by Tim Mead
Jeff came to enjoy his morning runs around the lake.
Though November weather was almost invariably sunny, the temperature could be 50 or 70 at the time of his run, so Jeff sometimes wore only a tee shirt above his running shorts, sometimes one of his Seminole sweatshirts.
He settled on two daily laps, roughly five miles, running to stay in shape, not to set speed or distance records. Even though he started at 6:30, he didn't have the path to himself. There were other regulars: a fiftyish man walking his beagle; a young mother who ran, pushing her toddler in a stroller, the baby with a blissful look on her face; and a young woman in lycra and helmet on a bike who managed to lap him a couple of times each day, invariably saying "on your left" just before overtaking him. The man with the dog usually smirked at him when they passed each other. Not the warm smile of a fellow FSU alum. Rather, the condescending look of a Gator, feeling infinitely superior.
Then there was the kid, who looked to be a high-schooler, perhaps a soccer player. He was an inch or so shorter than Jeff, with black hair and blue eyes. The first time they'd passed (the boy ran clockwise, against what flow there was) and nodded; each time after that he gave Jeff a beautiful smile, a smile Jeff couldn't help returning.
Of course, there were also the strays, as Jeff thought of them, people who weren't out every morning. One-offs, or occasionals. But Jeff developed a feeling of camaraderie with the regulars, even though they never said anything more than "good morning." Well, except for the lady biker.
Always in the shallow water near the edges of the lake were three or four flat-bottomed boats, each with a solitary, motionless occupant. Jeff often wondered whether they actually caught anything. He imagined maybe they just liked the quiet of the lake in the early morning. Or wanted to get away from their wives for a while.
On Tuesday after his phone conversation with Julia, Jeff called Stan Mason's office to see if the dildos had arrived. Knowing how compulsive his mother was, he was sure she would waste no time ridding her house of the offending objects. And he wanted to apologize for what he knew would be a letter full of outrage . . . and perhaps vitriol.
Somewhat to his surprise, he got the answering machine, which announced that no one was in the office and asked him to leave a message. Just then someone came into his own office, so he hung up and put Julia's snit out of his mind.
The next evening he worked late and stopped at Beef O'Brady's for a steak and fries on his way home. As he drove past Stan and Doug's house afterward, he noticed it was dark.
At home he brought in the mail and dropped it on the front hall table. In the kitchen the light on the answering machine was blinking. Jeff used his mobile phone for everything. The landline seldom rang and he almost never called out on it.
There was one message.
"Hi, Phil. This is Carl, from Highlands Classics in Sebring. Just callin' to remind you that your
At work the next day, Jeff called Stan Mason's office during business hours and once more got the machine. This time he left a message: "Hi, guys. It's Jeff. I just wanted to apologize for what must have been a pretty harsh letter from my female parent. As Phil would have predicted, she was really pissed about the dildos. Sorry you had to take the flak. Hope you're both okay. Talk to you soon."
Then he called Carl's number in Sebring.
"Highlands Classics, this is Carl."
"Uh, Carl, my name's Jeff Elder. I think we may have met once a few years back when I was down there with my Uncle Phil."
"Oh, yeah, Jeff. I remember you. How are you?"
"I'm good, thanks. But I have sad news. Uncle Phil died suddenly a few weeks ago."
There was a brief silence. Then the man on the other end cleared his throat. "Damn, Jeff. I'm sorry to hear that. Phil was a fine man. We valued his business. And I liked him a lot."
"Thanks. I miss him."
"So if you don't mind me askin', are you just there temporarily, or what's happening?"
"I've been living here since last spring. And I'll be staying on. I work in Cypress Haven. And the
"I hope you're gonna take good care of her. Uh, Agatha, that is."
"Oh, I plan to. So tell me, if the car hasn't been driven more than 50 miles in six months, does it still need an oil change?"
"Yeah, even if it's just been sittin' there, it's a good idea to change the oil. And check over the engine."
