Mike and Danny: Forever
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.
OK, I've been doing this forwhatnot even four years. For the routine life anybody would say I leadteaching classes during the week at the college and then spending weekends and summers with Mike on his farmit would look like I must be on top of everything, with little room for surprises.
Well, yes, there was that filmmaking course I took in Lincoln last summer that got me mixed up with that old coot Oscar. True, there was also a close call with a hitchhiker I picked up on I-80. I about blew it with himstill not sure how that happened.
Mike has forgiven me for that. Would you believe he feels guilty that I never had much of a sex life before I met him. And that he kind of took me out of circulation before I had a chance to sow my oats, as he puts it.
I keep telling him I had a chance. I just didn't do anything with it. I mean, that blowjob in my friend Ted's shower back when I was a junior in college was an invitation for some life lessons in the libido department, but did I follow up on it?
I'm not saying the thought doesn't occur to me when I see a good looking manHmmmm, wonder what he's like in the sack. And such thoughts usually come after several days of getting real horny without regular sex with Mike. Which was partly to blame for the business with that hitchhikerwhat was his name? Randy? Yeah, rhymes with candy. How can you forget that? What a corker he was.
Would I give him a second look today? Probably. I have no conscience, and I never learn except the hard way. But life is not all that full of second chances, and there's no reason to believe our paths would ever cross againeven in a storyso it's kind of a useless question.
What I'm getting at is not about me so much as it is about another guy here in the English departmentnot to be confused with the libido department, though to hear them talk, a couple of my colleagues can't seem to tell the difference and should be kept away from coeds without adult supervision.
This guy Craig is an OK sort of guy. He's been married for going on twenty years and has three kids, two of them already in high school. His wife Molly is a librarian. He's from a small town in South Dakota. She's, believe it or not, his high school sweetheart. They've been togethermarried, basicallysince they were teenagers.
I think of them whenever I think of things like love at first sight, living happily ever after, and till death do us part. Craig and Molly. Love and marriage. Go together like a horse and carriage, as the song goes.
I want it to be like that with Mike and me, and when I need to be remindedlike when my wandering eye gets to noticing the grounds man mowing the lawn outside my office window on a spring day and I don't know if it's his ass in his jeans or the smell of cut grass that's giving me a hard-onI think of how Craig never gives me any reason to believe that his every intimate thought doesn't revolve around Molly.
You'll never catch him making a lewd or even vaguely suggestive remark about any of the female studentsnot like those two yo-yos in the department who eat at the cafeteria so they can amuse each other assessing the physical attributes of the girls there nibbling on salads and carefully not eating the crusts of their sandwiches.
Put simply, Craig has been something of a mentor to me ever since I arrived on the faculty. I liked him from the start. His being one helluva handsome man may have been a factor, I'll admit, but that is not why I wanted to be his friend.
He's solid in a lot of ways that Mike is. You get the idea that he says what he means, means what he says, and you can count on him. His students obviously admire and respect him, and I wanted my students to feel that way about me. So I made a point of getting to know him, learning from him, even leaning on him from time to time when the going got rough, which happens without fail when you're a teacher.
"You make it look so easy," I told him once.
He just gave me that wry smile of his. "Danny, it never gets easy," he said.
So, yeah, I was a little in awe and a little in love with him. Mike knows this, too. I've told him. And he'd just beam knowing that I'd found someone at work I looked up to who was willing to look out for me, someone who maybe saw in me what Mike does.
"You're a champion," Mike always says. "Don't forget that."
I'm hardly sure of this myself, of course, but you gotta love somebody who has that kind of faith in you.
The door to Craig's office was almost always open. You could see him inside at his desk, busy at something, but he always had time for studentsand for me, too, if I dropped in after a class. He'd look up from whatever he was doing, and you'd have his complete attention.
There on his desk would be a framed family photograph, and you could see how relaxed and happy they all were together. His sons were clearly going to be chips off the old blockhair clipped short like their dad's, already looking athletic. I was struck by the way they were all arranged in the picture, some studio photographer's idea of what a family should look like togetherCraig on one side, Molly on the other, and the kids between them. I never really thought about that picture until later, when I knew a lot more about him.
Craig had his degrees in frames on the wall over his desk. He was proud of having a PhD. He'd worked hard to get it, raising a family while finishing the courses and doing the research for his thesisa study of Sioux folklore, with stories he'd collected during the summers on the Cheyenne River reservation.
He'd written his dissertation nights and weekends, he once told me, during his first teaching job at a junior college in Yankton. This was all by way of encouraging me to go for a doctorate myselfand that I should get it done before I got married and started a family.
