SUMMARY: At a time of national turmoil, the lives of four boys become connected as each struggles to accept his sexuality and to address the challenges he faces in life. To the extent the boys succeed in coming to grips with those challenges, it may be in ways that prove surprising or troubling. This story is also being published on my blog and you can find a longer synopsis there. While some events, locations and features in the story have been moved forward or back in time for dramatic and other purposes, it takes place during an era when prejudice against homosexuals is rampant and the gay revolution in America is still in its infancy. Italics are typically used within the story to indicate what a character is thinking or saying to himself. Any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental.
WARNING: Sex is not the primary focus of this story. If you're looking for erotic content, you'll do much better with other stories on Nifty. While sexual content is secondary and incidental, the story does include some scenes that depict sex and violence, sometimes graphically depending upon the characters and circumstances involved. For that reason, the story is intended for mature audiences only. If you do not wish to read such material or it is illegal for you to do so, please look elsewhere. The story remains the property of the author and may not be reproduced in any form without written permission. It is protected by the copyright laws of the United States and other countries. You may download a single copy to read offline and to share with others as long as you credit me as the author, but you may not use this work for commercial purposes. You may not use any of the characters, bars or other fictional locations described in the story in your own work without my explicit permission. Nor may you use, alter, transform, or build upon this story in any way.
AUTHOR NOTES: This is my first effort at writing a story. As a general rule, I only plan to publish one chapter a week, usually on Thursdays. The latest chapter will always be posted on my blog before being published here. You may want to bookmark the location of my blog in the event you cannot find the story here at some point in the future and you wish to continue reading it: https://cafepalermoannex.wordpress.com. I've tried to provide a more helpful introduction to this chapter here. As always, comments and constructive criticism are welcome. Flames will be ignored. Have fun reading and feel free to let me know what you think by leaving a comment over at my blog or contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading the story (and a special thanks for those of you who plan to stick with it). I hope you enjoy this new chapter.
THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER: In Chapter 34, Andy meets with his boss to discuss the amendment cutting off funding for the war. He tells Happy Jack the latest whip count shows they are within striking distance of passing the amendment while many members of the House remain undecided. Andy and Happy Jack discuss a variety of things, including press coverage. Andy has to reassure the Congressman that the amendment will not hurt him back in his district. Then he reflects on the reasons why Happy Jack supports the amendment, which relate primarily to the human and financial costs of the war. While Andy shares those concerns, he also believes the war is a cancer eating away at America, part of a continuing imperial ambition that is slowly destroying the country he loves. At the end of their meeting, unaware that Andy is gay, Happy Jack tells his legislative assistant to go home early and get some sleep so he can impress the ladies working for another member of Congress.
Part IV - Virtues and Vices, Public and Private
If I could have, I would have gone back to my apartment immediately after meeting with the Congressman in order to get some sleep. But after returning a couple of phone calls, I headed off to my meeting with the other Congressional staffers who were part of the team supporting our amendment.
I got there precisely at 10 a.m. and started the meeting immediately. It was one of the things the other staffers liked about me, that I started meetings on time and ended them promptly. All of them deferred to my leadership, of course, initially because my boss was the author of the amendment but now because they also had confidence in me as well.
“First off, before we really get started, I want to thank Michael for all the work he’s been putting in churning out our FAQs,” I said. “I’m passing the latest version of those around for everyone to look at. They’re terrific, Michael. I showed them to Happy Jack this morning and he agreed.”
It was a lie, of course. Happy Jack hadn’t looked at the FAQs or commented on them. But it was the kind of lie you told to keep people motivated and everyone understood that, especially other staff like Michael. None of us would ever get credit or thanks for what we were doing. But all of us knew we were doing something important and it helped believing that someone cared.
“Thanks, Andy,” Michael said, beaming at me.
“You’re welcome,” I replied. “We’re starting to get close to crunch time, Michael, so you’ll need to stay on top of them now. They may need to be updated every day pretty soon.”
“I’m on it,” he responded.
I knew he would be. Michael admired his boss, as did most of the rest of us. But the guy was a screamer and it was a very rare day that ended without some kind of emotional outburst from him. Unlike a lot of his colleagues, he would usually apologize once he had finished getting things off of his chest. Still, it made life tough for Michael. I felt bad for him and knew he could use all of the compliments I could dish out and more.
