By The Way
Chapter 25
copyright 2006 by Mark Logan

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

It was mid-July and I'd been working at Rhett's full-time for just about a month.  At the beginning of the year Mom and Dad had hired a builder to build a new house way out in the country.  It was about an hour away, and you could get there if you headed north on Scenic Highway from Highway 78 in Snellville ("Where Everybody's Somebody"), or if you drove north on I-85 through Gwinnett County.  It was so far north that it was still around ten miles beyond the friggin' rest stop at the 85/985 split; so far north, in fact, that the exit sign which told motorists what restaurants/shops/et cetera were available, was blank.  East Bumblefuck, only in their case it was North Bumblefuck.  I swear, I thought I saw Laura Ingalls skipping through a field nearby.

The area where we were living in Stone Mountain had deteriorated to the point that once a week, we had police helicopters flying over our house looking for the criminals who were constantly ripping off the convenient markets that were about a quarter of a mile from our house.  It was always neat to be lying in bed at night and have the bright light from the helicopter shining around the houses and then flashing into your room.  One night I was sitting on the front porch when two dudes came hauling ass up the road from the direction of the stores, then ran down the hill and around the side of my house, which was situated on the corner of the entrance to our subdivision.  Within minutes, two police cars came screaming by, presumably looking for these guys. I stopped them and pointed to the apartments behind my house, showing them the direction I saw the two guys go.

It was time to move.

Ironically, it was through Glen's parents that my folks signed the contract to build.  No joke.  Just after the tornado that came ripping through the city, Mom, Dad and I took a ride all through north Gwinnett county looking for houses.  We pulled into this subdivision, and I saw the name of Glen's parents' company on the sign.  They were real estate agents who worked in concert with various builders in the area, and this particular subdivision was a neighborhood made up of around forty lots or so, all nearly an acre in size.  It was really awkward for me at times, because throughout the process I'd go with them to make decorator selections or observe the construction itself, and we always ran into Glen's folks.  I wasn't sure if they knew how things were between him and me, so I just made it a point to be my normal goofy and polite self towards them.  Once or twice if we went up on a weekend, I'd see his old Prelude in front of the construction trailer and a bolt of sadness would shoot through me, remembering the friendship I'd once shared with him.

Moving our furniture actually took around three days.  Luckily, I had a couple of young, strapping friends.  Don and Alan were there, and my roommate Greg also came down from Marietta to help.  The last day that we were to have the old house was on a Saturday.  With those three guys helping my brothers and me, loading and unloading the moving van went relatively smooth.  Everybody's schedules were pretty crazy, though, and that added to the length of time it took for the actual move.

Most of our things were at the new house.  Don had followed me back to the old one, with Dad following the two of us around an hour later.  Once I got to the house and opened the front door, the reality of moving hit me like a brick wall.  This was the second house that my family had lived in after we'd moved to Georgia.  The first house we'd rented for three years before moving in May of 1984 to this one, back when I was still a geeky, gawky fourteen-year-old.  So much had happened in my life while I lived in this house, and it felt like the first real home I'd ever had.  I'd associated so many good memories with that house and had a hard time seeing it vacant.

There were still a few miscellaneous boxes to load my car with, and I had brought the vacuum to make a final run through.  Mom had already cleaned the house with Grandma, but I'd accidentally taken the vacuum to the new place, and instead of one of them coming back, I just volunteered to pick up the other boxes and handle the vacuuming myself.  I was standing at the foot of the stairs, which were a few feet from the front door, looking around the first floor.

"Boy, this sure looks weird," Don said as he stepped into the house behind me.

"Tell me about it," I said.

"How long did y'all live here?"

"Just over seven years.  Seven years, two months," I said.  I took in a breath and let out a sigh.

"Where are those other boxes?" he asked.

"Um...I thought Mom said there were one or two things in my brothers' room, and maybe a couple of small things down in the basement."

"Tell you what," he clapped me on the shoulder, "you start vacuuming and I'll load up your car."

I plugged the Hoover in and flipped it on as he walked off towards the basement door.  I was in the formal living room where we'd kept the piano.  There's no telling how many lessons I'd had in this room, or how much time I had spent in there getting the Christmas decorations out in preparation to set up the chachkis all over the house.  Our fake tree, which I later boycotted for a real one, was always set up in one of three places each year, and since I was the person getting all of the Christmas stuff out, I got to decide where it went.  Over here, I thought as I pulled and pushed the vacuum, used to set the couch and love seat that nobody ever used, unless they were listening to me play the piano.

Next was the dining room where we used to keep all of our stereo equipment.  Because the house was fairly small and somebody was always at home, blaring the stereo was a rare treat, and normally I'd have to sit by it at the table wearing headphones.  No amount of vacuuming could bring up the furniture impressions in the carpeting.  I remembered when my wisdom teeth were removed in the tenth grade that Mom and Dad had gone and bought the family a new stereo.  The old one, which we bought when I was in the second grade, was moved up to my room.  I always liked it because the numbers on the radio dial plate had a light behind it which acted as a great night light in my bedroom.  'My bedroom,' I sighed.

I unplugged the vacuum while Don came up out of the basement and into the kitchen where I'd sat my parents down nearly five years before to tell them that their youngest son was gay.  I remembered that it was an open-mouth moment on their end.  It was also the place where I'd called Glen a couple of years previous to ask him to please come and get me; I had to talk to him about the cancer.  Next to the kitchen was a small den where my family spent a lot of time; perhaps not all together as one big Walton experience, but certainly watching television, reading or studying.    I looked at the impressions in the floor where the couch once sat, the couch where Alan and I spent many hours doing things that made us quite vigilant listening for other people during the late nights in an otherwise quiet house.  Looking at that place on the floor only served to remind me of all of the time I'd spent with him.  It was hard to believe that nearly three years had passed since he and I were last on the couch whose impressions I was so desperately trying to erase with the vacuum.

