

    "She? gorgeous? shape?  PAUL!"  He made a grab for me and I dodged out of his reach, laughing so hard I could hardly talk, "See you at six p.m. Saturday," and ducked out the door.  I could hear him yelling at me clear out in the parking lot.

    I made it home a few minutes before David.

    "Paul, I'm home, I'm starving, I have this urge to get naked.  You want to watch?  It's awesome."

    "You're telling me," as we met in the kitchen, "and I can hardly wait -- wow, it's sticking out already.  C'mon, horny one, let's see if it still runs."

    "It might need some help getting started," big lecherous grin.

    "Oh, I'm a good helper."

    "Yeah, I know, I know."  And we went upstairs.

    "Did you invite Larry to the party?" David asked, as he dished some of the casserole onto his plate.

    "Yes, I did.  Said we had someone lined up for him and used words like she,  gorgeous, shape.  And of course, with that little bit of misdirection I thought he was going to totally freak out.  He was still yelling at me clear out in the parking lot," I chuckled again at the memory.

    "He'll probably kill you when he finds out what you really have lined up for him," David said.  "What is this, a new recipe?" as he looked at what he had dished onto his plate.

    "Oh, yeah, it's a brocolli-chicken casserole.  Don't worry, it only has things in it that you like, David.  You'll like it."

    "Oh, I never worry about that with things that you make," David said as he took a small bite, then another, "Oh, this is really good, Paul.  Thanks."

    "You're welcome.  I bet it will become one of your favorites."

    "I bet so, too."

    "Here," as I passed bread and salad to him.  "We need to find someone for Larry for the evening, a dinner partner, someone about his age.  I know about four or five guys his age and two of them are involved in a relationship.  The other two or three possibles I don't really trust.  I can't think of anyone else.  There are a couple of other guys but they're quite a bit older.  You know anybody?"

    "Well, a couple of days ago, I'd have said no, but I ran into Joe today."

    "And who is Joe?" I asked.

    "Joe Dolocek is someone I once knew," David said, finishing off the rest of his meal and taking a sip of coffee.  "It was right after I moved into that apartment and started hitting the gay spots.  I ran into him in a bar and recognized him from the job site -- he's a carpenter.  As a matter of fact, I was going to have him do the construction work when we overhauled the kitchen, but he was out of town at the time.  Anyway, we got together a couple of times but, I don't know, for some reason, it just didn't click, there wasn't any magic there.  We both realized it and kind of went our separate ways.  We're still friends, though.  He's a good looking guy, decent, darned good carpenter.  He'd be a good one to invite, nice person to be around.  A bit like Larry as a matter of fact."

    "Is he involved with someone?" I asked, thankful there hadn't been any magic.  I got up and started putting supper dishes away.

    "No," David said, "that's kind of a sad story," cleaning the table, "his partner was killed in a car crash about a year ago.  As I understand it, he was driving back from visiting his parents.  It was late at night and some drunk driver ran into him, head-on.  He died instantly.  The only ID on him was his driver's license which listed him as single, so no immediate contact was made at his residence address -- his parents apparently didn't know about Joe.  Anyway, Joe read about it in the papers a couple days later, and he didn't say so, but just the way he told me, sounded like he took it pretty hard.  Guess he went on some sort of extended leave."

    "Oh, what a terrible thing to have to read in the newspaper."

    "Yeah, I know.  Wish I'd known at the time.  I'd have helped.  Anyway, I ran into him at the lumber yard -- went over to get some stuff -- and we started talking and then decided to get a cup of coffee and he told me all of this.  Anyway," as he finished wiping down the table, "he's back at work and trying to work back into the social scene.  Don't know whether he would be interested in a blind date, though."

    "Well, I wouldn't ask him in quite that way to begin with.  The party is for Larry and we would be inviting him to that and if he and Larry liked one another and hit it off, fine; and if not, that would be fine also," I said, feeling almost honest about it.  "Besides, I feel for Larry.  He never says much but if you listen to what he does say and kind of read between the lines, you know he's lonely and wanting to be with someone and he really needs someone to care for and to care for him; and for people like him, as intelligent and talented as he is, it's just not that easy.  That's why he enjoys coming over here, he likes us and feels cared for and comfortable around us, and if I can help out a little bit, why shouldn't I?"

    David came up behind me and put his arms around me and kissed me softly on the back of my neck, "My Mender of Broken Wings."

    "As I recall," turning in his arms, "you were a pretty good Mender of Broken Wings, yourself -- uh, you got something else on your mind, Bud?"

    "Now how would you know about that?"

    "You want me to show you how I know about that?"


    I slid my hand inside his shorts.  "Told you so," and snuggled into the curve of his neck and pressed up against him.

    "Damn.  You always know, don't you?  I never can keep a secret from you."

    "Hey, he's my good buddy.  I keep a close watch on him.  Besides, you practically send out vibrations.  Interested in an early bedtime?"

    "You need to ask?"

    "Not really.  Well, you ask Joe; I don't know him.  Or else invite him over and we could get acquainted and then ask him."

    "I like the idea of having him over the best," David said.

    "Well, it's going to have to be tomorrow or Friday.  The party is Saturday."

    "Okay.  You want me to invite him for supper?"

    "Sure, why not?  There's more than enough food."

    We finished in the kitchen and headed for the front room.  I elbowed him in the ribs, "You want to make out down here?"

    "I'd like to make out with you anywhere," David said, putting hs arms around me, body pressing against me.

    I laughed, "Better hadn't take you to the supermarket with me," I said.

    "Yeah, 'Splendor in the Beans.'  Bet they'd sell out in no time.  Or 'Groping in the Grapes.'  Now that would really be something.  So juicy and sweet.  Now that I think about it, it'd make a heck of a title for a video; wouldn't it?"

    "Yeah, it would.  By the way, we have grapes in the refrigerator," I said, smiling at him.

    "Back in a jiffy."

    "We got fresh beans, too," I hollered.

    David called at noon to tell me Joe was coming for supper and I spent the rest of the afternoon getting things ready for the evening until David beep-beeped down the driveway.

    "We got enough time for our shower?" as he plunked his lunch bucket down on the table.

