This story is for Sara Bell. She has given us such great joy with The Magic in Your Touch, that I feel the need to give a little bit back. We all love ya, Sara.

Those Golden Eyes

Chapter 1

by JWSmith

Dave took a sip of his second Johnnie Walker Red on the rocks. It had a splash of water in it, but was still strong and burned his throat slightly as it went down. He set the glass on the white paper napkin, and savored the complicated smoky flavor of the scotch . He rested his elbows on the polished worn wood of the bar, supported his chin on his fists, and stared into the depths of the amber liquor. Today was his forty-second birthday. It was his first birthday with out Bill. Bill had always made a big to do over Dave's birthdays.

The alcohol was helping Dave let down the guards on his emotions. For months he had shut them down and not thought, not let himself feel his loss. He wallowed in feeling sorry for himself. He was alone. He was alone after sixteen years of blissful marriage. His partner, Bill, had been the center of his life and now he was gone. How could a man just go to sleep after a wonderful session of lovemaking and not wake up the next morning?

It had been seven months, two weeks and five days. Dave had been aware of each day and had gotten through each by keeping to his a strict regimen, keeping his mind and body busy. Up at six every morning, for a two mile run. Back to the house to make a pot of coffee while he showered and dressed. Fifteen minutes to sit and read the paper while he drank the coffee and had a piece of scraped toast. (He'd become accustom to scraped toast early in his life with Bill. Bill had been a good cook, but he didn't seem to be able to toast bread with out charring it and then having to scrape the burned surface off before buttering it. Regular toast just didn't taste as good, so Dave continued to burn his toast and scrape it just like Bill had done. The difference was that he now used a low-cholesterol spread instead of butter.)

When he finished his second cup of coffee, it was off to the book store for the day. He and Bill had opened the store the year they had graduated from college. Over the years it had grown and expanded into the best book store in the city. Of course just being on the edge of the campus had helped it be successful. That and the little coffee shop that Bill had insisted on having as part of the store. It had become strong draw and a major hangout for a lot of students over the years.

The coffee shop was what had finally been the end for Bill. He drank innumerable cups of cappuccino a day. And of course had to have his favorite pastries with it, Cream cheese and Marmalade Danish. The doctor had admonished him to cut down on the caffeine and cholesterol, and Dave had felt like a harpy being on his case constantly about it. Bill's response had been that his father had died young and he felt he probably had no choice in the matter since it was in his genes, so he would eat what he pleased, thank you very much. Bill had made his choice. And that choice had left Dave alone.

Between helping customers, keeping up on the inventory and all the of paper work, Dave never had a problem staying busy in the bookstore. At seven every evening Dave turned it over to his assistant, Sue Morrows for the last two hours, and went home. He worked out in his basement gym until his was tired enough to sleep, took a shower and made himself a light simple meal. He watched Fox News for an hour and then went to bed. In the beginning it had been hard to get to sleep laying by himself in the same bed that he had always shared with Bill. But, now, he could fall right to sleep and not awaken until six when he would rise to start his day all-over again.

But this evening, the night of his forty-second birthday, he had left the office and wandered into this bar for a drink. This night he felt like he needed to drown his sorrow and wallow in self-pity a bit. Sue and his employees had a party for him, cake and cards. He had left soon after the cake was served and the cards had been opened. He had lied to them, telling them that some friends were having another party for him.

He had succeeded in pushing all of Bill and his friends away as he closed the world out, cutting off his emotions. They had been mostly Bill's anyway. Bill had been the garrulous one. The one who loved having lots of people around. For Dave, Bill was all he needed. His life revolved around him alone. He had yet to grieve Bill's passing. Dave knew in the back of his mind that he eventually would have to do it if he, himself, were going to go on living. If he were going to share the remainder of his life with someone, for he didn't like living alone.

So here he found himself sitting in The Off Campus Bar. Bill and he had stopped in once in a while with friends, but never often. The bar was neither straight, nor gay, but nearly always a mix. Dave felt comfortable here. A perfect place, he thought, to celebrate his first birthday alone. Ha! What was to celebrate? A birthday only meant that he was getting older. And you don't celebrate being alone.

