A Horse Named Phil

By Driver

Chapter 12

My summer in Riverton took off as if I hadn't spent three other seasons away. I slipped right into the different rhythms of work and play.

I worked hard, like I had the year before. I learned more and more, too, because Harlan encouraged me to. He didn't exactly give me more authority, but with a baby practically on the doorstep he gave me all the rope I needed. I was reasonably cautious about what I took on, but mostly where it came to direct expenditures. If it was up to me which crew got a piece of equipment, I decided for them, but I wouldn't run out and buy another one to avoid the decision. Things like that made someone happy and someone not, but everyone knew I was trying to do right.

I wasn't really sure why I had the company truck, but I sure used it on business a lot. Almost every day I had to run here or there to pick things up, and they were normally things that were delivered routinely the year before. I didn't really understand that until one day I asked Hokay.

"Why is it, Hokay, that I have to go get all these things? Some things are special, and some things are hurry-up, but duct tape? Welding rod? What's the deal?"

Hokay smiled, "There is deal, Evan. People bring, people bring; the only people who meet Blaine are delivery guys. You go get; that different. Now Blaine come to them. You meet clerk, you meet salesman, you even meet company owner. Now Blaine have a face, too." He smirked, "Too bad your face, but they got one now."

I grinned at Hokay's slander. I insulted him sometimes, too, and it was just for fun. Still, he'd said something important, so I said, "I get it, Hokay. That's important?"

"Oh sure. Witout face, Blain just a phone number." He eyed me mischievously, "Even with Evan face, now we call and somebody say, 'Blaine? Dat Evan's Blaine? Evan wit da nice pens? We do extra get dat man what he wants!"

I snickered, "You're funny, Hokay. My face means good business? What's your face mean?"

Hokay looked away and mumbled, "F.B.I." Then he turned back and grinned at me. "I kid you, you know. You have a nice face."

I smiled and looked at Hokay. He wasn't good looking by any stretch, but he had a really nice face himself. I said, "You look good too, Hokay. Now where is Paul's Electric. I don't know this street," I said, looking at the address.

* * * * * * * *

I had, of course, been in touch with my own family by phone, and after two weeks in Riverton it was time to spend some time at home. I was looking forward to it, too. It was a new year and a new situation. I'd sorely missed my family the year before, but I was afraid of them at the same time, and missing them seemed a better deal than facing them. Now it was different.

I missed them, and I could see them any time I wanted to. I didn't have unlimited time to match my desire. I had to work a few hours on Saturdays, and if Aaron was to go with me I'd have to have him back for his voice lesson on Sunday. There were practical considerations, too. I wanted to bring my car home to the relative safety of our driveway. It had been parked on the street and unused since I got the company truck. Acuras of that vintage were high on the stolen car want list, too. In Mt. Harman I could park it close to the house in our own driveway, and at least during the overnight there was likely to be another vehicle obstructing its removal. I hoped.

I liked my car ... loved my car. Don't get me wrong. The car was fun to drive where the truck was neat to have. After a couple of weeks, that's where the truck sat in the pecking order. It had a six-speed, it had V-8 power, it had leather seats ... it had all those things. It was a nice vehicle, a beautiful truck, but it wasn't mine in an ownership kind of way. I actually had to sort-of pay to use it, which I hadn't been aware of. To avoid tax problems, they charged me a hundred dollars a month for my personal use of the truck. That's what they did for everyone who had off-hours use of a company vehicle on a permanent basis. Once a year they'd issue a bonus check equal to that total, then deduct the monthly one hundred. In the end, we'd pay income tax on the bonus and that was it.

The truck was good looking, nice to drive, neat to be seen in, but it would never be an Acura, or even Acura-like. People understood me, too; at least guys did. I hadn't been driving the car, but I still washed it whenever I washed the truck. The car was mine, and free truck or not, I took care of it.

The weekend I was going home, I worked a couple of hours on Saturday, then went home to clean up. In my mind, anyhow, I had two homes; one with my parents in Mt. Harman, and my own place in Riverton. My porch had become a cozy place since Kevin did it over. It was nice enough that I bought things for it, and with Aaron's artistic touch it had become a very agreeable place to live. I even had a rocking chair with a book stand beside it. I hadn't really used it yet, but I could envision sitting there and reading on a rainy day.

I called Aaron to say I was almost ready, then packed some things that I didn't need in Riverton to bring back. When I heard Aaron on the steps I went out to meet him. He was smiling, and had two little radios in his hands. "Look, Ev!" he grinned. "Radios! We can talk on the way."

"Neat," I said. "I guess I'm ready if you are. Do you mind driving the truck?"

That was a question I knew the answer to, but I asked anyhow. Aaron absolutely loved the truck, and he got behind the wheel at every opportunity. He'd even adjusted his wardrobe, wearing white pocket tees most of the time. That was partly because of his play, too. Aaron had also begun renting movies from the fifties, which is the same era as the 'West Side Story' play, and the tee shirt with rolled up sleeves seemed to come part and parcel with the era. Aaron would look the part because he was living it. He would always be Aaron, but with the sleeves rolled up on those shirts, and with the swagger he was working on, he could intimidate people just by walking down the street. He was looking the part too, because Aaron had taken to heavy exercise like a frog takes to a lily pad.

He wasn't showing any new bulk that I could detect, not that soon, but his muscle tone, his posture, everything about his bearing had turned straight up since he started with the trainer. I'd never known Aaron to be low on self-confidence. Still, he had new levels of it that were clear enough to notice. After just a couple of weeks, he could do fifty pushups at a pop and not even breathe hard. He was doing that many eight, ten and twelve times a day. Wherever he was, when he had a spare moment he'd start doing pushups. I liked to watch him do pushups, and for a couple of reasons. Aaron did perfect pushups, for starters, and that probably came from having a trainer. He held himself rigid, a straight line from his shoulders to his feet, so it was his arms and shoulders doing almost all the work. He did his repetitions steadily, too, almost studiously. Fifty took him barely three minutes.

No matter. The position Aaron took for his pushups gave me the most perfect view of his rump, and actually caused him to kind of accent the fact that he had one. Lordy, did Aaron ever have a butt! It wasn't big; not even especially pronounced. It was right where it belonged, though, and the curve of it would wake a cemetery full of dead people, it was that perfect.

We were soon off to Mt. Harman with me in the lead. I didn't like following trucks in the Acura because it was a low car. As it was, Aaron kept looming up in my rear window, so I tried the little radio. "Aaron? Can you hear me?"

"I can hear you. This actually sounds very good."

It did sound good. I asked, "Why are you so close? What if I stop fast?"

"I'm not that close," he protested. "I'll just stop faster." A minute later he asked, "Evan, did you know there's a Dixie Chicks album in this truck?"

I laughed, "Yeah, I know. Why? You don't like the Dixie Chicks?"

Aaron whined, "Aren't they country?"

"I suppose," I said. "So what? I kind of like girl singers. Is Avril Lavigne country?"

Aaron was silent, and we drove. About halfway home his voice came over the radio saying, "This is good."

He didn't say anything else, so I asked, "What's good?"

"Dixie Chicks," he said quickly. "Let me listen."

I smiled. Aaron was very artistic and musical himself, but his tastes didn't range nearly as wide as my own did. We both liked some things in common, but as soon as it got out of the mainstream I was the one with the broader exposure. As soon as I realized that I could borrow CDs from the library just like books, I started bringing them home, and I did it alphabetically and indiscriminately. That's right, I did my own music appreciation training in alphabetical order. I liked most of what I heard too.

I sometimes felt grand and listened to symphonic classical music, but when I was in the mood at all I generally preferred classical piano or string quartets. I didn't care at all for forms where it didn't fit, such as so-called classical guitar. I liked a lot of jazz, too, although I found the big band music tedious. I loved the quieter stuff like Stan Getz, Wes Montgomery and so many others.

My parents both like folk music. I liked some of it, and I do believe that I got some of my sense of social justice from listening with them. Some of the voices were incredible, too; like Joan Baez and Judy Collins. I remember being no older than three or four and getting chills up my spine from those clear sopranos.

My absolute favorite music is Caribbean. Reggae primarily, but salsa, calypso, bele, soca, zouk. Plus doux! Even steel drum bands. It's the rhythms that get to me, and the rhythms go right back to Africa and the slaves that were brought from there. The drums. Oh my God, the drums! They beat them today like the slaves did then, on a rare day off, to communicate with their old gods. They would drum and dance all night in a frenzy of bliss, then collapse to sleep when the sun came up. I hadn't tried that yet, nor rum drinks, but when the time came I'd be ready for the music.

When we were just entering Mt. Harman, Aaron's voice came over the radio again. "I'm kind of hungry," he said.

"I don't want to stop, Aar. We're almost there, and I'm sure my mother has food."

He came back on, "I didn't mean to stop. I just said I'm hungry, and your mother is a better cook than any restaurant."

Aaron had that right. I snickered to myself, then talked into the radio, "Okay, enough talk then. Park the truck in front when we get there."

"It won't fit in the driveway?" Aaron asked.

"It probably would, but I want people to see it." I laughed, "What good is a company truck if people don't know you're important enough to have one?"

There was a long silence, and when I turned down my street Aaron said, "Roger, out!" He didn't care for it when I bragged, really, not at all.

My parents were both working in the flower garden beside the driveway, and my father had a grateful expression on his face when I pulled in. He was at my door already when I opened it, and he smiled. "Evan!" He hugged me as soon as I stood up, and asked, "How is everything, Ev? I thought Aaron was coming with you."

