Donner & Blitzen

by Bensiamin

bensiamin99@gmail.com

Part 1

 

Wilt

I strolled into McMennamin’s Tavern after I’d walked the dogs. It had been a complicated day at work and while the walk was good exercise to end the day with, I just hadn’t been in the mood to cook. So, after catching up on personal email, I put down a couple of chew toys for the boys and headed out to walk the two blocks to the tavern.

I was anticipating the change of pace always brought about by watching Charlie, the bartender, pull a pint or two of IPA, followed by something tasty to eat. That change of pace would take the edge off the pandemic-related problems at the office and make for a pleasant evening.

As I came through the door, the hostess smiled at me and before she could say anything I pointed at the bar and smiled back at her. She waved me through, I touched the brim of my cap, and as I turned to walk down the bar to the open stools, I saw him. Charlie was greeting me before I even sat down, and I asked for my usual IPA and watched him pull it from the tap. As ever, the first sip was to die for. That’s when I heard the voice and looked to follow it. To my surprise, it was him. My mind did calisthenics back three days to Monday.

It had been that damn new cell phone that forced me into the wireless store. More specifically, it had been the “free” cell phone the wireless carrier had sent me because they would shortly be phasing out their 3G network. Yes, I had an older iPhone and it worked perfectly well and I was perfectly happy with it. Granted, an older phone fit me just fine as an older guy. I didn’t spend hours a day creating TikTok videos to load up to Instagram or wherever. For that matter I barely took any videos at all. Plenty of photos, yes, and that was really the major attraction of being forced into an upgrade to a newer 5G model. It would come with a much better camera. How did they get two lenses in those thin cases anyway?

But that wasn’t the point. I knew I had three or four months before I had to make the upgrade and my current cell phone would stop working. Then, on Saturday came the delivery of the little brown box from the wireless company with the free phone in it. I owned my own phone and had no intention of moving to a phone lease plan, and I wasn’t interested in their free older model just on principle: their promotion was all about upgrading people whether they wanted it or not. The hell with that! I’d gone to the Apple Store over the weekend and bought a new phone.

So, there I was walking into the wireless store just after 10:00 AM on the first Monday of November. The weather was still good, meaning partly cloudy and no rain! That could change to rain quite quickly if it was going to be a wet winter and the curtain fell! I looked around and saw only two people ahead of me. Great! It had worked. Getting here early meant many fewer customers to wait behind.

But there was a problem. There was only one salesperson. I guess the first hours after opening are slow, and as the owner of a small business myself I could understand managing the labor costs. I hoped those two customers weren’t doing major transactions, or this could take a long time. The first man was getting something done on a tablet and that only took a few minutes. The second was an older woman who seemed a little flustered, even if it appeared she was a sweet person.

She was holding the box for a new phone in her hand and had been walking up and down the racks of cases and covers looking like she was totally overwhelmed with all the choices. I understood what she might have been feeling. Simplifying choices for customers is a key aspect to making them comfortable and making a sale, and this poor lady was looking at dozens and dozens of choices and clearly getting flustered.

As the first customer left, the young salesman picked up his tablet and walked toward the lady. He was handsome… it was that simple. Black hair, longish on top and short on the sides, and a closely trimmed beard behind his mask. He was slimly built, but not too thin, and walked with ease in his Converse sneakers… and the tight jeans he had on complimented the musculature of his legs and the curve of his butt as he walked up to her.

His greeting was engaging, light and friendly, and it only took him a couple of questions to determine she needed to activate a new phone and help in choosing a new case and protective cover and a couple of other accessories. I heard him say, “Don’t worry, it’s not as complicated as it seems, and this won’t take long at all.”

They both had masks on, but it appeared that he smiled at her, and she smiled back with a look of relief on her face. He gathered up the cases and accessories and led her over to a table where they both sat down and he prepared to go to work, laying the accessories out in front of the phones. When he opened the box on the new one, it was clear that it was an Apple, and he delicately lifted it out of the box, peeled off the protective cover over the front glass and watched it come to life.

I was watching them because I was the next customer in line and hoped it wouldn’t take long, and then I could see the creases appear below the hair that fell softly on his forehead. His eyebrows tightened and he looked up at her and said, “You can see it’s just starting up for the first time. I guess you didn’t set it up before you came in?”

“No,” the lady said, “I didn’t know that I had to.”

He smiled at her and replied, “You really do, and it’s not complicated. It just takes time. That way you have all your apps and data on the phone, and it’s especially important if you have a lot of photos or music on your old phone.”

The woman suddenly looked flustered again. “I do have a lot of photos, of my family and especially of my grandchildren and my cats… I mean, I… I… there are a lot of pictures.”

He smiled at her kindly and said, “Well, like I said, it’ll be easy. You can just set up the new phone and it will automatically pair with the old phone and copy everything over. You just follow the prompts, and it will all be copied. It just takes time to do that. More time than we could spend here in the store.”

The lady paused, looked somewhere between disbelieving and crestfallen, and that’s when I spoke up.

“It really is that easy. I did it last night on this new phone.” I lifted it up to show her. “I have hundreds of pictures and a lot of data, too, and it only took 27 minutes. You literally just have to select English as your language and the United States as your country and then the new phone will ask if it’s replacing an old phone. You choose ‘Yes’ and it will connect to the old phone and copy everything over. It’s really quite amazing.”

She nodded at me and looked like the supporting testimonial satisfied her, she smiled and said thanks and then turned back to the salesperson and added, “Then let me pay for the case and things and I’ll go home and set it up and be back this afternoon. Based on what you two gentlemen have assured me will be an easy and pleasant experience.” She smiled at the salesperson, then looked over and smiled at me, looking like she believed what she was saying.

I grinned at her from behind my mask. “Trust me. You will be amazed.”

The lady sat down, and the salesman went to work putting a protective cover on the new phone. He’d flexed his arms to make his sleeves ride up, exposing delicate fingers and wrists. Then he leaned forward to position himself over the screen. When he did that, the jeans tightened over his butt, and as I watched I knew he was wearing boxer briefs because of the way his cock would occasionally appear in profile as he shifted his weight from one leg to the other and the fabric tightened, outlining it. It was a pretty sight.

I heard the click as he snapped the phone into the new case, and after he’d rung up the lady’s purchases and put them in a bag for her, he picked up his tablet and walked over to me. He didn’t have a name tag on but was wearing one of the wireless company’s fleece jackets. Over his mask were twinkling blue eyes.

“Hi. I’m Seth. Thanks for helping me out. I worried there for a minute that she was going to get all upset.”

“Hello, Seth. She might have, but you handled it very well and made her comfortable. On top of that, what we both told her is the truth. She will be amazed when she discovers how simple and efficient it is, and I’m pretty sure she’ll be very happy to see you again this afternoon.”

He grinned under his mask and his eyes sparkled. “So, now how can I help you.”

I grinned back, hoping he could tell. Masks make it very difficult to read a person’s expression, and they do a very good job of obliterating facial expressions.

“Well, Seth,” and I said his name slowly this time, “it’s your lucky day. You’re going to get to help me on two fronts.”

His eyes widened just a bit, but he stood there nonplussed, waiting.

“Like I said,” I carried on, “I have a new phone to activate as well. And, I also have this to return to you.” I pushed the brown box across the table at him.

He watched it slide toward him and then looked up at me. “Another one!”

I chuckled. “If most people react to this so-called promotion of a free phone like I did, I bet you deal with having these handed back to you all day.”

“Oh yeah! We get eight or ten a day. No prob, though, I’ll take that off your hands and we’ll get your new phone set up.” He picked up the new phone, had me key in my passcode and took it back. “I only need to move the SIM card over from your old phone and you’ll be good to go. You could have done it yourself, you know.”

I smiled at him. “I’m not as technically adept as you are, I’m sure. Also, I want to make sure it’s done right.”

Magically that little tool to remove the SIM card holder appeared in those long, slim fingers, which I noticed were accompanied by neatly kept nails. The fingers moved and out popped the card. He did a quick exchange, then went to his tablet and spent two or three minutes moving through screens, tapping here and there, and then looked down at my new phone before he handed it back.