“Does anyone have any updates?” I asked.
“I do,” Jeff said.
At 22, Jeff was a young staffer fresh out of college who worked for the congressman representing Vermont. He was also pretty damn cute.
“I had lunch with Allen in Congressman Williams’s office yesterday and he was telling me his boss is complaining a lot these days about all the pressure he’s getting from back home regarding the amendment. For the first time, Allen thinks his boss is considering supporting the amendment just to get the folks back home off his back; unless the Administration can sweeten the deal for him, of course. Like Allen says, Williams has never met a deal he wasn’t willing to swap a vote for.”
“That’s good to know, Jeff,” I responded. “I’m glad to hear he’s getting bothered by all the pressure from back home. It shows our grassroots efforts are making a difference. But Williams is such a dweeb. He would sell his mother out for a new road. What do you think is the best approach?”
It was another reason why they liked me. People liked having their views taken into account.
“We can’t control what the Administration offers him,” Jeff replied. “But I do think we can ramp up the pressure a lot more. His wife is very religious and has been talking to people in some of the church groups opposed to the war quite a bit lately. One of the consequences is she’s been nagging him about supporting the amendment.”
“On top of that, the groups have been calling and insisting on meeting with him directly, not with the staff, when he’s back home in the district. Allen says Williams is desperate to get them off his back. But I think we can ramp up the pressure on him even more. From what I hear, those church groups are willing to start holding prayer vigils in front of his district offices on a daily basis. I think we should encourage them to do that.”
“I agree,” I responded immediately. “But we need to do that in a friendly, non-confrontational, kind of way. Why don’t you and I talk to the groups about couching those vigils as being supportive of his courage in being willing to reconsider his position on the amendment? If they end up making it too personal and negative, he’ll get his back up.”
“That makes sense,” Jeff replied, nodding his head.
“Are you free to attend the meeting I’m having with the outside groups this morning at 11 a.m., Jeff?” I asked. “I want them to get your perspective about what’s going to work with Williams and what won’t at this point in time.”
“Sure,” he responded. “I would be happy to fill them in.”
Things like that were still another reason why no one questioned my leadership. They liked the fact I was decisive. They liked the fact I was fair in handing out assignments. They liked the fact I gave credit to others when they deserved it but took the blame for screw-ups when things went wrong.
It made for a smooth functioning team and one that was actually committed to the cause like me, not just doing it because their boss was supporting our amendment. Most of their bosses could have cared less, to be honest, and that was okay, too, as long as they let their staffers help us out. An amendment like ours could never pass without lots of help and support.
The rest of the meeting went quickly. I stressed the importance of getting their members to make statements on the floor right after the Subcommittee reported the bill. Everyone understood we needed to discredit whatever mealy mouth language the Subcommittee came up with. We also decided to start getting together twice a week beginning the following week. Eventually, as the floor vote approached, we would have to start meeting daily.
Then it was off to my meeting with the outside groups. That was going to be a much more delicate operation because they were split between the militants, who wanted more direct action in the streets leading up to the vote, and the pragmatists, who understood direct action could be counter-productive at times. I was caught in between, having participated in some of those demonstrations and getting my ass tossed into jail as a result, but knowing a demonstration was the last thing we needed right then.
I introduced Jeff to them and let him give his read out on Congressman Williams. When he was done, I emphasized the importance of their task.
“Look,” I said, “we’re at the point now where we’re only going to win if we scratch out the twenty or thirty remaining votes we need one by one. All of you have been great and the Congressman appreciates everything you’re doing, but we’ve harvested all the low hanging fruit. We’ve got to take it down to the district level now. You need to energize your members back home. The things we’re doing at the national level are probably not going to turn around many more votes. At this point, it’s all about making sure the members who are undecided hear from the folks back home. Letters are fine, especially if they’re not form letters. But it’s those meetings in the district offices that can really make all the difference, along with those editorials in the local papers. We can’t win this without your members ramping up their efforts.”
