This multipart story is primarily about romance and relationships between men. Any reference to actual persons, living or dead, is only to enhance the fictional nature of the story and does not suggest a particular sexual orientation. If you are offended by graphic descriptions of homosexual sex, what the hell are you doing here? Bye, bye.
Special acknowledgements to Drew and Brad for providing diligent proofing and editing of the story.
If you have any comments or suggestions for the author, feel free to write me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I love feedback and communication with readers. Support Nifty!
Chapter 1, MAKE IT MEDIUM-RARE
"Eric, did a 'Brian' make a reservation tonight?" Lisa asked.
It was a moderately busy Tuesday evening at El Rancho Steakhouse, a landmark restaurant on the North San Diego county coastline that specialized in serving dry-aged prime steaks, lobster and prawns. The season would officially kick off on Memorial Day weekend...just 10 days away.
"Yes, Brian should have been here 10 minutes ago with three others." It was 7:40 p.m., and Eric Flynn was closing manager for the restaurant tonight.
"A couple of them work with me at The Joynt, and Brian's a new manager. I know they'll be here." Lisa was a cocktail server who had two jobs. At lunch, Lisa worked at The Cheesecake Joynt, an upscale, casual restaurant seven miles south in Del Mar that everyone referred to as The Joynt.
"I'll give you a shout when they come in. We'll take good care of them," he said with a smile, before studying the remaining reservations.
"Thanks," Lisa replied, tray in hand, as she returned to the dining room just as the phone rang.
"Good evening, El Rancho, how may I help you?" The hostess was seating a party, and Eric naturally grabbed the telephone.
~~~ "Hi, this is Brian McGruder. I've missed my reservation 'cause one of the people has still not arrived from L.A. Can I move it up to eight-thirty?"
"Brian, I'll do that. But just so you know, the last reservation is at 9:00 p.m." 'Hmm, so that's his last name,' Eric considered. During the week, the steakhouse closed fairly early. Southern California and the beach community residents in Encinitas liked to eat early at the many restaurants that dotted the coastline. The families would go home immediately after dinner, and the younger crowd would party hard at nearby bars and clubs, later. On Friday and Saturday, they served until eleven.
~~~ "No problem. Thanks, buddy. What's your name?"
"Eric. Eric Flynn. I'll see you then."
~~~ "I'm in this crazy business, too, Eric. We'll definitely be there. Lisa has told me good things about your restaurant. Bye, bye."
'As long as he gets here within a reasonable time,' he thought. On a Tuesday night, Eric didn't want to drag on closing the restaurant and run up costs. Just then, a good-looking young couple walked into the distressed wood paneled lobby. He checked the clock and verified it was 7:45 p.m. He also checked out the 'hunk factor' as the guy announced his name.
"Hi. My name is Scott. I have reservations for 8:00 p.m." Eric momentarily glanced at the 'book' and checked off the name.
"Scott, welcome. Good to have you two with us," Eric replied with his megawatt smile, as he studied the attractive couple. While the blond girlfriend looked elsewhere, Eric gave the handsome surfer-type the 'ok' high sign. The reservation indicated that Scott was going to propose marriage tonight, and Eric planned on making his young guest a shining knight in the eyes of the lady.
"Somewhere in a corner?" Scott asked, with an almost timid, pleading expression. He was wearing the Southern California young, male uniform-of-the-day: tee, open shirt, low-slung jeans and flip-flops. The jeans were snuggly molded around a well-packed crotch. This was a typical look that would be modified to a tee and cargo shorts when summer arrived.
"Got a great table for you. Follow me." The manager mentally undressed Scott as he seated the couple. Eric was a man who could easily fit the image of a young father, older brother or adult son; he always made the guests - whatever their age - feel comfortable. His casual, friendly, non-intimidating manner made him very popular with the locals. They always called Eric for a reservation. He wanted Scott and his fiancée to remember this night and return to 'Eric's place', as many called El Rancho.
He never let on to any hot, hunky, male guests that his ultimate fantasy was to go down on the guy in the middle of the dining room. With the sound of steaks sizzling on the display-cooking grill in the background, Eric pictured himself nailing the guy against one of the booths. 'Ah, all these straight, cute dudes not knowing what they're missing,' Eric thought with a mischievous chuckle.
