The following fictional narrative involves sexually-explicit erotic events between men. If you shouldn't be reading this, please move on.
In the world of this story, the characters don't always use condoms. In the real world, you should care enough about yourself and others to always practice safe sex.
The author retains all rights. No reproductions or links to other sites are allowed without the author's consent.
The town of Stafford, the Sunrise Arts Center, and the characters in this story are fictitious.
Special thanks to Mickey and Drew, who have provided inspiration, advice, and encouragement throughout the writing of this series and to Ben for supplying technical information
A brick shithouse with red hair. Paul Bunyan without his Babe. My man. He was big, gorgeous, and gentle. He loved me. He made love to me. He assured me he was ecstatic when I made love to him. My man. He was a gifted artist. A popular and effective teacher. Louis worshipped him, but he was mine. He loved me.
I never really had any sort of epiphany. It didn't come to me in a blinding flash that the guy I'd been looking for had been there all along. It wasn't like that. It was rather the realization that what I had done with Chave and Asa, however I might rationalize it, was hurting Stuart. And the last thing I wanted to do was hurt Stuart. Why? Because, I now understood, I loved him. I didn't want to do anything to drive him away. Our love -- and that's exactly what it was, love -- wasn't pyrotechnic. It was slow, steady, and growing deeper by the day.
I was thinking about all of this as I drove to Sunrise the day after the Gala to help clean up. Everybody seemed in a great mood when I got there. Preliminary reports said we'd done well financially. Jean had heard glowing comments from those who attended, as had members of the Gala committee. Jerome and Lekeesha were there. Jon Baker was there. Lots of people had turned out to help with the aftermath of the big bash. I floated through it all on a cloud.
After everything was more or less ship-shape and we were all leaving, Jonathan came up to me and said he was glad I'd found Stuart and even happier that I'd finally figured out he was the right guy. He mentioned that he was so happy with Frank that he'd felt almost guilty knowing I was alone when I didn't want to be. It made him happy, he said, to know that I was now happy. We hugged as we were leaving the building.
When I got in the car, I called Stuart's cell phone. I figured if he was still at Frank's meeting about the GSA group, he'd have it turned off.
"It's me, sexy."
"I'm sorry, do I know you? Lots of people think I'm sexy."
"Well, I'm the one you most recently fucked. Does that help?"
"Oh, you're the guy I fucked on my way to Frank's?"
I giggled. "Bastard! I take it you're out of that meeting?"
"Yeah. Went well. I think we've about got it wrapped up."
"You can imagine why I'm calling."
"You want to get fucked again?"
"Well, something like that, yes. We never made any plans for this evening. Tonight. The rest of our lives."
"Damn! The nerve of some people! You fuck `em and they think you belong to them. You're a possessive little bitch."
"Don't you forget that, Red. We're together. And that means tonight."
"Okay. What now?"
"What's in your fridge? Mine's about empty."
"Just fishing for an invite to Sunday supper, huh? Well, come on. I can scrape up something. But you gotta stay the night. Bring whatever you're gonna wear to work in the morning."
"Goody! I'll be there in 45 minutes."
He chuckled. "Okay, babe. See you in a few."
On Tuesday, the Sentinel had a nice feature on the Gala, with half a dozen pictures, including one of yours truly with the president of the Alliance.
Wednesday morning Gwen, our bookkeeper, told me that we'd made just a little over $25,000 on the Gala. Most of that came from the items on the silent auction. The cost of the tickets barely paid the expenses for the affair itself. Of course the event was excellent for P.R. and good will. The people there that evening had a good time, and they were friends of Sunrise after the Gala if they hadn't been before. The staff did some quiet celebrating that day. I got to call the president of the Alliance with the news. Most of our operating expenses came from other sources, but the Gala was our biggest single fund-raising event, and I was relieved that my first one had been a success. I dictated a letter to be sent to every member of every committee that had worked on the event thanking them and another to the Alliance members letting them know the good news.
Jerome and I had our regular biweekly lunch that day. After we'd given our order to the server, we chatted awhile about the success of the Gala, and I thanked him once again for all his hard work in making everything special.
"I know the decorations committee planned everything, but I'm pretty sure you did most of the work putting them up."