“There we go. It may take a minute to fully activate… no, there it is. See the three bars and where it says 5G at the top of the screen. All set.” As I took the phone from him, he looked up at me and it sure looked like he was smiling.

“Anything else?

“How about we make a call to confirm it’s working? That way I won’t have to come back once I get to the office if on Thursday.”

He gave me a curious look, as if I was questioning his abilities, but then said, “Sure thing.”

He took the phone back saying, “I’ll just call my phone.” He nodded at a phone on the desk behind him.

I watched him dial, saw a number appear, and we waited for his phone to ring.

Nothing happened.

I heard him grunt and say under his breath, “Damn promo.”

“What’s up?”

The blue eyes looked back up at me. “Most people keep the free phone, believe it or not. The SIM card is already programmed to go into the free phone. That’s why it’s not working in your new one. This only happens once in a while, but I should have checked. I just have to put in a new card, but it’s a pain.“ He paused, his eyes still looking straight into mine, and then added, “and it doesn’t look too good… does it?”

I could tell he was smiling by the way little wrinkles appeared next to his eyes, which were sparkling again.

“It doesn’t look good for the wireless company… but it does look good for you. Meaning, that you’re doing a great job of handling the situation.”

He obviously smiled back and then said, “Back in a flash” and turned to head through a door into the back room

I grinned to myself. It was worth the wait to watch the easy flow of those legs and the nice curve of his butt.

When he reappeared less than a minute later, it took no time at all to swap out the SIM cards and then he updated the account info on his tablet. This time the test call went through.

“Here you go, Mr. Frazier.”

“Thank you, Seth. I appreciate all the help today.”

We smiled at each other again and he turned to the next customer. I headed for my car in the parking lot, now considerably less upset about the free phone I’d received. However, as I drove to the office, I reflected that I’d probably not see him again, and since I was old enough to be his uncle... or maybe even his father! Ugh! But I did save the number he had called as a new contact, just in case there was another problem with the phone. I did wonder if he was gay, but the probability was that it was nothing more than a transient fantasy.

 

Seth

Working retail, you see a lot of people. In fact, you see them all day. Way too many of them for sure. Good ones, bad ones; tall ones, short ones; fat ones, thin ones; nasty ones and nice ones. Then there are the ones you remember because it was a positive experience, sometimes fun even, dealing with them.

I watched Mr. Frazier, that is Wilton J. Frazier walk out the door before I went to the next customer. He’d been fun to be with. He was patient and considerate. He helped me help the old lady who hadn’t set up her phone. He was observant, at least in the way he’d commented on how I handled her. And besides being friendly, he’d been cool. He could have jumped my shit about not making a call with his phone before I told him he was all set, but he didn’t.

You’d think by now I’d have learned to make a test call on every new phone when one of those fucking promo phones was turned in, but I just wasn’t thinking. It was early and I’d just opened up and the customer line was already backing up, and my manager wouldn’t get in until eleven and I’d be swamped non-stop… but the reality was he got my attention and that’s why I wasn’t thinking. He had really attractive hazel eyes that went really well with his wavy brown hair. He looked pretty fit even if he was older, but… he was just nice. And he smiled a lot, even if he did have a mask on. I could see it in his eyes, like he was signaling or something.

Or is that just me still all screwed up about Andrew dumping me and thinking every good-looking guy is a possibility or that they’re hitting on me. Whatever, let it go… get over it!

I turned to the next customer, put a smile back on my face and hoped she’d be as nice as Wilton Frazier and not some crabby customer with an anger management problem.

It was non-stop customers till my lunch break at one o’clock. Pandemic dining still wasn’t all that easy, so I just brought my own, and ate on the picnic tables out back. It was still warm and sunny, so what’s not to like? By the time I’d finished my sandwich and had opened the bag of chips I realized I was thinking about him again. What a joke. I think I’d seen one customer outside the store in the year and a half I’d worked here. So, there was that, plus he’s older and seems pretty competent and maybe successful, probably married with kids and I probably look like a kid. I’ve always been told I looked young for my age, meaning I didn’t look twenty-two. That’s one of the main reasons I have a beard, to make me look older or more mature. Even if he wasn’t married, and then even more unlikely that he was gay, what older guy wants to be with a kid that works in a wireless store anyway? No long-term career path in that job. But the fact was that with the pandemic I was lucky I had the job. There were still a lot of people out of work that couldn’t get hired back.

I carried those thoughts back into work with me and then remembered I had to stop at Office Depot on the way home and pick up some notebooks for Adrian, and a couple of sketch pads so he’d be equipped for his art class on Thursday evening.

That’s how I got to the tavern on Thursday. I picked Adrian up at his foster home and walked him to the community center where they held art classes. He’s pretty good at art and really wanted to learn how to draw and maybe paint. A lot more than they offered special needs kids in his high school, that’s for sure.

I took another sip of my holiday ale and heard a “May I join you” from my right. As I glanced that way an older man with a mask was lowering himself onto a stool two down.

I nodded and waved at the stool, and said “All yours,” as I thought about him being thoughtful enough not to plop down right next to me. Oregon was still doing social distancing, so that was nice.

I heard him order a pint of IPA, and then after it was served, he took off his mask followed by a long sip of beer, followed by a sigh of pleasure. “That hits the spot.”

I knew the voice, glanced at him and recognized the face. From where? Oh yeah, from the store… just the other day.

He glanced at me and smiled.

“Mr. Frazier, right? I helped you set up your phone.”

There was just a momentary pause and then he replied, “You did, Seth, last Monday, and thanks again. And, by the way, the name is Wilt. Mr. Frazier makes me feel older than I want, if you know what I mean.”

 

Wilt

As soon as I looked his way it was obvious it was Seth. Same black hair and closely trimmed beard. Same tight jeans over a nice set of legs. This time he was wearing a leather jacket with the zipper open over a T-shirt and showing a nice expanse of clear skin at his throat. His mask was on the counter, and to my pleasure there was a pleasant set of lips framed by that beard and moustache. What a nice surprise.

He smiled, and I confirmed what I supposed at the wireless store. The pleasant lips formed a very nice and attractive smile, and his eyes formed pleasant little lines at the corners, and they seemed to twinkle.

“I’ve thought about you a couple of times since Monday.”

“Yeah? Why would you think about me? We just moved over your phone service, nothing special.”

“I wondered how it went when the older lady came back in the afternoon after she’d set up her new phone.”

“Oh, I get it. You know, you really bailed me out. I thought she was about to panic on me, and there were already two customers in the store behind you, and then you told her what you did and she just totally chilled.”

“And how’d it go?”

“She came back blissed out. I mean seriously, she said it went just like you told her it would, and she couldn’t believe she could do it herself ‘cause she’s not technical and stuff. You know, people expect the worst, and when it doesn’t happen, they’re blown away.”

I grinned at him. “So, she was pretty upbeat when she came back?”

“Totally. The new phone was all set. She’d checked and made sure all her pictures came over, and the wireless set up was a piece of cake. She was pretty happy.”

I held his eyes for a couple of seconds. “And you made a test call on her phone before you let her leave?”

He flushed, just momentarily, then smiled and said, “Yeah, I did. I learned my lesson with you! I keep telling myself to do it every time on those damn promo phones, but I blew it with you.”

The words ran in a track in the back of my mind… blew it with you… wonder if that’s the only way he was thinking of blowing?

I brought my mind back to the present. “None of us are perfect, and like I told you, you handled it really well. I own my business and have employees, so I pay attention to things like that.”

“That’s cool. I remember now that you said something about business problems.”

“Seems like there always are. People leaving that you have to replace, or sometimes employees not cutting it and you have to straighten them out. The last week has been annual performance evaluations.”

“I relate. I’m the assistant manager, so I don’t have to deal with it, really. But I hear about it from the store manager all the time.

“Assistant manager! That’s good. How long have you worked there? Was that a promotion?”

He smiled wryly. “Not really a promotion. I’ve been there a year and a half and assistant manager for six months, and mainly getting the job was, like, survival. You know, I outlasted the other salespeople. It mainly means more responsibility for not that much more money… and getting to do fun stuff like opening up in the morning and flying solo for the two hours! You saw how cool that is!”