For the 32-year-old manager, there was an abundance of eye-candy. In addition to being popular with affluent, coastal residents, the restaurant was only 15 miles south of Oceanside and Camp Pendleton. Nightly, the surfers, college students, single executives, families and Marines mingled together with an easy informality. El Rancho was a great place to take a date, wife or the guys for dinner. The quality was high, the prices were reasonable, and the atmosphere was very rustic.
Most of the reservations showed up in the next 45 minutes. The dining room was two-thirds full and several people were sitting around the fire pit outside on the patio having after-dinner drinks and beers. Eric had just returned from making the rounds in the kitchen, dining room and bar, when a good-looking threesome entered the restaurant, laughing. The two men, kind of a 'Mutt-Jeff' combination, were escorting a lovely, twenty-ish, tanned woman dressed in a sweater, tight jeans and heels. The taller man, probably around thirty, stepped forward and said, "Hi. You must be Eric?"
"Guilty as charged," Eric replied with a grin, as he observed the men. The guy who just spoke was conventionally preppy handsome with short, light brown hair and matched Eric's trim, six-foot height. He wore a black crew sweater and khakis. The 'Mutt' was more in the shorter, lithe, surfer mode. Eric guessed him to be in his mid-20's. 'Pretty cool-looking group,' Eric judged, as he glanced at the clock. It read 8:25 p.m.
"My name's Brian McGruder," he said, as he shook Eric's hand. "This is Karen, and my bodyguard is Steve."
Everyone laughed, and the atmosphere immediately loosened between the strangers. 'Steve is a real hottie,' Eric thought, while observing the guy's sun-streaked hair, freckles, great eyelashes and baby blues. 'Cute, but not my type. Now, Brian, on the other hand...whoa.'
"You're still going to be 'four'?" Eric asked, before releasing Brian's warm, strong hand.
"We lost the fourth. He's still hung up in some sort of traffic jam in Orange County. It'll just be the three of us. By the way, here's my card, Eric. I'm the new manager at The Cheesecake Joynt. Karen, the kids and I just moved down here two weeks ago from L.A."
'Damn,' Eric thought, wistfully, 'another hetero breeder.'
"Lisa mentioned that. Welcome to the area, Brian. Allow me to buy y'all a round of drinks." The hostess had menus in hand and Eric pointed to a table on the room diagram. "I've got an ideal table for you and I'll stop by later."
"Please do," Brian said as the threesome was led away to the dining room. Just then, Lisa cruised by the front desk with a drink order.
"Oh, Lisa, your friends just arrived. They're on table 23. Brian, Karen and Steve. The fourth is tied up in OC traffic and won't make it."
"That would be Steve's boyfriend. Well, I'm sure that they'll get together at Mother's later." Mother's, or 'Mom's' as the local wags had nicknamed it, was a hot gay bar nearby in Solana Beach. Eric would stop in after work occasionally.
'A shame all the cute ones are either taken or straight,' Eric concluded, looking at Steve and Brian in the dining room. Eric laughed as he thought of his paraphrase on the old 'married or gay' saying.
"Buy them the first round on me. Okay?" Eric said with a wink. The complimentary drinks were an unwritten rule of professional courtesy that you offered to another restaurant manager.
"Thanks, boss." Lisa nodded and scooted into the dining room.
Two other parties arrived and were promptly seated. On Friday and Saturday evenings there was usually a small wait. Over the next hour Eric bounced between the dining room, 'stroking' the guests, and the front door to say good night. As GM for the past four years, he was very intent on building and keeping steady, local business. It reflected well on his year-end bonus check.
He smiled at himself as a party of four Marines departed. He always bought the first round of drinks for anyone on active duty. It was not lost on the grunts that this generosity was heartfelt. Politics aside, Eric felt it was his duty to support the morale of the guys. It also didn't hurt that he found these young, trim, muscular warriors with their 'high and tight' haircuts very sexy.
As guests continued to leave, Eric pondered the past decade of his still-young life, taking personal inventory: his San Diego State years and a failed marriage with a college sweetheart. A 'B' average with a BS degree from school and an 'F' in a straight relationship. The only good thing from the two-year marriage was a terrific son.
The bad news was that 'Brenda the Bitch' moved to Virginia several years ago. She told Eric that it was best that their then four-year old son not be contaminated from being around his queer dad. 'Cunt,' he thought, sadly.
