the Wall ~
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go...
Something there is that doesn't love a wall...
--Robert Frost, from Mending Wall.
I didn't want to go, but of course that didn't matter to my friends. They insisted it would be fun and finally I just shut up and let them drag me to the bar. Once we got there I tried to blend into the background, but they wouldn't allow me even that small comfort. Instead, Pete dragged me up to the front to lead our little parade.
"Hey," he explained as we stood waiting for a table, "I know how you always like to be the center of attention."
I rolled my eyes, but figured it would just make him worse if I argued. I'd been friends with him for far too long to not know that if I kept bitching, he'd do something that would really embarrass me.
Tess took my hand and squeezed it. "Isn't this wild?"
I nodded and moved her fingers so her engagement ring stopped cutting into my flesh. "Yeah, wild."
I was telling the truth, though it wasn't the building itself that was interesting. It was an old train depot, but apparently no one had thought to cash in on that, except in naming it. Instead, the place was decorated (if you could call it that) like all the watering holes in town. A mahogany bar down one side, a dance floor in the middle and tables jammed into every other available space. Other than the curtains I've already mentioned, the only thing different was the clientele. Of course that was enough -- at least in this part of the country.
The Station, better known to my friends and family as that fag bar, was no doubt the wildest nightspot in my conservative midwestern city. Located in Parkton, the area around here that passes for "arty", it had been open for a couple years now. Most of the fair citizens of this burg couldn't understand how it stayed in business. Of course, if they'd ever bothered to come in and look, they'd have figured it out real fast. The place was packed and not just with men. There isn't a lot to do around here and what there was, wasn't exactly wild. So ever since it opened, this bar had been the place to go if you wanted to experience a taste of the 'wild side'. Think of it as a theme park for twenty-something's. So while about 70% of the clientele were gay men, the rest (except for a few lesbians who liked to dance and couldn't find that in their own bars) were gawkers - like my group.
Pete made a rude noise and nodded towards a little guy dressed in a skintight, bright red tank top and even tighter jeans that were ripped in some very revealing places. "Hey Amber, how about I get an outfit like that and wear it to your folks' house next Thanksgiving?"
Amber, who was Pete's date and Tess' sister, snorted. "You do and you die. You know how Daddy is."
She was absolutely right though there was no way I was stupid enough to agree out loud. Personally I thought "Daddy", or Ron, as he grudgingly allowed me to call him, was an asshole, but I tried to get along with him anyway. He was, after all, my future father-in-law. But shit, a less tolerant man would be hard to find. To hear him talk, the world had been a great place before Blacks got the vote, Latino's came to this country and the Jews took over everything. And the time someone had been foolish enough to mention homosexuals in front of him, he'd gone on a rant that would have made Jerry Falwell jealous.
Tess giggled. "Hey Max, there's a guy over there staring at you. Maybe he wants to dance?"
"Dammit, could you keep it down? I'd like to get out of here in one piece." I tried not to look in the direction she was pointing, but still managed to catch the guy's eye. Shit!
"Oh lighten up," Pete punched me in the arm. "Jesus, when did you get to be such a tightass? We're not doing anything wrong. Just looking at some of the local color."
"And some of that local color," I reminded him. "Could take you down in a heartbeat." At 5'7", Pete had been the runt of his family's litter. But I may as well not have bothered speaking for all the notice he and the girls took of me. God, I knew coming here was a bad idea.
"I want a drink," Amber demanded.
I sighed and resigned myself to another half hour of this bullshit. A few minutes later I found myself at the bar, giving the bartender our order. As I stood there, I felt someone come up behind me. I expected whomever it was to move away, but when they didn't, my heart started to pound. Slowly I turned to see the guy Tess had pointed out earlier.
"Hi," he smiled softly at me.
"Hello," believe me, my smile was a lot more nervous than his was.
"I saw you walk in," the guy seemed to be amused by the sweat that'd magically appeared on my forehead.
"Um yeah," I gulped. "My friends and I..." I swallowed dryly. "We were thirsty." It was lame, but no way did I want to tell him that we were just here sightseeing - though he must have already figured that out.
He nodded seriously and then looked at my little group up on the steps behind the dance floor. They grinned and waved and after a minute he waved back.
"Seem friendly," he finally said.
"Uh huh," I agreed and then I don't know why I felt the need to share, but apparently I did because I opened my mouth and my life fell out. "That's Pete, my old high school buddy. He just got in today from Chicago. The girl standing next to him is Amber, they aren't really a couple, but she came along as a favor. Beside her is her sister, Tess," I tried to smile, but it didn't come out quite right. "Tess -- my fiancée." As soon as I said all that, I could have kicked myself.
He looked at me for a moment and then raised his eyebrows and stepped back a little. He looked like he was studying Tess. I found out my guess was right when he opened his mouth.
"Thanks," I sighed in relief. He was being pretty decent, I thought.
"They look like a nice bunch of people. Can I meet them?" He continued.
"What?" I stared at him in shock.
"I asked," he was still smiling, but I was no longer fooled, "if you would introduce me."
"Oh well, gee, I'd like to, but we were just getting ready to leave."
At that moment the bartender plunked four drinks in front of me. Talk about piss-ass timing. I was busted and there was only one way left to handle it. "But sure," I turned and met his gaze. "I guess we have a few minutes before we have to go."
He grabbed two of the glasses and watched as I picked up the others. Then he followed me back up to where the group was standing. He wasn't close enough to touch me, but still, I could feel his heat and it made me awkward. I ended up spilling some of my drink on my hand.
"Damn!" I cursed as I handed Tess her white wine.
"Aw poor baby," she cooed and then she took my hand and raised it to her mouth and licked. "Ugh, scotch!"
I jerked my hand away. "Well, you know I like it."
"Yes," she sighed. "But I liked it better when you were on that bourbon kick. Scotch tastes icky."
"I didn't say you had to drink it," I muttered.
"But I still have to kiss you," Tess retorted. "Or is that something else I don't have to do?"
I opened my mouth to tell her what I thought about that, but Pete interrupted. "So, dude," he said in my direction, "who's your friend?"
If looks could kill, I would have turned Pete into a pile of ash. He just snickered and winked at me like this was the best time of his life.
"Yeah, sweetie," Tess added, forgetting in a heartbeat that we'd been fighting a moment before. "Aren't you going to introduce us?"
Might as well, I figured. After all, the sooner I did, the sooner he'd go away. At least I hoped so; I couldn't be sure what his plan was. Hell, I couldn't figure out why he'd come over here in the first place.
"This is..." I stopped and felt my cheeks heat as I looked at the guy. "I'm sorry, I don't know your name."
He raised an eyebrow. "That's right, you don't." He turned and stuck his hand out to Pete. "I'm Dev, Devlin Neeley. You're Pete, right?" He turned to the girls. "You must be Amber, and you, of course, are Tess, Max's fiancé."
All three of my friend's eyes turned to me. "I told, um, Dev, who you were when we met at the bar."
"He did," Dev agreed affably. "And you all looked so nice, I'm afraid I wheedled my way into your group."
The DJ started spinning discs and conversation became limited after that. Dev stayed around for a few minutes being -- I have to admit -- charming, then excused himself and went back to the bar. We finished up our drinks and since, thank god, there still weren't any open tables decided it was time to go. I was happy as hell to get out of there. That whole thing with Dev had made me nervous as shit though I wasn't looking forward to the ribbing I was bound to get once we got outside.
The girls decided they needed the restroom. I figured if they'd ever bothered to catch an episode of QAF they'd have known better, but I wasn't about to educate them. They were the reason we were here in the first place (Amber had instigated our little walk on the wild side), so if they had to dodge puddles of cum to do their business, it was their own damn fault.
Pete and I waited for them over by the door. As we stood, I found myself looking back at the bar. Dev wasn't there anymore. Or rather, he was, but I didn't see him until two guys who'd been ordering stepped away. He was talking to another man now, a big blond with shoulders that belonged on a football field. As I watched, Dev looked up and saw me, then he glanced back at his companion and pulled him in for a long, deep kiss. I felt nauseous and looked quickly away.
There was a tap on my shoulder. "You ready, dude?" Pete pointed to the two women standing in front of us.
"God, yes," I murmured, "let's get the hell out of here."
I was right about the ride home -- the three of them teased me unmercifully. I took it for a while, but dammit, it pissed me off and finally I let it show. I guess I went a little crazy because Tess, who had been going to my place, ended up flouncing indignantly out of the car to follow Amber into her apartment. I thought about going after her to apologize, but by that time I was no happier with her than she was with me.
I took Pete back to his parents in near silence. He wasn't angry, but I could see he was puzzled about why I'd reacted so violently. When we pulled into his folks' driveway he turned to me.
"Are you okay, dude?"
"Yes," I sighed. "I'm fine. I guess I'm just a little on edge with everything that's going on right now."
He grinned. That he could understand. "I hear ya, bud. But don't worry, Tess understands. Just call her tomorrow and sweet-talk her some. She knows you're nervous. It's not everyday a guy gets married. And you, my friend," he punched me lightly to make the point, "take the long walk in just three short days."
I groaned. "Don't remind me."
"Ah," he punched me again. "It's going to be fine, Max. Tess is a great girl, and it doesn't hurt that she's gorgeous too."
I looked at him, surprised. "I always thought you didn't like her?"
"When did I ever say that?"
"Gee let me think, like um, everyday for the last eight years."
Pete laughed. "Hell. Okay, maybe in high school I said that. But that was just jealousy."
"You were jealous?" This was news to me.
"You didn't figure that out? Shit, of course I was jealous. My best bud gets the prettiest, nicest girl in the whole fucking school. If I didn't like you so much I'd have hated your guts."
I had no idea how to respond to this, so I just stared at him. He laughed again and punched me on the shoulder.
"Don't get all pissy about it, dude. I got over it," he sighed like a soap opera actress, "But I swear to you, if it'd been me that had gone to that pool party at Robin Cline's, I might be getting married this weekend and not you." I couldn't tell if he was serious or not until he grinned and clipped me again. "Gotcha."
I grinned back. "Well there's always, Amber," I offered.
"Jesus, and have you for family?" Pete shuddered. "Think I'll pass."
Pete grinned, then a yawn hit him in mid-smile. "Shit, I'm beat. I'll see ya tomorrow. We still on for the morning?"
We'd made plans earlier to go pick up our tuxes and then lunch. "You bet."
I watched as he walked to the side door and let himself in holding it and gently easing it closed so it wouldn't slam and wake up his parents. For a minute I was back in high school -- this was such a familiar scene. But things were different now; we were all grown up. God, sometimes I really wished that weren't true.
