"Plaquemines Parish" Part 10

By: Pee Jay


We sipped wine as we sat in the restaurant waiting for our meal. Mike was hesitant to allow it, but I assured him that it wasn't a precedent. I told him about the few times Mom permitted me to have wine, so he reluctantly agreed. He said I wasn't to take it as permission to drink unless he or Steve authorized it.

"So what are you going to do about Dave?"

I wasn't keen on discussing the subject. I just had my world shattered and would rather try to forget the ugly truth. As far as I was concerned, there was no Dave. He made his intentions known last night. The thing for me to do was try and forget him, though, I was sure, it was going to be easier said than done. As I contemplated those thoughts, I felt the tightness in my chest return.

After a few quiet moments, Mike said, "I'm sorry, Sport; we don't have to talk about it if you don't want to."

"It's okay, Mike. I have to try to forget. That's going to be the hard part."

"Do you think you can live with what he did and forgive him?"

"Forgive him? What he did really hurt, and how long before he does it again? I'm not a pin cushion, Mike. He can't keep pricking me until I get numb and don't feel anything. He can fuck Greg, or go fuck himself, for all I care."

"Watch your language, Val."


But I really wasn't sorry. That's the way I saw it, and I meant every word. I made a choice to be here, with Dave. I also risked a lot and compromised others in the process. It's true, things worked out. But now, there was a twist, a very nasty twist, and I was the one left holding the bag. I wondered if somehow I deserved what I got. Mom always said 'what goes around comes around'. And, I had to admit, I wasn't completely innocent of using people. Maybe it was my turn. It didn't make it any easier to stomach.

Jerry served us our meal, then we ate in silence. I wished Mike would raise a different subject, but he didn't. As we sat there, I was twirling my spaghetti with my fork when my cell phone started ringing. The sound of it startled me, causing me to flinch. Mike tried to stifle a grin unsuccessfully as I pulled the phone out of my pocket. It was Dave so I put it back, then looked at Mike.

"Dave?" Mike asked.

"Yeah, it was the asshole."

"Val, I'm not going to warn you again; watch your language. You're smart enough to express yourself without swearing."

"Lotta good that does me."

Mike cleared his throat before he began. "Look Sport, I know you're upset. That's not a good reason to use vulgarity. When you do, you're raising a sign for everyone to see, announcing your ignorance and lack of class. Is that how you want people to regard you? If so, then expect to be treated that way, because that's the message you tender. In effect, you're saying it's okay to treat me poorly because I'm ignorant. Is that what you want? And what about those around you? Do you dislike me to the point that you would purposely offend me? If you do, then you've succeeded every time you use profanity. Steve and I do our best to avoid swearing, we both find it crude and offensive. So if you won't clean up your language for yourself, then do it for me, please. Is that asking too much?"

When he put it that way, it made me feel small. Of course, there was no debating the legitimacy of Mike's words. He had a knack for saying the right thing at the right time. As good as he and Steve were to me, the very last thing I wanted was to purposely offend them.

"I'm sorry, Mike. The last thing I want to do is offend you or come off as ignorant. I'll make every effort to clean up my mouth," I said, then couldn't help grinning. "By the way, that was a good sermon. How long have you been working on it?"

He smiled genuinely, then said, "Smart aleck." Then he went about finishing his dinner.

I knew I liked him; what I didn't want to do was intentionally cause him angst, and I had to admit he was right. Mike insisted that I eat at least half of my meal before we left. I wasn't hungry, but I forced it down, knowing he was right again.

After Mike paid, we complimented Jerry and left. On the way back, I asked him,

"When's Steve coming home?"

Mike put his arm around my shoulders as we walked, "When he called this afternoon, he said he'd be home early Sunday night. He has to sort out some problems on a big project they have underway in Dallas."

"I didn't tell you, but I start back to work on Monday, a week early. Roger, the manager, is going to have Rob and I set up the new dining room before it opens."

"Good. That'll help take your mind off things."

"Yeah," I said in agreement, but I wasn't convinced.

The rest of the weekend was quiet. Mike rented a movie both nights, and I watched one with him late Sunday afternoon. I especially liked it when he put his arm around me and left it there. Saturday evening, Mike found the web site for the school I would be attending in the fall, so he began the enrollment process. A couple of his and Steve's friends stopped by Sunday afternoon as we were leaving for the mall. I was going to buy some new clothes for school and start pricing computers and printers. Mike's friends invited them to a party they were hosting the following weekend. Mike said he would let them know.

That weekend, I ignored Dave's phone calls; there were several. I was tempted to listen to the messages, but I deleted them instead. As far as I was concerned, there was nothing to discuss.

When Steve came home Sunday evening, Mike's mood improved noticeably, making me smile. That made me think about Dave again and I slid into another funk. After Mike finished welcoming him home, Steve gave me a kiss on the forehead and a hug, so I gave him a big squeeze back. It was good to see him.

That night, I went to bed early with one of the books I bought at the mall. I wanted to give them some time alone, since Steve had been away for a few days, and it was evident Mike missed him. I thought they would appreciate it. Besides, I wasn't in a social frame of mind.

Monday morning I was up early, feeling much better than I had for a couple days. I went downstairs and started the coffee pot, then went to my bathroom to hurry through my morning routine. I was seated at the kitchen table reading my book and drinking coffee when Steve came in.

