I, per the new company plan-o-grams, was in the process of moving the outside window-washer display to a new location. That stuff bores my ass off. More company propaganda, if you want my opinion.
I heard a car pull in and smiled. I was pleased to see Alec and a friend of his climb out of his extremely rusty Nissan Sentra after pulling up to the gas pumps. They closed the doors and Alec reached for the fuel hose. The passenger started washing the windows, complaining as he did.
“This rust is multiplying; I’d swear even the windows are flaking away,” the passenger said while Alec was busy adding gas.
“Don't scrub too hard. The rust is the only thing holding the car together,” Alec quipped after surveying the glass.
After filling up his fine automobile, they came in and perused the fine merchanside inside the store. Alec's friend started making colorful comments to Alec about the glow-in-the-dark condoms he spotted behind the counter and was especially enthusiastic about the psychedelic colors. He was going on about them when I heard Alec say, “I should get the green ones for you and then I could see you coming.”
I stifled a laugh as they continued to wander the store, picking up a few things. Eventually they came to the counter with an armload of purchases—chips and pop mainly.
“You again, Alec?” I asked him while leaning over the counter. “How are things going with you two? Did you know you just doubled the value of that car by gassing it up?” I hoped saying that wouldn't incite him to go into his explanation that his car was a classic and already worth a small fortune that was increasing daily.
“Back by popular demand, Dan. If I were any better, I couldn't stand myself. I should hire a security guard to watch the car since it was worth a fortune before I gassed it up.” He leaned on the counter telling me this while his friend just shook his head.
“Did your friend lose a bet and is now forced to ride in that?” I asked Alec, pointing to the car and winking to his friend.
“Nah, he came willingly, I didn't even need the tazer you gave me last week, but the duct tape, on the other hand.....” Alec smiled a toothy smile and ducked as his friend took a swipe at his head.
“By the way, who is your friend? I haven't seen him here before now?” I asked while I rang up their purchases, curious about the name of the good looking newcomer.
“This is Sasha, and no you can't have him. He's mine.” Alec said while pulling a blushing Sasha in with his arm around his waist, pulling him tightly till they were side by side.
After chatting for a few minutes about the weather and what not, they took their leave and climbed into the Nissan. He finally got the car started and it smoked like a crop duster. Maybe the next time he came in I’ll offer him a deal on motor oil.
My official job description would be manager of a gas station/convenience store that happens to be at the end of an off ramp from the main highway that passes around Sanitaria Springs. It’s a good location; you meet all kinds of different travelers going to all points on the globe. And then there are the locals.
Alec started coming in here a couple of years ago, riding on a mountain bike and looking for something cold on a hot day. He started right away with his skill at cracking wise by asking me if I had tonight's winning lottery numbers. I loved that. I fed off it by asking him if that was a girl’s bike he rode in on which kind of surprised him at first, but made him smile at the same time.
This was an example of life as I know it in Sanitaria Springs, a quaint small town where anything of importance rarely happens.
And why was Alec’s statement that his friend was ‘his’ not shocking? Yes, you guessed it. I'm gay but not out to many because of the small town mentality. Life and livelihood rank over being out. I feel better this way. It's not an ideal situation but it works, for me. When I was talking with Alec and Sasha there wasn't anyone else in the store so it was safe when Alec mentioned me not having Sasha.
I’m out to Alec, we joke a lot, and jokes about being gay in a small town have worked their way into our conversation from time to time, and neither of us have blinked. I'm in my forties anyway and kids hold no interest to me other than a passing glance. These two were attractive, but I ever found someone, he’d have to be someone my own age.
My mom called me Daniel Boone Brownstone when I was in real trouble, which was often. The name everyone calls me now is Dan or Pump Jockey from when gas stations were full service many years ago.
You know you're in trouble when your mother calls you by your complete name. My rap sheet with my mother was long and distinguished. Like the time I used the snow block maker, designed for building snow forts and stuff in winter. My problem was it was I built my fort in the summer, and I used wet sand. If that in itself wasn't bad enough, where I put the blocks was. I was six at the time. Going across the road seemed like a good idea then; the fort needed to be somewhere more strategic than in our front yard. I did discover how fast cars could stop and how fast my mom could run out of the house, grab my arm and pull me in the house after hearing all those squealing brakes, and often the swear words of angry drivers complaining.
Who knew that would be a bad idea? I was a kid, what did I know?