Since they were in Virginia, there was no way to enforce parental visitation rights. Thus, he had not seen Eric, Junior, in eight years, and his phone calls were never returned. Letters came back marked, 'return to sender' in Brenda's handwriting. He doubted that the kid was even aware that his dad had constantly tried to contact him.
Eric had moved through a series of upwardly mobile restaurant manager positions before landing at El Rancho four years earlier. The evidence of his professional success was a great, secure, well-paying job and an ocean-view condo. Not so positive was his personal life. Just a string of boy friends that went no further than some affairettes and occasional, fast fucks that left Eric a 'dull' boy in the relationship department. 'Thank God for the Internet,' he concluded, slightly embarrassed that he would probably be jerking to a Corbin Fisher video that night.
He warmly said good night to a family of four he knew well. Eric had known the doctor, his wife and two sons since he had joined El Rancho. The boys, now 19 and 17 years of age, had filled out and were absolutely adorable. But other than admiring the two, young, virile men, Eric maintained an older brother rapport. 'Plucking chicken' wasn't his thing.
Eric had just finished checking out the early servers' reports and deposits in the rear of the dining room when he saw the party from table 23 get up. He dashed around the side of the room, not wanting to appear eager to get back up front.
"Lisa was right on the mark. This is terrific food," Brian warmly said to Eric as they approached each other in the foyer. "And thanks for the drinks." He extended his hand and Eric shook it. Brian's eyes sparkled as he grinned.
"You've got to come down to The Joynt," Steve added. "Ask for my station so I can take good care of you." He smiled and also shook Eric's hand, firmly gripping Eric's arm with his free left hand.
"Can I offer you guys an after-dinner drink before the bar closes? You'd enjoy the fire pit," Eric suggested.
"Buddy, thanks for the offer, but Karen and I have to get back so the sitter can go home," Brian said. "Plus, I know that Steve is probably going over to meet his friend at, um...what's the name...oh, yeah, Mother's."
"I just got a call from Jerry. He's back from that Orange County traffic fiasco and waiting for me," Steve confirmed.
"Okay, guys. Karen, nice meeting you. Perhaps you'll bring in the whole family for an early dinner sometime? We've got a very reasonable kids' menu."
"At four and six, the boys will wolf down anything. We'll do that sometime."
"Eric, why don't you join us at Mom's? I'd like Jerry to meet you," Steve said. "And who knows who else might be there?"
'There was a marvelous, impish quality about Steve's smile,' Eric thought.
"If I can get this place shut down early enough, I might just do that. Thanks for the offer. Brian, welcome again to the neighborhood. I look forward to seeing you soon." Eric shook hands with all, again, and waved goodnight. 'Damn,' he thought, 'Karen is lucky to have that guy.'
For the next 45 minutes, Eric went through the closing procedures. When the last dishwasher clocked out, it was only 11:00 p.m. After turning off the lights and engaging the alarm system, he decided to take up Steve's invitation to stop by for a beer. 'Mom's was almost on the way home,' he decided. 'It would be nice to know Steve better and meet his lover. Maybe he does have some other single friends?'
Driving down the 405 was almost like being on autopilot. Eric had made this trip almost daily for the past four years. Getting off at the Lomas Santa Fe exit, he turned right towards old town. Normally, Eric would turn inland and travel the road up to the hill where his condo was perched high over the coastline. His home had been convenient to drag someone out of Mom's on more than one occasion.
Mom's was in the middle of a bar-infested block. Somehow the gay and hetero crowd co-existed on the busy street. Parking was always a problem, and tonight was no exception. Eric found a spot in a closed hardware store lot and hiked three blocks to Mom's. It was late enough for a guy's nocturnal horniness to kick in. Straight and gay pairings, looking for love, had started the nightly exodus from the bars to the cars. The street was quite lively with foot traffic.
Eric never minded being 'carded' at the front door of a bar. He was proud of his youthful image and loved the inevitable, unbelieving reaction from the door security man when his age was checked on the driver's license.
"Good evening," he said to the guy outside Mom's. He automatically pulled out his driver's license and waited for the big, trim hulk of a guy to verify his age.
"Hey, man," said the security guy. "I thought you were 25, tops. About my age."
"You been here long?" 'There must be a big turnover at the door,' Eric judged. 'I seldom see the same guy twice.' "I get in here once in a while."