    "You better believe it," I smiled at him, "C'mon, I've been thinking about F&F all day long."

    "Oh, well, he's had a couple thoughts about you, too," as we headed up the stairs.

    "A couple!?  Is that all?"

    "Oh, all right, most of the day to be exact.  Wasn't going to tell you.  Figured you'd get conceited as all hell."

    "Really?  Most of the day?  No kidding?"

    "See? See?  What'd I tell you."

    I put the finishing touches on supper as the doorbell rang.

    "I'll get it," David hollered, coming down the stairs.

    I heard conversation in the hallway, then, "Hey, Paul," David called.

    "I'm coming," as I put the dessert in the refrigerator.

    I walked into the living room to meet Joe. David did the introductions and I said:  "Hi, Joe, glad you could come.  Supper is ready and if you need the washroom, it's around the corner."

    "Yeah," he said, "be right back."

    I turned to Joe when he returned, "We have a dining room, but David and I usually eat in the kitchen," I said, passing bread to him.

    "I can see why," Joe said, "overlooking the back yard and all the flower gardens.  Those roses must really be beautiful when they're in full bloom.  What a beautiful view."

    Joe turned to David, "I understand you originally wanted me to do this breakfast nook.  Sorry I was out of town.  I'd have liked to have done it for you, though."

    "Yeah, I looked all over for you.  Finally tracked down your boss and he said you were gone on vacation.  Ended up having Gil Ross do the work."

    "Oh, well, he does good work.  He did do a good job; didn't he?"

    "Oh, yeah," David said.  "Well, I kind of breathed down his neck just to be safe."

    And the shop talk continued back and forth which gave me an opportunity to observe Joe.  David was right, he was a good looking guy.  Somewhere I had read the phrase 'Black Irish,' and although his last name would certainly not qualify him as an Irishman, his looks certainly did.  He had shining blue-black hair swept back with a very light complexion, setting off the deep blue of his eyes.  His face was angular, accented with black eyebrows, heavy beard shadow, and eye-lashes thick and long enough to cause considerable dismay amongst the patrons of the local beauty salon.  He was slim, medium build, much like David, his movements quick and light.  He smiled a lot as he talked, as we handed bowls of food back and forth, but the light wasn't there in his eyes.  He smiled, made all the correct moves and polite conversation but I got the feeling that he was running on autopilot.  There wasn't any sparkle.  Instead, they were quiet, reflective, a sadness showing deep from within as though pain was being held close in check.  I felt sorry for him.  The loss of someone you love is never easy.

    "This is really good.  I haven't had fried chicken like this in a long time.  How do you make it?"  Joe asked.

    "Oh, a little garlic, white pepper and seasonings in the coating mixture, then cook it covered.  I'll be glad to show you how if you want to learn.  It's one of David's favorites.  Mine too, for that matter."

    "All your cooking is my favorite," David smiled at me.

    I smiled a thanks at him.  "The problem is keeping up with you."

    Joe said: "I'd like to learn if you'd show me."  Then changing the subject, "You remember that time when we ate together at that restaurant?  We were working the same job and decided to go and eat after we got off work?"

    "Oh, yeah," David said, "What was the name of that place?  Something about a Dog.  They had pretty good food.  Lot of it, anyway."

    "Oh, you would ask.  I think it was -- oh, it was called the Hungry Dog, but it had a name in front of it if I remember correctly."

    "Bubba.  Bubba's Hungry Dog," David said.  "Where they got a name like that, I'll never know."

    "Right."  Joe laughed and turned to me, "I have never seen anyone eat as much as David did.  I kept thinking that he must not have eaten for a week.  The waitress kept looking at him like he had just arrived from another planet or was afraid he was going to eat her for dessert.  And she was a fat little heifer, too."

    "Well," I looked over at David, smiling, "things haven't changed much in that regard, have they, David?"

    "I get hungry," David protested.  "You want me to starve?"

    We both laughed.  "I don't think there's much chance of that, David, in view of your plate."  I smiled at him, "Ah, c'mon, don't pay any attention to me, you know how I love teasing you.  I know how hungry you get."  I smiled at him, "And I love cooking for you."

    "Yeah, David," Joe said, "Brian used to--" and the memories flashed across his face.  "Brian used to--" he stopped, getting a grip on himself and then started again, "Brian used to tease me about how little I ate.  Said he was afraid I was going to starve to death between the peas and mashed potatoes," he finished, looking embarrassed.  He turned to me and said, "Brian was my--"

    I reached across and touched his hand, "I know.  David told me what happened.  You don't have to explain."

    Joe looked across at me.  "Thanks."

    And the meal continued on safer grounds.  We managed to laugh and joke with one another although I suspected that Joe's contributions were more of an act of will rather than active participation.

    "You know," Joe said, helping himself to more mashed potatoes, "I really appreciate you inviting me this evening.  Getting back to work is easy enough, but getting back into the social swing is grim.  Sharing a meal with friends and meeting someone," nodding at me, "makes it so much easier.  I'm not tense and tied up the way I was the other night when I went to one of the bars."

    "Did you meet anyone?" David asked.

    "Yeah, I met several guys but they all seemed like -- I don't know, hungry or desperate or something.  A real turn-off.  Nothing clicked.  I went home and went to bed."

    "You feel comfortable with David and I?"

    "Oh, yeah.  You're comfortable people.  I can relax.  I don't have to prove anything.  I can be myself.  I wouldn't have said what I did about you inviting me, if I hadn't."

    "Okay.  Then why don't you come over here tomorrow night for a birthday party.  It'll just be the four of us.  It's for a friend of ours, name is Larry.  About your age and build.  We've known him since Christmas.  Nice guy.  You might like him,' and decided it was time I shut up.

    "A blind date?" Joe said with a smile.

    "No.  Well, sorta.  You could look at it that way.  But we are inviting you simply because we like your company and you need to get out and be with people you feel comfortable with.  And if you happen to hit it off with Larry, well and fine; if not, you're still among friends.  Not like a cold contact in a bar."

    "Yes, that's true.  I'm not looking forward to that scene again."

