One of the signs on the door said Molini Electronics and Software, but there were few other tenants. The building was old, but it had been refurbished recently. The first and second floors were vacant, but the third floor was rented to Molini. The elevator looked slow (why do some elevators look slow and some fast?), so I walked up the two flights of stairs and found myself outside a glass door that led to a small reception area. I opened the stairwell door and entered, looking somewhat uncertain. A dark-haired young man dressed in a U2 tee shirt and jeans manned a desk and a computer just inside the door. There was a sign on the desk identifying the person as ‘Paul,’ and there were three ugly, blue, molded-plastic chairs lined along the wall across from it. Fancy digs, I said to myself facetiously.
“I have an appointment with Andrew Molini,” I announced. “I’m Jake Cantwell.”
“Drew’s waiting for you. Go right through that door and wend your way to the corner office.” He pointed toward the northwest corner of the building.
Drew? So much for last-name formality. I walked through the door and navigated myself through a huge, warehouse-like room, past cubicles stuffed with computers, paper, fast-food wrappers and very intent people. I learned what wend meant after that trip. There must have been 40 or 50 cubicles and aisles everywhere, some of them dead ends; fortunately, I could see over them towards the corner office. The décor reminded me of college, somehow—as if a bunch of corners of dorm rooms had been compressed into a single bigger space, furniture and occupants included.
‘Drew’s office’ was where Paul had said it was. Drew was sitting at a computer, intent, facing the window as I knocked on the doorframe. He turned around, smiled and waved me in.
He was dressed informally, but neatly; his pants had a crisp crease; his polo shirt fit his fit body well; his shoes were well shined. He looked about my age, with light-brown hair neatly cut and blue eyes.
“Hi, Jake,” he said, as he stood and offered me his hand. “I’m pleased to meet you.”
“Pleased to meet you, too.” That was certainly original.
“Do you want a cup of coffee, a coke, tea or anything? I think there might even be a beer back there.”
“No, thanks.” I smiled to hide my nervousness. “Thanks for taking the time to see me.”
“No problem. Your father called a few weeks ago to see if I might have something, and, as you know, your dad really helped me get this started. I owe him a lot…” He waved his hand at the cubicles beyond the door to his office. “Actually, everything. I didn’t get a chance to introduce myself at his service.”
I didn’t know what my dad had done for Andrew Molini. I looked down at my lap, embarrassed that I had to rely on what appeared to be a favor to my dad for a job. I felt like getting up and leaving—and almost did—to reenter a life I could call my own.
“Your father put my business plan together, and he found financing for me when things were really grim. I understand begging.” Drew started to laugh, and looked at me like he recognized my predicament.
“I’m begging,” I said, and returned a rueful smile to him.
“Look, let’s be honest. I don’t know whether you’ll be able to help us, but I know you’ve inherited brains and potential.”
“Gee, thanks! I can’t believe how much confidence that inspires in me.”
We stared at each other for the longest time, breaking finally into laughter and smiles.
“You’ll do,” Drew said, with finality. “How much computer experience do you have?”
“I took some programming courses in college, did some office work at the construction companies that I worked for in Jakarta. I’m acquainted with how computers work, and I’ve learned several programs pretty well. But I’m not an expert.”
“Perfect.” Drew put his hands in a praying position and leaned back in his chair.
“Perfect?” I didn’t understand at all.
“Yes. I have some of the best and brightest programmers in the world outside that door. But I need to develop a consumer product, not a product for programmers, so I need somebody to figure out how to get from where we are—a program for computer nerds, if I can use that term—to where I want us to be, which is where a typical user can put our program into the computer and be productive in a short time—and not bother us with phone calls for support, because support is really expensive. I can give you no guidance on how to make that bridge, but you come from creative genes. I want you to spend a month learning our programs, then give me a plan to get from here…” he pointed to the door, “…to there.” He pointed out the window. “Can you do it?”
“Damned if I know, but I’ll take the challenge.”
“Perfect. Welcome aboard!”
“Thanks.” Relief! I had a job. I had no idea how much I was going to be paid or what the benefits were, or what I was going to do, but I felt inside that Drew was somebody I could work for, and if I learned anything from my Dad’s advice: pick the boss first, then the job.