"Just started two weeks ago. This whole routine of verifying someone's age is new for me. But, man, you really look good for an old man," he said with a chuckle.
"It must be the 1800 tequila I order for the margaritas," Eric replied with a chuckle.
"Then I'm switching to 1800 tonight." The tall, young, muscular security doorman didn't have to worry. Mom's hired the door guys to be a combination of tempting eye candy and assertive security. Like the hunky bartenders, all the male employees were encouraged to flaunt their raw, clean-cut, youthful sexiness.
"Do you take it 'neat' or on the rocks?" Eric asked, smiling at the possible sexual direction of the repartee. He admired the young man. The tight, black, security t-shirt showed off a very well built guy who obviously took care of himself. The right short sleeve almost, but not quite, covered a tat that was the bottom part of the USMC emblem.
'Hey, how I take it is not your business...yet," the security guy said, laughing with a wink. Eric loved that this man took the flirting positively and threw it right back.
"Until we get to 'yet', here's something to buy that drink after work," Eric said, as he palmed a five-dollar bill with a business card in the doorman's hand. "My name's Eric." Aside from the fiver being a small token of thanks for the doorman doing his job well, Eric knew that the business card would create a positive spin of El Rancho. 'The guy must come in contact with hundreds of people,' Eric thought. He also wouldn't mind meeting the hunk another time.
"Thanks. I will take advantage of your generosity...later," the doorman responded enthusiastically. "My name's Brad." This was more of a friendly acknowledgement than a come-on. Brad professionally took the gratuity and discretely shoved it in his pants pocket. He kept the business card in his hand and looked at it briefly.
"No problem. I'll have one with you if I'm still here."
"Jesus, I love your restaurant," he reacted when the restaurant logo was recognized. I haven't been there for several years, though."
"It musta been before my time. And I've been there four years." Eric stood back to let a few guys through the door. Brad checked their I.D.'s and waved them in.
"I was just out of boot camp at Pendleton. A group of us went to El Rancho to celebrate our graduation. That'd be six years ago. I was stationed in South Korea and then rotated to Iraq for two tours," Brad said with a shadowed seriousness.
"Wow, a war hero, too. I'm impressed," Eric replied, slapping Brad's shoulder playfully.
"I don't know about that shit, but I was there. Just got out of the Corps last month and moved back here. Me and my buddy are going to attend Cal State San Marcos in the fall."
"Buddy, as in..."
"A real close buddy. Hey, Eric, I didn't mean to mislead you. You understand I was just goofing with a nice guy?" Brad asked with concern.
"Absolutely. I was goofing with a nice guy, too. Tell you what; bring your buddy in for dinner. The treat's on me. I gotta meet the man that stole your heart." 'Fuck,' thought Eric. 'Strike one and I'm not even in the door.'
"You got a deal. Maybe I'll see ya later," Brad replied with a friendly Marine salute. Eric nodded goodbye and walked inside Mom's.
The long, narrow room was very cruising-friendly. Straight ahead was the bar with stools for around 20 guests. On the opposite wall was a drinking ledge, and in the center of the room were five 'high-top' tables and stools. Mirrors on each wall gave the room a visual width. The background music had a steady, driven beat that was accented by pulsing lighting.
'Thank God, California banned smoking in bars,' Eric thought as he strolled through. He remembered his younger, barhopping years when he'd come home reeking like a cigarette butt...and he never smoked.
Quite a few guys were still in the bar. However, Eric observed that there were very few singles. He was about to check the poolroom and the patio when he heard, "Hey, Eric, over here," above the din of the room. At the end of the bar he saw Steve, waving. He waved back and walked over to his new friend and a cute second guy.
"Hi, buddy," Eric said with a grin. Steve immediately jumped off the stool and hugged him before planting a wet kiss on Eric's cheek.
"We are now officially friends," Steve replied. "And this is my man, Jerry Franz. He's still pissed that he didn't get down here in time for that great dinner." Jerry stood and took Eric's hand. The 501's and form-fitting tank top flattered Jerry's sculpted body.
"Hi, Jerry. I'm Eric Flynn. Sorry you couldn't make it. Perhaps you two can come in soon? We've got a few nice, secluded, dark tables for lovers only." Eric smiled and squeezed Jerry's hand, for emphasis. The bartender came over and took Eric's order for a Bud Light.