"What are you reading, Sport?"

I held the cover of the book up for him to see. "'The Day of the Jackal," I said. "You should read it when I'm done. It's excellent. I can't put it down."

He chuckled as he poured a coffee, "I read it in college one year during Christmas break. Do you like spy and espionage stories?"

"I guess I do. This is the first one I've ever read and, like I said, I can't seem to put it down."

"They're not all as good as that one. I like that kind of thing, too. There's a bunch of 'em in the quest house. I saved all the ones I read; check it out."

I went back to reading and barely noticed when Mike left for work. My attention was riveted to the pages.

Steve took his sweet time getting ready. Before he left, he took a seat opposite me at the table. "Mike filled me in on the Dave scenario," he said. "Are you okay?"

I dog-eared the page I was on, then let out a sigh as I closed the book. "I will be, Steve. It's going to take some time. I wish I could stop thinking about him, though. That's the hardest part."

Then that empty feeling seasoned with pangs of hurt returned. God, was it ever gonna go away? It didn't seem like it. After all I had gone through to be with him, here I sat alone and wronged. It wasn't fair.

"Val, I want to talk to you some more when I get home. There's a few things about gay relationships you should be aware of. I have to get going soon, but if you're feeling down, call me. I may be busy, but it'll only be a few minutes until I call you back; okay?" Then he rose to leave as I barely managed a nod that I understood.

Steve's good intentions lowered me into an abyss of dejection again. Man, why did he have to resurrect all that crap? Doesn't he know I'm trying to forget about it? He was sincere in his effort to help, but it didn't make me feel any better. In fact, I was feeling a whole lot worse after our conversation.

"Okay, Steve; have a good day."

He patted me on the back of the shoulder, then messed my hair before he left.

"Steeeve! I had it looking perfect, for Christ sake."

He laughed as he pulled the door closed behind him. It was nice that he showed concern, but I hated the way he dredged up those emotions. I was trying to put things behind me, and to my dismay, it wasn't working. I was mired in rejection and heartache once more. I wanted to be over those bad feelings and it wasn't happening.

I went up to my room to lie on my bed and read. I knew I should be doing housework and laundry but ... screw it. I wasn't in the mood. Mike or Steve would say something at some point, so I decided to wait until they did. I fell asleep reading, only to be awakened some time later by the doorbell along with pounding on the front door.

I took my time heading downstairs, I was relatively certain I knew who it was and not at all eager for an encounter. I peeked through the shutters trying to see who was there. I was right. Dave was standing on the porch taking a break from beating on the door, looking damn good, the bastard.

"VAL, I KNOW YOU'RE IN THERE," he shouted.

I backed away from the window confused. On the one hand, I wanted to fling the door open and wrap him up in a bear hug while a surge of rage welled up inside as I envisioned him and Greg in the park. He started beating on the door again and shouting, "I'M NOT GOING AWAY UNTIL YOU OPEN UP. I KNOW YOU HAVE TO LEAVE FOR WORK SOONER OR LATER; MIKE TOLD ME."

I was leaning against the door with my back. I took a deep breath and turned around to open it. We stood on opposite sides of the screen door looking at each other. A few quiet moments passed, then I said, "What do you want?"

"I want to talk to you. Can I come in?"

I pushed the screen door open, then started walking to the living room. Dave followed and I told him to close the door behind himself. I chose an armchair so he wouldn't be tempted to sit next to me. He eased himself down on the sofa, then fidgeted with his hands some. I was having trouble looking at him, so I turned my gaze to the area rug on the floor.

"Val, I'm sorry."

I didn't hesitate. "That you are."

"I mean it. I really am sorry."

I was still looking at the floor. "You're repeating yourself." I wasn't sure how long I could maintain my façade. I felt like crying, but I was doing my best not to give him the satisfaction of knowing how much it hurt.

He seemed to be temporarily lost for words, aggravating the tension between us. After hesitating a couple times he said, "I want us to be like we were before. I know what I did wasn't right but I still care for you. I want us to be together."

"It can never be like it was. You saw to that."

"Val, you don't understand. I love you."

I had to swallow hard. My heart beat with a thud at every contraction; I thought it might pound its way out of my chest. He was asking to get back together. What was I going to say? How was I supposed to do this? I thought I had it all worked out in my head and now that it was time to spit it out, I couldn't bring myself to do it. I was sure I would start crying. If I had to listen to myself say what my head was telling me, I would lose it. It was nothing short of 'it's over'. I simply couldn't bring myself to say it, so I said, "I have to get ready for work," then I stood up.

Dave rose and walked over, placing his arms around my waist. I couldn't help myself, I put my arms around him placing my head against his. Damn it, I didn't want to do it, but I was powerless to resist him, the SOB. I felt like the biggest pussy in the world as I inhaled him, savoring his nearness, holding him fast, and liking it. I wanted to squeeze the daylights out of him in the worst way; he was the only person I ever loved romantically. Instead, I placed my hands on his shoulders pushing us apart, "I have to get moving. You should go now," I said, backing away from him.

