I was eighteen, a senior in high school...and I was hopelessly in love—but no one in my family knew because it was with my best friend Jay. As far as my parents knew, we were just best friends—I'd even helped his family over the summer doing work on their farm, often spending the night...but the only people who knew we shared the same bed were his family and our close friends, who were also gay. My birthday came on the first Saturday of August, and I had to smile at the changes since I'd met my elskede—I was tanned, and my muscles had filled out some thanks to baling hay and helping with other chores such as helping Jay tend their kitchen garden, which was pretty large. He'd even talked me into doing a small one so I could take my own vegetables home. My dad especially was pleased that Jay had brought me out of my shell, but I doubted he'd be happy to know we were also lovers and partners. I got some cards for my birthday, and some money...there was also a little party at Jay's that day where our friends came, and it was a blast with cake and music by Greg and Denny. At my house the night before, my parents had a family dinner with cake and presents, but the only friend there was Jay. My other friends had met my parents one at a time over the summer, but I didn't feel comfortable having them all over at once...not because I was ashamed of them, but because I didn't know any girls to invite at the same time other than Jay's sister. My parents knew I studied a lot, so I had avoided the `girl' question so far.
The one unexpected event of the day was getting a card and fifty-dollar bill from my cousin Sloan, who worked in St. Louis at a big department store. It had been a few years since I last saw him, before he went off to OSU, so getting the card was pretty odd. I'd heard through Aunt Martha that our cousin Edith had fixed him up with the job when he left OSU to work at Columbus' big downtown Lazarus store. Getting the card also reminded me that there was one other thing I'd heard about him—he wasn't married, and had never dated a girl. Being the person I was, I kept wondering if he might be like me and Jay, but I didn't know enough about him to be sure. I was a lot closer to the cousins on my mom's side, since they were about my age, but Sloan and the rest of my dad's family were all nearly a decade or more older than me.
He wrote a personal note in the card, congratulating me on being `all grown up', and asked if I was still sitting alone in my room, buried in my books...he also put in a business card for some store called Famous-Barr with his home phone number and address penciled on the back. There was something about that note which bothered me, but I didn't figure it out until a week later...I was listening to my record of the Cabaret soundtrack when Sally gets to the line `what good is sitting all alone in your room...' and my jaw dropped open.
No fucking way! Since I keep things like cards, I rooted through my desk until I found Sloan's...it was the same line—was it just coincidence? I wanted to call Jay to see what he thought, but he had an unusual Saturday dentist appointment, and told me he'd come by afterward, seeing as I hated the dentist so much. I played the song over again, twice, and stared at the card until it was burned into my brain. I saw the movie on television last year on ABC, mainly for the scenes with Michael York—but then to find out his character was gay was something I jacked off about for weeks. Even now, a year later, I was getting hard thinking about it—but I had my own blond fox now—and I forced myself to calm down in case we were going to make out when he showed up.
Who was I kidding, of course we'd make out—four months since we started dating, the summer had only increased our need for one another—sex wasn't the main thing between us—it was our love and commitment—but that only made the physical part of it more special. I yelped and jumped a mile when I felt arms encircle my waist from behind, and a soft breath on my neck. I turned and kissed my boyfriend for a long time, soaking in his calmness as well as his quiet confidence. I opened my eyes to see his already watching me, and I was lost in their cornflower depths all over again. During the summer, he'd grown a few inches, and our heights were now only three inches apart, so my lean down to his mouth was only half what it had been when we first got together in April. The summer working on his dad's farm had changed both of us—we were browned from the sun—me for the first time—and we both had firmer muscles—again, mine were new—and I owed it all to Jay. I wasn't as shy as I'd once been, though I was still quiet around large groups of strangers; at least I had a circle of friends now who I would invite to Jay's birthday party next Saturday. He'd wanted to share mine with me last weekend since we were only two weeks apart, but I wouldn't let him...you were only eighteen once, and I wanted it to be extra special for him.
Jay pulled back from the kiss and grinned at me with a pink-stained leer. "I guess I don't need to tell you I had no cavities after such a thorough probing...it was a heck of a lot more fun than the doc's x-rays, plaque pills, and cleaning tools." He pushed me back onto my bed and lay next to me, and we just hugged and kissed for a long time. We'd head over to his place for lunch later, so now was our time to be alone and hygge as his mom put it. "Okay, kæreste...what's bothering you? I can't usually sneak up on you like I did just now..."