“Yeah. It got backed up with customers quickly.”

“Still, I figure ‘assistant manager’ will look good on a resume.”

“Are you looking to change jobs? For a better opportunity, I mean?”

“Isn’t everybody? I didn’t go to college to work in a wireless store and don’t picture myself being there in twenty years.”

“Where do you picture yourself?”

“Oh, in business . Even though majored in English, I minored in Business Administration. Someplace that’s challenging and stimulating and isn’t just scut work. Maybe helping people, too. What’s your business?”

“I have a specialty medical supply company. We sell orthopedic components and a whole range of products that are used for orthopedic surgery. It’s pretty specialized, but over all it’s good.”

“Cool.”

I finished my beer and reached for a menu. “I’m going to order another IPA and something to eat. How about you?”

“Me, too. I have to be out of here a little before nine o’clock to get my brother. He’s down the block in an art class.”

I nodded, we both inspected our menus, then ordered. We chatted till the food came, then intermittently while we ate. When the dishes were cleared, I turned back to Seth. “Tell me about your brother and his art class.”

He swallowed, as if it wasn’t his favorite subject to discuss, but looked at me and said, “My brother, Adrian, is still in high school and lives in a foster home. He’s developmentally disabled, but a really good guy. He’s more advanced artistically than the classes he gets at school, and he wanted to take a drawing and painting class that his school doesn’t offer. That means he needs an escort from his foster home… and that’s me.”

There was a complex expression on his face, a matter-of-fact look with a smile mixed in.

“Good for you, to put in the time and effort to help out like that.” I didn’t want to ask any more questions, since it seemed pretty personal. But I did say, “If you’re walking, then you and Adrian must live close by.”

“Yeah, his foster home is only three blocks east of here, and my apartment is two blocks south, so it’s an easy walk.”

“Geez! We’re all almost neighbors, then. I live about five blocks north of here. It’s pretty cool we can live in a community where there’s still real neighborhoods, don’t you think?”

He nodded, taking the last sip of his ale.

“If you live so close how come you’re eating at a bar instead of at home?” As soon as I asked the question, I regretted it. Could be way too personal.

“I live alone now, and it’s not fun being there by myself every night.”

“I relate. I live alone now, too. Sorry if I seemed intrusive. I was mainly curious.”

“No worries, Wilt.” He looked at his watch and added, “I’ve got to head out. It’s been nice talking to you. Thanks a lot.”

With that he picked up his bill, left a tip, and headed to the cash register.

 

Seth

It didn’t take long to walk to the community center, but my mind was buzzing. Wilt was a nice guy. He recognized me. He was very conversational and again I saw that he was both observant and complimentary. Did that mean anything? Or was I just lonely and horny? Anyway, it was probably a once in a million kind of deal… and he’s probably straight. Even if he’s not married that probably means a divorce. I mean, I looked and saw he wasn’t wearing a wedding ring. Am I out of it or what?

Adrian’s class was wrapping up when I got there, and we talked about what he’d learned on the way home. I walked him into the foster home, and we spoke to his foster parents for a few minutes. They’re really nice and responsible, which is great for Adrian and pretty critical for me. I’m his only family, so if where he was living was a mess, it’d be a major problem for me.

I hugged him and kissed the side of his head, like I always did. He giggled, like he always did, and told me he wasn’t a baby anymore… but he hugged me back, and I know it means something to him. We all need affection, right?

On the walk back to my empty and sterile apartment my mind drifted back to Wilt. I wondered if he lived in one of these apartment buildings, or… wait. He said he lived north, and after a couple of blocks that part of town was older single-family homes. He clearly had a better set up than I did with my one-bedroom apartment. By myself. Okay, stop. No more self-pity. Andrew is gone and that is that. Now I just had to get through the down time and be positive.

 

Wilt

I thought about Seth on the way home. Not just that he was interesting and attractive, but also from a human resources perspective. When you own your own business, you’re always looking for good hiring prospects. Not that I had any openings or needs right now. Thanks to the pandemic, we’d actually downsized by two employees. But one never knows.

When I opened the door, the boys were right there waiting for their final night walk. I said Hi to Donner and Blitzen, rubbed their heads while I hooked on their leashes, and we headed around the block. We all bedded down when we got back, and I reflected on sleeping alone in a queen size bed when I slipped between the sheets.

Friday is like any other day at work, at least in the morning. Usually, things quieted down in the afternoon after we handled the day’s deliveries and then booked orders for deliveries supporting Monday’s surgeries. Fortunately, it’s pretty much only emergency surgeries on the weekend.

Mid-morning I heard the ding that meant a text was coming in. When I glanced at it, I could see it was Seth and I was glad I’d saved his mobile number.

<It was very cool meeting you again last night. It was a pleasant time. Thanks for the great conversation!>

This was a pleasant turn of events. If it had been a guy my age that I’d met at a gay bar the night before I’d expect I was getting hit up. But this was Seth, right? Still, how to respond?

<The pleasure was all mine. I enjoyed our conversation, too.>

Then as soon as I sent it, I realized I should have said something more personally engaging. I quickly typed another quick one.

<How did Adrian’s art class go? Did he learn anything new?>

I figured that passed for being courteous and the reply would probably be a quick emoji or something. Instead, after a couple of minutes another text came through.

<He was pumped. He said he learned some new pencil drawing techniques… something to do with smudging to create shading. He’ll have to show me, so I know what he means. I’m at the store and open the doors in 2 mins. I can see 3 customers already standing outside, lol!>

He was engaging. What did that mean? Is he lonely or just needs someone to talk to?

<Glad it went well for him. I guess you’ll have to gird up your loins to handle the customer onslaught! You’ll do fine, though. Thanks for texting me. I appreciate it.>

As soon as I sent it, I had second thoughts about the ‘gird up your loins’ part, knowing he could take it wrong. That was one of those Bible phrases my parents used to throw around about preparing for a competitive situation. Still, talking to a young man about ‘loins’ probably wasn’t too cool. Even if seeing his loins was something I’d really like to do.

 

Seth

I worried when I sent Wilt the first text, like… what would he think. But, hey! We’d met again at McMennamin’s last night so why not. It had nothing to do with work and he wasn’t a customer now. And, his replies were nice, like he appreciated it. In fact, he said he appreciated it at the end!

I shot him a quick final reply.

<Kay. Have a good day and a great weekend.>

As I pulled out my keys to unlock the doors, I wondered what he’d be doing this weekend and if he’d meant something else about the ‘gird up your loins’ bit. I think that’s called a double entendre, right? I mean he could have meant it in a risqué way… or maybe not. I’m not likely to find out.

The first customer of the day was looking for help backing up her pictures and data to the cloud. This would take a while, and no commission on a sale here!

 

Wilt

My brother invited me to dinner with his family on Saturday, so that was a nice turn of events. We always got along pretty well. I’m older, but we were close when we were kids and stayed that way… even if he is a psychologist and regularly lets me know what I could be doing differently to improve my outlook and situation.

He's always been supportive and helpful, not the least of which was when I came out my senior year in high school. We were both athletes and he was a sophomore, and I’d told him first. He told me that things would be okay even if our parents were pretty religious. Jordan was there beside me. He was right. Things were okay. Not great, by any means, but okay. I didn’t get yelled at or condemned or thrown out of the house. They didn’t understand it or approve, really, but they tolerated it. It was 2000 for God’s sake and being gay was legal and protected!

For sure, it was a tense year, no doubt about that. But I made it through and then went off to college, so the difficult times were limited to holidays and visits home. Jordan was there for me when needed, and that really helped later on in life. He and his wife had two kids and were living the All-American life, but it was fun to visit and watch their kids slowly grow up.

On the way home I wondered what Seth was doing. God! Was this turning into some kind of fantasy attachment?

Sunday morning while I was out on a run, I found myself thinking about him again. I had both dogs with me, and they were keeping pace. The weather was still nice, and it didn’t warm up till afternoon, so they weren’t overheating from the run. Besides this is what kept them in shape! In fact, it’s what kept us all in shape. I wondered if Seth liked dogs. Then I told myself to cool it. You barely know the guy! Geez!

By Monday morning, though, I had to do something.