I was hoping to get him out of the house before I broke down. I may be a pussy but I don't have to let him know it. He kissed me on the cheek, and I very nearly lost it. That brought back all the memories, the intimacy, the times we shared. The feelings I still harbored and cherished for him. I held the door open for him as he passed by.

He asked, "Can I call you?"

"Goodbye," was all I could eke out, closing the door behind him.

Then the waterworks began, as I knew they would. My chest was heaving so hard, it hurt. I sobbed so loud, I thought maybe he heard them through the door. I flopped on the couch and lay there, shaking and crying, unable and unwilling to stop. I had to get it out once and for all, be done with it, put it behind me. I went for a paper towel from the kitchen to dry my eyes and blow my nose.

Back in the living room, I opened the shutters enough to peek through. Dave was half-way down the block wiping his eyes on the sleeves of his T-shirt. The sight of him walking away and crying made me weak. I was sure my heart was torn in two. For the first time in my life, I knew the meaning of the word heartache. I collapsed on the couch again, sobbing and wondering what I had done.

I loved him more than anything, and he hurt me like I had never been hurt. He may as well have stabbed me in the gut, because that's what it felt like. Why can't I get mad at him? Why do I feel like the bad guy when he's the one who screwed up? He should be the one to suffer, not me. God, I hate myself for being such a sap. The more I thought about it, the more confused I became.

A while later, I was beginning to settle down, though the last thing I wanted to do was go to work. I was going to be late as it was, so I forced myself through the motions of getting ready. As I rode the streetcar past the stop where I used to get off for Dave's house, I had an urge to see him. I got out of my seat and moved to the other side of the car hoping that would be enough to focus on something different. I knew I had to get him out of my mind ... but how? I wondered if banging my head on the window would do it.

When I made it to work, Roger was talking to Rob as I entered the dining room. He told me to punch-in and get back fast, reminding me that I was late. I wanted to shrug indifferently, but I didn't; I knew better. He was, after all, the boss.

When I joined them, Roger gave us a seating plan and a toolbox, then instructed us as to what he wanted. We had to remove the table and chairs from their cartons. The tables needed to have the legs attached while the chairs were pre-assembled; all we had to do was unpack and place them. The boxes had to be broken down and hauled to the dumpster as well; there was a lot of Styrofoam and plastic packaging to discard. The rest of the furniture, bus stations and waiter stands, were already assembled and placed by the vendor's crew.

We began unpacking a couple tables so we could assemble them. I caught myself, at times, staring at a wrench or tabletop with a blank expression, eventually focusing on a mental image of Dave.

"What ya been up to?" Rob asked.

That snapped me out of it. Aw shit, now I have to relive the completely morose thing again. It was bound to come up sooner or later, so I decided to face it head on and give him the unabridged version. I was sure he would pump me until he had all the details anyway.

"Dave and I broke up," I said looking down. I could see from the corner of my eye that he was studying me. I continued working, in need of a diversion. Rob started working again, too, glancing at me every so often. I suppose he was looking for some clue as to my frame of mind. It was kind of funny in a way. He was acting like a kid trying to figure out if his mother was mad at him. After a while, I had to laugh aloud.

"What's so funny," he asked.

"You. You're acting like a kid who's about to get a scolding." I looked at him then we both grinned. That was enough to lighten the mood. Rob was a good guy with a good head and sense of humor. He was fun to kid around with, careful never to get too personal when it came to ribbing. I liked him.

"So are you okay, then? I could tell something was wrong. You're never this quiet."

"I'll be fine ... sooner or later," I added. "I think my tear glands are empty so I don't have to worry about that," I said with a half-hearted chuckle at best.

"How 'bout a date?" Then he paused to look at me, "My treat; say yes; okay?"

I looked at him pursing my lips as I rolled my eyes. Then I couldn't hide a grin; he was trying hard to be upbeat and cheerful which I appreciated. We had a way of knowing what each other was thinking, and we found the same things humorous. It was easy and comfortable to be around him. I was beginning to think of him as a good friend.

"I have to grieve for two weeks, then I'm good to go." I half-laughed after I said it, but the truth was, it was painful. I had come a little too close to reality with my antidote and bit my lip to stop it from quivering.

We worked for a few hours assembling and placing the furniture when I asked Rob if he was hungry. He said he was, so we went to the kitchen to see what we could scrounge up. Roger was in his office doing paperwork, so we raided the walk-in cooler for sandwich material. We slapped a couple sandwiches together, then dressed them with some condiments from the reach-in. Rob took them outside behind the restaurant, while I got us some drinks.

Outside, we sat on bumper blocks in the parking lot, shaded by the building. It was hot and the stench of the dumpster simmering in the afternoon heat permeated the air. Factoring in the exhaust hood, the combination was enough to make us relocate to the grass at the back of the property.

Situated comfortably, I asked Rob, "Have you ever been in a relationship?"

He nodded with his mouth full, so I waited for him to swallow. He took a drink then said, "I was involved with a guy for a couple years. We were both in pre-med at Loyola. When we graduated, he was accepted at Johns Hopkins in their cancer unit, so he moved away. I was devastated. I loved him. I guess I still do ... or at least the memory of him. He asked me to go along but in the end, I couldn't do it. I was afraid of leaving, then having something come between us and break us up; I was scared. I would've been isolated in Baltimore, not knowing anyone, and half a continent away from home." He paused to compose his thoughts and lower his voice. "I still miss him and think about him a lot. I often wonder what would have happened if I went with him. I guess I'll never know," he said with a hint of remorse.