I went into my brothers' room, which they shared because they co-oped alternately at Georgia Tech.  There were a number of boxes in there, all small, and Don came in just then to start collecting them.  I carried the vacuum upstairs and into my parents' old bedroom.  Their sitting room was next, and I remembered the bookshelves that I'd helped Dad build to hold some of the seemingly millions of books that we owned.  It was in here that his old computer once sat, waiting for another Lyons high school or college term paper to be written.

Grandma's room.  I'd spent countless hours with Grandma, watching television with her while she crocheted one of her many afghans.  She and I talked and talked endlessly.  I think it's extremely fair to say that Grandma kept me going during many low times in my life.  She was a generous and loving woman whose wit was unmatched by anybody else I'd even known.  I remember that my friends from high school always loved seeing Grandma, because she was always saying things that cracked them up.  Yeah, they knew who was my biggest influence in the family.

I'd saved my bedroom for last and made a quick run-through.  Hell, the room itself wasn't very big.  A lot had happened while I had this room.  In my mind's eye I could see the stereo table where that old family stereo had been replaced by another, newer one in my junior year.  Boy, I'd felt like hot shit then, because it was my first real "big" purchase.  Over in one corner I had a bookshelf that had a lot of trinkets and basically junk from when I was growing up, each having a distinct memory associated with them.  The ceiling fan chain once held the "love beads (mon)" that I'd bought on my senior cruise down in the Bahamas.  For a flash I recalled talking with Scott Dell on the rear deck of the ship, and I wondered how he was doing.  I smiled to myself when I thought of that guy Mike leading a congo line around that bar in Nassau.  In another corner of the room sat the rocking chair that I'd read many a book in, and beneath the window sat the desk that was once my father's.  Untold hours were spent at it, studying or drawing the latest house that had popped into my mind.  Inside the closet was the organizer that I'd put together myself.  I was proud of it because it had many shelves where I could set the ship models that I'd built over the years.

I turned and looked at the place where my bed used to be.  From it, I could lay and look out at the tops of the trees that separated my subdivision from the apartment complex behind it.  The sun was setting here just now, at the back of the house.  The streams of light coming in from between the pine trees in the backyard danced with the dust that was stirred up by the vacuum.

"Wow, I never would've imagined how bare things would look."  Don's voice startled me, as I didn't hear him come back into the house.

"Tell me about it."  I walked over to the window and looked out.  Our lot was hilly, and the way the house sat on it, the land came around and sloped down so that you could be in the basement and walk right out into the back yard.  From the front it looked like a two-story home; from the rear, a three-story one.  Looking down, I remembered helping my dad and my brothers measure, cut and build the fence.  I could see the deck off of the den where my friends and I would cookout and just chill.  The pine trees were always a pleasant backdrop.  At the yard level was a patio that I'd helped Dad build many years before.  I remember when my mom's brother and wife brought their two kids to visit us right after we'd moved in back in '84.  It was the year when the country pooled together its resources to save and renovate the Statue of Liberty as well as Ellis Island.  I remember it so vividly because of the various Fourth of July shows that year, and the statue was always featured.  Lee Iacocca was one of my heroes that year, I'm sure, because he was so involved with the renovations--at least publicly, he was the guy we all saw.

We'd only lived in that house for seven years, but the memories pulled me like the tide as I thought of seeing it for the last time.

"You okay?" he asked.

"I think so.  Sort of."  I paused.  "Not quite," I smiled a bit.

"It's hard to leave, ain't it."

I nodded and turned back to the window.  "So much has happened in this room," I said.

"Like you finally learned what it was like to switch hands when you were jerkin' it?" he asked.

I couldn't help it and I busted out laughing.  Even though his comment was stupid, Don knew me enough to know that that's exactly what I needed at the moment.

"What?  You did finally switch hands, didn't you?"  Don tried to look serious, but even he couldn't keep a straight face.

"You're such an asshole," I laughed.

"Hey, speaking of assholes, how's that old boyfriend of yours, now that he's moved out?" he winked.

"Excuse me?" I grew serious.  "Moved out?  What the hell are you talking about?"

His eyes grew a little wider.  "Uh oh.  I thought you'd known."  I shook my head.  "Shit!" he muttered.  "He said he was gonna tell you once he was out, but....crap, I guess that was only a couple of days ago."

"Jeeze...hell, he hasn't said a word."  I couldn't help but feel a bit hurt that Alan never mentioned moving out from the apartment he'd shared with Reed.

"Well, I know he was going to tell you.  I just happened to find out because his brother told me yesterday.  I think that's why he was sorta helping us move y'all at crazy times.  'Cause he was also moving his own stuff out." 

"Well, that does explain a lot.  He seemed really vague when I asked him why he was so sporadic with us.  I just assumed that something was going on at school."

"His brother mentioned that he was going to tell you.  Again, I just assumed that he'd already done it by now." 

"Tell you the truth, I haven't seen him since yesterday morning--"

"Don't worry about it.  He'll tell you.  You can tell him I let the cat out of the bag, if you want.  Sorry man," he said.

I shrugged.  "It's okay."

"So," he said, flashing his eyebrows up and down, "what kinds of memories do you have in here, huh?"

I decided to play his game.  "Actually, I have one really clear one of you lying down on my floor, right before you went to North Carolina."  I gave him a flirty grin back.

"You mean right here?" he said, then squatted down, leaned forward, and lay down almost in the exact position he was in when I gave him a massage so many years before.  He was propped up on his elbows with a very seductive grin on his face.  Then he started shifting his shoulders up and down, and said, "How about a repeat performance?"