As he sat on the tall bar stool, staring into his drink, the scotch having loosened his thoughts , he became aware that someone had occupied the stool next to him. Without turning his head, he glanced sideways and saw a tanned muscular forearm covered with sun-bleached blonde hair. Straight fine hair. Hair he wanted to reach out and caress it looked so soft. He watched the arm, fascinated by the defined muscular movement under the skin. The hair rippled as the muscles beneath moved. He was mesmerized.

He studied the hand attached to the strong wrist. He'd always had a fascination with strong manly hands, almost to the point of it being a fetish. After looking at a man's face he always checked out his hands. Bill had big strong hands. They both had calloused hands having always done all the yard work in their large old fashioned yard that covered a quarter of a block. Calloused hands got Dave right in the pit of his being.

This hand was weather worn, tanned. The bleached hair covered the back of the dark tanned hand and all of the first knuckles. A few scars marred the sun-browned skin on the knuckles. The nails were neatly trimmed and clean. He took note that the nail on the long second finger was deformed, as though it had been smashed and had begun growing anew. For Dave, that didn't mar its masculine beauty.

Dave imagined for a moment what the palm side looked like, with heavy callouses formed from a life of hard manual labor. He imagined the calloused fingers caressing his body. He quivered at that thought.

As if on command the man turned his hand over and straightened the fingers. Dave studied the palm, noting a long life line. The love line started out rather weak. Half an inch from the beginning of the line another short line crossed it. The intersection of the two lines was red, angry. He wondered if the man had really been hurt as badly as the line indicated. From there, it became a strong deep line that wrapped around the side of his palm. "Whoever this man loves is going to be well loved for a lifetime", Dave thought to himself.

"Do you see yourself there?" The man's voice was soft low and soothing. Dave didn't realize the man had spoken. It became his own question. He wondered if it were possible to find another man to love for the rest of his life, now that Bill was gone.

~ ~ ~

Joe walked up the street. He'd had a good day working beside all the muscular construction workers on the site. He was tired, but it was a good tired. He liked his life, even though it was lonely. He had thought that he had found the one man to share his life with a few years ago, only to be badly hurt. Joe had shied away from trying another relationship. His life was full. He did what he wanted. And didn't have to answer to anyone but himself.

Tonight he was going to stop into his cousin Gio's restaurant for a fine meal to celebrate his thirty-ninth birthday, and then, home to his aerie, for a good night's sleep. He didn't feel like going out and picking up a trick. He hated the emptiness of it all. No, tonight it would be just Laddy Five Fingers and himself, as it had been since the day he had found Eric in bed with another man.

The Off Campus Bar's neon sign up ahead flickered on in the evening's dusk. It seemed to beckon to him. 'Yeah,' he thought, 'why not have a beer and loosen up a little before dinner." He stepped into the bar and let his eyes adjust to the dimmer light. There weren't many people, just one guy at the bar. Joe did a double take. Damn, that was Dave Gates sitting at the bar.

He'd fantasized about him for many years. His senior year in college he had first seen Dave in Levi's and a plaid flannel shirt, working in his book store. Dave's image had been instantly engraved into Joe's mind. Joe had set out to learn all he could about Dave. When he found he was happily involved in a long-term relationship with the co-owner of the bookstore, he had backed off of his pursuit.

Still, he would make a weekly pilgrimage to the bookstore to get a new Dave fix to fill his fantasies at night. Eventually, he formed a casual relationship with Bill, Dave's partner. They would sit and discuss what ever book Joe was buying that day, over a cup of espresso.

Joe had stayed away from the bookstore since Bill had died several months ago. He had gone in the one time that he had learned of Bill's death and had seen the empty expression on Dave's face. Something about his expression had scared Joe; maybe it was because he had felt the way Dave looked, when he had walked in on Eric in bed with a trick.

