I stepped off that flight from Boston shaking like a soldier ordered to go into battle for the first time. I wanted Robbie to be as he was the day I stepped back on the bus to Boston, as if time could be frozen and then started up again. I knew that wasn’t possible: everybody changes. If he was anything like he was in Mississippi, I’d convinced myself that I could make him my lover, and eventually my life partner. I had nearly completely accepted that I was gay. I certainly had feelings for him—or maybe the idea of him—on both the physical and the emotional levels. I knew he had feelings for me, but I didn’t know how much of his feelings were fantasy, as he said his story was, and how much came from deeper within him. And I didn’t know if he still had those feelings, or if his internet story was just a momentary expression of frustration during some horny nights. I was bound and determined to find out, though, and if there was a glimmer of feeling for me, I intended to use it to seduce him.
The strange thing was that I wanted him despite the fact that I hadn’t seen or communicated with him in over a decade. But I had thought about him often—as he was in Mississippi, of course. I didn’t seriously consider that I may not really know him anymore. There was always the possibility that he had changed so much that I no longer would recognize him as the lover in my ideal. There was always the possibility that too many years had passed, that too much water had gone under the bridge. Maybe he was born again. Maybe he was bald. Maybe he weighed 250 pounds. Maybe I wouldn’t even like him anymore. I knew that some of those things could have happened. All these were things I thought as I walked up the ramp toward the waiting area.
And there he was at the end of the ramp. I almost swooned I was so happy. He hadn’t changed that much. His hair was still near black, curving up at the ends. His dark, thin eyebrows accentuated his ever-shiny eyes. And his face still held the angular lines of youth. He had an afternoon-beard shadow—a little heavier than in Mississippi—and his body was a little more mature, with a thicker chest and hips. But I really thought that time had frozen. At that moment, it could have been fourteen years earlier, as if my private hell in between had never existed.
I wanted to kiss him, lay him on the floor right there and ravish him, virgin to virgin (assuming he still was in the way I wanted), but I hugged him instead. I wanted to shout to him that I was gay and tell him I knew he probably was also because of his story and that we were made for each other, but I just kept on with my hug instead and beat my fist lightly on his back in a manner I knew was sexually neutral.
At that instant I knew something else. When I saw him I knew my seduction plan was on. And I knew I didn’t want to seduce him for a one-night or one-week fling. I wanted to seduce him for life. I knew. My recent realizations about my sexuality were prodding me to push forward in what I wanted in life. My thoughts of me with Kingman and Dave seemed to be some sort of warmup for what I hoped was about to happen. And I knew that what I wanted was not too farfetched after what I had read and reread in Robbie’s story.
Of course, I had no idea how to proceed, or, in my perhaps more realistic moments, even whether I should proceed. How do you seduce a man that you haven’t seen in fourteen years? How do you seduce a man at all? Do you bring him flowers? Cologne? Do you take him to dinner and dancing if you can figure out where to take him dancing except to a place that isn’t flashing a neon rainbow signal of sexuality? Some Lavender Lounge, or whatever. What would Robbie do if I did make some sort of advance? I didn’t think he would strike me physically, but if he were to turn his back on me, the pain would be so much greater than any physical blow.
While I was thinking through all this on our way to baggage claim, Robbie was chatting away amiably. I don’t remember much of what he was saying, except the dig about not being in touch with him for fourteen years and his demand for a point. The demand for a point warmed me and pushed me emotionally higher than I already was. I licked my finger and put his point on his side of the air ledger and asked him if he remembered the score. He did, and that pleased me as well.
“Well, you even remembered the score right. So maybe fourteen years wasn’t such a long time.”
“Yes, it was,” he said.
Those words had slipped out rapidly and unconsciously, subliminally, I thought. But those three words were the kind of sentiment I wanted to hear until I could hear the other three little words I really wanted to hear—that is, if things went that far. I now had confirmed to myself that I was going to seduce Robbie, though the how of his seduction was still a mystery. I thought about just taking him in my arms and kissing him fiercely as I did with Kingman, but that method seemed to lack a certain subtlety.
Instead, I bopped him on the arm and said, “Thanks.”
We picked up my bags at baggage claim and climbed into his pale-blue Dodge Caravan. The trip into downtown Seattle was memorable, because the scenery both beside me and outside the window was beautiful—white ferries skidding across blue water with snow-tipped mountains in the background. I checked into my hotel, The Emery, a brick-fronted place with a tiny elevator and small but serviceable rooms. We were planning to go out to dinner. I unpacked my bags into the chest of drawers that was there. I asked Robbie if he could wait while I took a shower, and he agreed and sat down on the bed and began to grumble at the sports pages. I took a quick shower, dried off, wrapped the towel around my waist and opened the bathroom door. I walked over to the dresser and dropped the towel—deliberately. This was the subtle first step in my seduction quest.
I could see Robbie’s eyes in the mirror over the dresser, and they were staring at my butt. Give my quest its first point. I didn’t know how many points I needed for it to succeed, but I had a start. I felt like wiggling my butt seductively if I knew how to, or do it in a way that wasn’t too corny, but it didn’t seem to be the time to be too blatant. However, I did leave myself exposed a little longer than needed as I made a show of deciding which boxers to wear. Normally, I’d just grab the nearest pair.
Dinner was strange. We talked, we chatted, we gossiped, but there was always an undertone of why-didn’t-you-write-or-keep-in-contact. I avoided talking about much of the last fourteen years; I tried to keep the conversation to the distant past and to the near future, jumping over the in-between. Robbie was persistent about the last fourteen years, though.