It was a few days later, close to closing time, when a very nice Jeep pulled to the pumps. It was a late 90's Cherokee that had a suspension lift, big tires with nice wheels, off-road bumpers and a winch on the front. It looked like it had been used, too—not a mall crawler that had never seen dirt. This thing was a rolling woody.
This was one of the situations where I disliked the pay-at-the-pump option; there was no customer interaction. Especially this time. The customer pumped his gas and left, leaving me intrigued. He seemed to be about my age and the license plates were New York but it was hard telling if he was a traveler or a local. I sighed, brushed it aside, and started my close-out for the day.
It was a couple days later when I was working on the computer and, between working and playing solitaire, fighting to stay awake. I was just glad closing was coming up soon. I must have nodded off because, the next time I looked out the window, the Jeep was back at the pump. I chucked to myself, and almost unconsciously reached up and smoothed my hair into place. This time, the driver wouldn’t be driving off. He’d be coming inside—as the card reader on the pump he was using was messed up.
The guy pumped his gas and then did a quick under-the-hood inspection. He stepped back after seeing something, scratched his goatee, then closed the hood. He wiped his hands on his pants and came inside.
“Good evening to you good, sir,” I said with a smile, and hoped I didn't sound too polite.
He looked tired but smiled at me. “Yes, it is evening but anytime someone calls me ‘sir,’ I have to look and see if my dad is behind me.” He then walked to the cooler for a pop before coming up to the counter.
He was a good looker, windblown blonde hair, about 5' 10” going by the measuring tape on the door frame and about 170 pounds. I, just for the record, have brown hair, stand 5' 8” and am creeping up on 200 pounds. I'm no Adonis. More like a fire plug.
“Is there anything else can I get for you?” I asked in a professional manner.
He reached for his wallet. “This should do it, a bit of caffeine to get me home.” He said it tiredly but still smiled.
“Then that will be $52.59 with the gas. Are you new to the area?” I asked him, curious about the man.
He looked in his wallet and pulled out his bank card and handed it to me. I ran the card and printed his receipt to have him sign. He leaned on the counter and signed the slip. Hmm, a lefty.
“Not really new to the area. I just bought some property here, and I’ve just moving in. I hate the moving process.”
No wonder he looks wiped out, I thought. He returned the signed voucher back to me and I gave him his receipt copy. He smiled and waved, and then he was out the door.
I looked at the receipt. Theodore Kutsenko.
I started being more careful getting ready for work. The uniform I have to wear is just a shirt, and it’s been some time since I’ve paid much attention to what else I’ve worn with it. I realized it was due for some improvement. No sense looking like a slob when I now have a reason to want to impress.
The first thing on my agenda was a nice haircut. Time to tone my 80's mullet down and modernize my look. I didn't get rid of it entirely, but after a stop at Walt’s, it flowed with a lot more style. Next was clothing. The shirts were provided and I couldn’t change that, but I normally wore jeans and they’d become pretty ratty looking. This wasn't a dirty job—I didn’t have to work on cars, just tend the cash register, so I lost the jeans and started wearing khaki pants. Even my face got work. I hadn’t been shaving all that often but decided a daily scape wouldn’t do any harm. I began doing that, and kept it up.
My co-workers noticed my new look and told me how nice I looked. It gave me a little boost hearing, their comments, and even the regular customers commented on it. I was just wondering what the Jeep guy would say when he saw my new look. Would he even notice?
I was getting more depressed by the day when Mr. Kutsenko didn't show up. It'd been a week since I’d seen him last. I hoped I hadn’t turned him off the last time he was in. I even asked one of the day shift workers if they seen a nice lifted Cherokee come in the last few days. They hadn’t.
A couple more days passed and there was no sign of him. I reluctantly started to believe that it wasn't meant to be. I sulked but then made an effort to move on the best I could.
It was getting close to closing time a week later when I looked to the pumps and spotted a familiar Jeep. I authorized his pump and he got his gas, paid for it at the pump, and then, surprisingly, came in.
I was elated. “Hi stranger, long time no see,” I said, then wondered if I should give myself a kick in the twins for that remark.
He looked happy and smiled to me as he walked to the counter. “Friggin' work anyway. I had to go to a client’s office and sort through their screw ups. It seems like it took forever. I'm just glad this rarely happens. By the way, my name's Ted. I figured if I was coming in and would be a regular you should know my name.” He said this with a twinkle in his eyes. He stood close to the counter and put his hand out to shake.
Dang, I get to touch him now? “Dan, glad to meet you.” I took his hand and we shook. He seemed to hold it longer than normal. Nice soft hands and no rings.