I got back to my place about 20 minutes later. I didn't bother with a light as I walked into the dark room. Big mistake. I tripped over a packing box some fool -- namely me -- left in the middle of the living room.
"Shit!" I picked myself off the floor and stumbled back over to the light switch.
I looked around. The place was a mess. I didn't know how I was going to get everything done before the movers came on Friday. Tess and I had agreed that neither of our two places was big enough for the other to move into, which was probably why we weren't already living together. We'd found a condo in a new development kind of close to where we both worked, and Daddy Ron had generously put the down on it as a wedding present. (He was an asshole, just not a cheap one.) It was a nice place, but I was going to miss my old apartment even though it was your basic three-room box. There were a lot of memories here though -- maybe too many. It was probably best to be moving on.
I went into the kitchen and grabbed a beer, then made my way back into the living room and plunked myself down on the couch. The phone was on the end table. Pete was right; I was going to have to call Tess tomorrow and beg her forgiveness. I probably should do it tonight, but in the mood I was in I'd probably say something wrong and make things worse.
I scrubbed my face with my hands. They smelled like cheap scotch and expensive men's cologne. Hugo. I wondered where that had come from. Then I remembered: Dev. He'd grabbed my arm when I'd stumbled and spilled my drink. I moved my arm closer to my face and breathed in the sweet aroma.
"You're back," a voice spoke softly from the bedroom door and I jumped and lowered my hands like I'd been doing something wrong.
"Jesus Christ!" I almost yelled. "How did you get in here?"
Devlin Neeley walked into the room and casually sat down beside me. "You should really get better locks."
"That's breaking and entering."
He shrugged. "I didn't break a thing, only entered."
"Fuck, why would you come here? What if I'd brought Tess back with me?"
"Relax, I watched you pull into the parking lot. If you'd brought your fiancée home I'd been gone long before you ever got here." Dev reached to take one of my hands in his.
I snatched it away before he could. "I want you to leave."
He laughed softly. "No, you don't." He didn't wait for an answer, just slipped off the couch onto his knees. With a jerk he tugged at my belt and unsnapped my pants.
I wanted to push him away, to tell him to go home and forget he ever knew my face. I just sat there and watched as he unzipped my fly and slid his hand in. When he touched me, I arched my hips and moaned like a low rent whore.
"You don't want me to leave, do you, Max?" He asked as he stroked my rapidly filling rod. "You pretend you do, but we both know how much of liar you really are."
He grabbed my arm with his free hand and jerked me forward and for the first time I got a look at his eyes -- his very angry eyes. "I don't know your name," he viciously mimicked my earlier words. His hand slid down and off my cock until he cupped my balls and squeezed them lightly. I moaned again.
"What was I supposed to say?" I gasped. " `Hey, folks, this is Devlin. He's been fucking me for about eight months now.'"
"It would have been a start. Hell, at least it would have been honest. You even remember what it feels like to be honest?" Dev squeezed me a little harder and I yelped. He relaxed his hand a little, but not enough as far as I was concerned.
"Let go, goddamn it. That fuckin' hurts!" I grabbed his shoulders and pushed him hard.
Dev lay sprawled at my feet, his eyes still glittery with anger. "What the hell were you thinking anyway? Bringing the little woman and your friends down to the club like that?"
"I swear to you, it was not my idea!" I muttered, fighting the urge to apologize even though I was telling him the truth.
Abruptly he stood. "Why do I even bother?" He started to pace and as he walked he ran his fingers through his hair, a trick of his I'd often noticed whenever he was upset. "You're not worth it, you know that?" He wheeled suddenly and looked at me.
I had to lower my eyes. The minute I'd seen him at the club, I'd known the evening was going to be a disaster. I was committed to Tess, but that didn't mean I'd ever wanted to hurt Devlin. God, that was the last thing I wanted.
"There are plenty of guys who are interested in me," Dev was talking to himself not me. I wasn't sure he even remembered I was in the room. "I don't need this shit. I'm young, good looking, I can have my pick."
"I know." I nodded miserably.
And I did; he was gorgeous. Black Irish with curly hair and big blue eyes framed by a strong jaw. The rest of him lived up to his face: six feet tall with broad shoulders and a chest that tapered nicely into a trim waist and an ass to die for. I'd noticed that as soon as I saw him, that first night, the night I'd finally broken down and gone into The Station.
Just like tonight, I hadn't wanted to go. I'd promised myself I wasn't going to go. And I managed to stay away for almost a year after I got out of college. I wasn't a virgin, not by a long shot, but I'd always told myself that my interest in men was just curiosity, something I could try and then give up - move on.
I'd been with Tess off and on since tenth grade and I really believed I could be happy with just her. I was too, mostly. But then she'd had this course she needed for her job and she was gone for six weeks. SIX WEEKS! I thought I'd go nuts I was so lonely and, well let's face it - horny.
Hell, I tried to be good. And when that didn't work, I convinced myself that maybe I should just pick up another girl for the night. After all, considering what I was really thinking about, that was hardly even cheating. But it didn't work. I went to the local fern bar and I scoped out the female talent, and it was tempting, but it wasn't what I wanted - what I needed. I don't even remember making a conscious decision. I just got into my car and drove until I found myself in front of The Station.
I couldn't believe it when Devlin smiled at me and a few minutes later sent over a drink. He asked me to dance then and we did for about half the night. When we were both covered with sweat, he'd taken me home and he'd shown me that all the denial in the world didn't make the facts any different. I loved sex with a man and from that night on, the man I'd wanted that sex from had been Dev.
Even more amazing was that he wanted me back. But that was also the problem. Before, I'd always kept things with my male partners distant - an imaginary wall between us, with no gate to tempt either of us. After all, I knew what was right and it wasn't planning a life together with some guy. Women were for relationships; men were for getting your rocks off. With Dev it was different. Oh, not at first maybe. At first it had been just like all the others. We'd meet, fuck, and move on. But after a while we started to spend more time together, before and after the sex.
I learned things about him I'd never been curious about with anyone else. He was the oldest of four. His dad split when he was 6 and his mother called him the man of the house from that moment on. He was still the man of the house, even though his mother lived 500 miles away. It was Dev she called when the roof leaked, and it was Dev who talked to his baby brother and told him he'd come home and kick his ass if he flunked out of school because he partied too much.
Dev found out about me, too. He knew that I'd sworn that I'd never end up like my own old man, thirty years with GM and then kicked out on his ass to find work as a school janitor when that bastion of American Industry pulled up stakes and moved most of their factories to third world countries. He knew my mom was dead and what a big hole that was in my life because it had always been her and me, as much as it had been my older brother and my dad. I told him my dad and I were trying and he encouraged me, but he also saw how tough it was and he was there for me, when it sometimes got to be too much.
Dev was a lab tech at one of the local hospitals, but he was toying with the idea of going back to school and doing the graduate work to teach. He loved explaining things and taught me more than I ever wanted to know about blood typing and critters that lived in your body. He thought it was great that I was a Realtor, and kidded me by saying it was good to know one that liked being screwed instead of the other way around.
We both loved Mexican food, but it gave me gas, and Dev started carrying Beano so we could go out for tacos after the bar and he wouldn't have to be afraid I'd fart in his face later when we were in bed. For my part, I found myself stocking caramel corn, his favorite after-sex snack and developing a fondness for the scotch he always drank at the club.
Dev knew another thing about me. I was deeply in the closet, and there was no way I was ever going to willingly step out of it. He was the first guy I'd actually explained my theory about The Wall too. He told me he understood, though I thought the expression in his face said otherwise. But he never argued and when I talked about the life I led away from him, he never acted like he cared, so I went with the flow and didn't ask him questions I didn't want to hear the answers to.
I told him I was going to ask Tess to marry me before she did, and when she said yes, he was the first person I went to. He didn't say much, not even congratulations, but then I was more interested in undressing him than I was in examining his -- or my -- feelings.
Of course, sometimes I couldn't help but wonder about where this thing we'd started was going. Oh, we'd discussed it, many times, and we'd both agreed that when I married, that would be it. End of the road. I was determined that I wasn't going to be one of those guys you'd see at The Station, nervously looking around, endlessly worrying the gold band they wore on their left ring finger. That was fucked as far as I was concerned. You made the commitment, you kept it. I believed that and Dev knew it. I think, at least in the beginning that was one of the things that drew him to me.
He told me once that he wasn't a settling down kind of guy. He said right up front he was seeing other men besides me. He'd even described some of their encounters, though he'd eventually stopped that shit, which was great as far as I was concerned. I couldn't help it; I'd always been jealous of his time with others. And yeah, I knew that was selfish because I had Tess, but that fact didn't change the reality. Even tonight, when I'd seen him kiss that other guy, it made me sick and angry that anybody -- anybody but me -- should taste those lips.
"Are you listening to a word I'm saying?" Dev's voice snapped me out of the fog I was in.
"You said you didn't need this shit."
"Yeah, I said that. Like ten minutes ago!" He sighed and ran his hands through his hair one more time. "I need to leave."
"Hot date?" I couldn't help it; all I could see was that blond guy with his tongue stuck halfway down Dev's throat.
He lifted one eyebrow. "If I did, what business would it be of yours?"
I shrugged; he had a point. "None. I guess I just thought you could stay."
I hadn't realized I was going to say that until it was out of my mouth. We'd already said our goodbyes the week before. Now both his eyebrows were raised and I hated that knowing smirk he was throwing my way. I forced myself to stare back. Sure, I wasn't going to cheat on Tess after we were married, but I wasn't married yet and I wanted him. Wanted him so bad my ass ached with the need to feel his cock inside me. Now, Dev saw that need in my eyes. I watched his face as he processed the knowledge. For a second I thought I saw something besides amusement, but then his lips curled mockingly.
"So, you think we should have one more fuck for old times' sake? What happened to the guy who told me he was done with all that?"
He crossed his arms and looked at me like he was trying to figure out where he'd seen me before. I thought he might have been through and waited for him to turn towards the door. Instead his face settled into hard planes and his eyes narrowed, but when he spoke again it came out as a purr.
"Or maybe you just need to cuddle?" Yeah, his voice was soft but I'd have been a fool if I'd missed the bitterness in his voice. "Maybe, you just want to spend the night curled up in bed like a real couple? Get up in the morning, grab a little breakfast, read the paper together..."
I sat there stunned. What the fuck was he talking about? We'd never done that; it wasn't part of the game. Never done anything that might hint that we were more than fuck buddies who'd become friends. I couldn't risk it; he didn't want it. We'd always agreed, so why was he acting like it was something he felt he'd been cheated out of? And why did I feel the same way?