The renewal of our relationship was not exactly going according to plan. At one point I couldn’t take it and even walked out the door—to a dumbfounded Robbie, I’m sure. I walked and walked, got partly lost, found the restaurant again, and returned to Robbie. He looked at me somewhat curiously as I sat down again, seemingly expecting an explanation—which he didn’t get. Walking out had been my way of dealing with some things the past decade. Robbie must have felt that there was something really weird about my disappearance, but he never asked about it.
* * * * *
Our reminiscences of the distant past weren’t going to be enough to sustain us forever. Robbie was going to be curious about my dark years. If we sat across from each other every night, there was no way to develop a relationship without having a meaningful conversation—about me. I had to think of something more to keep us together—a diversion. If we could do things together, side by side again, maybe we could renew a relationship that way, and I could keep my personal stuff personal. I think it’s a male trait: to become close to someone by doing something side by side, whether it be playing pool at a bar or shooting hoops in the driveway. The activity itself becomes the communication between two males—probably crowding out real emotional and verbal contact between them.
We needed to do something so that I could avoid the interrogation of my time in Vietnam and the Far East. What could we do? I thought of something physical. I liked cycling. If I’d known I was going to stay long in Seattle and how much time I would have, I would even have had my bike shipped out. I’d decided instead to wait until Molini made the move.
Robbie looked like he kept in shape, so I assumed he might be willing to ride with me—or he might have something different for us to do. He said he did like cycling, and he even had a spare bicycle. We made a date. He agreed to pick me up the next afternoon, a Saturday, and he took me to a large parking lot at the University Village near the University of Washington. We unloaded the bikes from his van.
I didn’t tell him at the time, but I was appalled at the state of their maintenance, and I nearly couldn’t hold my tongue. I’m easygoing about most things, but with the maintenance of bicycles, I become anal. I told him we had to do some minor maintenance before we went on a long trip, so I sent Robbie off to get some WD40 while I worked on the bikes. I used the lubricant liberally after his return.
A few squirts of oil later, I felt confident that the bikes would get us pretty much anywhere we wanted to go, so we got our helmets out of his van and locked it, took off and cycled along a broad trail that I learned was an old railroad right of way. We went west along the water—the lakes and the canals and inlets—until we got to a part of town that Robbie told me was Ballard. There, the boat-repair yards reminded me of parts of New England cities, with the sea-salt smell, the cries of the gulls, the rainbow sheen of oil on the water and the rumble of diesel motors echoing from the hills across. It wasn’t the prettiest district to cycle through, but there was little traffic on a weekend, and we could ride side by side on the streets. I couldn’t stop glancing over at Robbie, and I noticed he was taking glances at me as well. We smiled at each other. Add another point to my quest, I thought. Doing something side by side again reminded me so much of the way we lived during our summer in Mississippi. It felt comfortable, and I felt it was the key to renewing and building upon our relationship.
We kept going toward Puget Sound and eventually rounded a turn at the end of the Ship Canal to go north to a nice park that abutted the sound. The sun was starting to get low, outlining the mountains in the distance and the blue of the water that broke onto the shore in small waves. The sun and the northern latitude made for a beautiful quality of light, bringing out the red tones in everything. We drank some sodas while straddling our bikes and just looking at the scenery—and at each other.
The trip home started at a leisurely side-by-side bicycle equivalent of a stroll, but quickly our competitive streaks took hold, and it became a race. I had memorized the route, so I knew the way back. I really wanted to stretch my legs, but most of all I wanted to beat Robbie to the van. Naturally, I won the race I had declared, and I claimed the appropriate point from Robbie, who feigned being miffed that I had taken off before he realized we were in a race. Tough shit, Robbie. Live with it. On that afternoon, I was enjoying being the self of an earlier time. I was happier than I had been since, well, Mississippi.
We loaded the bikes in the van, drove back the way we had ridden and ended up at a really good pizza place somewhere under a high freeway bridge: lots of meat and lots of fat, washed down with lots of beer, but we deserved it—at least, we told ourselves so. We weren’t like we were in Mississippi, but the ember of comfort was starting to grow brighter.
The bike-ride pattern continued for the next few days—fast food after a good stiff ride and more talk—the non-personal talk getting easier for me by the day. But I knew the talk was going to range closer to places I didn’t want it to go. When Robbie started to talk about our purpose in going to Mississippi and our summer there, I knew he was going to lead into territory that was going to be uncomfortable for me.
I resisted telling him that I had given up on “do-gooder” work. I told myself that it was because I had grown up and seen more of the harsh world. After fourteen years of wandering in the wilderness of the Far East, I had decided that our summer was good, but I had been too idealistic to have the summer be anything that could ever really change the world. Cold realism took over. I wasn’t so sure we weren’t just two naïve college boys thinking we were doing something good for the world. I had seen so much violence and, yes, evil since Mississippi that my view of our time there was colored.
From what I could judge from Robbie’s manner he didn’t think the same way, and I didn’t know how I would respond when we came to the issue. Should I lie and keep up the “do-gooder” charade? Or, should I give my cynicism free rein?
Robbie talked about some warm times we had together, including the day we went skinny dipping in the river. He laughed about our hightailing it to shore, but he didn’t mention what he had written about in his story—about how close he came to discovering that I had fallen in lust and love with him, and he with me. I didn’t think it was really the time for me to open up the subject, since he didn’t know I had read his story, so I gave myself a rain check. What would I have said, though? ‘Remember when we started to drift together and almost kissed and almost locked our erections together.’ I didn’t think it was quite time to be that brazen. But thinking of that scene got me a bit warmer in the mid-regions, which must have stanched the flow of blood to my brain, because the next thing I knew I had said: “God, we were naïve then. We thought we could change the world.”
Robbie’s face and demeanor went dark with disappointment. “I think we did change the world,” he said somewhat forcefully.