"It's a lot harder when you got little ones under your feet," he said.
Since I didn't have any little ones ahead of me in my future, I didn't feel like there was a clock ticking somewhere, the way he seemed to think I should. And I usually found a way to change the subject.
Like noticing his running trophies, which he'd won in various races around the Midwest, including one for second place in a marathon. He had something of a runners' build, not an ounce of fat on him. Which I knew from seeing him in the gym locker room, where I'd be coming in from swimming laps in the pool and he'd be changing out of his Oxford cloth shirt and cord pants for a game of basketball with some of the other middle-age guys on the faculty.
"You should come out with us," he'd say, bending over to pull off his socks and then slipping out of his briefs. "A little pushing and shoving on the court does a man good."
"Guess I didn't get the push-and-shove gene," I'd say, or something equally lame, because I'd be mesmerized by the glimpse of his dick disappearing into his jock.
Then he'd be pulling on his gym shorts and tossing his gym bag into a locker, which he'd slam shut with a bang, like the testosterone was already pumping through his veins, and all the time I'm wondering if there's a way I could time this better next time so I could get a good look at him in the showers.
Which brings me around to the point of this whole long prologue. There was a kind of unguarded honesty about himcall it even naked honestythat made you feel always at ease with him. The more I knew of him, the more I envied that. Yet for all the time we spent together, as I built up this idea of who I thought Craig was, I discovered that he had kept something from me. Something kind of important.
You may not know this, but college teachers have these organizations they belong to, and usually every year these organizations have a weekend event called a conference. It's really no different from conventions where accountants or salesmen or dentists get togetherpartly to go to presentations and meetings where they can act professional during the day and partly to loosen up and get wild and crazy afterwards, if possible. In other words, to party.
Conferences usually take place in a big hotel in some city, and people from small towns and other backwaters get to spend a few days away from home enjoying what city dwellers take for grantedgood restaurants, museums, maybe even a play.
And some will slip off to one of those adult movie theaters and see Deep Throat, which has become all the talk out in the provinces. Don't ask me how word of stuff like this gets around. It just does. The two yo-yos in my department didn't even wait for a conference to go see it. They'd already driven all the way to Omaha to take it in when it opened thereand before it got closed down by the cops in response to a public outcry.
I admit, I'm curious to see how long Harry Reems' dick is, too, but spending hard-earned cash for a porn movie with men and women going at it like rabbits just to find out? No thanks.
Anyway, if you didn't know about these get-togethers, you do now, and I'm telling you this because with all the best of professional intentions, I decided to go to a regional conference of college teachers that was coming up in Denver, and that is where this next part of the story takes us.
My colleague Craig went to conferences whenever it seemed there was one, where his name would always be on the program, leading panel discussions and delivering papers on folklore, which as you know was his subject. He had set an example for me, and I was more or less following in his footsteps.
I wasn't going to be reading a paper, but I wanted to get a feel for it all anyway and maybe some day get invited to stand up before a roomful of interested colleagues from all over the map to share my original thoughts on, say, Ernest HemingwayI felt I had a fewand maybe even my favorite writer, Henry Miller.
Turns out, Craig had plans to attend the same conference. Aware that I'd be paying for all my expenses for this trip out of my own pocket, I asked if he'd like to share a room. We could split the cost. He said sure and seemed delighted by the whole prospect of our spending a weekend in the big citywell, to a farm boy like me Denver is a big city.
If you're guessing that Craig reveals his true colors by trying to share my bed as well as our hotel room, you're jumping to the wrong conclusion, and you're getting way ahead of the story. (If you're in such a hurry to find out, you can skip ahead while I take the time here to set the scene.)
We cancelled our classes on a Thursday and Friday in late Octoberit was just before Halloweenand took a Frontier flight to Denver. After we landed, the airport shuttle took us to our hotel, where we registered at the conference, got our programs, and struck off into the gathering throng. While I expected to be kind of tagging along with Craig, I somehow lost him in the crowd, and I didn't see him again until the next morning, zoned out under his bedcovers. He'd come in from wherever he was, after I'd gone to sleep the night before.
I wasn't used to waking up with anybody else but Mike in the same room. It felt a little strange, like I wasn't supposed to be there. His suitcase lay open beside his bed, where I could see his socks and underwear, and the clothes he'd been wearing the day before were thrown across a chair. His watch, a room key, and his wallet with a little stack of coins were there where he'd put them on the bedside table.