He knew me too well, so I told him about Sloan's card and its note, then how I'd heard the same line in my Cabaret record. I told him my cousin had not dated girls, even though he was twenty-five, and had left OSU early to work, then moved to St. Louis a year later. "So you're saying he might be gay because he lives in St. Louis?" I hit him in the arm for being stupid, and showed him the business card that proclaimed my cousin worked in Menswear...then I played him the song and showed him the birthday card. "It's still only a theory, Mikey...if you want to find out, you have to call him."
I knew Jay was right, but how do you come right out and ask if someone likes guys—especially if they're a relative? It was all I needed for my parents to find out through family gossip rather than from me. Things were going better between us, and I didn't want to risk breaking this new bond I felt—I knew it had to come out at some point, but the longer it could be delayed, the better I felt. Jay was my beacon and my anchor, letting me decide this for myself; we couldn't do `out' in high school...but I thought we could do it in college, where minds were more open. I felt lips brush my cheek and came back to the present. "It'll be okay, elskede, just thank him for the card, and then ask him about movies. Does he know you have a thing for Michael York?"
I was so going to punch him for that one and the evil snicker afterward. Since we'd seen Logan's Run in June with Dave and Trebor and our other friends, they all knew of my infatuation, and were teasing me about it whenever they could. Jay got up, carried my phone over from my desk, and sat it on the bed between us. When I licked my lips nervously, he brushed my hair back and gave me his most reassuring smile. "I'm right here...you know that."
I dialed the number and waited, my stomach was doing flips and I was hoping no one would answer, but after four rings, there was a clatter and a little girl's voice answered. I had to have mis-dialed, so I asked if this was Sloan Stevenson's residence, ready to apologize for disturbing a total stranger. "Just a second, I'll get him..." and I heard the receiver hit a table as her steps receded in the background. There was a murmur of voices before I heard more steps and the next voice was my cousin's. "Sloan speaking."
With the earpiece angled slightly, Jay could hear him too; he gave me a grin and mouthed the word `hot'. I think Sloan was puzzled by the scuffle that ensued as I told Jay to `shut up', because he asked who was calling. I was beet-red as I stammered out, "S-Sloan...it's your cousin Mikey...I mean, Miles..." Great, now I must look like a big dork to my cousin! I got myself together and thanked him for the birthday present and card, and told him I'd had a good day, even about having a party with a few friends at one of their houses. With Jay grinning at me continuously, I could barely concentrate on the conversation...but my manners had me asking how he was doing, and what he thought of St. Louis.
"Well, Miles, I've been living here eighteen months. It's cool, I like it a lot—lots to do and see here."
"I came home for Thanksgiving last year. Too bad you and your folks didn't drop by the farm. We could have done some catching up there."
"I caught the flu two days before—it wasn't fun. I couldn't even look at turkey until that weekend." I hit Jay when he snickered again.
"Well, the good news is, I'll be home this year too; my mom would kill me if I didn't go back. Hopefully we can find some time to hang out—you and your friends too."
It took a few minutes before I was feeling more comfortable with my older cousin—though we hadn't talked much as kids, he always treated me nice when we were around each other—so our talk got easier. I tensed when I felt Jay's fingers rubbing my jeans, and tried to keep his fingers from my zipper, but it was hard to do one-handed. Sloan must have thought it was weird when I'd pause, or suck in a breath, or make more noise trying to keep my amorous Dane at bay.
"Miles, are you okay? Is there something wrong?" I could hear the concern in Sloan's voice, and told him I was fine...and Jay whispered "he's perfect, Cousin Sloan." Shit—this wasn't how this call was supposed to go! I could only hope Jay hadn't said that loud enough to be heard over the phone. Alas, I was wrong.
"Somebody with you, cuz? Do you need to go?" I shot daggers at my boyfriend with my eyes, but as always, I couldn't stay mad at him—that was one of the first lessons I'd learned—his eyes could disarm me with a single sparkle.
I swallowed, figuring it was now or never. Jay took my hand, which had been trying to avert his attentions, and kissed it. "It's cool, Sloan...my friend Jay is over and being a pest, like usual." He'd heard me mention Jay as being one of the friends at my party last weekend, so I felt safe going that far. "He's a real good friend..."
This was it—no going back now. "Sloan," I said in a near-whisper, "I think you saw Cabaret last year if I read your note right...um...Jay's my `special friend' just like Michael York's friend Baron Max was to him..."
I wasn't sure what he'd say, maybe a long pause, or an in-drawn breath, but what I heard was immediate and said with a clearly audible smile. "Well, the little girl who answered the phone is the daughter of my `someone special,' in case you were wondering."