I couldn't help but laugh at him.  "Yeah.  Right."  He laughed back.  "The only massage you'll get from me is my foot."  I raised my foot above his back and was about to step on him when he rolled over, then grabbed my foot and jerked it, sending me right down onto my ass.  "OOOOFF!" I hollered.  "What the fuck--"  A second later he launched himself and pushed me onto my back, laughing the whole time.  It was like when we were back in high school, goofing off and chasing each other around his house. 

He held me in place with his forearm across my chest and pretended to be a referee, fake-shouting "One....two....three....the winner!  Don Keller!"  And he threw his hands up in the air then sat up onto my thighs, just above my knees.

I was dying laughing.  It was exactly the goofiness I needed at that moment.  He simulated a crowd cheering and kept doing the "victory" gesture with his arms.  I propped up on my elbows, still laughing.  Finally, he quit his antics and looked down at me.

"You can get off of me anytime, now," I said, still chuckling at him.

Don stayed there, though, unmoving.  He was looking down at me, gazing in a funny way.  I tried to remember where I'd seen that look in someone's eyes before, and eventually it came to me.  The night of my birthday after the football game, up in the attic room when he'd tripped and landed against me near the window,  Alan had exactly the same look in his eyes.  But fuck!  This was Keller!  Why in the hell would he be looking at me that way?  I was a bit confused and felt like I was living in the twilight zone.  'Don's not gay, Don's not gay,' I kept saying to myself.  But the way he was looking at me...

--slam!  "How's it coming, y'all?"  It was my dad, coming in the front door.  Don remained sitting on my legs, looking down at me.  I couldn't tear my eyes from his, and our breathing was getting heavier.  Suddenly, the look in his eyes was gone, and he raised a knee up, then turned to get off of me.  I scrambled to my feet as I heard Dad making his way up the stairs.  Don was standing casually in the room and I was winding the cord around the vacuum as Dad stepped into the room.

"Well, guys, it looks like this is it," Dad said.  "Your mother's going to be picking up some KFC in about an hour or so, so we should probably be leaving now," he said to me.

"Tell you what, Dad, give me y'all's keys, and I'll lock up.  I just want to take one last look around, 'kay?"

"Sure," he said, handing me all of the house keys.  "I have to run to Kroger real quick, but then I'll be heading up to the new house when I'm done."

"Okay.  We'll lock up," I repeated.

"Alrighty.  Don, thanks again so much for your help."

"Hey, no problem, Mr. Lyons.  I was glad to help."

"Well," Dad said, "I guess we'll see you later.  Paul, I'll see you at the house."

" 'Kay, Dad.  See ya in a bit."  He went back downstairs and I heard the door shut behind him.

I just looked at Don.  "I'll, uh...I'll head down, now," he said.  I couldn't tell if he was uncomfortable or what, but heard him going down the stairs, too.


I stepped to the doorway of my bedroom and looked in, again.  The sunlight was still streaming into the room, but the angle was a little lower now.  I turned and looked back into Grandma's room one last time; then the sitting room; then Mom and Dad's room.  In each room I lingered for a few moments as the memories flooded into and out of my mind.  Bittersweet memories.  For the last time in my life, I went down the stairs and slowly walked through the living and dining rooms; then into the kitchen.  I wound up standing between the kitchen and the den when Don opened the front door again.  As I looked at the den I felt his arm slide around my shoulders, his side pressing against my own.

"You're having a hard time, aren't ya," he said.

"You have no idea," I replied.  Only I wasn't thinking about the house as I responded.  His arm felt comforting, so much like Alan's at that moment.  I felt like I could have melted into him.  All of the feelings I'd once had for him in high school came roaring back, and I couldn't even begin to fathom why.  Once again, I felt the thrill that I remembered when he finally called me that first summer, after my family's trip to New York.  The guy that I once had such a huge crush on was now standing with an arm around my shoulders.  Though it appeared to be a simple gesture, to me it felt like it was so much more than that.  I kept thinking about the look in his eyes moments ago in my bedroom, and how it compared to the look in Alan's eyes I saw the first night he and I kissed.  They were the same.  And though Don's gaze had faltered once my dad came into the house....

I was conflicted in so many ways at that moment.  On the one hand, I was still practically counting down the time to when I could be with Alan again.  On the other hand, Don's arm around me felt like an old, comfortable ball cap.  What scared me was that the place I felt I'd belonged, at that moment, wasn't with Alan, but with Don.  I wasn't sure what was happening to me, and I was hoping that all of the crazy thoughts were caused by all of the emotions I was feeling from moving to another house that I knew would never feel like my home.

"You ready?" he asked.

"Huh!" I let out an exasperated laugh.  A question that could be asked with several meanings.  The fuckin' irony of it all.

"Maybe this'll cheer you up," he said.  Before I could turn to him, he grabbed my head and pulled me towards him.  I was in shock when I heard him making an overly-exaggerated kissing sound on the top of my head, then ran towards the front door laughing.

"You fucking douche-cock!"  I hollered after him.  He laughed even harder, opened the front door, then slammed it shut behind him as he ran out.  I took one last look around as I made my way to the front of the house.  This home held so many memories for me, most of them wonderful.  The final memory that I would have would be Don goofing with me, and I wondered if he was goofing off to hide something else that he really felt?  If there indeed was some sort of feeling behind his action that he was disguising with his laugh, would I be able to chose, if forced to, between him and Alan?  When my world wasn't upside down, as it had instantly become, I could have answered that question easily:  Alan had always been the obvious choice.  But now with still so much time before Alan and I would both be out of school, and with what I know was showing itself in Don's eyes upstairs...shit!  Sometimes, I hated how God presented choices to you.  I closed my eyes and hoped that my equally strong feelings for Don and Alan could only be blamed on stress, and the emotional rip-tides from moving, and school, and...I was reaching for something that I could place the blame on for having the same feelings for both guys.

