SUMMARY: At a time of national turmoil, the lives of four boys become connected as each struggles to accept his sexuality and to address the challenges he faces in life. To the extent the boys succeed in coming to grips with those challenges, it may be in ways that prove surprising or troubling. This story is also being published on my blog and you can find a longer synopsis there. While some events, locations and features in the story have been moved forward or back in time for dramatic and other purposes, it takes place during an era when prejudice against homosexuals is rampant and the gay revolution in America is still in its infancy. Italics are typically used within the story to indicate what a character is thinking or saying to himself. Any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental.
WARNING: Sex is not the primary focus of this story. If you're looking for erotic content, you'll do much better with other stories on Nifty. While sexual content is secondary and incidental, the story does include some scenes that depict sex and violence, sometimes graphically depending upon the characters and circumstances involved. For that reason, the story is intended for mature audiences only. If you do not wish to read such material or it is illegal for you to do so, please look elsewhere. The story remains the property of the author and may not be reproduced in any form without written permission. It is protected by the copyright laws of the United States and other countries. You may download a single copy to read offline and to share with others as long as you credit me as the author, but you may not use this work for commercial purposes. You may not use any of the characters, bars or other fictional locations described in the story in your own work without my explicit permission. Nor may you use, alter, transform, or build upon this story in any way.
AUTHOR NOTES: This is my first effort at writing a story. As a general rule, I only plan to publish one chapter a week, usually on Thursdays. The latest chapter will always be posted on my blog before being published here. You may want to bookmark the location of my blog in the event you cannot find the story here at some point in the future and you wish to continue reading it: https://cafepalermoannex.wordpress.com. Thanks to Robert Frost again for the use of one of his very beautiful poems. As chapters go, this one is relatively short, but take your time with it because you'll need the foundation it provides to appreciate what happens down the road. There is a lot going on in the chapter and it doesn't happen in an especially linear fashion. Mostly it takes place inside Andy's head, but it jumps back and forth in time and covers several different events, all of which are important. So take your time reading it. As always, comments and constructive criticism are welcome. Flames will be ignored. Have fun reading and feel free to let me know what you think by leaving a comment over at my blog or contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading the story. I hope you enjoy it.
THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER: In Chapter 31, Tommy approaches the stranger and sits down at his table. His name turns out to be Andy, but he's shy and nervous around Tommy. That suits Tommy just fine. He tries to keep Andy on edge by asking a lot of questions and then putting him on the spot about exactly what he's looking for. Andy invites Tommy back to his place in the Maryland suburbs, but Tommy refuses. As an alternative, he suggests the bathroom at Exiles & Castaways, shocking Andy in the process. Tommy gets up and walks over to the bathroom. Turning, he smiles at Andy and goes in. He's surprised when Andy follows, but the two enter one of the stalls together. Tommy strips off his t-shirt, then Andy's. Later, Andy takes off Tommy's shorts. The two have sex multiple times in the stall, with Tommy finding himself surprised by just how much he enjoys the whole thing. Later, after a brief but strange discussion, Andy leaves the bar while Tommy rejoins Sean and Teddy. The evening ends with the three of them walking back toward the Palermo.
Part IV - Virtues and Vices, Public and Private
I had been staring at the thing for a couple of minutes, just waiting patiently there for it to happen; and then the numbers rolled over from 4:59 to 5:00 a.m. That was the time every morning the radio clicked on, but on that particular morning I remember cursing the damn thing, then groaning.
Most of the time I was anxious to hear the very first morning reports on the news. It gave you a leg up if you knew what the storyline was going to be for the next twenty-four hours in Washington. But that Tuesday morning I was tired, boned tired.
The last time I had looked at the clock the numbers had read 2:34 a.m. so it didn’t exactly come as a surprise I was tired. But I was so fucking tired that morning I contemplated skipping the gym entirely and not going running either. Another ninety minutes of sleep would feel good, really good.
I started to close my eyes, but then I remembered. I had a meeting with the Congressman that morning and needed to prepare for that. Reluctantly, I dragged myself out of bed and looked in the mirror.
Ugh, I remember muttering to myself!
You’re getting so damn fat, Andy. That’s what happens when you get old like me. Once you hit thirty you get fat and totally out of shape, and no one even bothers looking at you anymore. You’re dead meat on Washington’s meat market and you might as well just crawl off somewhere and die.