Jay gave me a kiss before I could say anything else and I told Sloan a really short version of how we'd gotten together—then I let him speak with my Dane for a few minutes. Who knew what Jay would say if they went on too long—so I took the phone back and told Sloan I'd see him when he came home next. I let out a sigh of both relief and exasperation as I hung up with my cousin. Sloan knew Jay was someone special in my life now, and he'd even said he was looking forward to meeting him at Thanksgiving in November. Jay was looking smug at my discomfort, but also proud that I'd told someone other than his family about our true relationship. Now he had to worry about whether I'd let him live until the holiday.
* * * * * * * * * *
I met Sloan Stevenson the Saturday after Thanksgiving. It was cold, but we hadn't had any snow yet, so the roads were clear as I drove my old truck with its shiny maroon paint-job into Columbus to meet him for a late lunch. I swear, if turkey's on the menu, I'm gonna barf! Mikey gave directions to the downtown Lazarus, and we found a spot at one of the closer parking meters. We tossed in a bunch of change, which even for two hours time was cheaper than one of the store's parking garages. We went through the High Street main entrance, past the big brass plaque with F. & R. Lazarus on it, just glancing at the main display windows briefly as we passed by...only a few kids were staring from the raised walkways the store put up for their benefit—more would show up later in the evenings and closer to Christmas.
We rode the polished metal escalators up to the 5th Floor, seeing the store's tasteful holiday decorations as we passed, garland, ribbons and wreaths, and some poinsettias on most display counters. Instrumental Christmas music—all very traditional and soft-pitched came over the store's speaker system, interrupted by the occasional soft bell for an announcement. I grinned at Mikey as we arrived at the big open seating area in front of our destination—Lazarus' classiest restaurant—the Chintz Room. Shoppers were seated as they waited for others in their groups to finish buying stuff, and I felt sorry for them having to endure this ordeal so early in the season. Mikey returned my grin and I knew he felt the same as I did—you could hear the Carol of The Bells only so often before you wanted to kill someone or scream `BAH—HUMBUG!' The only consolation we had was that any of the city's three indoor malls would be far more blatant and annoying than this venerable store's holiday cheer.
We passed the restaurant's statue of a jockey as we went in, and were greeted by a smartly-dressed hostess. Mikey gave Sloan's name as the person we were joining, and she led us to a corner table where a man who looked a bit like an older version of my boyfriend sat waiting. He was nicely dressed in a jacket and expensive tie, and as he stood, I saw he was almost as tall as Mikey. His hair was nearly the same dark brown as my elskede's, and his eyes might have been a little browner, but I couldn't be sure in the subdued lighting. He was well-built and had a firm hand-shake for each of us. I had been right when I first told Mikey he sounded `hot', but for me, Mikey was my favorite Stevenson.
There was an awkward moment as we introduced ourselves, though we'd talked on the phone several times...mainly seeing who would sit first—finally, I dropped into one of the chairs, and pulled Mikey down into the one next to me, leaving the last one closest to the rest of the room empty. Since Sloan was our host, that meant he waited for us to sit first, at least according to my mor's etiquette books. A waiter appeared with folded menus, and came back to pour water into our goblets before he withdrew.
As we sat down, Mikey's cousin immediately began looking at us like we needed to relax.
"Not quite the A&W you're used to, eh boys?"
His tone had invited us to laugh along with him, and he folded his hands near the center of his chest and leaned on the tabletop towards us with a new sparkle in his eye. This Stevenson boy may have resembled my boyfriend in his looks, but his mannerisms were worlds' freer, and the flowing length of his hair—covering halfway down his ears—reinforced his Rock `n' Roll outlook on life.
Once my boyfriend and I confirmed through a glance that this indeed was not like the A&W, Sloan picked up his menu and continued in a more sarcastic tone: "This, boys, is the venerable old Chintzy Room, where country-club ladies come to complain to one another about the miserable quality of domestic `help' available today, and boast mildly about their quarterly dividends."
We glanced at the menu. Mikey said, "Never been here. What's good?"
"Well, if you were in your fifties, and had a `diet' to watch out for, I'd say order the venerable old Pine-Chick salad."
As I quickly scanned the items to find it, Mikey's cousin leaned back over the table to distract me with a grin as big as the Ohio River.
"It's cold chicken meat drowned in mayo, topped pretentiously with crushed pineapple straight from the tin and a pile of pecans."
As my elskede and I gaped wide-eyed at each other, Sloan sat back and chuckled.