    "Well," I said, "we're going to have supper, then the party afterwards.  Happy Birthday bit with cake, ice cream and presents.  We might even show some risque movies, put some music on, dancing, drinks and stuff to munch on, whatever comes to mind.  Larry will spend the night and you're welcome to stay over also.  We have enough room.  Then Church Sunday morning and just lay around the rest of the day and enjoy each other's company."

    "Better not play Monopoly," said David, "I never heard anyone complain so much in my life."

    "Why?" asked Joe.

    "Oh, he never got any of the good property," I said.

    "Oh, I see.  Well, if I need to, I can leave without hurting anyone's feelings, can't I?" Joe asked.

    "Of course.  You don't have to spend the night if you'd rather not.  We hope you will.  But don't worry about it, Joe.  Besides, we haven't tied guests up or locked them in their rooms for -- oh, it's been quite some time; hasn't it; David?"

    "Well, you said that one big cabinet in the kitchen that I made for you was to put the Postman in.  You know, the one with the tight little shorts and the -- what was the expression you used?  Oh, I remember, yummy after shave," David said with a grin.  "I never did find out whether he spent time in there or not."

    "Oh, will you stop?  Besides there's a different Postman -- or Postal Person, actually -- on the route, anyway.  One of those 4-F types."

    "What's a 4-F type?" David asked.

    "Fair, fat, female, and forty," I said.  "Believe me, she wouldn't fit in there, not that the thought would ever occur to me."

    Joe and David started laughing, "You're safe, Joe, unless you plan on wearing tight little shorts and yummy after shave."

    "I Don't have any tight little shorts and I'll leave my yummy aftercare in the bathroom.  Sounds good.  I'll come.  What should I get Larry for a birthday present?"

    I started to say, 'You'd make a smashing gift,' then thought better of it.  "That's a good question.  I really don't know just what Larry likes in the way of books, music, liquor, so forth."

    "Well, I'll think of something.  There's a gift shop close to the apartment that has all kinds of stuff in it.  I'll find something."

    "C'mon, let's get the kitchen done and have dessert in the front room," as I started loading the dishwasher and filing the sink.  David got up and started clearing the table and Joe gathered dishes and joined me at the sink with the washing up.

    "Brian and I used to work together like this.  Simple things.  I'd gather up the dishes and then help with the washing."

    "Some of the most pleasant moments that David and I have are the ordinary ones, working together and getting the place cleaned up, the everyday routines," I said, as we stood there washing dishes.  "That's how it first began between David and I, was over washing dishes.  You got the coffee going there, Bud?"

    "On the way.  You want me to get the dishes and stuff for dessert?"

    "Yes, please and thank you."

    Joe was silent for a moment.  "You're right.  Some of the things I miss the most were the things we did together, the laundry, cleaning the apartment, stuff like that.  He could always find something to kid around about and make me laugh and--"  He stopped.  I glanced at his face and could see the hurt and how much he was fighting it.  I reached over and grabbed his wet hand with my soapy one and held on tight for a moment.

    Joe glanced at me, "Thanks.  Sorry.  It's those memories you aren't expecting that hurt the most.  They seem to come out of nowhere and I'm just never prepared for 'em."

    "There's probably going to be quite a few of them, Joe.  And it's mostly an uphill climb.  It takes time.  But I think during those first really painful ones, you gradually realize and learn how to ride it out and then the next one isn't quite so bad.  And then they don't happen so often.  I know I still have memories like that every once in a while that catch me totally unprepared.  But at the same time, I know David will help and just knowing that gets me over the rough spots.  And being alone during a time like this is a downward spiral.  You need to have a friend that can be with you or you with them.  And we would like to see you over here more often than just tomorrow night," I said.

    David came up and put his arms around him, "Joe, if things get bad and you need help, just show up, you don't have to call, just haul your butt over here and bang on the door.  Day or night.  You're always welcome."

    Joe turned around and hugged David.  "Thanks, bud.  I appreciate it.  I will.  It takes time, like Paul said."

    "And lots of talking and loving friends.  C'mon, let's have dessert and coffee.  Everybody grab something," as I picked up the plates and headed for the front room.

    David picked up the dessert tray, looked at Joe, "This you are going to love.  It's one of my favorites.  It's fantastic."

    "Looks like it's going to be one of mine very shortly.  Cheesecake with fresh strawberries.  Where did you get fresh strawberries this time of year?"

    "Fresh IQF from last summer.  They had a big sale at the Farmers Market."

    "What's IQF?," Joe said as I handed a plate to him.

    "Oh, sorry.  It means Individually Quick Frozen."

    "Oh., I see," as he took a bite and got this euphoric look on his face.  "Oh, this is something else.  Absolute fantasy land.  I can see why this is one of David's favorites."

    "David has many favorites," I said and glanced David a smile.

    "I love all your desserts and you know it," David smiled back at me.

    Sitting there, facing David and I with a mouthful of cheesecake, Joe said, "I feel so good with the two of you.  I feel warm, comfortable.  Not constantly fighting these memories.  It's like, well -- I don't know, I guess it's -- it's like I'm home, if that makes any sense."

    "Yes, it does.  Home is where your friends are, those you love, the people that care about you.  So in that sense, this is your home.  You need to start coming over here on a regular basis, we enjoy your company and if we can help you, then all of us gain.  It's not going to make your problem any the less, but it sure is easier to cope with knowing that there is somebody close by to give you a good understanding hug when you feel like you're coming apart at the seams.  Don't make that apartment of yours into a shrine of sadness, Joe.  You really need to start thinking about getting out of there."

    "I know, but it's just so hard to think about leaving, but you're right."

    I gave David another piece of cheesecake.

    "How did you know I wanted another piece?" David smiled up at me.

    "I know special things about--" I began.

    "--about people and cheesecakes," David finished, looking up at me and we both started laughing.

    "Did I miss something?" Joe asked.

    "No, sort of an inside joke.  Every time David asks how I know something, I always tell him I know special things about whatever it is.  A little game we have going between us, I guess."

    "Oh," as Joe handed me his plate.

    "Another piece, Joe?" I asked.

    "I really shouldn't, but . . ."

    "Which means yes.  Yes?"