“Go tell Paul to get you set up and show you around this zoo. Don’t tell anybody yet what I hired you for. They’ll kill me if they know.” Drew laughed heartily, stood and shook my hand again.
I realized it truly was a zoo of a workplace, but it was simultaneously a maze, as Paul introduced me to all 43 employees—miraculously all of them there on that day. He showed me my cubicle, my first-class computer and my third-class, scratched-up desk and chair and got me all signed up to pay taxes and get my teeth-cleaning insurance. Then, he showed me the kitchen and the infinite supply of snacks, all free. At least I would not starve while I worked at Molini. I understood also why the dental program was so important when I looked at the candy display.
Then I was left alone in my new cubicle. I had no idea what to do. I tried the telephone. It had a dial tone. I called the recorded weather number and learned that it was going to rain for the rest of the week. I turned on the computer and got a C> prompt. I looked around to see if I could figure out what all the cables and beige boxes meant, but I couldn’t. I supposed I would find out eventually. So much for the first 10 minutes! Only five hours to go. I stared at the monitor. What the fuck was I supposed to do here?
I jumped, startled, and turned toward the voice that was entering my cubicle. I stared at a man about 23, about 20 pounds overweight, I suspected from a sedentary life and free food in the break room, but he had bright eyes, a square face, medium-brown hair, unruly in the front but with a long ponytail tied with a tan ribbon. He wore a sweatshirt that had seen better days but a brand-new pair of jeans that looked as if the label had been ripped off that morning. His face was chubby but friendly—chubby, but a quip away from a smile.
“Hi! You’re…Number 37, I think, or maybe Number 23 of the people I met.”
“I’m Dave,” Dave said. “Number 11, actually.” I was taken with his fine smile.
I took an instant liking to Number 11. “How the hell did you know you were Number 11?”
“Prime number.” He paused at the non sequitur. “Want to join some of us for lunch?”
“Okay, Eleven. Show me the way.”
“Last name’s Handel, by the way. Like the composer.”
“Hallelujah.” We both laughed.
We picked up a few of his friends on the way to the door. It was not raining despite the weather report I had just heard on my new telephone. We went out to an Italian place down the street and ordered pizza. I confess I understood only about 3 percent of the conversation during lunch. I understood words like “the,” “computer,” “asshole,” and “memory,” but that was about all. The pizza was outstanding, incidentally.
“So, did you learn anything?” Dave asked as we walked back to the office—I guess, my office now.
I repeated all the words I understood in the order I’d heard them without the connecting words. Gibberish, in other words. Dave laughed and slapped me on the back.
“Tell you what, come after work to The Yard and we’ll have a brew and talk about…the Red Sox, politics, and a minimum of work, I hope—whatever.”
“It’s a deal.”
That encounter started a series of end-of-day visits to The Yard. If there ever was a typical Boston bar, it was The Yard: dark booths stained with thousands of spilled beers, scarred by hundreds of untended cigarettes, overseen by faded photos on the walls under fly-specked glass coverings and, above the booths, a ceiling dark with smoke, kitchen residue and whatever. The Yard smelled like it had been fermenting for a hundred years, and maybe it had, probably even through Prohibition. I loved it from the outset, and I grew to love it more as Dave and I spent more and more time together. The rule at The Yard for the Molinis, as they called themselves, was that they couldn’t talk about work. Most of the time the rule was followed—at least when I was there and even after I began my assigned task in earnest.
Sometimes it was several Molinis at The Yard, sometimes even Drew joined us, but most often it was just Dave and I, because we were usually the last out the door, were unattached and needed someplace to eat and relax. From The Yard’s usual fare, I could see how Dave got as…well…bulky as he was, and it was difficult to find something healthful to eat there. Skipping the fries helped. Salads helped, too. Working out in the morning and riding my bike to work on occasion helped even more.
* * * * *
It was the third month of our after-work outings. We sat in the back of The Yard once again. There was something about Dave—his sense of humor, his hard work and his outlook on life—that attracted me. We were becoming extremely comfortable with each other. I realized our relationship might grow to be more than friendship, and I was becoming prepared to realize that maybe I wanted more than friendship—that maybe I wanted the relationship to grow—in part to test my emerging sexuality.