<Hey, Seth. Hope you had a good weekend. I thought about you yesterday when I went for a run with the dogs. Hope all is well.>

Was I going too far? Was this violating some kind of social decorum? Would Miss Abby condemn me for it? Oh well. I hit send.

A few minutes later his response came in.

<It was good. I spent some time Saturday with Adrian and then did laundry and other fun stuff like that yesterday. You have dogs? Wow! Who’d have thought!>

I smiled at the implicit cheekiness in the ‘who’d have thought’ comment. Not that I minded.

<Does Adrian have art class on Thursday evening, cuz I plan on being at McMennamin’s.>

God, Wilt! Is this some kind of desperate reach for a date… or just being social? I wasn’t used to this stuff. I was way too far out of practice, and probably sounded pathetic.

Two minutes passed.

<Yeah, he does, just like last week. So, just to be clear, are you asking me to meet you at McMennamin’s?>

As I read his reply, I felt a wry smile unfold on my face. It was a little cheeky, but I could see the humor in it, and he was certainly within his rights to ask. He certainly had every right to determine if I was some old perv hitting on him.

<I’m telling you I’ll be there and would be very happy if it turned out you were there, too.>

That was probably neutral enough! Geez. This was the kind of two-step you used to have to go through when dating. Now it happens when you’re texting too!

I could see the ellipsis flicking on my message screen and had to acknowledge a certain level of anticipation.

<Yeah, man. I’ll be there. Glad to hear it’ll make you happy! 😉>

 

Seth

Was that weird, or cool? I mean this older guy I’ve only met twice tells me he’s been thinking about me over the weekend!

Truth, though, I’ve been thinking about him. It was just so comfortable talking to him.

Either way, I’ll be there on Thursday. What else do I have to do while Adrian’s at class?

Besides, I want to see him again.

 

Wilt

I walked the dogs after work and was at the bar before Seth. I was pretty certain I’d be early. He had to walk Adrian to art class. I had no time commitments and could get to the bar and make sure we had a couple of stools.

I saw him in the mirror above the backbar as he walked in and spoke briefly to the hostess, then watched as he came into the bar. I kept looking straight ahead, kind of down into my beer but grabbing quick glances in the mirror. As he got next to me, I looked down so I wouldn’t be obvious, and at the same time as he said, “Hi, Wilt,” I felt his hand settle on my shoulder. He gave it a slight squeeze. As I turned and smiled a hello in response, he slipped off his mask.

I’d hung my jacket on the back of the stool and just had a shirt on. His hand felt pleasant and warm through the cotton, and one part of my brain flashed, “It’s been a while, hasn’t it?’ He slid onto the adjacent stool, and I noticed immediately he was next to me, instead of two stools away like last week.

He slid off his jacket and had on a snug Henley pullover that showed off his torso. Had he purposefully upgraded from the T-shirt he wore last week? He was also wearing tight black jeans and some cool looking Nike shoes. I stayed quiet while he ordered a pint of ale, and when he looked over at me, I asked, “How’s your week been?”

Turns out it had been okay, not great. Just like mine. But the conversation was easy. I asked about Adrian’s class and that led to sharing a little about family. He’d also grown up in Portland, but his parents died when he was in high school, so he and Adrian had then lived with his grandmother, but she died during his junior year in high school, and Adrian was still a minor and went into a foster home.

“That seems a pretty radical step.”

“It was the only option. I mean, he’s got Asperger’s syndrome and I was in college, Adrian was a minor with disabilities, and the state does have a good program for placing underage disabled youth in foster homes. He’s a senior now, but still a minor.”

“How did you handle it?”

 “I was panicked, really worried if it would be a good foster home, but it was. We both got totally lucky there. I came up on weekends till I graduated, them moved back here afterwards to be close.”

“Wait. You moved to this neighborhood to be close to your brother’s foster home?”

“Yeah. Why wouldn’t I? I love him. We’re all each other have, you know?” He looked at me as if he was wondering what my motivation was in asking.

“Don’t get me wrong. I think what you did was amazing. Amazing as in wonderful. I meant what I said as a compliment.”

He smiled softly.

“Seriously, you hear all this stuff about Millennial and Gen Z kids being self-absorbed. I think what you chose to do was the exact opposite.”

“He’s a good guy. He’s smart, just has some problems. You’ll like him.”

“Do I get to meet him?”

“Probably… sometime.” He paused and looked at me kind of slyly, the pitch of his voice rising. “Like especially if you keep asking me out for a beer on Thursday night?”

I paused and grinned. “Wait! Did I ask you out? I thought I just told you I’d be here, and you made it sound like a date or something.”

“Whatever,” he said, resting his left hand on the back of my right hand. He glanced at me. “Is that okay?”

“It’s really nice.” I looked back at him. “I guess we’re both acknowledging that we’re gay, is that right?”

“I am. I’m out and proud. How about you?”

“I’m out. I don’t run around broadcasting it on all channels, but I am. My friends and family know, and my closest business acquaintances.”

He smiled and I felt the fingertips of his left-hand kind of dance on the back of my right hand. “I’m glad.”

“Me, too.” However, being honest with myself, I immediately heard one part of my brain saying how nice it is to have a young gay friend in the community. Is that what it was?”

We ordered food and another round and chatted about a wide range of subjects. When the dishes were cleared and we could settle into real conversation again, I looked at him and asked, “Last week you said you live alone now. How did that happen?”

A flash of suspicion went across his face, followed by a smile… as if he’d reconciled within himself what my motivation was. Before he could answer I added, “I mean, I told you I live alone, too. Meaning we both do. I’m just curious. Is that okay?”

“Yeah, it’s fine. I live alone because my boyfriend dumped me a nine months ago and moved out. You know how tight housing is right now, meaning the lease is in my name and I couldn’t find a cheaper apartment that was still in the neighborhood. And I’m not up for a roommate yet. It would bring back too many memories of Andrew.”

“Getting dumped is a total downer. I’m sorry I asked.”

“No, it’s alright. I would have told you. I wasn’t hiding it or anything. Just not broadcasting it, you know.”

His soft smile spoke volumes and his eyes sparkled in the bar light.

“I live alone because my partner, Patrick, died two years ago.”

“Whoa! That’s heavy. Sorry to hear that.”

“Thanks, He was older than me and had aggressive prostate cancer. The treatment slowed it down, but the cancer won in the end.”

His hand was still on mine and he squeezed it with a mix of empathy and connection. The kind of connection two people can establish when both have major losses in their life.

I saw him look down at his wrist and then up at me. “I was going to ask you to tell me about your dogs, but I’ve got to split to meet Adrian. Is that okay?”

“It’s more than okay. It’s what you have to do. I guess I’ll have to hold telling you about the dogs till next Thursday. That is, if you’ll be here.”

His eyes brightened and his smile widened, and he said, “Would that be another date?”

“Well, if that’s what we’re calling it.” I added, paraphrasing his texts, “It would make me happy.”

He kept looking at me and then said, “It’d make me happy, too.”

 

Seth

I wasn’t sure I should squeeze his shoulder after I spotted him at the bar. He was trying to be cool, like totally nonchalant… but I saw him sneaking a glance in the mirror. So, I knew he knew I was there and coming over. It just seemed natural, not forward, and he felt so warm when I put my hand on him. He didn’t flinch. I was totally aware of that.

I re-ran our conversation in my mind as I walked down to the community center. I liked him more and more. He was successful but had gone through hard times, too. I could relate. When he asked about my life and about Adrian, there was no pity… just understanding and acceptance. Maybe that comes with experience and older guys. Andrew was my age and just barely understanding of my situation and certainly didn’t accept it. Meaning, for him Adrian was my problem, not his. He also didn’t want it disturbing his life.

I found myself smiling. Wilt also had a wry sense of humor. He’d played along with the ‘date at McMennamin’s’ line I gave him like he wasn’t offended. In fact, like he was into it. There’d been give and take and for the second time it had been fun.

More fun than I’d had with another guy since Andrew split.

I had my phone in my hand and was typing the text before I consciously realized what I was doing.