“You’re serious?” I asked, before I thought, before I knew from his face that he was serious. Well, I hadn’t lied about my feelings, but the conversation deteriorated from then on. I felt that Robbie had maintained this innocence of youth, and I had become more realistic about the world—jaded or cynical, some would say. That particular evening couldn’t end soon enough if we were going to keep anything with our relationship intact, and soon I decided to find my way back to the hotel.
I had found what was going to be a tender point in our revived relationship, and I knew not only that I needed to avoid the subject but probably had to make some amends. I knew I had to respect his view of the world if I really wanted to go any farther than a fading friendship with him. So, I decided to make a down payment by doing something neutral: by offering to do major maintenance on his bicycles come the weekend.
We kept up our rides and our dinners out for the next couple of days, and I was able to describe to Robbie what I did at work, and I think he could see in my eyes how much I enjoyed what I was doing. What he didn’t know was how much I needed to be doing something I enjoyed and something that would take my mind off the past fourteen years; my job did just that. And Robbie did just that, but I wasn’t ready yet to tell him so.
I had to work really long hours Friday in order to take off as many hours as I planned for Saturday, so I’d not taken the usual evening rides with Robbie on Thursday or Friday. Also, I really needed to work on the bikes. After getting them into shape, I thought we would be able to go out and stretch our legs again with a long ride and make up for the missing evenings.
I hiked the couple of miles from my hotel to his ex-wife’s place. Standing alongside Robbie was a young boy that looked just like him—and particularly like him fourteen years earlier. He had the same dark hair and the same straight eyebrows that accented the same dark bright eyes. He must have gotten the abundant curls and slighter frame from his mother. Robbie introduced us, and he came over and shook my hand—a bit vigorously, to prove he was a man, I suppose. Not yet, I thought, but I could see he was going to be quite a man in a few years.
We went down to the garage. There was space for two cars, but only one side was being used. The bikes were hung on the rack alongside the empty side. I sized up the bikes that I needed to work on, grimaced, and cleared off a spot on the workbench and started in.
When I’m working on bicycles, my mind enters another world, and I lose track of space and time. I could have been in Seattle today or in another place at another time; all my concentration went into the work I was doing.
My discomfort started when Alec began to ask me all kinds of questions. With him being as bright as I quickly learned he was, each question was better than the previous, building on each other brick by brick. He was probing the edge of knowledge, trying to extend his understanding of the mechanics of bicycles. And he started to get near to the bicycle, putting his face close to where I was working. I looked at him, but I didn’t see him. I saw Alec’s face transformed into Tran’s of more than a decade earlier, and this garage transformed into that small shop in a hot and humid Vietnam village. I trembled as I returned to the reality of Seattle. But the memories I had been trying to suppress came flooding back.
These two boys couldn’t have been more different. They also couldn’t have been more alike. A boy from Vietnam and a boy halfway around the world from the United States. One raised in poverty in a small village in the middle of a violent war; the other raised in one of the richest, most gentle cities in the world. Yet when they spoke, when their eyes met mine, when they grinned, when their faces expressed emotion and contemplation and anticipation of an answer to a question, there was a sameness about them that disturbed me to the core.
I knew there was something seriously wrong with me when their faces morphed together in my mind, fading in and out from one to another. My mind kept flashing back and forth between a village in Vietnam and a garage in Seattle, like some strobe light flashing across the decades, dominating my perceptions, illuminating one world and then another. I looked at Alec through the bicycle spokes that day, and his face became Tran’s, and I cowered. Everything I had been running from came to the fore.
My problem, which had been to maintain some bikes, suddenly turned into a problem of maintaining my sanity. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to look at Alec again without Tran’s face appearing in front of me. The experience of these last few minutes became lodged in my mind, forever changing the way I looked at Alec. I couldn’t look at Robbie’s son again without my past rising up to haunt me. I became short with answers to Alec’s questions. I couldn’t bear having him close to me any longer. At the same time, for Robbie’s sake, I didn’t want to be too offensive about it.
At that moment I needed a break from Alec before I broke down. I stood back from Alec and the bicycles, and I blinked back tears. I didn’t know how to face up to the problem I was having. Except to avoid it the way I’d been doing for so long—to walk away. So, I turned on my heels and walked out the door, saying nothing. I walked to the corner, and then I started to run—up the hills, down the hills—working the memory bile out of my system. After probably a half hour I came back around to corner of Anne’s house and slowed to a walk.
As I walked through Anne’s garage door, I didn’t know what to say, so I just started to work again on the bikes, trying to stay to myself and resist being social. In a couple of hours the repairs were done, and we went on a ride—all three of us. I tried to act as if nothing had happened earlier, trying to make everyone comfortable with one another again.
For Robbie and Alec the afternoon ended, I thought, on a neutral note: no animosity, but no love.
For me, looking back from today, I realize the tension between the present and my past in Vietnam, the Far East and Mississippi was too much, and it was the reason that I had to create a distance between Alec and me. I began to rationalize that if I could live with this distance for a few years, Robbie would be mine, because Alec would have graduated from high school. If I could manage to just get through those years, everything would be all right. That’s what I decided for myself. After all, I’d spent fourteen years in Asia waiting for something to happen, hiding from my past. What were a few more years till the time I could have Robbie to myself?
The wall I drew that day between Alec and me was going to have some unintended effects. I couldn’t help but observe a wonderful affection between Alec and his father. In the current circumstances, though, the affection had a darker side: I felt a tinge of jealousy and, maybe, an unjustified resentment toward Alec that compounded the uncertain relationship I was developing with him.
* * * * *
With the bicycles maintained to my satisfaction, Robbie and I began regular evening rides, joined from time to time by Alec. I didn’t realize till later that the main reason that he joined us was that his father had asked him, not because he wanted to. At the time, I thought his increasing absences were due to the fact that Alec had gotten bored with nightly riding. Truthfully, I wasn’t disappointed about the gradual disappearance of Alec from our time together.
