This is the fifty-seventh chapter of an ongoing series. I have appreciated all the comments, questions and encouragement I've received from readers and hope to continue hearing from you. I try to answer all messages promptly. If I'm slow at times it is only because of the pressure of work or my somewhat demanding travel schedule.
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We drove up into the hills northwest of Burbank, climbing through more and more exclusive neighborhoods. As we went higher and deeper into the hills, the houses became larger and more widely spaced.
Before leaving Alvarado Court for lunch with Roger, I'd thrown my gym bag, packed with my swimming suit, an extra shirt, a towel and some other stuff in the trunk of the yellow Firebird. When Roger and I had finished lunch we returned briefly to his hotel room so he could get his own bathing suit and the few other things he needed. I wondered if he might suggest we stick around the hotel a while before leaving, maybe hang out in his room, but he didn't suggest it and we took off for Dex's party.
As we left the hotel Roger kidded me a little about the car. I told him it was a loaner but that I did have a Firebird, a new all black one on order.
"Very Hollywood," he teased, which I'd expected. During the four years I'd known him he'd driven one car, a 1966 Saab, so I knew he wasn't likely to be too sympathetic with my choice of vehicles.
I'd been given a map to Dexter Cohen`s house, but Roger knew the way, of course, so he gave directions and I just turned where he said turn and didn't really pay all that much attention to the route we followed.
We drove for some distance in silence but then it occurred to me that it was a good time to ask him a few questions which had been in my mind since my freshman year at the university.
"Roger," I began, "I don't think I ever thanked you properly for all the times you let me and the other guys stay at your house in Oxford."
"No need to thank me, Rob," he said. "As I remember, you guys were doing me a favor, too."
"House setting, you mean?"
"Yes, I felt a lot better knowing there was someone in the house when I was away."
"Well, we all really appreciated it. It wasn't just the use of the house, as great as that was, but also that you seemed to trust us with a piece of your life. We couldn't help but feel as if we knew you in a very personal way from being there. It was as if you were opening yourself to us in a very personal and revealing way."
"I saw no reason to try to hide anything from you."
"In any case, we regarded it as an act of trust and we felt honored by it."
"Well, you didn't see much in my house which was all that compromising," Roger said, looking over at me as I rounded one more curve.
"We were certainly interested in the wrestling mat in the basement."
"Did you guys ever use it?"
"Yeah," I said, smiling.
"I've had a few friends since undergraduate days who were into Greco-Roman wrestling."
"Did you still have any friends around Oxford who are into it?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact, I did."
I wondered if they were other younger faculty members and immediately thought of few who'd be very interesting to see naked with Roger, writhing in that mat. "I suppose you're all glad to have a private space, rather than using one of the university gyms."
"Well, there aren't too many places were we could get into it the way we like. When I got a house of my own, one of the first things I did was buy some equipment so we could have a little privacy."
"Do you wrestle in the traditional Greco-Roman garb?" I teased.
"Certainly, that's why a little privacy is called for." He returned my smile and asked, "what about you guys?"
"Oh yeah, we found naked wrestling very stimulating."
"Much more authentic, too," he added with a laugh. "Any plans for a trip back to Oxford? I'd love to challenge you to a match."
"No plans for a trip to Mississippi any time soon, but maybe we could find a place for a match here."
"I'm sure Dex and his guests would be very entertained by us doing a little grappling at his party this evening."
"Would you do that? In public, I mean."
"It wouldn't exactly be in public. More a controlled, all male audience."
"Let me give it a little thought," I grinned, feeling my cock stirring at the thought of wrestling naked with Roger in the presence of a bunch of other men.
"Well, if not tonight, I do know a couple of private clubs in London so maybe we could get in a match or two on our upcoming trip."
"You mean clubs were men wrestle naked?"
"Yes, wrestle as well as a few other things, places were I guess you could say the classical traditions are maintained."
"Oh yes," he grinned, clearly teasing me, "the Roman imperial presence in Britain may have ended sixteen hundred years ago, but the traditions live on."
"Interesting," I said, turning to give him another quick smile. It seemed as if being a university graduate and no longer one of his students, in an official way at least, was opening up new aspects of my relationship with Roger.
We were driving through a densely wooded area as the road climbed and made a gentle turn to the south. "Just ahead on the right," Roger said and almost immediately an impressive gate came into view. Stone walls a good twelve feet high prescribed it on either side and between them a high wrought iron gate barred the way, its vertical spikes tipped with what looked like six inch long spear points. The iron gate was painted a dull black but the finials were gilded and they glistened in the afternoon sun.
I pulled up to the gate as Roger directed. A series of black cast iron bollards defined both edges of the drive and on one of them, on the driver's side, a small intercom box was mounted. When I pushed the button there was a crackling sound and then a male voice saying, "can I help you?"