"Nice meeting you. I'll really look forward to the visit. I just transferred to The Joynt from the Long Beach location and don't know too much about this area." Jerry explained that Steve and he had met in Long Beach six months earlier and Steve had already accepted a transfer.
"So, Jer and I have kept the flames burning via long distance visits until he could get his cute buns transferred," Steve added.
"Steve told me that you're a single man?" Jerry asked.
"Yep. Too single, if you know what I mean," Eric replied with a shrug as he jerked his left fist up and down, facing the guys with his back to the door.
"Well, I've got a guy that might just be a good friend for you," Steve said. "I'm pretty sure that he'll be here soon."
"Really? Steve, you move fast." Eric was curious whom Steve had in mind.
"It's the Steve queer dating service," Jerry said with a laugh.
"Strike while the iron is hot, as they say," Steve replied. "Speaking of the devil..."
"Hey, guys. I found you," came a voice from behind. After turning around, Eric's mouth almost flew open with surprise when he recognized the man.
"Um, hi again," mumbled Eric with a feeble smile. He tried desperately to recover from the shock as he was within inches of his fantasy du jour.
"Hi, Brian. Glad you could get away," Steve added. Both he and Jerry warmly greeted their friend with aggressive handshakes.
"Listen, if you would excuse us, Steve and I are going to duck out to the patio for a smoke. We'll be back in a few," Jerry said before the two lovers departed.
"Brian, this is a little bit of a surprise, seeing you here." Eric regained his composure and projected more assertion and command. Brian McGruder was still wearing the same sweater and khakis.
"Steve insisted that I show up. Seems he knows someone I should get to know better," Brian said with a smile. The bartender brought Eric's beer and Brian asked for the same. It took all of Eric's willpower not to wilt from Brian's presence.
"He said the same thing to me. But I gotta tell you, Brian, I don't mess around with married men," Eric replied with measured sternness.
"Well, neither do I, if that's any consolation, but...oh fuck, I think I have some 'splaining to do, as Ricky used to say," Brian replied. Eric caught the 'Lucy' reference but was puzzled at the use of it.
"Let's start with your wife and kids." Eric took a sip from the longneck and stared at Brian.
"I guess I assumed you knew that I'm a single, gay man," Brian said, with concern creeping over his handsome face.
"Single? Gay?" Eric's expression changed from puzzlement to incredulity. "How do you explain Karen?"
"Easy. She's my sister and the two boys are her kids."
"Sister? Oh." A light bulb of understanding switched on in Eric's mind.
"Yeah. Her rat-bastard ex-husband disappeared, stopped child support and left Sis stranded. She and the kids had a tough time adjusting to his departure. When I accepted the transfer, Karen asked if she and my nephews could come down and temporarily live with me. What could I say? The boys will both be going to school in the fall and Karen will become a working mom. We've agreed that she'll find her own place by September."
"Well, you had me going, Brian," Eric said with relief, knowing that they were both batting on the same team. The bartender set the second beer in front of Brian. He grabbed for the bottle and took a long pull as Eric started reappraising the man before him. 'Oh shit,' Eric thought, 'could this be the real deal?'
"I'll be honest with you. I overheard Lisa talking to one of the servers at The Joynt about you not long ago. She really likes you and was lamenting how you have been in a dry spell with boyfriends. I guess that piqued my curiosity." The two men cautiously studied each other's expressions and verbal nuances.
"Ha. Dry spell is an understatement, and I don't think a career in the restaurant business helps matters," Eric answered. "I mean, I can't remember the last time I had a Friday or Saturday night off." Eric's eyes shifted to his beer bottle. He started peeling back the label.
"Eric, I do. It's been about eight years. I keep thinking that I'll find Mr. Right. But who wants to sit at home alone on weekends waiting for a working guy? Tonight's Tuesday and this is my big evening." Brian's hand gently rested on Eric's shoulder very naturally. Eric, in reflex, put his hand around his new friend's waist. He pulled Brian closer until their legs were touching.
"I don't have to be at work until early afternoon. How about you?"
"I'm closing tomorrow night, so I don't have to be in 'til two," Brian answered.