Now Dave sat at the bar. Joe realized there was nothing but his own inhibitions keeping him from talking to Dave. He sat down next to him and ordered a beer. He glanced at Dave, who was staring into his glass of scotch.

He had been infatuated with Dave for so long he couldn't remember what it was like not to be. He was Joe's Ideal Man. His short bristly brown hair, mustache and eyebrows contrasted with his smooth creamy-caramel skin. He wanted to lick the skin on his neck. He sniffed at Dave as he sat on the stool next to him. No, he could not get his scent; the bar's stench was too strong.

He recalled the one time that Dave had stood next to him. Close enough to smell his light cologne mixed with a scent that he identified a strictly Dave. He had been looking for a particular book that he had wanted for a long time. Dave had come up unnoticed and ask if he needed help. "NUNQUAM by Lawrence Durrell." He had replied, knowing it was Dave standing next to him, afraid to look at him, yet his whole body quivered with the awareness of his proximity.

Dave had pulled the book off a shelf and handed it to him. Joe had taken it and turned to the first page. As he read, Dave had stood there watching him. He had looked up from the book and gotten lost for a moment in Dave's eyes and then realizing he was staring, he had snapped the book closed and with a curt "Thanks," had run from him. The poetry of Durrel's words had mixed with Dave's natural smell. To this day Joe could read the first page and his memory was filled with the Dave's scent.

Joe picked up his beer and took a swig. He sat the glass down and flexed his wrist. The muscles were tight and sore. He noticed Dave's stare move from the glass to his arm. He seemed to be fascinated with it. Joe flexed his forearm again. Dave continued to stare at it. Joe watched as his eyes traveled to his hand. He saw Dave shiver. He turned his hand over as Dave continued to study it. He opened it. Dave leaned toward it, obviously studying the lines in his palm. Joe whispered, "Do you see yourself there?" Dave didn't seem to have heard it.

~ ~ ~

Dave let his eyes travel back up the arm past the elbow. The bulging bicep stretched the rolled-up plaid shirt sleeve. His eyes traveled past the muscle-stretched roll of plaid fabric, on up to the shoulder. He took note of the tuft of light brown hair in the open neck of the plaid shirt. It, too, was straight and fine like the hair on his arms. Dave looked up into his warm hazel green eyes, dappled with gold flecks, knowing for sure that the man had been watching as he studied his arm and hand. The man was beautiful. His light brown hair, bleached by the sun, parted on the left side, hung over his forehead on the right, giving him a boyish look. There was a bit of grey at the temples. He had a strong chiseled chin covered in a dark five-o-clock shadow; there was a sprinkling of grey there too. A long aquiline nose with flaring nostrils perched above a neatly trimmed mustache and firm lips that turned up at the corners, giving him a perpetual smile. This is how the Mona Lisa's lips would look were she a man, Dave thought. Dave looked back into his deep set eyes. He was in a deep woods looking up at the dappled sunlight through the tree tops. The color of his eyes changed as Dave stared into them. They were now mostly gold with green flecks, where before they were green with gold flecks. Those golden eyes haunted some ghost of a memory he couldn't draw forth. He had seen those golden eyes somewhere before.

The man smiled at him and Dave blushed, as he realized he had been staring. He turned back to his drink. He picked it up and took a big gulp. He choked on the strong liquor. The man thumped him on his back, instructed him to raise his arms above his head. The coughing subsided.

"You all right, buddy?" the man asked. The voice again washed over him. It was soothing, caring, oh so warming.

Dave nodded and manage to find his tongue.

"Yes. Yes, thanks." He didn't look up. He was still being embarrassed at having been caught looking, not only looking but being interested in another man, The man rested forward on his elbows and leaned toward Dave.

"My name is Joe. And it's okay."

Dave looked at him; his forehead furrowed. 'Was he telling me that it's okay for me to be interested in him?' Dave wondered.

"Okay?" He asked.

"Yeah, I don't mind you looking at me. I've looked at you for a long time. You're a damn good-looking man." Joe wondered where the courage to be so forward was coming from. He'd only had a couple of swallows of beer.