“So, what brings you to our little burg? It can't be the night life,” I asked him. I was curious why someone would move here; usually they moved away.
Ted looked to me and thought about it. “My brother, sister-in-law and nephew live here. Lived here for years. I always told them that I wanted to get a place around here to hang my hat, goof off and be closer to family.” He sneezed a few times and I figured it was allergies.
About that time I saw a familiar Nissan pull into the parking spot by the door. Alec got out, looked at the Jeep at the pumps, smiled wide and came in.
“Uncle Ted!” Alec crowed, seeing Ted by the counter.
“Alec! I see you’re still driving that rustmobile!” Ted reached out for Alec, hugged him, smiling like a hyena.
“Hey, it’s a classic,” Alec retored. “You’re as bad as Dan here. I come here all the time, and me and Dan trade insults almost every time I come in. He doesn’t have any more respect for a fine piece of automotive engineering than you do. But other than that, he’s a great guy. I'm glad you found Dan's little oasis.” Alec winks at me and finishes his hug.
What was the wink for, I wondered as I took in an uncle and his nephew having their greeting.
“Did you know I just bought a place here? Actually, it's down the road from your folks place,” Ted told an excited Alec.
“No shit? This is too cool! Maybe we can double date when you find someone.” He started bouncing on the balls of his feet as he said it and I saw a slight nod of his head in my direction. Sonofabitch.
“How's Sasha treating you these days? I told him last time to go easy on the whips because it made you walk funny.” Ted quipped, making a joke.
“Actually the whips were from a few of the football team players. The odd walking was a result of that.” He then proceeded to fill Ted in on what I already knew. Opening up the part of me that wanted vengeance. This had only happened a few months ago. Ted's body language showed how pissed off he was, hearing what Alec had suffered, but then morphed into happy by the time Alec finished.
“I'm glad you stuck with it—you have to go thru hell to get to heaven from what I've heard,” Ted said, hugging Alec again.
Alec calmed down a little but was still excited. “I'm glad you moved here. I never saw you enough.” Alec hugged his uncle again. I smiled at the sight.
Ted released Alec and held him at arms length. “With the property I have now, we can give the Jeep a workout. Bring Sasha, too. He'll enjoy it.” Ted let him go and patted him on the back.
“Well gents, it's closing time,” I said. “If you all want to reconvene at another place, I can meet you there after I get things shut down unless you want to catch up with each other.” I don't know if I was overstepping by bounds by inviting myself, but what I felt on first seeing Ted were just as strong now, and if there was a way, I wanted to get to know him better. If that meant taking a chance on being too forthcoming, maybe even a little rude, well, so be it.
“Nah, that’s be great—come on over. Let me write down my address so you can find it.” Ted grabbed some paper and scribbled down his address while Alec nodded his head. Ted passed me the address, glanced at me with a smile on his face, and the two of them headed out to their respective vehicles.
While doing the close out for the day, I felt some apprehension about meeting Ted and Alec someplace besides the store. Looking at the address again, I discovered it was by a park that I went to when I was feeling lost and out of control. It was a nice place to go where I could unwind and collect my thoughts. The scenery was something, too, which is probably why it was a good place to be by yourself and just relax.
Was Alec alluding to something when he mentioned double dating, then nodding to me, or am I just over thinking it? It's one of my bad traits: I think things to death. It wastes time and whatever you’ve figured out never goes how you planned it anyway.
I arrived at Ted’s address and sat for a moment after turning off my engine. Only good things would happen here—that's what my mind was telling me. Going by our brief conversation, I didn't have any doubts that this would be a memorable night.
The lights were on, the Jeep and Nissan were in the driveway, and Ted and Alec were on the front porch swing awaiting my arrival.
I climbed out of my truck and took the first few hesitant steps then started walking normally. I was nervous. It was a nice night, cool but not cold and there was a full moon which I hoped wasn't an omen; it was the sort of moon that evoked thoughts of werewolves and vampires. I grinned to myself: with two people watching me walk up the steps, I didn't have to worry about much.
Ted stood in front of the porch swing tapping his arm with his finger where his watch would be. “Damn, where have you been? I was going to call a search party. I had to keep the kid entertained by myself, which was no mean feat.” Ted was giving me a hard time for my late arrival! I thought about that and realized he must be pretty comfortable with me already if he was able to tease me like that.
Still, I was hesitant. This was all new territory for me.
I had to respond to his jest, and did the best I could. “Mine's the life of upper management—nothing ever goes like it should.” Just talking to him like this, where he wasn’t a customer and I was a manager, had made my breathing go shallow. “I ended up taking the slow road here to get myself ready for this. I don't normally go to customer’s homes and don't really know them at all outside of the store.”