<Thanks for our ‘date’ tonight. I really enjoyed it again. It’s fun spending time with you. Thanks for opening up about your life.>

I re-read the words in the text bubble on my phone. Was this too much too soon? Was it going to come off all syrupy? Or was I just being honest. He’s older, I’m younger… this isn’t going anywhere romantically. Maybe we’ll become good friends. Aren’t friends honest with each other about how they feel?

I hit send and then walked into the front door of the community center. Adrian was ready, and on the walk to the foster home we talked about his art class… and I heard a text come in. I sure wasn’t going to look at it now. Adrian had enough trouble keeping his attention on a subject, and me looking at my phone would probably spook him.

When we got there, I spoke to the foster parents for a few minutes, walked Adrian to his room and gave him a big hug and a kiss on the forehead, and not until I got back on the street did I look at my phone.

<Well then, we both enjoyed it! You opened up, too, about your life… and I appreciate that. Now that you’ve got me cornered into it, I’m liking this Thursday night date idea!>

Wow! That was cool on many fronts. I didn’t want to leave it just hang or say something lame, but I did want to reply. Finally, I did.

<Me, too. I’m realizing that I’ve been missing having a close friend.>

I flinched as I sent it. Would that be saying too much? Going too far?

I was in my apartment thinking about what it all meant when my phone pinged a few minutes later.

<Me, too! Now I’m even happy that I got that damn promo phone sent to me, LOL!>

Okay! That was pretty positive. It seemed like I needed to say something else… but not be sappy.

<Silver linings, and all that, right? 😂>

 

Wilt

Close friend. A new close friend would be a good thing, no denying that. It also set aside any romantic elements, so I can just file all those random thoughts!

I clipped the leashes on the dogs and took them for a short final walk, reflecting on my mixed feelings.

The next day was overly busy at work. With mask mandates and climbing levels of vaccinations, elective surgeries had just about returned to normal, but there were also a lot of people trying to catch up on surgeries they’d had canceled. It certainly looked like the next week was going to be a wild one based on Friday’s orders for Monday delivery.

I ended the day with a short staff meeting. The staff was small, an office manager, a bookkeeper, two salespeople, two warehouse people and two delivery drivers. Basically, I wanted them aware that if today was an indicator, then next week would see a lot of surgeries and we’d be busy… as in real busy. My office manager was also my purchasing agent, and we talked about placing some additional inventory orders before end of day so we wouldn’t run out of stock.

We were the last ones in the office, and as she left, I put leashes on the dogs and took them around the office complex before driving home. One of the benefits of my own business was that the boys could be with me during the day. They got along with everyone, and all the staff got along with them, and this way they weren’t bored and got out a few times a day.

I wasn’t in the mood to cook so I stopped by the local sushi bar to pick up the order I’d called in. Sushi with a couple of IPAs sounded like a pleasant evening. After I fed the dogs, I spent twenty minutes catching up on personal email, which included one from my brother. He was really good at staying in touch. I suppose it was a good characteristic for a psychologist to have!

The sushi looked fresh and shiny and very appetizing. I set it on the table with a little bowl of soy sauce mixed with wasabi and went to the fridge for an IPA. As I walked back, I found myself thinking of the last McMennamin’s IPA I’d had… last night with Seth.

Right! Seth. My new close friend, Seth. The one with the long delicate fingers, the long legs in the tight jeans and the sweet smile. I wondered what he was doing at present. A thought arose about sending him a quick text, but I realized it might look needy. Shit, I might even say something stupid like ‘I’m here alone and thinking about you.’ That would be pathetic.

Instead, I checked the weather for the weekend and happily saw clouds but no rain. That meant I could take the dogs for long walks both days and also get in a run… plus do laundry and some shopping.

Saturday and Sunday, when my mind wandered, one of the subjects it regularly wandered to was Seth. What was he doing? Was he doing something with his brother? Wouldn’t it be fun to have done something together? Sunday evening I realized that without even consciously thinking about it, my phone was in my hand.

<How was your weekend? Nice it wasn’t raining, right?”>

As I sent it, I hoped he’d think of it as a courtesy more than anything else.

A few minutes later I heard the ping of an inbound.

<It was good. I took Adrian shopping for some clothes and then we drove to Tryon State Park for a hike. Also, groceries and laundry, lol! How about you?>

That was a nice reply. Too bad we couldn’t have been doing our chores together!

<My dogs got two long walks, and I got two runs in plus doing chores. 😜>

I found I was watching the phone in my hand.

<You’ve got to tell me about the dogs… on Thursday. I’ve got to run now. I’m having supper with Adrian at the foster home. 😍>

What a sweet thing to do. He was invested in his brother, took care of him, and spent time with him. I was impressed, but wondered if the hearts in the eyes was for his brother, whom he clearly loved, or just maybe… for me? Forget it… close friend, remember?

<Enjoy! Have a good evening and a good week.>

Five minutes later, as I was fixing something to eat my phone pinged.

<👍>

***

Monday was as busy as Friday, and, in fact, the whole week was. Lots of surgery catch up going on, which was great for business. We spent the whole day booking orders and expediting deliveries from our major suppliers, and I didn’t get out of the office till after 6:00 every day. Suddenly it was Thursday and I found myself looking forward to this evening.

At lunchtime, I took the dogs out for a walk and bumped into a good friend who had office space two doors down. He was a local insurance agent and we chatted for a bit getting caught up. I told him about the spike in business this week, and when I asked how he was doing he said he was still looking for an office manager. That reminded me that his former office manager had retired and her last day had been a week ago.

“You must be feeling the pain by now, and swamped with candidates in this job market?”

He smiled wryly. “Lots of candidates, but most not qualified. It turns out a degree in sports management or a couple of years doing telemarketing don’t translate into running an office with a hand on the book of business.”

“So, most candidates are young and unqualified?”

He rolled his eyes as he smiled. “And most seem to think they deserve the job… like entitlement or something.”

“Is young a rule out?”

“What do you mean?”

“Mid-twenties. Is that too young?”

“No, why”

“I know this guy who’s responsible and caring, who’s presently working retail… but not out of choice. His major was English, but his minor was Business Admin. He’s sharp and caring and on the ball. Want to talk to him if he’s interested?”

“If you’re recommending someone I sit up and take notice! Yeah, I’ll talk to him, of course. When?”

“Let me ask. I’ll see him tonight and find out. Is that okay? If he’s interested, I’ll have him call you.”

He nodded and I nodded at the dogs and said, “Gotta go… these guys need their walk.”

 

Seth

I knew by now that Wilt would be at the bar when I arrived since I had to walk Adrian to the community center. He was in the same seat, but this time his eyes met mine in the mirror behind the bar and he smiled. I smiled back and like last week, squeezed his shoulder as I said Hi. His shoulders were tense.

I slid my fingers into the base of the brown hair at the base of his neck, wondering if it was okay.

He leant his head back and sighed. “Hi, Seth. That feels wonderful.”

“You’re very tight… I mean your shoulders, you know?”

I nodded. “One of those weeks.”

I didn’t even think about it, just stepped sideways behind his stool and put both hands on his shoulders and softly kneaded. “One of those weeks, meaning busy and stressful? Does this help?”

He sighed again and said softly, “You have no idea.” I only went with the shoulder rub for thirty seconds so it wouldn’t seem weird in public, then I heard him softly say, “Your fingers are not only thin and beautiful, but very effective.”

I didn’t expect that! I mean I keep my nails short and trimmed because I’m working on people’s phones all day long. But, beautiful? Who notices if someone has beautiful fingers!

“I’m glad you think the shoulder rub is effective. I give Adrian massages when he gets too wound up, so I have some practice.”

He smiled at me in the mirror and patted his hand on the stool next to him. “Sit and order. You didn’t come here to rub my shoulders?”

“True, but it was nice.”

The bartender came up just then, so I ordered a pint and then as I sat down, I asked, “So, what was so stressful about work this week?”

He explained about the sudden increase in surgeries, the jump in orders and the challenges of filling all the orders. Being in retail, even at a wireless store, I could relate. When I asked if he thought it was a one-time thing he said, “If I’m right it’ll continue till Christmas. Now people are trying to get their surgeries done before year end ‘cause they’ve already met their deductible.”

I grinned at him. “I’m available if the stress in your shoulders gets too much to bear!”