I sensed his emotion, so I gingerly asked, "What was his name?"

"Andrew, but I called him Drew; it seemed to fit him better than Andrew or Andy, and he liked it."

We were both talking ourselves into a downer, so Rob was quick to change the subject. "Let's get back in there before Roger finds us."

I agreed, so we threw our trash in the dumpster and went back to the dining room. We talked some more about Drew and Dave as we worked, me furnishing all the details of my situation. It was good therapy for the both of us, and Rob seemed more at ease talking about Drew as the afternoon wore on. He said they were monogamous, and when I asked, Rob explained what that meant.

I liked the concept and recognized it as the problem I had with Dave, as well as the ground-rules Mike and Steve lived by. It wasn't foreign at all; it seemed like the way things should be. After our discussion, I felt closer to Rob than I ever had. We shared another common thread to affirm our friendship, and I felt much better about things, having talked it over with him.

When we finished, Roger said he wanted us back the next day to help unload new equipment for the kitchen, so we agreed, then punched out. On the streetcar, I asked Rob why he was working in food service and not the medical field. He said he completed a year of med-school and decided it wasn't for him, saying he didn't like it. He said his father, who was a doctor, pushed him into the field, hoping he would follow in his footsteps. Rob really wanted his own restaurant, because he liked the work. I could understand that, I liked working in the business, too.

When we arrived at my stop, we wished each other a good day for what was left of it. I gave him a wave as the streetcar pulled away. On the short walk home, I wondered why Rob was still single. Surely, an attractive guy like him had plenty of opportunity; I decided to ask him about it when the time seemed right. I liked Rob, and he was smart enough to make his own choices. Still, I wondered why he hadn't found someone to spend time with.

Steve was standing at the kitchen sink loading the dishwasher when I came in through the back door. I kicked my shoes off and walked over to him putting my head on the back of his shoulder and wrapping my arms around his waist. 'Good old Steve,' I thought, then exhaled, wondering if I would ever be as fine a person as he. "Hi Steve," I said. "How was your day?"

"Good, Sport; you're home early."

"Yeah, we're done setting up the new dining room. Roger will probably open it in a couple days. I'm ready to go back to work. I missed out on a lot of income while it was closed."

"Val, will you release me so I can finish up here?" The tone of his voice revealed a hint of irritation.

I gave him a quick squeeze then lowered my arms reluctantly. Dang, he felt good, and I liked the physical contact, missed it even. It had been so long. Well, Mike put his arm around me when we watched a movie over the weekend, but that was a few days ago. Okay, it was only yesterday, but cut me some slack; I'm a touchy-feely sorta guy, so fire me or stone me; what do ya want from my life? All I wanted to do was hug him, for Pete sake. What's the big deal?

"Okay," I said on my way to sit down. "I know when I'm not wanted."

Steve shook his head and rolled his eyes. Mike walked into the kitchen holding up a receipt and asked, "What's this?"

"It's a confirmation that I paid my room and board for the month. Why do you ask?"

"I figured that much by the amount. How come it's in this format?"

"I set it up as an automatic payment on the net. It's deposited directly to yours and Steve's house account, since it's drawn on the same bank. That way I don't have to remember to pay you guys. That receipt is the confirmation."

"Oh," was all Mike said.

"Mike, can we shop for computers on the net?"

"Go ahead; knock yourself out."

I left for the library to get on the computer, wondering what the heck his problem was; both of them were acting cranky. I took my debit card out and placed it on the desk. After an hour or so of surfing, I found what appeared to be a good deal on a computer and printer. It was a limited time offer that included a free copy of "World of Warcraft", but they didn't accept debit cards.

Mike was sitting on the sofa watching TV. I studied him for a moment, wondering if he was going to get pissed if I asked him to use his credit card.


"Now what?"

He didn't look away from the TV when he said it. Shit, what does he mean by that?

"Nothing," I said.

I bookmarked the site with a mental note that the offer was good for another week. I couldn't figure out what was eating him, though. Maybe he was mad because I was home early and intruding on their time alone. I decided to make myself scarce and go upstairs to finish my book. Before I turned to go in my room, I saw Steve lying on their bed staring at the ceiling. I stopped in the doorway, watching him. He looked over and motioned for me to come in, so I did, taking a place at the foot of the bed.

"Everything okay Steve?"

He sighed, "Yeah it will be. Mike and I had an argument."

That explained the way Mike was acting and the reason the two were in separate rooms. I couldn't help thinking I might be the cause, but it wasn't my place to interfere. Still, I wanted to make sure it wasn't something I said or did, so I asked,

"Is it because of me?"

Steve said they argued over how to deal with my situation involving Dave making me feel lousy. They had been so good to me, and I hated the thought that I was responsible for the problem between them. I wanted to somehow make things right. I didn't do anything wrong, and here I was—the cause of their angst. I was at a loss; I didn't know what to say or do.

"Steve, I don't know. I feel like I'm the source of your problems, and the last thing I want is to give you guys a hard time. You've been too good to me; I don't think I'll ever be able to repay you."