“No need to worry, I know we've just met but Alec can't stop singing your praises. They were all good.” I glanced to Alec and he looked all around, keeping his eyes on everything but the two of us, faking a whistle. I hoped he hadn’t said too much; he didn’t seem to share that worry.
“So,” Ted said when I’d run out of words and was getting embarrassed, “come on up and take a load off. The house is still a disaster from moving but what's mine is yours.” He took my hand and guided me to a rocking chair on the porch.
I should have taken offense at the rocking chair but noticed there was another one sitting there, too. I also didn't flinch when he took my hand. That was a complete surprise. I'm not used to physical contact.
He released my hand when I turned around. “I'm not a invalid,” I said, hoping the humor could be heard in my voice and wasn’t covered by my nervousness. “Just point me to the proper place to rest my sorry behind.” I laughed when I saw them smile, and Ted pointed me to one of the rockers.
Ted moved to a position behind the chair, steadying the top. “You're not that much older than me so I know all about resting a sorry behind. Besides, you're the first guest at my humble castle.”
Ted moved back to his own chair, and as he sat, he looked briefly right at me. His glance told me that Alec had said something to him about me, or maybe a lot of somethings. What I saw in his glance was hope.
Alec yawned widely and stood. “Well, it's time for me to go home. I need my beauty sleep and have things to do in the morning.” Alec faked his yawn again, an turned to make the move to his car. Ted and I stood to send him off.
“You're a liar, you don't need beauty sleep. You're already a beauty and since when do you even get up in the morning voluntarily? Usually you whine, piss and moan until someone dumps ice in your sheets to get you out of bed.” Ted’s teasing of Alec reminded me of how he’d teased me when I’d first arrived, and also that Alec was still a teenager with a teenager’s habits still ingrained in him.
“It's not easy being me; it takes a lot of work to look this good,” Alec laughed, then dodged a swing from Ted as he jumped down the steps and danced to his car. The kid was going to get it now, I thought, when Ted pointed to him. But I saw Ted was laughing, too.
With Alec gone, it was just me and Ted. Sitting on the porch staring at the stars. Now, who would speak first?
I leaned back in my chair trying to work a kink out of my back. We were both quiet for a moment. I looked up a the stars, and from the corner of my eye saw Ted doing the same thing. He looked very relaxed. I wasn’t.
“Alec is a good kid and if you're anything like him, I'm in for a wild ride,” I said softly to Ted, breaking the silence as we both continued to look up at the sky. I wanted him to know that I was still nervous.
Ted turned to me. “Yes, Alec is a good kid. He also has a big mouth. It runs in the family, I'm afraid. He told me a couple of things and by the look on your face, you can guess what he said.” Ted looked like he was fighting with himself in his mind, then looked like he’d finally won.
He continued what he started to say. “I too am looking for my pot at the end of the rainbow.” Ted told me this with a look on his face that said he was thinking that maybe I might be that end of his rainbow.
I turned to look at him more intently. “I have an idea about what he said, probably more than a idea. Is this where the rainbow ends?” I ask him, feeling more hopeful than I could remember since I’d been a kid. It felt like I was free, being able to say that. Like I’d relaxed and was finally being my true self.
“I hope so,” Ted says after collecting his thoughts. “I had a feeling when I pulled into the gas station that something big was going to happen. Maybe this is it.”
He sneezed a couple times, which broke the mood. “Damn allergies,” he said.
He turned to me with a hopeful look on his face. He licked his lips. “Want to drive around the property and see what's there?” He wagged his eyebrows.
I gaze over at his Jeep. By the looks of it, this won't be a normal drive.
“Let’s roll,” I say, standing up. “I haven't wheeled in ages.” It was easy to cast any unsure and worried feelings aside and just go for it.
Ted slapped his legs a couple times. Then he got up, too, and told me to hang on a second while he closed the house up.
After climbing into his Jeep, I found a few off-road worthy items. A C.B. Radio, a GPS, recovery gear in the back and a nice sound system. He tested the stereo on me as we got rolling. His music tastes left something to be desired but I could live with that. We stayed on his property and drove through the woods, creeks and scrub brush, getting tossed around the cab in the process. I snugged up my seatbelt even tighter.
It turned out he was quite the technical wheeler and didn't just look for mud to drive through. The challenges, he said, were hills and big rocks. I guess he took it easy on me: he never even put the Jeep in 4x4 for our ride.