He grinned. "Not actually. Those ladies worked like Trojans. They were a pretty sweaty bunch by the time we finished." Then he chuckled. "They sure looked different when they came back later in their fancy gowns."
"Well, say what you will, I know you worked hard, and I'm grateful."
When our meals came, we both tucked in for a while. Then Big J put down his burger, took a sip of his iced tea and asked if I'd seen the editorial in the Sentinel that morning.
I hadn't and said so.
"You should take a look at it when we get back. The editor in chief, what's his name?"
"Yeah, that dude. He wrote about the proposal to start a GSA group at the high school."
"Stuart told me that the principal was passing the request on to the Board of Education."
"Yeah, well, according to Ferris, some of the born-again crowd are raising a stink, trying to pressure the Board into turning it down."
"What else did he say?"
"You should read it. He was totally in favor of the idea."
"I will, thanks, J. I didn't have time to read the paper before I came to work this morning."
He grinned at me. "Spent another night at Mr. Blount's, huh? Fooled around in bed too long and had to rush to work?"
"Watch it, buster. That's pretty close to insubordination," I said, grinning back so he'd know I was joking."
"Yassuh, boss man. I'se jus' joshin' yuh."
Doing my best Jack Benny imitation, I said, "Now cut that out!"
"Who was that supposed to be?"
I explained that Benny was a radio and early tv comedian that my grandmother loved. She had lots of vhs tapes of his tv programs and I had watched them all with her many times when I was little.
"Speaking of Stuart Blount," J. said a few minutes later, "Jean says you two are having a joint exhibit this spring."
"Yeah, we're going to call it something like `Two Stafford Artists'."
"That reminds me, I've been wondering about how to display his miniatures. They need protection because they're so small. Otherwise someone might just pocket one and walk out with it. I think I've always seen them in wall-hung, glass-front display cases. I don't suppose you've got anything of the sort stored away anywhere."
"Nope. But I know things like that can be rented. See Miss Jean. She's got catalogs."
"It would make more sense just to rent them, if they're available, since we won't be having displays of miniatures very often."
"Good decision. We don't have all that much storage space anyway. I suppose we'll be using the podiums again for your glass pieces? Am I going to have to paint them some other color?"
He was remembering having to paint them gray for Brad Telford's display of portrait busts the previous fall.
"Let me look at one of them later. I promise if I want a different color, I'll help you paint them."
He chuckled. "Now that's what I like in an artist. And a boss!"
We both passed on dessert and went back to work.
When I came into the office Jean pointed out a stack of notebooks on my desk.
"What in hell are those, woman?" I asked, in mock exasperation.
"You asked for them."
She gave me one of those `what am I going to do with you' looks. "Yes, boss. Those are the Board minutes for the first five years of the Alliance, along with some other documents that might be useful for Jonathan Baker. He's going to be on the desk tomorrow morning, and I thought you could give them to him then."
"Why me? Why don't you just give them to him?"
"I carried them this far and got my clothes dusty doing it. I figure anything that heavy should be man's work. Of course," and she looked at me over her glasses, "you could get Jerome to carry them down to the reception area tomorrow morning if you aren't up to it."
As it turned out, Jonathan didn't show up that Thursday morning, so I had to stack all of that stuff on the floor of my office where, of course, I managed to trip over it a couple of times a day for the next week.
The dispatcher asked me several questions and then assured me the EMT's would be there quickly.
Frank was still unconscious. I forced myself to be calm. He was naked, and my first instinct was to get some boxers and put them on him. Then it occurred to me that I shouldn't move him until the paramedics got there. I did have presence of mind to get his medical insurance card out of his wallet. I was afraid to leave him alone, but I had to go downstairs and unlock the front door, turn on the porch light and the light in the vestibule. I was on my way back up to Frank when I heard the ambulance coming down our block, so I went back to the vestibule and waited.
I showed them where he was and stood in the bedroom, out of the way, praying while they checked him out.
There was a flurry of activity. They put something around his neck, they started an IV, they gave him oxygen. Then they put him on a board which they secured to a kind of stretcher and took him down to the ambulance.
I asked if I could ride along with them.
"Well, uh, what's your name, sir?"
I told them.