“A pitcher of Sam Adams,” I said after checking with Dave to see if that was okay. I knew, after all this time, of course, that it was. Actually, I was going to have one anyway, so it didn’t really matter if he wanted a soft drink or something else; I would finish most of a pitcher myself.
“You like baseball? Want to go see the Red Sox tonight?” Dave asked.
“I love baseball, and I’d love to go.” So, we finished the pitcher of beer more quickly than usual and headed off to Fenway Park.
We bought good tickets from a scalper and ate hot dogs, drank more beer and gossiped about—er, discussed—work as the Red Sox smashed the Blue Jays. A good win, plus a good game—not always the same. Surely, we were going to the World Series this year. I was surprised that Dave was really knowledgeable about the game, he being a nerd, but he was a lifelong Red Sox fan, having been raised in Springfield. I was a hardcore Red Sox fan before I left for the Far East, but I had lost track of the team, so Dave’s knowledge really helped fill in the gaps. Of all the things I missed in Asia, it was my beloved but eternally damned Red Sox.
We enjoyed the ball game so much that we decided to make it a regular event. On several evenings a month, we would cut out early from work—at 6 instead of 8 or 9—and be at the ball park for hot dogs and beer before the game began.
Baseball gave us a chance to argue, loudly, about inconsequential things. Arguing is one of the major attractions of baseball. Dave would never forgive Bill Buckner. I considered him an unheralded first basemen. Arguments lasted for hours on this and other points, as we downed numerous beers in the interest of truth, beauty and the American pastime. We were as one, though, in our view of the current team, cheering them when they deserved it and razzing them when they needed it. And we both hated the Yankees.
More and more frequently we would stop after the game for a drink and some late-night snacks. It was then that I noticed the sexual tension emerging between us. We were becoming more subtly physical—a hand touch here, an incidental leg pressing against leg, a deeper look into each other’s eyes. And we were verbally more sensual—discussing beauty, the joy of physical love and even an openness to homosexuality. We were exploring and testing the limits of our individual beings.
* * * * *
Our growing relationship was pushed to a new level one day. It started by happenstance, but what was set in motion ultimately built, then undid my budding relationship with Dave. The result of the discoveries of that day would cause my world to be turned upside down once again. Of course it had already been turned upside down so many times that I was finally close to being back on my feet.
It was late on that day at work. Only Dave and I were still there. The office lights had been dimmed for the evening. Drew had waved goodbye a half hour earlier as he rushed out to dinner with his significant other. Dave was still at the computer in his cubicle. And I was there as well, hiding as usual in a self-inflicted exile. The two of us were often the last to leave. I had packed my things to take home and had started to weave my way through the office maze thinking that Dave might like to go out and have a beer.
Dave was concentrating on his computer monitor as I started to move toward his cubicle. Apparently, he hadn’t heard me come up to say good night, and he jumped when I rested my hands lightly on his shoulders. I leaned over his head to look at what was on the monitor screen. I guess I wasn’t surprised to see that he was looking at a directory of what was obviously a bunch of gay porn. He turned red and hemmed and hawed. He squirmed. I tried to keep a straight face. Finally, I couldn’t help but laugh at his embarrassment, the result of which was a chagrined smile on his face. He started to say something.
“Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone.” I realized my hands hadn’t moved from his shoulders, and I realized I liked them there.
“I’m sorry, Jake. I shouldn’t be using the work computer for this. I hope this won’t affect my status at Molini—or, our friendship.”
I laughed. “Don’t be silly. Dave, you work more hours a week and turn out more quality work than anyone else in this place. And as far as friendship, it makes no difference to me.” In fact, it did make a difference, but not in the way Dave thought. Since Jakarta, I had obviously been gravitating toward some decisions about my sexuality, and I was becoming ready to acknowledge it to someone besides myself—to someone I felt affection for. I did suspect the soft swelling in my groin was telling me that maybe it was time and Dave was the person.
“Jake, I don’t work more hours than anyone else. You do, and Drew does.”
“Let’s call it a tie. I don’t think the company will begrudge you using the computer for other things at the end of the day.” I peered over his shoulder. “So what are you looking at?”