He motioned for me to come near, so I scooted up the bed and pulled a pillow out from under the comforter lying on my side next to him, resting my hand on his arm. I was overcome with emotion, so I said, "I'm sorry Steve. I really am. I don't want to be a pain."

"No need for you to be sorry; we both want what's best for you, and we had differing opinions about what that is. It was a healthy exchange of ideas ... nothing more. The worst part about it is that Mike's probably right."

That wasn't anything new. How can Mike be right all the time? I wanted Steve to be right this time, more so because of the way Mike does it. He can be determined when he wants to drive a point home. It didn't seem fair that Steve had to back down, so I said, "He may be right, but the way he goes about it sometimes is wrong. I have to admit he means well, though."

I was trying to give Steve some moral support and make him feel better, even if I did maybe overstep a boundary. He deserved some credit; he was my guardian, too. Then a thought crossed my mind making me chuckle.

"What's so funny?" Steve asked.

"It's kind of dumb, but I'll tell ya anyway. I was thinking that you're my guardian, too, not just Mike. Then I wondered if it was a two man job ... ya know, if I was too much for one person to handle."

That made him laugh, and I was glad to see it. I wanted him to get out of the dumps. He was much more fun to be around when he was feeling chipper, not to mention that smile of his, which was perfect in every way. Then we heard the stairs creak and looked at each other.

"I better be going to bed," I said. "It's getting late."

As I rose from the bed, Mike appeared in the doorway. I began to walk toward the door giving him a wide breadth. I had the feeling we were caught conspiring against him. As I passed him, he reached out to grab me.

"Aha, come here you little twerp," he said as he pulled me in.

I started twisting and squirming trying to free myself. He was laughing and lifted me off my feet then dumped me on the bed. He crawled over Steve and me, snuggling up to Steve's backside with his arms around him.

"I'm sorry, hon," he said softly into Steve's ear. Then he added, "I love you," and kissed his cheek.

Steve rolled over and kissed Mike on the mouth, then said, "I'm sorry, too. I love you," then put his arms around him and held him close.

I scooted up to Steve's back wrapping my arms around him and said, "Hey, what about me?" Then I hung a leg over Steve to witness their reconciliation.

They both laughed, gave each other a quick peck, then Mike said, "Don't get too comfortable, Sport."

"Since you two kissed and made up, are we one big happy family again?"

As soon as I said it, I felt kind of weird. Where did I get the idea we were family? We weren't related. It popped out of my mouth with no forethought. As dumb as it made me feel, I rather liked the sound of it. We were, in a way, family; just the three of us. Yeah, I liked that, and I loved my two dads, my two gay dads! ... even if one of 'em was a little on the serious side.

The next morning I was the first one up and feeling pretty good from the night before. I started the coffee pot, then went upstairs to retrieve my book. I only had eight chapters to go. I particularly liked the way it occupied my thoughts, keeping my mind off you know who and what.

Mike was downstairs first. "Morn'in, Sport," he said, then he squeezed me from behind.

"Morn'in, Mike; you can keep doing that if you want."

He chuckled, then let me go saying, "The grass is getting long. Need I say more?"

"Geez, nothing like ruining the moment; I hear ya."

He laughed, then went back upstairs with two cups of coffee, smiling. I guessed he must have gotten laid last night. He wasn't what one would call a morning person, so what else could it be? I was happy knowing everything was back to normal.

After they left for work, I decided to finish the book while sitting in the spa then do my chores. I changed into a bathing suit and took my phone with me. Before I started reading, I scrolled through my messages. There were three from Dave, so I erased them without listening, then returned a call from Rob. He wanted to leave early for work and go to Audubon Park. I told him about my chores, and he said he'd wait for me if I wasn't done when he got here. It sounded good to me, so I gave him directions, and then we hung up with a plan.

It looked like I might be getting into a time bind so I started in on the yard. As I worked, I wondered why Rob was going out of his way to be friendly. I attributed it to our friendship and his wanting to help during a difficult time. I would certainly do the same if our situations were reversed. I thought it was nice of him, and I liked being in his company, anyway.

As it turned out, we had a great time in the park. We went to the aquarium where we spent most of our time. When we came out, Rob suggested we go to the IMAX Theatre, so we did. It was a fantastic experience. One of the flicks was a bus starting at the top of Lombard Street in San Francisco. As it made its descent, the bus lurched and swayed with every turn and I could swear the floor and room were doing the same thing. I had to hold on to the railings to keep from falling over. It gave us a mild case of vertigo. It was a weird sensation and very awesome at the same time. I guessed the feeling was something akin to being at sea with the way my legs were acting. We both left the theatre grinning. We had a good time.

At work, Roger said he was opening the remodeled dining room the next day for lunch and wanted us there. That meant we would be working twelve hours more or less. I was more than eager to comply; I wanted the money. Lately, my bank account was moving in the wrong direction and I was planning to spend a lot on a computer. We finished about three o'clock and punched out, having unloaded and placed the new equipment. At that point, it was up to the tradesmen to hook it up.

We talked as we made our way to the streetcar line on St. Charles. As we approached our stop, I saw Dave sitting on the bench. I stopped abruptly, pulling Rob to a halt by the arm.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

I nodded in the direction of the bench. Rob was looking around not understanding the cause of my concern.