"Well, Mr. Baker, you could come with us, but you won't have a way to get home if Mr. Cummings is admitted. We'll get a gown on him when we get to the ER, but you might want to gather up some clothes for him to wear when he's discharged."
"Oh, okay. Guess I wasn't thinking."
"Most people don't in a situation like this. Now you be careful driving. We'll take good care of your friend."
The EMT had said something about "When he's discharged." Did that mean he didn't think Frank's condition was terminal? Or did he say that to everybody? I worried about that as I drove to Stafford General.
The receptionist at the ER sent me into a little office with a young woman in a typical hospital uniform, a figured top and green pants, who wanted first of all to know about his insurance and then about his next of kin. I gave her the insurance card and explained that Frank's next of kin was a cousin in Idaho whose name I couldn't remember and whose address or phone number I certainly didn't have. She said that could be a problem, but then she asked me all sorts of questions about Frank's medical history, primary care physician, etc. Some of them I could answer, like the name of the doctor, and some I couldn't.
Then she asked me to go to the ER waiting room. I asked if I could be with Frank.
She smiled for the first time. "He's having blood drawn and we're trying to get a urine sample. When they're through with that, I'll come and get you."
As I sat there, and it seemed an eternity, I couldn't help remembering sitting in a similar waiting room ten years earlier, agonizing because I didn't know what was wrong with Will. I didn't have to wait long that time, however, because they'd told me almost at once that Will was dead on arrival, that he'd apparently had an aneurism of the brain.
I had worried that if I gave my heart to someone again, I'd lose him, too. I remembered a conversation I'd had with Frank a couple of months ago. He'd said I was not to think about losing him but about having him. It didn't seem fair that I could lose him so soon. I'd only had him for a few months, which wasn't nearly long enough. My stomach was in knots and my hands were sweaty as I sat there imagining all sorts of things that could be wrong with my lover, the man who'd made my life happier, more exciting than I'd ever expected it to be after Will died.
I'd worked myself into something of a state when a different person in scrubs came up and asked if I was Mr. Baker. When I said I was, he said, "Mr. Cummings is awake now, which is a good thing. He was able to give us permission to treat him. Otherwise there could have been problems. If you two are partners, you need to get living wills set up so you can do the things that a spouse would normally do. Now, he's going to have to have some tests, and he's still in a lot of pain, but he's going to be okay. If you'll come with me you can see him for a few minutes."
I had a moment of dizziness when the guy said Frank was going to be all right. When I got to the cubicle where he was, I almost cried with relief that he was awake, but he looked terrible.
"Jonny, they told me you were here," he said, holding out his hand to me.
I wanted to kiss him but decided I'd better not, so I took his hand. "Of course I'm here. Where else would I be? What happened, love? What's wrong?"
"Jesus, babe, I hurt! I've never had anything like this pain."
"Where do you hurt?"
"My head hurts because I must have cracked it on the sink or something when I fell. But I hurt inside. It feels like something in there is swelling up and is going to explode."
"Won't they give you something for the pain?"
"Yeah, they said they'd be back with something soon. And I'm to have a CT scan. They haven't said what they suspect, but they seem pretty calm about it. Oh, and something called an IVP." He was practically writhing with the pain. I was about to go and see what the delay was when a nurse – or somebody in scrubs – came in.
"Now, Mr. Cummings, we're going to take care of that pain. Some Fentanyl should make you more comfortable pretty quickly." He put something into the IV tube that was already in Frank's arm.
I sat by the bed and held Frank's hand. He was gripping mine so tightly it was painful, but I wasn't about to complain. I was still rejoicing silently that they'd told me he'd be okay and grieving because this man I loved so much was hurting so badly.
That Fentanyl must have been powerful stuff. After five minutes Frank's grip on my hand loosened. After another five minutes I looked at his face, which was sporting a goofy grin. "That stuff is working, babe. The pain's plumb gone." I kissed him on the forehead.
I lost track of time. We'd only had a few hours of sleep when Frank passed out, and I'd been running on adrenalin ever since. At some point they took him away for a CT scan.
While he was away I had time to say more than a quick prayer. I asked for forgiveness for my angry thoughts when I found Frank on the floor and prayed that his pain would end and that he would recover from this, whatever it was.