I know I wiggled my eyebrows, even though I didn’t plan on it, and I didn’t want to come off as a flirt, but… oh well!

He looked at me in a kind of appraising way and then said, “Okay, Seth. I’ll remember the offer.” Then he smiled and winked.

Suddenly I felt a little flustered, so I said, “You told me you’d tell me about your dogs.”

He grinned and the told me about his two Staffordshire Bull Terriers. He pulled out his new phone, the one I’d helped him set up, and showed me pictures.

“But aren’t they pit bulls? Aren’t they dangerous?”

His response was classic. “Seth, you’ve got to get out from under that rock where there’s no dogs. Pit bulls is an almost slang term, and what people mean can include almost a dozen different breeds. People lump Staffies in there with pit bull terriers and fighting dogs, but you know what? In England where they were first bred, Staffies are family dogs. They’re amazingly affectionate. You’ll see.”

I wasn’t sure it was that simple. I mean, I’d heard stories and stuff. “What are their names?”

“Donner and Blitzen.”

“What? Those are the names of two of Santa’s reindeer.”

“So?”

“Well, you know. These are dogs.”

He laughed, a laugh that was full-hearted and then settled into a chuckle. “I got them about three years ago, right before Christmas. When it came time to name them my nephew and niece, my brother’s kids, basically took over and said they had to have Christmas names. Santa’s elves’ names wouldn’t do, and they settled on Donner and Blitzen. What was I to do?”

He smiled knowingly. “Well, kids can be persuasive. I have a brother that can be persuasive, you know. Do the names mean something?”

“As a matter of fact, they do. The kids did a Google search on all these Christmas names and when they were done there was no arguing about it.”

“Go on.”

“Well, Donner comes from the Dutch word for thunder, and with Santa’s reindeer he was supposed to have a deep booming voice. So, you see these two Staffies are brown with brown eyes. And they can make this deep booming growl?”

I didn’t know what to say. I don’t know much about dogs, let alone about pit bulls… or rather, Staffordshire Bull Terriers. “Okay, I’ll buy the booming part. Go on.”

“Well, Blitzen is the Dutch word for lightning, so the two of them are thunder and lightning. Oh, and I forgot to say, Donner and Blitzen are twins, and these two dogs are brothers.”

“Whoa! How’d you end up with both of them?”

“Honestly? I was looking for one, but these two were inseparable and they were the last two in the litter and the breeder kind of begged me and all… you know how it goes. And they’re so cute together, don’t you think?”

Cute? I was still trying to figure out how that word applied to a pit bull. Still, Wilt was totally convincing, so I’d be chill.

“They’re really cool looking. Especially the pictures of them sleeping together on their backs… on your couch. Is that your couch they’re sleeping on?”

“Yeah. They kind of own the place. I take them to work with me, and guess what? All the employees love them… and we’ve never been robbed.”

He laughed again, and then the bar tender came along and we ordered a refill and some food.

After we’d eaten, Wilt turned to me and said, “There’s two other things I’d like to ask you about.”

I was taking a sip of beer so just nodded, and he went on.

“How locked into your job at the wireless store are you? Are you open to considering an alternative?”

I must have looked at him wide-eyed, ‘cause he raised his hands and said, “I’m not propositioning you.” He grinned and wiggled his eyebrows, then went on, “I’ve got a friend in the insurance business who has an opening if you’re interested.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah, seriously. His office is in the same commercial complex mine is and he has an opening for an office manager. He’s more concerned with competence than age.” He paused, smiled deviously and then said, “he’s also partial to someone who gives killer shoulder massages.”

“Get out!” I knew it sounded childish and stupid as soon as I said, it… but it just came out.

“I’m kidding about the massages, but I’m serious about the position. It’s a bump up from your current position, probably pays more, and I think it has a better career path.”

“Why would you recommend me? We’ve known each other for like ten days?”

“Because I’m a strong believer in Warren Buffet’s thesis about employees. He said, “In looking for people to hire, look for three things: Integrity, Intelligence and Energy. And if they don’t have the first, the other two will kill you!”

“Really, he actually said that… that way? That’s wild. It makes a lot of sense, though.”

“So, this position is for real. Are you interested?”

I knew I was smiling at him and trying hard not to break into a full-on grin. “Can I have about ten seconds to think about it?”

“Good, that’s settled. Here’s his name and phone number on the back of my business card.” He handed me his card and he let his fingers linger in may hand just a little longer than necessary. “His name’s Craig Beyer. Call him tomorrow and see where it goes.”

I tucked the card in my coat pocket. “And the second thing?”

“Well, maybe you haven’t looked at the calendar, but next Thursday is Thanksgiving. What are you doing for Thanksgiving? Are we still meeting here?” His hazel eyes seemed to be sparkling in the light reflecting off the mirror behind the bar and I could tell he was working hard not to break into a grin.

I couldn’t stop myself smiling at him. “Well, I’m having Thanksgiving dinner with Adrian at the foster home, but that’s in the afternoon. So, if you want, we could still have our date here.”

He was looking me straight in the eyes and softly said, “It’s a holiday. Does Adrian like dogs?”

“Yeah, he loves all animals.”

“Then instead of meeting here, why don’t you bring Adrian to my place, and you can both meet Donner and Blitzen?”

 

Wilt

On the walk home I felt good. We keep kidding each other about meeting at the tavern being a date, but… who cares. It’s fun and he’s pleasant to be with. I was happy that he responded positively to the job opportunity. Even if it wasn’t a good fit, it meant he was open to change and advancement. Good traits to have. I was also happy about the idea I suggested for Thanksgiving.

He clearly loves and cares for his brother, so why not share the joy a little. It was nice that Seth was doing Thanksgiving dinner at the home with Adrian, but there probably wouldn’t be anything especially great about it except maybe a change in what food was on the plate. Also, who know about the quality of the food, but better not to go there.

I fell asleep thinking of the shoulder rub and how sensuous it felt… and an hour late woke to find myself with a raging hard on that I was stroking. I took care of that, and it felt great, as did the thoughts of Seth that crept into my mind.

Friday afternoon I heard the ping of a text.

<I called Craig during my lunch, and we had a good talk. He wants to interview me! 😃>

I knew Craig well enough to know that he wouldn’t waste his or Seth’s time, and that he must have heard something that got his attention.

<Way to go! That’s great news. Do you have an updated resume?>

I didn’t want to get ahead of myself and tell him how to do this, but a well-done resume looks professional. A few minutes later I got the reply.

<No. I haven’t done anything since I got the job here.>

In a way that was no surprise, and he hadn’t planned on me dropping the opportunity on him the night before.

<It’s important to look professional. I’ll help you this weekend if you want. Gotta stress the Asst Mgr part!>

He had to have his own computer and printer, but there was also the question of how it was laid out and what was stressed.

<That’d be cool. Are you sure?>

Was that hesitancy or good manners?

<Yeah. We can meet at my office Sunday afternoon. Also, you can meet the dogs, so we kill two birds, lol!>

He was there at two o’clock as agreed, and he did well for a non-dog guy. I saw him walk up and met him at the door.

“They’re going to be friendly, right?”

“Seth, they’re Staffies, not fighting dogs. The most aggressive thing they’re going to do is try to hop into your lap.”

He smiled but still didn’t look a hundred percent certain. I pulled him inside, and by this time Donner and Blitzen had woken up to the sound of voices and walked over to the door, where there were waiting with their tails wagging.

“Okay, see. You’re with me so they already trust you. They’ve got their curious expression on their face, like ‘Wow, is this a new friend?’ Also, I know you can see their tails are wagging, so they already know you’re cool and not an unknown or threat or anything. They’re going to smell you up and down and check you out, and if you really want to connect, drop down on your knees and give them a hug… but they’ll want to lick your face.”

Seth was initially hesitant, then the reality of two friendly dogs with butts and tails wagging replaced the intellectual caution about pit bulls. They were dancing around his legs and Donner tried to jump up to which I said, “No! Down!” and he did. Seth began patting them and rubbing their ears… and that’s when I saw the smile break on his face. The tension was gone, and he was comfortable.

They kept it up for a minute or two, and he looked up at me. “They really are friendly, aren’t they?”