He repeated himself, "What?"

"It's Dave. He's sitting on the bench over there. He's the one with the dark hair and sunglasses."

Then I remembered Rob had only met Dave on one occasion and probably forgot what he looked like. I silently wished I could do that. Then my eyes drifted to the crowd standing next to the bench and, to my surprise, Greg was among them. A pall of anguish overcame me as I imagined them together, a couple. The sad part was, it didn't take Dave long to replace me. I wanted to be mad as hell but the truth was I wanted to wrap my arms around him and kiss him. I hated myself for thinking it; I couldn't help myself. How could I be so gullible?

I pulled Rob back toward the storefront. "Let's wait for them to go and take the next streetcar."

He didn't object and tried to make conversation. I wasn't paying attention, though; my eyes and mind were fixed on Dave. He was as handsome as ever. The hint of his beard, the way the breeze tossed his hair, and the muscles that were visible through his T-shirt were just right. He looked magnificent sitting in the sunshine with his sunglasses and an elbow resting on the seat back. I thought my knees might give way at the sight of him.

"VAL," Rob said loudly.

That snapped me out of my trance. "Yeah what?" I asked, turning to look at him.

"It appears you have a problem."

"I guess so," I admitted. "I didn't expect to see him here. It caught me off guard."

"You still love him, don't you?"

I was hesitant to admit it, knowing he was right.

Rob grabbed my chin with his thumb and forefinger. "Look at me." I let him do it.


"You have to try and get over him. You're torturing yourself."

All I could do was shake my head and look down. I knew he was right, but that didn't make it any easier.

"Val?" a voice said making us both look.

It was Dave standing in front of us.

"I heard someone call your name. How are you?" Dave asked. "I've been calling you." Then he gave Rob the once over, sizing him up.

Greg walked over and joined us. Great, this was getting way too uncomfortable to think clearly, so I said, "Good, thanks; we have to get going, or we'll be late for work."

I put my hand on the back of Rob's shoulder and began to nudge him forward.

Dave took me by the arm, turning me around to face him. I wanted to reach out and touch him so bad. God, he looked good. After a few moments of staring at each other, Dave asked, "Will you call me?"

"C'mon," Greg said, placing a hand on Dave's shoulder. "Forget about him. He's not worth it."

I supposed we looked like some kind of gay Mexican standoff. Me with my hand on Rob's shoulder, Greg doing the same to Dave; it must have looked strange and amigos, we were not.

Dave gave him an icy glare, then looked back at me. "Will you call? That's all I'm asking."

"Yeah," I said, then looked away. "C'mon, Rob; we have to get to work."

As we turned to go, I couldn't help looking over my shoulder. Greg had his arm around Dave escorting him in the direction of the streetcar stop. He rubbed Dave's back and rested his hand above Dave's buttocks. I overheard Greg tell him to forget about me. He said I was white trash, not worth his time. It was mean and hurtful.

Rob and I walked around the corner, then leaned against the building, waiting for the streetcar to come and go, taking them with it. Rob asked me why I agreed to call him, and I didn't have a ready answer. All I could come up with was, "I don't know."

On the ride downtown, I invited Rob to stop by the house to meet Mike and Steve and stay for dinner, if he felt like it. He said he would drop in for a few minutes to say hello, but wanted to go home, adding he had enough teenage drama for one day. I flipped him the bird, and we both had a laugh, though my heart wasn't entirely in it.

The next few days I spent working and doing odd jobs around the house as well as my regular chores. I elected not to call Dave, because I couldn't think of what I would say to him. He was with Greg now, whose recent comments were still fresh in my mind, so why beleaguer it?

Greg was masculine and an athlete, too. He was tall, handsome, blondish, and virile. How could I compare? He was lucky to have Dave and, I conceded, they were suited for each other. They were old friends, of the same class and standing. Based on looks and demeanor, Dave had it over Greg, big time. Though, in a crowd, Greg stood out with his height and macho mannerisms. Too bad, no one knew what evil lurked inside.

Mom was due in town the coming weekend, and I was looking forward to spending time with her and probably Bill. Steve went back to Dallas Tuesday, so Mike was alone at night since the new dining room was open, and I was working late.

When Saturday morning rolled around, I was up early. Mom was stopping by the house before she went to Bill's place, which made me wonder if she was going to have her own room at Bill's or ... I didn't want to think too much about the alternative. Steve came home Friday night, so I was pretty sure Mike would be in a good mood that morning. I was reading at the kitchen table with the coffee ready, waiting for someone to come downstairs.

"Morn'in, Steve," I said as he rounded the corner into the kitchen. He was wearing his bathing suit, probably headed for the spa by the looks of it.

"Morn'in," he said. "You remind me of my mother the way she always waited at the kitchen table for us to get up."

I didn't know how to respond to that, so I said, "Did you have a good trip?"

"Yeah, we have everything worked out. I don't think I'll have to go back for a while. Did your mother say what time she would be here?"

"About tenish. She said she was leaving at nine. I can't wait to show her my new computer."

"When did you get it? It wasn't here when I left."