    "Yeah," with a big grin.  "Then I better be on my way.  I got stuff to get done at home and then to bed."

    I looked at him a moment, "You okay?  You're welcome to stay the night.  You know that; don't you?"

    "Yes, I do.  And I really appreciate it.  No, I'm all right.  Actually, after tonight, I feel better than I have in months.  But I really do have stuff to get done at home.  So, what time am I supposed to arrive tomorrow evening?"

    "Larry will be here at six and probably a bit early, if I know him.  So why don't you show up around five-thirty.  That way you'll have a chance to get calmed down and so forth.  Also, you won't run the risk of running into Larry on the sidewalk coming up to the house."

    "Sounds good.  We'll see you tomorrow at five-thirty," as all of us walked towards the door.

    Joe stopped at the door, "Paul?"

    "Yes, what?" I said, looking at him.

    He paused, started to say something, then, "Nothing, see you tomorrow."

    Then I understood.  "C'mere," holding out my arms.

    He wrapped around me and I held him tight.  "Thanks for what you did for me."

    He turned and David wrapped him up in his arms, "Remember what I said.  Anytime."

    "I won't forget.  See you tomorrow," and was on his way.

    I closed the door and David and I stood smiling at each other.  "Boy, if ever there were two people who needed each other, it's those two," I said.

    "Don't hold your breath.  Things don't always work out the way you think they should.  But I do agree with you."

    "Hey, you," I said, as David started towards the front room.

    "What?  Did I do something wrong?"

    "No, but I could sure use a hug from a good-looking guy," I said.

    "You think I'm good looking?" bright face and expectant smile.  Talk about a leading question.

    "Always, my man.  Get your butt over here."

    David wrapped his arms around me, his body pressing against mine.

    "Oh, you're so warm and you smell so good," I said burying my face in his collar.

    "I taste good, too.  Wanna sample?"

    "Screw the samples, I want the full course, bud," as I pushed against him.

    "Coming right up," as the heady warmth of his mouth came down on mine and I practically started a nuclear melting

    "I think it's already up."

    "Think so, too.  C'mon," as he picked me up and headed up the stairs.

    "Hi, big one," and got hit by a wave of steam from the shower.  "Here's some coffee.  Breakfast in five."

    "Hey, get my back, will you?" as I started to close the door.

    "Okay, but it's going to have to be quick," as I opened the door and took the proffered sponge and started scrubbing.

    "Last night was fantastic.  Can't stop thinking about it," he said, "Oh, that feels good.  How about joining me?"

    "Can't, breakfast is on the way.  And you were fantastic.  And quite a bit more.  Must have been that cheesecake.  There, you're done," rubbing his bottom.  "Oh, you have the nicest butt.  It should be in pictures.  See you downstairs."

    "Oh, all right," said Mr. Grouch.

    "Why is it," as David plunked himself down at the breakfast table, "that every time I want to tell you just how wonderful you are, among other things, you're always fixing breakfast?"

    "Because if I stayed around for the 'among other things,' you wouldn't get any breakfast other than cold cereal."

    "I like cold cereal."  Even David wasn't able to keep a straight face on that one.

    We spent the rest of the day getting the house in shape for the party.  The cooking was all done except for the main course which I would put in later in the afternoon.

    David came up and put his arms around me, "Isn't it about time for lunch and then maybe a short nap afterwards?" nuzzling my neck and ear.

    I turned around the slipped my hands in his shorts.  [Oh, I love getting in his shorts.]  "You've got something else on your mind; don't you?"

    "Well, it had crossed my mind.  You drove me wild last night."

    "You weren't the only one that went wild.  But I think I could use a sandwich or two and certainly one of your cream filled desserts."

    "Oh, yeah.  We could eat in bed, then all we would have to do would be to just roll over and go to sleep."

    "David, that remark is so transparent, I can't even think of a reply.  Without clothes no doubt?"

    "Of course, it's quicker that way."

    "Eating naked?  What if the pickle drops out of my sandwich?"

    "So pick it up.  It's crunchy and green," David said, helpfully, grinning.

    "Oh.  Well, thank you for your helpful information.  I wouldn't want to bite into the wrong thing," as David steered me toward the kitchen.  I reluctantly took my hand out of his shorts.


    I found David in the bedroom glowering into the mirror, his tie a seaman's nightmare.

    "Wow.  David, how did you manage to get so many knots in this?" as I straightened it out and started over.

    "I go this way and then that way and all of a sudden, there's fifteen knots in it.  It hates me."  David stood and surveyed the effect.

    "Well, hate it back," I said.  "There, all done."  I stood back and looked at David in his sports outfit.  "You look good, David.  Very sharp."

    "For you, I'd take it all off," smiling at me.

    "And I will help."

    "What time is it?" David asked.

    "They'll be here in five minutes, Joe will anyway.  And the time is 5:25."

    "Oh, would you bring in the tub of ice from the back porch and put it in the kitchen over against the wall and put the beer in it?" I asked as we went downstairs.

    "Sure.  You want me to mix up a bunch of Margaritas?"

    "I don't think so.  We can offer but I have a feeling we're going to be hitting the beer tonight.  Anyway, we'll be serving wine with dinner."

    "Oh, what are we having for dinner?  I forgot to ask."

    Well, that's got to be a first, I thought.  "That's because your mind was elsewhere," I said.  Mine certainly was.  "We are having a rather large Baron of Beef roast, lettuce wedge with Roquefort dressing, homemade rolls-Texas style, asparagus with a sharp cheese sauce, various condiments and for dessert, a birthday cake for Larry with ice cream, followed by strong black coffee.

    "Wow," as David put his arms around me and I pressed up against him, all puckered and ready for one of his fireball kisses.  The doorbell rang.

    I unpuckered.  "I'll get it.  That'll be Joe," as I headed for the door.

    I opened the door and there stood Joe dressed in a sports jacket, dark pants and a galloping case of nerves.

    "It's not your first date, Joe.  You look fantastic, really sharp," happy to see his tension ease up about five points.

    "I do?  It feels like my first date.  I wasn't sure what to wear.  Almost called then decided there wasn't anything wrong with this."