"Roger Bardwell and Rob Ballinger, for Mr. Cohen's party," I said.
"Welcome, gentlemen," the voice responded. "You'll find a place for your car at the top of the hill." The gate opened with regal solemnity and we drove on through.
Once in the grounds of the estate, the landscape changed dramatically. The woods were no longer wild and untended, but carefully manicured.
"Nature to advantage dressed, What oft was thought, but ne`er so well express`d," Roger quipped, quoting Alexander Pope. We drove on up a gentle slope. On each side of the road irrigation sprays rotated, watering the lush lawns. At one point we seemed to drive into a rainbow created by the slanting afternoon sun shining through the drifting mist. "You can bet Dex designed that effect just to impress his guests," Roger laughed.
The road broke through a stand of pines and we came out into a large gravel parking area in front of a huge neoclassical house. It looked for all the world like a film set, solid certainly, but with an air of artificiality which made it clear that we still weren't all that far from Hollywood.
There were already a dozen or so cars in the parking area, a few small sports cars, a Cadillac, a Bentley and two Rolls. They seemed to suggest the social spectrum I'd expected from Roger's description of the likely guests. The yellow Firebird seemed appropriate, given my own position in the studio pecking order.
We grabbed our bags from the trunk . "Don't bother with the front door," Roger said, heading toward a well tended footpath around the south side of the house.
As we went further music and voices could be heard ahead and as we came around the corner we were confronted by a sight which looked like something right of a Cecil B. de Mille movie.
Two or three hundred feet away a white stone parapet circled the rear of the property. Classical columns were spaced along it. From were we stood I couldn't see the view but as we walked forward into a space that seemed to have been designed for a Roman villa, I realized that the land dropped away into a series gorges.
The ravens were deep and shadowy, their steeply slopes covered with gray-green vegetation. Beyond the gorges, far below, the vast expanse of the San Fernando Valley could be seen, and beyond it, many miles away, the afternoon sun sparkled on the distant sea.
The view looked like an illustration by Maxfield Parrish, a copy of which had hung in my grandparents' dining room. It was theatrical, artificial, even a little garish.
I remembered the view from Nita's deck. This was far more dramatic, as if it had been laid out by some master set designer or very expensive landscape architect with an unlimited budget.
Between us and the property's edge, lay an expanse of green lawn interrupted by a vast white marble patio circled a huge swimming pool. To the right beside the pool, stood a low roofed building which contained as sort of classical logia and what appeared to be a sort of cabana or a series of dressing rooms.
Ten or twelve young men were playing some sort of game with a large ball, splashing and frolicking in the big pool. Even from our vantage point it was clear that they were all handsome and well built. Their wet, muscular bodies bounded through the water as they laughed and played.
Beyond the pool a collection of older men sat in patio chairs and reclined on lounges. Some of them stood at what appeared to be a well stocked bar. A few of them, the younger ones among the collection of the older men, were in bathing suits but most of them looked like members of the Roman senate wearing what appeared to be identical white terrycloth robes.
Dexter Cohen saw us and stood up, waving and calling for us to join them. Roger and I walked around the pool and Dex rose to greet us. He was wearing one of the white robes but it was open and under it he was wearing a pair of white shorts which looked more like tennis shorts than a bathing suit. His was huge and covered with a thick mat of curly hair, dark, almost black but with a white patch in the center. He greeted us warmly, gave me a friendly pat on the shoulders and then drew Roger into a powerful bear hug, holding him tightly for several seconds before letting him go and slapping him affectionately on the shoulders with a much more force than he'd patted me. Roger seemed to know must of the older men but Dex walked around introducing me to each of them as one of the new Nathan Fellow. He also made it clear that I was a former student of Roger's at Ole Miss.
The names of most of the older men were well known to me, many of them famous as directors or producers at NSB or one of the other major studios. There were a few names I didn't immediately recognize and one man in particular who seemed very familiar. He appeared to be in his late forties or early fifties and was strikingly handsome in a rugged, masculine way. I knew I should recognize him yet his identity somehow eluded me.
"Just call me Roy, Rob," he smiled as I shook his hand.
"Go change, boys," Dex said after the introductions were made and Roger and I headed off for the cabana.
"What to you think?" Roger asked as we walked through a rather sumptuous lounge area and entered one of the two big dressing rooms. We'd chosen to go into the area marked for men, even though Dex had said there would be no women at the party and both sides could be used.
"Quite a group," I said, pealing off my shirt and hanging it in one of the lockers.
"I expect there will be a lot more people showing up as the afternoon goes on. I've been at parties here where a hundred or more men eventually gathered."
I watched Roger out of the corner of my eye as he removed his clothes, confirming what I'd assumed since first meeting him, that he possessed a lean, honed body. The man was beautiful.