Dave blushed and looked around the bar to see who might have heard. There were a few patrons at the tables across the room. The bartender was at the other end of the bar. He looked back down at his drink.


"You got a name, or should I just continue to call you buddy?" Joe asked. He knew full well who Dave was ,but had never been formally introduced to him. When he had stepped into the bar and had seen Dave sitting there so morose, he had known in that moment his time had come. But Dave didn't even know he existed. As far as Joe knew, Dave had never looked at another man besides Bill. He had respected that and stayed away from him. He had become friendly with Bill when Bill had approached him in the coffee shop, but had shied away from getting to know him more than casually.

Dave glanced up at him and smiled. It was a little smile, a sad smile. A smile that said, 'It's nice of you to show interest, but you don't need to go out of your way for me."

Joe smiled back at him. He knew why Dave was hurting. He wanted into Dave's life so that he could alleviate the pain.

"Yes, I'm coming on to you." He admitted. " But why so sad?" He wanted to get Dave to talking about himself.

Dave stared at his drink a moment. This was the first time he had been out on his own since Bill had gone. He felt skitterish. He glanced back up at Joe. Joe's concern moved him. He made a decision at that moment. A decision to get on with his life. He sat up on his stool and turned to face Joe.

"I'm Dave Gates."

He held out his hand. Joe took it in both of his. His countenance glowed with pleasure.

"I own---"

"Gates-Way Bookstore." Joe said.

Dave smiled.

"I've spent many hours in there."

"I'm sorry, Joe, but you just don't look like a book worm. I don't ever remember seeing you in the store. I'm sure that if I had, I would recall it."

Joe grinned. "And you look like the owner of a books store? Not. Anyway, I used to have a beard. I dress like this only on the job. I just got off work a little while ago. Didn't feel like going right home, so I stopped here for a drink."

"That puts a question or two in my head." Dave said.

Joe studied him for a moment.

"I'll answer them, if you will tell me why you look so sad."He had to get Dave to talking if he were going to get anywhere with him.

Dave turned back to the bar he looked at his now watery drink. He picked it up and drained the glass down his throat. He sat the glass down and stared at it.

"That bad, huh?" Joe asked.

Dave shrugged.

"No, not really bad. I just haven't talked about it to anyone before."

He kept his eyes on the empty glass.

Joe reached out and rubbed his hand up and down Dave's forearm. It felt so good. Dave missed being touched so much that it brought tears to his eyes. The callouses felt like he had imagined they would. Little shivers ran up and down his spine; he wanted more.

"Hey, it's alright." Joe said, soothing Dave's emotions. "You don't have to tell me."

Dave glanced up at Joe and saw the concern on his face. There was something more; Dave couldn't decide what it was, but it made him want to talk to Joe, to tell him everything. He stared back into his empty glass for a moment.

"I want to tell you about it, Joe. You're a nice man. And I-I want to a- a know more about you, too." He took a deep breath and let out a ragged sigh. He turned back to face Joe. "Seven and a half months ago I lost my partner. He died in his sleep after we had made love." Dave realized, as he said it, that he had just outed himself to this man. He mentally shrugged, if Joe was worth getting to know it would be okay; if he wasn't --well, nothing ventured nothing gained. He continued. "Today I'm forty-two and I'm feeling old and sorry for myself."

"Your mate was Bill Way. I knew him slightly, you know. I had heard that he had died. I haven't been in the bookstore for a while." Joe said. "He used to converse with me occasionally when I sat in the coffee shop to read. I can well see why you loved him. He was a real sweetheart of a man. I'm so sorry for your loss." He paused wanting to wipe the tears out of Dave's eyes, but he felt that kind of intimacy wouldn't, yet, be abided. "Dave, I wish there was something I could say or do to make you feel better."

He took Dave's hand in both of his as he spoke. Dave not only heard, but felt the sincerity of Joe's words. He covered Joe's hands with his other.

"You just did." He smiled a little more brightly. "I do feel better. Thanks, Joe."