After another indeterminate wait, one of the hospital personnel stopped by to tell me that they'd been able to schedule Frank's IVP so that he'd go directly there after the CT scan.
"What's all this supposed to tell us?" I asked.
"The CT scan will let us know how serious the crack on the head is. Since we're pretty sure he has a kidney stone, we're giving him the second test to see where it's located. Do you know if he has a history of kidney stones?"
"He's never mentioned it. And when we were talking just now, he didn't seem to have any idea what was causing the pain. If he'd had stones before, I should think he would have recognized the symptoms."
"Yes, you're probably right. Well, it will be a while before he's back here. There are vending machines just off the ER waiting room if you want a cup of coffee or a coke or something. I'll come and find you when he's back in his cubicle."
I thanked her and went to the waiting room. I didn't need anything with caffeine yet. I was still too wired from the whole experience. But the waiting room furniture was less uncomfortable than the chair beside Frank's gurney in the cubicle.
There was a selection of magazines, but I wasn't interested in Car and Driver, Business Week, Women's Day, Golf, or variants thereof. I wasn't sleepy. So I sat there with my thoughts. By that time there wasn't anyone else in the waiting room. At least for a while. Then I heard a siren and soon there was a lot of bustle while someone was brought in and whisked away somewhere. A few minutes later a half a dozen distraught looking people came in. All of them but one milled around and eventually sat while the one was taken off to provide information about the patient, or so I guessed.
A little before 5:00, the male nurse came back. I noticed he was a great-looking bear of a guy. An inch or so shorter than me, dark hair, hair on his chest peeking up out of the vee in his scrub top and on his arms, and very kind brown eyes.
"We've admitted Mr. Cummings. I didn't come and get you sooner because he was taken directly from radiology after the IVP. He's now in a room and I think he's asleep. Why don't you go home, clean up, get something to eat and perhaps a nap and then come back about 9:00?"
"What's the diagnosis?"
"He has a mild concussion and a kidney stone in the upper right ureter. We're going to check its position again later and then decide what needs to be done about it. Meanwhile, he'll be kept comfortable. His blood pressure was up when he was brought in, but that was probably because of the pain. We're watching that, and it seems to be back to nearly normal now."
"Could I sit with him?"
"He's going to be asleep. And he's in no real danger. This is when you need to take care of yourself. He'll be glad to see you later this morning, but frankly, Mr. Baker, you look exhausted. Why not go home for a while? Believe me, we'll take good care of your friend."
I thanked him. I certainly couldn't have asked for a nicer, more sympathetic person to have to deal with at the ER.
I went home, set the alarm for 8:00 and collapsed. When the alarm went off, I dragged myself out of bed, shaved, showered, dressed, had some juice and cereal, and was back at Stafford General at 9:00, where I found Frank looking pretty chipper.
After we had kissed, I asked how he felt.
"Except for where I bumped my noggin, I feel great!"
"How could you feel great? You didn't pass the stone, did you?"
"No, `fraid not. But as the doctor explained to me, stones can float. Apparently mine floated up into a wider portion of the ureter. When that happened, the pressure went away, and the pain along with it."
"So what happens now?"
"Tomorrow they're going to put in what's called a stent."
"I've heard of heart patients getting stents."
"Yeah, well, this is supposed to keep the stone from descending into the narrow part of the ureter."
"Sounds like a temporary expedient."
"Exactly. Then you'll have to take me to Asheville to Mission Memorial Hospital, where I'll have a lithotripsy."
"Oh, I've heard of that. Don't they immerse you in water and then bombard you with shock waves that crush the stone?"
"Yeah, something like that."
I'd heard about that. But then I had a scary thought. "How do they put the stent in?"
"Well, the doctor offered to go in there and unfasten the ureter from my bladder and just tie a knot in it."
He chuckled. `The doctor was, fortunately. But to put in a stent they don't cut you open. It's up the urinary tract with gun and camera, more or less."
"God! It makes me squirm to think of it."
"Well, babe, you can bet I won't be awake while they're doing it." He glanced at the clock on the wall. "Jon, aren't you supposed to be at Sunrise?"
"Oh, damn. I never called them. I can't use my cell phone here, so I'd better go outside and give them a ring."