I opened my eyes and took the last look at my home.  My final memory in it would be one of confusion.  It's funny:  there are moments you remember all of your life.  This was one of those moments.

*   *   *   *   *

By the end of August I had fallen into a good routine at Rhett's.  The six of us would change our songs every two to three weeks just to add some variety.  I still got to do the more bluesy, torch songs, and I was fine with that because they suited my voice.  With each new set, however, came a new battle from the three partners.  I always managed to throw a song in where either the actual lyrics or the sentiment of the song involved another man.  I actually gave up fighting for "Lover Man, Where Can You Be," because I figured since Rhett kept coming to my rescue and letting me sing basically whatever I wanted, then I could give up certain battles.  But good music is good music, dammit, and while I understood their stance on my choices, from a musical point of view I knew that I was picking good material.  Our audience never really had a problem with it, either.  Well, almost.

One bad thing was that the guy Damon continued to come to the bar.  I could count on seeing him at least every other weekend.  He never presented a problem to me outwardly, though.  I think the main reason for that is because not long after Alan got clobbered across the head with the mug, the bar manager ended up hiring Don as part of the security team.  I guess he'd already proved himself on that night, and since he'd already put in an application for a job, Kylie gave the green light to add Don to the staff. 

Another less than thrilling thing was that some asshole kept vandalizing my car.  Every time I'd introduce a new set of songs, I could bet on the fact that my little Nissan would get the brunt of it.  Once, the side mirror was broken and left dangling.  Another time the tail lights were smashed.  Twice, the air was let out of two tires.  The bad thing was that I had no choice of where to park.  Rhett's was in a part of Midtown that didn't exactly offer an abundance of parking choices.  Oftentimes, I'd have to park my car on a street or a couple of blocks away, and I'd even contemplated taking MARTA to work, because then at least I could park it at a station and ride the train into the Midtown station.  It got to be that every time I'd introduce a new set I'd try and find a completely new location to park it, but it didn't matter.  Someone was still able to find it and mess with it.  The repairs were slowly adding up.  Needless to say, I suspected Damon.

Having Don work at Rhett's was a bit of a conundrum for me.  It was quite a nice place, and they required all of their security personnel to wear casual slacks and shirts during the week, and suits on weekend nights.  I have to admit that I really enjoyed seeing Don in a suit.  On even his bad days he was very good looking; now you put him in a suit and he became downright hot.  This, however, did nothing to ease how strongly I was feeling for both him and Alan.  For the life of me, I couldn't get that final afternoon in my old house out of my head. 

I tried very hard to convince myself that I was just reliving a silly teenage crush.  I even tried ignoring my thoughts, but then discovered that Don had become a really touchy-feely kind of guy.  There were many times when I'd be picking up a drink order that he'd come up next to me if he was on break and put his hand on the small of my back to tell me something.  So many times I would just linger for a second longer than I should, enjoying the strong and comforting presence of his hand.  Either he'd do that or he'd come up and turn a clap on the shoulders into a small, quick shoulder massage as he'd comment on a song I'd just sung.

Getting him out of my mind was a hard thing to do when we saw each other at work almost nightly.  What continued to drag at my brain was that I wasn't at all convinced that I even really wanted to get him out of my mind  I kept reminding myself about Alan, but then Don would touch me, by all appearances innocently, and I'd start to question what the future held for Alan and me.  He was being looked at quite a bit by NFL scouts, and I still had four years of college left.  Sometimes, I'd get irritated in my own head at Alan for putting such a restriction on our relationship in the first place - how close did we have to be geographically in order to start dating again?  And that's when I would realize how much I was feeling for Don.

When I was a senior in high school, I had no idea how my feelings for Alan and Don would oscillate.

That oscillation had now begun.

*   *   *   *   *

I'm not sure why I decided to grow a beard.  I'd already had a mustache for years and thought maybe a beard would look cool, too.  At the very least it might make me look older, which is always a concern when you're twenty-one.  Without my mustache, I looked ten.  I knew I'd never shave that thing off, because having lips that were shaped like Joan Crawford's, well, was not quite the "face" I wanted people to see.  Alan just smiled at my new look, but he thought it was kinda cool and that it made me look older -- I'm sure all of twenty-three. 

Don, on the other hand, had been out of town the week that I'd grown it.  He saw it for the first time on a weekend night.  The reason I remember this factoid is because I have a vivid recollection of turning away from the bar and seeing him stop in mid stride as he walked over to me.  He was wearing a black suit with very faint pinstripes, a cobalt blue dress shirt, and a vividly colored tie.  He stood there, his hands at his side as I held a tray of drinks that I was about to serve, and said "Wow."

I didn't quite get what he was reacting to at first, then it hit me.  "Oh!  You still haven't seen the beard!  Well?  Whatcha thank?" I asked, being goofy.

He blinked a couple of times and regained his composure.  "Um.  I almost didn't recognize you.  Jeeze," he smiled for a quick second, "what made you decide to grow a beard?"

"Ehh.  I dunno.  Just a different look, I guess.  It's not horrible, is it?"

Don raised his eyebrows and shook his head.  "No.  No, it''s pretty cool."

I laughed at him a little, then delivered the drinks to my thirsty patrons.

Alan's final weekend before football camp found him at Rhett's with a few of his teammates.  Secretly, I was drooling over all of them.  I mean, I loved Alan....and Don...but give me a break!  What gay guy in his right mind doesn't slow down to check out the jocks?  Seeing as how I had no real interest in the sport,
I was completely lost when Alan introduced me to them and mentioned their positions on the field .  They all seemed like really nice guys, though, and a tiny voice deep down inside of me wondered if any of them had ever felt toward Alan the way I did.  It was a crazy idea, and maybe I was trying to justify having feelings for both Alan and Don, thinking that maybe if Alan had someone else...but I brushed that thought away almost as quickly as it had entered my mind. 