So forget it, I remember thinking! There's no fucking way you can afford to skip your workout routine for even one lousy day, you dumb fuck. Get that ass of yours moving, I told myself. Now!
I pulled on my shorts and sneakers, quickly ran through all of my warm-ups, and headed out of the building for the run through the woods along Sligo Creek Parkway, then the final jog up New Hampshire Avenue. That brought me over to the gym on University Boulevard where I continued to torture myself for the next sixty minutes, half on the elliptical and half lifting the weights that supposedly worked my lower torso and ass. From the looks of things in the mirror, they needed the work the most, I thought, especially that ass of mine.
As I started the second half of my run back to the apartment building, I remember thinking I should call Jan. I needed to get out of that apartment and the sooner the better as far as I was concerned. It had been nice enough when I first came to Washington and I still couldn’t complain about the rent I was paying. But the whole neighborhood seemed to be going downhill rapidly now.
I wanted to find something in D.C. that would put me closer to things, but didn’t have the time to look for myself. That’s why I had hired Jan, to do the looking for me. But we hadn’t touched base in a while.
When I got back to my place, I took another look in the mirror before slathering on the shaving cream that morning. I didn’t like what I saw.
You are so freaking ugly, Andy, I remember thinking. No wonder no one ever wants to sleep with you, dude. You need to start wearing a bag over your head when you go to those bars.
The shower that morning was definitely what I needed. I just stood there relaxing, letting it warm me up, allowing my mind to drift off.
Why, Andy, I remember asking? Why?
I had asked that question so many times before.
Why had my brother done that? I remember wondering at the time.
And then, years later, why had I done it?
Why was I queer? I wondered.
Why had God made me this way?
After that there had been so many whys. They rained down on me in buckets and finally, in despair, I had willed myself to stop asking them and retreated into myself.
It had worked for a time, a long time in fact. Even after I came to Washington, I was able to hide from the whys for more than a year. And even after I could no longer stand the pain and pushed open the door to that bar in Georgetown one evening, I had managed to continue hiding from them.
I remember telling myself it was okay to look. There was nothing wrong with just looking. I promised myself I would just look and I kept that promise for a very long time.
And then one evening at the Hide & Seek I had seen him standing there alone and confused, trying to figure out what he was seeing. He was so innocent, so sweet, just standing there alone in his soldier boy uniform wondering whether he was in the right place.
And being so sweet and innocent, so totally devoid of deception and guile, he had never even noticed me studying him from a distance. I had studied him carefully that evening, more carefully than I had ever studied any of the boys in that bar before, trying to figure out how to seduce him. Like I said, he didn’t even know I was doing it.
He stood there alone surveying the place, trying to figure out why it was different from all of the other bars he had ever been to. I knew why he was there even before he knew it. He was there looking for some comfort. I only learned the details later, that he was trying to escape what he had seen over there, trying to escape the pain of what he had done over there when he had finally aimed so carefully that very first time and pulled the trigger like they had taught him to do.
It had come as a shock when the body jerked involuntarily, then crumpled to the ground and stopped moving.
He didn’t really know why he was there at the Hide & Seek that first evening back home in the States. Someone had suggested the place to him and he knew the drinks would help him forget. There were just enough girls standing around to avoid scaring him off at first. But then he began noticing just how many men there were, so many men, and he knew they were different somehow.
Like I said, I didn’t know all of that until later, of course, not until Jesse was finally able to tell me. But I knew he was there looking for comfort even before he knew; and when he didn’t leave after surveying the place, I had taken advantage of what I knew. I had approached and asked him whether he had ever run into a friend of mine who happened to be in the Army as well. He didn’t, of course. There was no friend. But he was glad to have someone to talk to.
We talked some about nothing much for a while and eventually he asked whether I had ever smoked weed; and if I had and liked doing that, was there someplace private where we could go to smoke some of his weed that night? So I had invited him back to my place that evening, turned down the lights, and we had sat there a long time listening to the music and smoking the weed. And then, when he was finally stoned just enough to provide the excuse I knew he would need in the morning, the two of us had gotten naked and done what he didn’t even know he wanted to do but ended up liking that evening.