I hugged my father back, then let go and pointed at the street. "Aaron," I said proudly, "drove my company truck here." I quickly added, "It's a V-8, six speed, and it hauls!"

Aaron approached us, a big smile on his face, and my father held out his hand, only saying, "Keys."

Aaron got it before I did, and handed my dad the truck keys. While my mother cried after him, "Where are you going?" he took off down the hill, We could hear him at the bottom, and when he turned back uphill he squealed the tires big time. Mom scowled and stomped toward the front door. I grinned at Aaron and got his in turn, then the truck zoomed past us on the way uphill. I watched, and he pulled over quickly in front of the Dawson's house, and in a few seconds Paul's father was there looking in the passenger side. Then he got in and my dad actually made the rear tires smoke, he spun them so hard.

"You've created a monster," Aaron said in awe.

"Me? You gave him the keys." I thought about that and added, "Anyhow, I think that monster created me when I think about it."

Aaron laughed and we went inside. My mother called, "Lunch is ready. Has Mario Andretti come back yet?"

I laughed, "No, he just picked up Mr. Dawson."

My mother grumbled, "All the more for you and Aaron, then."

Aaron had gone to the bathroom, and I went in when he came out. We met up in the kitchen, where my mother had set up a make-your-own sandwich type thing. She had corned beef, bologna and sliced turkey for meats. There were cut-up tomatoes and onions, lettuce, roasted peppers, plus Swiss and provolone cheeses. Rolls, rye bread and condiments completed the offerings, and Aaron and I dug right in while we caught up on things with my mother.

I asked if they'd heard anything from Matty, and she showed me three post cards that had come together the day before. They had nice pictures of old places, and the notes were very brief, but those few words seemed full of exuberance. "Sounds like he's having fun," I said hopefully.

"Of course he's having fun," my mother said. "He loves Europe."

I suddenly realized that I hadn't seen Bruce at all, so I asked, "Isn't Bruce here?"

"Bruce," my mother said with a certain tone, "is at the beach with his girlfriend and her brother. You've met Allison, haven't you?"

"Yeah, sure. I just never ... ah, well, I met her once, then never heard much about her. Bruce has a girlfriend?"

My mother smiled, "They haven't printed wedding invitations yet, Evan. They go bowling and they're learning to roller skate together. Allison is a nice girl, and very attractive. Bruce, if you haven't noticed, is a handsome boy, and some days our phone is a potential heat source from all the calls he gets from girls." She sniffed, "I don't think all of those girls are as nice as Allison, not nearly as nice."

"It's good that Bruce gets out now," I commented, hoping that she agreed.

Mom smiled at me, but the look in her eyes was kind of distant. "Oh, yes! Our baby has blossomed into quite a young man in the past year. He has new interests in all types of things, and he's like you the way he attracts people to him. He's not nearly the little sourpuss we ..." She suddenly looked horrified, and said, "Evan, I didn't say that last ... phrase."

I giggled, "Yes you did. Bruce was a little ... never mind. Well, sourpuss is the polite term, I guess." I looked at her expectant expression and added, "Anyhow, I see it too, and I like what I see. Bruce is a good guy."

My mother beamed, and we all started eating our sandwiches, and mine was very tasty.

My dad wasn't back when we finished eating. My mother gave me the few pieces of mail that had come for me, and some phone messages, but I'd talked to the callers long afterward. She had also saved the newspapers with stories about the gambling investigation. That was on the back burner again, for the most part, while the Attorney General greased his wheels and got things going.

It was a nice day and I wanted to do something outside. Bruce wasn't there to protest, so we went for a bike ride, with Aaron on Bruce's bicycle. The neighborhood was extremely quiet, and we only saw a few people around, all of them older. We heard some kids squealing behind one house that had a pool, but I guessed that the smart crowd was at the beach that day. It wasn't hot, but the sky was clear and the sun was bright. When we went past Chris' house it occurred to me that a lot of people might be on vacation, too. It was that time of year.

We were almost out of the neighborhood, and I was wondering if we should head to town or away from town, when I heard tires squealing. Sure enough, Dad came up the hill and stopped suddenly just ahead of us. He jumped out and cried, "You're not leaving, are you? I need your help, Ev. You too, Aaron."

I waited, and he finally understood that a bit more information might be useful. "Look in the back of the truck! I finally did it."

I looked, and there was a carton there so colossal that I wondered how it had escaped me, and I was stunned when I read the box. "You got a zero-turn?" I almost screamed. "A John Deere? What, we're suddenly rich?"

Paul's father, who was one of the quietest men I ever met, snickered, "No Evan, you're suddenly poor. Rich is where the money is, not where it used to be."

My father laughed, "Thank Evan for this one, because he kept that old thing alive so long. I would have had to replace it ten times by now, so this is like half paid for already. Come on, boys. Let's cut some grass!"

Aaron and I took our time riding home, mainly because we kept laughing. My father was funny when he was excited, and he was excited because he had something brand new for himself. That, unfortunately, didn't happen very often, so I was happy to see him in his exuberant condition.

When we approached the house, the truck was backed into the driveway and the tailgate was down. Dad and Mr. Dawson were standing there, and Mr. Saeger from next door was with them. The big crate had been pushed back to the edge of the tailgate, but they'd stopped there and were scratching their heads. We pulled up on our bikes and dropped them on the lawn.

I winked at Aaron and said, "Aaron, take that box off the truck so these old people don't hurt themselves. I'll be inside."

My father stepped right in front of me, and his look was mock-stern. "I'll give you old people. Have you ever asked yourself why perfectly healthy young people start to age when they become parents?" He grinned, "Now that we've settled that, how do you propose we get this machine off the truck?"

I looked at the situation and said, "I'd advise a forklift. That should do it."

Well, Mr. Saeger thought that was funny and started laughing, and my dad started getting ticked. "Evan, stop it. I do not own a forklift, and I'm sure you know that. I don't have a helicopter crane either, so don't even bring it up." He rolled his eyes just as I opened my mouth, and he said, "I don't even have a regular crane, so what do we do here?"

I didn't want to get him mad, so I got up in the truck and checked around the crate until I saw the weight, which was six hundred pounds. Four big guys could do that, in theory at least, but not very safely. Then I thought and pictured the beast in that crate, and muttered, "Block and tackle. No, wait! All we need is a short, steep hill. We can back up to it and drive it off."

Mr. Saeger said, "Maybe my bank. Take a look, Evan, see what you think."

We all walked over and looked, and it would work if we backed in over the curb. It would actually work well, because doing that would tilt the back of the truck upward, and it would form a more natural slope.

Back at our house, we hacked away at the crate and the various packing materials until the mower was free. Dad drove the truck next door, and when he backed up to the bank I was sure it would work out. I checked out the machine to make sure all the fluids were there, and looked over the manual to see if there were any hidden packaging tricks to trip us up, and of course there were. With the obstacles removed, Dad poured some gas in the tank, then gave me the key. I chuckled, because even with all the interest from everyone else, I was the only one who actually knew how to drive a zero-turn like that.

It started up at the turn of the key, and I watched the gauges until they settled down, then popped the emergency brake and backed slowly up and onto the Saeger's lawn. Easy as pie. When I crested the bank, I stopped and watched my father pull the truck out to see if there was any damage to the lawn or the tailgate.. Just some tire tracks on the lawn, and a little missing grass where the tailgate hit the bank.

I got back on the mower, kicked up the power, engaged the blades, then I proceeded to mow the Saeger's lawn in under ten minutes. That made Mr. Saeger happy and I'm sure it delighted his son, but my poor father was itching to get on that machine. I brought it over to our back yard and shut it down, then explained all the safety interlocks to my father, because if you're not aware of those the machine will never start again. Then he sat on it and tested the controls with the power off, and when he finally started it he just rode around with the mower off. He had the hang of it pretty quickly, and started cutting the grass, but I immediately stopped him to explain a few things, primarily that the throttle should always be on full for mowing. After that, his lines were kind of wobbly, but they don't show for long anyhow. He was grinning, and that's the important thing.

When dad finished our lawn, he drove up the street to mow the Dawson's yard, so Aaron and I sat in the sun on the front lawn and did nothing. We didn't have any real plans anyhow, though I did hope to see Paul. I said to Aaron, "We should wait for Bruce to come back. Then you'll get to see Dan."

Aaron mumbled dumbly, "Dan ..."

"Oh, that's right. You don't know Allison. Her last name is Crumb, if that rings a bell."

Aaron stared ahead, then smiled suddenly, "Bong! Ding dong! That Dan. I wonder what he's doing tonight."

I looked at Aaron. "Why do you wonder that?" I giggled, "Thinking of adding something strange to your diet?"

Aaron's smile was small but smug. "You did." I pulled my shirt off to try for a bit of tan, and Aaron followed my lead. Since he had it off, he did a quick fifty pushups, then another fifty. He still wasn't breathing hard, although he had a sheen of sweat from the exercise.

I stroked his back once with just my index finger, feeling the warm moisture there. He looked at me and smiled, then I put my finger in my mouth. I wasn't thinking how erotic that might look to Aaron, but his face softened and his eyes darkened, and suddenly we were alone in the front yard with nothing at all around us. Just a lawn, a warm breeze, and sunshine galore.