They gazed into each other's eyes, reading the needs and desires each held hidden. After a moment, Dave broke the spell. He turned back towards the bar. "Would you like another drink?" He asked.

"No, Dave. And I don't think you really do either."

Dave bristled. He turned and looked at Joe, surprised that he was being so assertive.

Joe realized he had overstepped his bounds. "Wouldn't you rather go have dinner with me?" He asked, trying to look like a forlorn little boy and succeeding.

Dave smiled; there was no way he could refuse that look.

"Yes. Yes, I would."

" Let's get out of here then."

Joe grabbed his hand, pulling him off the barstool and out the door.

"Where to?" Dave asked.

"Are you familiar with Gio Gio's Bistro?"

" Yes. It's an Italian restaurant near my store. I've had their carry-out lunch, which is wonderful, but I've never had dinner there."

"Well, then, it's time you did. Dinner's on me."

"Hey, I can't let you do that. I hardly know you."

"Well, it's your birthday and I hope you know me quite well before dinner is over."

They strolled the few blocks to the restaurant with Joe's hand resting on Dave's shoulder. It felt natural to both of them. Joe was a good four inches taller than Dave who stood at five feet eight. As they walked they talked.

"You had some questions I haven't yet answered." Joe said.

Dave looked up at him as though he were waiting for the answers, but he didn't say anything. Joe grinned at him when it looked like Dave was going to just stare at him. "So what are the questions?" He asked.

"Oh." He startled. "Well, let's see. First, what is your job?"

"Pretty obvious isn't it? Construction worker."

Joe grinned at him.

They walked in silence for a couple of minutes. Dave kept looking up at Joe and shaking his head in disbelief that this macho guy was interested in him.

"So any more questions?" Joe asked breaking the silence.

"Well, one I guess. Why didn't you want to go home tonight?"

Joe ducked his head. Suddenly he was feeling shy and backwards.

"Because it's my birthday, too. And there is no one at home for me, either."

"Happy birthday, Joe."

Joe grinned, stopped and hugged Dave.

"Happy birthday to you, Dave. You're really forty-two? I would have guessed maybe thirty-two."

"I'm really forty-two as of today." Dave returned the hug with alacrity.

"You obviously take good care of yourself."

"Well, I used to be a bit lackadaisical about it, but since Bill died I've really been strict about my diet and working out. And how old are you today?"

They were just outside the restaurant. Joe opened the door, and gestured for Dave to enter.

"Me? I'm thirty-nine."

Just as Dave started to say that Joe didn't look that old, he was interrupted by a large rotund young man in a white apron and a floppy white chef's hat that hung over his right ear. Grinning, he swept Joe into a bearhug.

"Joe, happy birthday, partner. I'm so glad you've come to share your evening with us. "He had a strong Italian accent.

"Thanks, Gio. This is my friend, Dave Gates, he owns the book store around the corner. I just discovered that it's his birthday, too. Dave this is Gio. That's G-I-O."

"Mr. Gates, it's so good to meet you. I've purchased many Italian cookbooks from you over the last couple of years. Happy birthday to you, too."

"Thank you, Gio. I remember seeing you in the store. And please call me Dave."

"Thank you, Dave. Let me seat you gentlemen."

With a flourish he turned to lead them, but he ended up following as Joe lead Dave to a private table in a corner where they could have a bit of privacy.

"This is the owners' table." Gio explained to Dave as he pulled a chair out for him. Joe had seated himself. "Only he and I and our special guests are allowed to sit here."

"So we are your guests, Gio?" Dave asked.

"No-o-o-o. You are my cousin's guest."Gio said. He stood behind Joe with his hands on his shoulders. "I'll send Tommy right over." He patted Joe's cheek with affection and left for the kitchen.

Dave looked around. He was impressed by the tasteful appointments of the room. There were no plastic grapes and wine bottles woven into baskets. The wood paneled walls were hung with oil paintings of Italian landscapes. The tables were covered with white clothes instead of the common red checkered ones. The wooden chairs were upholstered in a luxurious cloth. The tables were nearly all occupied. People were talking, Classical piano music played in the background, and yet the noise level was low. It all bespoke quiet luxury.