I wanted to know every detail of Robbie’s life since Mississippi. I wanted to know him as if I had lived with him for those years, as if there had been no break in our relationship. So, in our rides and the meals afterwards, I pumped him for every detail—his marriage, the children, his divorce. Even Alec helped me out with an observation of his post-divorce years one evening, making fun of the women that Robbie had entertained. That interchange between his father and Alec and me was one of the few times I felt close to Alec, when I recognized his wit and the depth of his intelligence. The incident saddened me as well, because I envied the easy camaraderie between Alec and his father, but I wasn’t able to provide the same thing among the three of us.
Of course, during these evenings, the questions turned, as they did from time to time, from Robbie’s life to mine. I tried to parry them, answering them shortly or with a diversionary joke. I had had no real life for the past fourteen years—at least nothing I was proud of. And the two years before that in the Army were best left in the back reaches of my brain.
* * * * *
I realized that my plan to seduce Robbie—my quest—was stalling. We had arrived at an easy existence. Most of the gap in Robbie’s history had been closed—I felt as if he had written me weekly about his life and what he was doing and thinking. I liked what I had learned of him—how he’d grown and matured. He was conscientious; he was gentle; he was kind to his kids, and he was respectful of his ex-wife. But I had no sense of what he was feeling about me—and I hadn’t really revealed much about myself. Were we to be just close friends in his mind, or was it going to be something more? I couldn’t tell.
Then, I suppose, fate intervened once again. Alec was going to go on vacation with his mother, so Robbie asked me if I wanted to stay at his condominium for a few weeks for a change of scenery. I, of course, was overjoyed, and, frankly, I was tired of The Emery and its amenities, such as they were.
So I moved into his condominium. Unfortunately, a few days later it seemed that Robbie virtually moved out. A major rush project at his company suddenly took control of his time. He was not able to be at his condominium, except from late at night to early in the morning. He asked frequently if I was doing okay and urged me to be sure to make myself at home. I answered that I was doing fine, and I enjoyed making myself at home. I was supremely disappointed, however, that my seduction luck was not holding. At least, I wasn’t in a hotel, but I felt a distinct lack of good fortune in the development of my love life. I thought once again that maybe I should just up and tell Robbie that I was gay and that I loved him and that I wanted to bed him and marry him. Well, I couldn’t marry him, but I wanted to.
Then again, the thought of marriage was frightening; I had been running from marriage for fourteen years in the Far East—every time one of my girlfriends got too close, I pulled away, like some magnet turned in the wrong direction. But this was different, because, it was Robbie, and if anything was going to drive Robbie away, a too-early mention of marriage was it. I knew he liked me. I knew he had had deep feelings for me years ago when we were in Mississippi and probably a few years ago when he wrote his story. At least, I hoped so. And now I could only wait for him to come home from work dog-tired late at night. How romantic! But I waited—with a patience that I didn’t enjoy.
The note on the microwave said: “Project done, thank God. Gone on a (really long) bike ride so I can work off the frustrations. In the off chance that you are home before 7—a really off chance, I know—that’s where I am. See ya later, Robbie.” I checked my watch. It was just after 2. I knew he was scheduled to finish his project today, but I didn’t know it would be so early.
‘My luck had finally changed,’ I thought to myself. ‘And there’s even an extra hour or two to get ready.’ I’d decided earlier that morning that it was time to change tactics. Robbie either was dense (which I knew he wasn’t at all), unobservant, or rejecting my overtures—for whatever reasons. I knew he’d been sneaking looks at me. I knew he’d written the story about his sexuality. But he hadn’t responded to any of my subtle moves.
Seeing his note, I’d decided that tonight was the night to end subtlety once and for all. It was the night of overt seduction. Me against him—with me winning, of course, I said to myself with a smile. Not to the extent of a crotch grab, but maybe a kiss—a passionate kiss. And now I had an extra hour or so to prepare if I could keep my libido in check. I adjusted my pants and thought of neutral things, like when to start the potstickers for dinner.
I’d bought most of the dinner ingredients in the International District on my way home from the office, in anticipation of having something ready for when Robbie got home after 5. I knew what I wanted for a menu, because I knew the cliché worked: the way to Robbie’s heart was through his stomach—at least, tactically. I needed to do a final few errands: to run down to the Pike Place Market to get some champagne at a fine wine shop there, to get some coffee at a store called Starbuck’s next door, to get some flowers from one of the market stalls and to buy the last of the dinner ingredients. I needed to do all the preparations for the meal, to put on the sexy clothes I’d also bought on my way home and to wait—anxiously—till Robbie got home. I determined that tonight was the night. I could see multiple points to be recorded—at least in my private ledger.
Of course, I didn’t expect him to come home exhausted, but I should have realized that he might after more than a week of late nights at work and a long bike ride.
When Robbie came through the door at 6, I was ready, though. I popped the cork on the champagne, his (no, our) favorite, and poured two glasses. Robbie was sweaty and probably thirsty from his bike ride, so he accepted the Champagne glass with a look of relief, not quite like a man crawling out of the desert to an oasis, but downing half a glass in a few moments just the same. I stepped into the kitchen and got him a large glass of ice water as well, which he downed in one tilt of the glass before he went back to his champagne. I told him dinner would be ready shortly, so he said he needed to take a quick shower. I topped off his Champagne glass and sent him on his way upstairs. I wanted to pat him on the butt on his way, but I resisted.
I was in the kitchen finishing up the potstickers when he reappeared, his dark hair still wet and slicked back as if he were an Italian don—or model—wearing a clean but offensive Mariners shirt and navy-blue shorts. If it hadn’t been for the Mariners shirt, I probably would have kneeled and declared my love for him right there. Instead, I sent him packing to the dining room, where I had laid out the table with the fine dishes that seemed to have been in permanent storage in the dust in the chest next to the table. Two candles provided the light for the romantic atmosphere I wanted to create. God, I was being manipulative. God, I loved being manipulative. I could imagine we were in Mississippi again!