"Just forget it." I had to shut him up. It didn't matter anymore. It wasn't going to happen. I couldn't let it happen. Suddenly, I just wanted him gone.
"No," Dev walked over to the couch and grabbed my shirt and pulled me vertical. Then he slid his arms around my waist and jerked me to him.
I gasped as I felt his cock, already hard, dig into my belly. Now he was mad, truly pissed, and it was almost a relief. Anger was something I could handle, even enjoyed if it could be translated to hot sex. I moaned a little and did a little rubbing of my own.
"Yeah, you want that don't you baby -- dude?" He spit out the last word as if it tasted bad and then jerked me closer. He rubbed his hard-on up and down my gut and I groaned louder. "Sure you do," he pulled me back and the look in his eyes, an uneasy mix of disgust and hurt and desire, made me flush with hot shame. "You always want it. Face it, Max; you're a dick lover. I've never seen a guy more willing."
I froze. A moment ago, I might have been ready for a little sex, but not now, not after the pain I'd seen in Devlin's face -- not if I had to sacrifice my self-respect to get it. I started to protest, but Dev sneered, his anger safely in place again, and cut me off simply by putting his mouth over mine. His soft lips and hard tongue made me forget whatever protest I was going to say. When he was finished, neither of us had any breath left for words. And when I finally gathered up enough of my wits to look at him, I saw nothing but lust.
"Tell me you want this, Max," he demanded as he grabbed my ass. "Oh Christ," his voice suddenly raw, "tell me how much you need me!"
I looked at him. I should have stopped then, I should have stepped back and shown him the door. I had obligations, commitments -- promises I'd made to people I loved.
I pulled him to me and kissed him hard.
After that there was no turning back. We had a race to see who could get naked first. Dev won, and after grabbing the condom he never left home without, he pushed me over the end of the couch. With no warning, no preparation, he impaled me with his cock. I groaned in pain and want and spread my legs in welcome.
"I want you to remember this," Dev grunted as he drove his cock deep into my ass. "For the rest of your life, I want you to know that this--" He shoved hard and whispered fiercely into my ear as I moaned. "This is what you really need."
"Oh God, yes!" I babbled, half delirious. "I love this. I love you!"
Dev stopped. Slowly he pulled his cock out of my tunnel until only the head was penetrating me. "No, you don't."
"What are you doing?" I was frantic to have him continue. I thrust up with my hips to imbed him in me, but he moved with me avoiding further penetration. "Don't stop. Jesus, don't stop fucking me now!"
"You want me to do this?" He moved his hips and I arched into him. Then he pulled back out to my entrance and stopped again.
"Oh Christ, Dev, please," I begged.
His whole body seemed to be trembling above me and for a moment I thought he'd go on. "No," he shook his head. "I can't do this anymore." And then he did the unthinkable. He pulled out all the way and stood.
I sank to my knees, and then I watched in shock as Dev went over to the chair where he'd thrown his clothes. Regardless of his actions, his hard-on was still ready for me. He ignored it and I watched as he struggled to adjust it into his g-string and then his jeans. He slipped his sweater on and turned to me.
"You can't really be leaving," I said stupidly, even though it was obvious that he was.
"It's time." He said softly. "Past that, really."
He stopped me. "Max, you made your decision a long time ago. Let me make mine."
"Why did you even come here?" I asked bitterly.
He shook his head and for the first time that night, the anger was gone. "I wish I knew."
We looked at each other and it was all there-the pain, the need, the truth that I was not willing to face. Then he turned his back to me and walked through the door, never looking back.
For a long time after he left I just stayed there, naked in the living room. I wasn't thinking about Dev though. I couldn't, it was too dangerous. Instead I thought about my life and how I was going to manage once Tess and I were married. Six months ago, it'd been easy to convince myself that life with her would make all the difference. But now I was actually getting married in three days and the arguments that had seemed so sound then didn't do the trick anymore.
I loved her. I really did. But I wasn't sure any more how I loved her. We'd always been great friends -- maybe best friends -- but lately that seemed to be a thing of the past. We were impatient with each other and frustrated. I told myself it was just pre-wedding jitters, but maybe it was more than that. Maybe she was sensing that I might not be as committed as I should be. Was that the truth? Did I really want her as my spouse, my lover -- the mother of my future children? Or was I just fooling myself, pretending the fact -- the habit -- of us was enough to build a life together? Especially when I was scared shitless by the growing thought that no matter how good my intentions, I was never going to be completely satisfied with Tess, or any woman, as my only bed partner.
And what of Dev? I finally allowed myself to think. What actually had gone on here tonight? A messy end to a casual affair, or had truths been said? If not with words then with looks and emotions we could no longer hide. I didn't honestly know. I wasn't sure if I even wanted to. He wasn't part of my life, he couldn't be. I couldn't risk it. It was best that he be part of my past. I believed that, or wanted to, and that's almost the same thing.
Yeah, tonight had been for the best. It was necessary for us to make some kind of a final break and we'd done it. Now he could go on with his own life and I, well, I could do what I'd always dreamed of. Get married, have a family, assume the responsibilities I'd always wanted for myself, the things that were expected of me. And Tess really loved me. I knew that and there was no way I was ever going to let her down. So what if she wasn't exactly the epitome of all my sexual fantasies. She was a good person, a friend I cherished and the only woman I'd ever really been attracted to sexually.
But deep down inside, my little voice was bitching. Telling me over and over again, that I'd hurt Dev. Hurt him badly and Tess too, even if she didn't have a clue that this was so. I'd used both of them. One to satisfy my needs and the other to give me the kind of validity I thought was necessary for me to get on in this world. It wasn't fair to either of them and it sickened me to realize how manipulative I'd become. All the arguments I'd ever used about how this was about me and that no one else was affected by my little flings were just so much bullshit. My Mom had always told me there were always consequences to your actions. I guess this was the first time I'd really realized she was right.
I fell asleep on the couch and woke up a couple of hours later freezing my ass off. I stumbled into the bedroom and crawled under the sheets. I was warm soon enough, but sleeping was problematical and I didn't manage it again until the light in the window told me the night was a thing of the past. My last thought as I drifted off was, How did you fuck this up so bad?
We were making love. Tess rode me gently and I smiled up at her and softly stroked her breast.
"This is what it's about, Max," she whispered, "this is all for you."
She leaned down and kissed me and the taste -- the feel -- was so familiar, so comfortable. And then it changed. Her tongue demanded things it never had before. I felt my pulse quicken as I responded with more urgency, more desire than I'd felt with her in a long time. She lifted off my cock and slid her hard body down mine and somewhere I wondered about that hardness; the feel of muscle and bone and...
I opened my eyes and it was Devlin who straddled me, Dev who reached for me and pulled me towards him. I tried to think how this could be so, but I couldn't think, only feel and watch his face as it glowed in the early morning light. Gone was the brutality of our last meeting. Dev's baby blues were gentle in the cool morning light and his mouth was curved in that little smile he always wore when he finally got me in the sack.
"You came back," I whispered.
"I had to," he murmured as he licked down the cords of my neck, "I couldn't say goodbye like that."
"Shh," he whispered, "let's not talk anymore."
With that he lowered himself until he was eyelevel with my cock. I moaned as he blew soft breaths over the sensitive skin and moaned again as his soft lips found the head and encircled it.
"Oh god," I babbled, "don't stop, don't ever stop!"
"Never baby, I'll never stop." Dev slid his hand between my sweaty thighs and kept going until he found my hole.
"Ungh," I gasped and spread my legs wider to give him more room. "Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck, that's so good."
"It's what you need," he said as he moved his fingers deep in my ass, "when are you going to admit that to yourself?"
"Oh god," I tried to relax even as my heart pounded with excitement, "I want, I have to..."
"Jesus!" A laughing voice penetrated my dream and pulled me into consciousness. "Dude, you want to be alone for a few more minutes?"
"What the hell?" I sat straight up in bed and saw Pete standing in the doorway. "How the fuck did you get in?"
The door was open, dude," he shook his head still laughing, "pretty damn stupid not to lock it if you ask me. Never know who's going to just walk in."
"Yeah, I can see that now." I sat up in bed and yawned and pretended my heart wasn't pounding and my cock wasn't still hard from the vision of just a moment ago.
Pete grinned slyly, "So, who was she?"
"Who was who?" I asked back, though I knew what he meant.
"The woman in your dream, asshole!" Pete rolled his eyes. "Who was she?"
I was still too caught up in it to think of a story he'd buy, so I dropped my eyes and mumbled, "Who the fuck do you think it was?" At least I knew he could guess all day and not figure out the truth.
"Tess?" Pete sounded surprised, but it sounded like a good lie to me and I went with it.
"Well what did you expect? I mean I am marrying the girl, for Christ's sake."
He shrugged, "Hey, it's just that you were really screaming there when I came in. And that was not exactly how I remember you with Tess when you'd go at it with her the back of my old Plymouth."
"Damn. What? You used to listen?"
"Well it wasn't like I had anywhere to go, you know? Kate and me used to finish a little earlier than you two sometimes and then we'd have to listen until you guys'd be done."
Which was reasonable. Sex when you're young is rarely performed in a comfortable bed or in a really private place. Pete and I had doubled all through high school mainly because his girlfriend, Kate, and Tess had been cheerleaders together. If I was honest about it, Tess and I had listened to those two making love a few times ourselves, and - apparently unlike us - they'd been quite entertaining.
"Anyway," Pete was still trying to explain himself, "you guys were always pretty tame if memory serves me. Hell, I used to think of it as polite sex."
But even as I said it I knew that what he was saying was right. Tess and I had never had the kind of mind-blowing sex that I'd shared with Dev, or any man. Don't get me wrong; it was good, but not the kind that made the hair on your ass stand on end. Tess didn't seem to mind though; she'd actually said on several occasions that she liked how gentle a lover I was.
"Course that was a while ago," he conceded good naturedly, "you might have learned how to actually do it since then."
I saluted him with my finger and since my hard-on was now a thing of the past, got out of bed and went into the bathroom. But as I shot a stream of pee into the bowl, I admitted that not much had changed about Tess's and my sex life since we were both 17. We were still polite lovers. After all this time, I didn't expect anything different.
The events of the night were still blasting through my mind. Somehow in the last twenty-four hours, I'd realized that the control I'd prided myself on was nothing but an illusion. And in some ways that was a relief. I'd been lying to everyone for so long. What would if feel like to say, fuck it all, and just start telling the truth? But I knew that wasn't an option. I had too many obligations, too many responsibilities, too much invested in the lie to ever start telling the truth. In three-no two days- I was going to walk into a church and swear before God and my family that I would love and honor Tess for the rest of my life. It was way too late to grow a conscience about that now.