Alan ended up telling me that he moved out of his apartment the same day that Don did.  I acted like I didn't already know, and after discussing it with him for a while, I could tell that he was glad that things were over between him and Reed.  His next two priorities were to find a new apartment and face the reality that the scouts from several NFL teams were vying for his attention.  He'd made quite a name for himself, though he sometimes cringed when people referred to him as "Diesel."  Though he knew that he was great at playing football, Alan mainly really loved the sport.  He was very modest amidst all of the attention that he was receiving from the professional teams.  I tried to look at the prospect of his playing professionally in a positive way:  if he was busy playing pro football, then that would give me time to finish my studio classes, and we could be together afterwards.

While I understandably wanted a full-time, all-out relationship with him, I also knew that nearly all professional sports weren't exactly places open to social engineering.  The fact that he even had any sort of relationship with Reed was shocking, but I knew that they must have kept things extremely discreet.  If he ended up playing pro ball, it would be very hard to explain why he had a guy for a roommate as opposed to shacking up with some broad.  In a way, I felt that if he were offered that sort of career and took it, things might be easier for us until I graduated. 

*   *   *   *   *

One relatively slow weeknight I was standing at the bar talking with a new bartender named Stan.  He was a really nice guy who had a case of the "smart-ass" a lot, but he was funny and I enjoyed hanging out with him.  I was pretty sure that he was also gay, but the ol' gaydar of mine was sometimes wrong.  It seemed lately that more gay guys were being hired to work at Rhett's, which was not at all surprising, considering that it was located in the part of the city that had a high gay population. 

On this particular night, I felt Don's presence before I saw him.  I could feel the hand pressed low, between my shoulder blades, and his chest barely touching the side of my arm.  His other hand was stretched across the back of a bar stool.

"You tryin' to wrangle some free drinks from Stan?"  Don was standing there smiling, dimples and all.

"You met Stan yet?" I asked him.  "He's kinda new here."

"I sure have.  How's it goin' man?" he asked, taking his hand off the stool to shake Stan's.

"Didn't you notice that he said my name, Paul?"

"Stan, you're such a smart ass," I said.  I wasn't exactly thinking clearly with Don's hand between my shoulder blades.  It lingered a little longer before he let it drop down to his side.  I'd begun to feel so comforted by Don's little touches that I found myself longing for them more and more.  Turning to him I said, "What's goin' on, man?"

"Not a lot.  Say, I wanted to ask you, when does school start?"

"Uhh...I think around the tenth of September.  Why?"

"Ehh.  I was wondering if you'd like to head up to the mountains some weekend.  Maybe go to y'all's cabin."  Gulp.  "I know how tough it is for you to get away from studio once the quarter starts.  I dunno," he said looking down, "I just thought it'd be kinda cool to go up there and hang out.  Maybe do some fishing, or something?"

I hesitated for a moment, thinking.

"Hey," he said, "if you don't have time, that's fine.  I was just remembering when we all went--"

"Don," I interrupted, then continued slowly, "that sounds like a really good idea.  We'll have to go before the first week of September, though.  I've got r.a. training that week.  And then school starts a few days after that."

"R.A. training?" Don asked.

"R.A.'s are the resident assistants in the dorms at school.  Basically, the hall monitors."

"Hmmm.  Well...I guess that leaves...weekend after next open?  Is that right?"

"Sounds it."

"Cool!" he said.  "Hey Stan, could I get a glass of ice water?  My damn throat just got friggin' dry as a bone, man." 

As Don went to take a sip of water, I said, "So your throat needs lubrication, huh?"  At that he gagged on a mouthful of water, then sputtered trying to keep it in.  "That's the real reason you wanna go to the cabin, isn't it."  I laughed out loud as he flipped me a bird, then I headed towards a table that had been just seated.

"Y'all should get a room," Stan said, smiling.

"Hell," I said, "he wants a whole damn cabin."  As I said that, Don pushed himself away from the bar and stalked towards me with a glint in his eye.  "H'ar y'all doin'?" I asked the couple at the table, trying to dodge Don's shoulder as he nudged me in my back.  I vaguely heard their drink order as I looked after his khaki-clad ass walking away.

*   *   *   *   *

Now that my parents had moved so far north into the boondocks, the ride up to the cabin didn't take all that long.  Don and I had loaded my little Nissan's trunk with a cooler of food, our overnight bags, and a cooler of iced-down beers for him and Cokes for me.  I'd forgotten to get a bottle of JD before we left, so we ended up stopping off at a liquor store in Clarkesville, which was a few miles from the cabin.  I didn't have a fishing rod, so I picked up a Zebco 33 at the Wal-Mart in Buford.  I hadn't been fishing since I was seven, but Don had gone several times with friends out on Lake Lanier.  The creek at the edge of my parent's property never had fish, so we'd have to head over to Unicoi and rent a boat there.

We arrived mid-afternoon, and as we piled out of the car, Don stretched his arms out and took a deep breath.  "Man, Paulie, nothin' beats this mountain air."

He was right.  Down on the piedmont, the temperatures were still hitting the nineties, while up here in the mountains it was mild in the low eighties.  The sun that filtered through the tall pine boughs warmed up the fallen pine needles that covered the ground, and their scent filled your nose and caressed your senses.  Up here, the air was so clear that you could make out every rough edge on the bark of the tall pines.  Off in the distance, between the breezes whispering in the trees, you could hear the mountain creek babbling and tumbling over the boulders. 

"You know," I said, "I don't know why I don't come up here more often."