Why, Andy, I remember asking myself at my moment of triumph, the moment when Jesse pressed forward one final time and then, having experienced something he had never experienced before, collapsed on top of me, the hunger he didn’t even know was there finally satiated, his body exhausted in a way he would remember forever?
Why I remember asking as he drifted off to sleep that evening, his arms wrapped so tightly around me, unwilling to let me move away, clinging to me as if to life itself? And just by asking that single why it had brought all of the rest of the whys flooding back. I seemed to be drowning in them that evening, no longer able to hold back that tidal wave of whys.
For the next month I ignored them as best I could. Because Jesse didn’t invoke the excuse as I had thought he would do the next morning. It turned out Jesse needed someone to hold and comfort him for more than one night. He needed someone to hold and comfort him every night as the darkness rolled in during his R&R back in the States.
I had tried to ease Jesse’s pain, tried to let him be the little boy he so desperately wanted to be again, to avoid the guilt the man within was experiencing because the body had jerked involuntarily, then crumpled to the ground and stopped moving.
Looking back on it now, I had deluded myself into thinking it had helped. Jesse had seemed so happy when I saw him off at the airport that very last day. He was telling me how much he loved me, promising he would be home really soon, and how we would spend the rest of our lives together.
There had been a couple of letters after that, discreet letters, of course, because both of us knew just how careful we had to be. But they had been love letters, no doubt about it. And then there was silence. It was only much later I learned what had happened.
I had finally succeeded in getting the telephone number of his parents in that small town he called home in North Carolina. I had worked up the courage to call them and told them I was a friend; and just because I was his friend, they told me.
First there had been the discharge, not because they had found out about us but because he couldn’t do it anymore. He couldn’t lift the rifle and point it like they had taught him to do. He couldn’t squeeze the trigger like they wanted him to do. They had discharged him and sent him back home to his parents so there would no longer be any distractions, so he could think about the body that had crumpled to the ground and stopped moving twenty-four hours a day.
The shame had consumed him because the body that had jerked involuntarily, then crumpled to the ground and stopped moving had been that of a ten year old boy out gathering firewood for his family.
So Jesse was finally home at last, but he couldn’t escape the torment. He had walked a couple of miles that evening to the bridge just outside the town limits. I remember wondering how long Jesse stood on that bridge or whether he had even thought about me that evening, if only briefly? And then it was over, the pain was gone. I remember hating myself for not being there for him.
His parents had invited me to come by if I ever happened to be in the area. And I knew I would visit that town someday so I could finally say my good-bye to Jesse. But, for the moment, I was just left with more whys.
Why, Andy, I asked? Why hadn’t you been there when he needed someone?
I remember making the promise again once I learned what had happened to Jesse.
No more, I said to myself. I was finished with it now, once and for all.
There were too many other things in life that were much too important, like ending the fucking war that had claimed Jesse’s life and continued to claim more lives every day.
It was something that would give meaning and purpose to my life, I knew, not those random hookups my body was constantly aching for.
I’m not going back to those bars ever again.
And I had been good about it for a long time, thrown myself into my work with renewed passion and energy.
Like a lot of people, I had been against the war from the very beginning in some vaguely intellectual way, some way safely disconnected from everything else that was important to me. But Jesse had changed all of that. He had connected the war to my life now. A couple of days later I marched into the Congressman’s office and told him we needed to talk.
We needed to get engaged, I told him. America had lost its way and something needed to change. And then I had spent the next hour explaining exactly what the war was doing to America and why it was time for the two of us to try to make some kind of difference.
No one had been courageous enough to stand up and tell the truth. All of his colleagues were burying their heads in the sand, hiding behind those ridiculous, non-binding, resolutions that covered their asses but made absolutely no difference at all on the ground. There was a vacuum of leadership that needed to be filled by someone with enough moral courage to seize it. It was time for him to step forward, I told him, time to do what he could to change what was happening.
It had surprised me at the end when he agreed. He had never been a crusader. He was a quiet, decent, man who believed in America because America had made him everything he was and, unlike me, he liked who he was. He had wanted to give something back and had run for office intending to do so. He had been in the House of Representatives for a long time now and in all of that time he had never taken the lead on any big issue. But he had contributed in his own way all those years, small contributions, the kind appropriate for a man who was quiet and decent.