He parked and shut the Jeep off when he reached a clearing in the forest. After we got out, it was just leaves and fallen branches on the ground with the trees surrounding us and the stars above. After finding a fallen tree that wasn't still full of branches to sit on, we sat and started to talk.
Ted had his hands on his knees and took a deep breath. “This should be nice. It's quiet, dark, and we can talk without interruption or wonder if one of us is going to mess this up. Wheeling like that is a stress reliever for me. I would like to go out West for the places where they wheel, very nice places I’ve been told.” Teds eyes shone with pride as he described his off-roading dream trip.
“If you didn't know already, my last name is Kutsenko and I telecommute for work. I do design work for many products and working from home was an option I was given. Once in a great while I need to go to the client’s office to sort things out. I have to show up in the office in Binghampton every couple weeks for meetings and such but it isn't that far away. Living out here has more than one bonus.” He clapped his hands together and rearranged his seating position on the tree.
I took a breath to steady myself. “Well, my last name is Brownstone and you’ve seen my job. I would like something better but there isn't much available out here so I make do.” I licked my lips and glanced around, still a bit nervous.
I pushed on even though I was out of my element. “Some of the customers make the days there worthwhile. When I'm stressed out, I go to the park right down the road from your house. It's relaxing and a good place to get the crap out of your system.” It was nice to talk about my refuge. My breathing returned to normal and I glanced at Ted.
“I think most of the stress is self inflicted, being what I am and wishing for the impossible.”
I stop, and Ted jumps in to keep the silence from growing. He turns to straddle the tree so he’s looking directly at me. “What you are is a small part of who you are. Who you are is what everyone sees and what you do in your life. You get one shot at true happiness and when it comes, you take it. You're intelligent, have a good heart, are funny and have a way about you that isn't seen that often. I like what I see.” Compassion filled Ted’s eyes and his body relaxed as he inched closer to me on the tree.
“It's hard to change things that are what you've done for many years. It’s difficult to see good in yourself when all you’ve done has been to self-loathe every day. There were days when I’d had enough of this world and just wanted to be done. The last couple years have been better since Alec started coming to the store.” My breathing quickened as I spoke of this. I remembered when he’d started coming in. He’d almost looked scared of me. It hadn’t taken long to fix that. We’d both learned to trust.
“He was quick with the wisecracks but said nothing that stung. It took several of his ever-increasing visits but he let it slip eventually that he was gay. That let me tell him my secret and what I'm after. I also told him that he was safe with me as someone to talk with when things got rough. After that it was better.” I licked my lips and kept rubbing my hands together, another nervous tic.
“We both now had someone to talk with; even though we were a generation apart, the feelings don't change. He helped me calm down and see life as more than a struggle. He didn't really change but he's still a wiseass.” I was glad it was dark out because I felt like a mess. A nervous, jittery mess.
Ted put his hand on my shoulder and gave me a small smile when I looked at him. “I'm sorry you went through all that but I am glad, for one, you're still here with us and two, that you are someone that can talk with Alec.” He stood up and started walking in circles moving his hands trying to form the right words.
“Once you get past his smart mouth, he's pretty insecure. He needed someone to unload with and a friend to talk to. I never went through anything like that when I grew up.” He sat back down and looked to me like he was in a fog bank, remembering his past.
“Albany was home until recently when this property became available. I did want to live out here away from the city and the crap that goes with it. When I was growing up, things about me were not obvious to others outside of family, but I did have a way about me that was hard to deny.” He started laughing, remembering things he’d done back then.
“After some time with no dates or girlfriends, my folks figured it out and we talked about it. I was 16 at the time. Being gay wasn't such a very bad thing there. Sure, some people got on their soapbox and ranted how it was unnatural or punishable by God but those people were mostly ignored.”
We got the same crap here only the zealots seemed to be louder because their audiences were smaller, I thought to myself.
“I got crap in school and out but never lost the war. Kept my head up and moved on. College was a dream. They had support groups for everything except bacon addicts. Those guys went to IHOP to feed their addiction.” He wore a smile that quickly turned into a wicked grin.
I sat there stunned for a few seconds while I processed that, then I fell off the log because I was laughing so hard. I felt the weight on my shoulders being removed and discarded, and I hoped permanently. I stood up, dusted myself off and met Ted halfway as he stood up from the log. I had my arms out and so did he and we met in the middle. We held that hug for what seemed like hours.
Ted pulled back and looked at me. He looked relaxed. “You feel better? You sure do look better, even in the moonlight.” He seemed to have an almost radiant look to him.