"Well, that's gonna be a problem. I work weekdays nine to five."
"No problem. We have what my son calls a concierge service now. If you're gonna be home this Saturday, Paul can come to your house, change the oil and check over the car right there in your driveway. And there won't be any oil spots on the drive, either."
"I can manage that. What time will he come?"
"How's eight o'clock?"
Jeff thought he might do his weekly grocery shopping at the 24-hour Wal-Mart and be home before the guy got there. "Yeah, that's fine. I'll be looking for your son. Paul, you say?"
"That's right. Thanks, Jeff. I'm really sorry about ol' Phil."
That evening after he had loaded the dishwasher and was about to turn on his TV, his cell phone rang.
"Jeff, it's Doug. Got your message. Stan says to tell you not to worry about your mother's letter. We haven't seen it yet, but whatever it's like, we've probably seen a lot worse."
"Oh, good! It's just that I, um, . . ."
"You're no doubt wondering where we are."
"No, it's okay. I just . . ."
"You remember Mark, Stan's son. You met him here not long ago."
"Yeah, of course. Has something happened?"
"I'm afraid so. He was involved in a traffic accident, and he's in grave condition."
"Let's see, he lives in
"Yes. That's where we are now."
"Doug, I'm really sorry to hear that. Is there anything I can do?"
"If you're the praying sort, some prayers for Mark – and Stan – couldn't hurt."
Jeff didn't pray often, but in a case like this he'd give it a try. "Consider it done."
"Stan will be home tomorrow because he has a court appearance. I'm going to stay here for moral support for Casey. Then when Stan gets back here, I'll come home and open the office."
"Casey's Mark's husband, right?"
"Yes, and he's beside himself at the moment."
"I can imagine. Look, Doug, I appreciate the call. Is there anything else I can do?"
"Could you call the church and ask that Mark be put on the parish prayer list."
"Yup. First thing tomorrow soon enough?"
"I devoutly hope so!"
After he hit "End" on his phone, Jeff was depressed. Mark Mason was about his own age. He had his father's charm and was even better looking. He was a lawyer, doing well, apparently, and he had a husband. Who was understandably distraught.
Jeff silently composed a prayer for Mark, for Stan, and for Casey.
The next morning he called the church as requested.
Saturday morning Jeff decided to forgo his run and went grocery shopping instead. He was back home with the groceries put away, drinking coffee and watching the squirrels in the back yard when he heard a car pull in out front. He went out the side door just as the man was getting out of a Ford F-150 pickup that Jeff guessed was from the 60's. But its purple finish looked as if you could stick your arm into it up to the elbow. Orange and yellow flames ran from the grill back over the hood and along the sides. The chrome had obviously been redone. The big wheels were chrome, too. And . . .
But then his attention was taken from the car to its driver. Black curly hair, worn medium length, with a curl hanging down over the forehead. Long face. Elegant nose. Dark eyes. "Designer stubble." Probably Jeff's age, a year or so under 30. He wore blue cotton pants and shirt. On the right breast of the shirt was an embroidered logo with the words "Highlands Customs." He was holding a clip board.
"Yeah. Paul Moretti?"
As they shook hands, Paul said, "I'm sorry about your uncle. He was a real gentleman. We all knew how much he missed Buddy. And now he's gone, too. Sad."
"Thanks. He and Buddy were both good folks. Great folks."
"You know," Paul said, "Phil and Buddy liked to bring the car in for service. They always came together. They'd inspect all the cars we had for sale, look around the garage at the restoration and customizing projects we had. And keep an eye on us as we worked on the
"I'd love to do that. But I just can't take off work to bring Agatha in. So this service is really handy."
Paul looked at the three-car garage behind the house. "I suppose she's in there."
"Oh, yeah. Let's back her out into the drive."
"Let me put down this tarp first, and then you can back the car over it. Save the drive."