“It’s called a bulletin board. I dial up a number and I can get access to all kinds of things.” There was a long pause. “These are stories…” a longer pause “…porn, really.” His face reddened.
I looked closer. “Man4man? Man2man? Roommate? Maleman?” I looked into his eyes with amusement. I thought his face was red before, but it wasn’t even close to what it had turned to.
Dave looked decidedly uncomfortable. “I think maybe I’m…well, gay…or bi.” He looked away, as if he was going to be hit.
“No problem,” I tried to assure him. Definitely not a problem.
“Actually,” he laughed nervously, “if I didn’t work such long hours, I might find out whether I’m gay or bi. Meanwhile, I’m sort of…self-sexual, if you know what I mean.”
I laughed, too. “I think I know what you mean—from experience.” I took my hand off his shoulder, then said, finally: “Do you want to go down to The Yard for a beer—and quit this place?” I gestured to the monitor screen.
“Sure.” Dave threw some papers into a book bag, shut down his computer, grabbed his jacket which had been flung atop a filing cabinet and put it on over a faded, olive-green tee shirt that was looking a bit shabby in contrast to his blue jeans, which finally had been washed enough to take the newness out of them.
We took our usual booth at The Yard, and by the time we had gotten settled, a pitcher of Sam Adams was on the table, accompanied by two glasses. And Budweiser coasters. Only at The Yard.
I poured a glass for each of us, handed Dave his, and lifted my glass in a toast. “To us.” We clinked glasses and smiled at each other. Our eyes lingered, and with that toast I realized that our friendship was on the cusp of moving to a different level. Dave became uncharacteristically quiet, perhaps sensing the change I was seeking in our relationship. His hands toyed with the Heinz ketchup bottle when he wasn’t sliding the what-was-to-us-unnecessary, plastic-coated menu behind it.
I wanted to confess to him how much I enjoyed spending my time with him. I wanted to tell him how much I admired his mind—as sharp as could be—and his sense of humor—pure quirk. I really liked Dave, and I realized he was the first gay—or bisexual—person I had consciously worked or played with—at least that I knew about. I felt trepidation about where our camaraderie might go, but that familiar stirring in my groin told me much about my more-than-subliminal wishes.
“So, Dave, do you have a boyfriend?” Well, that was a dumb way to start a conversation. “Rather, are you seeing anybody right now? That is, when you’re not ‘self-sexual?’”
“No. I really don’t know anybody outside of work, and I think everybody there goes home to their girlfriends or their wives.” He looked at me for a moment in silence. “Except you.” There was a hint of a question in the lift of his eyebrows.
I didn’t know how to take that last observation. At one level, I thought a relationship—maybe a romantic relationship—with Dave was just what I needed at that time. But I wasn’t sure just how far to go in fostering that relationship. I wanted to come to grips with my emerging sexuality decision, and Dave’s comment seemed to open the door a crack, but I didn’t know if I was ready.
* * * * *
When I got home that day, there was a postcard from Kingman—with a photograph of Sydney’s new Opera House billowing across the front.
The New Guy Peterson moved into your old room. His real first name is Sam, not New, by the way. A few weeks after he moved into your room, he moved into my room. I’m in love. That kiss, that goodbye kiss from you, woke up a world to me. Why did I wait so long? I’ve never been happier, even though he’s a lousy badminton player compared to you. As you can see, we’re now on vacation in Sydney.
For What Might Have Been,
I nervously tapped the side of the card against the table. In a way, I was really happy for him. In another way, I felt a tinge of regret and longing—and maybe jealousy. And maybe loss, because his postcard had closed off one avenue of escape should I ever want to flee from Boston and resume life in Jakarta. Thus, my nervous tapping of his card, I guess. It could have been me with Kingman—except for the interruption of my life due to the promise to my father to stay with my mother after he died. And maybe I would never have known where Kingman and I stood without my promise. Would I have broken that promise to my father if Kingman had written earlier, before the New Guy Peterson—or maybe I should call him by his fucking real name, Sam, damn him—moved into my room?
Well, I had had to keep my promise to Dad, and now my life had taken a different turn, so it was time to move on—at least for the time being.