    "You look great, really."

    "Oh, thanks.  I needed that."

    "Almost as sharp as David, but of course, I'm prejudiced where he's concerned."

    "Yeah, I noticed the other night.  Here's the present for Larry.  I hope he likes it."

    "He will, I'm sure.  David's out in the kitchen icing down some beer, several bottles of which is probably in him already."

    "I wonder if he could use some help.  I could certainly use a beer right now.  Maybe it will help get me calmed down.  Mind if I go back?  Oh, and I think Larry will like the present.  It really is neat."

    "Sure, go ahead.  I got some last minute things to do out here," and took the present from Larry and put it with the others on the coffee table.

    I started for the kitchen and the doorbell rang.

    Larry stood on the other side, all smiles, decked out in his best outfit.  "Wow, Larry, you really look neat.  You hit any of the bars and those guys would snarf you up in no time."

    "Not likely.  I gave that scene up a long time ago.  I want something better than a few muscle spasms with someone who's name I won't even remember five minutes later.  Am I early?" he asked.

    Yes, a bit," I said.

    "Want me to go sit in the car and wait?" with a grin.

    "Oh, I suppose you can come on in," and I started laughing.  I wrapped him up in a big hug, "Happy birthday, Larry.  Good to see you."

    "Oh, it's so good to be here.  Been looking forward to this all week.  Did you say there was someone else coming?"

    "Yes, he's here now.  Come on in the kitchen and meet him"

    "Sounds interesting," as we headed toward the kitchen.

    "Joe," I said, as Joe put down his beer, turned around and stood up.  "This is Larry.  Larry, this is Joe," hoping that they would get along okay.  I was prepared to make all kinds of small talk in case they didn't have anything more to say to each other than 'nice to meet you' and so forth, but I was not prepared for what happened.

    They took one look at each other, started shaking hands and suddenly, electricity was in the air.  I could feel it and David picked up on it immediately.  It was almost tangible.  They just stood there shaking hands, then holding hands, and just gazing at each other, totally lost in each other's eyes.  Oblivious.  I didn't know quite what to do.  I looked over at David and he silently mouthed WOW! to me across the room.

    "Well, let's go into the front room and have some snacks and talk for a while."

    "Uh-huh," Larry said in a voice that sounded like he was calling long-distance and underwater at that.

    "Yeah," said Joe.

    So I tried again.  "Let's go into the front room," and gave Larry a healthy push in the bottom, and finally getting them unhooked and moving.

    I whispered to David on the way, "What am I going to do with these two?"

    He looked at me and whispered back, "Damned if I know.  Just watch, I guess."

    "Fat lot of help you are," I said.

    "Well, what do you want me to do?" he whispered back.

    "How should I know?  Something."

    "Hey, you guys want something to drink?" David's heroic contribution.

    Everybody sat down and gradually Joe and Larry came back down from wherever they had been and started communicating with the mortals while still occasionally losing themselves in each other's eyes.

    Getting no response the first time, David tried again, "Hey, you guys want something to drink?"

    "I didn't think you'd ever ask," said Larry.  "I'll have a beer."  David gave me his look.

    "I'll have another beer," from Joe.

    We sat down and started talking and joking back and forth.  And while Joe and Larry kept glancing at each other, conversation was approaching near normal.  I excused myself to go check on supper as David came back with the beer.

    I was just putting the roast back in the oven for a final browning when Larry came in the kitchen.  "He has black hair," and looked at me all excited.

    I put on my best astonishment act, "Wow, Larry, you have a mind like a steel trap.  Nothing gets by you."

    "Oh, get off it, will you.  I love black hair."

    "I'm glad, Larry.  I better tell you right now, though.  Don't push this.  He's had some pretty bad things happen to him."  And I told him Joe's story.

    "Oh, man, what an awful thing to happen.  I really feel for him.  What can I do to help?"

    "Well, actually, I think it's up to him to set the pace.  If he wants to.  He's trying to work his way through all this and it takes time.  So just let him set the pace."

    "Okay.  Thanks, Paul" and headed back for the front room.

    I checked on the rolls in the oven and was just starting to head back to the front room, when in came, you guessed it, Joe.

    "He has blond hair.  Why didn't you tell me he had blond hair?" all excited.

    "What is this, National Hair Week?" I asked.

    "I love blond hair," Joe said.

    "Joe, your eyes are shining."

    "Oh, man, I feel like I'm shining all over.  When we shook hands, it was electric and then it just went click.  Oh, this is so neat.  I gotta go," and grabbed another bottle of beer and scooted out of the kitchen so fast I think he must have scorched his socks.

    Boy, I sure do hope for those two.  Well, all I needed now was for David to come in with hot, sweaty, sex on his mind.  Matter of fact, I thought, I wouldn't mind at all.

    I headed back to the front room, "--so anyway, I made the medallions for David from Paul and the engraving for Paul from David," Larry was saying, "and trying to keep those two apart so they wouldn't figure things out was something else.  They kept coming in the store at odd hours."

    "Was Dave a pest?" Joe said as he looked at David and grinned.

    "Boy, that's a fact.  He was in the store for progress reports two and three times a day."

    "I was not.  I was being very helpful and encouraging.  Besides, you needed someone to light a fire under you."

    "Oh, get a shovel," as Larry looked askance at the ceiling.

    "Ready to eat?" I said.

    "I certainly am," David smiled up at me.

    "I know.  I can see signs of starvation setting in already," I put my hand on his shoulder and leaned down and kissed him on the cheek.  "C'mon, let's eat without 'em."

    "All Right.  Serve 'em right for their dalliance."

    "I heard that uncharitable remark and I'm ready to eat," as Larry reached down and grabbed Joe by the hand, "C'mon Joe, time to eat some of Paul's fantastic food."

    "I'm ready to eat," said Joe.  "For some strange reason, I'm starving all of a sudden."

    I headed for the kitchen and started bringing trays of food into the dining room.  David came in and started helping me.

    "What the hell are we going to do with those two?  I thought they were going to start making out there for a while."

    "We had some pretty good times on that sofa," I reminded him.

    "That's not what I meant, and you know it.  You had things pretty much planned out for the evening."

