Mike and Danny: Brad's Story
Note that these stories, including this one, are not an endorsement of unsafe sex. They take place many years before the appearance of AIDS and before it was standard practice to use condoms to reduce the risk of infection from sexually transmitted diseases. Remember always: that was then, this is now. Sex is precious, and so are life and health.
Brad refilled Wellington's water dish and let him out of the garage to run around the big patio in back of the house for a while, his nose to the flagstones like a bloodhound following the scent of some fugitive.
The afternoon sky had filled with a thin layer of clouds, and the air was growing colder. Brad stood with his hands in his pockets, shoulders hunched up toward his ears, wishing he'd put on his coat before stepping outside. From around the corner of the house he could hear the soft purring of the hot tub.
After a while, he called Wellington, who came to him, tail wagging, and he took the dog by the collar to bring him back into the garage. Then he knelt beside him on one knee to put both arms around his neck and croon to him, "Good dog, good dog."
Wellington seemed not to sense that the world had changed, or care that Brad was any different, a soon-to-be-divorced man starting life over from square one and no idea where that was going to take him.
He didn't notice that Brad felt like an alien in this new world, where there were Maxes and Claytons ready, willing, and able to have sex, while finding another man to love, like Craig, was beginning to seem far less easy.
He stood there now as Wellington sniffed around the concrete floor of the garage, disappearing behind what Brad saw was an old 1940s DeSoto convertible, waxed and shiny and looking like it just came from the showroom. It was not the same car that was here when Brad had arrived. He decided it belonged to Max, and he wondered if Max had restored it.
Following after Wellington, he admired the sleek car, wishing he had a talent for bringing something old back to life like this. Touching the smooth, spotless finish with his fingertips, he remembered the family car he'd learned to drive in. It was this same vintage, a green 1948 Studebaker Champion Regal Deluxe, with a toothy chrome grill and a hood ornament like a Buck Rogers spaceship.
He'd driven it to the senior prom, double-dating with a buddy who'd sat on the front seat beside him on the way to pick up the girls and revealed that he hadn't worn any underwear under his suit pants. That way he could get a better feel of his partner in the slow dances.
Brad laughed now, remembering how dancing had never been like that for him until he and Craig had held each other close, moving side to side to a song on the radio in their hotel room. He could still remember the song, an oldie from his high school days.
I was dancing with my darling to
the Tennessee Waltz
When an old friend I happened to see . . .
Neither of them knew how to follow, so they were stepping on each other's toes, but he understood finally what his high school buddy had been talking about that night. Bodies in slow motion, pressed together chest to thigh while mellow music played, were the next best thing to sex itself.
As he thought of Craig again, he was filled with the old feelings of yearning and desire. It had taken so long to find Craig, and now all he had left was the painful sadness of losing him. He wondered if finding someone to love was really worth all the effort.
Then he thought of Del again. There were maybe twenty years between them, but he wondered if there was some way he might win the boy's heart. He could not forget the sweet bonds of affection in the tender embraces that held the two of them together each time they'd had sex that night.
Brad had come twice and Del a third time, as Brad held him, stroking his cock until he felt it stiffen and contract in his hand, then rocking him gently as a few more dribbles of warm cum spilled over Brad's fingers. His face buried against Brad's neck, he'd sighed and soon fallen asleep. Brad had finally eased the boy down onto the bed, letting his head sink into the pillow.
He'd found a towel to wipe his hands, and in the glow of the lava lamp, he'd watched Del for a long time, feeling protective and caring, wishing him safe passage into the life that lay ahead of him, wanting to be by his side watching over him. He'd bent down then and kissed the boy one last time. Del had stirred, turning away from the light, his long body stretching out in the bed, and Brad had got in with him pulling the rumpled sheet and a blanket over them.
The memory of those feelings filled him now. It warmed him, this thought of being Del's protector and helping him grow into manhood. He could be a mentor to him, an older brother, a more loving father than the one Del apparently had.
Then he thought of his own son, who would not speak to him and was intent on spending as little time around him as possible. Had he really failed so thoroughly at being a father to the son he'd been given? And what made him think he could be any kind of father to someone else?
He walked into the house then, with the thought that he had duties that came before all this dreaming about finding someone to love. There was a phone on the wall of the kitchen, and he was going out to the back deck to ask Max whether he could use it to make a call home.
But passing the door to Max's room, he heard voices coming from inside, and he realized that he and Clayton had come in from the hot tub. He waited for a moment listening and then rapped on the door. After a moment, it opened a crack and Max peeked out.