I had fallen in serious like with Dave. At the end of most days, I would swing by his cubicle. I wanted to move ahead with him, to begin something physical that would lead to something really physical. I started with a soft touch on his shoulder as he finished up with whatever he was doing: a casual caress that for him might not mean anything. After a few times of that, I found myself letting my hand just rest softly on his shoulder. He didn’t respond to encourage me, but he also didn’t shrink from my touch. There had to be no question now that I was making a move on him.
About the third or fourth time this happened, I started to laugh. This was so much like junior-high puppy love: an “innocent” touch on the shoulder, an arm around the shoulder, an “innocent” brush of hand across a developing breast, a touch of the lips, a kiss, a French kiss, a firmer touch of the breast. Of course, in middle school, these moves dragged on for about three adolescent years—until the hormones really took over—with grappling and groping, the feel of a foreign hand on my erection and the feel of moisture between her legs.
Arrgh! I was 33 years old. I didn’t want to go through that again, but what I was doing with Dave was just an embarrassing flashback. And it was funny. I was giggling.
Dave swiveled in his chair towards me. “And what, may I ask, has gotten into you?” he said with a curious grin on his face. The grin and the reminder of junior high just started me giggling more and harder.
“I’ll tell you later,” I said, gasping for breath between laughing spells. I suddenly leaned over and kissed him firmly on the lips. He drew back surprised, as my junior-high girlfriend had done when I did that to her the first time in the alley next to the school. His look started me giggling even harder.
“Never mind. Let’s go get a beer. That should cool me down.” And it did.
The next night I came by his cubicle once again, stood behind him and started to massage his shoulders and upper back, feeling the tension of the day melting from the sinews of his neck muscles. This time, however, I massaged his back for a short while before I leaned down, put my arms around his neck and put my chin on his shoulder. I found myself staring at the computer monitor. On the screen was obviously another list of porn stories. I laughed.
“Caught again,” he admitted. “I didn’t hear you come up. But you already know my secret, so I didn’t need to hide anything.” He held out his arm, as if introducing the screen: “Tada,” he said. “Welcome again to my underworld.”
“So, this is what you really do all evening. You live a double life. Computer programmer extraordinaire and, tada, pervert at night.”
“Fuck you,” he said with a laugh. “I only do this once or twice a week—when I’ve finished and am ready to go home.”
I peered at the screen, feigning—and not feigning—interest. “Tell me how to find this stuff, Dave, just in case I need a little, er, underworld stimulation.”
He stared at me with a smirk of triumph on his face. “I wouldn’t want to be judgmental, but…well, beg me again.”
“Again. Please. Pretty please. I’m begging.”
“Horny bastard! Okay, it’s easy as pie. You use one of the computers that’s hooked to a modem. You dial this number and put in my password,” and he wrote a number and password down, folded it, reached across and stuffed it into my shirt pocket, “and you answer the questions as to which directory you want to see. This is the ‘Gay’ directory. There’s a straight directory, too, and a bisexual directory and a whatever-turns-you-on directory. When you get to the directory you want, it gives you a list of stories. There’s a letter and an equal sign in front of the file name, and you type in the letter for the story you want, and voilà! It’s as easy as pie.”
I noted everything down in my memory and patted the pocket that held the paper on which he had written the number. I never knew when I might want some, er, underground enjoyment. But at that moment I was merely food-hungry. “Speaking of pie, do you want to go out for something to eat?” He nodded, grabbed his jacket, and we went off to The Yard to eat food: fish and chips for Dave, and that night a greasy hamburger and fries for me. So much for a healthful diet.
We became physically closer over the next weeks—at least from my side. My arm over Dave’s shoulder lingered a little longer than buddy-friendship would indicate. I would run my fingers through his ponytail. Dave was slow to acknowledge my advances, but he began to respond with touches of his own; in public, he seemed uncomfortable with any physical contact—with anyone—but out of the public eye, Dave seemed to respond with more physical warmth.
It was clear that we were coming to a turning point in our relationship, and it was Dave that made the next move: “Do you want to come over to my place?” he asked nervously as we left The Yard one night. I couldn’t tell whether he was hoping more for a yes or for a no. Maybe he didn’t know, either.