The dinner was wonderful, if I say so myself. We talked about food and life and drank a lot of champagne and some beer with the really spicy dishes. After finishing the last dish, I told Robbie to sit awhile while I cleaned the table and kitchen. I told him this was to be his night, so I was insisting on doing all the preparation and cleanup. I told him that was the way it was going to be, no backtalk tolerated.
I picked up the dishes off the table and took them into the kitchen, rinsing them and putting them in the dishwasher, then started on the kitchen. It must have been fifteen minutes before I got everything shipshape. As I reemerged out of the kitchen, I saw Robbie lying stretched out—conked out—on the couch, snoring softly. Shit! This seduction was really going well. Ha! Maybe my luck hadn’t turned as much as I’d thought. But I wasn’t ready to quit yet. Eventually, he would get either cold or uncomfortable and wake up to trundle off to bed. I could wait until he woke.
I brought the candles from the dining room, set them on the living room tables and turned down the electric lights. I picked up a book of Emily Dickinson poems and sat on the chair across from where Robbie lay, his face lit softly by the candles and the light over my shoulder. I tried to read, but all I could do was stare at him and wonder how this damned seduction was ever going to be completed if the seductee kept conking out on me. I loved Robbie, and I thought he loved me; I keened to have our relationship move to a new level, but that meant him staying awake at a minimum.
After a while, Robbie’s eyes fluttered open.
“Hi,” I said softly.
“I’m sorry. How long was I asleep?”
I looked at my watch. “About a half hour,” I said. “Can I get you a cup of coffee?”
“I’d love one.”
I went off to the kitchen and poured the simmering hot water through the fresh grounds already in the filter and set above the coffee pot, the mixture producing a dark-roasted aroma that warmed my brain before I even tasted the coffee. It was done by the time I hunted up a tray and some cups. When I returned to the living room, Robbie was sitting up, still rubbing sleep from his eyes. At least, he hadn’t gone back to sleep. I poured him some coffee and handed the cup to him.
He smelled the fresh coffee and raised his cup and offered a toast. “Thanks.”
Well, this was it: the time for the seduction. But I couldn’t for the life of me figure out where to begin—me, with the nickname Sawyer, at a complete loss of speech and wiles. I was flunking Seduction 101. As I sat gazing at Robbie, I would almost get the courage to say something, and then I figured it was not the perfect thing to say, so I would pull back. I was ready to say, ‘I love you, and I’m gay and coming out to you. Please take me into your heart. Please take me into your bedroom.’ But I couldn’t.
Finally, I decided on another tack. I would give him a massage to get everything started, so I told him to lie down—and, I told him to get rid of the Mariners shirt, which he did, carefully folding it so that the Mariners emblem stared at me from the top of the couch where he had set it. He folded it that way on purpose, I’m sure, but I vowed to get rid of his taunt a little later.
I rested my eyes on his naked upper torso then brought myself back to the task at hand. In my plan, I had only gotten as far as telling him that this would be a night for him, which left him with a puzzled look on his face. The best laid plans…
My hands kneaded his neck and shoulder muscles, then rubbed his back as I gathered my courage. The soft brown of his back glowed in the candlelight. I felt the warmth of his skin under my fingers. As my hands worked across his body, I told him how much I appreciated his hospitality in Seattle. That part was easy but not particularly seductive.
Then, I took a very deep breath and told him that I loved him and that I had loved him since Mississippi.
“Well, I love you, too,” he said, but clearly he did not mean it in the sense that I did. I thought I was telling him that I loved him—and wanted him—in a romantic way. I think he thought I loved him as a brother or a best friend. This seduction was not going according to script.
“When you wrote that you had gotten married, it really hit me hard. I figured you were no longer available. You were off limits. I couldn’t handle it. So I did what I do too often: I stopped communicating and decided to stay away.”
After I said that Robbie’s muscles tensed as he digested what I had said. He turned his head and looked at me in a different, softer way. Okay, here I go.
“And that leads to the most difficult thing to say: It’s the reason I’m beside you right now and ready to ask you to do something for me.” The crucial moments were approaching. I felt my confidence rising, and I thought I might finally be nearing a roll. I grinned my whitewash grin as I looked him in the eyes.
“Okay, Sawyer, tell my what fence of yours am I going to paint tonight,” Robbie said after a pause. He raised his head, and I saw the soft reflection of the candles in his dark hair. I almost kissed him right there and then.
“Later. There is no fence, and I already did the dishes.” I didn’t kiss him, but it didn’t mean I couldn’t feel mischievous. I slapped Robbie on the bottom again. “Turn over.” I don’t remember what we talked about for the next few moments as I massaged Robbie’s arms and shoulders, then his legs, from bottom to top—or bottom to bottom, with careful attention to the insides of his thighs. Robbie was getting an erection, which he seemed to adjust from time to time and try to hide, like a teenager in health class when sexual reproduction was the topic of the day. That spurred me even further. The seduction was now going well, so I employed my first serious salvo: “I read the story you wrote for the bulletin board.”
Delicious! That was the only word I could use to describe his response. He denied. I laughed. He stuttered, he stammered, he “explained,” he babbled. I laughed some more. I had caught him, I think, with his real feelings exposed and, I hoped, with his pants down, figuratively. I don’t know what he really said, but I paused when I heard, “I am not homosexual.” We looked deeply into each other’s eyes, and methinks he wasn’t really sure. But his statement gave me pause. Was I pushing too fast?