I took a quick shower and jumped into some clothes. Pete was eating my last bagel when I was finally ready to go. He stuck his head in my bedroom and told me to get my ass in gear. Just hearing his voice, normal as always, made me feel better. Pete was a smart guy. I'd always valued his opinion and he thought I was doing the right thing. Okay, he didn't know why it might not work out the way he saw it, but hell, even that was a good reason to think again before I did something drastic, something permanent. If he honestly thought I could pull this off and make Tess happy, then maybe I could.
Devlin Neeley was out of my life. Last night was a mistake I wouldn't make again. Even if I went to him and begged him to take me back on any terms he wanted, I wasn't sure he'd ever trust me enough to agree to it. Why should he? I'd shown him over and over again that I wasn't exactly trustworthy. We'd gone too far in a direction that was filled with obstacles and I didn't think we could go back.
That wasn't the case with Tess. She still believed in me. I honestly wanted that to continue so maybe if I really set my mind to it we could just swing it. With a little luck and some determination on my part, we could have the life we'd both always wanted. Now if I could only convince myself that the thought of living that life made me happy.
Pete was in the kitchen if the banging I heard was any indication. I was heading there when I saw something on the floor that almost stopped my heart. It was Dev's wallet. It must have dropped out of his back pocket when he'd stripped his pants off. In the dark he hadn't noticed when he re-dressed. I leaned over and snagged it, and quickly put it in my pocket. Not a moment too soon either, because Pete came through the kitchen door drinking my last beer.
"Jesus," I said and hoped the pounding in my chest wasn't noticeable, "It's ten o'clock in the morning for shit's sake."
He took another swig. "So what? I'm on vacation."
I shook my head and followed him out of the apartment. We headed over to the tux place. Tess had insisted that I buy mine. She said rentals never fit right. And Pete had decided that as an up and coming commodities broker he needed one of his own too. The rest of my groomsmen had decided they could live with the rentals. Now Pete and I were there for a final fitting while the rest of the guys would pick theirs up the next day.
We were the only customers in the shop. We went to the back and started to try on the new suits. Mine was okay, but Pete had lost a little weight since he'd been measured for it three months ago. The guy at the shop told us not to worry, the alterations would be done by the end of the day. Pete went into a booth to get changed, but I stood there for a moment looking at myself in the new monkey gear.
I looked okay if you were into white bread. My face is kind of bony and my hair is that nondescript brownish blond color that only looks good in the summer when it gets some streaks, but I'm tall enough and my shoulders are fairly broad, and if I my chest wasn't as cut as it had been when I was lifting regularly in college, I still wasn't too far gone. I also had a fairly decent ass and nice muscular legs, but they didn't show up much in the suit. I was wondering if I needed a haircut, just a trim, before the wedding, when I felt a hand on my shoulder.
"You look great in a tux; not everybody does, you know." The voice was soft and effeminate and I didn't have to look at the face behind me to know it was Jesse, the guy that Pete had found so entertaining the night before. He was a friend of Devlin's and yes, he was nelly as hell, but he was a nice guy too and I liked him a lot. He worked at this shop and I knew he'd probably be on, but I'd be lying if I said I hadn't hoped he wasn't.
"Hi, Max," he smiled sadly at me in the mirror. "So you're really going through with it?"
I turned scowled at him. "Don't start that shit again."
Jesse had been completely opposed to my marriage from the minute he'd heard about it. At first I'd even been afraid he'd do something drastic like outing me for my "own good" but I realized soon enough he wasn't that vicious. He just believed that no one who was gay, or even bi, could really be happy unless they were totally open about it. He was honestly concerned I'd live to regret this decision. But his spiel was getting old, and with Pete about 15 feet way behind a thin curtain, I really didn't want to get into it again.
"Okay," he sighed, "I just wish..."
Pete walked back into the room and Jesse shut up and found something to do at the till.
"Hey," Pete said, "move your ass, I'm ready for another beer."
"You're always ready for another beer," I responded, but I went in the back and put on my street clothes.
We arranged to pick up the tuxes around five that night and walked to the car. Pete wanted to go to Angelo's, this little Italian place a couple of miles away. They had great pizza and it sounded good to me. Plus it was close to the hospital and there was something I needed to do there after lunch.
I had to return Devlin's wallet. Pete and I had each taken our cars so we could go our separate ways after lunch, so I figured I was safe to do this and I also thought that after last night, it would be better if Devlin and I didn't meet any more in private. I could just go to the lab and give him the wallet and then be on my way.
I told myself I was only doing this as a Good Samaritan act. Maybe Dev would need the wallet, and although I could have just gone to his place and slipped it into the mail slot, this would get to him a lot sooner. That's what I told myself, and if there was any more to it I wasn't willing to think about it right then.
It was already 12:30 by the time we hit the restaurant. It was packed and we ended up taking smoking just so we could get a seat sooner. As usual there were still a lot of empty tables in that room. We sat down in a corner and it wasn't until I was seated that I noticed a large party at the opposite end. It was obviously some kind of birthday party or something. There were gifts and wrapping paper scattered all over the table and a large cake sat on a tray waiting for the main courses to be eaten before it was cut. From the looks of the uniforms of most of the people in the group, I could tell this was some kind of hospital party.
That's when I saw him. He was sitting at the head of the table and laughing at something a little blond woman was whispering in his ear. Dev's eyes met mine and the laughter died in an instant.
"Hey, earth to Max." Pete was snapping his fingers in front of my face. "You ready to order or you gonna stare at the cute nurses all day?"
"Uh? Yeah, whatever you want."
"Okay," Pete turned to the waiter, who I realized must have been standing there for a while, "since my friend is being kind enough to let me pick, I say we have an extra large pizza with everything and double up on the cheese. Oh, and a pitcher of Stroh's."
I barely heard him. I was too busy trying to pretend I hadn't seen the look in Dev's eyes.
"So who are you looking at that's got you so hot and bothered?" Max's head swiveled around and he stared in the same direction as me. "Oh shit, isn't that your boyfriend from last night?"
"Just shut the fuck up!"
"Hey, hey," he spread his hands in surrender, "I'm only playing with you. But that is the faggot we met, right?"
"Jesus, you sound as bad as Ron," I was suddenly furious at him and I let it show.
Pete looked at me clearly puzzled by my over-reaction. "Sorry, Christ! What's with you all of a sudden? You've never been exactly PC yourself, dude."
"And knock off the dude shit. We aren't in college anymore. It's time we grew up and acted like it, including cutting people some slack if they don't happen to be just like us."
"Okay, man!" He looked at me like he'd never seen me before. "Just chill, okay? God, I know you're edgy, but don't take the shit out on me."
He was right. It wasn't Pete who was seeing things differently, it was me, and that was not something I could easily explain. "Yeah, you're right," I forced myself to smile, "sorry."
He nodded and we wisely changed the subject, but our normal easy relationship was missing. I think we were both relieved when the pizza finally came and we had something to do with our mouths other than talk.
We ate in silence. This wasn't especially good either because it meant that we could clearly hear the laughter that was coming from the other side of the room. I tried not to stare, but I wasn't very successful at it and so I saw Dev stand and walk away in the direction of the bar and restrooms.
It was my chance and I took it. "I'm going to the can," I told Pete and abruptly stood.
I didn't wait to hear what he said. I quickly walked into the bar at the front of the building. Dev was just passing it and I'd been right, he was heading for the john. I watched him disappear into the short hallway by the restrooms and I followed him. I thought about going in too, but decided it would be better to wait outside the door in case someone else was already in there.
The door swung open a minute later and a guy walked out. I backed up into the corner where it was dark and I blended in so I don't think he saw me. I know Dev didn't a few minutes later when he left, too.
I hadn't been loud, but the sound of my voice affected him like a gunshot. He froze and then he took a moment, like he was steeling himself to face something awful. Then he turned and smiled. I didn't care much for that smile.
"What do you want, Max?" His voice was soft and controlled, but I could see it was taking a lot out of him to keep it that way.
"I think we need to talk," I hadn't really been thinking that at all, but suddenly it seemed like a good idea.
"I doubt it, but go ahead." He stepped towards me and for the first time, I got a really good look at him. He looked like shit. There were bags under his eyes and lines around his mouth I'd never seen before. It didn't make it any better to know that I was probably the cause of both.
"I, I," now that he was listening I had no idea how to begin or even what it was I wanted to say, "I guess, I just wanted to tell you how sorry I was."
He blinked his eyes wearily, "About last night? Or everything?"
"Both," I blurted out, then tried to explain when I saw the pain creep into his eyes, "no not like that, not sorry about meeting you or..." I took a deep breath. "I never meant to let things go this far. I never thought you'd feel..."
"Max," his voice was tired, "don't apologize. It was as much my fault as yours, more. I knew where you were coming from. You never made any bones about it. I should have walked -- no, run away as soon as I realized what was happening. I kept putting it off thinking, `One more day...'" he smiled sadly. "Jesus, it'd be funny if it wasn't so pathetic. I didn't even realize what it was until it was too late. Love. Devlin Neeley had fallen in love. Who'd a thunk it?"
Oh God, he'd said it. Used the `L' word. I didn't know what to say, so I kept my mouth shut and looked at the floor. Dev just laughed though you could tell he wasn't amused.
"Oops, sorry about that. I know I should have kept that little secret to myself, but what the fuck." He laughed again. "I was always so sure that I was this tough guy. That nobody would ever get my heart and use it for target practice like I've seen happen to the rest of my friends. Hell, that's why I always picked guys like you. Somebody who only wanted sex with another hot guy." He shrugged. "Really arrogant of me wasn't it?"
On impulse I reached out and tried to grab his hand. He reacted like I'd burned him and stood so fast he almost tipped his chair.
"Don't," his voice was thick, "please. We both know that this can't work. Let's not draw it out. We'll only end up fighting again and I don't think either of us wants that."
He was right. It was too late. Maybe if we'd realized sooner... No, I couldn't go there. I turned to leave and then I remembered the wallet. I held it out to Devlin. "Here, I found this, this morning."
He nodded and took it quietly. "Goodbye, Max. I hope that you find whatever it is you really want. I mean that."
I dropped my eyes and studied the grit on the floor. "I know you do. And Devlin, I know you might not believe this, but I really do..." I looked up and it was then that I realized he'd slipped out of the room. I wanted to follow him, but knew that really wasn't an option. I turned back in the direction of Pete's and my table and walked back to it on shaking legs.