    "I know.  But sometimes a party will take on a mood of its own and sometimes you have to kind of guide your guests along the way and so forth.  That's what the planned evening was for.  Besides we could always leave those two alone in here and go out on the patio and sort of fool around.  But I think sitting down and eating will help bring everything back into focus.  Besides they are sitting across from each other at the table."

    We got all the food on the table and sat down.  "Would you say grace, David."  We all joined hands while David said grace.  ". . . And we especially thank you, Lord, for this gathering tonight of loved ones, dear friends and new friends.  May we continue to love, and be loved in return and grow in the majesty of Your love.  Amen."

    Larry looked at David, "That was beautiful, David, thank you."

    "It was, David.  I'm so happy to be here tonight," Joe said.

    David looked over at me and smiled, the love shining in his eyes and as I smiled back at him, I felt like I'd just been given the deed to the sun and the moon.

    "Okay, gang, here we go.  Have a roll, Larry, and pass it on, there's more coming."  And supper began.  Everyone was hungry, the food was good, mouths full, and talk was limited to monosyllables.

    "Paul you have absolutely outdone yourself tonight," David said.  "This is excellent.  I hope these two little oinkers leave me a a bit of that roast for my lunches next week."

    "I have a small piece on my plate that I was going to ask Paul if I cold take home in a doggy bag, but you can have it, I suppose," Larry said, grinning.

    "You don't have a dog, Larry," David said.

    "Yes, I do," said Larry, "It sits next to the fire place.  It's a ceramic Dalmatian."

    "Well it hardly needs roast beef," said David.  "Give it a brick.  No doggy bag for you, young man."

    "I'll donate a piece," said Joe, laughing, "although I really intended on eating it myself.  David's right, this really is excellent."

    "Don't worry, David, I saved a piece for your lunches.  Big sandwiches," I smiled at him.

    "You always look out for me; don't you?" David said, smiling.

    "You're my man," I said and caught a look and smile from Joe.

    "More wine anybody?" as I started the bottle down the table.

    "May I have more asparagus," Joe asked and turned to Larry, "I love asparagus."

    "Yeah, me too.  I'll have some when you're through, please."

    "Here you go," as Joe handed him the bowl.  "I've had it served cold with a vinaigrette dressing and that was really good.  Except I don't know how to make it."

    "Oh, it's not difficult to make," said Larry, "be glad to show you."

    "Oh, I'd like that.  Let's get together and do it."

    "You bet, just name the time."

    Supper eventually came to an end.  With four hungry men, the roast beef was gone and the platter was clean and shining.  The only thing that survived the onslaught was a small bowl containing pats of butter in a bed of ice chips.

    "Well, c'mon, guys, you ain't going to get out of KP, Larry's birthday notwithstanding.  Besides, Larry, you'll get to open your presents sooner and I'm anxious to find out what you got from Joe," I said.

    "You got me a present?" Larry said, quite touched.  "Really?"

    "Of course.  I wanted to," Joe said.  "I'm really glad I did now.  Just hope you like it."

    "I know I will," Larry said.

    "Hey, GANG, KP time," I said, finally getting some action, as everyone started picking up dishes and heading for the kitchen.  Joe and I manned the sink and wash-up while David and Larry took care of clearing and food put-away.

    "Hey," Larry exclaimed, "there's a cake in here," with his head half-way in the refrigerator and his butt sticking up in the air.

    "Well, gee, Sherlock.  The next-door neighbors are having a party for their daughter and didn't have any place to put the cake and I offered refrigerator space."

    "Oh," said Larry.  "Well, it has 'Larry' written on it.  That's a funny name for a girl."

    "Well, she's kind of a funny girl.  Actually, her name is Laurentia and her folks call her Larry for short."  David looked at me and shook his head back and forth.  I smiled and Larry gave me this Look like he didn't quite believe me but wasn't sure.

    Kitchen police was over in short order and we all headed back to the front room with coffee and full stomachs.  We sat and talked a while and then I excused myself and returned moments later with a box in my hands.

    "Larry, this is to you.  It's from David and I.  We both agreed that since you were making such remarkable inroads towards senility that this would be an appropriate gift.  I handed him the box and got a glare in return.

    "Thank you, I think," he said.  And the box suddenly moved in his hands and went Meowwwww, rather loudly.

    Larry looked at me with a rather startled look on his face as he gently lifted off the lid.  Looking up at him was a kitten.

    "Oh, a kitten, I love cats," Larry said.  "My cat got killed a couple of months ago.  I've missed her."  Larry picked up the kitten and started petting it.  The kitten took a couple of sniffs of Larry, decided she could manipulate him without much trouble, turned around several times, curled up in his lap and promptly went to sleep.

    That's an Abyssinian cat.  She's registered and we have the papers on her.  When she is fully grown, she will be a beautiful animal.  Don't you think she is gorgeous, and she has such beautiful eyes.  Really stacked too."

    And as much as Larry was distracted with Joe, and the events of the evening, he didn't miss that one.  He looked at me accusingly.  "That's what you meant the other day in the shop; wasn't it?"

    David and I started laughing.  "David said you'd probably kill me when you found out, but it was worth it just to see the look on your face when you thought I had a woman lined up for you.  I'll never forget it.  Just wish I had a camera when I told you that," I said, laughing.

    "Oh, Paul, I'll get even with you if it's the last thing I ever do," said Larry, laughing.  "Of all the lowdown things to do.  You had me so worried about that and what was I going to tell this woman and everything else, I practically lost sleep over it.  I kept thinking what if she jumps out of a cake in front of me with no clothes on."

    "Well, Larry, simply because in your naive simplicity you chose to misunderstand, can hardly be laid at my feet," I said, all of us laughing all the harder.

    "Naive simplicity.  BOY!  Next you'll be offering artistic guidance."

    "Oh, no," David said.  "I want to sit and talk with you a while about that."

    "Oh, wonderful," said Larry.  "Well, yeah, but," as Larry returned to his original thought, "you knew I would misunderstand and therein lies your crime.  It's premeditation or, or . . . "

    "Taking advantage of a dumb person?" I supplied helpfully.