Paul took a blue plastic tarp from the back of the truck and spread it out. "If you have something you need to do, just give me the keys. I'll get to work."
"I'd rather watch, if it won't bother you. I need to learn all I can, since the
Paul grinned. Jeff felt heat in his crotch.
"No bother." There was a glint in his eye when he said, "You're welcome to watch."
Jeff had had the oil changed regularly in his cars. He'd been with Phil and Buddy once when they took the
"This looks like new oil. But then it should. We replaced it in April. The car hasn't been driven 100 miles since then."
"But it still needs to be changed?"
"Yup. Do you really want me to talk about acids and molecular change and stuff?"
"Not really. Phil trusted you guys, so I do, too."
At the moment Jeff was still distracted by images of the bulge in the front of Paul's pants as he slid out from under the car.
Jeff watched as Paul put the container with the used oil in the bed of the truck. Then he took what looked like a gallon jug of new oil and poured it into the oil filler hole in the top of the engine. When he was finished he took a paper towel and carefully wiped his hands.
"Now let's just check out the motor. Start her up for me."
Paul put up the driver's side of the hood. Jeff turned the key and depressed the starter. The straight-eight engine turned over once and then sprang to life.
"Not bad," Paul said. He stuck his hand into the works near what Jeff thought was the carburetor (he'd never had a car with a carburetor) and fiddled with something.
"Take your foot off the gas so we can see how it idles."
Jeff did. The engine slowed down and became quieter, but it wasn't exactly purring. Paul reached once more into the engine compartment and a moment later the idle smoothed out.
"Is the choke knob pulled out?"
Paul came around and looked into the car. "Push it in. You know what that's for, don't you?"
"All I know is that Phil said to pull it out about a quarter or half an inch when you start the car."
Paul chuckled. "But he didn't tell you to push it back in once the car was started and running okay?"
Jeff shrugged his shoulder. "He may have. But if he did, I forgot."
"Well, leaving the choke out after the engine starts makes the fuel mixture too rich. And wastes gas. So don't do that, okay?"
Feeling chastened, Jeff said, "Okay."
"Actually," Paul said, "in this warm climate, you may not need to use the choke at all. Next time you start it, try cranking without it. If it grinds and won't start, then choke it. But remember to push the choke knob all the way in once it's running smooth. Got it?"
"Would you like some coffee?"
"That'd be good. I was out late last night, so 6:30 came early this morning. Dad's idea for the concierge service is a good one from a business point of view, but it takes away one of my weekend days to sleep in. Why don't you go put on the coffee, and I'll finish checking out your car?"
There was coffee left over from breakfast, but Jeff figured he'd make some fresh.
"Where's your outside water tap?" Paul held out his greasy hands. "I'll clean up a little before I come in."
"You can use the downstairs bathroom."
"No, man. I'd really mess up your towels. I'll get the worst of the crap off out here. And then maybe use your bathroom."
As he emptied the carafe and set up the coffee maker, Jeff thought that Paul wasn't as deferential as most service people were. But they were the same age, after all, and Paul knew all about the car. No reason why he should kowtow to Jeff. Besides, he had an amazing butt!
Looking back on what happened after that, Jeff couldn't recall all the details. He asked himself how it could have happened. And something inside reminded him it had, after all, been over six months since he'd had any kind of sex other than giving himself a hand job. And Moretti was a sexy bastard with a commanding presence.
Jeff had been at the counter putting water into the coffee maker when he'd felt the man pressed against him. He was very aware of the hard cock against his ass. Something was said about Jeff's staring at Moretti's package and ass and Jeff's wanting "it."
And then he was leaning on the kitchen island, his pants and boxer briefs around his ankles. Moretti was playing with his nipples. Then he put two fingers to Jeff's lips and told him to get them wet. The fingers were then inserted into his ass, quickly finding his prostate.
Moretti might have asked, "You do want this, don't you?"