Removing my slacks and jockey shorts, I made no attempt at modesty, assuming it was time to let Roger see all there was to see of me, while not trying to flaunt myself or put on any sort of show for him. It was apparent from his own slow disrobing that he was doing the same thing, letting me know that he was as relaxed and comfortable being naked with me as I was relaxed and comfortable with him.
"Do you want to take as quick shower before we hit the pool?" he asked when we were both naked.
"Sure," I said, following him into the big shower at the end of the dressing area. There were three shower heads along each side of the immaculate tiled space and we instinctively moved to the back two units, across from each other. I turned slowly under the warm spray, letting the water flow over me until every part of my body was wet. Then, squeezing gel from the dispenser on the wall above the controls, I worked up a rich lather and spreading it over my chest and arms and down over my crotch. Then turning, I stood facing Roger as he did the same.
Roger's body was sleek and smooth. He was about my height, and while very well built and, like me had very little body hair. He had a slight tan and I saw no bathing suit lines, indicating he must have found a suitable place for some nude sunbathing or that he'd been using a tanning bed. I thought back to the rear garden of his house in Oxford, trying to remember if it was private enough for him to have been sunbathing there.
He smiled at me, acknowledging the easy, relaxed attitude which was developing between is.
"You have a great body, Rob," Roger said, voicing the same thought I was holding about him.
"You too, Roger," I smiled. "You certainly don't look like an old guy."
He laughed and turned back to face the wall as the water flowed over his back. He bent into it, placing the palms of his hands against the tiles and spreading his legs.
Was he intentionally showing off his trim ass? I wondered if there was some meaning in his stance or if it was just further evidence of acceptance and comfort with me.
"I guess we should join the others," he said, still facing the wall, but h making no move to go.
"Yeah, they may begin to wonder what we're up to in here."
He laughed, an easy relaxed laugh.
"Well, let them wonder," he said with a chuckle.
"Roger, can I ask you something, something personal?" I said, feeling suddenly emboldened by the increased level of openness between us.
"Sure, Rob, anything."
"You know I'm into guys, right?"
"Sure, you as much as admitted that to me your freshman year."
"I've always assumed you were . . ." I stopped, feeling less easy with the question than I'd thought I'd be.
"Gay?" Roger said, looking back at me over his shoulder.
"Yeah," I managed to get out without my voice breaking.
"I like men, Rob, some men, anyway."
"But men exclusively?" I stammered.
"No, not exclusively. What about you? Do you like being with women, too."
"I was with a woman last night," I said, then wondered why in hell I'd volunteered that particular bit of information.
"Good," he said, turning and smiling at me. "My taste includes both snails and oysters," he said in a very passable aristocratic British accent.
"Lawrence Olivier," I laughed, "Spartacus."
"Howard Fast, actually, at least he wrote it."
"Marcus Licinius Crassus," I said, showing off a bit. What student doesn't show off a bit, especially when standing naked in a shower with a former professor, a professor you deeply admire?"
"Very good, Mr. Ballinger. Can you tell me the director and year?"
"Stanley Kubrick, 1960."
"Excellent, I guess you pass the course."
We both laughed as we headed back to our lockers. Without bothering to dry off, we pulled on our bathing suits, I a pair of pale blue Speedos as Dex had requested. Roger donned a more modest pair of loose fitting navy blue trunks.
"Those look like they might have been used in From Here to Eternity," I smiled at him.
"Oh, here we go again," Roger chuckled and he pulled a bottle of suntan lotion out of his gym bag and stuck it in the side pocket of his swimming suit. "Director and year, please."
I couldn't help laughing. "Fred Zinnemann, 1953."
"Very good, and who wrote the book?"
We walked out toward the pool, still laughing at our shared fascination with films. I was amazes at how relaxed I felt with him.
"Well, there you guys are," Dex called with a big smile as he saw us approaching the group of men setting by the side of the pool.
"Did you miss us, Dex?" Roger called back jovially,
"Just figured you two were enjoying the amenities," Dex laughed.
A few more men had arrived. There were over a dozen pretty boys in the pool and the rather disorganized game had become more ruckus. A few of the younger guys had stretched out on lounges or just on towels and were working on their tans. Like myself, all the younger men were wearing Speedos or even briefer swimming suits and I couldn't help noticing that a couple of the sunbathers on the far side of the pool were now nude, lying on towels with their well honed bodies glistening with oil or lotion. Several of the older men were overtly ogling them.
There was a larger group of men, a mix of older and younger men, standing at the bar and I saw that Basingstoke was among them. Unlike the rest, however, he was fully dressed, wearing a pair of light colored slacks and a polo shirt. Even without his customary jacket and tie, he looked prim and rather ill at ease.
"Something to drink, Rob?" Roger asked. I nodded and we walked toward the bar.