“I told you. Be careful or they’ll love you to death!”

Next thing I knew he’d dropped to his knees and in a few seconds ended up with Donner’s head on one shoulder and Blitzen’s on the other as he scratched their shoulders and then started hugging them. He looked up at me with a grin.

“You’re doing pretty great for not being a dog person. I think you’ve passed the test!”

“Well, you were right, they are really friendly.” He turned his attention back to the dogs who were licking his face, and he started laughing and the dogs knew what was up and licked more intensely. After a bit I said, “Okay, you guys. Stop. Enough already.”

They quieted down and Seth pushed them off him and stood up still grinning. He looked at me directly not saying anything, just looking.

I looked back, enjoying the contrast of his blue eyes with his black hair and closely trimmed beard.

“It’s nice to be loved, isn’t it?”

His eyes widened and he flushed momentarily and then nodded. “Yeah. They’re very cool.”

“They’re what got me through the last two years… well, apart from my brother and his family.” I smiled at him and pointed off to his left. “The bathroom’s over there. Pretty sure you’ll be wanting to wash your hands and face. I’ll be in my office when you’re done.” I pointed at a door in the opposite direction.

When he walked in both dogs were laying on their beds watching him. I told them to stay and pointed at a chair. “Pull that over here and let’s get to work.”

His resume was okay, mainly focused on the two retail jobs since he’d graduated. “What was your summer employment during college?”

The last two summers he’d worked as an intern at The Oregonian newspaper, motivated by taking journalism classes. “What about during the school year?”

“I worked at the college radio station and on the student newspaper… but they weren’t paying jobs.”

“That’s okay. They all count as experience. We’ll just add them, move a few things around, and this resume will have a different feel. When did you become assistant manager?”

He told me and I started listing the positions in reverse order back to the student work. “Okay, now, you take over and lay this out in Word. Personal Info, then education, then whatever awards you got, then work experience in reverse order. And, most importantly, you start with an Objective, meaning what you’re looking for in your next job. Just a sentence.”

He paused, looking sweetly innocent as he thought about it. “But I wasn’t looking for work.”

“That’s okay, the assumption is that everyone’s always looking, keeping an eye out for a better opportunity. Say something like you told me, about advancing into business management and helping people out.”

I vacated my desk chair and motioned him over, and as he sat down, I asked if he wanted iced tea or a Diet Coke.

He smiled. “Tea, please.”

He was done in half an hour and had added a nice objective statement.

I was leaning over his shoulder looking at the new resume. I wanted to put my hands on his shoulders and nuzzle my face into his hair, but instead I just softly said, “Why don’t you print a few copies out, and then what do you think about taking the boys for a walk?”

He tipped his head up and back and I could see the smile. “That’s a great idea. Does that mean we’re having a second date this week?”

I squeezed his shoulders. “Who’s counting?”

 

Seth

It was such a great afternoon! I loved that Wilt wanted to help me with updating my resume but wasn’t so sure when he told me the dogs would be there. However, it made sense when he explained that this way, they’d get to know me before we brought Adrian over on Thanksgiving.

Still! I somehow expected a bunch of vicious barking or whatever! Instead, it was total love. They were all over me, like I’d just been made a member of the pack or something. And Wilt was right… it is good to be loved.

Even if it was two dogs, it felt really good and made me realize that I’d been doing some kind of self-imposed isolation since Andrew split. I grinned at myself as I worked on something to eat. Ten days ago, alone. Now, loved by three… well, two dogs and one cool guy.

Love had to be in there somewhere, right? I mean we’d been having these dates, but I know we’d connected and liked being together and now he was helping me out and wanting to include Adrian. That was more than just casual dating, that’s for sure.

While dinner cooked, I pulled out my phone to send a text.

<This was a great afternoon. Thanks for the help and making me part of the pack with Donner and Blitzen. 😍>

Just a factual statement, right. And the hearts on the emoji could be for the dogs, right?

I was just sitting down to eat, and the reply came in.

<I checked with them both and you passed and are now an official member of their pack. Right now, they’re kind of bummed that you bailed and didn’t hang around more. But they’ll get over it… and you have to get ready for your interview tomorrow. Let me know how it goes! 👍>

Part 2

 

Wilt

I knew the interview was over Seth’s lunch and didn’t expect to hear till later in the day. Plus, we had another round of extra orders that came in during the morning for surgeries on Tuesday and Wednesday, so I spent part of the afternoon in the warehouse helping pack orders. The text came in about four o’clock.

<Been busy here, but interview went well!>

That was positive!

<Cool. Busy here too, I’ve been working the warehouse all afternoon. Can I call you this evening?>

I got a thumbs up back and smiled.

I waited till after dinner to call and after the hellos got a run down on the interview. He said it was more in-depth than he’d ever had, and I took that as a good sign. “How do you mean?”

“Well, he was asking me to tell him, like in detail, about the college work, and the intern stuff, and then had a bunch of questions about being assistant manager and what that meant.”

“Meaning?”

“Well, he wanted to know if I set work schedules, supervised the other salespeople, had P&L responsibility, you know.”

“Yeah, I do. Go on.”

“Well, lucky me, meaning I minored in business admin, or I wouldn’t even have known what ‘P&L responsibility’ was.”

“So, you handled it?”

“Only if saying I don’t have P&L responsibility counts as handling it!”

I smiled to myself. He was really being critical of himself. “Seth?”

“Yeah.”

“Craig knows you work in retail at a wireless store. Do you think he expected you to have responsibility for the store’s profit and loss?”

“I don’t know, actually.”

“I’m betting not—it’s a franchise store for a national wireless company. He knows how retail operations work. I’m betting he was testing you and seeing how much you understood about the terms and the questions.”

“You think?”

“Yeah, and I’m betting you did better than you think you did.” I paused, then went on, “What else did you talk about?”

“Well, he asked about growing up and family and stuff. I told him about Adrian, living in the neighborhood. Kind of like we talked about.”

“I’m glad. In his line of work knowing things like that about his employees is important. Remember what Warren Buffet said about integrity?”

He was quiet, so I went on.“You’re not beating yourself up about your interview, are you?”

It felt like he’d started to grin, if that was even possible. “Well, don’t. No need. Plus, Donner and Blitzen just told me to tell you to stop it!”

He laughed. I joined him, then said, “It sounds to me like you did a great job. Now we stand by and see what happens.”

“Thanks for all your help.”

“Hey, it was my pleasure. Plus, we got in a second date this week, right?”

“Did that count as a date? But yeah... that was cool. I really like Donner and Blitzen.”

“The feeling’s mutual. Have you told Adrian about Thanksgiving?”

“Not yet. I’m going over tomorrow after work, so I’ll fill him in then.”

We chatted for a few more minutes and I told him I’d check in with him on Wednesday.

 

Seth

It was a pretty exciting week, what with the second date, the interview and now taking Adrian over to meet the dogs on Thanksgiving. I had quit worrying about how that would go. Adrian loved animals, Donner and Blitzen were sweeties, so they’d love him. It was that simple.

I knew Wilt was busy with the last rush of orders for surgeries before Thanksgiving and we had another promo going on at the store, so we were busy, too. I hadn’t heard anything from Craig about the interview, but I figured the whole thing was a long shot so no point in sweating it.

Wednesday morning, though, I got a text from Wilt.

<Just checking to see how you’re doing. Any word?>

Just checking? What did that mean. He has to know that the first person on the planet who’s going to hear from me after I know something is him. So, what this about? Is he feeling the same need to connect as I am? Except I’m the kid in this equation and he’s the older mature guy. Nice fantasy, dude!

<No word. I didn’t expect it with the holiday. How’s it going for you?>

Are we both trying to low key this thing… whatever it is? Wilt was right back at me.

<That’s cool. So, for tomorrow… you’ve got my address. Wanna come over with Adrian about six o’clock?>

<Sounds like a plan. See you then. And thanks!>

After nine months since Andrew left, it was nice having someone check in and care. I was looking forward to it and realizing that you could get used to living alone and being alone and somehow start thinking that was normal. Thanksgiving at the foster home would be okay… and just that, okay. But Adrian lit up when I told him about a new friend with two cool dogs that he’d get to meet. I got approval to take him out for two hours, which was easy ‘cause it was his normal night to be out for art class.