Pete wasn't there. I looked over and saw him at the front by the register. We'd only eaten half the pizza, but apparently he'd had enough and I hadn't been hungry since I'd seen who was sitting across the room. I made it over to Pete just as he was getting the receipt. He didn't look at me, but walked outside as soon as he'd pocketed his change. I followed behind him, barely registering where I was going. The conversation with Dev had rocked me. All I wanted to do was crawl in a hole somewhere and lick my wounds and try and figure out how my life had gotten so fucked up.
We made it as far as the parking lot before Pete turned to me. I never saw his fist coming, but I sure felt the explosion as it connected with my cheekbone right below my eye.
"You bastard!" His voice cracking in anger. "You lying asshole."
I staggered, but I didn't fall and now I stared at him in shock. Sure, Pete could be a hothead and this wouldn't be the first time we'd gone a few rounds. But that had been years ago in high school when we'd both had so much testosterone we hadn't known what to do with it. Nothing, no sign, prepared me for this onslaught and I had no idea what got into him.
And then something snapped deep inside my gut. All the confusion I'd felt in the last 24 hours -- hell the last couple of months -- translated itself into a white-hot rage. I wanted to hit something. Hit it hard, and Pete was right there in front of me. I nailed him right in the solar plexus. It would have brought me down, but Pete was fanatical about lifting. It was something I teased him about. I always said the muscles were his way of making up for his height. So when I hit him he grunted, but that was about all the reaction I got.
It wasn't enough. I went at him wildly, connecting sometimes, but more often not. He fought back with just as much fury and it wasn't long before both of us were aching from bruises and the split knuckles we'd gotten from causing them. Finally when the worst of our rage was exhausted, I stepped back and looked at him.
"What the fuck is your problem?" My voice was cold and deadly and if Pete had been thinking straight he'd have backed off. But he wasn't and he didn't. He swung again and this time I was ready and blocked him enough that it glanced off of my chin.
That seemed to piss him off even further and he dealt with that by standing so close and yelling that I could feel his spit on my cheeks. "What's my problem?" He screamed. "Hell, I don't have a problem. Except maybe the one about seeing my best friend drooling over some fairy he'd supposedly just met last night."
I froze. Oh shit.
"A guy?" He continued. "Jesus fucking Christ, A GUY!"
He stopped, but if he was waiting for a response he'd have a goddamn long wait. His words almost stopped my heart. There was no way I was going to be able to respond to his questions. Finally, he seemed to figure that out and continued, no longer shouting, but still just as intense.
"How long Max? How long you been a fag, a goddamn cocksucker? Or maybe you like taking it up the ass? That what really turns you on?" He connected another punch to my jaw, but I just stood there, letting him get in his shots. He barely seemed to notice. "Shit, how could you do that to Tess, man? How could you lie to her that way? Christ, she loves you and you don't even know how fucking lucky that makes you."
Even if I could have thought of an argument, I wouldn't have used it. He was right. I'd always known that no matter how many justifications I could come up with when I looked at myself in the mirror. Now I was looking at Pete's face and the betrayal, the pain, was almost more than I could bear.
He clenched his fist and pulled back again. I wasn't going to stop him. The hit was a good one and I doubled over from the pain in my belly. In a way it was almost a relief. I couldn't think if I couldn't breath.
My face was vulnerable now and Pete had always been a dirty fighter. He'd had to be because of his size and I could guess what was coming next. He lifted his knee to connect with my face and I braced myself. I only hoped that this one would knock me unconscious. And I wasn't all that concerned either about when, or if, I'd wake up.
Nothing happened. I finally got my breath back and looked up. He was standing there, looking at me. I didn't know which was clenched tighter, his jaw or his fists.
It must have been his fists, because he got his jaws to work. "Aren't you even going to try and explain?"
I stood shakily. For one second, I honestly thought about lying, but what was the point? Somehow, Pete figured out my big, dark secret and I just didn't have the energy to deny it to him.
"What do you want me to say? You seem to have all the answers."
As suddenly as it started, it was over. I saw Pete's shoulders slump and his hands relax, and I knew he'd lost heart for the fight. Like me, it seemed that all he had left was an overwhelming sense of loss.
"I want," and his voice sounded defeated and I noticed his cheeks were wet, too. He already knew the answer. "I want you tell me I'm not right."
"Wish I could, bud" I tried to sound calm, but the next sentence was barely audible. "You have no idea how much."
He clenched his fists again and for a minute I though he would take another swing at me. The moment passed though and he just shrugged and looked at the ground. I figured that was my cue and I turned to leave.
I was numb. I didn't have a clue what was going to happen next. Pete and I had been keeping each other's secrets for almost twenty years, but I didn't know if that arrangement still held after this afternoon. I wasn't even sure I cared. It had suddenly grown clear to me that I really didn't give a good goddamn who he told or didn't tell. What mattered was I was losing my best friend and I didn't have a fucking clue how to stop that from happening.
I was getting in my car when I heard him call to me. I watched him as he limped over and then he stuck his head in the door.
"I'm going to follow you home." It was an order more than a statement.
I nodded, but didn't say anything. He took that as an affirmative and gimped his way over to his car. I watched as he got behind the wheel and then carefully followed him out of the parking lot.
It took fifteen minutes to get to my place, but I have no memory of how we got there. My mind had shut down and all I could do was mechanically steer and brake and step on the gas. The only thing that was getting through to me was the pain my body was telling me it was feeling and even that was negligible in comparison to the turmoil in my brain. But by the time we pulled into the drive I could hardly see out of my left eye and when I opened the car door I groaned with the effort to stand.
Pete wasn't much better, but neither of us commented on it as we slowly made our way up to my second floor apartment. When we'd fought as kids, the aftermath was always full of good-natured ribbing about who was in worse shape. Our adolescent way of apology, I guess. This time we had nothing to say to each other and Pete wouldn't even look at me.
When we got inside he went and sat in my only armchair and I went into the bathroom and found the Ibuprofen. I threw him the bottle on my way to the kitchen and then came back with two glasses of water and some bags of frozen vegetables for our various bruises. I gave him one of the waters and some bags, but he didn't say thank you, just handed me the bottle and proceeded to drink.
I stifled a groan as I sat on the couch. Then I shook out about five of the pills and popped them in my mouth. Pete just sat there and watched me until I'd finished the glass and slapped a bag of peas over my eye. Then he cleared his throat.
"How long?" He said softly and held the corn I'd given him up to his neck where I'd managed to clip him with a lucky shot.
I raised my eyebrows and wished I hadn't. "How long with Devlin, or how long have I been interested in men sexually?"
He flinched, but he didn't look away. "Both. But start with the last one."
"I guess I kind of always liked guys," I started slowly and watched for a reaction, but except for one blink there wasn't any. "But I really didn't know what that meant until the summer between seventh and eighth grade when I went to camp and you went out west to visit your uncle's ranch."
"At camp there was this kid and..."
Pete put up his hand. "Spare me all the details, just tell me the gist of things."
"Don't worry," I couldn't help the note of sarcasm that crept into my voice. "I have no intention of over-sharing."
Pete flushed, embarrassed. "Okay, sorry, go on."
"Anyway, there was this kid and he showed me a few things. He assured me it was just fooling around and didn't mean shit. Maybe that was true for him, but for me, well, let's just say it was a revelation. After it was over, camp I mean, I convinced myself that what he'd told me was right, it was just stuff to do until I got a girl and that once I did, I'd realize that messing with guys wasn't really all that great."
"I remember," he nodded, "when I got home you were so hot to find a babe."
"Yeah, well, there ya go." I grimaced and wiped away a trickle of water that was running down my neck. "And in a way it was the truth. After I started dating, being with a guy didn't seem like that big a thing. Not that I really had anything to compare it to."
I waggled my eyebrows, expecting his habitual snort, but Pete didn't even crack a smile. I flushed. It was hard to remember Pete wasn't my old bud anymore and we weren't just hanging out shooting the shit. I cleared my throat and started again.
"You remember, the girls weren't exactly eager to put out at that age. I guess I just figured that it would be the same or maybe even better. Later I did finally manage to convince someone to do the deed..."
"Tracy Schultz." Pete prompted and I grinned forgetting again that we were no longer friends.
"Yeah, Tracy Schultz. So afterwards, I couldn't understand it. This was the big deal? I mean it was nice, yeah, but it didn't exactly blow my socks off."
"So you decided to try guys again." his voice was flat like he was trying to pretend the answer didn't matter.
I shook my head frustrated, "No, no, it's not - it wasn't like that. After Tracy and me, I guess I thought, oh well, chalk up one more disappointment. There's no Santa Claus, the tooth fairy is really Dad and sex isn't all it's cracked up to be. I figured it would be better with someone you loved and all, but really by that time I'd pretty much so decided it wasn't going to be all that big a deal for me."
"I even started to think that my great time at camp had really been more about it being my first and not because the sex was actually better." It was getting easier to talk. Hell, for the first time I had an audience and I found I needed to get this stuff out. "I have to tell you it was almost a relief. I figured I could finally quit worrying about raging hormones and just get on with things - and I did. At least for a while. I met Tess too, and that was better because I really did love her, but basically I thought I'd figured it out."
Pete didn't look like he wanted to ask the next question, but he did anyway. "What changed your mind, since I'm assuming this is where you're leading."
"College," I forced myself to keep looking him in the eye, "there was a guy in my dorm. I don't know how he sensed it, or maybe he didn't and just got lucky, but he found me. He was gay, but really secretive about it."
"Like you." The words weren't an accusation, but not real friendly either.
I winced, but decided it would be better to let that comment pass. "He taught me things." Like how to take it in the ass and love it - Pete was right about that - but I doubted he wanted to know that much. "I found there was a big difference in how I felt with sex with him. Eventually I figured out it wasn't just him, but men in general."
"Jesus!" Pete stood and started to pace. "So all this time, you've been gay?"
"No," I shook my head, still denying even then what I was finally accepting as the truth. "It wasn't like that. I didn't think of it like that. I wasn't totally gay. I like women, and I love Tess, I really do."
"That is such bullshit, Max." His eyes glittered with an emotion I couldn't name. "Don't you see that for shit's sake? You don't love someone and lie to them the way you have to that girl. You can't do this to her, you have to tell her the truth."
"You think it's that simple?" I asked ironically.
"Oh." He sneered at me. "Like your life has been simple up to now."
"You know," I told him, "I promised myself that once Tess and I were married, I'd be done screwing around."
Pete snorted then looked at my face and stopped. "Okay, maybe you did, maybe you even believed it for a while. But tell me honestly, do you believe it now? Do you really think you could give up that guy for Tess?"
I looked at him in shock and he nodded grimly.