"Can I use the phone?" Brad said. "I need to make a call."
"Hey, yeah, go ahead," Max said and then slipped out into the hall. He was still buck naked, his hair damp and pushed into cowlicks where he'd toweled it dry. "Listen, you wanna do a little three-way? He's game, and you're welcome."
Brad shook his head no.
"It's OK. He likes you."
"He doesn't even know me."
Brad turned and walked away.
"What kind of queer are you?" Max called out after him.
"I'm starting to ask myself the same question," Brad said and kept walking.
Brad dialed his home number first, but after ten rings there was no answer. He pictured the living room as he left it, his presents still under the tree, and the whole house silent and empty.
Then he tried his sister-in-law's number. This would be harder. He wanted to talk to his kids, and no matter who picked up the phone, he was going to have to persuade them to let him do that.
"Hello?" it was his wife's sister, Marietta. In the background he could hear more voices.
As soon as she found out who was calling, she turned from the phone, and he could hear her say, "Coretta? It's him."
Then after a long moment, while he could imagine several thingsCoretta shaking her head no, or pulling herself together to talk to him, or just making him wait because she'd happily kill him if he were there in the same room with herhe heard another receiver pick up, and he remembered that Marietta had an extension in her bedroom.
"Where are you?" It was his wife's voice, flat and without feeling. "You can hang up now," she called out to her sister, who was no doubt still listening from the other phone.
"Remember what I told you," Marietta said.
"Just hang up," Brad said and waited for his wife to object, but she didn't. He took it as a hopeful sign that she didn't want her sister to listen in on what they had to say to each other.
When he heard a click as Marietta's phone disconnected, he answered his wife's question. "I'm in Albuquerque."
She wanted to know why, and he tried to explain that there was an old friend here that he hadn't seen in a long time. He needed a place to be where he could just think. It didn't sound like much of a reason.
"An old boyfriend?" she said, her voice tightening.
"No," he said and explained it was just someone he'd known since he was a kid.
"So why did you call? What do you want?"
"I wanted to talk to the kids. Wish them Merry Christmas. Did they get the presents I left under the tree?"
But it was like she hadn't heard him. "I can't believe this is happening." There were tears now in her voice.
And there was a long pause while he could hear her crying. The sound of her soft sobbing was like a blow to his soul.
"I can't talk now," she said.
"At least let me talk to the kids," he said, but there was no answer. She had hung up.
"Shit," he muttered and put down the receiver. He wondered whether to call back, but realized it would mean dealing with Marietta all over again, and he was sure she would have nothing but her unspent fury to fling at him.
How he wished he didn't have to go through all this, just because he'd made a mistake years ago thinking he could make a marriage work when he should have paid heed to everything telling him his heart wasn't in it.
But he'd been taught not to trust his feelings. A man was supposed to work hard and support a family, no matter how he felt. That was the way of the world. If he didn't fulfill that obligation, what was he worth? Could he say he was a man at all? A real man?
He stood now in the kitchen, and he didn't know how long he'd been standing there. Dusk was in the windows, and the room was growing dark. He walked into the living room, where the Christmas tree lights burned in the gloom. From down the hall, he could hear the faint sounds of Max's and Clayton's voices, one talking in a low, steady rhythm and the other crying out. Then both would fall silent for a while, and it would start up all over again.
On the road, driving here from Santa Fe, he'd not known what to expect, but something like a warm welcome would have been what he wanted and needed. Instead, he felt lost and empty. A memory came to him of sitting with Craig in a diner somewhere as evening fell. There'd been a jukebox, and Craig had played a song that was popular then. It expressed a sadness that both felt when they were apart, and it had become their song.
Hello, darkness my old friend,
I've come to talk with you again.
He ached to go to his car now and drive all night and all dayas long as it tookto be with Craig in Nebraska. To spend one last night with him in a motel somewhere. It made more sense than being here with Max and Elmer, who were strangers to him each in his own way.
But he was too tired to do anything that required effort. He took off his shoes, stretched out on the sofa and closed his eyes.
A while later he woke from a dream of driving a car too fast along a winding road. It was his father's Studebaker, and though he was pushing hard with his foot on the brake pedal, it would not slow down. How would he explain to his dad if he had a wreck?
His foot, he found, was pressing against an arm of the sofa. Someone had come into the room and was turning on a lamp. It was Elmer, back from the nursing home.
"I didn't see you there," he said. "Go back to sleep." And he told Brad he could have the bed in the guest room if he liked.