I did an inner scan and came up with good things. “Yes, I feel much better. I think I look the same but I don't see with your eyes.” I hadn't felt as good in many years. Maybe even longer. Ted was still there, and the log was there yet. It was time to make use of both.
“We need a fire pit here. This place now has a name. I'll call it 'The Spot' because it's the spot where great things began,” Ted announced with pride. It was almost oozing from him. A piece of heaven right outside the door.
The next day I went to work for my afternoon/evening shift. I was checking the paperwork from the day shift when the day manager came up to me grinning. I shuddered.
“Mikey, you look like you're up to something. It better not be the washer fluid display again,” I said, frowning. I was hoping corporate didn't have more busywork for us to waste our time with.
“Did you get laid last night? I haven't seen you look this happy in a long time,” Mike said with his hands together at his waist.
I stood behind the counter doing my count. “No, I didn't. I found the fountain of youth,” I replied with a hint of truth.
“Ahh, found Mr. Right then. It's all good by me.” Mike had made an educated guess and guessed right.
“My cousin is gay and his folks had a fit when they found out about it. They didn't kick him out, but they definitely were not pleased with it. That was years ago and he's doing fine with his partner in the city.” Mike let me in to his personal life a little. He was relaxed, leaning on the counter.
I was trying hard not to show anything, but his statements floored me. Was I that transparent?
I looked at Mike and smiled. “Yes, I think I found Mr. Right last night. He's actually Alec's uncle. Met him right here, actually over by the pumps.” I didn't want to tip my hand just yet but giving him a peek wouldn't hurt.
“Good for you. Everyone needs someone. It seems I owe Alec the next time I see him.” He smiled broadly.
“I'll tell him to drop by during the day then. He's sure to drop in tonight, check on how things went last night or at least my side of it. And thanks for the vote of confidence, I needed that. Maybe this town isn't as redneck as I thought.” We shook hands as friends and Mike finished up his shift.
I was on a high; last night was like a revelation for me. Maybe it was karma paying me back from the shitty hand I’d been dealt. Whatever it was, I'd ride it out until or if it ended.
It was another slow night. The travelers didn't usually start showing up until the weekend and so I got things cleaned up and stocked in the store. It seemed some of the day shift were slackers and not being all they could be. Nonetheless, I did get things prepped for closing. I was mildly surprised neither Alec nor Ted had graced me with their presence.
I was caught totally by surprise when the store filled with a bright light. I followed the light to the windows and saw Ted's Jeep outside the store with all of the off-road lights on. He saw me and shut them off, then came into the store laughing.
I went into a fake rant. “Damn UFO's anyway. If it were a real UFO, though, the lights would have flashed and been in different colors. Friggin' 43-year-old teenagers anyway.” I spoke to the ceiling while shaking my head and waving my arms.
Ted had to stop and lean on the counter to catch his breath. “Ha! Had you going for a minute, didn't I? I need more lights now or to aim what I have better,” he said, glancing over his shoulder while he heading toward the cooler for a pop.
“What do you need all those lights for anyway?” I asked, posing the obvious question.
“They look cool and piss people off who won't dim their high beams coming at me. And off road, I can see the trail in front of me.” He looked up at me, turning away from the Auto Trader magazine he’d started thumbing through.
“You'll probably blind them and then they'll go in the ditch; then what will you do?” I was curious about the answer.
“Then I won't be blinded anymore. Maybe check on them if they took a big dump. If they swerve a bit, I'll keep going with the big lights off.” He said scratching his goatee, perhaps wondering himself what he would do.
I broke his musings with a question. “Where's Alec hiding? I half expected him to show up tonight.” I actually was kind of bummed he hadn't shown up.
“His folks roped him into working around the house—you know, feed the cattle and slop the hogs.” He said it with a straight face but his belly was jiggling.
I gave him a odd look, confused more than anything. “Since when do they have farm animals? I thought they had a house, not a farm.” I was bewildered.
Ted stuck his tongue out at me. “It would be news to them if they did. Alec and Sasha went to a movie, in Sasha's car. Alec's car has been marking it's territory more than usual lately, and I think it may be on it's last legs.” Ted continued to thumb through the trader. I didn't know if he was looking for something specific or just browsing.
He put the magazine back on the rack and turned to me with a hopeful look on his face. “Want to hang out tonight? I found some good steaks and I'm itching to break in the new grill.” Ted had a pleading look in his eyes, belying the casual tone he’d used to ask the question.