"I saw you two together. I saw you with him, how you tried to take his hand. The way you looked at him when he pulled away, the way he looked at you. How else do you think I figured this out? I'm not a fucking psychic."
"Yeah, well you ain't Dr. Ruth either, so don't give me that crap about how you saw anything in my eyes."
"You're wrong, Max, dead wrong. See, I know that look. It's the, I want you so bad I'd die to get you, but I know I can't get you, look. You have it and that Dev guy has it." He dropped his head and stared at his hands.
"Jesus," I sighed and looked up at the ceiling. "Why do I feel like any minute we're going to hear the theme song from All My Children?"
There was a stunned silence and then I heard a sound I'd been afraid I'd never hear again. Pete was laughing. "You're such a schmuck," he said.
I grinned at him and for a moment it was like old times. But Pete seemed to realize that too, and it was clear he wasn't ready to have that happen right now, if ever again.
The smile died on my face and I cleared my throat. "So, what happens next?"
He looked at me, puzzled. When he finally answered, it was clear he'd misunderstood the question. "You said you were going to tell me about him," Pete interrupted my thoughts. "I think now would be the time."
"There isn't much to tell." I lied. "I met Devlin a few months ago at The Station."
"Jesus!" Pete snorted in disgust.
"Yeah, right, I went there looking for a pick up."
For the first time since we'd gotten back to the apartment I felt a little spurt of anger. After all the guilt it felt great and I decided to feed it. So okay, it was true that Pete had a right to be pissed at me for keeping this from him, but he didn't need to act so fucking high and mighty.
"Tell me you've never gone looking for sex?" I knew the answer to that and he knew I did.
"It's not the same..."
"Oh right," I shot back, "it's faggots doing it. That's what makes it so much worse!"
Pete's eyes widened. "That's not what I meant."
"Bullshit!" I was almost ready to fight again.
"What I meant was," he was almost yelling, like being louder made him right, "that you're engaged. You had no business looking for any extra sex." He stood and started to pace and I flashed on Devlin doing the same thing the night before. "I don't give a goddamn shit what kind of sex you think you have to have. It could be with wall-eyed goats for all I give a fuck and it wouldn't matter. But you, you," he searched for the word. "You present yourself as this stand up guy, this paragon. You went out and you got yourself engaged for Christ's sake. You promised another human being that you were committed to her." He abruptly lowered his voice. "And that's what isn't the same, Max. It isn't the same -- and it isn't right."
"No," he shook his head, "it isn't, and there not a shittin' thing you can say to me to make me change my mind. I don't know what goes on in that pea brain of yours, Max." He took a deep breath and I could actually see him struggling for control. Apparently he found some somewhere, because when he started to speak again his voice was a lot softer and deceptively calm. "Look, I don't live your life nor do I pretend to have the least idea how that feels. But I do know that for most of it you've been a stand up guy, at least with me. And I don't think you really believe that what you've been doing is right."
I opened my mouth to say something, but he waved me off.
"And before you get all pissed off, I don't mean the gay shit, I'm talking about the double life. You gotta decide, Max." He sat back down and finally shut up.
"No," I shook my head smiled ironically. "I think you got that turned around, Pete. You're the one holding the cards now. So tell me, what's it going to be?" Again he didn't look like he knew what I was talking about. I tried again to clue him in. "You hold my fate in your hands, Pete. You have to know that. So, what happens next?"
I sat there and watched him process this way of thinking of things. Then his eyes narrowed. "Wait a minute. You can't possibly be thinking of still going through with this marriage, are you?"
"Why not?" He snorted and started to speak, but I stopped him. "Really, what's changed? Okay for about an hour now you've known something about me that's always been there anyway. I told you," I repeated, when he still didn't look convinced, "I'm done with men. What you saw this afternoon wasn't some planned thing. I had no idea Dev would be in that restaurant. We'd already broken it off. He knows how it is with me."
I squelched the little voice in the back of my head that was telling me what a big fat liar I was. The way I figured it was I was already going to hell, one more lie wasn't going to get me there any quicker.
"Yeah, maybe so," Pete was smarter than he looked, "but when you saw him, you sure as shit ran after him fast enough. Didn't look much like a goodbye from where I was standing."
I had no comeback for that. If I told him that I'd just been trying to return Dev's wallet, Pete would ask how I'd gotten it in the first place and I wasn't prepared to go there with him, not now, not ever.
"I can't help how it looked," I finally said, "I only know what it was."
Pete stared hard at me falling back on his long ingrained boast that he could always see it in my face when I was lying. There been a thousand times when I'd proved his little theory wrong, but I couldn't see where telling him that now would make anything easier.
"Okay," he said slowly, "you're telling the truth."
"I am," I lied again. "So what's it going to be, Pete?"
He shook his head and thought about that one. When he finally spoke it was slow like he was making it up as he went along. "You know, it's you that has this backwards. This isn't my decision, it can't be. You're the one who has to live with the consequences. Your life, your choice."
"So," I said, not really knowing what answer I wanted to hear, "you aren't going to tell then?"
With my words, something shut down in his face, but he simply said, "No."
"And if I do get married in two days," I picked my words carefully, "you'll still be my best man?"
He looked at me solemnly, "Sorry Max, I don't think I could do that."
"Oh." There was nothing else I could think of to say.
"I'll keep your secret," he mumbled, "but I won't stand there and pretend I think you're some great guy for having it."
"And if I went to Tess and told her everything?"
Pete stared out of the window for a full minute before replying. "Then you'd still sort of be the same guy who's been my best friend since we were eight. I think that would have to count for something and I don't walk away from people I care about."
"I see." I took my soggy bag of peas and threw it on top of a packing box. There had been times when I'd imagined how this moment might feel, but I'd never guessed it would be like this. I hurt, and it wasn't just from the beating. But in another way it felt good too. Scary as hell, but good. "Well, that's nice to know." I shrugged. "'Cause I think after today, I'm probably not going to be seeing a lot of friendly faces for a while."
"It'll be for the best," Pete said seriously. "You know that's the truth."
I shook my head, "No, I don't, but I sure as shit hope you're right."
Telling Tess was somehow better and worse than I'd expected it would be. Pete was good to his word. He was there for me. He even went with me to her apartment, though he waited in the car. When I came out gray-faced 30 minutes later, he drove me home and then watched over me as I got totally, stinking drunk.
At least she'd reacted with anger; it was a lot easier to take than if she'd cried buckets or (God forbid) been understanding. Anyway, besides calling me every fag slur she could think of, (and she knew a lot, courtesy of her father) the one thing she'd been adamant on was that I better not open my mouth and tell people anything -- at least until everyone had forgotten she'd ever known my name.
But Tess hadn't figured on her Daddy. Apparently she hadn't waited long to call him with the happy news and he'd immediately pressured her into telling him exactly what the reason was for the abrupt change in plans. Of course, he'd been furious and after taking time out to call me and tell me precisely what kind of scum I was made of, he began to systematically let the rest of the world know why his darling daughter wasn't going to be wearing the white dress that had set him back six grand.
It didn't seem to matter to the old bastard that Tess begged him not to humiliate her like that. He was too bent on revenge to worry about something as trivial as her self-respect. He'd told me in his phone call that he wouldn't be satisfied until he'd told everybody what a pervert I was and I believed he was serious. Hell, I wouldn't have been surprised if he took a fucking ad out in the paper.
After that little conversation, Pete fielded the rest of the calls and finally decided to just turn off the ringer and let the machine pick up. Then he went for the second bottle of scotch when the two inches I'd had left in my old one wasn't enough to do the job. After he got back I don't remember much about the rest of the evening.
The next morning I woke up in my own bed. It had to be Pete again doing his good Samaritan impression because there was no way I'd been in any shape to get there under my own steam the night before. He'd even put a bucket by the bed, though, thank God, I hadn't needed it.
I staggered into the kitchen and found a fresh pot of coffee and a note:
Anyway, I made you some coffee cause I think you're going to need it! Now I'm going over to the tux shop and cancel the rentals. I called Bill and Mark too and told them their services wouldn't be necessary.
I called Amber and she said Tess was doing pretty good, all things considered. Her dad is really the main problem, but I guess you already figured that out. He's still majorly pissed, and Amber said if she were you, she wouldn't open the door without checking who was on the other side for a while.
Oops, almost forgot. Your dad called.
I waked over to the phone and looked at the answering machine beside it. Shit, 17 messages. They were going to have to wait. First I had to call my dad, I owed him that much at least.
I was just reaching for the phone when someone started pounding at my door. Remembering Amber's warning, I looked through the peephole first. Damn, it was Dad. I opened the door and was surprised when he grabbed and hugged me.
"I kept waiting for you to call." He said when he'd finally dropped his arms and negotiated his way through the mess of boxes on the floor to sit on my couch.
"You know," I guessed, and God, what a relief. I hadn't been sure how my dad would take the news that his younger son was gay. He wasn't as bigoted as Tess's dad, this was true, but I remembered the occasional slur when he'd see two guys being affectionate out in public and I'd never been really sure if that was just him making a bullshit comment or was a reflection of his real feelings about homosexuals.
"Yeah, I heard from... Christ, what's his name? That friend of yours from work. Mark - right? He called and said since he couldn't get a hold of you here, he thought maybe you were over at the house. Then he told me Tess had broken off the wedding. What happened? That old man of hers finally convince her you weren't good enough for her?"
Oh shit. Yeah, he knew about the engagement being over, but he didn't have a clue why. Instead he'd jumped to the conclusion that was easiest for him since he thought Tess's dad was as big an asshole as I did.
"No sir, that's not what happened."
It was the sir that tipped him off. Ever since my older brother, Trevor, and I had been kids we'd used the sir salutation when we were trying to grease our way out of some shit we'd pulled. Me using it was automatic, but it was a mistake I regretted the moment it passed my lips because I knew he'd know that whatever had happened, I'd been the one to instigate it.
"What did you do?"
Yeah, I was right.
"Look," I stalled, "do you want some coffee? Or maybe a drink? I have some scotch, I think." I looked around vaguely. I didn't think I'd drunk the whole second bottle, I was hung-over, but not as bad as I'd have been if I'd done that
"A drink? For Christ's sake Max, it's eleven o'clock in the morning. What the hell did you do if you think I need a drink now?
I sat down on the opposite side of couch and sighed. "It's not what I've done, well, okay yeah, that too, but..." I looked at him and saw there was real alarm in his face. And I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that told me it was only going to get worse.
"Dad, there's something I need to tell you. Something I maybe think I should have talked to you about a long time ago, but I was always so sure it wasn't that big a deal and..."
I stopped myself and took a deep breath. I had to face the truth now. The time for pretending was over.