I wanted to say yes, but I really wasn’t 100 percent sure. “Yes.” I said it with more conviction than I felt, but I had answered the question.
“Oh,” Dave said, but without the conviction that I had feigned in my answer. “Are you sure you want to do this, Jake?”
I thought for a while. “I don’t know,” I said quietly. But I did know—in my heart. “Yes,” I corrected, finally.
I’d driven my beat-up Honda that day, so all I had to do was follow his car to his apartment. I was so nervous about what was coming up, though, that I was half hoping he would lose me in the traffic, but there wasn’t enough traffic, and Dave was careful to keep me behind him.
Dave found a parking place and waved me into it, then drove on until he found another not far off. I got out, locked my car and stood on the sidewalk waiting for him. I had no idea where to go otherwise. Dave appeared around the corner, waved me toward him, and we walked halfway down the next block until we came to his apartment building, a brick four-story walkup, with the street lights casting a pewter glow on garbage pails half-hidden next to the steps.
We climbed the few steps up to the outside door. I stood quietly—but not patiently—as Dave fumbled with his outer-door keys, dropping them once, picking them up and finally getting the door open, and we entered the tiny, dimly lit lobby. Fortunately, it was dimly lit, because the institutional, lime-green paint on the walls was pretty dull and looked a bit worn. Dave opened his mail box and pulled out a few letters. We climbed to the third floor, where Dave put his key into 3C. He opened the door, peeked in, told me to wait a second as he rushed to pick up the dirty clothes in the living room, dropping his mail off on the table by the door. I could see him through the half-open door as he started to toss the dirty clothes into the bedroom, then apparently thought better of it and took them to the hamper in the bathroom. He obviously wasn’t sure where we might end up.
He beckoned me in. “Sit down and make yourself at home,” he said before scurrying into the bedroom and, from the sounds of it, straightening things up there. I sat on the small loveseat in the small living area; I noticed what looked like food stains on its burgundy-colored cushions propped in the corners of the loveseat. I looked around at the spartan decorations in the apartment. There was nothing on the wall except one rock-band poster tacked up with blue push pins. Off the living room, but almost actually in it, was an efficiency kitchen with a counter to separate the cooking area from the living area. There were a couple of swivel stools at the counter. There was a large pile of orange and blue plates and cups in the kitchen sink ready to be washed. There was a box of cereal on the kitchen counter, next to a milk carton that I hoped was empty.
I could see the foot of the bed through the bedroom door, and I saw the covers being pulled taut as Dave straightened the bed. Somehow I knew he was probably kicking dirty socks and underwear under the bed. After all, his desk in his cubicle was full of candy and snack wrappers, so why wouldn’t his bedroom be filled with the detritus of home living. None of this was a surprise. This was the Dave I expected.
He came back into the living room and plopped down next to me. We sat side by side for a while, not speaking, Dave’s knees jiggling nervously. Finally, Dave stood. “Do you want something to drink?” he asked.
“Fine, with a little water and ice.”
He went over to the kitchen, pulled a bottle of bourbon off the top shelf of a cupboard, fetched two glasses from another cupboard, reached into the refrigerator and got some ice, then poured a large slug in each glass. He added a bit of water from the tap to mine and handed it to me. He sat down next to me on the loveseat again, setting his glass on the coffee table. He sat for about thirty seconds, his blue-jean leg still jiggling up and down, before he was on his feet again. “Do you want some pretzels?”
“Sit down, Dave.” I patted the place next to me. “Relax.”
I wasn’t relaxed, either, but I could fake it better than he could. Dave reluctantly sat. I picked up my glass and held it up to him for a toast. He picked his up, after first almost dropping it, and raised it to mine. This time it was his hand that was shaking slightly, the tan liquid making waves on the side of the glass. We clinked and each took a sip. My eyes locked onto his face. His eyes locked onto his lap. Ah, romance!
I set my glass down, then put my arm across his shoulders. The muscles of his neck jumped with tension. I removed my arm and took another sip of bourbon. He took a large slug of his. I pulled him gently to me. I moved my face towards his and kissed him on the lips. It was clear that he was inexperienced or nervous or both. The kiss on his part was awkward, with closed lips. I pulled back and smiled. He smiled unsteadily in return. I leaned in again to start another kiss. He stood again.