Time to slow down. Seduction has to be a subtle process if done well. I wasn’t interested in the 30-somethings equivalent of date rape. I was interested in love. I continued my massage, backing off from the erogenous zones and told Robbie about finding the story, about finding out that he and his wife had divorced and that I really did have ‘feelings’ for him that summer and that I felt happy that I was able to come to Seattle. I did manage in all this to knock the Mariners shirt off the top of the couch. A small victory, anyway. I had gotten to first base, I guess.
But wasn’t I being too tentative? Why couldn’t I say what I really felt? Why didn’t I say I loved him and wanted him? Did I feel that he was resisting too much, and maybe I was going a step too far? Maybe I needed to be a little less forceful, but more truthful.
I guess he must have sensed my thoughts. “Jake, I want to sleep on this. It’s just too much coming at once,” Robbie said nervously, rolling to a sitting position on the couch. I’m sure he knew for sure where I was going with that evening. I glanced down at his shorts again and grinned and thought that maybe I wasn’t that far ahead of him after all.
“G’night. Thanks again for dinner—and the massage,” Robbie said.
He leaned toward me, and I thought he was going to kiss me, but he turned and disappeared up the stairs, leaving me to myself, wondering what my next step could be. I had resolved at the outset of the evening to seduce Robbie, and I had almost done it, but Robbie, exasperatingly, refused to respond as he was supposed to—except where he couldn’t control his body.
What next? I turned out the lights and lay down on the couch, staring at the ceiling, wondering what to do, wondering what to do about the tightness in my pants. Should I try again later? Should I relieve myself? Did I have time to seduce Robbie before I went back to Boston if I didn’t do it this night? No, I told myself, there was time left in this evening, Robbie had been tempted, I knew from his physical reaction, and maybe I should take advantage of the dinner, the soft lights and all my preparations.
I remembered what I had done in Mississippi, what he had described in his story: placing my hand on his thigh. A light went on in my head. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again—even if it’s fourteen years later.
I knocked really softly on his bedroom door and didn’t hear a response. I opened it quietly and in the light from the hall, I could see Robbie asleep, showing his torso, naked from the waist up, with his boxers on the floor and the sheet covering his lower body. I brought a candle from the living room and set it on Robbie’s dresser. I took the chair across from his bed and sat there, watching this man I loved in the soft light of the candle, wondering when to go further.
Robbie was not sleeping well. He was twisting and turning. He tossed the blankets off and pulled the sheets over him, but not before I caught sight of his half-hard penis. I sat and kept looking. I must have dozed off, because when I awoke, Robbie was sleeping more soundly, and he had this wonderful erection tenting the sheets.
It was time.
I got up and sat down on the edge of the bed and placed my hand on the top of his thigh, just as I had done so many years earlier. In a while Robbie’s eyes popped open.
“It’s one o’clock. I couldn’t sleep,” I said. I wanted also to say that this was the time—the time for us to come together, but I thought that might sound like an ultimatum. But I left my hand where it was, and we gazed into each other’s eyes.
“Would it help you to know that my hand wasn’t where it was fourteen years ago by accident?” There was silence.
“Sawyer, were you trying to… ?”
“I suppose so,” I said, smiling. “Yes. Maybe. Maybe I was just horny. Maybe it was more.” I went on to describe my ambivalent feelings that night and how I didn’t want to press things too much lest I risk our friendship. Funny, my feelings were no longer ambivalent, but I knew now our friendship at least would survive, no matter what.
“The friendship that didn’t even merit a postcard for fourteen years, Sawyer?”
A dose of reality? Or a diversion. In either case, my ears burned. “Yes, that very friendship.” And then I had to tell Robbie what he meant to me—as a colleague and, most of all, as a person. “I was afraid, though, that if I pressed things that night, I would lose you—forever. But on that hot, hot last night I realized I was in love with that young man who had shared a bed with me all summer.” And then I confessed that I contrived to let my hand rest on him that night. And I told him that I knew he was awake and that he was deciding something. But his decision was to turn away, and then the summer was over. I told Robbie all this, knowing that there was no question he knew I was gay now—as I probably was even then. I wasn’t going to move my hand until he made a decision again, because I knew now what he had been thinking fourteen years earlier.
I changed the pressure on his thigh. “My god. Oh, my god,” he said.
“You’re repeating yourself. You said that fourteen years ago.”
“No, I didn’t! I thought that.” Then Robbie giggled, sounding guilty that he had revealed too much. “I thought you had read my story.”
We looked at each other for several minutes. Then Robbie told me all the reasons he couldn’t do anything with me.
“Rob, you think too much,” I said to him. It was time to move forward. I leaned over and put my lips lightly on his, then pulled back again. “And don’t think I haven’t had thoughts about this, too. It’s new to me. But I need you, Robbie, particularly right now—at this time in my life. I need you like I’ve needed no other person in my life. I need you as a friend, as someone to confess to and as someone to love and someone to make love to—and, most importantly, someone to wake up next to in the morning.”
Then I told him about my careful seduction plan for the evening. I had now spent all my ammunition. My guns were empty. There was nothing more that I could say to further my seduction.
“Leave!” he said in what sounded like a harsh tone. I felt devastated. Tears nearly sprang to my eyes. I was truly frightened that now that I had decided I was gay I would end up all alone—without the person I wanted in my future. I felt I was about to lose my grasp on the lifeline that I had rebuilt to Robbie. “Out! Out!” he said more softly. “I just need some time to think, Sawyer, without your goddamned hand sidetracking my brain. Come back in 15 minutes.”
Yes! And I felt relief and joy surge through me like surf across a flat beach. “No, come back in ten minutes, and I’ll make my decision.”