And Jeff might have replied, "Oh, god, yeah!"
So much for rape.
He felt a mixture of resentment because of Moretti's just assuming he wanted to be fucked and the warm, contented feeling that comes from a good fuck.
How do you reconcile those two, Elder?
He was relieved, at least, when he found the used condom in the kitchen trash bag.
The next morning, after a breakfast during which he alternately berated himself for being a slut and reveled in the afterglow, he went to church. The wooden pew felt hard, unyielding under his bottom. Still ambivalent,
he wasn't sure whether he should offer a prayer of thanksgiving or repentance.
But when the Prayers of the People were offered for, among others, those on the parish prayer list, he was reminded that he should be concerned for Mark, Casey, Stan, and Doug. His prayers were for them. His own situation could wait.
After lunch he sat on the screen porch at the back of the house watching a male cardinal hopping about in the plumbago that was so overgrown it was beginning to block the view of the back yard. Jeff had been meaning to get the shears and cut it back. But if the cardinal liked it, he'd leave it for a while.
His peace was disturbed by a phone ringing. Not the one in his pocket, but the landline, inside. The cardinal flew away when he stood.
It was Sam on the line. After the preliminary greetings, he said, "My mom says if you don't have other plans you should have Thanksgiving dinner with us."
"Oh! That would be great. I mean, it's nice of her to think of me."
Sam chuckled. "Your name sort of came up. And when she realized that you were all alone in that big house, she insisted."
"I'll be sure to thank her. What time do you want me to be there? And can I bring anything?"
"We're old fashioned. Since the store won't be open, Dad and I can sleep late if we feel like it. So on Sundays and holidays we usually have our big meal in the early afternoon. Why don't you come about 1:00? And you don't need to bring anything."
"Thanks, Sam. Um, where do you live?"
It turned out the Dudeks lived on
Before they said goodbye, Jeff said, "Why don't I give you my cell number?"
"Good idea. I'll program it into my phone. I know the area code will be 863 and I'm guessing the first three digits will be 632, right?"
"Yep." Jeff gave him the last four numbers. And then asked for and got Sam's cell number.
"See ya Thursday."
"Right, Sam. Thanks again."
The next day at lunch, Macey said, "Jeff, we're having my uncle and aunt and a cousin and her husband for Thanksgiving, but you're welcome to come, too, if you feel like making the drive to Parkerville."
Jeff grinned. "Is that like inviting me home to meet the parents?"
"No, silly. They know you're gay."
"That's good. I think."
"Well, I admit they're a little curious. I don't think any of them have ever met a gay guy before."
"I'm glad you won't be alone. Do I dare ask who you'll be with?"
"My friend Sam Dudek and his parents."
"Oh, I think I met him at your uncle's funeral. He's the cute one with the pony tail? And the cheekbones?"
"It's just dinner. And he says it was his mother's idea to invite me."
"Uh huh. With some prompting from her son, I'll bet."
"You're guessing that he's gay?"
"Well, more like hoping. For your sake."
"His sexuality isn't the issue. He's a friend."
"He's the one with the hardware store, right?"
"Okay, changing the subject. Sort of. Am I a fag hag?"
"Macey Elizabeth Proctor! Bite your tongue. We don't use the word fag."
"And if you were one of those, you'd know that. How many gay guys do you know?"
"Well, then, am I your beard?"
"Have you been reading online?"
"Never mind that. Just answer the question."
"You are not my beard. I don't think people need to wear a label saying what their sexuality is. I don't make a point of telling folks I'm gay. But if anybody asks, I don't deny it. So if I don't deny it, I don't need to hide behind you."
"Oh! Okay. Thanks. But we are best friends, right?"
In his campiest voice, Jeff replied, "You know it, girl!"
Jeff had seen a sign saying Publix would be closed on Thanksgiving, so on the way home from work on Wednesday he stopped and bought a large bouquet of autumn-colored flowers. Mums predominated, but there were rust-colored lilies and other things he couldn't identify. When he got home, he took a clear glass vase (obviously from a florist) down from the top shelf in the pantry, added water, and put the flowers in it.
So when he arrived at 1:00 the next day at the Dudeks' he was able to hand Karen, Sam's mother, the bouquet.
It was from Karen that Sam got his looks. She, too, had dark blond hair and gray eyes, though she was fuller in the face than her son. Jeff realized he had seen her in the family hardware store and hadn't at the time realized that she was Mrs. Dudek. He should have noticed the resemblance.
But it was from Vic that Sam had inherited his high, Slavic cheekbones. And of course Jeff and Vic knew each other from the store. Of late Vic had taken to sitting on a high stool in the back and holding court for his cronies while Sam took care of most of the paying customers.
Karen fussed over the flowers as if they were special. Jeff was glad he'd brought them instead of the conventional bottle of wine.
Soon the men were sitting in the living room with a rather sweet gewürztraminer while Sam's mother put the finishing touches on the meal. Both Sam and Jeff offered to help, but they were told firmly that everything was under control.
Dinner was the traditional Thanksgiving fare. It was, as Jeff learned, Vic's grandfather who had come to
Karen had made a traditional pumpkin pie for dessert, but she'd also made sernik, a Polish cheesecake. Jeff, who had never been enthusiastic about pumpkin pie, tried the sernik and loved it.
Karen didn't say much during the meal, though she kept a close eye on how much the men were eating and made sure to pass plates for seconds and even thirds if any of the men were interested. Vic, on the other hand, kept the conversation going. He had lots of anecdotes about life in
Jeff learned that Victor had served a couple of terms as mayor of the city.
Jeff had heard just enough about Stan Mason's having been city manager and being asked to resign that he would have loved to ask Vic about it. But he decided it would be indiscreet to do so.
So the afternoon passed quickly and without any awkward pauses. Jeff loved watching Sam, the fleeting expressions on his face, the gestures and body language as the man chatted. He couldn't help wondering what Sam's favorite color was, what music he liked, whether he had a boyfriend. He knew that, as a prominent business man in the small city, Sam had to keep a low profile as a gay. But was there someone special he saw on the down-low?
Jeff hoped to find out.
When it began to be dark, he realized he'd been there long enough and thanked his hosts for the wonderful food and pleasant hospitality.
Karen sent him home with enough sernik to last through the weekend.
When he got home, he put the dessert in the fridge, kicked off his shoes, and flumped into the recliner. He no longer had pain in his nether regions, but just being aware of that brought back guilt feelings. He still didn't know why or how he'd let Paul Moretti fuck him. And he wished it had been Sam he'd had sex with. But from all the signals he'd received, Sam was just a friend who happened to be gay. How Jeff would react the next time he saw Moretti remained to be seen.
He flicked on the television and checked the ESPN channels.
Macey wanted them to dress up for Saturday's car show. "It'd be so cool! We could go as Gatsby and Daisy. I'd just love to be a flapper!"
"You'd be ten years off, Mace. Gatsby was about the twenties. Agatha's a '35 model."
"Oh! Okay. How about Fred and Ginger? Oh, but I'd have to find a wig in one of those 30's styles with curls on top and hair to the shoulders. You know, you're built kind of like Fred Astaire. You could wear a blazer and gray slacks. With black and white wingtips."
"Honey, I don't have any wingtips of any color. Besides, this isn't a costume party. I was planning on wearing jeans. And you'd better bring a sweater or a jacket, `cause it could be chilly after the sun sets. This is the end of November, you know."
Jeff had brought several pairs of jeans with him when he moved to
Macy showed up fifteen minutes late, but she looked great in camel slacks, a rust tailored blouse, and sensible flats. She carried a brown cardigan.