"As I thought; since neither one you is a country-club lady, you'll be having something else. Look at the grill items, boys, if you are hungry. I think I'll be having the `Hidden Sandwich.'"
"What's that?" I asked.
"Also a Lazarus favorite, but more butch—it's like a club sandwich with ham, turkey, bacon and lettuce."
At the sound of the word `turkey,' Mikey giggled and poked my elbow with his. "Oh look—Turkey Parisienne—you ought to get that."
I winced and let out a groan. When Sloan looked at me, Mikey explained. "Jay's had more than enough turkey over the holiday because we'd eaten it at both our parents' houses Thursday. At his house, there had been baked ham too, but we each had to keep up appearances and do some of each. Friday was all about leftovers, and we'll both have it in our lunches at school for a few days."
Sloan laughed. "It was the same when we were growing up too, but my brother would draw the line when the carcass got down to the dreaded `turkey soup.' He's the oldest, so what he said goes, at least for my sister and me; we boycotted the soup and waited for mom to make her meatloaf again. It always worked."
Something made me glance at the menu cover: mostly a depiction of shells like on printed fabric, a rectangle on the right held the store's name. Inside, the extensive dessert section grabbed my attention for the first time, and I grinned at Mikey when I saw the contents. I couldn't resist a poke at him. "Remember, this is lunch...not dessert!"
Sloan chuckled, and I gave him a wink as my boyfriend stared at the list of ice creams, pies, cakes and custards. "Your cousin has a weakness for chocolate...mor has to make extra cookies just for him to swipe a few." I felt a kick under the table, but Mikey didn't deny what I'd said. "To be fair, you'd have to be dead to resist her baking—we all love how she can turn out amazing dishes."
"More – who's more...?"
"Sorry," my boyfriend apologized. "He means his mother. They speak Danish at home a lot."
"Ah." Sloan's devilish grin locked on Mikey. "So, you eat all his mother's cookies, do you?"
I had to bust out laughing – something not `approved of' in this non-A&W-type place, but I had to. Sloan was so funny I also rocked a bit on my chair. "He sure does!"
Mikey turned several shades of red, but I knew he was still pondering if he'd choose the store's `double-chocolate' ice cream, the `Wellesley Fudge Cake'—or both à la mode!
I closed my menu, having decided what to order. "So, Sloan. Did you have a nice morning? Thanks for inviting us to lunch."
"Lunch is no problem. I'm glad I get a chance to meet you. I asked you boys to come down here cuz today's my `catch-up' day. I used to work here—"
"Yeah, Mikey told me."
"Well, today, I walked into my old department—which felt pretty damned cramped—shook hands with my old boss, and we chewed the fat for a bit about Famous, where I work now. The old man was jealous, but he hid his happiness for me stepping up in the world pretty well. I also found a couple of my old co-workers and we had a more natural chat about the store, what's been going on, who's dating whom—the whole enchilada. I had a great morning. It's nice to see the old girl again."
"Old girl?" Mikey asked.
"Laz—my Lazarus. I worked here for three years—first part time while I went to OSU, then full time before I moved up and out to the big times."
"Oh," Mikey stammered. "Sounds like you're a busy man."
"Yes, but it's the opportunity that makes me thrive. In a store like this, I'd have to work for decades to `qualify' for management. In Saint Louis, the competition is so great, there are so many high-class men's outfitters, that I can write my own ticket. I'm glad Cousin Edith had me come out; I love it there."
Sloan raised his arm and drew the waiter's attention.
After some hurried, whispered confirmation while the server approached, we picked apart the menu's offerings—we both decided against the specialty Sweetbreads or the Oyster Club sandwich—I ordered the Baked Pork Chop with Apple Sauerkraut, and Mikey chose the Broiled Rib-Eye Steak with hash browns. While the waiter was writing down our orders, I was looking around at the other diners, mostly ladies in nice outfits in pairs or groups of four...and only one or two younger people. There was soft string music coming from somewhere, and the frosted tulip-shaped lights made me think of those scenes in old movies where ladies sip tea in the afternoon and talk about their friends' secret affairs. Mikey nudged me, and I looked at the waiter with his pad and pencil. "What will sir have to drink?"
When I looked at the selections: for some reason I thought it wouldn't feel right to order Coke in a place like this, and I didn't really like coffee, though I could drink it...I almost ordered the hot chocolate until I saw Mikey smirking at me, so I got the pot of tea. I hoped Darjeeling was a good variety. I liked tea, but given a choice, I'd almost always pick grape soda or apple juice if fresh milk wasn't available. Growing up with milk straight from the cow every day, I couldn't stand milk from a store.