I was ecstatic. The decision, I knew, had been made, and now it was protocol. Ten minutes, he said. The clock said 1:37, and I would be back exactly at 1:47. I went down to the kitchen and poured a glass of orange juice from the carton in the refrigerator. 1:39. I went to the bathroom. 1:41. I went to Alec’s bedroom and changed clothes—into my best Red Sox t-shirt. 1:45.
“Sawyer,” I heard the shout, “come back!” I would have run across a tightrope stretched across a chasm at that point. I felt like a 15-year-old with an opportunity to get laid for his first time. I didn’t know what to do or how to proceed. I laughed to myself. What kind of a seducer was I?
I sat down on Robbie’s bed, totally unsure of what to do just at the time I needed to act. I sat there for a couple of minutes, fidgeting. Robbie broke the ice. He took my hand and placed it back on the top of his thigh—where it had been 10 minutes earlier and fourteen years before. Then he turned toward me and I felt the warm and soft and hard of his penis on the back of my hand. And it was Robbie. And he moved his lips toward me, and I bent and kissed him. It was truly unbelievable. If I had any doubts about being gay—and I still had faint ones despite my decision on my sexuality—they dissipated in the softness of his lips and the sweet sighs that passed between us.
I slid my hand further between his thighs, then brought my fingers up to caress the base of his testicles and rub the shaft of his penis. It was another first—the feel of a cock, with its special textures and shape. I couldn’t get enough. I let my fingers move along his shaft and through his pubes. I felt nothing but warmth and new senses under my fingers. All these months since the talk with my father seemed to be leading to this place, to the physical expression of the deep love I had for Robbie.
“Off with the boxers. Off with that goddam shirt, particularly” Robbie said. “I want to see the rest of you. I want to see all of you.”
And so I did a striptease—to the music that was playing in my heart, a slow sweet tune, a love song. When I finished, I was standing next to the bed, my groin at Robbie’s eye level, and he pulled me to him and let my penis rub against his cheek and let my pubic musk fill his senses. He wet his thumb and I could feel the soft caress over the head of my cock. I was getting unbelievably turned on—to the depth of my senses and the foundations of my soul.
He looked up and pulled my face to him. Our kisses started slowly—brief touches of the lips—and then turned fiercer with our passion as our bodies moved and clenched against one another.
It was the simplest of sex acts that first time: our cocks held together by our hands, warmth against warmth, hard and soft against hard and soft. And then it was as if electricity had flowed from my body into Robbie’s and his into mine weaving us together in surges of common ecstasy. I don’t know how to explain it, but, somehow at that moment, this most simple of sex acts was like the most intimate sex we could ever imagine.
We lay there afterwards in a stupor. Then, we talked. We joked. We gave points to each other and stole them back. When I finally came down from the long afterglow, Robbie had fallen asleep. I, on the other hand, couldn’t fall asleep. I was enthralled in the wonder of it all—at the end of a journey. I had what I wanted. I had who I wanted. I had confirmed my sexuality. I had confirmed that the person that I wanted for the rest of my life, lying right next to me, wanted me, too.
I went to the bathroom and wetted a washcloth with warm soapy water, took it to the bed and dabbed the remains of our passion from Robbie’s stomach and chest—and then from mine. When I finished, I tossed the washrag towards the bathroom—a good shot, I might add—and repeated my cleansing motions, but this time with caresses. Warm sounds came from his sleep as I moved my fingers and hands across him.
I lay there for about an hour, wide awake and alert, happy, just watching the rise and fall of Robbie’s chest, letting my fingers stroke his body, hearing the warm sounds coming from him. Then, I got up, snuffed out the candles and climbed in bed with him, linking his body to mine and putting my arm across his torso, and quickly fell asleep.
* * * * *
I woke before Robbie did, with my body still spooned against his. I rolled over and lay on my back, arms behind my head, alternating stares at the ceiling and at Robbie’s naked torso. I could see a tuft of black hair under his armpits. I could see a band of hair on his lower back above where the sheet covered his butt. I felt a wondrous stirring in my groin. I know it had taken a god-awful long time, but my seduction plan had worked. I smiled to myself. I realized I was being a bit too self-congratulatory, but what the hell. I was more content than I’d been in a long time.
I could see Robbie stirring, as his breath changed from deep-sleep long breaths to shorter ones, and then his arms and legs started to move. I rolled over to look at the expanse of his back, and I took my finger and wrote “I love you” maybe a hundred times on the soft skin between and under his shoulder blades.
Finally, he turned over and faced me, his eyes glistening. “I love you, too,” he said. I let my finger drift through the hair on his chest, moving it back and forth in a slow rhythm. We gazed at each other and looked down each other’s bodies to where they disappeared in the promise of the sheets. The longer we gazed, the more nervous Robbie seemed to become.
“What are we doing, Sawyer? What the hell are we doing?” His voice rose from quiet to what felt like a loud cry of anguish, though I’m sure it wasn’t loud at all.
That was not what I’d expected, and his question took me aback, pulling me from my reverie. “We’re completing what we almost started years ago, Robbie?” But his rising sense of uncertainty seemed to be contagious. Maybe the spurt of joy I had felt last night was too optimistic. His hesitancy made me likewise hesitant about what was passion, fear, love, and lust. I told him as much. I told him that I, too, was just testing the physical waters of my homosexuality, though I was probably up to my balls and he was still at his ankles.
Robbie’s face softened, and it seemed as if he had made a decision of some kind. He leaned forward to kiss me. I was okay—no, I was overjoyed—with what I interpreted as acceptance.
The kiss was the start. We spent the day in sexual bliss, exploring each other’s bodies, expanding our sexual knowledge of each other—tasting, sucking, fondling, grasping, learning, finding the erogenous places, making love. And we fell asleep in each other’s arms at the end of the day.
* * * * *
The next morning I couldn’t wait to tell Robbie the other good news—that my company was going to move to Seattle permanently. And I didn’t need even to tell Robbie what my plans were, because Robbie raised the issue on his own. But the result was not what I expected.