It was true, of course, and they liked knowing someone appreciated them. We went back and forth for about 45 minutes until we had reviewed everything we needed to cover. As with the congressional staff, we decided we would start getting together twice a week.
By the time the meeting was over I was hungry and headed up Pennsylvania Avenue to get lunch. I brought Jeff along with me. I liked Jeff. He was cute. But he was also married and his wife was expecting a kid.
What a shame, I remember thinking. I could have fallen for someone like Jeff.
But there was no way we were ever going to be more than just friends. Truth be told, he didn’t even know I was gay. None of them did. There was no reason they should.
By the time I finally got home that evening around 8 p.m. I was totally exhausted and didn’t even bother to grab something to eat.
I can’t do this shit any more, I remember telling myself as I stripped off my clothes. Staying up half the night in search of some magical prince who could solve all my problems; the boyfriend who could take away all of the emptiness and despair I was feeling inside, the emptiness and despair I coped with by throwing myself into the job. I just can’t do it anymore.
I took a shower and quickly collapsed into bed.
I’m not going back to that bar, I reminded myself once again. It doesn’t take a genius to know what happened after I left. That kid would have spilled the beans to his friends. The three of them would have sat around laughing and soon enough all of their friends would know just what a pervert I was. Only perverts did things like that. If I went back, they would all be laughing at me, just like all of them would be after me to do the same thing to them.
But this time is going to be different, I said to myself. This time I’m going to do the right thing and stay away from that place.
It was the last thing I remember telling myself that evening before falling asleep. It wasn’t enough to ease the despair. Only the sleep would do that.
By Friday I had managed to catch up on my sleep and was definitely feeling better about things. It had been a busy week at work, no doubt it, but now it was finally over. It was time to unwind and recharge the batteries.
I spent the evening at home reading a book. I was kind of restless and the book just wasn’t doing it for me so it wasn’t too long before I put it aside and switched on my laptop. I started churning out some statements the other members could use on the floor to support our amendment. By then the words came easily.
Eventually I looked up at the clock. I had been writing statements for about ninety minutes.
Jesus, Andy, give it a break, man. You’re too obsessed with the damn amendment. Get a life, dude! Do something fun for a change.
I thought about that for a moment.
Forget about it, I finally muttered.
Not knowing what else to do, I stripped off my clothes, took a shower and went to bed.
I managed to keep busy most of the following day. I called home and spoke to my parents to see how they were doing, to fill them in on what I was up to, and to bring them up to date on the status of our amendment. They didn’t really understand the whole thing, but they were proud of me and it helped knowing that.
After I had finished talking to them, I went to the store and bought some groceries. Later I talked to Jan on the phone to find out how her search for a new place for me was coming along. She said she would be sending some information on a number of different places in town she had looked at and asked me to set aside some time to visit the ones I liked the most.
I went to White Flint Mall and wandered around aimlessly. Unlike me, it seemed like everyone else had some reason for being there. Some of them were eating or buying stuff. Some were just hanging out with their friends. I went into a couple of the stores and looked around, but never did buy anything.
After I made myself dinner that evening and had finished cleaning the dishes, I turned on the television and watched some of the talk shows the stations ran on Saturday evenings. One of them even had a segment on the amendment. Unfortunately, it was on the one moderated by that right-wing wacko whose sole purpose in life was stirring up controversy with his bizarre theories and ridiculous non-facts.
How can they put this stuff on television, I remember asking myself? Doesn’t anyone care about facts or the truth anymore?
I turned the television off and sighed. I was tired of spending every waking moment of my life on the McPherson amendment, tired of being cooped up in small spaces all of the time. I didn’t want to spend the whole weekend alone at the apartment just watching television. Weekends were for recharging the batteries and having some fun, but where?
I thought about taking in a movie, but finally decided to drive down to the Jefferson Memorial where I could sit on the steps and enjoy the peace and quiet it always provided. I stayed there for almost two hours just clearing my mind of things. Then I walked back to my car and got in, totally refreshed and renewed. The Jefferson Memorial always did that for me even though I wasn’t a big fan of the dude it honored.