He was sleeping soundly, and I wondered about leaving him there as I got dressed, so I looked in the program and saw that a talk he was giving wasn't until that afternoon. I decided maybe he'd like me to just let him sleep, and I quietly left the room, being careful not to make a noise as I closed the door.
There was a break at noon, and I decided to go back to my room for a street map of downtown that I'd been looking at should I get in the mood to explore. I remembered exactly where it was, lying unfolded on the table under the window.
I took the elevator up to my floor, squeezing in with a bunch of others from the conference all wearing name tags and in high spirits. Then I was walking down the hallway to the room, stepping around someone's half-finished breakfast on a room service tray, aware of the thick carpet under my feet and that unnatural, hushed silence of hotel corridors.
I slipped the key in the door and stepped inside, past the bathroom, where the lights were on and I could hear the sound of the shower. Craig had apparently slept in really late, but he was up now and still had time to get to his panel. I decided to wait and see if he wanted to go somewhere first for something to eat.
I had to look around for the map. It had got moved onto my bed, and there was Craig's open briefcase on the table, with some of his papers, like he'd been making notes to himself for his presentation.
I was picking up the map and trying to fold it together, when I heard his voice in the bathroom. I couldn't make out what he was saying, and I wondered if he talked to himself in the shower, like I've heard Mike do, though it's more often a song he's trying to singlike "I Walk the Line"because he enjoys the sound of his voice bouncing off the walls, and he thinks it makes him sound like Johnny Cash.
Then I realized I was hearing another voice answering him. It wasn't actually words but a kind of sighing moan. And it took me no more than a second to understand what I was hearing. Craig was in the shower with another man, and they weren't in it together just to save water.
Then I saw what I'd missed as I walked in. I'd stepped over a man's cashmere sweater and gray wool slacks on the floor, spilling over a pair of brown loafers and what looked like some striped boxer shorts. Inside the sweater was a white shirt, like they had been pulled off together in a hurry. The sheet and blanket on the bed had been pushed mostly onto the floor, along with the pillows. It was the unmistakable scene of fierce lovemakingwhich, given the sounds coming from the bathroom, had not yet finished.
Aw, shit, I was thinking.
Then I heard Craig's voice begin rising and falling in a kind of wail, like he might break into either laughter or sobs. I didn't want to find out. I just wanted to get the hell away from there. I stepped as softly as I could over the other man's clothes back to the door, and I slipped out again.
Now you know.
Though you don't know any more than I did, as I hurried down the hall and waited at the elevator, shaken and confused, like someone was after me. Like I'd just discovered something I never wanted to find out. Which, in fact, I had.
And meanwhile you're thinking, what's the problem here anyway? It's not like I'm a complete stranger to the idea of two men fucking.
Well, if you're thinking that, you don't know me very well. Craig had been something of an idol for me. I needed to believe he was the man everyone thought he was, that he was truthful, honorable, a straight shooter. I needed to know the man had no big secrets.
I know, no one can be expected to tell the truth all the time. We're all covering our asses for one reason or another. But you don't realize until something like this happens how much you've been depending on a man to be honest with youand with everybody else who counts on him.
That afternoon, I went to Craig's session and sat in the back as he introduced the other members of the panel. There was a big turnout in the room, people who knew of Craig and admired his work with Indians. I knew of his continuing research, and I had been moved by his earnest desire to help preserve the culture of these mostly forgotten people.
Here is both a scholar and a good man, I often thought. He's putting his brain to good use and his heart is in the right place.
But I'd never considered what he might be doing with his penis. I'd just assumed he and Molly were the perfect couple, as everyone else seemed to. I doubt if I'd ever thought of the two of them together in bed at the end of the day. You do what you dofollow them in your imagination maybe even as far as the bedroom door, but no farther, the perfect couple deserving their perfect privacy.
The other members of the panel took their turns speaking, and as they did, latecomers trickled into the room to take whatever seats were left. Among them was a man who was slipping into the row in front of me, sitting down in the chair next to the aisle.
He wore a cashmere sweater over a white shirt, with gray wool slacks, and on his feet, as he crossed one leg over the other, was a pair of brown loafers. And though I couldn't see them, I could tell you what kind of underwear he was wearing. It was the guy who'd been in the shower with Craig.
I was able to see only the side of his face, but I could tell he was a handsome man, about Craig's age, and probably the same weight and height. There was another thing they had in common, too. His left hand was resting on the ankle of his crossed leg, and I could see that he was wearing a wedding ring.