We had wakened the next morning with our world in a different state—a state of love and bliss and ‘I love yous.’
Robbie joked about my return to Boston, asking if I would send him postcards and mementoes from Boston when I went back. Of course, I would send him mementoes. Of course, I would send him erotic postcards. Of course, I would call him and send him mash notes. But I told him I didn’t need to—at least for long—because, as I and Drew only knew, our company was relocating to Seattle, stressing that the information was to be held in confidence.
I thought Robbie would be overjoyed when I told him what our company was going to do. I certainly was overjoyed by developments.
I wasn’t prepared for Robbie’s reaction. I think his reaction stemmed from the fact that Robbie had always seen things differently from me. He had his unique way at looking at the world, and that was usually one reason I loved him. But sometimes his perspective surprised me. This was one of those times.
In his mind, what we were having was a fling—a temporary affair. And I had thought, after the last day and the last few months, that it had already turned into something nearly permanent. I had misjudged our relationship—badly. He saw what we were doing as a fantasy. I thought it the greatest reality that I had ever experienced. Besides openly expressing my love for the love of my life, it was the final step in the acknowledgement that I was gay, that what I wanted in my life was a permanent relationship—with a man, and one man in particular.
This whole thing, this past day of joy and love, to him, was not permanent, judging at least from his reaction, or so it seemed to me. I was crushed. No, I was bitter. I was so disappointed that I became pissed. I had worked so hard to get to this point, and Robbie thought it was a cruise-ship romance, “a reality for a week or so.” He actually used those words.
I burst out with words I didn’t really want to say: “A reality for a week or so?” I mimicked Robbie’s voice. “Christ, I’m sorry I mentioned anything about coming back from Boston.”
He was taken aback by my vehemence. “I’m really conflicted. I told you that. On the one hand, I guess I’m really happy you will be here in Seattle—in fact, I’m overjoyed. On the other hand, I’m terrified of the change.”
“Terrified of the change? All you wanted was a one-night stand or a one-week stand? That’s not what I want. I want more. I want you. If you don’t want more, it would be better for me to leave now.”
“No, please don’t.” His voice was full of anguish.
“I do have to go back to Boston in two weeks—for a couple of months. If, when I come back, you don’t want to have anything to do with me—”
“That’s not what I mean, Sawyer.”
“—then we can start over—or not. It’ll be up to you.” I said the last sentence with steel rising with each word. Then I left. I went across the hall to Alec’s room, closing the door firmly behind me. And I collapsed onto Alec’s bed and burst into tears. Were they tears because I was so fucked up? Were they tears of frustration because the world I was beginning to construct in the past few weeks had just fallen apart? Were they tears of anger at Robbie? Or, were they tears because of what I might have lost?
I sat on the top of Alec’s bed, my arms wrapped around my knees, rocking back and forth as these thoughts piled through me, my voice near keening with a low cry of anguish.
There was a knock on the door.
“Fuck off,” I yelled.
“Did you say, ‘Come in’?”
I melted when I saw Robbie’s face and his offering of coffee and pastries. I melted more when he came over to me and rubbed my back. My resolve to leave him was utterly undercut by this gesture, this show of affection. I turned to him in complete forgiveness, and I pulled him to me for a kiss. We talked, and we came to an understanding: Robbie needed more time to accept our change in circumstance. In the meantime—till I went back to Boston—we would live in his world—in the world of fantasy. And after I returned to Boston we would reassess where we were. It wasn’t what I wanted, but I could accept his proposal.
As if I had a choice.
Our kisses turned to lovemaking, to taking each other deeper and deeper into each other’s mouths, to learning better those special places that brought pleasure, to listening to the responses to caresses, grasps, pressure, lips, chin bristle, tongue, mouth and time.
We came down from the violent burst of pleasure to the afterglow, to feelings that spread both out from and toward the pubic regions—feelings not intense, but soft and warm, like the caress of warm tropical evening air. Feelings of the slow retreat from orgasm and the soft echo of our triumphant senses. Robbie eventually got up and poured us cups of coffee and brought us the pastries he had come in with earlier. We lay there rubbing our feet against each other’s, sipping coffee and feeding each other pastry as if the past hour had not taken place. Then we made love again—and again. It was a protein day. It was to be a big protein two weeks, until I could no longer put off my return to Boston.
* * * * *
“The jig is up,” Robbie said as I came in the door shortly after six one evening the next week. “Alec knows. He observed that his bed hadn’t been slept in.” Robbie raised his eyebrows, though, in a seductive manner, so I didn’t think his statements were going to affect our ‘fling.’ “We weren’t careful enough.”
I’d wondered how long it would take for a curious 13-year-old to realize that something was going on between his father and this man that came from Boston and the past.
“Is he okay with…us?” I asked.
“Yes.” Robbie hesitated. “I had to tell him I was probably…gay. Really, I had to tell myself that I was probably gay, which was probably more difficult than telling him.” Robbie paused. “I think I’m gay, Jake, at least with you.”
I started laughing. “I know I’m gay, Robbie, and I know I love you, and it’s probably not just because of you. If you were to disappear from my life, I think I’d still be gay.” I leaned over and kissed him lightly on the lips. He leaned back and kissed me—not lightly. About an hour later, we climbed out of his bed and went to the kitchen so I could finally get something solid to eat.
* * * * *
The next two weeks were a blur of work and Robbie and sex. I wanted to make the most of Robbie’s ‘fling,’ to reel him in as much as I could before I had to go back to Boston. My return there was going to be the test: whether our affair was this cruise-ship fling or something more. As I got on the plane I wondered if the absence would make the heart grow fonder, or if the romance would fade again, leaving me in a void—into another dozen years of self-imposed wandering.