"No, no," Brad said and explained he was having a bad dream anyway. He didn't want any more sleep.
"You here by yourself?"
Brad shook his head no and said he thought Max was in his room. He didn't know how to say there was probably another man in there with him.
"He sick or something?" Elmer wondered. "He's usually better about looking after guests."
Elmer walked to the hallway that led to the bedrooms and disappeared. Brad could hear the man's footsteps come to a stop and pause, and after a minute he was back.
"I see he's got himself another guest."
"I didn't know how to tell you."
Elmer had gone to a cabinet against the wall and bent to swing open the door. "Care for a little Christmas cheer?" he said and took out a bottle. "Kentucky bourbon OK?"
"Whatever you got that's good."
Elmer poured some into two glasses and brought them to the sofa with the bottle. Then he sat next to Brad, leaning back with a sigh.
The whisky was richly fragrant, sharp in his nose before Brad took a sip, and he felt the warmth fill his mouth.
"How's your mom," Brad asked, uncomfortable with the silence.
Elmer shook his head, like it was a subject he'd already put out of his mind.
"Don't worry about Max, if that's what you're thinking," he finally said. "Max does what he wants."
Brad decided to simply tell the truth. "I thought the two of you were a couple."
Elmer smiled. "I suppose we are. We live here together, and once in a blue moon he still spends a night in my bed."
"Doesn't he love you?"
"When he wants to. Though sometimes I think he could love just about anyone with a dick in his pants." He looked over at Brad. "I probably should have warned you about that before I left you alone with him."
Brad decided to keep the episode in the hot tub to himself.
"I'm not like that," Brad said. "I can only love one man at a time. That's what the word means to me."
"I know women feel that way, but it's a rare man that doesqueer or not." He knocked back the bottom of the glass and poured another.
"My Craig was like that."
"Then you found a rare one."
Elmer got up and walked to a stereo cabinet across the room. He raised the lid and lifted a stack of LPs from the record changer turntable, to play through them again. Brad recognized the music when it starteda Bach cello suite.
It was a surprise coming from this big, balding man with his short-clipped gray hair, his broad back and thickly muscled legs. He might easily have passed for a lumberjack.
"How old are you, Brad?" he said, like this was the start of a subject he'd been wanting to bring up.
"Going on forty."
"There's a premium on being young when you're queer. If you don't know that already, you're going to find out."
He held the whisky bottle out toward Brad, who took some more in his glass.
"Thirty and you're already getting over the hill," Elmer went on. "I found that out."
He'd been like Brad, he said, always looking for the one who'd stick by him and wanted to grow old together. And he'd fooled himself a couple times believing he'd found the man. But neither time had lasted more than a few years.
They got to having itchy feet, and he discovered they'd been playing around behind his back. One had emptied a joint savings account before disappearing. Another had developed a serious attachment to cocaine and had to go.
"I put up with that shit for a while, but you can't really put a stop to it." A couple pipe fitters he knew came in one weekend and hustled the guy out. While they were dumping him outside of town somewhere, Elmer'd had the locks changed. "He never showed up again. They wouldn't tell me, but they must have roughed him up enough to put the fear of God into him."
And Max, he was always showing up and ready to move in whenever Elmer got tired of living by himself. He didn't seem to care that Elmer was always older than him and getting older. And it pleased Elmer having him around, even if Max wasn't a one-man man.
"He doesn't steal from me. He doesn't take drugs. He holds down a job and pays his way. When you're my age, you can't ask for much more than that. I know men who have to get by on a lot less."
For Brad it didn't seem like much of a fair deal. To him Elmer was a handsome man, and a good man, who deserved better than Max, who would pick up a stranger and happily fuck him right there in Elmer's own home.
"Is there anyone for you besides Max?" he asked.
Elmer didn't say anything for a while, like he was deciding how to answer the question. "Nobody who wants what I want," he said and then chuckled. "If what I wanted was a wife, there'd be a line of them out the door. And I'm not trying to flatter myself. The world seems to be full of single women my age wanting a man of their own. Almost any man will do."
He'd always envied married couples, he said. "Men and women have this great thing going for them." There were plenty partners to choose from and the whole process of finding and keeping one was supported by every love song and every romantic movie ever made.
You could walk down the street holding hands, even kiss in public. And all your friends and family were there encouraging you, urging you on, as long as the true love you found wasn't another guy.
"Have a heart that yearns for a man to spend the rest of your life with, and you can forget all that," he said. "You're on your own."
In fact, every time you heard a love song, you were reminded of itthat you didn't belong and never would.