I suppose I had known of queer men married to women and even being fathers. This was the first time I'd known not one but two of them. And as I sat behind this man, who listened with a quiet smile on his face as Craig spoke from the front of the room, I remembered the sound of the two of them in the shower togethercrying with what sounded like a fathomless hunger for each other. And I sensed it was a hunger I would never fully experience or understand.
When the session was over and the last questions had been answered, there was a final round of applause and people got up to leave. I wanted to see the man's name tagforget better judgment, I had to know who he wasand I leaned across the chair in front of me to ask him something, anything, to get him to turn around.
"Do you collect Indian folklore, too?" I asked.
He looked at me as he was getting up and shook his head no, with that smile again. And if I were a lesser man, I might have just choked on my next words. He was that heart-stoppingly handsome.
"Did you catch the name of the tribe that last guy was talking about?" I said, or something like that. My brain was not connected to the rest of me anymore.
He shook his head no again, and I could tell he was miles away, like he hadn't heard a word of the talk at all. And he was already turning to go. But I caught a glimpse of his name tag. His first name was Bradley, and he was from a college in New Mexico.
By this time I was already getting used to the idea that this was all turning out much different from what I expected. I'd bumped into a girl I'd known when I was taking graduate courses in Lincoln, and knowing she'd held out hope once for something between us, I'd tried not to kindle any sparks as we stood sipping Styrofoam cups of bad coffee between two of the morning sessions.
The Godfather was on in town, and she'd invited me to go with her and some friends to see it that night. I'd said no then and made up some excuse, but when I ran into her again later in the day, I told her I'd changed my mind. She was a little too elated at the news, but I figured we'd be OK with her friends along, whoever they were.
Then I left the hotel and spent the rest of the afternoon wandering up and down the streets, having decided I should buy something for Mike. It was the next best thing to having him there with me, because I was suddenly really missing him and feeling a long way from home.
I got back to the hotel late that night, the movie kind of giving me some distance on the whole business with Craig. The tipping point probably came when Sonny got machine gunned at the toll booth. I'd got up to go to the men's room at that pointit's a long movie for a man without a good-size bladderbut I'd really just hung out in the lobby for a while collecting myself until the smell of greasy popcorn from the concession stand drove me back into the theater.
There'd been too much drinking afterwards at a bar. Her friends were a couple of guys, as it turned out, not too interesting and, after a second round of beers, a little giddy about something I never quite understoodmaybe each other.
When I got back to the hotel and walked into the room, it looked like not a soul had disturbed it after housekeeping had put the place back together again. I wonder how many scenes of sexual mayhem they have to restore to order as part of a day's work. Seeing the room like this was a relief, in a way, because it made the whole incident like something that had never happened.
I quickly undressed and got into my bed. The sound of night traffic outside the window kept me awake for a while, but I finally fell into a fitful sleep.
The next morning, when I opened my eyes and looked around, I found that Craig's bed was exactly as housekeeping had left it the day before. He'd never come back, and I thought I had a good idea where he'd been all night.
I didn't see him again, in fact, until I was at the airport, waiting at the gate to get on the plane back home. He showed up then, looking dazed and a little confused. Then I saw him brighten as he spied me and came over to sit down beside me.
"You a Broncos fan?" he said, pointing to the cap I was wearing.
"Bought it for Mike," I said.
He knew about Mike, though I'd never known just how much he knew or what he made of us. There was, after all, that advice to get my PhD done before having a family.
"You came back to the room yesterday, didn't you?" he said simply.
I glanced at him and saw that he was just looking awaylike into space.
"What do you mean?"
"You came back for your map when wewhen I was in the shower."
I felt something sink inside me like a heavy stone. He had remembered my street map, which he'd moved from the table to my bed, and somehow when the two of them had come out of the showeror sometime laterhe'd noticed it was gone.
Was he hoping now that his memory was playing tricks on him? Or was he hoping that I'd protect himsay maybe that I'd taken the map with me when I left that morning.
And I wanted so much to do thatto protect him, because the man he'd been had been a kind of hero to me. I was going to be a little lost without him to look up to.
But already it was too late for that. I'd stopped to think what I was going to say. I'm a good liar, but not all that quickand so, not that good.
"It's OK, Danny," he said. "Whatever you know, or think you know, promise me you can keep it to yourself."
I started to say something, but there was someone already making the first boarding call, and passengers who'd been waiting were now jumping to their feet.
"Just whatever you do," Craig said. "Don't let anybody know." Then he looked straight at me. "Surely you of all people can understand that."
Continued . . .
© 2009 Rock Lane Cooper