Once the stiff-looking man in the suit and cold-fish attitude collected our menus and moved away, Sloan refolded his hands and leaned on the table towards us.
"You've made wise decisions, young men..." He knew the `young men' would rankle us, as no guy wants to be called that nowadays. "I'm in the habit of making fun of Richardson for ordering his salad all the time, and his is a real hearty salad too, not like the niceties served here. See, boys, I usually order steak myself, so I'm glad you'll dig in with the pork chop and rib-eye."
This Cousin Sloan had a way about him, that was for sure. He went out of his way to put me at ease—and Mikey too, but presumably, them being family meant most of this was for me to feel at ease in his company, and smooth over Mikey's imposing us on him for an uninvited stay in his home.
"Sloan," I said in a serious tone. "What's the weather like in Saint Louis right now? Will we need to pack heavy stuff?"
"Sweaters will do, as long as you have your coat, gloves, scarves, et cetera."
Mikey looked nervous that I had broached `The Visit.'
"You'll have a good time," reassured Sloan to his cousin. "Lots to see and do..." He trailed off like he wanted to ask `why,' but he didn't, and Mikey seemed anxious to change the subject. After our meal would be the time to talk about our trip.
"So, you have an older brother," I asked Sloan in an attempt to calm my boyfriend. He hadn't talked much about his family when I had him on the phone those few times, other than to say he made it back to Morrow County every year for the holidays...and Mikey hadn't talked much about any of their relatives other than the half-sisters he grew up with from his mom's first marriage. In contrast, he had met nearly all my relatives at Linda's Graduation last June—including my older brother Jerry, who was serving a hitch in the Coast Guard in San Francisco. That day had been an eye-opener, for both Mikey, and my family.
Sloan sipped at his coffee as Mikey and I waited for our tea to `steep'—he'd gone for the tea same as me—then added a little sugar. "His name's Frank, about five years older than me, and will take over the farm when Dad retires. He just had a little boy last year. Our sister Barbara is twenty-three, and works at Western Electric here on the East Side."
I nodded, and thought about my own family, which he'd heard the basics about...I didn't know what Jerry planned to do, but Linda would never settle down on a farm. Jerry enjoyed working as a medic in the Guard, but hadn't decided if that was to be his career. I shot a glance at Mikey, but that didn't calm my nerves much. I wanted someday to end up running the farm, but if he didn't want to do that, I guess I'd give it up for him. That's why I was planning to study both Agriculture and Business in college next year.
I missed Sloan's next words, and Mikey prodded me with his foot. "I'm sorry, I was thinking about my own brother and sister...they're both out of the house now, though Linda's just at OSU."
Mikey's cousin nodded, and gave us a grin. "It must be nice to be the youngest...it gives the two of you some time to be alone. I didn't have much of that until I went off to OSU myself." He took another small sip of his coffee. He looked at the two of us, one at a time, then as a unit, and raised an eyebrow.
"Didn't you say your parents know about the two of you?" I could see Mikey stiffen just a bit, and my hand sought his under the table. I gave it a gentle squeeze and rubbed my thumb over his knuckles before I answered.
"My family knows we're together—the first week we decided to go out, we exchanged tokens to show our commitment to each other..." I smiled softly when each of us started to move our free hand to the charms around our necks. I told Sloan about our little `ceremony', and how all we had to do was touch them when we missed each other to remind us of our bond. "We thought rings would be hard to explain at school. In our little town, we can't be out like kids in bigger cities."
As I talked to Sloan, I was also keeping tabs on what Mikey was doing...he had removed the tea bags from our pots after checking the color, and was now pouring some into his china cup. He added two teaspoons of sugar from the bowl and a dash of cream before sipping. After a glance at me, he started on my cup, adding one spoon of sugar and a little more cream than he'd used. He fiddled with his napkin a bit, then sighed and placed it in his lap when we saw our waiter approach with our meals on a small trolley. I blushed a bit when the aromas coming from the three plates hit my nose and my stomach chose that moment to grumble. I couldn't tell from the young man's face if that was why my plate appeared first from under its deftly whisked-away cover, quickly followed by the other two. "Your Pork Chop and Apple Sauerkraut...Lazarus Hidden Sandwich...and Broiled Steak with hash browns." An order of hash browns also came with Sloan's meal, and Mikey had a small bowl with salad. My plate had mashed potatoes and peas with some slivers of nuts. A basket of fresh-baked rolls was placed between us, and it had little pats of margarine next to it, along with a dish of whipped butter.
"If you need anything else, just signal. Refills are compliments of the house. When you're ready for dessert, I'll take your order. Don't hesitate if there is anything you need. Enjoy your lunch, gentlemen."
For the next half hour, we did enjoy our meals...I had to admit that Mikey's steak almost made me regret not ordering it, and the chili sauce on it was great...but I was more than happy with my pork and kraut, and it looked like Sloan was loving his meal too. I saw Mikey eyeing my plate, so I cut off a little piece of the pork chop and offered it to him, and he did the same with his steak. When I tasted his meal, I knew this wouldn't be our last time to eat here. The waiter refreshed our teas and coffee, and we took up our conversation again.
"Mikey's parents don't `officially' know about us...but if you ask me, it wouldn't come as a surprise. His dad has encouraged us to spend time together, and even helped us work on my truck this last summer. They also let us study together with some other friends, and let Mikey spend a lot of the summer at my place helping to bring in the hay and tend the fields at harvest. They even met my parents and have eaten dinner at my house once or twice."
I had tight hold of Mikey's hand under the table to let him know I was with him, and squeezed it at times during the conversation to bolster his confidence. Over the summer we'd talked about being out to both our families, like our California friends Dave and Trebor, but I understood how he felt, and told him I'd never push him about it, letting him decide when he should do it. He told me his parents never talked about sex, and he had learned about it from school gossip and reading. Like me, he knew what he wanted from his first puberty-fuelled fantasies, but he didn't have anyone to talk with like I had. Without coming right out and asking them, I was as certain as I could be that his father knew about us, and probably his mother too, but Mikey didn't see it, or was ignoring the signs because he wasn't ready. I didn't know which.
The reason didn't really matter to me; when we first got together, I promised myself that I'd never force Mikey to do anything he wasn't ready for—and I hadn't yet broken that promise. It had led to some funny and frustrating scenes, but my elskede was a stronger and more confident man today than he was half a year ago...and I was a more thoughtful and focused one than I would have thought possible. We were both love-struck idiots, but what was wrong with that?
Of course, when the waiter returned for our dessert orders, Mikey had the double-chocolate ice cream, and I had the Wellesley Fudge Cake. It was delicious and rich, but I basked in the gleam of pleasure in his eyes as we shared them.
* * * * * * * * * *
As we drove to Port Columbus the Thursday after Thanksgiving, in Mikey's white and turquoise Pontiac since I didn't want to leave my truck out in the open for a week, we were chattering about all the fun we'd have in Saint Louis and on the flight there. From what Sloan had said over the phone after August, and looking up some things in the school and town libraries, it looked like six days might not be enough time to see everything. There were lots of museums, parks and restaurants—and you couldn't go there without seeing the Arch. It looked huge in the pictures we'd seen, and I was looking forward to seeing the city from its observation deck. It was already dark by 7PM, and the car's twin headlights cut through the night like yellow knives. Between them, the airplane-shaped hood ornament cast its own glow from its clear plastic nose. One thing I had to say about Mikey's car was that it was comfortable—the seats rivaled my couch at home, and you couldn't feel any of the bumps as we drove up Hamilton Road to Fifth Avenue.
Sloan had given us our plane tickets on Saturday before we split up, and told us to meet him at the Delta Airlines ticket counter by 8:00. Our flight would leave at 8:30 and take about two hours; since Saint Louis was an hour behind our time in Ohio, we'd actually get there an hour after we left. Yeah, I knew it didn't really work that way, but I kidded him that if we went even further west, we'd get there before we left. That earned me a glare and a hit on the arm from Mikey.
We passed the old terminal on Fifth as I looked for signs to the parking lots for the newer building; the southern end's hangars and terminal were now mostly used for small private planes. I finally found the long-term parking lot, and then opened the trunk so Mikey could get our bags while I locked up. The lot's lights showed us our way as we did a little jog toward the terminal, our breath coming out in clouds as we went. Inside we found a map, and it was just a few minutes before eight as we met Sloan. Our bags weren't very big since we didn't need a lot of clothes, and we checked them in before heading to the Delta gate seating area.
There were a lot of empty seats since this was a later flight, so we had three to ourselves apart from the other waiting passengers. I took off my coat and scarf and put them on the seat with Mikey's. Sloan had his on the seat to his left. Two attendants were behind the counter, doing who knew what, so I turned my head to smile at Mikey's cousin. Thanks to him, Mikey and I would have a late but still fun six-month anniversary. I leaned in closer to him and lowered my voice so Mikey wouldn't hear.