As I worked my way around to Independence Avenue, the thought crossed my mind that maybe it would be okay to stop by Hide & Seek. Boys like Tommy and those friends of his hardly ever visited bars like the Hide & Seek, especially on weekends when there was money to be made elsewhere in town. The chance of running into them was very low.
You can’t sit at home for the rest of your life because you made one stupid mistake, Andy, I said to myself. It’s not like you’re going back to that place. You’ve already decided you’re not going back. For Christ’s sake, Andy, you’re not a monk. It’s the Hide & Seek. Everyone goes to the Hide & Seek on the weekends, even straight people. One drink never killed anyone.
The Hide & Seek was crowded that evening when I finally arrived. As usual, no one was talking to anyone except to the friends they had come with. It was kind of place where people went to dance and show off; and when they were bored with dancing or showing off, they talked to their friends.
I didn’t have very many friends in the bars and the ones I did weren’t at the H&S that particular evening. Nor was I a very good dancer. I suppose part of it was I had never gone to the dances at school and learned how; knowing that made me feel self-conscious and awkward. There was also some inhibition buried deep within that made me feel weird whenever I danced with another guy. So I just stood there nursing my drink and watched for a while. Bored, I finally drifted away.
I knew the scene at The Pier would be pretty much the same so I decided to give Phil’s over by the FBI building a look. It was on the way home after all, the long way that is. By the time I got there, I remembered how much I disliked the place. The nearest bar from there was Outlaws, of course. I didn’t like it very much, at least not like Kevin did. There were too many tired dudes pretending to be hyper masculine and dressed up in leather outfits that bordered on the absurd.
But perhaps tonight would be different, I remember thinking, so I pointed the car north up 9th Street.
I ordered another beer and found a corner where I could observe. It wasn’t any different, of course; none of the bars ever seemed different. They were always the same. I wasn’t long before I found myself out on the street. Looking north, I could people streaming into Exiles & Castaways.
He probably won’t even be there. It’s Friday, Andy. Kids like that need to make money. The place to make money is the Café Palermo, not here. And what if he’s there after all? You can always leave. If you decide not to visit bars where you’ve done something stupid or embarrassing, you’ll never set foot in a bar again. What’s the big deal about this one?
Funny what a couple of drinks will do, I remember thinking as I crossed the street and walked north.
Like virtually all of the bars on the weekends, Exiles & Castaways turned out to be mobbed when I pushed open the door. But that night the place seemed more raucous than the rest of the bars ever got. Most of the guys in the place were surrounding its small dance floor. Curious, I edged forward to see what was holding their attention.
Except for two dancers, Tommy and another young boy like himself, the dance floor had been completely abandoned. The audience was cheering wildly as the boys put on a show for them. I remember being kind of entranced as well. Whatever else he may have been, Tommy was a terrific dancer, wild and full of spontaneous but strangely disciplined motion.
All of the eyes in the bar were on him and he was clearly enjoying the attention. I watched for a minute or two, then pulled myself away from the crowd and headed over to the bar to get a drink before leaving. You weren’t supposed to carry liquor in public, of course, but I had done it before at other places and I needed a drink before heading back home.
Like I said, the place was mobbed so it took a little longer to get the bottle than I had expected. As I finished paying, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned around and saw it was Tommy.
“Where have you been keeping yourself all week, girl?” he asked. “I’ve been looking for you.”
“Umm, well, I don't know, it’s been really busy at work,” I replied, surprised he had even remembered me, surprised even more he had noticed me given the size of the crowd.
“Oh, well, better late than never,” he said. “You’re here now. Come over to my table and keep me company, Andy.”
You need to leave right now, Andy, I remember telling myself. Just tell him no and go home.
“Sure, I guess that would be okay,” I responded nervously, knowing it was going to be a mistake.
Given what had happened on Monday, I was probably going to end up on the receiving end of a lot of tasteless jokes at the very least. But it would probably be worse than that.
“This is my friend, Andy,” Tommy announced to the rest of those sharing the table with him.
Two of the boys looked over at me and smiled. I couldn’t recall their names, but they had been with him on Monday so I was sure they knew all of the sordid details by now. But Tommy quickly deflected attention away from me with his chatter about nothing at all. He was one of those kids who could talk up a storm when he wanted and that night he talked a lot.
There were six of us at the table, including the two boys I had seen with Tommy the previous Monday, and a third boy who was new to me. Because none of them had been introduced, it took me a little while to get it all straight. The new kid turned out to be named Chris. He was good looking enough, but kind of loud and raucous as well. Of the four boys, including Tommy, he was clearly the oldest, probably in his early twenties I guessed.
The youngest was a boy everyone kept referring to as Teddy or Miss Teddy. He didn’t seem all that effeminate to me so I wasn’t sure why they were calling him that. But he didn’t seem to mind the name either. He couldn’t have been older than sixteen at most and to me he seemed closer to fourteen. He was just incredibly cute and I would have been attracted to him if I let myself be. But even I had limits when it came to young boys.
Not that my limits seemed to deter him very much. He was hanging all over me for most of the evening, inviting me to dance, chatting me up, and constantly smiling and flirting with me. If I had never met Tommy, I would have been tempted, no doubt about it.
The other boy, the one named Sean, was very cute as well and I would have been tempted by him too. For one thing, he seemed very masculine to me and that was always an attraction. But he also had that roguish smile and twinkle in his eyes that all of the Irish boys have. You could still see the little boy in those eyes and I liked that a lot. He was like Tommy that way.
The thing is, you only had to listen to him for thirty seconds to know he was Irish and probably from Boston. The accent gave him away. He had enough freckles to heighten the attraction, but not enough to become a distraction; and he also had a smile that seemed to be permanently frozen somewhere between a grin and a smirk. It was different, kind of unusual actually, but I found it very attractive. To be honest, it seemed like the perfect smile for him to someone like me.
Like I said, he was quiet for most of the evening and I never learned very much about him. He seemed to be about the same age as Tommy as best I could tell or perhaps a year or two younger. He didn’t flirt with me as blatantly as Teddy, but for some reason I thought he would have been interested if Tommy hadn’t been there. On the other hand, he and Teddy seemed to be pretty good friends so I could have been wrong about that.
There was also a much older guy at the table as well. The boys called him Ray. He didn’t say very much, but was clearly the one buying the drinks for Tommy and his friends. Ray was both older and taller than the rest of us. Prematurely bald, I guessed he was in his mid-forties, perhaps even close to fifty. He never showed any interest in me at all, which wasn’t surprising. It figured he would be into the boys and he seemed to pay more attention to Tommy than the rest.
The two of them were sitting next to each other and occasionally sharing some words in private. And while the exact nature of their relationship hadn’t been spelled out, I kind of doubted it was an entirely platonic one. At one point, finding myself alone at the table with Chris, I asked him whether Tommy and Ray were more than just friends. He just shrugged his shoulders and my suspicion remained unconfirmed.
And then there was Tommy, of course, and I suppose it sounds kind of shallow to say it. But to me he was just incredibly good looking and I suppose that’s why I was attracted to him. Truth be told, he was probably the best looking boy I had ever seen in my life, which says something because by then I had run across a lot of very good looking boys in Washington, including Jesse; and Jesse had been really good looking, just totally devastating when it came to looks.
But Tommy was cuter, no doubt about it; and I don’t think it was just me who believed that either. I could tell because lots of guys were staring at Tommy that evening, most of them discreetly. Several even walked by the table and gave him their very best smiles. Unlike myself, some of the guys could be brutally obvious when it came to flirting.
Still, most of the guys who seemed interested in him kept their distance. Tommy was one of those kids that everyone in the bars lusted for, but few ever actually approached in real life because they knew the answer would almost certainly be no. Or at least that’s what they thought it would be and no one liked being rejected after all.
Tommy was that good looking.
If you were into smaller rather than taller, he also had a really nice body. I tried not to lust for it too obviously that evening, but it was hard not to. Smooth and just about the same size as me, with green eyes, black hair and a smile that made me go weak in the knees, I found it impossible to take my eyes off of him.
It was the only time in my life just looking at someone in a bar made me go hard. I remember being embarrassed about that, wondering if anyone had noticed. When Tommy finally looked over my way and saw me staring at him, he flashed a smile that totally flustered me. I wanted him so bad, but I knew it was hopeless. But even while knowing that, I couldn’t take my eyes off of him.
Eventually, around 12:30 a.m., Ray decided to call it an evening.
“Don’t make a racket when you come back to the apartment tonight,” he said, directing his comment to Tommy.
“Sure thing, Ray,” Tommy responded. “I’ll make sure not to wake you up.”
I began to wonder whether I should head home as well. It was still Spring, but the heat that evening was beginning to get to me. When you combined the heat with the noise and the music, I remember thinking being home in bed would be a hell of a lot more relaxing.
“That’s what happens when you get old like Ray,” Tommy suddenly blurted out, to no one in particular. “They just can’t party any more. No stamina in bed either,” he added, which caused his friends to burst out laughing hysterically.
I remember being disappointed because the remark seemed to confirm what I already suspected about Tommy and Ray. Not that I had ever held out very much hope, but whatever hope I had was gone after that. And yet I couldn’t bring myself to get up and leave. For some reason, I didn’t want Tommy to think I was old or lacking in the stamina department.
Fortunately, I guess the heat and the noise must have been getting to Tommy as well because it quickly became apparent he wanted out of the place as well.
“Do you have a car, Andy?” he suddenly asked out of the blue, directing his question to me.
“Sure,” I responded, looking over at him. “I do.”
“Good,” he replied. “Ray keeps telling me I should visit the monuments at night, but I’ve never done that. I could use some fresh air. Do you want to give me a tour of the city, Andy? You know, take me places I’ve never been before,” he added, which caused Sean and Teddy to burst out laughing still again.
That made me even more nervous. I wondered how much he had told them and whether they were laughing at me.
“A lot of places won’t be open this time of night,” I responded.
You’re really making a fool of yourself, Andy. You’re such a pathetic fool, chasing after a kid like that.
“But, sure, I could show you some of the monuments that are open if you want,” I added.
I remember thinking it would be nice to get him alone in my car. Maybe we could put all that shit from the previous Monday behind us and be friends. Although it embarrassed me just thinking about it, I still liked Tommy. He was cute and I knew I was attracted to him. More would have been nice, but I was willing to settle for just being friends.
“Terrific, babe,” he replied. “What about you guys?” he asked, turning to his friends. “Do you want to come along with us?”
“I’m kind of low on cash,” Chris responded. “I need to get back to the Palermo and make some bucks.”
“Okay,” Tommy said, shrugging his shoulders. “We’ll give you a ride over there.”
“What about you guys?” Tommy asked, looking at the other two boys. “Do you want to tag along? It’ll be fun.”
“I do,” the kid called Miss Teddy replied, smiling, then flashing his eyes and winking at me while the other boys just laughed.
“Why am I not surprised, Teddy?” Tommy replied. “What about you, Sean?”
“I’m not sure,” he responded. “It sounds like fun, but I’ve been crashing the last couple of nights at that dude’s place near Dupont Circle. It’s a pretty long walk over there so I should probably take a pass.”
“Hey, that won’t be a problem, Sean,” Tommy replied. “Andy will drive you over there after we finish the tour. Won’t you, babe?” he added, looking over at me and smiling.
Damn, I remember thinking. Now I’ll never get home this evening at any kind of decent hour.
“Sure,” I responded, trying my best to return his smile.
With everything seemingly settled, the five of us got up and left. I remember an older guy staring at me on the way out of the place. To be honest, he didn’t seem to fit in and I could only guess he wasn’t happy that all of the cutest boys in the place were leaving with me.
Get over it, dear, I said to myself. It’s not like this was my idea, you know.
My car was nearby and, as Tommy had promised, we gave Chris a ride back to the Palermo.
“Whoa,” Tommy said as we approached the place. “It’s really crowded tonight, Chris. With all that competition, it may be tough making very much money. You sure you don’t want to come along?”
“Nah, it’ll be okay,” Chris replied. “It’s a full moon tonight. That always brings out all the old trolls. I’ll do fine. You guys have a good time playing tourist.”
With that he hopped out of the car and quickly filled in an open space next to the other boys.
I pulled away, turned south on to 13th Street, then left on to Pennsylvania Avenue. I didn’t have an exact plan in mind, but figured I would start by driving up to the Capitol.