"I ordered it Tuesday with Mike's credit card; it arrived yesterday. I reimbursed him with a personal check. Ya wanna see it?"

"Maybe later; tell Mike I'm in the spa when he comes down."


When Mike came down, he thanked me for the extra work around the house that week. I hoed and weeded the flowerbeds and thoroughly watered everything. Well, actually, it was the sprinkler system, but I had to admit it did look nice and well maintained. He said the yard had never looked so good, now that I was taking care of it. It was nice to hear, as Mike wasn't one to idly hand out compliments.

I went upstairs to shower, clean up, and make the beds. When I finished I booted up my new machine and logged on to 'World of Warcraft'. The character I created was a Mage, he was aligned with the Alliance faction. I named him Boize because I thought it sounded cool and a little gay. I had him up to level twenty already. A couple hours later the doorbell rang; I was anxious to see Mom so I hurried downstairs. When I flung the door open, Dave was standing there. I froze unable to say anything. He was the last person I was expecting.

"Hi, Val; can I talk to you?"

I really didn't want to get into it with him, more so when Mom was due. The more I thought about it, maybe that would be a good excuse for him to leave, so I invited him in telling him the reason we didn't have much time. I led him upstairs to my room and sat at my computer; he sat on the bed. I teleported Boize to safety and turned the computer off.

"Your new computer is nice. Was that 'World of Warcraft' you were playing?"

"Yeah," I said, not wanting to encourage idle conversation.

He looked out the window, then started to speak, "I thought you were going to call me. Val, I miss you and want us to be together again," then he looked down at the floor. "I've been miserable without you. I feel sick about what happened."

'Good' was the first thing that came to mind. As glad as I was to hear it, I still couldn't erase that night from memory. At least I wasn't the one begging, which was little comfort. But damn, he looked good sitting there. I wanted to take his clothes off so bad, I could taste him in my mouth. I wanted to run my hands over him, all of him; feel his soft chest hair and experience him; it was too much. I had to get out of there before I caved in and pounced on him. I was starting to get excited.

"I don't mean to be rude but I have to take a whiz bad. I'll be right back."

In the bathroom, I filled a glass with water and made a tinkling sound into the toilet then flushed. I knew it was dumb but my bedroom was directly across the hall and I was sure he could hear. I needed time to compose myself and muster the courage for what I had to say. I tugged at my crotch to ease the tension. I took a deep breath and stared myself down in the mirror. It was time to get this over with once and for all, put it behind me, and be done with it. I made a start for the door when a voice hollered from the bottom of the stairs, "Val, your mother's here."

"Coming," I yelled back from the bathroom.

I opened the door and went to my bedroom, "Sorry Dave, it's bad timing." And that it was. I wanted to clear this off, making it a thing of the past, but it wasn't going to happen, not today anyway.

He rose from the bed walking in my direction. He put one hand behind my head and kissed my mouth. I closed my eyes when he did allowing my emotions to roil inside. What was he doing to me? Man, how I missed and craved his touch. It was out of this world.

"VAL," Mike hollered from the foot of the stairs. "YOU'RE BEING RUDE. GET DOWN HERE."

Mike was so wrong. I wasn't being rude, I was being seduced by the sexiest guy I had ever seen. That's what I was doing. And if I were truthful with myself, loving every minute of it, because I still cared for him, a lot. I had to arrest the situation before it got out of hand, so I gently pushed Dave back and said, "Let's go" as I opened my eyes.

I led him downstairs to the kitchen where Mom was sitting chatting with Mike and Steve. When Mom saw me she leapt to her feet and smothered me. I wrapped my arms around her and whispered in her ear, "It's so good to see you, Mom," then I kissed her cheek. "I missed you."

She was saying and doing the same. I thought we were being gushy, but I didn't care. It seemed like such a long time since we last saw each other, and I missed her. As we reaffirmed our feelings for one another, I saw Mike motion at Dave to follow him with his index finger, then the two of them left for the backyard.

There's Mike's timing again; right on, dude! I had to smile. How can ya not like the guy? Love him, even!

Mom looked and smelled so darn good I couldn't believe it. Maybe it was the fact I hadn't seen her for some time, or because she was my mother and only family. Whatever it was, she was looking pretty and poised as ever; 'radiant' came to mind.

"Mom," I said as I held her chair. "You had your hair restyled. It looks very good. It makes you look younger."

She couldn't help letting a big grin cross her face. I was proud of myself. Making her feel good elevated my spirits, too.

"Thanks, honey," she said, sitting down."I think it's more professional looking. It was starting to get long and hard to manage. I'm glad you like it."

I was standing next to her chair with my hand on her shoulder and bent over to kiss her cheek. Then I said, "You look ravishing," and she did. Then I smiled at Steve across the table, who was grinning.

"What?" I said looking at Steve.

"I didn't say anything."

He had a big ol' grin on his face, too, but I didn't care. I was happy to see my mom.

I squeezed between her and the wall taking a seat next to her. She had one hand loosely gripping her coffee, then moved it over mine. I liked it a lot and smiled at her. She was wearing the bracelet I bought her at Avery Island. It was nice to see and made me feel good.

"Mom, it's only been a few months but it seems like years since we made the trip to Louisiana."