"I know I thanked you before, but I really appreciate you letting us come to visit you like this. You could have said `no' when I asked you last month, but I wanted to do something special for Mikey. I promise we'll try not to get in your way too much—and if there's anything I can ever do for you—all you have to do is ask."
Sloan waved his hand to fend off my thanks, but I meant every word. "Don't sweat it, man," he chuckled. "I get that you want to try being more open, and I'm all for it! You guys can find out what it's like to be out—and it lets you see what life in a big city is like." He put a hand on my shoulder and gave it a little shove, laughing evilly.
I looked at him in confusion, and he pointed to his cousin, which caught my boyfriend's attention. "Five months from now, when it's your one year anniversary, you're gonna be in the dog-house..." I looked over to Mikey, and he leaned in to hear what was said next.
"Why's that?" I prided myself on the fact that in seven months of being a couple, we had yet to get into a major fight. I couldn't picture anything which would make us mad at each other...we'd survived my teaching him to swim, after all, and he had been terrified of deep water. Something about falling into a neighbor's pool when he was little. It took two weeks before he let me persuade him to try it, but he wasn't scared anymore.
Sloan lowered his voice further, like it was a secret. "Treat him to a trip now—what are you gonna do for the big one in April—take him to Hawaii?" He laughed out loud when he saw my shocked expression. I hadn't thought of that!
Mikey put his face close to mine, and ruffled my hair with his hand. "You better be saving up—I wanna see you in a grass skirt on the beach at Waikiki come spring!"
Shit—I was so screwed. Lucky for me, one of the people at the counter announced our flight was now ready for boarding, so I jumped up and headed for the other guy who waited to take our passes. I know I was red-faced as Sloan and Mikey's laughter followed me to the small line that was forming up. I felt a hand rub the middle of my back for a second before Mikey gave me my coat.
It was only a couple minutes until the attendant took my pass, and pointed to the glass double doors. "Straight ahead, please. Enjoy your flight with Delta Air Lines." We followed the other passengers through the doors and out onto the tarmac for the boarding stairs. In the brief time inside the terminal, it seemed to be even colder, but I was carrying my coat now rather than wearing it, so I guess that was normal. A stewardess waited in the open door of the DC-10, so all I could see of the plane was the engine hanging below the nearest wing, and the second one at the base of the tail fin. The third was on the other wing according to the pictures in the lounge area.
The plane's seats were divided by a central aisle, four on each side in the `coach' section, and three each in First Class where our seats were. I was going to let Mikey have the window seat, but he told me to go first, leaving the aisle seat for Sloan. As soon as we were seated, I felt his hand grab mine, and I could feel it was a little sweaty. I gave him an encouraging smile, though I was a bit nervous too, and leaned my shoulder against his. "I'm right here, kæreste." When Sloan looked at us with a raised eyebrow, I whispered, "Heights..."
Sloan snickered and reached into the pouch on the seat in front of his cousin, pulling out a paper bag. "Just the ticket—barf bags!" He was such a joker, but I checked my own pouch for one just in case. I wasn't afraid of heights, but I'd never been in a plane before either. One of the stewardesses gave us a speech about emergency exits, fastening our seat belts and waiting for the sign to light up before we tried to move about. Since this was a short flight, she said, we'd be served drinks and a snack, but no dinner. The next thing to happen was the captain's announcement that the flight time would be about an hour and a half, that the weather was clear in Saint Louis, and we weren't expected to encounter any turbulence on the way. He reminded us to set our watches back an hour, then said we'd be taxiing shortly.
I have to say the noise of the engines, and the pressure pushing us back into our seats wasn't too bad...Mikey's fingers' death grip on mine hurt more. A quick look out the small window showed the lights of Columbus spreading out underneath us, then sliding away behind us. I was a little disappointed not to see more, but hoped the view would be cooler when we flew back next Wednesday when it would be early evening.
When the seat belt light went off, Sloan unbuckled, and I did the same. I felt pretty good—and cast a quick glance at my boyfriend's face to see how he was doing—after a few seconds, he smiled and undid his restraints too. We talked quietly until the lady came around to take our drink orders—Sloan ordered a `Screwdriver', but when I tried to do the same thing, all I got was a smile and a shake of the head. "Nice try...coffee, tea, or Coke?" The snacks turned out to be a choice of peanuts, donuts, or sandwiches. I had ham and Swiss, Mikey had donuts of course.
I must have dozed for a while, for last thing I remember was Sloan with his orange-flavored cocktail and issue of GQ on the aisle, and Mikey with his smile flipping through the Delta Magazine in the middle.