"And why you don't bring me," he smiled.  I grinned back.

"Let's get our crap inside."

Once we got everything into the cabin and the few things loaded into the fridge, he popped open a beer and I fixed myself a Jack and Coke.  Don headed out onto the porch as I went upstairs to open up the windows and turn on the fans in the loft bedroom.  Afterwards, I headed back down and stepped out onto the porch, the screen door creaking as I opened it.  Don was sitting on the railing with his back facing the cabin, and I took a moment to look at him.  His back still had the ideal v-shape, but five more years of working out after high school had beefed his whole body up, and his shirt was stretched taut across his back muscles.  I remember thinking that, damn, how was I lucky enough to have two physically perfect men in my life.  Two men.  Don and Alan.  Shit!  Alan! my head screamed, and I physically shook my head to clear it of thoughts of Don.  Shaking it seemed to work for a few seconds until he said, "You got any chlorine tablets, or whatever, for the hot tub?" 

"Uh...I think so.  I"m sure we do....why?" I sat down on the swing that was hanging a few feet behind where he was sitting on the railing.

His shoulders lifted a bit as he snorted and said, "Because, dumb ass, I feel like jumping into it in a bit."

"Shit, man, I didn't even bring a swim suit," I said, thinking I was getting out of what could be an uncomfortable situation.

"So.  Use your shorts," he said, turning towards me.

I took a breath and blew it out.  "I guess.  Let me just sit here for a sec before I look, okay?"

"That's cool.  I was just asking," and he turned back to look out at the woods.  We sat there silently for several long minutes as he downed his beer and I sipped on my drink.  "Man.  I really do love it up here.  It's so damn peaceful.  So far away from the day to day bullshit."

"I know," I said

Still facing the woods, he asked, "Do you ever think you could live in a place like this full-time?"

"You mean a cabin?"

He chuckled a bit.  "No dumb ass.  Well...sure, I guess."

"Hmm.  I'm not sure.  I kinda like bein' near the city.  If there's anything you want to do, it's right there.  The mountains are so close, too.  I mean, I love it up here, and all, but...maybe I could live in a small town, or somethin'...but tucked away in these woods might be a bit much.  Plus, what would I do for a living?"

He shrugged again.  "I dunno.  We could figure out something."

My insides did a flip-flop, and I stared him for the briefest of moments.  "Do what?"

He turned his head a little, and I could see the side of his face as he smiled.  "I meant to say 'you'." 

I chuckled myself and said, "You goob," and he laughed a bit.

*   *   *

Two hours, six beers and four Jack and Cokes later, we were both feelin' hunger pangs.  Well, we really weren't all that hungry, but it was time to eat. 
My Jack and Cokes were now around seventy-five percent Jack.  I was feeling totally relaxed at this point.  Anyway, Dad and I had built a flagstone patio just off the rear deck, along with a few steps leading down to it where we'd set up the grill, the previous summer.  I got the charcoals ready as Don went inside to change into his swim trunks.  Through the open windows I could hear him rustling around in his bag, but oddly enough I didn't hear the bathroom door close.  I'd forgotten the matches and headed inside to grab a few.  As I stepped in the door, I saw Don standing in the middle of the cabin pulling his trunks up over his hips.  I came in just in time to see the top of his ass, and he turned around when he heard the creak of the screen door.

For the first time in six years I was seeing him without his shirt on, and I think I stumbled a bit as I walked across the floor.  "Damn rug," I said, turning to look at the area rug that was on the floor near the door.  I did my best to take in the view of him as quickly as possible.  His whole torso was as solid as a rock, you could tell, though he wasn't totally ripped.  He was still without chest hair, but he had a bit of a dusting around the top of his shorts.  I made quick work of looking busy by searching for the matches.  "Dude, just get on dressed in the middle of the place, why don'tcha," I laughed, opening and closing drawers around the room.

"Hell, it's just us, man.  What are you looking for?"

My sanity!  "The damn kitchen matches," I muttered, looking into a cubby hole beneath one of the end tables.

"How about...the kitchen?"

"Huh?" I stood up, looking at him.  Fuck!  I'd thought that physically, no one could even come close to Alan.  I gulped inwardly as I realized how wrong I was.  Alan! my head screamed at me again.

"Check the kitchen?" he said, with a 'dumb ass' tone to his voice.

I smiled and walked past him.  I know it was my imagination, but I could feel some sort of weird vibe from the whole situation.  Don wasn't gay.  I knew that he'd dated girls from time to time.  Yet he'd recently become very touchy-feely when I was around at work.  There was that whole thing on moving day, that look in his eyes.  Not to forget him kissing the top of my head, albeit trying to act like a dope.  Then out on the porch his comment that "we" could figure out how to live in a cabin.  And now he's in the middle of the cabin, shucking his clothes and putting on a swim suit with me just outside the door.  Why in the hell didn't he just go into the bathroom and change?  Man, if I'd only walked in five seconds earlier...

Alan!!! my mind screamed even louder.

"Here they are," I said, pulling the box of matches from a low cupboard.

"Surprise.  Hey, you gettin' in the hot tub?"

"Not right now.  I'm gonna fire up the grill and cook the burgers.  Shit!"


"I forgot to check the temperature of the water."  We'd filled the hot tub earlier, put the chlorine tablet into the floating container, and then turned the heater on.  I stepped out onto the deck and lifted the lid on the hot tub.  "Well, it's not that bad.  A hundred and two."

"Hell, that's damn near perfect," he said, and took the cover completely off the tub.  "Just like at the gym."  He slowly stepped in and winced when the hot water touched his feet.  "Not bad," he hissed a bit through clenched teeth.

I couldn't help but laugh.  "Sounds like you're about to turn into soup."