I looked back at Aaron in wonder. I'd had nearly a year with him, and in that time he'd changed for the better. It was nothing drastic. He'd grown some, of course, like I had. He was taller, filled out more in his face. He hadn't had a pimple in months and he was shaving a few times a week. Aaron's mannerisms and physique would give anyone to think that he was weak; a pushover. That wasn't the case, though. I knew there were things Aaron could and would fight for, but they hadn't happened yet. That was partly due to luck and the fact that his brother was tough, and he had a lot of tough friends. That kept some people away from Aaron. The other part to that was that Aaron was just so likeable, and so very gentle and fun-loving that it would take a real creep to even think of causing him harm.

My own brother Matt, who hated that I was gay, never seemed to give a second thought to the fact that Aaron was gay. He liked Aaron. My whole family liked Aaron, and they bought into his gayness before they did my own. I guess if I thought about it, Aaron had helped me become gay in my parents' eyes. That's a stupid way to put it, but to my parents Aaron was a child like I was, and he was a beautiful and appealing child. It's not right to say that Aaron is obviously gay, because lots of guys are effeminate without being gay. Aaron was apparently gay, though; at least he fit the stereotype. He wasn't a wallflower, though, and he found humor in the way he was put together. One of the first things he told me was that his parents thought he might be gay by the time he was six. I didn't see it in myself for another six years after that, and then I hid that fact for another three years. I had the element of surprise on my side when I came clean, and I certainly surprised a lot of people.

I loved Aaron, though: right to the center of my soul I loved him. I wanted him too, and I could see his own want all over his face. Everything is a tradeoff, right? We both wanted to stay there in the sunbeam, but exhibitionism wasn't on our to-do list. We sat there for the longest time, lust obvious in our expressions while summer sun was high on our list of practical needs.

We did well. We sat and sat, then stretched out on the grass and made small talk, and we didn't go inside until we had tested our patience to the absolute limit.

* * * * * * * *

We were sitting outside in the indirect sunlight of late afternoon for about a half-hour when Dan brought Bruce home. I nudged Aaron when I saw them coming and said, "Here's Bruce and Dan. Allison will be the girl."

"No kidding," Aaron said dryly. "I didn't exactly think Allison would be the car." I looked at him and he smiled meekly, like he realized his sarcasm. "Sorry, Ev." He smiled, "Tell me which one is Dan!"

I laughed a little, but any response would be pointless. Dan wouldn't be Bruce and he wouldn't be Allison, so he'd be the remainder. Allison came out first, followed by Bruce, and they'd been in the back seat. They really made a nice looking couple. Allison was as tall as Bruce, and she looked really fine. She was a little red from the sun and her blonde hair was mussed from the wind. She was showing off her shape though, in light blue shorts and a little white tank top, and she presented an attractive picture even to a gay boy like me. Bruce looked good too, in shorts and a tee shirt. He'd clearly gotten too much sun, and his ears and nose were all red.

When Dan walked around the front of the vehicle I heard Aaron suddenly gasp in some air, so I knew it wasn't just me. Dan's looks are really were kind of breathtaking. His complexion was naturally dark anyhow, and it seemed that he spent a lot of time in the sun. His skin, which he was showing a lot of, had really gotten dark, and his blond hair was striking against it. They all seemed surprised to see us there, and at least Dan and Bruce appeared to be pleased. Aaron and I stood up smiling, and Bruce did quick introductions before hurrying into the house with Allison.

Dan was talking to me, but he kept taking looks at Aaron; often enough that it was both distracting and somewhat comical. I finally moved behind Aaron, my hands on his shoulders, so they could get a proper look at each other. Dan was wearing a white cotton shirt that was big on him, but it looked great. It was tucked into his shorts but unbuttoned, and the loose sleeves were rolled up to his elbow. Dan was a little heavier than Aaron, and a little smaller than me, but he was one of those guys who always seemed to be bigger than he really was. Maybe it's a thing with blondes. Chris was no bigger than me, but if you asked anyone when we weren't side-by-side, they'd remember Chris as being noticeably taller.

There was more to the picture of Dan, though. He had sandals on, and crinkly shorts of a pale khaki color that were held up with a rope belt, loosely tied. How he managed to come back from the beach alone I'll never know, but there he was, and I had gone and spaced out on him.

Since I didn't know what he'd been saying, I said, "Why don't you stay awhile? I haven't seen you since ... um ... ah ... well, since school got out."

Aaron was the one to break out laughing. "I know the story, Evan. Remember? You told me."

I put my hands around his throat and hissed, "I was trying not to embarrass Dan." I looked at Dan meekly, but he was smiling at Aaron.

Dan said, "Not a problem. I ... I guess I should thank Aaron, but that would be embarrassing." He looked back at me and said hesitantly, "I met somebody."

"Really?" I asked happily. "Anyone I know?"

"I doubt it," Dan said quietly. "He's from Port Henry. We just met today."

"At the beach?" I asked, happily confirming my thought that nobody who looked like Dan could leave a beach alone unless he desperately wanted to. "Tell us about him," I said, conspiratorially. Let's sit out back."

We moved out back and hopped up onto the deck, where Aaron and I sat together on the long side of a lounge chair, and Dan sat in a regular chair, leaning close to us. It's hard to describe the look on his face, but it was kind of like a kid at Christmas who knew what was in the package his mother was about to open; all excited, and more than a little hopeful.

"His name is Lucien. I saw him in the parking lot when we first got there. He was with a bunch of guys, but Lucien I noticed." He made a nervous motion with his fingers, then said, "I'll get to that. They went ahead of us to the beach, so I didn't think too much. Then it just seemed like he was every place I was. I was liking what I saw, and I was seeing a lot of him. When we went in the water, he was there. When I went to get a drink, he was there. He was even there when I went to the bathroom, and I wondered if I was subconsciously stalking him or something. Well, heh, maybe I was a little, but it occurred to me that he must be too! I mean, there's no set of circumstances that would put us together everywhere like that." Dan shrugged, "Anyhow, I don't usually have the guts to just talk to somebody, but Lucien was starting to seem like a friend anyhow, so I talked to him. It was easy, because he's easy to talk to. Then we went for a swim, and Bruce and Allison came out with a ball, then Lucien's friends were there, and we're all swimming around, tossing the ball, laughing."

He stopped then, an odd look on his face, and Aaron finally said, "Don't stop there."

Dan smiled. "We stopped for lunch, and those guys had food so we left and went to the concession. Before we even got to the window, Lucien was there saying he didn't like baloney. He sat with us to eat, then Allie and Bruce went for a walk, and the next part is funny. I didn't, I mean it's not right ... that's not what I mean. Well, I can't just come out and ask him if he's gay, even though I was pretty sure by then. So I figured I'd tell him I am and see what would happen. I mean, how bad could it be on a public beach with half the world there?" He laughed, "The problem is, I couldn't get it out. I'm going, 'Lucien, I'm g ... g ... g,' and he looks all horrified and says, 'Gagging? You're choking?' I say, "No, no, that's not it. I'm trying to tell you that I'm ... g' and all I can get out is that stupid g. Lucien's all concerned and he got scared, asking if he should get help. I didn't need help, I needed a damn psychiatrist or something. I tried and tried, but I couldn't say that word ... not to imply it to myself and to another guy."

Aaron was grinning, "So what happened?"

Dan shook his head. "I finally smoothed out some sand and wrote 'gay' in it, then pointed to it so Lucien looked, then I pointed to myself. Well, that was it. Make or break, right? And Lucien pointed at the word, then at himself, and ... well that's it, kind of. Then we talked. And we talked and we talked and we talked." Dan closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them while a serene smile appeared on his face. We're going out tonight."

"Yay!" Aaron cried, and I smiled at the whole thing. I was happy for Dan because he was a nice guy. It sounded like he'd been the bold one with Lucien too, and I liked that. I was amused, too. When I was beginning to realize that I was different, and that difference turned out to be that I was gay, I had Chris there cheering me on. It made no difference to him. He seemed to think it was neat, which I didn't, but he never let me get down about it. It had been our secret for the longest time, and I thought I could keep the secret forever.

Things changed when I met Aaron, and Dan's story was similar. Dan wasn't out to many people, but if he and Lucien really clicked he might come out. When you know you're gay but there's nobody special, then coming out to the world is kind of pointless. When I fell for Aaron, then coming out was almost automatic, at least in Riverton where Aaron was known to be gay. I couldn't be with him everywhere we went without people figuring things out, and there had been no problem.

It was Aaron who made me come out at home, though. He didn't coerce me, nor did he ever even make the suggestion. It was all that Aaron meant to me, the things we did for each other, the love we shared, that made me want to be out and honest. I asked Dan, "Are you out to anyone else now?"

He nodded, "I told my mother a couple of weeks ago, and she honestly didn't seem too surprised. She was there on my side later, and I told my father." He grimaced, "That was hard to do, you know?"

"How'd he take it?" I asked.

Dan thought, his tongue in the corner of his mouth, "Not bad, I guess. I mean, I've heard stories about other kids, but there was no strong reaction either way. Heh, kind of like an unpleasant surprise I think. We still talk, but not about that. I think he's building up to it, though. You know, like he has questions that are kind of embarrassing."

I offered, "You know, I'm sure my dad will talk to him if your father is interested. There are things he needs to understand, but he doesn't necessarily have to hear them from you. My folks learned a lot from Aaron's parents, and now they're all good friends and everything." I laughed, "Why don't you suggest it ... right after you tell him you have a date!"

Dan blushed, I think. His dark skin got darker, anyhow. Aaron giggled, and Dan asked, "Your father won't mind?" I shook my head. Dan said, "That's really a good idea. It's a great idea." He suddenly looked puzzled and asked me, "Your father's not some Jerry Falwell, is he?"