A young waiter in a white shirt and a tie came to their table. He was probably a college student Dave thought to himself.

"Good evening, Joe, and Happy Birthday, old man." He turned to Dave. " I am told it's you birthday today also. Happy birthday, sir."

"Thanks, Whippersnapper. Dave this is Tommy, Gio's other half. Tommy this is Dave. By the way, Dave, Tommy will be a quarter of a century old in less than two months."

Dave fell right in with ribbing on the younger man.

" A quarter of a century! Wow, that's getting on up there."

They all laughed.

"Okay, so I won't be a spring chicken any more. I retract old man and sir. So, would you and your guest like to order from the menu or do you have something special in mind?" He spoke directly to Joe, but included Dave with his eyes."

"I'm sure Gio has something special in mind. Tell him to just do his thing. And bring us a carafe of the house Chianti."

Tommy made a slight bow and about faced. Dave studied Joe for a moment before he had a chance to turn back to him. Dave thought he looked proprietary as he watched Joe study the goings on in the room.

"Gio and Tommy just got back from a two week trip to Italy. Gio arranged for regular shipments of some of the best of Italian Chianti.

"Joe, why do I get the feeling that this is your restaurant? Your not just a special guest here just because it happens to be your birthday."

"What gave you that idea?" Joe looked surprised.

"Well, let's see. Gio called you partner, first off. Second, you were headed for this table before Gio led the way. I'm your guest at this table, not Gio's. Third, Gio just happened to know it is your birthday. Your his cousin, aren't you? And you were just looking around there was a look of pride on your face, like-- well-- like you own this place."

Joe blushed.

"Your very observant, Dave. Yes, Gio and I are partners in the place. Thus the name."

"So your name is spelled the same? G-I-O?"

"No, I'm second generation American, so it is J-O-E."

Dave nodded his head. He continued to nod as he studied the man. He like to put people into orderly little niches. Joe wasn't fitting into one.

"You are an enigma. You're a restaurant owner. Apparently it's a very successful restaurant, too. What the hell are you doing working as construction laborer?"

"I love working with my hands, building things. So I formed my own construction company. That way, when ever I feel like it, I can just go help build whatever the men are working at that moment. Plus it's a good money making business."

Dave shook his head in wonder.

"My grandfather was born in Italy during the first world war." Joe continued. "He has always been impressed that here in the USA one can do or be anything they want. He pounded that into my brain. I will take you to meet him. He is an amazing old man. Gio is my cousin. He wanted to come to America and be a chef. I sponsored him and helped build this restaurant with my own two hands, because that's what I wanted to do."

Dave smiled and shook his head in amazement. Tommy took that moment to discreetly serve the wine. Joe picked up his glass and tasted it even though it was poured from a carafe and not a freshly opened bottle. With a smile of thanks, he nodded to Tommy, who set the carafe on the table and left.

"So. Tell me more about you." Joe said.

"What's to tell? You know almost everything about me."

"Let's see, what do I know about you. You've got black hair, the most beautiful green eyes I've ever seen. You're short" He grinned devilishly, "You're in great shape. You're 42, which I can't believe. Today's your birthday, so you were born in 1961. Hmm. What else do I know about you. Oh, yeah, you obviously keep in shape. And by the way, you have great biceps. That was the first thing I noticed about you in the bar; how your muscles strain against the sleeves of your shirt. What gym do you go to?"

Dave blushed. He knew that he had great looking arms. He admired them, himself, after his workout in the evenings. Arms really turned him on, almost as much as hands. He didn't realize they affected other men like they did him.

"I have a small gym in my basement."

"You lift weights; you press by your self?"

"Well, yeah, I just don't over do it."

"You still should have someone to be there spotting, just in case."

Dave grinned. It was nice to have someone worry about him. Joe's serious concern for him, made him want to get to know him better.

"Want to volunteer for the job?"

It was Joe's turn to blush, but he came right back with a quick question.