"That's a lie."
"You aren't making any sense." Dad was scared. He sounded like he did when he told me my mom had cancer. "Whatever it is, just say it. I'm sure it's something we can work out."
He'd said that about my mother too. It hadn't been true then either. I looked him dead in the face and this time I didn't hesitate.
"Dad, I'm gay. I like guys. I always have."
It was only the second time I'd actually said the words and they shocked me as much as they did him. Tess had started screaming before I got the second sentence out, but my father just stared at me like I'd suddenly started speaking in tongues. But I knew that wouldn't last and I grabbed the top of the sofa and waited for the words to sink into his brain.
"No, that isn't so." He smiled at me.
Oh Christ, this was bad. It wasn't like he was denying it to himself; more like he was trying to convince me I was wrong. He didn't even sound upset. It was like it too much for him to grasp.
"You've always dated women. And Tess-look how long you and Tess..."
"Tess didn't know," I interrupted because I'd scream if he said one more word, "nobody did. I always hid it, but believe me, Dad, it's not something I'd be saying if it weren't true. And yesterday, I finally did tell her. I should have done that a long time ago, but it wasn't until yesterday that I finally got the balls to admit it to her - and I guess even to myself. That's why we aren't getting married anymore."
His mouth had dropped open during my little speech, but now he closed it and swallowed like it hurt. "How can you even know something like that? You've always been with women."
It was a stupid question and my father was normally smarter than that. But this had thrown him like nothing I'd ever put him through before. I could see that. It was too late to back down though, even if I'd wanted to.
"I have," I agreed and I found myself talking slowly like I was explaining something to a small child, or someone who was very, very hurt. "I've also been with men. Enough to know that they're what I really want."
I watched as the reality of what I'd just said registered. Then I watched as he turned him into an old man before my eyes. He stood, but had to hold onto the end of the couch to accomplish that maneuver. He walked carefully around the boxes until he got to the front door.
He turned and started to speak. "You had so much going for you. Everything was yours, just waiting to happen. I don't know why you'd go and throw it away."
"It doesn't feel like that, Dad," I wanted to try and explain, but he put his hand up to stop me.
"Don't. Just don't. I can't hear this right now. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to hear this." His voice was rough and there were tears running down his cheeks.
He cleared his throat but his words were still choked. "Do me a favor. Don't tell your brother. He doesn't need to know, not yet. I want you to really think about all of this. You know it might not be too late, you..."
"I'm gay, Dad."
My words affected him like a slap in the face, but they had to be said until he realized I meant them. "I hope you can accept that and still think of me as your son, but whatever you decide, I'm still -- I'm always -- going to be gay."
"And you'll always be my son," he mumbled and I had to strain to hear him. "I would never deny that. But as for the rest, I don't know." He looked one more time at me and this time when he spoke the words were only a whisper, but they were clear and easy to catch. "I just don't know." He shut the door gently behind him.
I sat on that couch for a long time after that. I might still be sitting there if Pete hadn't come back and banged on the door until I answered it. He'd brought groceries and a new fifth of scotch for me, and one of bourbon for himself and the news that most of the plans had been cancelled.
Ron had been busy. Pete said he'd been asked by half a dozen people if it was really true that I was gay. He stumbled over the last word and it didn't take a genius to figure out it probably wasn't the same one those folks had used. Surprisingly, I didn't give a rat's ass about that. I was still reeling from my father's reaction and there is only so much you can take in at one time.
Pete offered to stay the night again, but I told him it wasn't necessary. What I meant was that I didn't really know what to say to him right then and I couldn't see what good it would do for the two of us to sit around staring at each other all night. Last night the emotions had been so high, it hadn't mattered that our friendship was entering a whole new phase, but today was something else again. I think he felt it too. At least he did, judging by the relief on his face when I told him it was okay to leave.
After he'd gone I made a trip to the kitchen and poured myself a drink. Then I went back to my spot on the couch and looked around and wondered how I was ever going to survive this mess. Some of it was about the mechanics. I'd given up my lease on the apartment and I was either going to have to renew or find a new place pronto. The movers were due the next day too and that was something I'd totally forgotten about.
I looked at my watch. It was still early enough to call and cancel and while I was at it I grabbed the phone number of the leasing agency and told them about my change of plans. Everyone was really nice, but then why shouldn't they be? The landlord hadn't leased the place yet so all I had to do was agree to a fifty buck a month raise in rent and they were set. Same thing with the movers, there's a lot of understanding you can give when you're holding a five hundred dollar nonrefundable deposit check.
I added those amounts to my share of the down payment on the condo, the money I'd forked over for the booze for the reception, the ring, the new couch and the trip to Hawaii I was never going to use, and I began to realize that not only was this whole honesty thing incredibly painful, it was damned expensive too.
But as I sat there and drank it wasn't my financial losses that I thought about. It was the anger in Tess's face and the sorrow in my dad's that haunted me. Even the confused looks Pete shot at me when he thought I wouldn't notice. I felt like smashing something -- or maybe I just wanted to cry. I chose door number three and poured myself another drink.
The next morning I woke up with another hangover and a stiff neck. Pete hadn't been there to help me to my bed so I'd slept on the couch. I staggered into the bathroom. As I stood at the john, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. Jesus, I could have qualified for a role in Night of the Living Dead if they decided to do a remake. I was covered in bruises and had the shiner from hell. I made my way to the kitchen to see if there was anything in there that was A, edible and B, something my stomach would agree to keep down. I shouldn't have bothered. The only things I found were the remains of the liquor. I shrugged and poured myself a stiff one.
That became the pattern of my days. I won't say I got stinking drunk all the time, but I did manage to remain pleasantly numb. I ignored the messages on my machine and when they filled it, I deleted them unheard. I didn't even leave the house. There was a drugstore a couple blocks away and for five bucks I could get one of the clerks to deliver the liquor I required to keep myself anesthetized. He even went to the grocery store for me a couple of times so I wouldn't starve to death.
I couldn't go on like that forever though and I knew it. Eleven days after I'd come out of the closet I decided that maybe it was time to come out of my apartment, too. I showered and shaved and went into the living room and looked around. My watch was on the coffee table and I picked it up and looked at it. One P.M. Today I was supposed to be getting home from my honeymoon. Tess's parents had been going to throw us a big welcome home dinner and then we were going to finally have our first night in our new place. I put it out of my mind. Last night had been the end of my pity party. I'd promised myself that. Today was a new beginning and corny as that sounds, I was actually kind of looking forward to getting started.
I decided to start out with something easy. The kid from the drugstore had kept me supplied with frozen pizzas and burritos, but I was ready for more substantial fare. I sat down and made out a grocery list, but it wasn't as much of a piece of cake as I'd thought it would be. Who knew a list of food could be made up of so many symbols of how my life had changed? First, I realized I could go back to buying two percent instead of the skim milk Tess always insisted on. Then there was the whole Mayo vs. Miracle Whip controversy we'd never really been able to get over. I could now buy all the hot sauce I wanted without having to hear her lecture about how I was killing my taste buds, and I guess I was officially back to eating pork too.
Then a thought occurred to me and I stopped. Dev's caramel corn. We'd gone through the last bag almost a month ago. I deliberately hadn't replaced it because I didn't want any leftovers around to remind me of him. Should I pick up more now? The question seemed very important and suddenly I knew I had to have a definitive answer. I almost picked up the phone, and then decided on something better.
It was stupid I supposed, but I hadn't gotten a hold of him. Part of me had really wanted to. After all, he was probably the one person on earth who would actually be happy about my change of status. I'd thought about calling him, had even picked up the phone a time or two, but something had always stopped me. I guess I hadn't been ready to take that next step in admitting who I really was, at least not until that morning.
Dev lived in Parkton, just a couple of blocks from The Station. He lived in an Arts and Crafts bungalow that had been converted into a duplex more than fifty years ago. It was owned by an aging queen who lived with his partner in the other half. The plumbing sucked, but the architectural details were superb. I'd always been jealous of Dev's place, even though the neighborhood was really too bohemian (translation: gay) for my tastes. It was a great house though, and Dev's apartment was comfortable and large. I could easily see us sharing it and... I stopped myself. There was a lot of emotional baggage to sort through before we could start thinking about me packing my clothes for real.
That didn't scare me though, today seemed like the best day of my life. I was finally free to be me, whatever the hell that meant. I parked and had to keep myself from running up the sidewalk to his door, I was that eager to see him. I was also terrified. It suddenly occurred to m that I really wasn't sure about what kind of reception I was going to get and honestly, I didn't think I'd blame him if he just slammed the door in my face.
I took a deep breath and knocked on the door. No answer. That didn't mean much, Dev was a late sleeper on the days he didn't work and his bedroom was way in the back of the railroad car apartment. I pounded harder and tried to ignore the sick feeling I had in my stomach that had nothing to do with last night's booze.
"You know, you can break down the fucking door and that still isn't going to get you anywhere," Keith, Dev's landlord, leaned back against his own door and took a deep drag from the cigarette he never seemed to take out of his mouth. "Except onto my shit list."
I didn't waste my breath saying hi. Keith had never liked me much and I wasn't about to add his name to my Christmas list either. He and his long time lover, Nate, were both pushing 50, and what they lacked in youth and beauty, they more than made up for in sarcasm and smart assed jibes. He wasn't -- in his own words -- "One to take much in the way of shit."
Devlin thought they were funnier than hell and had even told me once he hoped he'd be as cool as they were when he reached their age. I couldn't see it, myself.
"Gone." Keith smiled evilly and flicked an ash off the front porch.
"No shit," I retorted, "I figured that one out myself. I meant, when will he be back?"
"Hon, you didn't figure out anything. I mean gone -- as in forever."
"What?" I wanted to believe he was just being a mean bastard trying to jerk my chain, but there was a certain malicious delight in his eyes that told me he was telling me the truth.
"He moved out, darlin'. This morning. Had a moving van here and everything. Truck left about a half hour ago. Dev took off in his car a few minutes later. Don't know if he's coming back, but I doubt it."
"I don't believe you."
Keith shrugged, "Suit yourself, but I don't know why you're so damned surprised. You were moving on. Guess Dev thought it was time he did the same."
I swear I heard the bastard laughing as I jumped off the porch and went around to the side to look through Dev's living room window. There was nothing there, but a vacuum cleaner sitting in the corner and a box full of trash.
So it was true. I sagged against the cool brick of the building and tried to pull myself together. A memory flitted across my brain of the last time I'd seen Dev sitting at the head of that table in Angelo's. There was a cake and presents; I'd assumed it was somebody's birthday, but it could just as easily have been a farewell party.