“Are you sure you don’t want some pretzels? Or chips? Or dill pickles?” he asked.
“Yes, I’m sure I don’t.”
“I could order some pizza.”
“No, thanks.” I gave my best rendition of an over-the-top sexy leer. “Maybe later.”
He didn’t laugh as I thought he normally would. He sat down again, a few inches farther from me this time. Time slowed, filled only with the subdued sounds of the street outside.
“Jake,” he said, finally, with a sigh. “I guess I’m just not ready for this. Don’t get me wrong. I like you very much…and maybe sometime later… But I’ve got a lot of thinking to do. Half the time I think I’m gay, the other half I’m not sure or I am sure but it’s that I’m not gay.”
He stood again. “I’m so fucked up,” he said as he started to pace across the room and back, his face showing anguish. “I am so fucked up. I am not ready, and I feel like I misled you.” Dave looked at me, his fists pounding against his legs.
I sat immobile, knowing I shared some of the same trepidations, and a few weeks earlier I might have been in the same situation regarding my sexuality. I took another sip of bourbon. “It’s okay, Dave. I understand. I really do. I don’t want to push you into something you’re not ready to do. It’s a big step, I know.” Of course, I really didn’t know, but I could fake that I knew.
He looked down at me and chewed on his lip as he got ready to say something. “I’m a virgin. Totally. This is just too big a thing for me. I’m really attracted to you, Jake—in lots of ways. I am. But I don’t know if it’s enough. I don’t know if I’m ready.” He looked so forlorn. I wanted to pull him onto my lap and hug him.
Instead, I took a final drink of my bourbon, emptying my glass. I stood and went up to Dave and put my hands on his shoulders. “It’s okay.” I sounded too much like a father consoling a son. I didn’t want to feel 10 years older than Dave, but at that moment I did. The only thing I could think of to change the father/son feeling was to lean over and kiss him on the lips—gently and long—before I turned and let myself out the door. I had seen the tears in Dave’s eyes just before I turned, and I didn’t want him to see mine.
‘Well, I fucked that up,’ I said to myself as I found my car, inserted the keys into the ignition and started for home. As I drove I didn’t know whether to feel frustrated or sad—or whether to feel relieved. Of course, I was sexually frustrated, and I could feel my semi-hard penis pressing against my jeans. I realized that this had been my big evening, too; my virginity had been at stake as well, in a sense, though I didn’t feel I should tell Dave that.
I was frustrated also, because I couldn’t decide how much my commitment was to Dave as a person or to him as a milepost on my sexuality journey. Maybe if I was younger I would have sought the conquest of Dave as a mark in some imaginary ledger, but I was older, and I didn’t feel this was the time to exercise my power to con anyone—at least to use what was still left of my Sawyer power. I hesitated. Odd, I thought; I hadn’t used Robbie’s nickname for me in ages.
I did like Dave. I liked him a lot. But I don’t think it was really ever love. No, I was in love with his mind and the casual companionship, but I was not in love with him physically or wholly. And all these feelings about him had become jumbled together in that short time in his apartment, and maybe Dave sensed them. In fact, this relationship might only have been infatuation on my part—and maybe on his; it might have been just a certain eagerness to have a relationship, any relationship, with a man.
The next few weeks were delicate between us. I didn’t want to lose Dave as a friend. We still went out to the The Yard, sometimes with others. And I don’t think anyone but Dave or I were able to detect the subtle change in our relationship. A real, full relationship might eventually develop. At least I thought so at the time. But now, just a shaky friendship remained.
And then, all progress in our relationship came to an abrupt halt with yet another series of turns in my life. It started later the next week when I was the last out of the office. Dave had gone on vacation to Orlando, and Drew had taken off a half hour before. It was a perfect time to test the computer bulletin board, so I dialed the number that Dave had written down for me and followed Dave’s instructions to log in. A choice of directories soon appeared on the monitor, and I chose gay, because that was clearly where I wanted to go. I looked at the titles of the stories, laughed at a few of them, and downloaded a few stories to read. Most were really bad, but my cock got really hard, and I guess that was their purpose. My arousal turned my mind to Dave and what might happen between us, and I got more excited, if that was possible.