"Are you inviting me?"

Dave turned serious. He stared at him and then nodded.

"Yes, Joe, I'm inviting you."

"To be your personal spotter."

They were staring into each other's eyes at this point. Joe got nervous, had to break the tension.

"Ah, you just want to look up the leg of my shorts, don't you?" He smirked.

Dave smiled, but continued his intense look at Joe.

"That could be fun. Wanna show me something?"

"Could be dangerous. I mean a---holding a heavy bar above your head while trying to peek."

Dave's expression was dead-pan serious. "But, Joe, you'd be there to save me if I started to drop it, that is if you were not to busy showing off." The laughter in his eyes gave it away.

Joe raised his eyebrows in surprise at being caught in his own game.

"OH. Yeah, that's right." He chuckled. He nodded his head as his face turned red at his lascivious thoughts.

The two men stared into each others eyes for several moments. For the first time in many months Dave was feeling happy. Joe had awaken his sense of humor. The sadness had abandoned his eyes for the moment. Joe looked to see if there might be more than just the joy of good company. Dave saw a hunger in Joe's eye, a need. He found himself wondering if he could fill it.

"Tell me what you were thinking in the bar as you studied my arm and hand, Dave." Joe said in a quiet almost whispering voice.

Dave blushed, but he didn't break eye contact. He smiled, he felt this was a time for honesty and openness.

"I wanted to reach over and caress the hair on you forearm. I was wondering what it would feel like to have your strong calloused hands touching me." He dropped his eyes to Joe's hands resting on the table.

Joe's grin was again full of mischief. "Hey, Dave." He reached across and covered Dave's hands with his own. It thrilled him that Dave being so open with him. Dave looked up at him. "I'd love to give you a full body demo." Dave blushed a deeper shade of red and grinned back.

"Don't make that offer if your not serious, Joe."

Dave and Joe continued talking, joking and learning more about each other late into the evening. Gio served them a sumptuous dinner, starting with a Mixed Seafood Salad that contained shrimp, clams, mussels, and squid, tossed with fresh fennel, sweet onion and a dressing of lemon-olive oil vinaigrette.

A small dish of Lemon Granita was served to clear their pallets before the main course of Pork Fillets with a Caper Sauce served with a side of the lightest of Potato Gnocchi dressed with Virgin Olive Oil and Parmesan cheese and grilled spears of Asparagus.

Gio had let the two men have plenty of time between courses. They were so involved in becoming acquainted that they didn't even realize that when the table was cleared after their main course that the restaurant had emptied of customers. They were served another dish of Granita and then Gio and Tommy joined them for desert. They enjoyed the complicated flavors of a Zuppa Inglese, off set by a demi-tasse of wonderful Italian espresso. Gio had chosen well for his dear cousin/ business partner and his new friend to celebrate their birthdays and they both let him know how much they had enjoyed the meal.

When the two men made their adieus, both Gio and Tommy gave Dave a big hug.

"We want to see you often, Dave, so don't be a stranger." Gio said, giving him another hug.

"I won't, Gio. Thanks for making the evening so nice. The dinner was beyond delicious."

Gio and Tommy went back inside to close up for the night. Joe and Dave stood looking at each other. The restaurant's outside lights turned off, leaving them in the dark.

"Joe, you made this birthday one of the best I can remember. I was ready to slink home and doze off, watching the tube."

"It isn't over yet. Unless you want it to be." Joe took him into his arms. Dave laid his head on Joe's chest as he hugged him.

"No, I don't want it to be, but----"

"But what, Dave?" Joe whispered in to his ear. He ran his lips over it and then nuzzled his nose into his hair. It smell so good, so Dave. He could easily become addicted to the scent. Hell, he had been addicted for years. Dave didn't answer. Joe pulled back and looked at him. There were tears running down his cheeks.

"What's wrong? Why the tears?"

"Oh, I don't know I'm just being silly, I guess."

"Silly doesn't make for tears, Dave. Talk to me."