    "NO!  I'm a hardworking silversmith that's been taken advantage of, worrying about where my next meal is coming from.  So poor I only have two pair of skivvies to my name.  And then to play a low trick like that.  Oh, retribution will be extracted," he said, still laughing.

    "You only have two pair of skivvies?" said Joe.  "I'll loan you a couple pair.  Want me to wash 'em first?" Joe was grinning from ear to ear.

    Larry gave up and just sat there shaking his head and petting the kitten.  "It's a beautiful cat.  Thank you."

    "Here's another present for you.  It says from a Good Looking Guy named Joe."

    "Oh, let me see it," Larry said, all eagerness and handed the kitten to David.

    "It's heavy.  I wonder what it is," Larry said.  We all were.

    Larry tore off the wrapping paper and inside was a large fourteen-inch rectangular piece of wood with the enlarged Monopoly Deed to Boardwalk laminated on it.

    "Boardwalk!  Finally, I got Boardwalk.  Man, I've arrived!  Oh, Joe, this is just fantastic.  It's just what I need.  I'm going to put this in my bedroom," Larry said.  "Oh, this is so neat.  Thank you, Joe, I really appreciate it and thank you Paul, David.  I really do appreciate everything even though I am going to get even with brown eyes over there."

    "You're welcome.  I'm glad you like it.  Didn't know just what to get you since I didn't know you.  Just took a guess.  David and Paul said you were complaining so much because you never got Boardwalk so I figured you might like it."

    "Oh, that has to be the year's understatement.  The reason I couldn't get any decent property was because Greed Incorporated over there grabbed up every piece of property on the board.  There wasn't anything left to buy.  I went completely bust in two very painful moves.  And they said I complained.  Go figure."

    "Why are you going to put it in your bedroom?" Joe asked.

    "Because when I go to bed at night -- alone -- I'll at least have something in my bedroom to cheer me up," Larry said.

    "Well, you might have some company in your bed before much longer," David said.  Oh, leave it to David to get right down to main issues and drop a few provocative remarks.  There were more mental wheels turning in our select little group than a thimble factory.

    "And Larry, this is another gift from David and I.  I ran across this in a bookstore the other day and thought of you.  It's a book of Selected and Best Loved Poetry of American Poets.  I just took a chance on it because I don't know whether you care for poetry or not," I said.

    "I love poetry -- well, some of it.  Some I don't understand what they are talking about.  But this looks like it has some very good selections in it," as he started leafing through it.  "Oh, this is beautiful," and he read aloud:

                                                              Nothing Gold Can Stay

                                                                Nature's first green is gold,
                                                                Her hardest hue to hold,
                                                                Her early leaf's a flower,
                                                                But only so an hour.
                                                                Then leaf subsides to leaf.
                                                                So Eden sank to grief,
                                                                So dawn goes down to day.
                                                                Nothing gold can stay.

    "That is beauti--"

    "Oooooh, noooo!--"

    "What's the matter?" as Larry turned, looking at Joe.  Joe was bent over, his face almost to his knees, his hands clenched into fists, pounding on his legs, trying hard to suppress the sobs that were racking his body.

    Larry took one look, set the book down and grabbed Joe, "C'mere.  It's okay, Joe, it's gonna be okay," as he wrapped his arms around him and Joe put his arms up and around Larry and held on, burying his face in Larry's chest.

    "Just let it go, everybody understands."

    And Larry began talking to him, quietly, gently.  "I know, I know.  I'm so sorry.  Let it out, Joe.  Oh, Joe, just get rid of it.  Let it go and you can get well and we'll be together and, and . . ." tears were running down Larry's face.  And the chord was struck and the release complete.  Joe was crying hard, deep, gut wrenching sobs, coming from the very depths of his misery.

    "Oh, Joe, Joe, it's going to be all right, buddy, you'll get better, I'll take care of you, I want to take care of you, I'll be with you, you'll get better.  Just get rid of it and hang on tight 'cause I've got you now and things are going to get better."  And Larry, trying hard to be strong for him, his voice shaking, going up and down the scale, "The sun's gonna shine again and we're both gonna smile.  We can smile at each other.  We can love again.  We can love each other.  Oh, Joe, I'm so glad I met you, I need you so bad.  It'll be all right, just hang on tight."

    And finally, a gurgle and half-sob from Joe, "I need you, too, Larry.  I need you.  Hold me, please hold me.  I feel so awful.  Oh, Larry, I loved him so much.  I miss him so much."

    "I know, I know."  And the sobs began again and Larry, looking so miserable, trying to comfort him, brushing his hair back, touching his face, wanting so much to ease the pain and so full of love for him, sat there and rocked back and forth with him because he didn't know what else to do, just holding him and rocking back and forth, and crying with him.

    "C'mon, David," I whispered, "let's go out on the patio and leave them alone for a while."  David got up and we went out on the patio.

    "Son of a bitch, that was something else," David said, wiping the tears out of his eyes.  "That poor guy.  I didn't know how bad it was for him.  I should've talked to him more about it but I thought he was okay."

    "He's kept all this bottled up and never grieved for Brian.  I don't think anybody but Larry could have pulled the trigger.  Joe came in the kitchen earlier and told me that when he shook hands with Larry something went 'click' and his eyes were absolutely shining.  No, I think Larry is the Knight in Shining Armor this time.  Just like you were for me," as I smiled at David.

    "I was?" David asked.

    "Yes.  Still are, David.  You always will be.  No one could ever take your place."

    "Better not be anybody," and he put his arms around me.

    "So what are we going to do with the rest of the evening?  Kinda shot now; isn't it?"  David looked at me.

    "Well, why don't we give them a little time together until Joe gets this out of his system and gets himself under control.  And then, I think everybody is going to be in much better spirits before much longer.  In the mood for ice cream and cake."

    "So do you think we should just stay out here until then?" David asked.

    "Well, I could think of several things we could be doing," looking at David.

    "Making out on the sofa?" David asked.

    "Or dancing.  You interested?"

    "You need to ask?"