My belly rumbled in response. “Good steaks huh? Did you hit a cow with the Jeep? Maybe blind it with your lights first?” I laughed, then added, “I can hang out until whenever. Need me to bring anything?” I was delighted, anticipating another happy night with Ted.
“I hit nothing besides the meat market today, lights or no lights. Bring you, it'll be a good dessert, main course and a cure for what ails me. It's a date then?” His eyebrows were bouncing and he had something more than a smile on his face.
Oy vey. “Yes. I'll be closing up here in a couple of hours, and then I'm all yours. I can only take so much of gas station burritos or microwave dinners for one when I'm home.” The last bit depressed me a little. I was tired of this life I’d created and wanted something better.
Ted put his hands together behind his back and set out the itinerary. “Well, we can start with dinner and a movie at the ranch, then wander around the property and discuss the meaning of living. It's way different than the meaning of life. The meaning of life is surviving. The meaning of living on the other hand, well, we'll get to that.” His hand was over his heart and his head was down as though in prayer.
“Then it's going to be a date like no other, not that I've had others. Get that look off of your face. As far as I'm concerned, that life is history.” I was almost giddy with excitement now. I was also serious about feeling the hermit’s life I had led was now dead.
Ted wore an excited smile and pushed himself away from the counter. “I will see you in a couple hours or so then. Come hungry. I think I have enough to keep a couple of teenagers happy, for a while at least.” He tipped his non-existent hat and bid me a fond farewell.
So much had happened in so little time it didn't give me much time to process it. Acting on a whim was new for me—I normally plan and consider things to their death and still miss the obvious. Set in my ways and doing things a certain way so I knew it was done properly was probably borderline OCD, but it had become a way of life. I’d learned it wasn’t really living, though.
I couldn’t decide on what to bring to Ted’s even though he’d said to bring nothing. I found a fresh apple pie in the cooler that had been made locally; we got them every couple of days. I'd heard good things about them, and who didn't like pie? I paid for it and a tub of whipped topping and set them with my things as I got ready to leave.
Closing was a breeze and I found myself driving to Ted’s again, smiling this time and without any nervous thoughts. I got to his place and found him on the back patio sitting on a chair with his eyes closed and a stupid expression on his face. I made a fart sound and he opened his eyes, turned to me and giggled. Giggled?
He pinched his nose with one hand and waved his face with the other. “Bathroom's second door on the right if you need it and from the sound of that, you do. And I said to not bring anything and you did anyway. What did you bring us?” Ted got up and stumbled to me intent on searching the bag.
“Apple pie? Say you didn't! There was a time when I could live on pie but not as much these days. It goes right to the hips.” I looked at his hips and cocked my head a bit and raised an eyebrow.
“They look about right to me. You must be moderating your pie intake. Me on the other hand, everything seems to go to my belly and stays there.” I rub my belly, overdoing it some.
“Buddha you're not, but can I rub it for luck?” He got a wild look in his eyes that said I was gonna get it, and he held his hands out to rub my belly. I backed away and laughed. I set the bag on the table and went for my own belly rub on Ted. I must have surprised him because he shrieked and retreated to his chair.
Seated again, Ted gave me a nervous look. “Pretend you didn't hear that. Alec would never let me rest otherwise. Let me get the meat and start the grill going. These are monsters, hope you have room for it. What do you want to drink? I have Coke, MGD and water.” I told him MGD and he got up, went inside momentarily and returned with a plate laden with two of the nicest steaks I'd seen in ages and two bottles of beer. He handed me a beer and got his gas grill going and finished prepping the meat for grilling.
I took a drink from the bottle. “Ahh, nectar of the gods,” I said with a happy sigh. I don't drink much but this was a special occasion. Ted taps his bottle to mine in a toast.
“To the meaning of living and to a friendship I hope withstands the test of time,” Ted announced. I got misty with that but we both took a drink, smiled at each other, then looked at the grill which had started to make some noise, good noises.
“I want mine rare, how do you like yours?” he asked me, fiddling with the tongs in his hand.
“Rare would be great, a bit more done than black and blue but still leave the whip marks on it,” I said after taking another drink.
Ted grinned and went back to his grill. “A man after my own heart. Rare should be easy. When I can get a weak moo out of it, it's ready.” He cracked wise while pulling two plates from under the top plate which had the raw meat on it. He set that plate aside and got the clean ones set out ready for the steaks when they came off the grill.