He had told me we would lose and I already knew that. We only got 136 votes for our amendment to cut off funding for the war that first year. We needed 218. We had lost again the second year as well. But it had become an issue in the Presidential campaign and I was proud when our nominee had said she would have voted for our amendment if she had been in the House.
But now there was this.
My mind drifted back to the previous evening.
I wasn’t even sure why I had decided to visit the place that night. I had been at the office forever that day, never finishing up until 10:45 p.m.
A drink would be good right about now, I had told myself, but where?
I had heard about the place from friends, heard how it attracted a different crowd than the dance bars I was use to going to. It wasn’t the Palermo Café, of course, which was only minutes away. I knew better than to go to that kind of place. I could still recall the conversation Kevin and I had about that.
Kevin’s favorite bar was Outlaws and he had offered to take me there one evening. I remember the two of us driving down 13th Street, then turning on to New York Avenue. As we made the turn, I noticed a lot of young boys congregating outside a bar across from the bus terminal.
“What’s that place?” I asked, as I continued to stare at the boys.
“That’s the Café Palermo,” Kevin responded. “You don’t want to go there. Ever!”
“Why not?” I asked.
“Let’s just say that it’s all business all the time at the Palermo,” Kevin responded. “And it’s not the kind of business you want to get involved with,” he added.
“Drugs?” I asked.
“Oh, for sure,” Kevin responded. “But mostly it’s a place where hustlers and their clients transact business; and since you’re much too good looking to have to pay for sex, it just isn’t the kind of place you would have any reason to visit. It’s a place for Washington's white trash.”
So we continued on until we reached 9th and then turned south.
Unlike Kevin, I didn’t really like Outlaws very much. But they said Exiles & Castaways was different and it wasn’t the Palermo after all. There was nothing lower than the Palermo. Everybody in D.C. knew that. Still, I was kind of lonely that evening and I needed a drink after all. So that’s how I had ended up at Exiles & Castaways that night around 11 p.m.
I knew I had made a mistake right away when I walked into the place. Looking for love on a Monday was never a good idea. Except for three figures concealed by the shadows, the place was completely deserted.
I had been drafting a speech for the congressman most of the day and had finally just given up in frustration. When I saw how empty the place was, I thought about leaving. But I was tired. I decided to order a drink and rest my legs for a spell. By that time I was used to being alone with my thoughts in the bars.
I sat down at a table with a view of the entire place. It only took a minute for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. When they did, I glanced across the room. To my surprise, the shadows had been concealing three boys and that brightened my mood considerably. All three of the boys were cute. Most boys are cute, of course, but these three were definitely the cream of the crop.
My eyes quickly focused in on one of them and he caught me staring at him. I glanced away immediately, of course, embarrassed to have been caught like that. But my eyes knew what they liked and returned soon enough for more. He smiled when he caught me staring again, then turned away to catch the words being directed at him by his friends.
He was about my height, as best I could tell, but his t-shirt revealed a frame somewhat thinner than mine. Somewhere between 16 and 18, I guessed, but definitely passable for younger. He had black hair that was cut kind of short. Unlike mine, which were totally conventional, his clothes made him look like a bad boy. I recall being turned on by them and wondering whether he really was a bad boy. It was definitely part of the attraction.
I guess there was nothing very special about what he was wearing. Lots of guys wore faded blue jean shorts, but his were being held up by a silver studded black leather belt that called attention to his waist, which was both incredibly thin and a perfect match for his shoulders, which were broad.
Still, the real attraction for me was the choir boy face and the grin. What a grin!
I pondered the possibilities for a moment and there didn’t really seem to be any. I suppose someone bolder would have just walked over to his table and said hi. But I wasn’t about to risk any more pain and rejection. In the end, there just wasn’t a more appealing approach so I fell back on the usual one. I stared at him from a distance, hoping for some response. But no response was forthcoming over the course of the next hour or so.
And then, when I had abandoned all hope and was thinking of leaving, the kid had come over and sat down at my table and started talking to me and he was so cute and I had followed him into bathroom and the next thing I knew it had happened and I was leaving the place. It made me wonder.
Why had I done it? I asked myself. Why, Andy? Yeah, sure, the kid was a cutie, no doubt about it, gorgeous actually, to be perfectly honest about it.