    I put on a CD and moved into David's arms.  We danced in the dark, our thoughts centered on each other, enjoying the feel of our bodies against each other.  I put my hand on his face, delighting in the feel of his warmth, the texture of his beard, the familiar smell of him that I had come to love so much.  He kissed me and the warmth of his tongue as it entered my mouth as we danced and I felt myself getting weak in the knees, practically hanging in his arms.

    "Oh, David, I love you so much.  I can't put it in words how much."

    "I love you, Paul," he whispered.  "I always will."

    The damned lights came on.

    "I'm sorry to interrupt," said Larry.  "I just wanted to tell you that things are under control again."

    "Where's Joe?" I asked, as we came to a halt.

    "Taking a leak.  All that beer."

    "Is he all right?" David asked.

    Larry looked at us,  "I can't believe how all right we both are.  Thanks to the two of you."

    "Well," I said, "It's time for some cake and ice cream.  Sound good?"

    "Oh, you bet.  All that emotion really generates an appetite."

    So we all assembled in the front room again.  Joe returned, setting in the circle of Larry's arms, eyes swollen and red but there was a look of relaxation, the tension gone, the shining back.

    "My last birthday," Joe began, "Brian gave me a gift which had a card attached that he'd chose.  On the inside of the card was the poem that Larry read.  It's by Robert Frost.  Of course, I wasn't expecting it -- you never are -- and the whole scene just flashed in my mind and that Brian wouldn't be giving me a birthday card ever again, and I tried to control it but I just couldn't.  I just came unhooked.  I'm sorry, I didn't mean to fall apart like that."

    "Joe," I said, "you needed to get it out and you did.  None of us think less of you.  It was necessary."

    "I can say it now," Joe said.  "It's over.  He's gone.  It's time to say good bye and close the chapter.  Time to move out of the apartment and get on with my life.  Brian would have egged me on, too."

    "Well, it's also time for cake and ice cream," as I headed into the kitchen.  "I wouldn't turn down some help."

    We all trooped into the kitchen and I got the cake out of the refrigerator and started serving, while David was dipping ice cream.

    "Hey," said Larry, "that's the cake you said belonged to the neighbor's daughter, the one named Laurentia and Larry for short."

    "Oh," I smiled at Larry, "her mother called a while ago and said her daughter ran off with a condom salesman and wanted to know if we wanted the cake.  I said yes," and glanced at David who was looking up at the ceiling and, I think, far beyond.

    Larry looked at me for a moment.  "Now I know why you have brown eyes."

    We reassembled in the front room laden with plates of cake, ice cream and coffee.  Happy birthday was sung, with Joe singing the loudest and slightly off key.  Larry got the paddling of his life by everyone plus one to grow on by the cat, administered by myself.  And then small talk going back and forth as I sat and observed this closely knit group, thinking how close we had drawn together in such a short time, how much we meant to each other.  I was happy for Larry and Joe and that they had found each other.

    I glanced over at David.  The kitten was curled up on his lap sound asleep.

    Larry looked over at me, "How long have you and David been together?"

    "Since summer of last year; right, love?"

    "Longer than that if you count that month or so you were playing hard to get," David grinned at me.

    Joe looked up, "You played hard to get?"

    "Oh, that's not quite fair," David said, "Paul had some tough times he had to get behind him before he could get back on his feet.  And it took some time.  And I came on pretty strong that first night.  Told him I was falling in love with him in about the second sentence.  Talk about someone freaking out."

    "The second sentence?" Joe said.  "I don't understand."

    "Wait 'til he tells you, you'll freak out," I said.

    "Well, you're going to laugh at me when I tell you.  Oh, well.  I have this voice that sometimes tells me what's going to happen or what to do.  And, well, I listen to it.  I suddenly knew that I was going to fall in love with Paul.  So I went over to his table and sat down and said hello and said I'm falling in love with you.  And I did and we did.  And a month later, Paul moved in and we have been together since then."

    "Wow," Joe said.  "And you knew ahead of time that this was going to happen?"

    "I knew that it was going to happen.  Some time.  I just didn't know when or who.  Until that night in the bar.  Then when I saw Paul, it was like . . .  I don't know, I just knew.  I didn't doubt it, I didn't question it.  I just accepted it.  And it happened just the way I knew it would."

    Larry looked at me, "Do you believe -- is this real?"

    "Yes, I believe it.  I didn't at first.  I never doubted David's belief, but I was skeptical.  But there have been several other things that have happened since then that proved it to me.  He really does have this internal voice that, well, I guess, talks to him occasionally.  Or sends him messages.  Whatever. But it is there and I do believe it."

    "Incredible.  I have heard of things like this, but I have never known anyone with the ability."  He looked at David, "I always thought you were somewhat strange though," with a mischievous smile on his face.

    David smile back, "Listen, tin smith, another remark like that and I'll give you some artistic guidance right where it will do you the most good."

    "It's still sore from the Laying on of the Hands Ceremony I had to endure," he laughed.

    "I doubt that.  Felt to me like there was considerable padding down there," David remarked.

    I pointed at Joe.  Head resting on Larry's chest and almost sound asleep.  "You better get him to bed, Larry.  It's been a pretty emotional evening for both of you."

    "Right.  Joe, hey, bud, time for bed."  He put his face next to Joe's and gently, "Wake up, Joe."

    "Huh, what?" Joe opened his eyes.

    "Bed time, Joe."

    "Can we . . ."

    "You bet, Nino, never part.  C'mon, we'll hop upstairs and get in bed and I'll wrap you up in my arms so tight you'll have unending happy dreams."

    "Oh, yeah."  Joe got up, "Thanks Paul, thanks David.  Goodnight."

    "See you in the morning, and thanks to both of you," as they headed up the stairs, arms around each other and heads close together.

    I looked over at David, "Well, my one, it's time to get you in your pajamas and hit the sack."

    "You know I don't wear pajamas," David said.

    "That's why it's so much fun getting you in your pajamas."

    "You got something in mind?" David looked at me with a big smile.

    "I sure do."

    "Well, what are we sitting here for?"

    "I don't know."

All right, guys.  Do you want Paul and David to continue or should they live happily ever after at this point?  Let me know.  (Harlequin@MCIWorld.Com)