The smells coming from the grill were heavenly and I started drooling. I took a drink and wondered why my bottle was almost empty. I asked Ted if he needed another, he nodded and then took the last swig from his bottle, never taking his eyes from the grill, so I took both empties and the dirty plate inside and put them on the counter, then grabbed a couple fresh, cold bottles. I noticed the table has already been set and there was a candle on it. I smiled at the sight.
I handed him his beer and sat down watching him man the grill. If he got too close, it would be grill the man. I slayed myself sometimes.
Ted turned from the grill and gave me the look. “What are you chuckling about? Does my ass look funny? Do I have a hanging booger? Speak up. I'm not hungry enough to eat both of these.” Ted grinned while spinning his steak tongs like he was a ninja or maybe had apprenticed at Benihana’s.
“Stand right in front of the grill, it would be grill the man instead of man the grill.” I duck when he starts throwing random things at me.
“By the way, your ass looks like an ass, right where it should be and not lopsided. I'll rate it a ten.” I knew him now, knew how he was, and simply laughed.
“Are you ready to eat? I sure am.” He opened the grill and put the steaks on plates. He turned the gas off on the grill, grabbed his beer and one plate, smiled and swung his head to me to follow him. I grabbed my beer and plate and shadowed him inside. Once we got things on the table and he’d rummaged through the fridge for more things and got them on the table, he sat across from me and we tucked in.
“Ah hold on, one thing is missing.” He stood up and lit the candle and sat back down wearing a proud smile.
I was happy and this had turned into a surefire, guaranteed, no-doubt-about-it date. “I would pray about now,” I said, “but I thanked Him earlier.” I gave Ted a smile and he knew what it was for.
Ted started cutting up his steak then put some potato salad and baked beans on his plate. I did the same and then we dined. I took a first bite of meat and started moaning with pleasure.
“Damn, but this is good. This isn't your first time grilling is it? You'll make someone a fine wife someday.” I snickered at him and saw him start to look for something to throw. Nothing being available, he sat up straight and struk a pose. One hand behind his head and the other on his hip, he said in a high pitched voice, “Honey, I'm more woman than you can handle.” I looked stunned for a second, then burst out laughing.
“You'll do just fine. Great dinner and better company.” I raised my beer to him in salute.
We finished up a great dinner and the conversation was just as special. We cleaned up the carnage and made everything presentable afterwards. It didn't take long to do that. We did it in companionable silence.
“What do you think, want to wander around the property for a while or be lazy and put a movie in and let dinner settle?” Ted asked.
I couldn't tell by looking at him which way to go. Both ideas had merit. With a movie, we would most likely sit on the couch and not say much just watching the movie and probably doze off. A walk, on the other hand, would be more adventurous and daring on my part. Walk with Ted and talk about everything. Maybe we could find another log to sit on.
I finally decided. “Let's walk. There is a good moon tonight so we won't run into things.” It would be nice to commune with nature and hear the woods talk.
We got the house closed up and headed out the back door and into the forest. Ted was carrying a flashlight in case it was needed. It was a good thing I was wearing my boots because some of the brush was thick. Ted had his hiking boots on, too. We went deeper in the trees for a while, then came to a clearing. I’d seen a few on our first trip out here.
It looked familiar. Fallen trees were common but a ring of rocks stocked with wood was not. He’d done some work on 'The Spot' and it looked inviting. I felt good, inside and out.
Ted moved to the pit and lit the wood with a fire starter he had with him. “Surprise! I thought about bringing the fluffy couch but out here, a tree trunk and old leaves is be more appropriate. Like it?” He was so full of pride, he almost glowed.
I was almost speechless as I took in the display. “No, I don't like it.” The look on Teds face fell, so I continued quickly. “I love it. This is better than perfect.” I said as I walked to him. I raised my arms and Ted fell into them. I felt him start shaking and wondered if I messed up.
He let go and held me at arms length. I could see tracks from his eyes. He spoke quietly. “I'm home now. I’ve found my end of my rainbow.” He pulled me back to him and hugged me for all he was worth.
I started crying with him, so happy that I was was with him. I pulled back and look at him. I pulled him back to me and we kissed, the first of many.
“I love you, Ted Kutsenko.”
“I love you, Dan Brownstone.”
We kissed again, then walked to the log, not letting go of each other. Sitting on the log, we stared at the flames watching them lick at the sky and I thought to myself, could it get any better than this.
Ted broke the silence. “Welcome to Rainbows End.” And he kissed me again.
The beginning starts here.
I want to give my thanks to DaBeagle for the use of his characters, town and for his help in putting this together.
I also want to thank Cole Parker for putting his editing hat on for this venture. It's appreceated.