"Why not just use the phone by the bed? It's a local call."
"I guess I'm still not thinking very clearly. You really gave me a scare, you know."
"I'm sorry. Make your call, and then I'll apologize more profusely," he said, grinning.
So I called Jean and told her what had happened. She said they'd manage without me that morning and to give Frank her best wishes.
Frank got his stent the next morning and came home the day after that, Saturday. He said he had no kidney pain, but that it hurt to pee. The urologist had told him that was normal and to drink plenty of fluids.
Just before noon on Saturday there was a flower delivery from Carlton's. That made me remember that I'd never called them to complain about the way they'd messed up the card on the roses I'd sent to Whitney on Christmas Eve. These flowers were for Frank. The card said, "Mr. Cummings, we miss you and hope everything `comes out all right.' From your AP English class."
I chuckled over that. "Cheeky buggers, aren't they?" I asked.
He grinned and said, "That sounds like Louis Lefevre, but he's not in that class."
"Yes, but Judd Thomas is, isn't he? He may have suggested the idea to Judd."
"Quite possibly. Whoever came up with the idea, I'm sure they all loved it once it was suggested. The flowers are a touching gesture, though, don't you think?"
"I certainly do, lover. I'm just sorry I haven't had time to get you flowers or something."
"That's okay, hon. I'm sure you can make it up to me some other way."
"Uh, what about that? I mean . . . "
"Relax. The doctor said as soon as it quits stinging when I pee, it's okay to have sex."
"Well, then, drink plenty of fluids, as he said!"
Frank had an appointment at the hospital in Asheville for the following Wednesday. I was going to take him, stay overnight, and bring him back the next day. It meant I would have to miss two successive Thursdays at Sunrise, but I knew Whitney would understand.
The procedure at Mission Memorial went well, or so the doctors said. I brought my lover back to Stafford looking a little wan, but he said he was as good as new. Better, actually, because he knew he was free of kidney stones.
Two things, at least, had become clear to me. I would be grateful for every day I was allowed to have with Frank, and we were going to get Burke to re-do our wills and draw up durable powers of attorney, giving us the same rights spouses have in the case of an emergency. If Frank hadn't regained consciousness when he did, there might have been a real problem about the hospital not wanting to go ahead without permission from the next of kin. Besides, even though I didn't want to think about it, there was the matter of one of us perhaps having to make a `pull the plug' decision at some point.
All in all, however, we'd come out of this crisis not too much the worse for wear, and I was grateful to have my lover back home in Stafford.
We got more news about Jamie and Phil Albright during the week after the Gala. Louis and I were sitting at lunch planning our delayed Valentine's Day dinner. Shondra and Christie, our two "fag hags," as they had begun jokingly to call themselves, were sitting with some other females at a different table, giving us some privacy. Our talk was interrupted when Kevin Ptacek plunked himself down beside me.
Nodding to Louis, he turned to me and said, "I saw you arrive with Lefevre this morning, so your car's not here, right?"
"Good. I'm gonna take you home. We need to talk."
I looked at Louis, who merely nodded.
"What's this all about?" I asked him.
"Dude, I'll tell you after school. Meet me at my truck, okay?"
After he'd left, Louis said, "Wonder what that was all about?"
"I don't have any way of knowing, but it could be news of the Albrights. Kevin's been the one who's made a point of trying to find out what's going on with them."
"Well, you call me as soon as you get home."
"Of course. I'll need to hear that sexy voice by then."
"Smooth talker!" he said, flashing his blinding smile at me.
It was cloudy, cold, and damp when I got to the student parking lot. I had to wait by Kevin's pick-up for a few minutes before he showed up.
"It's cold as a witch's tit out here, dude. Sorry to keep you waiting." He pressed the button on his key fob and the doors unlocked. We both jumped in.
"Kevin, what's up?" I asked as he pulled out into the street.
"Let's go find someplace to park."
I almost made a wise crack warning him I didn't want to make out with him, but I decided he might not react too well to that.
He drove to a small strip mall, with a hair salon, a dry cleaner's, a convenience store, and a Chinese restaurant. He left the motor running so it would stay warm in the cab of the truck. I undid my seat belt and swiveled around so I could look at him.
He did the same. He looked serious.