Brad had begun to have some of these feelings himself, but having been married, he realized that he'd never fully understood them. With a wife and family, though their life had seldom gone smoothly, he'd always been someone who belonged. Even as he'd found and fallen in love with Craig, he'd been spared the loneliness that he now heard in Elmer's voice.
And like any married man, he'd expected that getting a divorce from one person was only the first step toward a life together with another onethe right one this time. When he knew that person wasn't going to be Craig, he'd assumed that another guy, maybe just as good, was waiting around the corner. Now he was beginning to see that he might have to look a long time, and maybe end up like Elmer, never finding someone else.
"Think about what you got before you throw it away," Elmer said. "I've known married men who wouldn't give up their family for anything." He cradled the whisky glass in his hand, gazing into it with a faint smile. "Some of them are as good a men as men get."
Often starved for sex, they could be like animals in bed, then turn around and be thoughtful, considerate, almost selfless. As dutiful husbands and caring fathers, they'd learned to be that way.
"From years of over-compensating, maybe," Elmer said. But when you were with them, you could feel the warmth and depth of another human being. Not always, but often enough to notice the difference.
He'd met a man at the nursing home, he said, who came there to visit his ninety-year-old father. They'd struck up a conversation over cups of coffee, and Elmer had taken an instant liking to him. When they'd met like that a third time, Elmer had realized the guy felt the same way about him and was even arranging his visits so he'd be there whenever Elmer was.
Arliss was a widower, a retired schoolteacher, with a grown family of several children and grandchildren. A great-grandchild was on the way. At sixty-nine, he was hale and hearty, full of energy and interests.
Learning that Elmer was a single man with no family, he took no time putting two and two together. He had tickets to an exhibition game between the San Francisco Giants and the Cleveland Indians at the new ballpark.
"I guess you could say that was our first date," Elmer said, smiling. "I'll never forget that game. Willy Mays was the first batter at the plate." And when Arliss let his hand rest against Elmer's in the third inning without Elmer pulling away, they'd both understood that it was the start of something more than just friendship.
"I didn't know what to say," Arliss had told Elmer afterwards. "I just did what I did with every girl I dated in high school, to see if she wanted what I wanted."
Still horny at sixty-nine, he wanted something he'd dreamed about for years, to celebrate his age by doing a sixty-nine with another guy. And when they ended up that night in Arliss's bed, he'd got his wish.
"For him it was all new," Elmer said pouring another round of whisky. "He was just a beginner, but he'd spent his whole life being a loving man." Maybe faking it and going through the motions, but he believed in what he was doing, even if the feelings weren't always there. And when the time came to show another man how much he cared for him, he was an expert at what it took.
"I never had someone convince me so completely that he loved me," Elmer said.
True, Arliss didn't have his prostate anymore, and there was a scar on his belly to show where it had been. So when he came, there was no come. It all went back inside, he explained that first time, instead of out the end.
"But don't worry," he said. "It still feels just as good."
And for the same reason, when Elmer had fucked him, he couldn't do the same for Elmer. "I hope this isn't going to be a showstopper," he'd said. "Intercourse is God's greatest gift to man, and I'd love to have my dick inside you. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."
"I told him it didn't matter. And I told him I loved him," Elmer said. "I never thought I'd be saying those words again in my life and really, truly meaning it." And he'd said the words many times more a few months later, when Arliss's father died. He'd held his friend in his arms one long night and just let him cry.
Elmer fell silent for a while, gazing into his whisky glass.
"That was my married man," he finally said. "The only problem we hadif you can say we had onewas that his family never knew about me."
They'd expected Arliss to remain faithful to the memory of his wife. They would never understand how he had lived his whole married life as a lie. It would shatter their trust in himmaybe even their trust in themselves. It would be like taking a sledge hammer to everything they believed to be true.
But it wasn't a lie, Elmer had tried to tell him. He had been faithful in every way possible. What made him think he owed his wife more than what he'd given her while she was still alive?
"That's when I understood how much a man will sacrifice for the sake of his family," Elmer said. "Made me love him even more."
"Where is he now?" Brad said.
Elmer shook his head. "He's gone. Heart attack. Three months ago."
Brad felt his blood run cold. Then a wave of sorrow poured through him. Like he'd fallen in love with this man, too.
He set down his glass and reached over to Elmer, putting one hand on his arm. Then Elmer slowly turned to look into his eyes, and without a word the two men embraced.
Continued . . .
© 2010 Rock Lane Cooper