He shook his head quickly and stepped completely into the tub.  He was tall enough that only the bottoms of his trunks were in the water and he took a moment to get used to it before slowly sinking down.  I stood there, rooted to the deck, watching the man that I'd once had a crush on becoming fully submerged in the steaming, roiling water.  Then Don looked up at me, his hands and arms gliding slowly back and forth over the water's surface.  "You sure you don't wanna get in?"  I could've fallen into his brown eyes at that very moment.  I swear, they never looked deeper.  And talk about guns!  Criminy, the guy had an awesome set of biceps on him, and his pecs were flexing every time his arms would glide back and forth.  Oh man, I would love to just...

What about Alan, you fuck!!!  my head screamed at me.

Quickly, I snapped out of the "Don-mode" that I was finding myself in a lot more, lately.  "Uh...naw...gonna get the, uh...grill started."  I turned and walked off the deck, all but feeling his eyes on my back.  I thought they were on my back. 

I hoped they were on my back.

This was a bad idea, you moron, coming up here alone with Don!  No shit, I answered my own brain.  Especially now that I was experiencing some pretty intense feelings for the guy again.  I pushed those feelings back down into my brain and lit the charcoals in the grill.  I listened to the motor humming and the water bubbling in the hot tub, as the breeze of the early evening mountain air wafted through the pines.  I stared at the fire and asked myself what, indeed, was I doing up here with only Don in the first place.  I sill loved Alan.  I was waiting for Alan...

....waiting for Alan.  Why was I waiting for Alan?  He couldn't commit to me unless I was in the next room?  What kind of bullshit was that?  I mean, here's Don in my hot tub...half naked....with that body...and he's so fuckin' nice!  Such a damn good friend.

Yep, that's him.  He's a good friend, I said, mentally shaking my head.  Only problem was that I couldn't shake it hard enough to clear thought of him.

Clear the thoughts of who? my mind asked.

Of Don, stupid! I responded.

You sure?  Aren't you trying to clear your mind of Alan?

I stood there transfixed by the fire curling around the charcoals which were slowly graying around the edges.

"Waitin' for a strong wind to blow ya over?" Don called from the hot tub.

I turned and headed up onto the deck.  "Nah.  Just thinkin'," I said.

"It looked like you were gonna fall into that fire, for a second there."

I smiled.  "Just relaxin'.  Hey, pal, you wanna'nother beer?" I headed into the cabin.

"Ohhhhh, alright," he said.

I fixed another J and D, and grabbed Don another beer, then headed back outside.  "Here ya go, bud," I held the bottle and he leaned up and out of the tub a little bit, the water running in rivulets down his thick arms, towards his chest...

Stop looking at him like that, asshole, he's not looking at you that way...

I handed him his beer, agreed with the voice in my head, then sat down on the porch swing, my feet propped on the railing.  We sat there in silence for a while, each drinking our drinks.  Finally, Don spoke up.

"So, man, what's this r.a. training that you mentioned before?"

"Oh.  The housing department was looking for a buncha new r.a.'s during Spring quarter of last year, for the upcoming school year.  I applied and was hired, but for now I'm to be sorta on stand-by, in case someone quits or whatever."

"Cool.  Does it pay?"

"Well, I wouldn't'a signed on if it didn't.  I mean, it sounds like there's hardly any work involved, plus we get a larger room than all of the others, so that's kinda cool, too."

"Cool.  If they make you a full-time r.a., will Greg still be your roommate?"


"How is he as a roommate?  You don't talk about him very much."

"Well, he's really cool and all.  We have the same type of personality."

"He a geek too?"

I laughed and went to check the coals.  They were gray, but it was going to take a while longer before I could throw the meat on.  Returning to the deck, I said, "Yeah, kinda...I guess.  I know that he's had it rough with his parents.  At least, his dad's an asshole, but his mom is an absolute sweetheart.  Anyway, he laughs at the same idiotic sense of humor that I do, and we both impersonate every person and every goofy sound that we hear.  I'm kinda glad for the summer break, though."

"Why's that?"

"Well, we have studio together, which probably ends up taking up a good fifty percent of our day, plus rooming together.  I dunno, I guess it's just having someone that's constantly with you...can get a little intense after a while."


"Maybe that ain't the right word, but I think that basically we needed a break from each other."

"Interesting," he said, taking a sip of his beer.

"Why's that?" 

"Well, if you ever start seeing someone, or get a partner, or married...or whatever it is you gay guys do nowadays--" I burst out laughing at that, "you'll be around someone full-time, right?"

"True," I said, still laughing.  "But Greg and I ain't datin'.  It's nothin' that's a big deal.  I like the guy a lot, and he's a good guy.  I was just glad for the break that's all.  Anyway, back to the r.a. stuff."


"We have a week of training where we have to watch all of these dumb videos and become familiar with whatever campus rules are relevant to dorm living, whatever."

"How in the hell can that take a week?"

"Pshhh.  Ya got me, man.  There are several new r.a.'s and I think that the director sets up the end of each day set up with some type of social activity."

"Sounds really gay," he smirked.

"Fuckin' tell me about it," I smiled and went inside to grab the burgers.  When I stepped back outside, Don was just lifting his head out of the water, and sat up out of the tub onto the ledge behind him so that his legs were still in the water.  "Hope you're hungry," I said.  "I've got a burger with your name written all over it."

"Just one?"

"Yeah, 'cause a big boy like you will only stop at one," I said sarcastically.

"Yep.  I've been known to go for two.  Sometimes even three."

I looked at him, and he had this dopey grin on his face.  Then he busted out laughing at his own double entendre.

"Well, if it takes three times for the other person to finally enjoy it, then I guess you do what'cha gotta do," I joked back.

"Ouch!" he laughed.