I laughed, "My father? Not hardly." I looked seriously at Dan. "You know, a year ago I ran away because I was afraid of what my father would think, and I really had it all wrong. I surprised him for sure when he found me, but he's been really great all the way." I smiled at Dan, "My mother had a bigger problem, but she's handling it now. My oldest brother is the only one still giving me grief."

Aaron said, "He'll come around, Evan." He sounded cheerful, "You watch. When he comes back from Poland or wherever it is, he'll kiss the ground at your feet."

"Yeah, right," was my sarcastic response.

Aaron winked at me, "Just make sure you're at the head of the line when he gets back. That way, when he kisses the ground it'll be at your feet."

Only Aaron! I laughed, "You mean he'll kiss the Jetway at my feet?"

Dan snickered, "More like the decorative concrete floor in baggage claim."

Aaron looked horrified, and held his hands up to his cheeks. Then he smiled and said, "That's what I meant to say, Ev. When Matt comes home, he'll kiss the decorative concrete flooring at your feet." Aaron had fun saying that, too, and we all laughed.

Dan said, "I should get going. Any idea where I can find my sister?"

I said, "Find Bruce. You haven't told us where your date is yet."

Dan said, "Oh, we're meeting in Charlton Center. It's about halfway between us, and it's a neat little town."

I was ready to respond when Aaron grabbed my wrist, saying excitedly, "We should go there, too! I don't mean with Dan and Lucien, but I think it's a very neat town. Have you been there?"

I shrugged, "I've gone by it."

Aaron gushed, "Oh, Ev! It's a very gay town. They have this riverfront area with restaurants and cafes, and the downtown is full of neat little shops." He gave me a pleading look and put his hands to his chin like he was praying.

I looked the question at Dan, and he said, "Go for it. I don't want to double my first time with Lucien, but if we run into you we can get a coffee or something. You'll like it there, Evan."

I smiled at Dan, then turned to Aaron. "Let's do it, then. Do I have to dress up?"

Aaron shook his head no. "No, there's no dress-up there. You have to take your clothes off, actually. It's a nude town."

My surprised expression caused Dan to break out laughing, followed by Aaron. I'd been had once again, but it was funny and I laughed too.

We were laughing when Bruce and Allison came out from the house, hair combed, faces washed, and holding hands. I never really anticipated the day that I'd see Bruce interested in a girl, but he seemed relaxed and happy with Allison, and she with him. They looked good together for sure.

Bruce looked like me in a way, only better. He had the same brown hair and eyes as I did, and we shared pale skin that would tan right up. Right then Bruce had a lot of red from the sun, but nothing like a real burn. Allison had put on a big tee shirt that looked suspiciously like one of mine, and she really looked terrific. Some people seem to glow, and Allison is one of them. It's not like an aura or a halo, but rather some kind of inner warmth, and I could see it spread to Bruce when he was with her.

Since I'd taken off the year before, Bruce seemed to have evolved rather than just changed. He'd always been okay as a brother, but only so-so as a human being. He was something like all mind and no matter, with a brain like Einstein but few clues to the human side of things. I could look at him there with Allison and see the change in his eyes. The knowingness had always been there, but now there was an even larger dimension of wonder in his gaze, and even I found it hugely appealing.

Allison asked Dan, "Are we going soon?"

Dan said, "Yeah, right away," and stood up.

Bruce said to Allison, "I'll call you. Or you can call me."

Allison nodded, and the feeling I got was that she wanted more than a call. I said, "Bruce, I'm taking Aaron down to Charlton Center later. You should bring Allison and come with us."

Dan's eyebrows went up, but Bruce looked at Allison and she was nodding eagerly. Bruce hesitated, "I ... what's it going to cost?"

I saw Allison's hopes fade, so I said, "Nada. It's free night in Charlton. Aaron told me so just now. Well, it's free if you leave your clothes home." I looked at Aaron and smirked, then back at Bruce. "Nude towns can't expect money, because where would you carry a wallet?"

Oh Lord, it was funny. Bruce looked helplessly at a blushing Allison, who finally said, "I don't care. I will if you will. Just don't you ever dare tell anybody!"

Dan started it. He pointed in surprise at his sister, then turned his head away, the point with one hand still in progress, and he covered his eyes with his other hand and started this high, wheezing sound. That sound is what guys use as a substitute for 'ha ha' when something is way funnier than that. Or when something is more funny than the funniest things that have gone on before. It's the on-tap wheeze that we reserve for the absolute funniest, most hilarious surprises in life, and Dan, Aaron and I were nothing if not the epiphany of people who had been funnily surprised.

We wired down after a good laugh, and Bruce and Allison laughed too when they got the joke.

* * * * * * * *

To avoid problems in the Crumb household, we all went together in Dan's big SUV. It was a bit awkward when Aaron and I went in to be introduced, but not bad. It was just a few seconds of extra scrutiny from his father directed at me and Aaron, followed by a noticeable loss of smile on his part when he determined that we were like Dan.

After that, we were in good spirits on the way. Well, Dan was full of questions, like what if Lucien didn't show up. We didn't have any real answer, but tried to be reassuring. When Dan's cell phone rang, he handed it to me to answer. "Hello?"

"Dan? Do I have the right number? This is Lucien."

I smiled and said, "It's the right number, hold on." Then I covered the mouthpiece and held the phone out to Dan, "It's Lucien."

Dan smiled, "Lucien ..."

The smile faded quickly, then Dan said, "That's no problem. Just call me when you get there and I'll find you."

"Problem?" I asked after he closed the phone.

"He'll be late," Dan said. "He has to pick up his brother and bring him home before he can leave."

"Oh," I shrugged. "How late will he be?"

"Less than an hour."

I turned my attention to the road we were on, because it was turning into a really pretty drive. We were in a rural area with lots of woods and fields, but few homes.

Some of the houses that were there probably dated from Colonial days, and they were well kept and very appealing to look at. Everything along the way seemed old and solid; reassuring. Aaron was in the seat behind me, and he was sitting as far forward as his shoulder belt would allow. We were having fun, just idly pointing out different features of the landscape when Dan said, "Uh-oh," and braked hard.

Up ahead in our lane there were all kinds of emergency vehicles with their lights flashing. Somebody was holding a hand up to stop traffic, but cars were still coming the other way. In my little car I wouldn't have had any idea what was going on, but in the big SUV I could see over the car in front of us, but I wasn't sure what I was looking for. When we got waved ahead, I saw a small car in the middle of the line of cruisers, and a guy in a uniform was treating a girl who was leaning against the car. She was bleeding from the forehead, but not badly. The front of the car was crumpled, and then I saw that she'd hit a deer. The poor animal was laying there dead in a pool of blood.

Allison said from the back seat, "Oh, that poor thing," and nobody else said a word. I held my right hand up and Aaron took it in his, but we were silent in our contemplations of that random death. You couldn't usually drive a mile without seeing some unfortunate critter being scavenged by crows, but a deer seemed somehow different, and I felt sadness where I normally feel nothing. In an ironic twist, there was a Deer Crossing sign right around the next bend.

Fortunately, it wasn't far from there to Charlton Center, and we were soon occupied looking for a place to park the car. This was obviously a popular destination for a summer Saturday, and the narrow streets were already choked with cars. There were commercial buildings with small parking lots, but they all had signs that said parking was for customers only. We'd gotten pretty far from the center when Bruce said, "It says public parking is the other way."

"Where?" Dan asked.

"There was a sign on the other side pointing back where we just came from. Look, there's another one!"

Dan drove until he found a place where he could turn around, and sure enough there were signs every few hundred feet pointing to a public parking area. It turned out that we'd driven right past it, but we didn't miss the lot a second time. Fortunately, it was a big lot; more like several connected lots, and we found an area with plenty of spaces where Dan parked the car.

Walking into town, I did notice a few gay couples holding hands as they walked. I noticed, then checked my own reality at how utterly unremarkable it seemed. Two guys, about thirty, seemed kind of belligerent. They were dressed in tight, tight shorts and tight tee shirts. They both had buzz cuts and seemed in shape, but they took up the whole sidewalk, holding hands with a big space between them. They were walking fast, too; practically marching, and they were forcing others to get out of their way. I think if I was on their side of the street I might have just stood in the middle of the sidewalk to see what they'd do.

I took hold of Aaron's hand as we walked, and the only one who paid attention was Dan, who smiled wistfully at us. We were behind Bruce and Allison, and I didn't even know what Allison knew.

I started paying more attention to the village, and it was really beautiful. The sidewalks had been big slates until we reached downtown, where the walks were brick. It was an old, Colonial town, and for the most part the shops we were walking past were in old buildings. Everything was neat and kind of funky, and I wanted to dawdle, so I called to Bruce to stop.

When he turned around I said, "We want to just poke around." I reached in my pocket and pulled out my money, then thought about how much he'd need. "Let me give you ..." I peeled off two twenties, "Here's forty." I grinned, "If you run out, you're shit out of luck, so spend wisely."

He took the money eagerly and asked, "Where will you be?"

"I don't know," I said. "I don't know this town." I thought, then said, "Call my cell in about an hour if we don't see you. We'll probably end up at the riverfront to eat."

Bruce agreed and they walked off, and I have to admit that even from behind they made a great looking couple. Bruce had changed into newer looking tan shorts and Allison was wearing faded bell-bottoms, and I'll stop right there. I already said the rest.

Aaron and Dan were looking into a chocolate shop when I turned around, and what a sight they were.

Aaron, depending on the mood and the angle, could look handsome one minute, pretty the next. Dan held the market on cute, but a sexy kind of cute that anyone with blood in their veins wouldn't mind seeing more of. Together they were awesome, and it was fun watching them have fun. They were laughing out loud at the prices in that shop, wondering how much better than a Hershey bar it could be. I edged in and could see what they were talking about. Expensive! There is no way - no way - that candy could be worth so much. Well, it obviously was to some people because the place was crowded with shoppers, and they were buying things as fast as they could.

C'est la vie, right? I tapped Aaron's shoulder and said, "I like kisses better," which earned me a happy smile. Dan had noticed, and he looked between us. I think that had somehow impressed him. At least that's the feeling I got.

We continued along, and there really were some neat shops. One sold costumes, and they were pretty liberal letting us try things on. I only did hats, but Aaron took turns as a Musketeer and either Robin Hood or Peter Pan. I couldn't be sure which, but he was dashingly handsome as the former and a cute pixie as the other. Shopping with Aaron was always an adventure, but in a place like that it was a treat as well. Aaron was such an actor. When he went to change back into his own clothes, everyone in the place waited, expecting yet another little show.

Aaron came out of the dressing room carrying the Pan costume, and when he noticed people looking at him he hastily handed it to a clerk. Then he stood behind a sales counter and started touching it all over the place. He looked down, and said, "Good evening everyone. As you can probably tell, I'm blind. But I'm able to read to you this evening because of this remarkable invention called ... um ... broil?"

People gasped, and Aaron said, "Hold on! Let me finger that again," and the place broke up.

I grabbed Aaron's wrist and pulled him away from the hilarity, and we were on the street before I laughed myself. "Nice play, Shakespeare!" I said when I had my breath. "Broil? What the fuck?"

Aaron smiled innocently, "Don't you be a prude. I'm sure blind people can misspell as well as anyone." He turned and headed down the sidewalk with his hands working furiously in front of him, like he was blind and had lost both his cane and his dog.

Only Aaron. I tugged Dan's elbow and turned back the other way, muttering, "He'll get us killed someday, I swear it." Then I turned to look, and Aaron was at the corner looking around for us. There was no panic, he was just looking, and when we headed back and he saw us coming he smiled and waited.

When we got close I smiled back, and that made Aaron smirk. He said, "Sorry, I ..."

"It was funny, Aar," I said. "Really crass, but funny anyhow."

Aaron crossed his arms on his chest, "Crass? It was a joke, Ev. Blind people know how to laugh, you know."

Dan said, "Aaron's right. We know a blind lady, and she laughs about blind things all the time. I'm gonna tell her what Aaron did, and she'll probably laugh harder than anyone."

"See?" Aaron asked.

"Alright, alright! So I overreacted. Let's look around some more." As we walked along, the stores became more touristy, selling jewelry, tee shirts, and all kinds of things that had the name of the town on them. Foot traffic picked up too, and we were in a real crowd before long. After a little bit, the main body of the crowd turned right into a pedestrian street that went down a gentle hill and curved to the right. The crowd coming from the other direction turned down that way as well, so it wasn't hard to figure out that it was the way to the riverfront. We stopped, and decided not to go much farther until Lucien showed up. We turned back the way we came, walking on the other side of the street. It was still interesting with a lot of antique shops on that side, and it wasn't long before Dan's phone rang. None of us really knew where we were, but there was a Mexican place with a little neon sombrero on their sign. That's where we waited for Lucien.

It wasn't long before Dan brightened and said, "Here he comes," and moved to the middle of the sidewalk. Aaron and I didn't know who we were looking for until one face in the crowd turned on a great big smile when he saw Dan.

They talked for a moment and I took a good look at Lucien. He was an interesting looking guy, and he probably would have stood out less about thirty years earlier. The only word that came to mind was hippie, for Lucien had long, light-brown hair that fell over his shoulders. He wore glasses, and they were the little, wire-rimmed oval ones you'd see in old movies. He wore a tie-dyed tee shirt that Aaron was ogling, and bell-bottom jeans like the ones Dan's sister had on. I ogled on those because they were faded and tight. Lucien didn't look athletic, but he didn't seem out of shape, either.

I looked at his face when Dan introduced us. Lucien wasn't handsome, not even particularly cute, but I saw Dan's attraction to him right away. Lucien had a prominent nose, a nice mouth, and penetrating hazel eyes that made it seem like he was trying to see inside you. I don't think glasses flattered him.

He seemed nervous meeting us, but not unduly so. His palms were a little sweaty and he didn't talk much, but you could credit Dan's presence with that. Still, nervous people make me nervous, and our plan was to let Dan and Lucien head off on their own anyhow, so that's what we did. We agreed to meet under the sombrero between ten-thirty and eleven, then Aaron and I headed toward the river.

Aaron complained almost immediately, "I wish you let them go first."

"Why's that?" I asked.

"What why?" Aaron asked with humor in his voice. "I wanted to see Lucien's backside in those jeans, that's why."

"Aaron," I said. "Don't turn around, but five bucks says Lucien and Dan are right behind us looking at your ass."

He started to turn his head, "You think?" I elbowed him. He asked, "Why would they look at my butt and not yours? Yours is very watchable."

"Maybe they're looking at me too, Aaron. I only know what your butt looks like, and if it was up to me, that's what I'd be looking at. I've never really actually seen my own."

Aaron giggled, "It's a point of pride, Evan, believe me. We'll have to get some pictures when Chris comes back."

As we approached the turn at the bottom of the hill, the shops gave way to restaurants and cafes. We stopped to read the menus at a few that sounded promising, but kept walking until we reached the river, where the pedestrian area stretched out either way. It was easily the most attractive part of town, and probably the town's reason for being. Tourism was their industry, and they had it right. The shops along the waterfront were interspersed with more restaurants, most of which had busy outside dining areas. Nobody was selling tee shirts along the water. Those shops were small, some even tiny, and most had the work of a single artist or craftsperson for sale. We went in a few of them, and the one I liked best sold scrimshaw.

There were whale's teeth which were the most interesting. There were disclaimer signs here and there stating that those teeth and all ivory were taken before any bans, so they could still be traded legally. The newer things were done on cattle bones and horns. I wanted something from there, but I didn't want to spend the whole night in one store, so we left. I could come back another time, but I had a sudden fondness for scrimshaw as an art form.

Right next door was an antique shop that specialized in tin toys. We were looking around when Aaron nudged me. When I turned around I saw that Dan and Lucien were in the same shop, their backs to us. I giggled, and we both got our eyeful. I couldn't make out the brand name on Lucien's jeans, but let me tell you. Whoever made them should be paying that boy royalties, for where else could they get their jeans on a butt worthy of Michelangelo? Aaron's instinct had been right as usual, and Dan's attraction to Lucien was suddenly crystal clear to me. If he wasn't special looking from the front, he sure was from the back, and I'd have been sniffing right beside Dan if I'd been at that beach.

I nudged Aaron and whispered, "You should have told me sooner."

He giggled, "See? I sense these things even when I don't know for sure. Dan is exactly like you said, by the way. I like him."

I started to laugh, then it caught in my throat. There, on a shelf straight across from me, was a toy car identical to one I'd owned when I was little, and I gravitated right to it. It wasn't a little toy, but rather a big one. The tag read "RAE Jaguar XK150, Color Bluebird Blue. Note: The color is not accurate, hence the low price."

Well, the 'low' price was a hundred and forty bucks, which was an awful lot for a toy car, but I wanted it anyhow. I don't know what happened to the one I had. It might even be in the house somewhere, but more likely it had gone to Goodwill or the Salvation Army with our other outgrown toys.

Aaron was beside me, and asked, "What?"

"This car, Aar," I said, wanting to pick it up. I was looking at the toy, not Aaron. "I had one just like it. My aunt gave it to me." I glanced at him and asked, "Isn't it great?"

He nodded, "Expensive, too. What would you do with it?"

I looked at the blue car, still awed by it. Aaron was right, though, and I mumbled, "Nothing, I guess. Just let me look at it for a minute."

Aaron agreed silently, and just then my stupid cell phone went off, so I handed it to Aaron to answer and kept looking at the car. I started to wonder too, because I was sixteen and I'd received an identical car for a Christmas present when I was six or seven, so it hardly qualified as an antique. I'm sure that the aunt who sent it to me didn't pay anything that remotely approached the store's asking price, and I idly wondered if I couldn't find a brand new one for a lot less. I laughed at myself, wondering why I'd want a toy car anyhow, but want it I did.

Aaron said, "That was Bruce. They're hungry. I'm hungry. If we wait much longer it's gonna take serious time to get in anywhere."

I kept my eye on that car and said, "Let's go then."

Aaron pulled me away and I looked back until it hurt my neck. Then I pulled away from Aaron. I got the attention of an idle clerk by touching her arm and asking, "Can you tell me why a model costs so much? I had one just like it, and it was just a toy."

She asked, "Which one?" and I led her to it. She looked at the tag and immediately said, "The price is a guess." She snickered, "This code says it's a guess, and that means we don't know much or anything about the company. Do you know something?"

I said, "I know that about ten years ago my aunt sent me the same toy from England. I was a little kid, and I know she didn't spend much." I eyed her and added, "And I'm sure mine was an accurate shade of blue." I wasn't, of course, sure of any such thing.

She said, "Stay right here. I need a minute or two to look some things up. Will you wait?"

I nodded, to Aaron's displeasure. I said to him, "If she's not back in five minutes, we'll leave, okay?"

Aaron didn't look very certain, and he was only a foot away. I sidled over to him and put my arm around his back, snuggling him close to me. "Sorry," I said. "I don't know why, but I'm hung up on that car."

"Isn't it a toy?" Aaron asked. I nodded and he smiled, "If you get it, can I play with it?"

I leered, "If I get the car I'll put it on a shelf. I thought you liked my other plaything."

Aaron blushed if you can believe it, and I'm not sure why, but he was too cute for words when he got embarrassed.

The saleslady came back, saying immediately, "We've probably overpriced that car. How does seventy-five dollars sound?"

I looked at the car, then the lady, "It still sounds high. How about thirty?"



She eyed me, probably wondering why she came to work that day, and finally said, "Alright. Sold. Let me wrap it for you."

Aaron patted my back, and we followed the clerk to a counter, and she wrapped the car in a lot of tissue and put it in a shopping bag. Then she wrote it up on a pad, asking for my name and address, took out a calculator to figure the tax, and gave me the final amount. I paid her, thanked her, and took my package. When we were leaving, Aaron asked, "Happy?"

I smiled and nodded, and the cell phone rang again, and it was Bruce again. "There's a fish and chips place, Ev. We're going to order some and sit out by the river. If you don't want to, that's okay."

I had pictured something different, and I told Bruce to wait while I asked Aaron. Aaron was thinking like me, which meant an outside table at a restaurant, so I told Bruce to enjoy and that we'd see them later. I didn't get the feeling that he was disappointed. I was getting hungry, though, and so was Aaron, so we started actively looking for a place to eat. That task was only difficult because of the number and variety of places, but when we came to a place called Lizard Lips our search ended abruptly. They had tables available on a cozy looking deck that came right to the sidewalk. The deck was rustic looking and had a roof over it, and it was lit with Tiffany-type lamps all over the place.

There was a short line when we went in, and we occupied our wait looking at a pretty vast menu. Aaron whispered, "Do you think they can do this many things and still be good?"

I didn't know. The menu had a whole page of salads, soups and appetizers, and the print wasn't very big. If that was all they had to offer I would have already been happy, but they had a 'from the grill' section, a seafood section, Irish specialties, then house specialties, which were prime rib and 'Colossal Alaskan King Crab Leg'. Leg, not legs. I pondered that, and looked at the photos of apparently famous people who had dined there in the past, and finally saw one with a 'Colossal Alaskan King Crab Leg' in front of her, and the thing honestly looked as big as my forearm.

When it was finally our turn to be seated, we walked up to the college-age guy at the desk and asked for a table on the front deck.

"Certainly," he said, smiling at us and fluttering his eyelids like he understood our relationship already. "Just the two of you tonight?"

Aaron caught on, and being Aaron he pretended to swoon. "Yes, just two. Unless you can be persuaded to join us."

The guy wiggled around in his own skin, put his fingers to his lips, and tittered, "Ooh, wouldn't I like to, but alas it's a work night." He picked up two menus and strode out ahead of us, looking over his shoulder with a smile to make sure we were following. When we got to the deck, he seated us at a table right beside the sidewalk, so we had a great view. The guy, whose name tag identified him as Nicholas, put menus in front of us when we sat down, smiled warmly, and said, "Your waiter will be Richard." He winked, "Only because I owe him a favor, but I'm sure he'll take very good care of you."

His warm smile turned into something of a smirk, then he turned and hurried away. He was replaced almost immediately by another college-age guy with spiky, dyed-blonde hair. He came to the table with a pitcher of water in one hand, a basket of rolls in the other, and a napkin over his arm. He said pleasantly, "Good evening gentlemen. My name is Richard, and I'll be your server this evening."

We muttered greetings while he put the bread down, then filled our glasses. He said, "I'll give you some time to look at the menu, alright?"

I said, "I have a question about the giant crab leg. Is it one leg?"

Richard smiled sweetly, "Yes, only one, but it truly is colossal. This restaurant's reputation is built on the king-cut prime rib, and people who like a really big bone order that. But, those who desire something absolutely huge and tubular order the king crab. I'm sure that you two will be more than delighted with either choice."

He turned and walked away, and I turned my shocked face to Aaron's. Then we both burst out into fits of giggles that soon turned into more serious laughter. What was funnier to me than Richard's words was that we'd been pegged as a gay couple right away. I didn't mind, but it was Aaron who went through life with people just assuming he was gay, and I wasn't used to that.

When our laughter faded I looked around, and maybe those guys weren't so insightful after all. The restaurant was pretty full, and there were only a smattering of opposite-sex couples seated, at least in my field of view. A few tables had pairs of women, but by far most couples there were guys together. I said softly to Aaron, "I think this is a gay hangout."

His eyebrows went up, then down, then up again, and he asked, "So?"

I shrugged and snickered, "I can be slow sometimes, Aar. I just thought ... you know ... restaurant. Did you decide yet?"

He looked at me, "What are you having?"

I couldn't pass up the chance, so I said, "I don't know. I can't make up my mind between a really big bone and a huge tubular thing. You decide yet?"

I waited, drumming my fingers on the table while Aaron thought.

It would be easy to hate an actor. Aaron picked up the menu again and frowned into it. He said, "It's a dilemma. I like seafood, but colossal can be a scary word. I think I'll get that big bone he was talking about, and if you get the tubular thing we can share." He looked up, mirth in his eyes, but his face otherwise as serious as an undertaker. "How's that sound?"

I laughed and looked around, "Alright, where's the camera? Isn't this where the guy comes out and says smile?"

Aaron nodded, but he was distracted and pointed to a different table, saying, "Look at that."

I turned and glanced, and Richard was at another table, serving the people there salads that looked absolutely wonderful. I didn't recognize a thing on the plates, so I opened the menu and actually read the appetizer section. I think Richard had noticed us looking, because he showed up at our table right away, asking, "May I help you with something?"

I was looking at the salads, and I asked, "What did you just bring those guys? Is that the 'Spring Greens' or the 'Woodland Salad'?

"Spring Greens," he said. "It's actually several kinds of baby lettuce served warm, with shallots, wafer-sliced mushrooms, chopped collard greens, and a big wedge of tomato. It is ..." he kissed his finger tip and held it up, "Delicious."

I looked at Aaron and he nodded. "We'll have that," I said. "What else is on this menu that we might have not noticed?" I grinned, "Assuming just for now that we're not sure about giant bones or even gianter tubular things?" I tried to bat my own eyelashes, but probably looked like an idiot.

Richard smiled sincerely, "I'd be happy to order for you. Our shrimp cocktail is like no other. Can I get you two of those?" His eyebrows went up expectantly. I nodded, then looked at Aaron and he shook his head yes.

Richard went on, "For entrees, the prime rib and king crab are really good, but a bit much. Our shepherd's pie is a real treat, and tonight we have poached salmon with lemon butter, and that comes with new potatoes." He tilted his head back and put a finger to his lips while he thought, then he said, "Oh! The vegetable lasagna is a real delight. Everything is fresh, and the chef makes his own pasta. It's wonderful."

I heard the other words, but my brain had stopped listening back on the salmon, and that's what I ordered. Aaron asked for shepherd's pie, and Richard left after congratulating us on two splendid choices.

We both buttered up some bread and nibbled on that, making happy small talk while we waited. It was dusk, but close to the longest day of the year, and I enjoyed the lingering sunset even though the actual sunset had been in the wrong direction. It still threw color into the opposite sky, and I wondered what could make me happier. I was with my favorite person at my favorite time of day and in my favorite time of the year.

I was in my first actual gay gathering place, and I didn't even feel compelled to look around. Guys were looking at us, me and Aaron, but not like they were hitting on us. For whatever reason, I wasn't one bit embarrassed. I was with Aaron, and I knew we made a good looking couple. The fact that we were a couple should be pretty obvious too, at least to those who didn't rely on broil.

Yes, I noticed people looking at us, but we were far and away the youngest people there. I don't think anyone else was much under thirty, and most that we could see were older than that. When they looked at us I don't think it was with lust, but there was some kind of longing in their eyes, and I mentioned that to Aaron, who looked around discreetly.

He turned a wistful look to me and sighed. "You know what I think, Ev? I'm guessing, but I think we have what they missed out on at our age. Remember the people Grandpa told us about? They're from a different generation where they couldn't be Aaron and Evan." Aaron's eyes shone, "It's different now, you know? I mean, there are towns like this, restaurants like this."

Our salad came, and we started eating, but we didn't stop talking. "You know," I mused. "You get away with more than I do when it comes to being gay." I smiled, "This salad is really good!" and it was. After a few bites I said, "I think that when most people know you're gay, then they deal with it. Or not. I mean, most people don't care. Then you have people who do care, but would never say anything. And there's that loony fringe who care big time, but couldn't tell you why it's a big deal on a bet, and then the religious freaks who don't understand their own religion."

I grinned at Aaron, "I'm trying to make a point, but I don't know what the point is. I'm getting close, though."

Aaron laughed and pointed, "Maybe shrimp'll give you a clue."

Then Richard put the oddest shrimp cocktail I'd ever seen in front of me, and another for Aaron.

It was served on a dinner plate with big swirls of red and white spread around, and the shrimp themselves were big plump ones. I tentatively dragged my first shrimp through the red and white, and was rewarded with a big bite of shrimp, hot cocktail sauce, and immediately mollifying tartar sauce made with sour cream. From Heaven! My eyes went wide, and Aaron's eyes were also like saucers. What a treat that was; unexpectedly different, and delicious too.

When I was done, I started talking again. "I think what I was trying to say, Aar, is that you're the way you are, and anyone who seems surprised that you're gay is probably just being polite. You don't get hassled a lot, though, and I think it's because of the way you are."

"How am I?" Aaron asked. "I know exactly what you mean, but put it in words for me." He smiled timidly, "I like a little reinforcement sometimes."

I looked at Aaron sitting there. He was my boyfriend, my lover ... I decided to put my thoughts into words and let them come out that way. "Aaron, you're my boyfriend and my lover, and way more than that to me." I leaned forward and held my hand out across the table. When Aaron took it, I said, "I'll tell you how you are, too. Not just to me either, but especially to me." I smiled, "You're beautiful, for starters, and look! Your whole family must think you're beautiful too, because they make all their kids look just like you!"

Aaron laughed merrily at that, and I added, "You're beautiful inside too, Aaron, one of the most decent people I've ever met. You're out there, too, which is how I think of your mannerisms. Those are part of you too, and a public part at that." I thought, then spoke, "I think that's half the reason why you are so easily accepted. Being like that is the natural you, and you neither hide it or flaunt it. I think people understand you more because of that, Aar. It's part of your natural attraction."

Aaron was looking at me with serious eyes, and he cracked a little smile, "Don't stop now."

I said, "I haven't put it all together, but I think you could be a poster child if there's ever a gay movement to convince the über-religious crowd that being gay isn't a choice we make. I've known you for a year now, and I just don't see people being turned off by your gayness. Not even people who have a real hard time with me being gay." I snickered, "I'm the guy with the big medical bills, not you. When we first met, you said everyone figured you for gay, and you're right. What you have going for yourself is that they like you anyhow. You wear being gay like it's the suit you were born with, and it's the only one that fits, not just one you decided you like."

Aaron was smiling thoughtfully when Richard brought our entrees. My plate was pretty, even if the portion wasn't very big. The plate sure was big, and it was bone white. The pink color of the salmon, the white of little, boiled potatoes, and the deep green of steamed broccoli made for a photogenic dinner. Aaron's shepherd's pie was served in the ceramic baking dish it had been cooked in, and Richard warned Aaron not to touch the dish. I guess a pretty shepherd's pie would be a contradiction in terms, but Aaron's was attractive. Mashed potatoes were swirled up higher than the sides of the dish, and they had a bit of brown from the oven. All that I could see of the middle was the gravy on top, but steaming the way it was, the dish looked really good.

We dug in, and our limited conversation was about the food we were eating. I found myself kind of absently wishing the drinking age wasn't twenty-one, because some nice wine would have gone well. People had bottles of their choice at all the tables around us, and I envied them. I had no desire to get a buzz, but I knew how well wine went with good food, and I enjoyed it when I could. All I could do was shrug and enjoy the white aqua pura that Richard kept our glasses filled with.

My salmon, which had seemed like a small piece at first, and the things that came with it, really filled me up. There were small amounts of everything still on the plate when I leaned back, hands on my tummy. I said, "I can't eat anymore."

Aaron looked up from a fork full of shepherd's pie in disbelief. He was about two-thirds of the way through, and he took the bite he had in hand, then put his fork down. "Me too." He looked at his dish and said, "I could eat all of this, but it's really too much food. I'm supposed to bulk up, but I don't want to get fat doing it."

I sighed, feeling like I'd had too much. I had to go to the bathroom and I asked Aaron, "Did you notice where the men's room is?"

He shook his head slowly and said, "Usually by the bar. I'll go with you."

I asked, "Shouldn't one of us stay here? We don't even have a bill yet."

Aaron smiled, "You're right. I'll be right back." He stood up and walked off, and I was left thinking that being had was something that could wear thin pretty quickly. I didn't really mind, though. I wasn't desperate to go, and I got to see a whole lot of heads turn when Aaron walked by tables. I didn't care; it gave me faith in my good taste.

Then, when Aaron was just out of sight, I had second thoughts. We were in a gay establishment for the first time, and who knew what went on in the restrooms. I got up and chased after Aaron like I was possessed, not paying attention at all to see if I was also being admired. When I found the men's room I went right in. It was a small place, and there was something of a full house, but Aaron was right inside the door waiting for a chance at the urinal. One guy was using it already, and two more people were ahead of Aaron, while yet another guy was washing up. There was one stall, and somebody was in there facing it, obviously not willing to wait for the urinal.

I muttered, "Jesus," then I yelled, "Fire!" and all it got was laughter. Aaron laughed and said, "I thought you were going to wait."

"Excuse me," I replied. "I thought you were going to wait. Anyhow, I got lonely."

The rotation in that bathroom was slow. The guy at the sink dried his hands and left, and the man from the stall took over the sink. The guy who'd been at the urinal stood behind him, and three more men squeezed in behind me. The stall remained empty so I nudged Aaron in that direction, and waited until I got my turn at the urinal, then I waited again at the sink. The other people there made wisecracks, but I don't think anyone knew anyone else, and nobody bothered us.

I shouldn't have been worried, but I didn't know that. It would only take one person with the wrong idea to mess up a nice evening. Aaron was pretty strong mentally, and used to being provoked by idiots, but I wondered if he ever considered the possibility of an assault by a bigger gay person.

When we got to our table it had been straightened but not cleared, and Richard was there right away to ask if we were done with our meals. We were, and we both asked for coffees and the dessert menu. When Richard left with our dishes I said, "Aaron, I don't know how to put this, so ..."

"You'll just fumble along?" Aaron asked cheerfully.

I grinned, "Yes. And fumbling along, I got nervous when you left."


"Well, worried. This is the first gay place I've been to, and when you walked away everyone looked. That made me worry about you being alone in the bathroom, and maybe some creep could walk in." I coughed out a nervous chuckle, "Listen to me, huh? But I don't think I'm some nervous Nellie. I don't think either one of us should get too far apart in places like this. It's not all gay people here, and it wouldn't be that hard to meet up with the one dick in the place that wants to mash your head. There are lots of gays, too. I don't think that makes everyone's intentions honorable either."

Aaron was staring at me, perhaps thinking I'd gone off the deep end, but he didn't say anything. "Anyhow," I continued, "I don't think either one of us should try to get alone when we're in public. I mean, you got punched in a stupid book store. You still do better than me, but we should always look at the risk." I leaned closer, "It's small here maybe, but I didn't know that before. It only takes one person to hurt you, and I don't want you hurt."

"I don't want you to get hurt, either," Aaron said softly. "I see what you're saying, and we should stick together. I got nervous going in that bathroom, too. I don't think 'phobes have a lock on bad intentions. Did I tell you I'm giving up the voice lessons after tomorrow?"

I stared at Aaron, feeling turned around by the sudden change of subject. "No," I said dryly, "You never said anything about it. Why the change? I thought you loved that guy."

Aaron stared and said, "I still like him, and I learned a lot. The last couple of lessons, he started going after my voice itself, saying it was too pretty, or had too much of a ring." He shook his head quickly, "That's not what I want. I like my voice, other people like my voice, but he want's me to be some generic tenor. I want to be an Aaron tenor, and if I'm not technically perfect then so what? Does Judy Ginsburgh sound like Judy Garland sound like Judy Collins? No!" Aaron laughed, "What? You don't know any of them?"

"I know Judy Collins," I said. "I love her voice."

"That's what I'm getting at, Ev. I love her voice, too. And I love Judy Garland and Judy Ginsburgh, but they don't sound anything alike, except you'd know they weren't men singing. My teacher has an ear for men singing, and he has an idea that distinction is not a good thing. Don't get me wrong, I've learned a ton of good things from him, but I don't want to be some generic voice in the chorus. I don't want a chorus of generic voices. It's no good that way."

I snorted, "No good?"

Aaron said adamantly, "It's not! Just imagine this. Say that ... I don't know, let's pick Elton John. Say Elton was the only voice for pop music. If you wanted to make records, you had to sing just like Elton, exactly like Elton." He grinned, "How long would that last? Look at the people who play the instruments, especially with classical music. They have this music that's written down, yet the best players give it a sound that's all their own. Even whole orchestras try to make it their own. God, look in the classical section and you'll see that things get recorded over and over and over again. If generic was good, then once would be enough, right? Because everybody would sound exactly like everyone else. Slap me, please. I'm blathering here," Aaron said, dropping back in his seat.

After I laughed, I leaned over and gave Aaron kind of an air kiss because I couldn't quite reach him. When I sat back I smiled, "You're not blathering, Aar. You're pretty good, really. I learned from that. I like it when I find a framework for things that I kind of know already." I smiled, "I like it better that you'll have Sundays off for awhile. It'd be nice to go riding later in the day. We could keep it more open-ended and go off by ourselves."

Aaron smiled, "We can do that. I have tomorrow though, and I have to tell him that I'm quitting."

I winced. "Will that be hard?"

Aaron started to shake his head, then it turned to a slight nod. "Yeah, hard. I want him to know that I've learned a lot, and I really do think I'm a way better singer because of him. I just don't want to work hard to lose whatever distinction my voice has. I don't know how he'll take it."

I shrugged, "I wouldn't worry about it. You're doing the right thing for you. If he doesn't like that ... well, that's just him then." I felt like I'd been in the same chair long enough. "Let's skip dessert and just pay our bill and get going."

* * * * * * * *

Leaving the restaurant, we thought we'd just look around town some more, check out more stores. At the bottom of the steps I had a surprise, because my brother Alton was there looking at the menu, and there was a girl with him, arm in arm. Only it was a woman, not a girl; a lady who looked ten years older than Al. She wasn't exactly over the hill, but she was probably old enough to be one of his professors.