"Thomas, last night I ran into Phil's little sister, Rachel, at a youth group meeting at our church. She's in 9th grade."
I vaguely remembered her.
"She must have had some information about Phil and Jamie."
"How did you know?"
"Why else would we be here? You aren't going to tell me you're dating her or something, are you?"
"No, you're right. It is about the guys." He seemed nervous. "I can't believe it! Y'all are everywhere."
I was afraid I knew what was coming, but I just waited for him to go on.
"Did you know those two were gay?"
"I never had any idea about them. Or about you, either, until you started hanging around with Lefevre."
"Kevin, I'm sure Rachel didn't just come up to you and say those two are gay. What happened?"
"I got her to sit down with a coke and asked her what was up with them. She told me that her parents and Jamie's parents received an envelope in the mail, no return address, with a picture of those two naked, doing something they shouldn't, as she put it. She seemed embarrassed even to be talking about it. But that's why they got yanked out of school and separated. She says they're both going to enroll at The Citadel in the fall."
"Yeah, both sets of parents think the military environment will keep them on the straight and narrow."
>From what I'd heard, that wasn't necessarily going to happen, but I didn't say anything.
"Now, I gotta ask you this. Are you the person who outed them to their parents? Since you knew they were queer, uh, that is, gay, you'd have the best motive of anybody."
I'd never taken any pictures of the cousins, but I knew who had.
"No, Kevin, I give you my word of honor, I didn't do that. Shit, I wouldn't do that to anybody! What those guys did to me was pretty rotten, but I'm not much into payback."
"Are you sure?" He didn't exactly look menacing, but he was giving me a pretty serious look. "I can't think of anybody else who'd want to get back at them. I'm not happy to find out they've kept that kind of secret from me, but I think outing them to their folks like that sucks bigtime. Somebody'd have to really have it in for them to do that. And you seem like the numero uno candidate."
"What can I say? I didn't do it. I wouldn't have done it."
He seemed to relax a little
"Hey, man, I had to ask. Rachel said that she hadn't been allowed to talk much with Phil but that in a recent phone call, when he explained to her what had happened, he told her he didn't think it was you."
"One more time, it wasn't me."
He reversed out of the parking place and drove toward my house. The rest of the ride was pretty quiet. When he pulled in my driveway, I asked if he wanted to come in for a coke or something, but he said he needed to get home.
"Besides, I'll bet you promised to call your buddy and tell him all about this, didn't ya?"
"Yeah, I did."
"You two aren't going to spread it around the school, are you?"
"No, Kev. I don't keep any secrets from Louis, but I promise we won't tell anybody else. Nobody."
"Thanks, dude. I still can't believe those guys are gay. They really had me fooled."
"They're the same guys they've always been, you know. It's a shame what happened to them, having to leave school in the middle of their senior year. Being separated. Don't stop being their friend. They really need friends right now."
"I guess. I can't do much while they're both so far away, though."
"Well, you could ask Rachel to tell them that you're still their friend. It might make them feel better to know that."
His face brightened. "Yeah, I could do that. You know, those guys had plenty of chances to come on to me, and they never did. Thanks, Judd." He held out his hand. "You're okay."
We shook hands, I got out, and he drove off. Of course I called Louis. He was dying to know what had happened with Kevin, but I told him we needed to talk in person. He agreed to come to my place as soon as he'd had supper and finished his homework.
Later, when we were together in my room and I'd told him Kevin's news, Louis said, "You know who sent that picture, don't you?" He meant my friend in Atlanta who'd been a fuck buddy of the cousins.
"Sure, it had to be Tommy."
"Did he tell you he'd done it?"
"No, babe. And if I'd known he was going to do it, I'd have tried to talk him out of it."
"Well, the Albrights really were hypocrites about your seeing me when they're gay themselves."
"Yeah, but I'm over that. And making trouble for them doesn't do anybody any good."
"Judson, I love you! You're not only gorgeous, you're a man of integrity, too."
After I finished kissing him, we called Raintree and made reservations for our romantic dinner that Saturday night. We were going to blow all the money we'd made on tips parking cars for the Sunrise Gala.
Then somehow we were naked on my bed giving each other a long, sweet 69. I actually felt sorry for Jamie and Phil.