"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen..." The pilot's voice made me jerk from my nap; I seemed to feel the airplane slow down. "We are making our final approach to Lambert International Airport, and will have you on the ground in approximately 20 minutes. For those of you seated on the left side of the aircraft, we will soon be passing over downtown Saint Louis, and the Arch. The weather is clear, and the lights are beautiful. Enjoy the rest of your flight."
Mikey halfway climbed into my lap to see out of our window. The cabin lights dimmed and the hushed voices of passengers ahead and behind us all seemed to grow soft in anticipation.
Down below, well-spaced lights—looking like the kind used to spot country highways—marched along in a regular rhythm. Glancing up ahead and towards the west, a mile-wide satiny ribbon of sheer black ran north and south, and was edged with lights.
"That's the Mississippi!" exclaimed Mikey just at the moment I thought the same thing. And there, like a symphony of illumination on the western bank, was the city. Tall buildings had perfect rectangles of lights from the inside, and here and there, small pinpoints of red marked the corners of the structures at the top. One really tall building even had a tower on top of it, like the kind for radio and TV signals, and the crimson signal from the pinnacle strobed slowly like a lighthouse beacon.
Almost like an orange section, the outward curve of the river made the stretching array of city lights look like a mesh of veins and arteries. Close to the largest of these streets, going west was a giant circle on the ground. It was white and because we were seeing it from the air, looked like an ellipse.
"That must be the stadium," I told my boyfriend.
"Busch Stadium," Mikey's cousin offered helpfully, and I tossed him an appreciative smile before returning to the sights outside the window.
After re-finding the ballpark, I thought that something was missing...I tracked its location back towards the river, and there it was.
Perhaps I thought the 63-story-tall monument would be lit up like a Christmas tree, but it wasn't. Instead, the city lights behind the great structure outlined it in breathtaking darkness. It was a shadow, a silhouette, one rising majestically on tall and confident legs to welcome all as the Gateway to the West.
"It's beautiful," Mikey murmured. And I kissed him on the cheek; nothing else mattered right then and there.
It took a few seconds for me to realize that the plane had slowed down for the passengers to get a maximum eyeful of the lights and downtown. As we passed over the central business district, the entire horizon soon became nothing but lights lacing out in every direction, and for as far as the eye could see. I had never seen anything so expansive and so beautiful.
The stewardess' voice came over the loud-speakers. "Ladies and gentlemen, we're on final approach to Saint Louis' Lambert International; weather is clear, temperature 35°, and the time is 9:05. Please fasten your seat belts, and thank you for flying Delta Air Lines."
I looked out the window again, this time joined by Mikey peering over my shoulder, but still couldn't see anything but a lot of lights to the south. Sloan told us that the airport was about ten miles northwest of the city, so there wasn't much to see even during the day. By 9:30, we were once more out in the cold headed for the terminal. It was huge, and I let out a yawn as we went to the luggage carousel to claim our bags. We'd been awake before dawn since we had a full day of classes at school, so we couldn't whip up much enthusiasm for the inside of another big building.
With our luggage in hand, we made our way out into the parking lot, and eventually got to Sloan's car. I couldn't tell much except it was an almost-new Delta 88 convertible. Sloan opened the trunk, and then unlocked the doors. A few minutes later, with me in the back seat beside Mikey, we were on our way into Saint Louis. All I remember seeing were increasing numbers of buildings and lights. I was drifting in and out of a doze by the time we pulled up to Sloan's apartment building.
I apologized to him as we got inside, noting only the big bay window in the living room. "We had a long day at school, which meant waking up at 5:00 this morning. Mikey told me he didn't sleep much last night because he was so excited, and I had chores like always. Do you mind if we crash now and catch up in the morning?" I was practically supporting Mikey as he stood next to me.
Sloan laughed and shook his head. "It's cool. I need to call Richardson and let him know I got home safe anyway. Come on boys, follow me." He led the way down a hallway and into a nice room with a double bed. He set our bags by the door before turning on the light on the nightstand. "I'll see you in the morning...the bathroom's across the hall." He shut the door behind him as he left, and I guided my love to the bed where I removed his shoes and socks, then helped him out of his pants and shirt. Normally that would get us both excited, but the long day we'd put in already caught up with us. I took my own clothes off and piled them on the floor with his, then kissed him on the cheek as I removed his glasses.
Five minutes later, we were cuddled up under the blankets...five minutes after that, we were dead to the world...but we were in Saint Louis at last and ready for our first day as an out couple.