"Al!" I said in my surprise. "Um ..."

He looked up in his own surprise and said, "Evan ... Aaron ..." Then in all his brilliance he asked, "What are you doing here?"

Aaron jumped in cheerfully, "We just had a really nice dinner." He leaned close to Al and added, "It's a gay place. If you can get past that, the food's really good."

"Who are these boys?" the lady with Al asked in a friendly manner. She smiled at me and Aaron in turn.

Al said, indicating me, "This is my brother Evan and his friend, Aaron. This is Katy, guys."

Aaron shook hands with Katy, then I did, and I thought she looked familiar somehow. Aaron blurted, "I know you! You're on the news! The ... the ... the ..."

"Katy Mallinson, Investigative reporter for channel eight," she said, smiling and shaking hands again with Aaron first, then me. "I met Alton, and when I learned his last name.  That's how we got to talking. It's not a common name, and I'd worked on Evan's story for the station." She turned to me and said, "Evan," softly. "I know so much about you, and now here you are. Alton speaks of you often, so it really is a pleasure to meet you face to face."

I was taken aback, but smiled. Al had never mentioned that there was a Katy in his life but that was no surprise. Of all the Smiley boys, Al had always been the most private. "Thanks," I said to Katy. "The food really is good here." I turned to Al, "Bruce is around somewhere, too. Do you know Allison?"

Al smiled and nudged Katy before responding. "I met her once. Bruce is growing up, isn't he?" He smiled again, "Anyhow, we ate earlier. We're just waiting for the kids to find us." He saw my eyes widen and said, "Katy's kids. They went to get ice cream."

I nodded, taking another look at Katy. She was certainly attractive; pretty in a natural kind of way. Still, she was at least ten years older than Al, and she had children. My assessment of her age changed immediately when her kids showed up. They were two girls, and hardly little girls. The older one was probably Bruce's age; the younger was ten or so. The younger girl, Janet, was slight, pretty, and quite shy. Interestingly, she clung to Alton rather than her mother while we talked.

The older one, Karen, was also pretty, but a bit on the plump side. She had nice eyes though, and a wonderful smile when her mother introduced us. Karen expressed herself breathlessly, too, and I liked her style. "Evan! I know all about you. Well, of course that's not true, but I know you from the news, and Alton talks about you a lot." She looked to Aaron, "I know a lot about you, too. I hope we can be friends."

That last bit got me. Why would she want to be friends with me or Aaron? We were older and on our own course. We wouldn't be unfriendly, of course, but I didn't think we'd have much to do with Katy Mallinson's kids. Aaron was cordial, smiling, "We can be friends. Right now we're looking for other friends. They have our ride, and we split up hours ago."

Karen looked at Aaron for a long moment, most likely taken off stride by his style. Then she smiled and touched his hand, "You go find them, then," she said gently.

I said, "Well, nice to meet you Katy," holding out my hand. She shook hands gently and smiled, and I said, "Bye girls," turning to her daughters. "We'll see you soon, I hope."

Goodbyes out of the way, Aaron and I started walking away, and we'd taken about a dozen steps when Alton appeared at my side. "Evan," he said. "Whatever you do, don't tell Mom or Dad about seeing me with Katy."

I looked my question at him and he sighed, shaking his head a little, "Don't look at me like that. This isn't something evil, but I need more time with Katy myself before I go introducing her to the family." His eyebrows went up, and he had no smile. "I guess I can tell you. I'm kind of serious about Katy. She's ... she's older than me. That's the only big deal here, and only a big deal to other people. We get along too, like I've never done with anyone else. There's this understanding between us, Ev, and it's really wonderful." He eyes suddenly became glossy and he said, "I'm in love."

I couldn't tell what Al expected from me by his face, but I understood the fundamentals of his fears. Society had names to call young guys who loved older women, just like they had names for guys who liked other guys. The first was more permissible, of course, but Al and Katy could face a different kind of societal rejection.

I couldn't think of anything to say, and Al was right there looking hopeful. I put my hands on his shoulders, then I pulled him to me and kissed him right on the lips. I didn't know what else to do, and it was the most brotherly thing I could think of. Too much was unsaid ... unexplained. I didn't care if Al was in love with someone older. If he cared that much for Katy then he did, and it was as simple as that in my own mind.

Alton wasn't embarrassed by my kiss. He smiled and said, "Thanks, Ev." Then he turned a smile to Aaron and headed back to Katy. Aaron turned a worried smile to me, but when he saw that I wasn't concerned he relaxed.

"Wow, talk about a ready-made family," he said in amazement. "What do you think?"

I shrugged, "Who knows? Maybe I'll be an aunt before I'm an uncle. Auntie Ev sounds okay, doesn't it?"

Aaron snickered as he put his hand on my shoulder and gently nudged me in the direction we had started in. "You can't be an aunt, Evan. Me? Well, that's different, but not you. You're not worried about your brother and an older woman?"

I said, "I'm not worried. I guess I'm not even surprised. I don't know much about Al's love life, but just in general he always hung out with older kids. I think that's where he's comfortable, so it's up to him." I grinned at Aaron, "Hey, Al thinks it's good that I'm with you, so what could I possibly complain about?"

Aaron was about to say something when I spotted Bruce, who was leaning against a building, hands in his pockets. I pointed him out to Aaron, who said, "Uh-oh," and we walked over there.

"Bruce!" I said to get his attention. When he looked at us, he smiled. "What's up? Where's Allison?" I asked.

He rolled his eyes, "Inside with her brother and his friend. It's all scented candles in there, Ev, and I must be allergic. I've been out here ten minutes and I'm just getting to where I can look at a light without sneezing. I never thought I was allergic to anything."

"Except dumbos," I snickered, nudging Aaron. "I saw Alton just now. He's here with his ... uh ... lady friend."

"Really?" Bruce smiled. "I wonder if Matty's with a girl ... ah ... with a date ... wherever he is."

"Smileys on the prowl," Aaron muttered, then he smiled, "The world is crawling with you guys tonight. I'm not worried," he said while patting my hand. "I have mine already." Then Aaron suddenly flailed his free arm while he grabbed my wrist desperately with the one that had just patted it. He contorted crazily and I grabbed onto him, keeping him from falling.

"What?" I asked.

"Ouch," Aaron said. I pulled a muscle in my leg. What was that?"

I led him to a bench, and the couple there had seen what happened so they moved to let Aaron sit. "What happened?" I asked, a little bit worried by then.

Aaron looked at where we'd been walking and said, "I slipped on something," then he started rubbing the calf of his right leg. "Jeez, that hurts!" he said. He looked up at me, "My foot went right out from under me." I could see an Aaron laugh coming on, and he asked, "Did I look stupid or what?"

I knelt down to look at his leg, and to tell the truth it looked very nice to me. I stroked his calf and asked, "Can you walk? Did you twist it, or is it a pulled muscle?"

Aaron winced, "It felt like someone stabbed me. Maybe a pulled muscle. I'll be okay, it's like a cramp now." He winced again, "Help me up, I think I can walk it off."

I was rubbing his calf and it was as hard as a rock. I knew the feeling and it wasn't pleasant, but Aaron was right. Walking was probably the best thing for it, so I helped him up and held him while he hobbled painfully, unable to put his foot down flat until he'd taken a dozen steps. Then the cramp left him just like it had come on, and in a few more steps he was walking normally.

I smiled, "Better?"

He nodded, "Yeh, all fixed I think. Can we go now, though? It's nice here, but we get all busy again tomorrow."

"What are you suggesting?" I asked with an eyebrow cocked.

Aaron had been working on a leer, and he had it going pretty well. "Suggesting? Moi? You have me all wrong. I just want to get to bed."


He snickered, "You could say that. I'm tired of not having my way with you, and it's just about time you had your way with me."

I was laughing and already had my phone out. I dialed Bruce and he picked up right away. "Where are you, Bruce?" I asked. "We're ready to go."

There was a long pause, then Bruce said, "I'm not really sure, but we're on some dock with a big dog." Then he whispered, "Dan and Lucien are here too."

"How convenient," I said. "Can I talk to Dan?"

"Um ..."

"Okay, never mind. If he's staying, get his car keys and meet us under the neon sombrero, okay?"

"Neon sombrero," Bruce repeated. "See you there."

* * * * * * * *

It was a half hour by the time we were all under the sombrero. Aaron and I had coffees from a streetfront place. Bruce and Allison showed up first, and it was clear that they found one another easy to be around. They were relaxed and happy, almost unaware of the presence of Aaron and me. Dan and Lucien showed up a few minutes later. They seemed to like each other, and that's all I could read into their demeanor. I think Lucien was the quiet type, so Dan was being quiet too.

With Aaron and me ... well, we'd already talked enough for one day. Everyone seemed tired too, so we made our way back to the parking lot, letting Dan and Lucien dawdle behind us, then went ahead to Dan's car when he turned to walk Lucien to where he'd parked. We waited by Dan's vehicle, and shortly the door locks popped open, and Dan emerged from the darkness with a dopey smile on his face.

I guessed that he'd just finished kissing Lucien, and that it had been a doozy. I didn't know if I could trust him, so I asked, "Want me to drive?"

"I think you'd better."

"You had a good time, then?"


I giggled, "You're seeing each other again?"

He nodded, "Tomorrow - Lucien's house." Dan looked at me, "Stop talking now, I'm trying to re-live all this."

Aaron sat up front with me, and Dan had the third row to himself where he could remember to his heart's content.

Continued ...