I remembered something else -- late night discussions about grad school and teaching. Hell, I'd even encouraged him to apply. He'd never said he would though, and then the wedding started taking up more and more of my time and attention and I'd never bothered to ask about it again.
Oh Jesus, I didn't know what I was going to do. While I'd pictured a lot of different scenarios going on between us, I'd never thought that this would be one of them. Still, I had to admit it made sense. In his position I might have done exactly the same thing. After all Dev had no idea how capable I was of fucking up my life. I'd like to think if he had, he'd have stuck around to help pick up the pieces.
After a few minutes of self-pity I pulled myself together and walked around again to the front of the building. Keith disappeared, presumably into his on side of the house. I took a deep breath and stepped up onto the porch. This time I picked the door on the right to knock on.
"You still here?" Keith looked at me with annoyance, but I barely registered it.
"Where did he go?" My voice was hoarse.
"Why the fuck do you care, Max? I thought you were done with him. With us. Gonna have a real life." The sarcasm was heavy, but underlying it was something I'd rather not face.
I shook my head, "Don't, okay? I know you don't like me very much. You-you probably have a good reason." I took a deep breath and decided to pretend this didn't bother me. "But I don't give a shit about how you feel about me, I'm only asking that, just this once, you give me a break and tell me where Dev went." I tried to fight it, but my shoulders started to shake and my eyes filled with tears. I dropped my head so the older man wouldn't see. Then I swallowed hard and forced the last word out of my mouth. "Please."
He was silent. It didn't surprise me. I guess I knew I didn't deserve anything more from him. I started to leave. Keith reached out and stopped me with a touch to my shoulder. I looked at his face, for the first time the mocking look was gone from his eyes.
"Give him a break, okay?" His voice was quiet, almost gentle.
It pissed me off. "Believe it or not, I'm not here to cause trouble."
"Maybe not," he agreed calmly, refusing to get pissy back, "and maybe I'm sticking my nose in where it has no business. But before you go running after Dev and make him forget about everything but the shape of your ass, I hope you'll think about what's best for him."
I felt my cheeks flush. "God, you really do hate me, don't you?"
Keith cocked an eyebrow at me and laughed softly. "I don't know you that well. Not likely to, either."
I could feel my face turning red. Damn, I so wanted away from him, but I couldn't go until I found something out. "Yeah, well, just give me Dev's new address and you won't have to ever know me better."
He shrugged. "I don't have it."
"Think what you want." Keith made a production out of lighting another cigarette. "But I'm telling you, he doesn't have a place yet. This whole thing happened pretty quickly and there wasn't time."
"Okay," I bought it reluctantly, "then at least tell me where he's gone."
Keith blew a smoke ring and watched as it curled up and dissolved, then looked at me like he was surprised I was still there. Finally he sighed. "Las Vegas."
"What?" That wasn't the answer I was expecting.
"I said, Las Vegas. UNLV. School starts in a week. He couldn't make up his mind. Didn't even tell me about it until a month ago."
"You were still ahead of me." I said bitterly, and turned to leave.
"Jesus," Keith swore and I stopped in my tracks. "You're unbelievable, you know that? You think you have the right to be upset after what you've put that poor kid through?"
"Me?" I didn't need this shit and there was no way I was going to take if from this guy. "I didn't do anything to Dev that he didn't want as much as I did."
"Right," he snorted, "You're a damn saint. You didn't do shit. You came around here, shaking that tight little butt of yours, saying one thing, doing exactly the opposite. Making him think -- hope -- that maybe you'd change your mind. And then when you do, do you come to him? Call him? Say one goddamn word to him that tells him maybe you really do care a little bit about what he can give you besides a hard-on?" His eyes narrowed and he blew out a big stream of smoke. "Yeah, that's right. We knew what happened. Good news travels quick in this dumb ass town and bad news even faster."
I shook my head and tried to speak, but Keith wouldn't be interrupted.
"He waited you know. After Jesse came over and told him what happened. Ten days he waited. That's why everything was so rushed." Keith's voice was precise and cold. "All those messages on your answering machine. He would have gone to you, but he wanted to give you space. Didn't matter, he said, you'd call him. He really believed that." He shrugged. "I never did myself, but for his sake I wanted..." He stopped and stubbed out his cigarette. "Well, it doesn't matter now does it?"
"I didn't know." I thought of all the times I'd deleted messages without listening and felt like throwing up.
"Like I said," his shoulders sagged and now he didn't look mad, only tired, "it doesn't matter anymore."
He turned and walked back into his house. I stumbled off the porch and found my way to my car more by luck than anything else. I was on automatic pilot, too obsessed with the words going around and around in my head. Dev had waited for me. And I, selfish to the end, hadn't even thought about what he might be going through. Jesus. I guess I could make an argument for myself; say I was so traumatized that I wasn't thinking rationally. But it would just be another lie. I'd thought about calling Dev, but I'd put it off because I didn't feel like dealing with him right then. All I wanted was a big ass pity party and it wasn't till I'd indulged myself that I'd come to see him. It had never occurred to me that he might have other plans, that his life might have some options in it that didn't include me.
Somehow I made it back home. I stumbled into the kitchen and grabbed my new best friend, Johnny Walker. I didn't even bother with a glass, but when the liquor hit my mouth I gagged and spit it out in the sink. I put the bottle down. This time, I didn't think it was going to help me with this last blow to my psyche.
I walked into the living room. The boxes I'd packed so many weeks ago still sat there. I was tempted to load them into my car and just drive away. A new start in a new town, maybe some place with some life. Some place like Vegas.
The answering machine was blinking. The calls had died off in the last week. I'd still not answered them of course and had been routinely hitting the delete button before a voice could be heard. I wondered what I'd have heard if I hadn't done that. I wondered if it would have made any difference.
Now there was one message. I reached over and punched the play button. I was going to delete this one too, after all what was the point? My finger stopped an inch above the button though and I felt sick as I heard the voice on the tape.
"Max, it's Dev again. I don't know why I'm calling you like this. God knows you don't seem to want to talk to me. I, I guess I just need to finish this. I promise though, I won't bother you again."
I winced, but I couldn't blame him for thinking that.
"Anyway, this is goodbye in more ways than one. I'm moving. Going out to Las Vegas can you believe it? And not to play black jack, I got accepted in the grad program there.I'm going to finish up my MS and then maybe go straight for a PhD. I don't know for sure yet if I'll be able to swing that financially, but that's the plan." He laughed a little sadly. "Course it may end up being a total bust and next week I'll be back at The Station warming up my favorite stool but, I just wanted to tell you in case this does work out and you ever wonder what happened to me. "
I looked longingly at the kitchen and wished I'd brought the bottle into the living room with me. Dev kept on speaking into the tape.
"Max..." His voice cracked, but he cleared it and calmly continued. "Max, I want to tell you something. I realize now that regardless of how I felt about you, it wasn't the same on your side. That's okay; by the way, I've dealt with it. But I wanted you to know that I still hope that someday you find somebody and that when you do, you'll tear down that wall you were always going on about. I mean it's great to say it's a way to not get hurt, but Jesus, isn't it lonely?" He stopped talking and the machine clicked off.
I sat there for a long time in that quiet room. It was the middle of the afternoon and everybody in my building seemed to be at work or school. The stillness was complete. Even my tears were silent.
"So how about that one?" Jesse leaned over me and practically purred as he looked at the stud muffin with the long blond hair not six feet away from us.
"He's hot," I agreed. "You should go for him."
Jesse's frown was apparent even in the poor light around the bar. "I didn't mean for me. I meant for you."
"Nah, I'm not in the mood. Besides," I winked, "it's not my ass he's been checking out every time I lean over the bar to filch an orange wedge."
"I told you I didn't get time to eat dinner." Jesse's answer was prompt, but his attention and his eyes were on Surfer Boy. "You really mean it. He's been looking at my ass?"
"Cross my heart."
Jesse smiled at me nervously then turned and started to walk towards his night's desire. He stopped and glanced back at me with a wink and a grin and I laughed back. But my smile didn't last as long as it took him to turn around. I was bored and I wondered what the hell I was doing there again for the fourth night in a row. Of course I knew the answer to that, but sometimes it's easier to pretend.
It's been six months since that final message on my answering machine. A lot has changed, but a lot hasn't. Tess hasn't spoken to me since I told her I was gay and my Dad still has a hard time meeting my eyes. I went back to work though and they didn't give a rat's ass about my sexual preferences as long as I kept selling houses. I made some new friends to make up for the ones I lost and some of the people who'd stopped talking to me started again.
Pete is still around, though it's awkward and I rarely see him. He started dating Tess a couple of months ago. Not exactly a big surprise I guess, but for obvious reasons, we aren't as close as we once were.
Dev never called again and after a couple of sleepless nights, I decided Keith was right and that I should give him a break and let him go. He does keep in contact with Jesse, who tells me he's doing fine and loves the hot winters. Jess doesn't elaborate and I don't push it either. I know it's for the best, but I kept that last message tape and I have to confess, I've listened to it more than once.
I spend a lot of time at The Station these days. Why not? I have nothing to hide. I sit at the bar and watch the parade of men who walk past me and I admit I'm tempted. Sometimes I don't fight it either. I tell myself it would be stupid not to try and get on with things. But somehow I always end up regretting it. The sex may be great, but afterwards most of them are as eager to split as I used to be and the ones that aren't make me want to run. Seems like nobody has much of a taste for after-sex caramel corn either.
So most of the time I watch the bartender, Neal, and the smooth way he has of pouring bourbon and sympathy into his customers. I nod to the other regulars who acknowledge me now that they know I'm not just slumming, and I laugh with Jesse and assure him that blue really is his color. I even have a sort of wary friendship with Keith; though I think that surprises us both and we'd die before we'd admit it to each other.
But mainly I study the door,
waiting for a tall guy with black curly hair and blue eyes so warm they
could melt the filings in your teeth, to walk in. Night after night, I
wait for him to come back. It doesn't seem to matter that I know he never
Authors note: I'd like to thank the Academy...
Oops, wrong speech.
As always, thanks to Nick Archer for giving me a great place to showcase my work and for all the help and advice he's given me late at night when all my other friends have deserted me. If you've never visited Archerland then you're really missing a great place to read. I'd also like to thank Papyrophile for his wonderful emails--Scruffy, you really made this a better story. Then there's Keith, the writer formerly known as Mystery. You rode my ass and gave me grief every single day, but look what happened... I finally finished something! Finally, I'd like to tip my hat to all the readers out there who have written me and encouraged me to continue to write. I do appreciate it folk,s and I promise I'll keep plugging away. Email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.