But, Jesus Christ, Andy, you had never sunk that low before. Sex in a bathroom stall? At a gay bar just one step removed from the Palermo Café? Down on your knees sucking some young kid off? Jesus fucking Christ, I remember berating myself! The next thing you know you’ll be paying one of those cute little fuckers for the privilege of sucking their cock. Just like all the rest of the old trolls who hang out at the Palermo.
Come on, Andy, I chided myself. Is that the best you can do? What happened to all those ideals that had brought you to Washington? How much lower were you going to sink before they shoveled some dirt over the box they had placed you in and told everyone how you had made a real difference in life by getting down on your knees in a bathroom stall and helping some cute boy get off in your mouth?
You are such a pathetic fuck, Andy! Everything you touch you screw up. Do you think you could actually get back to doing something decent for a change?
Somehow I had gotten confused when I left the bar and ended up walking off in the wrong direction. It was a couple of minutes before I figured it out. I turned around and headed back the opposite way. Eventually I found my car, climbed in, and headed it down New York Avenue toward 13th Street. That’s where I spotted the kid and his friends, just up the street in front of me. They were headed the same way, toward the Palermo.
I’m not really sure why, but I slowed down and followed them at a distance for some reason. When the three of them got to the Palermo, they split up. Tommy had raced across the street and headed down an alley toward the back door of one of those aging high rises that bordered 13th Street. I watched him go in and disappear into the darkness. When I got to 13th Street, I turned north toward Maryland.
I tried not to think about what had happened on the drive to Takoma Park that evening. But I couldn’t get it out of my mind. Yeah, sure, I knew it must have fulfilled some need deep within. There was no denying it. I had liked it, no doubt about it. It had been really exciting and just so intense. And I knew exactly why it had happened. It had happened because the kid was perfect. Everything about him was perfect.
He had a perfect body, not exactly ripped but firm and just slightly muscular like me. He had perfect hair and perfect eyes, a perfect nose and most especially a perfect mouth with perfect lips and a perfect smile. Just like its individual components, his whole fucking face was perfectly perfect and so fucking cute, so incredibly cute!
Where the hell do they grow kids like that I wondered?
And that smile! How the hell could they let anyone with a smile like that loose on the world? That smile made him look like some little angel from heaven and that’s what made him so incredibly dangerous, of course. One minute you would just be standing there, soaking in the warmth from that smile. And then, before you even knew what had happened, you would be down on the floor, totally naked, with your legs up in the air, letting the little fucker do the nastiest stuff he could think of to you, still totally entranced by that smile, still thinking what a perfect little angel he was.
There was no denying it, of course. Everything about him was right. Like me, he was neither tall nor short, just kind of small, and that was good because that’s how I liked them. He was in shape, with just the beginnings of real muscles being noticeable.
He was also incredibly smooth except for his pubes and his pits, and what he had in those places actually enhanced the attraction for me. If he had told me the truth, he was exactly the right age for me. Because by now even I knew that I had a fondness for boys and being eighteen or nineteen was exactly the kind of protection someone like me needed. But he had probably lied, I remember thinking. He looked sixteen at most.
Like I said, he was young and he was cute and he was perfect; and that’s what made him so dangerous. He was exactly the kind of kid I needed to stay away from.
I remember sighing as I stepped out of the shower and began drying myself off. I promised myself right then and there that I would never go back to that bar again.
I had been smart enough to stay away from the Palermo all these years. Going back to Exiles & Castaways would just be asking for trouble.
It was a mistake, Andy. You know it. Accept it, dude, you’re human. People make mistakes all the time. The important thing is to learn from your mistakes. Not going back would show that you had.
I knew that and I remember being relieved once I had made the decision.
By now I was beginning to feel a little better, a little less tired. The despair was beginning to retreat momentarily. It would come back, of course. The despair was always there, lurking. It always came back. I just couldn’t afford to dwell on it any more. I had to get to the office and get myself prepared for my meeting with the Congressman that morning.
It was important, the only thing in my life that was decent and good. And yes, it made me despair as well, not because of my sins, but because of Jesse and the sins of my country. But at least I was trying to make a difference; at least I was trying to put things right for America.
Wasn’t that the important thing after all?