I threw four fat burgers onto the grill and I heard him splash back into the water.  It was funny.  On the one hand, I felt like such a grown up cooking burgers on the grill, drinking my adult drink, looking around the woods that surrounded the cabin.  And on the other, I was still feeling like a love-sick dork from high school.  Part of me thought that if I'd made this trip with Don so that I could prove to myself that how I'd started to feel about him again was just temporary.  Yet his comments and his actions lately just kept adding up to an equation that I couldn't prove wrong.  Another part of me thought that if I was around Don in an environment like this that it would make me realize how much I was missing Alan, and I could throw Don totally out of my mind. 

Not as though it mattered, because Don wasn't gay.   I knew I had to be taking his comments, gestures and looks wrong. 

Perhaps he's curious.

Yeah.  He's curious, I answered myself, checking he bottom of the burgers.  That's it.  I rolled my eyes at the thought.

But where's Alan now?

Dumb ass, Alan's training....

Training for pro ball?  Where he can spend more time away....

Shut up! I yelled at myself.  Alan does love me, and he does want to be together...

But when?  Why wait?  Don's right here.  In fact, he's half-naked in your hot tub....

Shut the fuck up!  I didn't want Don.  I wanted Alan.  And if he wanted to wait...well...I felt I loved him enough to wait as well.  I mean hell, the first year of studio was tough enough, as far as how much time I had to spend working on projects.  Who knew how hard the next four years would be.  If by some extremely rare chance that he was drafted, then those four studio years would be a great distraction during his continued time away, right?

There's more to Don than you know...than you want to...admit?

More than I know?  And what don't I want to admit.  I checked the burgers again.  "Hey bud.  I hope you want yours well done," I said.

"D'you burn 'em?"

"No.  I only know how to cook the meat all the way through."

Don laughed out loud.  "I ain't sayin' a word!"

I chuckled to myself.  "Shut the fuck up, fag hag."  He died laughing at that.  "Well, that's what you are," I kidded.  "You hang around with a fag."

He was still laughing a bit.  "Cut it out, Paul.  I don't like you talking about yourself like that."

"Hey," I turned towards him, "I'm into that self-deprecating humor, didn't you know," and I smiled at him.

"Whatever," he chuckled.

I turned back to the grill.

What you don't want to admit is that if you want Don then don't want Alan--

I slammed the lid down on the grill and walked away from that thought.

"You burn yourself?" Don asked.

"No.  I need more to drink," I grumbled and slammed the screen door behind me as I went inside.  This time I fixed a straight whiskey on the rocks.  If I couldn't shut that voice in my head up, I'd damn well sedate it a little bit.

"Hey dude, you'd better check those burgers," Don called in from the tub.

"Yes, highness."  I went back outside, turned and winked at Don to let him know I was kidding.

"You're damn right, my majesty."

I shook my head and rolled my eyes.

"Well, you at least should worship me."

"Have another beer.  You're obviously not drunk enough, if you think I should worship you."  He laughed out loud.

As I took the meat off of the grill and put it onto a plate, I'd resolved that I would just have to get Don out of my head any way I could.  I knew that deep down I wanted Alan.  No matter what how the moronic voice in my head conflicted with my heart, even if I'd wanted to have any kind of dating relationship with Don, I knew that wasn't gonna happen.  It just wasn't in the cards.  I'd been three years without Alan and I hadn't died, so I knew I could take a couple more years waiting for him.

Four more?  You can take four more years?  Don't you think you need someone...deserve to have someone in your life?

I squeezed my eyes shut and tried very hard to get all thoughts of life without Alan out of my head.  I squeezed really hard to get all of the doubts about him to go away.  I knew what I wanted, dammit, and right now what I wanted was about two hours away in Athens, slamming into other two hundred-plus pound guys between the hedges.  I smiled at the thought, but when I turned and stepped up onto the deck, my smile faded.  Don had stepped out of the hot tub and had his head buried in a towel, drying his hair.  He was still in his trunks, and you know how guys always pull their shorts away from their bodies when they step out of a pool?  Well, he hadn't, and for the first time in my life I got a glimpse of what was beneath them.  My imagination was screaming through my head like a tornado, and watching the water drip off of his body, I knew that I was completely physically attracted to the guy.  Blood was quickly rushing from all parts of my body to one part in particular. 

It seemed like I was staring at his crotch for ten minutes, when in reality it was more like five or ten seconds.  I had to get into the cabin, and fast, before what was on my mind became physically obvious to him.  By the time I opened the door he'd finally taken the towel off of his head to dry off the rest of his body. 

It's just the two of you up here....

It took everything I had not to throw the plate across the cabin in anger.  I was being so fuckin' stupid.  I kicked my ass mentally for being mad at myself for trying to chose between Alan and Don.  In reality, there was no choice to make.  Alan was who I loved.  He was who I wanted more than anyone else.  It was with him that I wanted to share my life.  Don was just hot, and yeah, he might be distracting, but the guy wasn't even in the running.  In my separation from Alan, and in my longing for him, I was seeing things in Don that really weren't there.

I fixed another drink and tossed it back down my throat.  "Ya ready to eat?" I called out.

"Yeah, I'm comin'," he said, stepping inside.  He crossed over to the bed, grabbed his clothes, then went into the bathroom to change.

I told myself that I was imagining things in him that didn't really exist.  The alcohol that I'd been drinking all afternoon seemed to hit even harder, and I stared at the closed door to the bathroom.  I was breathing deep and steady.  I wanted to cross over to that door, open it and step inside.  But that was just the guy in me that wanted sex, badly.  I knew that if I opened that door, it wouldn't be the man I loved standing there, it would be a friend that I lusted after.  And besides, I chuckled to myself, even if you didn't want it to be Alan, Don doesn't want you in that way.

You one time you had no idea that Alan was gay....

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *