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Playing the Game

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September 26th 2012  |  0  |  Category: Romantic Love  |  Author: Michael-Colin  |  2004 views

This work is fully protected by U.S. Copyright laws. No portion of this story may be reproduced or distributed without the express consent of its author.

“Hey Grayce, what time you think you’re gonna be through here? I’m just about ready to blow this Popsicle stand.”

Mike Kerrigan, my co-worker, roommate and best friend stands there looking up at me and I begin tossing down a set of law books from the top shelf of the library. He catches each one expertly, arranging them neatly on a table.

“I’m not sure Mike. I got a whole list of stuff I’m still trying to find and the last of my deliveries to do.”

“How’s about I give you a hand?”

Ha! No thanks. Last time I sent you downstairs to find stuff for me I caught you having a little class action with that paralegal bimbo.”

Mike smiles at the recollection. “Shit. I swear I thought the place was empty! I’m just glad it was you that walked in and not Harnick.”

I climb down the ladder and roll it to the next shelf. “Me too. Had you been fired I’d have to take the “L” to work.”

He laughs. ” Aw gee, thanks asshole. I’m touched.”

“Be a good boy and start tossing me that stack right over there will ‘ya?”

He tosses up a particularly large volume a little too close to my head to be an accident. “Look, Gray-boy, I want to get out of here so’s we can have enough time to grab a few beers before the party. You know Harnicks’ idea of a great bar is three different kinds of cheap wine. I’d rather drop trou, piss in my glass and drink it than have that boxed shit he brings.”

“Now there’s a party trick I’d pay to see.”

“Any excuse to see my dick, huh Grayce? How’d I ever get stuck with a fag like you for a best friend?”
“Hey you’re the one that asked me to move in with you. I have witnesses that will testify to that. Besides, you knew I was gay before we even became friends so I’m dismissing your case. Now do me a favor and get the fuck out of here. Every time you try to help me it takes me twice as long. I’ll meet you at Rocks in half an hour.

“O.K. but hurry up will ‘ya? You know I hate to drink alone.”

He exits down the back stairs, obliviously knocking over a huge pile of volumes by the door. I smile to myself knowing full well that he’ll be chatting up some babe over a half-pint of Guinness inside of three minutes.

Normally, a fellow employee or two can be found around here after five p.m. but everyone has left early to go home and change. Our boss Sheldon Harnick is throwing a big party tonight to welcome a new partner to the firm. Those who live too far away for the commute got together and rented a suite for the night at the Palmer House and undoubtedly have already begun their own party.

I roll my cart into the service elevator and go down a floor to the attorney’s offices. For the first time since grade school, I’m forced to confront my phobia about being left in buildings alone. The various office machines make their intermittent noises sometimes convincing me that there may be someone else here after all but, each time I look out into the hall to check, I’m always wrong.

I wander through each office dropping off requested volumes and picking up the materials they’ve finished with. With four partners and twenty associates, my cart becomes overloaded in no time. My last stop is the new partner, Kerry Dean, whose name I’ve just learned from the freshly installed plaque on his door. I go into his office more out of curiosity than necessity since he hasn’t been here long enough to request my services yet. On the floor next to his desk sits a box of personal things with a large picture frame sticking out of it and I carefully pull it out. A typical blonde haired, blue eyed, preppy jock stares back from the photo with a typical blonde haired, green eyed girlfriend standing behind him with the typical one-hand-on-his-shoulder pose showing off her typical engagement ring. “She needs to have her typical roots done” I think to myself.

“Hey how ‘ya doin? I’m Kerry Dean.”

I nearly pass out from the shock of his sudden entrance.

“Yeah, I know what you’re thinking pal, but you’re too late. She’s all mine.” He says as he takes the picture from me, places it on his desk and offers his hand for me to shake. His hands are unbelievably soft, his grip inspiring the requisite manly confidence.

“Welcome to the firm Mr. Dean. I’m Grayce Connors. I’m the law librarian here. I was just thinking what a lucky guy you are.” Yeah, right…

“Hey, you don’t have to tell me buddy. Call me Kerry. Mr. Dean’s my father.” He laughs heartily at the joke as though I had never heard it before. He pulls out a suit bag from behind the door and begins to strip off his shirt and tie. “What kind of name is Grace for a boy? Was your mom like one of those free love sixties hippies?

“Actually, she’s President of Research and Development at Dow Chemical. She discovered the formula for hot glue.”

“Really? That’s fascinating.” Kerry replies almost too politely. He unashamedly shucks his pinstripe wool pants and his answer to the boxer vs. briefs dilemma becomes apparent as his hefty cock and balls swing free in the climate-controlled breeze.

“Um… she was expecting a girl and already had the name picked out, so when I came along she just made it fit. It’s spelled g-r-a-Y-c-e.”

“Oh. Uh huh. Well, it’s different all right.”

“Hey, it’s perfect for me, I’m not like most other boys anyway.” I don’t even bother to check for a reaction to this comment as it’s clearly lost on him.

“Hey pal, could you help me with this?” He stands two inches from me with his tie dangling around his neck. I notice the scent of his Polo cologne and how different it smells on him than on Mike. “My girlfriend… I mean fiancee always does this for me. I can never get it to look as good as she does. I bet you could do it Grayce.” He says especially accenting the “y” for my benefit.

I slowly tie his 100% silk Cerruti into a perfect full Windsor, making sure my hands make contact with his broad chest as often as possible.

“What’s a good place to go for dinner around here? I’m meeting my fiancée and I want to take her somewhere nice.”

“Berghoffs is just a couple of blocks from here. They brew their own beer if you’re into the suds.” I help him into his jacket, brushing off non-existent lint and smoothing out invisible wrinkles from his big shoulders, arms and back.

“Oh yeah? Sounds like a winner.”

“Well, soldier, you’re good-to-go. I guess I’ll see you back here in a few hours. When you’re ready for your library requests just fill out a form and fax it up to me on twelve. The number is on your desk.”

“I’ll do that. Thanks Grayce.” (Accent on the “y” again.)

“Jackass.” I think to myself as I later exit out the lobby into a very windy and cool Chicago spring evening.

* * * * *

I get to Shamrocks exactly a half-hour after I said I would. Looks like I was wrong about Mike though, he’s chatting up not one but two babes down at the end of the bar. Even through the maze of suits, blue-collars and big haired, Escada-clad professional women downing vodka martinis, Mike is an easy target to spot. He’s your average tall, broad, Dark Irish jock and has the square jawed, large featured good looks that have been getting him into bars since he was sixteen. At just over 21 now, he shows no sign of slowing down or getting bored with the whole scene, which worries me a bit.

“Hey buddy! Right on time. I can always count on you.” Mike is just starting on his second beer, his first empty glass still on the bar in front of him. Clearly, the very tall brunette and the very petite blonde joined him somewhere during his first beer. His speed is beyond legendary but his accuracy is definitely in need of some fine-tuning. I’m sure that at this very moment he’s silently patting himself on the back for having had the foresight to ask his girlfriend Danna to meet us at the party instead of here. He simply hates complications.

He moves aside to make room for me, strategically placing me next to the petite blonde. This is his way of signaling to me that he wants me to “run interference” while he works on her friend. “Ladies, this is my best buddy in the whole wide world, Grayce, This is Laurel.” he says indicationg the North Shore elegant brunette at his side. “And that’s…. Megan.” he says nodding towards the obvious South sider. The girls exchange none too subtle glances, obviously approving of Mike’s taste in friends. Little tiny Megan smiles up at me giggling a little tiny “hello”. Laurel elegantly extends a perfectly manicured hand. I shake it and she immediately returns it to Mike’s side. If she plasters herself any closer to him, she’ll be in violation of several Illinois State obscenity laws. “Grace? As in g-r-a-c-e ?” she asks in a very studied Bond-Girl voice.

Mike interrupts. “No, he spells it g-r-a-”Y”-c-e so that nobody’ll think he’s a homo.”

The joke goes over huge with Megan. (Ugh, not a good sign) Laurel however, is apparently far too sophisticated to be seen laughing out loud in public.

I ordered you a beer Grayce, here it comes.” Tonio the bartender comes over with a Guinness in his hand and sets it down in front of me. He has done his little trick of making a shamrock design on the top with the spigot.

“Hey look everybody! TOM CRUISE is here!” the bartender shouts at the top of his lungs. This NEVER fails to embarrass the living shit out of me and he knows it. One person one time said I look like Tom Cruise (I actually look like more like Christian Slater) and now it’s a permanent joke I can’t seem to kill. “Como estas Grayce? We were all beginning to worry, you being more than 30 seconds late and all.”

“Oh, stop Tonio, my spleen.” I say as dryly as I can manage without immediately giving myself away in front of mixed company. “Mike, we go through this every fucking time. You order me a Guinness, which I end up giving to you and I always end up having to order something else.”

“Yeah some faggotty shit like a Tom Collins or an Amaretto something or other. I swear you’re tryin’ to get us kicked outta here.”

Oh yeah, this is a real hard-core Irish bar Mike. Take a look around this little bourgeois meat market dude. Our bartender is Mexican, the menu is German, the customers are Jewish and the Jukebox plays Duran Duran and Devo. You can roll a bowling ball through here and not hit a single Danny Boy. I could order a Pink Lady in here and nobody would bat a fucking eyelash.”

“You wouldn’t dare.” Mike fake threatens with narrowed eyes. Megan is quite amused at my little monologue, laughing as though I were Dennis Miller incarnate.

“You want a Tom Collins instead Grayce?”

“Por favor Tonio. And make damn sure you put some extra umbrellas in it for my buddy here.”

This rouses another chorus of laughter from little, tiny, bubbly Megan.

“Tonio, how’s your wife doing?” I ask as he pours eight different drinks simultaneously.

“They just took her out of ICU this morning. They think they got all the cancer out and if that’s true, Bendito sea Dios, then her prognosis is excellent! So, I’m celebrating! These are for you guys.” He reaches on the counter behind him with one hand while still pouring with the other and with a big flourish, produces two big ass Partagas cigars.

“Amalia says to thank you for the beautiful flowers and she wants to have you guys over to the house for menudo some Sunday as soon as she’s feeling up to it.” He sets my drink in front of me with about ten umbrellas in it. More laughter emanates from the permanently effervescent Megan. She’s actually kinda starting to amuse me…

“Muchissamas gracias Tonio! When she is ready we are so there.” I say, fishing the umbrellas out of my drink.

“Excellent! Dude, are these Cubans?” Mike asks as I hand him his cigar.

“Dominican Republic,” I reply. “But the Partagas founder started out making them in Cuba so it’s as close to pre-embargo as were gonna get. Let’s save these for the party.” I slide mine into my breast pocket and pull out my Sampoernas.

“Ooh. Are those cloves?” Laurel asks as I finish lighting up.

“Yes they are. Would you like one?” I reply as I offer her the pack.

“Oh yes, please.”

I offer one to Megan but of course, she doesn’t smoke.

Mike fumbles for his lighter but my trusty Zippo is fired up in a flash and sliding down the bar stopping right in front of Laurel, the blue-orange flame still dancing. Mike gives me daggers. He totally hates being shown up.

“Why don’t we all sit in a coffee house with our lattes and read poetry while we’re at it. I think I’ve got my bongos in the car.” Mike says sarcastically as he lights the last Marlboro Red from his pack. “How can you guys smoke those things anyways? They’re really harsh.” he says, flicking my Zippo shut with a flick of his wrist and sliding it back to me.

Laurel speaks while flagging Tonio for an extra ashtray. “I like them. They’re very sweet tasting, especially these. I don’t ever smoke regular cigarettes but I’ll always have a clove if they’re around.”

“I’m the same way.” I say, stealing the ashtray from the group next to us and handing it to her. Mike gives me the look, which tells me I’m neglecting my duties and not paying enough attention to Megan. I guess I’d feel a lot more capable of entertaining her if I could see more of her than just the top of her head.

“Excuse me,” I say to the suit on my left. “My wife here is pregnant. Do you think you might be willing to let her have your stool?” The guy is all too happy to score some chivalrous gentleman points in front of his date and gladly gives up the seat which I offer to Megan who is yet again, beside herself with laughter.

“Oh my God! I can’t believe you said that! Oh my God! That was so funny! Oh my God!”

“Tonio, can I get a glass of water for the young lady please?” I’m now hysterically funny and a gentleman. I’ll lay you odds she’s doodling “Mrs. Megan Connors” in her notepad before noon tomorrow.

I start off with the usual “What do you do?-where do you work?-how do you like it?” bullshit. I find out she works in the County Records office and is studying to be a court reporter. Later, I discover Laurel is a paralegal and in her third year of law school. Leave it to Mikey to instinctively hone in on the better meal ticket.

The happy-hour crowd turns and our favorite booth opens up. It sits behind a partition at the back of the bar and once you’re seated, no one can tell you’re even back there. Laurel and Mike contort themselves into one corner while Megan and I take the other side.

While completely covering the Bears, Sox, Cubbies, Bulls, Sting and the Blackhawks, I can tell that Mike is discreetly fingering Laurel all through the entire conversation. This is his big trick and some women are so good at hiding their reactions that I sometimes can’t tell if he’s doing it or not. Laurel is not one of those women. All her cool elegance displayed up to this moment has completely left her as her face randomly changes colors and she forgets her words mid-sentence. As I have no plans to make Megan change colors so she’ll have to content herself with leaving her little perky hand on my thigh. For all her earlier ebullience she’s apparently shy in that department which is just as well. One slut per table is plenty I always say. Every few minutes Mike looks right into my eyes and gives me his best shit-eating grin as if to say, “Look what I can do!”

Mike, not wanting to break his newly made connection, fishes out a couple of dollar bills from his wallet with his free hand, tossing them in my direction. “Do me a favor, huh Grayce? Get me another pack of smokes from the machine will ‘ya?”

“No problem.” I reply, as I attempt to extricate myself from the vice grip of the sticky vinyl booth. Megan is apparently grateful for the opportunity to stop laughing at my jokes for a few minutes. I slide out of the booth and head on up to the front of the bar where the machine is. One of the firm’s associates passes by me on his way out while I’m feeding the dollars into the machine and we chat briefly. By the time I turn around to head back, the girls, coats and purses in hand, stop by me on their way out.

“Nice meeting you Grayce. Hopefully we’ll see you later O.K.?” Laurel says as she leaves. Megan just giggles a wistful little “goodbye” on her way out.

As I reach the table, Tonio has just set down our 5th drink.

“Muchachos, these are on me o.k.? O.k.!” he says as he leaves. I hand Mike his smokes.

“You forgot the matches.”

“What the fuck do you need matches for? You have a perfectly good lighter.”

“Yeah I know, but they’re free.”

“Are you kidding me with this? Are you saving the inside wrapper for your tin foil ball too?”

“Fuck you.” he laughs, sipping his beer.

“What happened to the girls?” I ask, sliding back into my seat.

“They had to leave but they’re going to Mother’s and then to Vortex later. I told them we might meet them after the party.

“Really? Are you going to introduce them to Danna? I’m sure your girlfriend would enjoy meeting your new friends.”

“Fuck off Grayce. I’ll think of something.” he says, pondering his options for all of two seconds. His face suddenly lights up. “Hey that Megan really likes you Gray-boy.” he says insinuatingly.

“What’s not to like? I’m way good looking, funny and a perfect gentleman.” I reply fishing out the single, token umbrella out of my drink.

“Yeah, me too.” he says, striking a Dudley Do-Right pose.

“Gentleman my ass. And you are not good looking either. You, sir, are drop-dead, fucking gorgeous but in your case, that’s more than enough. He plays with the cigarette pack between his fingers. This is the sign for “There’s something I want to ask you but don’t know how.” I take the bait without even thinking about it.

“What’s up Mike?” The instant I say it, he immediately looks into my eyes. This is one of the strangest things about him. When he doesn’t know how to say something he looks directly into you instead of looking away. It’s the freakiest thing but I’m used to it by now.

“Why do you do it Grayce?” he asks quietly.

“Why do I do what?” I reply. His aqua eyes search me for a little longer. He puts the smokes in his breast pocket and takes another pull on his beer, his eyes never leaving mine.

“Why do you always let me fuck with you like that Grayce?”

After four and a half beers, still bright eyed, sharp as a tack and suddenly bringing up the most delicate and pertinent question that has hung between us for years. Timing and accuracy… Boy, he’s deadly when he’s got it together.

“I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about Mike.”

“C’mon Grayce. You’re gonna bullshit me now?” He looks away, visibly disappointed. The 5th beer is usually when serious topics get laid on the table and had I known this was coming, I would have cut us off after the fourth beer. He reconnects his gaze with mine and continues softly.

“Look Grayce, all the years we been friends you know I never get in your shit. I don’t give you my advice unless you ask for it which is a laugh anyway since we all know you’re the brains in this family. I never bring up shit I know is bothering you ’cause I know better than to try to pry something out of you before you’re ready to spill it.” He leans in a little closer, his soft beer breath enveloping his words.

“You’re like a stray cat I’ve sorta tamed. If I ask you to come and cry on my shoulder, you go running off. But if I just sit quietly and wait, eventually you come around. So, I just try to be there for you Grayce. God knows you’ve been there to save my ass, bailing me outta jail that time, taking care of me when I got sick and lost my job, paying the rent for all those months. Jesus, I woulda lost my apartment, lost everything if it hadn’t been for you. I even got you to thank for my job. I always wonder how I’m ever gonna get the chance to make it up to you, but you never ever ask me for anything, ‘ya know what I mean?” He pauses for a second, his eyes still refusing to leave mine.

“You know, the only time I’ve ever been able to do anything for you was when that motherfucker Elliott broke your heart. You actually cried on my shoulder right here in this booth, remember?

“O.K. counselor”, I suddenly interrupt, “Where’s this opening statement going? Cause we gotta be…”

“Dude, shut the fuck up O.K.? For the first time in six years I’m asking you to be 100% honest with me. I don’t think that’s too much to ask is it? So, if there are no more objections?”

I shake my head.

“Good. Now listen to me. Ever since that macho douche bag broke up with you, two things happened. One is you’ve never brought a date home since. Two years have gone by and I haven’t heard a single word about anybody special you like, a stranger giving you a blowjob in the park, nothing. It’s like you just stopped trying. The other thing is that you and I became tight as brothers. Look at us for Chrissake. We live and work together, we play hockey together, go out and raise hell together. We do everything together. Shit, it’s practically like we’re married. We do everything except fuck each other basically, and I want you to know, I’m not complaining. Ever since my dad died, and my sister got married and moved away, all I’ve had was my friends and I couldn’t ask for a better one than you to be such a big part of my life. But what happened to your life Grayce? How come you’re always letting me pawn off my extras on you nine times outta ten when you should be out trying to hook up with a nice guy? I know you’re not trying to score yourself some pussy, so how come you do it bud? How come your entire life now consists of always playing wing man for me with some piece of ass you don’t even want?”

We’ve had this conversation in my mind so many times the answer is right there. Goddammit it’s there! So clean, so practiced, so ready to come out and yet, here I am, pausing as though I were in a play I’d performed a thousand times and still had somehow forgotten my lines. Still, my audience is waiting…

“Mike…” I cautiously begin, hoping the truth really is what he wants to hear. “I couldn’t feel closer to you if you were my own brother. I’ve felt that way about you ever since high school. You know, you took a huge risk making friends with a drama club geek like me. I honestly don’t think you have any idea how much you changed the course of my life.”

“Boy, you are a drama queen.” Mike laughs, interrupting me.

“Look, you brought this up. Are you gonna sit there and give me shit or do you really want to hear this?”

“I’m sorry. I’ll be good.”

I take a deep breath and continue.

“Mike, growing up with a secret like mine makes you feel like a freak surrounded by a whole world of normal people. It’s just not fair. Not only did I have to grow up gay, but I was also cursed with absolutely no talent or desire to play any of the popular stuff like football or baseball. If it hadn’t been for you I still wouldn’t know how to throw a ball today. How the fuck was I supposed to try and fit in with everyone else? If I had grown up a superjock like you, you and I would have been friends from the very start. It would have been you and me, from t-ball all the way on up to the varsity team, and you probably wouldn’t have ever known my secret because then, I would have been playing the game just like everyone else. Instead, I found a home with the only crowd that would take me and as you know, the “drama fags” were somewhere below the math club geeks on the food chain of popularity.”

I pause as a particularly painful memory comes to mind.

“You know your friends used to spit on me Mike? They would back me up against a locker, spit on me and call me a ‘fucking faggot’ in front of an entire hallway full of strangers.”

“They were assholes Grayce. You weren’t missing anything not being part of that crowd.”

“Yes I was Mike. I was missing being automatically popular just for being tall and good-looking. Missing out on automatically being invited to every party and social occasion. I missed being talked about behind my back in good way. Missing having girls giggle as I walk by and getting laid by any of ‘em I wanted. I was missing having teammates respect me as an essential and valued member of a team. But mostly, I was missing being looked up to and worshipped by the other 75% of the student body population of Oak Park-River Forest High School simply because God was good to me.

“It wasn’t so perfect for me Grayce. I had a tough time too.”

“That’s always so easy for people like you to say Mike, ’cause you weren’t on the outside looking in. But here’s the real test. If you had it all over to do again would you even consider trading places with someone like me?”

Mike looks down into his beer.

“Yeah, I didn’t think so. I’m telling you this because I don’t think you know just how much my life changed the day you knocked me down that stairway. Do you remember that?”

Mike smiles at the recollection. “I was late for football practice and you were late for some gay ass play rehearsal. God! I thought I’d killed you! Or at least cracked your skull open.”

“Holy shit man! Are you O.K.?”

The handsome jock runs down to the bottom of the stairwell where I’ve landed flat on my back after a full-on collision. I look up at him from the pile of books and homework strewn around me, vaguely recognizing him. He’s definitely a member of the schools elite, but which one, I don’t know.

“Dude, I’m so sorry! Are you sure you’re O.K.? You think you can get up?”

I nod dazedly. He offers his right hand, thumb up, fingers slightly curved, jock-handshake style. We lock hands and he slowly pulls me up, using his other hand underneath my shoulder. The smell of Polo cologne and clean sweat hits me…

“I’m really sorry about this. How’s your head? Did you hit it hard? Let me see.” he says placing his hand on the back of my head and feeling gently around. “Dude, sorry to tell you, but you’re gonna have one hell of a lump back here if you don’t ice it soon. Right here, see?” I reach back and our fingers meet. Sure enough, I can feel a golf ball growing out of the base of my skull.

“Look at me, let me see your eyes.” I look up and meet the most beautiful pair of deep-set aqua eyes I have ever seen on a member of the male species. “Doesn’t look like you have a concussion but you better go to the nurse anyway. You want me to help you there?”

“No, that’s O.K., I don’t think that’ll be necessary.” I say as I begin picking up my things. He bends down to help me, picking up books and papers, stacking them neatly.

“I think I know you. You’re Connors aren’t you?”

I nod.

“I saw you in Dracula last year. I thought you were really good. You should have been the lead.”

I’m absolutely stupefied that this God-of-the-School would even know my name much less remember me from a play. “Well, Renfield is a better part anyway. You can have more fun with it.” I reply.

“Yeah, but if you had played Dracula you would have gotten to kiss my sister.” He says laughingly, handing me the stack of books and papers he has put together.

“Angie Kerrigan is your sister? You’re Michael?” Now I remember occasionally seeing him pick up Angie after rehearsal from behind the wheel of his candy apple red Iroc-Z.

“One and only.” he replies offering his hand for me to shake. I fuck it up like a geek expecting the jock handshake and not the normal kind.

“Well, I gotta get to practice, coach Olsen is gonna have my ass for being late.”

“Yeah, I’ve gotta get to rehearsal.”

“You’re in Our Town?”

“Yeah, the lead this time.”

“Aren’t you opening this weekend? I’d like to come and see you, if that’s ok?

“It’s open to the public.” I reply tentatively.

“No I mean, I’d like to come and see you. I think you’re a really good actor.”

What the hell is going on here? Am I in some state of post-trauma delusion?

“You got plans for after the show on Saturday?” he asks suddenly.

The shock of the question instantly creates a fog worse than any bump on the head. From somewhere inside, the word ‘No’ comes out slowly. This is not happening, I think to myself. This is not happening. This is not happening…

“Awesome! I’ll come pick you up in the green room after the show and we’ll go out. I promise I’ll make this whole thing up to you. Sound good?”

“Yeah, cool.” I manage to make the reply sound normal, sort of the way you do when you’re trying to convince someone you’re not drunk.

“All-right!” Jock handshake. (This time I get it right.) “See ‘ya Saturday!”

As quickly as we collided, he is gone.

“You were dating Tina Amorosa and you got her to set me up with her friend Cassie Peters and after the show the four of us went to a party at one of your friends. You and Tina fucked like rabbits on the couch in the basement family room and Cassie and I made out on top of the washing machine in the adjoining laundry room.”

Cassie kisses like a Pez dispenser and no matter how much I try to get her to ease up, I still get a throat full of her Gene Simmons-like tongue every five seconds. While her hot hands brush my crotch, through the louvered door I can see Tina on the couch, her stubby legs draped over Mikes wide shoulders. With every stroke he gives her, the muscles on his high, round ass dimple and he grunts like an animal. Tina seems pretty happy with her latest conquest repeating “Don’t stop, don’t stop, Oh God, don’t stop!” over and over. The faster he fucks her, the faster she says it until he suddenly stops moving, then resumes fucking her at a furious pace, snorting and bellowing “Oh shit! Motherfucking shit! I’m cummin! Aw, Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” I know as I’m watching that no porn movie in my collection will ever make me as hard as I am now at the sight of this free show. Mike looks over towards the laundry room with a huge grin on his face…

Cassie is feeling the hardon I just sprang from watching Mike’s studliness on full display, her face lighting up as though she had just found a $50 bill on the sidewalk. Thinking she’s finally got me going hot for her she whispers in my ear, “Ooh this feels nice. Do you want to do more?”

Do I want to do more? I think to myself. Do I want to do more? Do I? I don’t know. Could I? Inspired by what I just saw, I’m thinking I probably could. The real question is do I want to go home a loser or do I want to take what may be my only chance to play in the same ring as Mikey? Deciding it’s not much of a decision; I reach around Cassie and turn the washer on to the spin cycle. She smiles wickedly as she undoes my button-fly’s. Mike and Tina return the favor and stay put to be our audience…

“Then after we dropped the girls off, we broke into the Women’s Club and skinny dipped in the pool until dawn.” I remind him.

Mike leads me to a ground level window on the side of the building, which he knows is never locked. He crawls through first. Then, several nerve racking minutes later, motions for me to follow. We end up sitting on a tiled window ledge about eight feet high, the dark glass surface of the water seeming far below us, barely moving, reflecting the partial moon through the window behind us. Our shadows are cast on the liquid mirror below, one tall and broad, one short and thin, looking strangely paired. Suddenly, Mike jumps from the ledge and immediately upon landing, begins shucking his football jersey and jeans.

“How are we going to get back up the ledge Mike?”

“Don’t need to, there’s a side door we can go out of. C’mon, getcher ass down here.”

I jump down, paranoid of breaking an ankle or something. Fortunately, nothing happens. Mike removes his jockstrap and heads for the high dive, his muscled round ass dimpling with each step. “Watch this one!” he calls. He executes a perfect reverse jackknife, slicing into the water at a perfect vertical with no splash to reveal his presence below the surface. Just as I begin to wonder if he’s planning to ever come back to the surface, he pops up at the far opposite end, shaking the water from his eyes.

“What’d ‘ya think?”

“Beautiful.” I reply, meaning it in every possible sense.

“What the fuck are you waiting for, a written invitation? Get in!”

Suddenly, I’m embarrassed at the thought of appearing naked before this boy, fearing the ridicule that is sure to come, that has always come from every one of his kind. But, I’ve come this far already and nothing horrible has happened yet…

I strip off my own clothes and hurriedly jump in, joining him in the shallow end.

“I’ll race ‘ya to the end and back!” he says, obviously thrilled at the opportunity for even the simplest challenge. “You do swim don’t you?” he asks, suddenly realizing that he may be embarrassing me.

“Yeah, sure.” I reply, wondering if my six weeks of YMCA swimming lessons have truly prepared me for this moment. I realize that this is possibly the first time that another boy has ever engaged me in a friendly challenge of strength.

“Ready, set, GO!”

We’re both off at a furious pace, my intense desire to measure up to my new friend and the sudden realization that I enjoy the idea of competition, fueling my every stroke through the water. We both reach the deep end at the same time, but Mike perfectly executes a competition turn, which I try to imitate but fuck up royally since I’ve never done one before. I lose my edge and arrive at the shallow end to see Mike standing there, waiting for me with a big grin on his face. He stretches out his hand, grips mine, and pulls me in the last couple of feet.

“I win.” He says simply. “Now be honest. You don’t really swim that much, do you?”

“Not lately.”

“You got good form but you need to streamline your strokes better. I’ll show you.”

He moves behind me and takes my wrists, guiding my arms to the proper arc, showing me how to better form my hands to slice the water cleaner. The whole time, I’m aware of the feel of his incredible body, lined up perfectly behind mine. His complete lack of self-consciousness, his openness and warmth make my head spin. I begin to wonder if this is what it feels like to fall in love.

“Now just remember to keep your body straight. You wanna go in clean. “Mike calls up to me from the side. After several practice swan dives off the low board, he thinks I’m ready to try one off the high board. At this point, I would walk on hot coals to please him so, in spite of that voice in my head telling me ‘this is NOT a good idea’, here I am, the cool, rough surface of the diving board stabbing my feet like thousands of icy knives egging me on.

I breathe deeply, pausing to remember all the advice he has given me, visualizing myself performing the perfect dive. I take my two steps, push, jump and align my body into the proper form. The water comes zooming in faster than I expected, and the next thing I know, I’m in. I’m shocked to suddenly find myself at the very bottom.

It seems like a long way up, especially since it’s so dark and for some reason, I find I’m not moving to the surface as quickly as I thought I could. Suddenly, I realize my left arm isn’t working at all, instead, it’s just dangling there, lower than usual for some reason. I continue to pull myself up with my right, my panic suddenly rising, then, finally surfacing just as my breath gives out.

“Mike.” I manage to call weakly, but he is already in the pool heading towards me at breakneck speed. Just as I wonder how I’m going to keep myself afloat one second longer, he is behind me, one arm wrapped around me, leading me towards the shallow end. He pulls himself out then helps me out and I lie down on the cool concrete. Now I realize just how much pain I’m really in and start to holler. Mike puts his beefy hand over my mouth and whispers in my ear.

“Shhhh! Someone will hear you. You opened your arms too soon and the impact dislocated your shoulder. I know how to fix it. Just relax buddy. You trust me don’t you?”

“With my life.” I think to myself. All I can manage however is a nod.

“Now, calm down, relax, O.K.? You’re gonna be just fine.” He continues whispering words of encouragement into my ear as he slowly manipulates my arm into a wide circle, the excruciating pain causing me to feel as though I could vomit any second. Just as I feel I’m ready to pass out, my arm suddenly slides back into its socket, and the pain recedes to a dull roar. I remain lying there, taking deep breaths, trying to will away the sick feeling. He helps me up to a sitting position against the wall and sits next to me. In spite of the trauma I’ve just been through, I’m still somehow able to find something guiltily erotic at the sight of this handsome naked jock sitting next to me, his big ‘ol horse dick lying across his thigh, his feet playfully touching mine.

“Are you O.K. buddy? I’m really sorry.”

“Why? It’s not your fault.”

“Yeah, but it seems like every time you hang around me, your life ends up in danger.” he laughs loudly, immediately trying to stifle himself so as not to be heard. I can’t help but laugh myself and soon, the two of us are hysterical with laughter, coming up with all sorts of creative scenarios for what other accidents will befall me each time we meet. Our laughter bounces off the tiles and concrete, skips across the water and floats out the window we forgot to shut behind us and out into the late, late night…

“Aw man, do I remember that night. I caught holy hell from my parents the next morning when I finally got in.”

“You’re lucky that’s all you caught. Tina Amorosa made her way around three quarters of the Varsity football team.

“Only about half actually.” Mike laughs playing with his lighter.

“Mike, when you became my friend, suddenly everybody looked at me like I was a real, normal person instead of some freak of nature. Then you got me to go out for swimming and hockey and O.K., I made All-State or anything but I did all right. Of course I got you to go to ballet class with me…”

“Oh man, was I raked across the fucking coals when that got around!”

“Yeah, but they all stopped laughing when you added almost 11 inches to your vertical jumps and made the All-State Basketball team that year. Then something just got into me Mike, I don’t know, I just thought, “Well, why not just go ahead an play this game all the way?” That’s when I started dating Jill Olson.”

“Oh, man, Jill Olson…” Mike’s eyes squeeze shut at the voluptuous memory. “Who didn’t want to fuck her? Many tried but only a choice few succeeded. How’d you even manage to score such a choice piece of ass?”

“You know Mike, sometimes it just takes a man with a gay side to know what a chick really wants to hear.”

“One of the main reasons I keep you around buddy boy!”

“I know that a lot of people had already made up their minds about me. But when I started dating Jill, doors everywhere started opening. People that considered themselves friends of yours suddenly started saying hi as they passed by. They smiled at me. Talked to me. Laughed at my jokes. Invited me places. All of a sudden… I existed.” Everything I had been missing up to that point was suddenly in my lap overnight. I don’t know if everyone bought into it. In fact, I know for sure some didn’t. But I think they respected me for at least trying.”

He digests my words, swirling the last swig of his beer around the bottom of his glass.

“I’m not exactly proud of the fact that I lived a lie to gain some popularity, but it saved me from slicing my wrists or jumping on the L tracks which I thought of on more than one occasion. And look at what came out of it. As long as you were still part of the bargain, I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.

I notice the crowd has thinned and I check my watch. “Well it’s almost seven, you think we should head over to the office?”

Mike downs the last of his beer and grabs my wrist in a vice grip, hurting me. “We’ll leave when you fuckin’ answer my question.” He locks his eyes on me again, the overhead lamp turning those hot-blue beacons on full beam. He lets go of my wrist and continues very quietly and intently; “Grayce, we’re not fifteen anymore and nobody is asking you to fuck anybody for respect, sure as hell not me. So now, how’s about you giving me an answer? Why do you do it Grayce? Now that you’re a man and you can do whatever you want, why do you still want to spend all of your time playing the game with me?”

Do I tell him the truth and risk the possibility of changing our friendship forever, or do I lie to keep things exactly as they are? Deciding it’s not much of a decision; I look directly into his eyes, and reply; “Because, Michael… Because, I love you with every bit of my heart.” The moment I say it, I discover tears flowing freely down my face. “I love you as my best friend, I love you like a brother and I think… that I may even love you more than that. But I know how totally unfair it would be would to put those feelings on you and make you try to deal with them. After six years of friendship, I know you care a lot about me but I realize that’s all I’m entitled to.” In an effort to pull myself together I try to pull a napkin out of the dispenser but they all pop out, spilling, like my tears, all over the table.

“The reason I never talk about anybody special Mike, is because one of the biggest disappointments in my life so far is that I’ve never met a guy that has even come close to comparing to you.” I can see this statement visibly moves him but he still does not break the connection. I hurtle forward, his eyes willing the truth from me. “I spend every date asking myself, ‘Am I having as much fun as you and I do?’ Am I as relaxed and comfortable as I am with you?’ Is he making me feel the same way inside as you do?’ And the answer is always ‘Not a fucking chance.”

The tears continue worse than ever. Despite my embarrassing display, he never once stops touching me with his eyes.

“Mike, think about this: When you come into my world, when I take you to the ballet, or the symphony, or some charity event, you’re glad to share my company but when I come into your world it’s a different story. I’ve never seen you so happy as when I’m there cheering you on at a football game, or when we’re kicking ass on the hockey rink, or out raising hell on a double date.”

He’s thinking about what I’ve just said, realizing I’m right.

“You just said yourself we do everything except fuck each other. Well, when I’m with you and you’re letting me, no… making me watch you fuck some girl in the back seat of your car or in a bathroom stall at Vortex, I really believe that’s about as close to you as I can possibly get without touching you. And I believe that you actually want me that close. That’s why I let you fuck with me like that Mike. Because more than anything in this world I want to be that close to you and I suspect that somewhere, you feel the same way too. You’re sitting here asking me why after all these years I still let you fuck with me but I could just as easily be asking you the very same question Mike.”

He gets up suddenly and heads towards the front door. Oh my God! What have I done? I think to myself in shock as he walks away. It’s over just like that and I’m the one that killed it. How could I have been such a fucking idiot? I put my head down into my hands as the next few weeks of my life flash before me; the packing of my belongings in forced silence, the hunt for a new apartment, the awkwardness at work, the explaining to our friends why the “Dynamic Duo” are no longer buddies…

“Dude, I just paid the tab, you ready to go?” He stands at the head of the booth, smiling wide, throwing bills on the table for the tip.

“Man, you’re a fucking asshole Mike…”

“I had you going there for a minute didn’t I?”

“No, you did not.”

“The fuck I didn’t!”

The argument continues out the door and down the street.

During the walk back to the office Mike and I lapse into a strange but not uncomfortable silence. Every two and a half minutes he steals a glance at me with his patented “I’ve got something up my sleeve and it involves you” look. Sometimes, the gears in that head of his work so hard you can smell ‘em burning.

Just as we turn the corner on Wacker to get to our building, a powerful gust of Lake Michigan wind pushes me backwards and long before I can hit the ground, Mike is right there, his big arms steadying me. In that split second, I’m a terrified high school kid again, unable to bear the nearness of a hero.

“Holy shit man! Are you O.K.?…”

“Look at me, let me see your eyes…”

“You’re Grayce Connors, aren’t you?…”

“I think you’re a really good actor….”

“You got plans for after the show on Saturday?…”

“Man! They don’t call it the Windy City for nothing huh?” he says, laughing at my temporary lack of co-ordination.

“This corner is always bad.” I mumble, annoyed more at my loss of emotional self-control than anything else.

* * * * *

We arrive in the lobby of our building where the security guard at the front desk is in an animated conversation with a gorgeous brunette. Her little black dress is completely living up to its’ name, needing occasional attention from her hands to bring it down to a non porn star length.

“Hey Mike, this pretty lady here says she knows you. I told her you couldn’t possibly know such a classy dame.”

“Fuck you Manny!” Mike laughs. “Why don’t you go direct traffic out on Lake Shore Drive? He pulls Danna to him, kisses her thoroughly then takes her by the hand and leads her towards the elevators. As he runs ahead with her, he briefly whispers something into her ear that he just finishes as I catch up. Once again, I get that look…

“Hi honey.” Danna hugs me and plants a slightly-more-than-friendly kiss on my mouth, her huge mass of curly, black, coconut-smelling hair surrounding my face. “Now tell me if I look O.K. ’cause you know I can’t trust this one for an honest opinion.” she says poking Mike in the side.

“Baby, you always look good to me.” Mike says, sinking his teeth into the back of her neck and pressing the elevator button at the same time.

“See what I mean?” she says disengaging herself from him and giving me her best supermodel turn for my inspection. “Well?” she asks.

“Well darlin’, the dress is a little too short, the hair is a little too big and you know the saying ‘Look in the mirror and take of the first accessory that catches your eye’?

“Yes.”

“You needed to do that about three or four times.” I tell her just as the elevator arrives to cut off her reaction. We jump inside.

“Hey Pops!” Mike greets the elderly elevator operator sitting in the corner on a battered burgundy stool older than he is. The elevator smells of shoe polish, Lucky Strikes and Old Spice. “How goes it tonight?”

“Same shit different day.” He replies. “You boys all set for the party?”

“I think we’re about as ready as we’re gonna be.” Mike replies giving me a big grin. He gives me that look yet again as Pops closes the gate and pulls the brass handle taking us swiftly up.

“Actually Pops, could you take me up to my office first?” I ask.

“What are we going up there for?” Mike asks.

“I’m gonna do a Henry Higgins number on Danna before we come down.”

“Who’s Henry Higgins?” Danna asks.

“You know babe, it’s that movie with Julie what’s-her-name. You know, ‘All I Want is a Room Somewhere.’ he sings in a bad cockney accent. “He means he’s gonna make you over into a real lady.”

“Ooh.” Danna giggles, squeezing my arm. Pops brings the elevator to a perfect stop on twelve and opens the gate for us. Danna and I step out into the top floor reception area that serves as my office.

“By the way Mike, it’s not Julie Andrews, it was Audrey Hepburn.”

Faggot.” he calls out as the elevator takes him down.

The front half of the top floor serves as the law library and file room. An enormous dance studio occupies the back half of the floor and all day long I’m treated to the music drifting in from there. I often go to the back of the room and look in on the dancers through the huge plate-glass windows separating the two rooms. Originally, the layout of our two floors was to be just the opposite but the dance studio’s lease was iron clad. Apparently, poor Mr. Harnick has to wait 5 more years for his top floor office. In the meantime, Mike and I basically have it all to ourselves since we are the only ones that work up here.

I reach into the tiny closet built into the partial wall behind the reception desk and pull out my black double-breasted blazer. “Here you go hon. Try this on.” I help her into it and tell her to roll up the sleeves. As she does so, I remove the giant lace bow from her head and gather up her massive hair, wrapping it in an elegant French twist, revealing her beautiful neck. I secure it using a pair of ebony chopsticks I keep in my top desk drawer.

“Well, we’re getting there.” I tell her, surveying my handiwork. “Now take off all the jewelry except the earrings.” Reluctantly, she removes her giant berry-bead necklace and matching bracelets placing them in my desk drawer.

“There. Now you look like you’re ready for an evening with the big boys instead of a Madonna concert.”

“Can you come live with me and dress me every day?” she asks coyly.

“I think Mike might have something to say about that.”

“Fuck him.” she laughs.

“I wish.” I reply automatically. Instantly, I regret my flipness as Danna just smiles. The best thing to do here is to just go on as if I hadn’t said it, but my racing heart fuels my fear at my deepest secret having been discovered.

“Well… Let’s head downstairs.” I finally manage to say. We head towards the rear stairs, pausing at the windows to watch the dancers in their evening class.

“I always wanted to take ballet.” Danna says sadly as strains of Mozart drift throughout the floor.

“Why didn’t you?”

“We were too poor to afford lessons. You danced didn’t you?”

“Yeah, almost six years.”

“Did you like it?”

As we watch the young men and women paired off together, their bodies mingling in intricate patterns, sharing the music, their sweat, their strength, I can think of no other way for two individuals to be closer other than sex. Somehow, the passion of it all tangles my words and I find myself unable to truly express it.

“I loved it.”

We watch for a while longer, Danna’s warm hand on my shoulder, her wide amber eyes recording every move from every boy and girl.

* * * * *

The huge reception area of Harnick, James, Goldberg & Dean is filled with partners, attorneys, wives and girlfriends all enjoying three different kinds of cheap wine and a buffet set up on the huge reception desk. A jazz trio plays softly in a corner of the lobby and though it may seem like a luxurious expense, the saxophonist is actually Harnick’s younger brother and the cheap Jew bastard actually gets them to play for free. Others are scattered throughout the offices wide hallways, meeting rooms and even the occasional private office. I pour Danna a glass of wine and hand it to her. We move to the buffet and as I’m forking myself a cocktail weenie, the girl next to me does the same. I recognize her immediately.

“You must be the future Mrs. Dean.” I offer my hand.

“Yes, how did you know?” she says as she shakes it.

“Kerry talks about you all the time. I’m Grayce Connors.”

Sometimes I amaze myself with my own slickness.

“Heather Hughes, soon to be Dean.” she laughs. I notice that she’s had her roots done…

We make all kinds of small talk about everything including her wedding plans. Suddenly I notice that time has totally escaped me and Danna has disappeared. I excuse myself and wander around looking for her when I notice Mike slipping out onto the balcony, nodding his head for me to join him. As I get there he’s unwrapping his cigar and Kerry is also there just starting a Montecristo of his own. I pull mine out of my pocket and begin to unwrap it as well.

“Didn’t take you for a cigar man Connors. I’m pleasantly surprised! Kerry says as I slide the door behind me.

“Guess you can’t judge anything by its cover can you?” I say in reply but looking at Mike who just grins at me. “Where u been buddy?” Mike asks.

“I’ve been flirting with your fiancée Kerry. I’d rethink this whole wedding thing man cause I think she wants me bad.”

Kerry looks at me with his eyebrows furrowed for about four seconds then suddenly roars with laughter, slapping me on the back. “You’re O.K. kid, you’re O.K. Berghoffs’ was awesome by the way so thanks for the tip. I’m gonna let you be my guide from now on.”

“It would be my pleasure.” I reply pulling my cigar cutter from my pocket. Mike hands me his cigar for me to cut for him.

“Where’s the cutter I gave you that went with the lighter? Did you lose it?”

“It’s not lost, um… It’s just misplaced.”

“Misplaced my ass. Anytime you “misplace” anything you may as well kiss it goodbye.” I reply as Kerry pulls a box of cigar matches from his pocket. A momentary lull from the spring wind gusts gives us the chance to light up properly. We hang out for a bit, talking about cigars and other assorted guy topics and enjoying the evening winds which have calmed down considerably.

“Hey guys, I got a little something in my office that would be perfect right about now.” Kerry says laying his cigar in the ashtray for safekeeping.

“A hot little redhead about two and a half feet tall maybe?” Mike retorts.

“Shiiiit. I wish.” Kerry laughs, leaving Mike and I alone on the balcony together.

“You’re a pig Mike.” I say laughing. “Where do you suppose Danna could be?”

“She and the new receptionist hit it off. What’s her name?”

“Dude, you fucked her the day she got hired and you don’t remember her name?”

“Sheila?”

“Siobahn dumbass.”

“Eh, whatever. She wasn’t that great. Anyways, she and Danna are probably chattin’ up a storm somewhere having NO idea just how much they have in common. I love it! So you met Kerry’s’ fiancée huh? Fuckin’ hot man. What a lucky bastard.”

“You know, you’re not so bad off yourself Mike. Danna is not just another notch on your bedpost. She seems to really be into you which doesn’t say much for her skills at character judgement but other than that, she seems like a real keeper to me. Besides, she’s smoking hot.”

“Oh you think so eh?” he asks grinning. There’s that look again. “Yeah I guess I am pretty lucky. He says suddenly shifting moods. “I never realized just how much I take for granted Grayce.” almost sounding sad as he says it.

We lapse into our second silence of the evening but for the first time ever between us, this one is palpably uncomfortable.

“I’ve been thinking about what you said.”

“Look, Mike I’m so sorry, I never…”

“There’s nothing to be sorry about Grayce. I asked you to be honest with me and you were. You’re my best buddy. You really think I could hate you for telling me the truth? He pauses to draw hard on his cigar. Blowing a stream of blue smoke into the night, he pauses to focus on the sky with its appearing stars and then says; “Grayce, buddy… did you really think that I didn’t know how you have felt about me all this time?”

I suddenly feel very queasy, realizing just how transparent I’ve actually been. Has it always been so obvious?

He then says the wisest thing I have yet heard or would ever hear him say.

“Grayce, I probably knew even before you did.”

This admission literally makes me ill, sending my stomach into violent knots. Suddenly, I’m stripped nude in the town square for all to see… Never have I ever felt so vulnerable, so incredibly stupid.

“Like I said about taking things for granted, one of those things is you Grayce. I’ve been letting you follow me around through every part of my life like a puppy dog, knowing how you’ve felt about me the whole time. If anyone needs to apologize, it’s me to you. I’ve been too afraid to admit to myself what I feel for you ’cause I was too busy being a macho stud. But what’s the point of being a man if you can’t be straight up about what you feel? It’s taken me a long time to figure it out, but one of the most important things I’ve learned from you is I don’t have to be ashamed of what I feel about anything. Fuck what people think.”

My heart feels like a giant open void being filled with his words.

“I’ve never loved another dude in my entire life Grayce… not even my own dad. I never thought in a million years that such a thing was even possible until I met you. I do love you. I’ve known it for a long, long time.

He looks directly at me but I can’t make myself look back. I just keep looking at my cigar and watch it smoldering in my hand…

“And I don’t mean as just a friend or brother.” Now I can look at him.

He lets out a long breath.

“There. I said it. I actually said it. That wasn’t so bad. But ‘ya know, there’s just one problem with all this good buddy.”

“You’re not gay.” I offer quietly.

“Exactamundo.” The stars continue to come out, one after another. Mike gives each one his attention as he smokes his cigar and goes on…

“I can’t love you the same way you love me Grayce. I know I feel the same way you do but I can’t do what you want me to do about it. I could never give up pussy completely and settle down for a life with just you. No matter how much you hide it, you’re a hopeless romantic. You want a white knight to sweep you up off your feet and set you up in a condo on Michigan Avenue with a white picket fence but I could never be that guy for you Grayce. I just cant.”

For the second time tonight, I’m fighting to hold back tears and losing desperately. He puts his arm around my shoulder and continues…

“Look buddy, please cut the waterworks will ‘ya? He turns me to him and wipes my tears with his thumbs.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about what we have together here man and I think I’ve come up with a way that we can both be happy.”

He leans closer and whispers softly; “You’re gonna come all the way into my world tonight Gray-boy. I’m gonna be your guide.”

“Here you go boys, just what we needed!”

Before I can fully comprehend what Mike is talking about, Kerry returns through the sliding glass door with a bottle of Black Label in one hand and three glasses in the other. Mike immediately removes his arm from me but not before Kerry can make a quick assumption about what may or may not have been going on. He pours us each two fingers. “So,” Kerry asks, “Who’s gonna make the toast?”

“I will.” Mike pipes up. “To your new home,” he motions to Kerry. “And to mine.” he says directly to me with that look.

We down our shot and Kerry pours us another. He pauses to re-light his cigar. “So,” he asks, with a new tone in his voice I haven’t heard yet, “how long have you two known each other?”

* * * * *

The party is in full swing and I find myself cornered by Harnick’s wife Evelyn, who after four martinis has suddenly found me irresistible. Just as I’m wondering how I will ever tactfully extricate myself from this fresh hell, Kerry walks by. “Hey Connors, you got a phone call holding.” he says as he continues on his way.

“Thanks.” I reply gratefully. Making my exit from Mrs. Harnick, I quickly weave through the crowds towards the back where it’s quieter, enter one of the paralegal offices and pick up the flashing line.

“Hello?”

“Are you having fun?” the familiar baritone on the other end asks.

“If you can call getting felt up by a horny Jewish senior citizen in gold lame a good time, then fuck yeah!”

“The boss’s wife? Dude you need to tap that shit. Imagine the promotion you could get.”

“I wouldn’t touch that dried up desert with your cock dude.”

Mike roars with laughter at the other end of the phone. “You need to come upstairs bro.”

“I was wondering where you had gotten to. Why’d ‘ya leave me down here?”

“Just wanted to be totally ready for you. Get yer ass up here.”

“Ready for what?” I ask, my curiosity racing out of control but he has already hung up.

I hang up the phone, make my way to the rear stairs and run up, two at a time. As I enter the top floor, I notice that the dance studio is dark, the dancers having gone home for the evening. I can’t turn on any lights since all the switches for our side of the floor are at the front, but I suspect that the moonlight filtering throughout the tall arched windows will be enough. I make my way up through the file area, quietly calling out Mike’s name every few yards. No sign of him anywhere. Where the fuck is he? I slowly get through the massive library, my extreme curiosity of the situation coupled with my fear at possibly being all alone on this floor cause my heart to pump double-time. I can feel the blood rushing through the veins in my temples and a light sweat is breaking out on my forehead. Finally, I reach the front and begin to walk around the wall behind my desk. As I do, I notice a warm glow covering the dark mahogany walls of the reception area.

“What the fuck?” I think to myself…

“Mike?” I call out again. “Where the hell are you?”

As I turn the corner, I see that Mike has stolen several cans of sterno from the caterer and placed them around the reception area, with several on my desk. The whole room is bathed in the warm blue glow of the little flames leaping from the tin cans. As I continue walking, admiring the effect of the gentle light on the glossy mahogany walls, I practically trip over Mike and Danna on the floor, she, on her back with her dress pulled up and he, on his belly, his tongue deep inside her. The sight of it paralyzes on the spot. My hands suddenly become warm and the sweat on my forehead instantly evaporates.

Mike looks up from his task having heard my sudden intake of breath at the sight of them.

“Hey buddy, glad you could make it.”

The sight of Mike fucking a girl is hardly new to me, yet for some reason, I find myself in total shock. Finally, I manage a weak response. “I’m sorry guys. I’ll leave you alone.” I say, but unable to make any move to leave.

“No, no man, that’s not what we’re here for.” he says getting up to stand before me. “I invited you remember? We want you here.”

“We?” I ask, the word not quite coming from my own mouth.

“Yes, we.” Danna replies, sitting on her heels, a positively wicked smile covering her lovely Asian/Afro mixed face and the sterno can on the magazine table next to her highlighting her pale amber skin.

“See, Grayce, Danna and I have been talking about this for a long time. One of her biggest fantasies is to seduce a gay man. Her other big one is to see me with a dude. I told her it would never happen in a million years. Looks like it only took six. Never say never, huh? So, she wants you, she wants me, you want me…

“What do you want Mike?” I ask, suddenly back in control of all my faculties.

“Me? I want to make it all happen Connors.” He says as he walks towards me. I want our worlds to completely cross tonight. Hell, I want them to mother fucking collide! I want us to teach each other everything we know. I want that last wall between us to finally come down forever and this is the best way I know how to do that. The team captain is picking you for my team Grayce. You gonna play the game?”

Deciding it’s not much of a decision; I step forward, nose-to-nose with my new coach, my guide, my hero. I place my hands on his shoulders, tilt my head sideways and get up on my toes to meet my mouth with his. His arms wrap around my lower back, and he kisses me as I have never been kissed before in my entire life. I don’t know whether it’s his technique, or my emotions, or the taste of Danna’s cunt on his powerful tongue, but I only last a few seconds before my legs tremble completely out of control and I have to hold on to Mike’s shoulders as he lowers me to my knees, his tongue never giving up possession of my mouth. He leans over, takes my face in his hands and kisses me even further, even deeper, faster, his rough stubble burning me, then his tongue soothing me, his breath filling me. The hunger we ignored for six years is suddenly centered completely on our mouths and I feel that at any moment, he might literally start to eat me. He kneels directly in front of me, the connection of our mouths still unbroken, not even to breathe, not even for a second. The heat from his body, bigger, far more muscular, more powerful now but still the same graceful body I’ve wanted to touch since that night in a deserted swimming pool a long time ago, washes over me in powerful waves, practically knocking me over.

Somewhere during this, Danna has come behind me and removed my jacket, then my tie, and then starts unbuttoning my shirt. She moves in closer, her body warming my backside as her nails scratch my chest, play with my nipples and run all over my shoulders and back. She starts to kiss the back of my neck, her tongue sometimes feeling like wet cotton, other times like a soft brown paper bag, sending shivers through me. She giggles each time I tremble, enjoying my reactions. Mike finally breaks the kiss, leaving me feeling as though I were deep underwater with my air supply suddenly taken from me. He turns my head slightly to the side, his palm burning my cheek, and brings his mouth to my ear to whisper in it. My head and body are on fire with sensation; through my fever I barely hear the words…

“I love you Grayce. I love you.” Over and over and over… “I love you.”

I can no longer make out specific sensations. The heat, the flames dancing on the walls and on my skin urge me on. Mike and Danna’s hands, like burning coals are everywhere at once. My cock is suddenly in a pit of flaming lava as Danna straddles me, pouring herself onto me. Mike stands there with his legs wide apart, a huge grin on his face and a steady flame in his eyes, watching us, slowly stroking his massive dick. The sterno fire highlights a huge bead of pre-cum formed on his cock head and I’m utterly frozen as I watch him spread it over the rest of his dick. Danna leans all the way back and I wrap my arms around her body, her sweat burning my skin like acid rain. Mike has knelt in front of her and pushes himself into her right next to me and we share the tight space as naturally, as inevitably as we have shared everything that has come before. Mike leans forward kissing Danna, then me, then Danna again. His cock, the movement, the friction, brings the temperature up even higher and I cry out, knowing that there is no humanly way possible I can last much longer. Finally, the fire reaches it’s destination and consumes us all and we explode in a blinding supernova, brighter and hotter than any ten suns.

* * * * *

I cannot help but be reminded of these flames as the doors slowly open and Mike’s casket rolls into the fire that will reduce him to nothing more than a pile of ash and bone fragments. My three-year-old Godson sits quietly on Danna’s lap, gazing intently with heart breakingly familiar aqua-gray eyes, aware that something important is happening but not quite sure what. I hold Danna’s hand tightly, hoping I can infuse it with some warmth but it remains consistently cold. The ever-present warmth in Danna’s eyes is gone and replaced instead with a cool landscape flecked with snow. Despite the raging summer heat outside, we find ourselves with goose bumps as a chill covers us from head to toe. The drunk driver who hit Mike was never caught and probably never will be. When I informed his sister Angie of the accident she replied; “Too bad you weren’t riding along with him you fucking fag. I hope you two queers and that slut rot in hell.” Needless to say, neither she nor her Fundamentalist Christian husband decided to attend the services leaving the three of us as the only family attending this service. Danna turns to me and without even looking at her I can read her mind as easily as my own. She, like I, would give anything to leap into that oven and burn in the flames, immolate ourselves to be able to re-capture even just a second of the fire and spirit the warmed and fed us all these last four years.

I stand and walk towards the oven, the doors now closed and can hear the flames turned up, roaring higher and higher, can see them swirling and dancing, can feel them wrapping themselves around him, caressing his body like a final lover, consuming him forever.

I place my hand and forehead on the outer door feeling like I’m about to pass out from the sheer exhaustion of these last few days. Suddenly, I can feel the enormous heat radiating from inside, washing over me again in powerful waves… Suddenly I realize this isn’t just any ordinary gas heat. It is him. He is touching me for the last time. The knowledge of this, lets loose the dam of tears that has been building up since the accident 9 days ago. I haven’t been able to cry this entire time, not even once, both from the shock, the numbness and the need to be strong for my family. Now I’m shocked to find tears flowing quickly and hot down my face, dropping at my feet, I’m sure burning holes in the rug. Danna comes up behind me wrapping her arms around me leaving simmering tears of her own on my shoulder. I take her hands.

They are warm.

The End

 

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