"Then here's what I propose. I've got a fridge full of beer and a couple of neat chardonnays. What say we come back to my place and get to know each other better? I live right up the hill." Eric cautiously pushed his groin into Brian's, so that their expanding crotches were touching. 'Please, God, make this a base hit,' Eric wished.
"I'd like that." Brian emphasized the point by gently grinding his straining erection. Only cloth separated the intimate moment.
"But would it be rude to leave the guys without saying goodnight?" Eric asked. Both were aware of the other's extreme hardness.
"I think they'll understand."
"Yeah, I think they will." Eric pulled out a ten, laid it on the bar and took Brian's hand.
There was nothing said as the two men made their way to Mom's front door. Eric was excited and apprehensive at the same time. 'Is this goin' to be a fast fuck or something better?' he wondered.
Taking the lead, he firmly held Brian's hand as they dodged other guys standing by the bar engaged in last-minute negotiations concerning the next step. The door was opened from the outside and Eric almost tripped on his way out.
"Well, looks like another satisfied customer," the tall doorman said as he caught Eric from falling.
"Um, thanks, Brad," he replied, not at all uncomfortable with the hunky guy's big hands helping steady him. "Meet my friend, Brian. He just moved down here from Long Beach. Brad just got out of the Corps."
"Hi, Brad." The two men shook hands and Brian added, "He's only had one beer. Honest." Brian smiled and brought his arms around Eric's shoulders in a protective, buddy stance.
"Nice meeting you. Have a good night, guys," Brad said with a wide grin.
"Sir, yes, Sir," Eric answered with a mock salute. "And I was serious about you and your buddy coming in."
"I've got your card. I won't lose it."
"Semper Fi," Eric said as he gave the former Marine a 'thumbs up'.
The guys nodded good night and walked away from the door. Brad's expression telegraphed a mixture of surprise, admiration and 'mission accomplished' for Eric's quick hook-up.
"Damn. Those 'grunts' get better looking every day," Brian said as they moved a few steps further.
"That's just a sample of what comes in the restaurant every weekend. Nice side benefit," Eric answered.
"Makes working at night worthwhile." Brian turned and smiled.
"Definitely. I'm parked up by the hardware store. How about you?" It was a little after midnight and the streets were still active with foot traffic. Eric resisted the urge to hold Brian's hand.
"Actually, I'm across the street," Brian said. "Come on. I'll drive you up to your car so I can follow you."
"Sounds like a plan." They walked over to a vintage red Wrangler and Eric went around to the passenger's door. "A great beach car," he continued, opening the door and easing in.
"This was my first new set of wheels out of college," Brian replied as he hopped in the driver's seat. Before turning the ignition he leaned over and lightly kissed Eric. "I've wanted to do that since we met at the restaurant."
"I hope there's more where that came from?" Eric said, responding with a firmer kiss. Their tongue tips just touched.
"As you said, we both don't have to be to work until tomorrow afternoon." Brian winked and fired up the Jeep. "Whoops. You're unraveling my reserve. I hope I'm not becoming too bold?"
"Bold? I was just about to mention that I have spare toothbrushes," Eric replied with a laugh.
"And everything else?" Brian gave Eric a questioning look.
"Um, hmm." Eric nodded as he continued, "Let's be serious for a few seconds. For the record, I'm 32, very single, HIV-negative, love receiving and giving...safely, and take my coffee black in the morning." 'Might as well find out if there is any excess baggage,' Eric decided.
"Okay, show and tell time for me. I just turned 30 and ditto to everything you said, except I like cream in the morning...and then, coffee." Brian looked at Eric and they both broke up.
"Well, let's have a drink first." 'Nothing like getting the preliminaries out of the way. Check one for the good guys,' Eric concluded.
"I like the term 'first'." Brian beamed at the implications.
At the end of the next block, Eric indicated that the gray Cherokee, now almost alone in the lot, was his. Before getting out, he kissed Brian once more and said, "Just follow me. We're going under the 405 and up the hill."
"Will do," Brian said.
With a nimble agility and athletic grace, Eric trotted over to his car. He got in, started the Cherokee and maneuvered to the curb opening. The red Wrangler was in idle, and the shadowy figure was waving. Eric waved back and turned onto the street. He made sure that Brian was following. 'Okay,' he thought, 'be cool. Don't come across as the sex-starved, horny, male predator...that I am.'
TO BE CONTINUED