She oohed over Agatha, which was sitting in the semi-circular drive in front of the house
Though it was already cool in the late afternoon, Jeff had put the top down, thinking it would make the interior easier to check out.
"She's gorgeous, Jeff! But if I'd known about the maroon trim, I'd have worn a shirt that color."
"Well, doll, you're pretty much in the right color palette anyway. Did you lock your car?"
"Then let's go!"
As they made the short drive downtown, several people waved. Jeff beeped the horn in response, and Macey waved back and called out "Hello!"
When they pulled up, the man at the barricade said, "Hi. You must be Jeff Elder. I knew your uncle, and I recognize this beauty. He touched the brim of his baseball cap and said to Macey, "Beggin' your pardon, ma'am, but I meant the car."
Macey giggled and said, "Of course."
The friendly guy introduced himself as Arleigh (which is what his name tag said) and showed them where to park. They were with the other pre-World War 2 cars, which, like last time, were the '37
He and Macey were soon separated. She was taken away by Ellen Cremeans, the wife of the guy who owned the
At one point Jeff glanced toward "Muscle Car Row," where he saw Sam Dudek talking with Paul Moretti. He could feel himself blushing. Sam was looking in the other direction, but Moretti looked straight at him. He couldn't tell whether the expression on the mechanic's face was a smirk or a sneer. Either way he hoped he and Moretti could avoid each other. But with three hours to go, he couldn't escape if the man wanted to talk.
After the initial crowd had moved on, a familiar face appeared. It was a young guy whose name he couldn't come up with.
"Hi, I'm Ian. We see each other on the trail around the lake most mornings."
"Oh, sure!" Jeff put out his hand. "I'm Jeff Elder. Are you interested in old cars?"
They shook hands and Ian said, "I've always liked hot rods and muscle cars, but this," –he gestured toward the
Jeff said it was a 35
Finally, the young man said, "I have to write a research paper for English class. I'm a freshman at
Ian looked startled.
"Do what I did. Use Google."
The boy literally smacked his forehead. "Duh is right. But after I've done that, if I have questions about your car specifically, can I ask you?"
"Sure." Jeff took a business card from his wallet. "Turn around." He used the boy's back so he could write his home email address on it. "Now you've got my cell phone and email. Call anytime, but not at work, please."
"Cool! Can I ask another favor?"
"I'd love to submit some pix with my report. But the light here's bad. Could I come to your place sometime when it's daylight and take some shots?"
"I work nine to five-thirty weekdays and you're probably in school. So it would have to be the weekend. Want to do it next Saturday? Or how's tomorrow?"
Ian's face lit up. "Tomorrow'd be great. Where do you live?"
When Jeff told him, he said, "Cool! I sort of know where that is. I must run past it every morning."
"It's the cream stucco with the red tile roof. And the semi-circular drive in front."
"Oh, yeah, sure. How's two o'clock? We'll have finished Sunday dinner by then."
"Not a problem. See you then."
Ian thanked him and the two shook hands before the boy wandered off toward the muscle cars.
A while later, when there wasn't anyone around his car, Jeff went in search of Macey. He found her sitting with a half dozen other women, chatting. They all stopped their conversation and welcomed him.
"I was coming to see if you wanted to go find something to eat. Or drink."
"Or both? Sounds good."
She said goodbye to the women and they walked away. Jeff took her to the same restaurant where he and Sam had eaten the month before.
After they were seated facing each other in a booth, Macey looked at someone or something over Jeff's shoulder and frowned.
"Who is that creep?"
Jeff turned around and saw Paul Moretti sitting at a table with three other men, none of whom he knew.
"Oh, his dad owns the shop in Sebring where Phil got the car serviced. Why? Did he do or say something to you?"
"Yeah. He came up to me when I was alone for a moment and asked if I was your girlfriend. I said we were friends and left it at that."
"And what did he do?"
"He gave me this weird smile and said, `He wouldn't be very good boyfriend material.'"
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