I was about to turn the computer off, when I noticed one story called Dave’s Hand. Given that Dave had told me how to work the bulletin board, I thought it only appropriate to read one more story—in honor of him, I told myself—and what-the-hell. It probably was a masturbation story.
I started to read, and I felt as if my chest was collapsing as my breath left me. The story was clearly about Rob Ellis and me in Mississippi. Of course, the real names had been changed. The Dave in the story was clearly me. I read the story through, then read it again and then a third time, absorbing all the details of that summer and the subtleties in Rob’s relationship to me—subtleties that I really hadn’t suspected.
Though I realized I was no longer the same person as the fictional/real person in the story, I realized that I liked the person that Robbie wrote about. He was what I was and wanted to be, what I was missing. He was spontaneous. He was a bit wild in what he did. He really was a Sawyer-like character. He was me—a me from a warmer past. I wished I could be as spontaneous and wild now. The crush of life had driven that joy away. Or maybe it was reality that had done it. Had I just “grown up”? Or, had I lost that part of myself from that summer—as a result of Vietnam. The darkness within me now perhaps would always stay dark and be an anchor on me, a drag on my life.
Depressing as the memories were about the years since that summer, I felt something change from reading the story. I felt that an ember of a different me had been discovered in the ashes of my soul, and it was still glowing—faintly, albeit. The story awakened in me something that had almost died out, but not fully: the boy within me that, after reading the story, I didn’t want to leave behind.
The result of these past few hours reading and re-reading the story was that my whole life took on a new light, and Dave, nice as he was, suddenly became a diversion to what I now knew I had really wanted all along—to rebuild my life from where it had ended in Mississippi.
And life was going to turn once again the next day in an unbelievable manner—a sign of something that only I was able to recognize. I swear it was Dad watching over me.
* * * * *
The phone rang. It was Drew. “Jake, can you come over here for a few minutes?”
I crossed the office, knocked on his doorframe and walked in, plopping down on his biggest chair. Drew got up and closed his door. He didn’t close his door very often. He returned to his chair, sat down, and leaned back.
“I’ve decided to relocate the company,” he said. My first thought is that he had found another site in the Boston area. “Judy has gotten a really good job offer that is perfect for her.” Judy was Drew’s significant other and probably would become his wife at some time in the future. “Since I can operate this business anywhere in the world, I’ve decided to relocate so she can accept the offer.”
That didn’t sound like a move across town. I wanted to ask him where he planned to move to, but I ended up with: “What about the employees?”
He laughed. “If I chloroformed them and put them on an airplane, most of those people outside my door would probably not even notice that they were in a different city. The rest, I’m confident, will look forward to a move. Unfortunately, we’ll probably lose a few.” It now sounded like a serious move.
“And the reason you closed your door?”
“I don’t want anyone to know we’re moving until everything is arranged. I don’t want everybody distracted for the next few months while I’m setting this up.”
“But you’re letting me know.”
“I want you to go to Seattle, find us space, and get everything set up.”
“Seattle?” I almost collapsed. My breath struck a dead spot. I couldn’t believe my ears. Robbie. It had to be some kind of sign. Robbie. I was sure of it. My face broke into a big grin.
Drew raised his eyebrows. “Am I missing something?”
“I had a good friend once who last I knew lives in Seattle. I think he’s still there.” Dad’s note had given me his phone number.
Drew looked at me kind of strangely. I think he thought there was something more in my response than I was letting on. But he only shrugged and said: “I’ve written up what we need here.” He handed me a loose-leaf notebook. “It’ll take a couple of months, at least, to get everything set. How soon can you leave?”
I couldn’t wait to go home. I couldn’t wait to find Robbie’s phone number.
I dialed the number that was on the bottom of the letter, my fingers shaking so much that I had to start over twice. There was no answer, and the answering machine picked up. Disappointment. I wasn’t ready for an answering machine; I didn’t know what to say to a strip of plastic tape. Then, Robbie picked up the phone, and his voice sang through to me like a Bach chorale.