In our work group only first names were used so I felt comfortable addressing Basingstoke as Martin. I made a point of introducing Roger, even though Roger had said he'd met Basingstoke before. I also made a point of introducing Basingstoke as my boss, which seemed to please him. He smiled broadly and shook Roger's hand as his eyes wandered shamefully over his body and then over mine.
"We met before, actually," Roger said, "at a dinner party at Paddy Langston's house in Bel Air."
"Well, dear boy, if you were wearing clothes you wouldn't have made nearly the impression you're making today," Basingstoke nearly chortled.
Roger gave a rather hardy laugh.
"And you, my lad," Basingstoke said, turning to me, "I think I'll start having our work sessions at a pool just so I can see more of you in a skimpy bathing costume like the one you're wearing now.
I think I must have blushed but Roger took Basingstoke's pointed comments in stride. "Well, Martin, maybe before the evening is over you'll get to see even more of him, and me too for that matter."
"Oh, I do hope so," he tittered. "In the meantime, let's get you both drinks. Sidney here," he said, gesturing toward the handsome bartender, "just opened a lovely bottle of Champaign," Basingstoke said as he turned and walked away toward Dex and the other older men.
"Sounds great," Roger said, accepting the slender flute Sidney offered. "What about you, Rob?"
"Nothing for now," I said, then changed my mind and asked for water."
"Perrier, Evian or San Pellegrino?" Sidney asked. He was a cute guy, probably not any older than me, shorter by several inches with thick dark hair and piercing black eyes. He was dressed in white shorts and a white polo shirt so it would have been easy to assume he was one of the guests.
I looked at Roger with what I knew was an expression of bafflement on my face.
"Bubbly or not bubbly," he laughed.
"Like club soda or like tap water with no chlorine."
"Bubbly sounds good," I said, a little embarrassed by my lack of experience.
"Give him Perrier," Roger said.
"Would you like it with ice or without ice," Sidney asked. It was clear he was sort of enjoying all this, or was at least amused in a friendly, uncritical way.
"Ice," I said.
"Would you like lime or lemon?"
"How about lime?" I said, relaxing a little and getting into the humor of the situation."
"Perrier with ice and a wedge of lime," Sidney said with a smile as he prepared the large stemmed glass and handed it to me.
"Well, at least I'll know what to ask for when I want a refill," I grinned. "I guess it would have been easier to have just taken Champaign."
"I'll remember you, sir," Sidney smiled again. "When you come back, just say, `my usual, Sidney' and I'll take care of you."
I thanked him and as Roger and headed for the pool, he gave placed his left hand on my bare shoulder in a friendly, almost possessive way and said, "I think you made a conquest, Rob."
"Nah," I grinned, moving a little closer to him, letting him know I liked the feeling of his hand. "I think Sidney's just a friendly guy."
"Well, ask for his number and see what sort of reaction you get."
"You're kidding, right?"
"No, I'm not kidding, but don't make any commitments while I'm in town. As long as I'm here, I want your undivided attention."
My mind jumped ahead to Monday, when I had a date with Hank to go skinny dipping. "Which will be for how long, Roger?" I asked.
"Just until tomorrow afternoon, unfortunately."
So he was leaving on Sunday, I thought, relieved that my life wasn't going to get too complicated.
"Are you going back to Oxford?"
"Memphis first. I left my car there and I'm going to spend as couple of days with a friend. Then I'll go on to Oxford to get ready for our trip."
"So are you going to do some wrestling in Memphis?" I grinned.
"As a matter of fact, I am," he laughed, giving my shoulder a squeeze.
"And when do you think we'll be leaving for London?"
"Peg said you don't have a passport yet."
"No, but Dee's secretary said she could get one quickly."
"Well, I want us to travel together, or I'd just go on and let you catch up a few days later, but I'd guess we can leave in about ten days."
"I don't suppose you'll come back here first."
"I don't expect so. We'll probably just meet in New York."
We'd reached the pool and pulled a couple of lounges together and Roger moved a small table between them for our drinks. As we got comfortable I looked around and saw that a few more of the younger sunbathers had pulled off their bathing suits, lying naked and covered with lotion in the warm afternoon sun. It was also clear that the lines between the older and younger men had begun to blur. Some of the older man had moved over by the pool and several of them had clearly paired off with younger men who were lying by them.
Roger reached into the pocket of his bathing shorts and extracted a plastic bottle of suntan lotion.
"Do you want some lotion?" He asked.
"Maybe, later, right now I think I'll get in the pool, just to get wet, and then absorb a few rays."
"I'm going to ditch the bathing suit," Roger said, standing up and pulling off the navy blue trunks. His cock hung loose, maybe a little longer now than it had been in the shower.
"What's the etiquette about going bare-ass around here?" I asked.
"No rules, so far as I know, just do what feels comfortable."
I stood up, pulled off my Speedos and dove into the deep end of the pool.
To be continued.