"It's-- it's just been such a wonderful evening. I've forgotten about myself for the last four hours, all the loneliness. Suddenly, I feel like I'm being unfaithful. For nearly eighteen years there was no one but Bill. I know he's gone; that I have to move on with my life. It's what Bill would want me to do. It's just so hard to let go of him."

Joe pressed Dave's head to his chest. He ran his fingers through his hair.

"You shouldn't be alone tonight. Come go home with me. I've got a cozy little guest room. We can talk more. Will you do that? I promise not to do anything you don't want me to do. Come home with me, Dave."

Dave didn't move or answer for several moments as Joe continued to caress his hair. Then he nodded his consent.

Joe pulled away, took his hand and they walk toward the campus. The street was dark. As they approach the well lit campus Joe let go of his hand and placed it on Dave's shoulder, his thumb around the base of his neck.

"I assume that since we're not heading for a car you must live near here, too."

"You know the Tower condominium on the corner of Halifax and Alamo?"

"Yes, the one that has been written about in every architectural magazine in the world."

"I live there."


"Where do you live, Dave?"

"Oh, I live over in Lincoln Heights." He pointed at a diagonal from the direction they were walking.

"Great area. So we're almost neighbors. What's your address?"

"201 Madison Place."

"Hey, I bet we can see your house from my eyrie ."


"Yeah, I look right out over your neighborhood."

As they entered Joe's building, the guard stood up behind his desk.

"Good Evening, Mister Paolini."

"Hi, Tim. Quiet evening?"

"As always, sir."

"Tim, this David Gates. Please give him access to my place anytime he comes in." He said it as a request, but it was really a command. Tim understood that, and appreciated the way Joe had phrased it. Dave smiled at him.

"It's nice to meet you, Mr. Gates."

Dave nodded, but didn't say anything. An alarm bell was going off in his head. He was thinking furiously where had he heard the name Paolini before.

"Good night .Tim." Joe said.

"Goodnight, Gentlemen."

Dave followed Joe to the elevators. He was expecting one of the double doors to open. It surprised him when a single door to the side slid open instead.

"This one is faster, Dave." Joe said, taking Dave's hand and stepping inside. He noticed there were only four buttons, all unmarked. It dawned on him that they were heading to the penthouse.

When Dave stepped out of the elevator he had expected a super modern look, all glass, chrome and Black leather. Instead, he was greeted with rich warm colors, lots of wood with mostly bronze for metal accents. Many of the furniture pieces were fine antiques. The sofa and chairs were modern and looked super comfortable. The look matched Joe's personality, warm and embracing. Dave immediately felt at home.

Joe gave him a tour ending up in the wrap around garden. The trees and plants were all in containers, but he got the feeling that there was a lot of time and loving care put into it. As they stood on the east side of the roof garden, Joe pointed out where he thought Dave's house would be. Dave started nodding to himself. Joe looked at him.


"You, Joe."

"And what about me?"

"You're just so unassuming. You live in the pent house of the best high rise condominium in the city. Hell, the world. And what you forgot to mention is that you built it, too. Right?"

Joe looked out over the city. "It's no big deal. It was just something I wanted to do."

"No, it's no big deal. So you want to build something so you build a thirty story building. So you want a house so you build it on top of the building. You designed it all, too. Didn't you."

"Yeah, I designed it, too."

"I've got to go. Thanks for an amazing evening, Mr. J.V. Paolini"

He headed into the house toward the elevator. As he punched the button for it to open he heard Joe behind him.

"Dave, please don't go. What did I do to offend you?"

"Your toying with me. I'm just a lowly bookstore owner. What do you want with me?"

"I like you, Dave. I want to get to know you. I want you to get to know me, maybe ----learn to love me."

Dave looked past Joe as he spoke. "I have already fallen in love with you. But I'm not sure who you are. I thought you were a lowly construction worker. But then you're a restauranteur. Now you are an internationally renowned architect who lives in the penthouse of one of the most acclaimed buildings in the U.S. It's mind boggling. I need some time and space."

He stepped into the elevator and pushed a button. The door closed.

End of Chapter One.