I remembered the camaraderie we shared, how much we enjoyed each other's company, and the apprehension I experienced along the way. Then there was the adjustment we made when we moved into our shack. I had a wave of guilt wash over me. Here, I was living in a nice house with, what I considered to be, my two dads and Mom was stuck in a shack back in Plaquemines. As good as she looked, I couldn't help feeling compassion for her. The thought was gloomy, and it tainted the moment.

"Yes, it does seem like a long time ago," she said, then rubbed the back of my hand with her thumb. "How are you doing? Is everything going okay?"

"Yeah, I started back to work this week. I've been off for two weeks while they remodeled. How's work going for you, Mom?"

"Good. I transferred to customer service and got a nice increase. I'll be coming to New Orleans more often for sales meetings. The job is interesting and I like it a lot. I talk to people all over the country. One of the accounts I service is in Toronto. They're the biggest frozen food company in Canada."

It was nice to hear, and impressive, too. I was glad Mom liked her job and it sounded like she was doing well.

"Do you know where you're going to school this fall?" Mom asked.

"Yeah," Steve said. "We started enrolling him on the net a few days ago. One of us has to make the trip over there with the guardianship papers. The school already has his transcripts from Wisconsin."

"How about clothes? We should go to the mall tomorrow so we can get you something to wear to school."

I couldn't hold back, "I have all the clothes I need, Mom. Mike and Steve took me to the mall, and I bought everything I need."

I was proud of myself and the fact that mom didn't have to spend any money on me.

"And maybe bought a little too much," Mike added.

"Mike, I need that computer for school. Hey, Mom, come upstairs and see my new computer. It's a nice one."

I stood up not giving her a chance to reply. She rose and I motioned toward the stairs. I let her sit at the desk and knelt on one knee next to her. I proceeded to show her how to turn it on, explaining what was happening. It was a powerful one booting up in no time.

"I use a computer at the office. I know how they work," she said.

I pointed to the 'World of Warcraft' icon so she could click on it. I showed her how to move my mage around and showed her how to kill creatures with him. I was a little disappointed at her lack of enthusiasm. After a few minutes, she was bored and turned to look at me.

"Honey, promise you won't spend too much time on that game when school starts. I'm also worried about you working while you're in school. You're too young to have all that responsibility. I'm afraid you're growing up too fast and not doing the things kids your age are supposed to do. Are you having any fun? That worries me."

"Don't worry, Mom. I'm fine. I'm having plenty of fun. Besides, I enjoy working. I like it."

"That's not what I meant, Val. Are you having fun?"

"Mom, I'm having as much fun as anyone. I couldn't stand anymore."

I stood up and went over to the dresser. I took my checkbook out and opened it on the desk in front of her. I pointed to the balance and said, "Look, Mom, I'm doing fine. Now do you believe me?"

I knew it wasn't the money she was worried about, but I wanted her to know I was looking after myself and doing a darn good job of it. Her eyes almost bugged out when she looked at the balance. I had a few thousand dollars in my account and that was after paying for the computer and new clothes; not to mention room and board.

"Where did you get all that?"

I could see the surprise on her face and hear it in her voice inflection. It was enough to make me proud of myself. After all, I worked hard to get it and I wanted her approval.

"I have a job, Mom," I said succinctly as I replaced my checkbook. Then I couldn't help rubbing it some, "Is the ... 'little lady' ... impressed?"

She couldn't help herself either and grinned, "Yes, as a matter of fact, she is."

Then she stood up, taking a good look around my room. She went over to the closet and opened the door. I guessed she wanted to see for herself if I was doing okay. I was touched as I watched her assessing, or maybe it was mothering, my situation. When she was satisfied, she closed the door and went over to the nightstand to examine the latest book I was reading. It was an old, dog-eared copy from the guesthouse of "The Eiger Sanction." I was becoming hooked on spy and espionage thrillers like Steve. She studied the poster I bought when Dave and I toured The Quarter with her and Bill.

"Very nice," she said, looking away. "Let's go downstairs, so they don't think we're being rude."

"Would you like to have the poster, Mom? You can have it, if you want."

"It's very nice. I really do like it. But you bought that with your own money because you wanted it. I think it should stay in your room."

That said, we headed for the stairs. I followed a few steps behind watching her descend. She had a natural poise and grace about her that I never noticed before. As I followed her, it appeared she lost weight, enhancing her feminine shape.

In the kitchen, Mom asked, "Would you like to go to the museum of art tomorrow with Bill and I? You can bring Dave if you like."

Steve said, "You should go, Val. They have an impressive permanent collection. I think you'd like it."

"I don't know if Dave can make it, but I'd love to, Mom. What time?"

"Mid-afternoon, then Bill wants to go to the yacht club for dinner," she smiled. "I think he's trying to meet the monthly minimum again."

"Sounds good to me," I said. "If he has a long way to go to the monthly minimum, Steve and Mike might want to go."

"We have a party to go to," Steve said, "but thanks for the thought.

Mom nodded, then said she had to leave. Steve let her use the phone to call Bill, then we all walked her to the car. She promised to call in the morning and let me know what time they would pick me up. I kissed her through the driver's side window then watched her drive off.

To Be Continued.

My sincere appreciation to my two amigos Chris and Wayne for all their help and patience...thanks guys.