I was wishing I’d heard something from Craig, but he did say that he’d done a lot of interviews and it would take him the rest of the week to finish his evaluations. He was sure being thorough… either that or he had a hard time making decisions!

I went back to my apartment after Thanksgiving dinner and chilled out and took a little nap. I told Adrian I’d be back about five thirty, and I’d told him where Wilt lived when we left. It wasn’t raining, but there were high clouds. The closer we got the more excited he got.

I finally had to pull him over when we were a half block away. “Adrian, you’ve gotta relax man. Wilt’s a nice guy and his dogs are really cool, and they’re going to love you. Are you hearing me?”

He was staring at me and nodded.

“You don’t want to scare them, do you?”

He shook his head, wrinkles appearing on his forehead.

“They’re cool dogs, Adrian, like I told you. But they haven’t met you before… so they’re going to be excited when we get there. They’ve only met me once. If you’re all excited, too, it could be too much.”

He got that serious expression on his face that he gets when he’s really thinking.

“So, you wanna play a game?”

A smile broke on his face.

“We’ll play pretend, okay? We’re going to pretend that we’re just going to see Wilt and there’s no dogs. Can you do that?”

“But we know there’s dogs…”

“Yeah, but we’re playing pretend. Get it?” I grinned in encouragement.

Adrian’s smile widened and then he nodded. “Pretend.”

“And what are we pretending?”

“That there’s no dogs, there’s… just Wilt.”

“You got it. Okay, let’s go. You’re gonna like Wilt. He’s a nice guy and he really wants to meet you. How about that.”

A smile of self-satisfaction appeared on Adrian’s face. “He does?”

“Of course.” I gave him a dig in the ribs with my elbow. “Because you’re my brother, that’s why he wants to meet you.”

“Naw, Seth….” And then he started giggling. I couldn’t help it, and I joined him, and we giggled our way to Wilt’s house where I rang the doorbell.

The door opened to a beaming Wilt in the doorway, framed by warm lighting from within. But there were no dogs.

“Hi, Wilt. This is Adrian.”

Wilt made eye contact with Adrian and extended his hand without looking down. “Hi, Adrian. You’re one very lucky guy, do you know that?”

Adrian didn’t even hesitate. “Yeah, I’m lucky.”

“You’re especially lucky because you’ve got such a cool older brother. Come on in, you guys.” He pulled Adrian into the hallway, and I followed.

“Where are the dogs?”

He nodded over his shoulder. “They’re in the kitchen behind that doggie gate so we don’t have a mob scene at the front door.” With that he took our coats and then said to Adrian, “Seth told me you like dogs.”

“I like all animals!”

“Do you want to meet Donner and Blitzen?”

“Yeah!”

This was their moment and I just stopped and watched Wilt lead Adrian over to the doggie gate. Both Staffies were standing on the other side, a study in animation… tails and hips wagging and excited expressions.

Wilt put a hand on Adrian’s shoulder and stopped him. Then he looked down at the two dogs and said, “You two, Sit!” It took a couple of seconds, but they did even though their tails were still moving… now sweeping the floor. Then I could see Wilt squeeze Adrian’s shoulder and barely heard him say, “Can you see how much shorter they are than we are?”

Adrian nodded.

“So, let’s kneel down so we’re on the same level as them.”

I’m guessing he pushed Adrian down just a little, but there was no resistance and the next thing they were kneeling. Adrian was staring at Donner and Blitzen, and they were staring at him.

Then Wilt said, “They like you a lot, Adrian, I can tell. Now reach through the gate and scratch under their chins.”

He did and the dogs loved it, suddenly in a competition to see who could lick a hand the most. “Adrian, do you want me to open the gate?”

Adrian nodded and Wilt looked at both dogs and said, “Stay!”

Then he slowly pushed the gate aside and the dogs stayed in a sit, but clearly were getting more and more excited.

Finally, Wilt said, “Release.” Both dogs moved at once toward Adrian, and he ended up with one in each arm… which worked until he fell over backwards. I did a momentary panic, but then realized something amazing was happening. Adrian was on the ground, on his back, and there were two Staffordshire Bull Terriers on his chest, and they were licking his face… and he was laughing.

Wilt was closely watching to make sure everything was cool, and after a minute he looked at me and said, “I think he passed, too, and now he’s part of the pack!”

I let out a huge sigh of relief and realized I was smiling… at Wilt and the scene he’d just created. I walked up next to him and said, “Sure looks like they’re buds for life!”

Wilt nodded and slipped his arm around my shoulder. I liked the feel, and without consciously thinking about it I put an arm around his waist.

We let the three of them play for five minutes and then Wilt told the dogs it was enough and suggested I’d want to take Adrian to the bathroom and clean him up.

It was a good idea, and when we got back the dogs were on their beds in the kitchen and Wilt had a pecan pie on the table. Adrian’s eyes got as big as saucers.

“I’m guessing you like pecan pie?”

He nodded, and Wilt went on, “With vanilla ice cream?” Adrian nodded again, and Wilt nodded toward the refrigerator and said to me, “Ice cream is in the freezer, if you would.”

We had a great time together. The pie was amazing, Adrian was happy and so was I. Not only had Adrian connected with Donner and Blitzen, but he and Wilt had connected, and it just seemed so, so… natural.

After we cleaned up the dishes and put the pie away, Wilt asked if we wanted to play Scrabble. Adrian grinned mischievously and looked back and forth between us.

“Be careful what you ask for,” I said with a devilish smile.

“Yeah?”

“Uh huh. Adrian has a memory like a trap. He always wins at Scrabble.”

He smiled at both of us and then said, “There is an element of chance in which tiles each player draws.”

Adrian flashed me a quick look and smiled, and I smiled back knowingly. “Okay, let’s do it and see how the chance part plays out.”

Adrian won. Which was no surprise to me. Yes, chance was part of the game, but his huge and easily accessible dictionary of words was an advantage that pretty well neutralized the chance.

When it was getting close to nine o’clock, we put the game away and Wilt asked if we could all walk back to the foster home? Adrian was nodding enthusiastically, and he got to hold the dog’s leashes most of the way. Wilt said goodbye outside, and Adrian made a point of saying goodbye to him and then to each of the dogs, and then I walked him inside.

When I came back out Wilt was standing there smiling, Donner and Blitzen sitting next to him. “How’s he doing?”

I looked straight into his hazel eyes, which were nicely illuminated by the porch lights. “He’s totally happy. I think this is the best thing that’s happened to him in a long time. He wants to know when he’ll see Donner and Blitzen again.”

He smiled at me, a warm and engaging smile and said softly, “I think we can arrange that. Can we walk you home?”

They did, and when we got to the apartment building, I bent down and patted the dogs to say goodbye, and then turned to Wilt. “Thanks so much. This was so great.”

He was looking at me with an open and engaging expression. I didn’t know what to say at first, but I knew what I wanted, and it only took about eight seconds before I said, “I really liked the feeling when you put your arm around my shoulder. Can I give you a hug?”

His face broke into a grin and his arms came up as I stepped to him, and then they were around me. He held me tight, and he was so warm and firm.

“Thanks so much,” I whispered into his neck. “You don’t know how great this was for Adrian.”

“And for you I hope,” I heard back, said softly into my neck.

“It was great for me, too.”

 

Wilt

The hug was magic. His embrace of me was strong and warm, and his beard was soft against my cheek. The walk home was blissful. The evening had gone well. I’d had Thanksgiving dinner with my brother and his family, and as pleasant and warm as that was, it was nowhere near as satisfying as the time I’d spent with Seth and Adrian.

The realization was slowly seeping up into my conscious mind. There was nothing more my body wanted to do when we hugged than to turn his face up and kiss him. Put my lips against that sweet smile, let my tongue force them apart… stop! I shook my head and told myself once again that letting this fantasy play out could only hurt us both. I was thirty-nine and as much older than Seth as Patrick had been older than me. Look how that worked out. We’d grown apart and couldn’t repair it. Age differences like this usually don’t work and here I was setting myself up for another… even if the age difference were reversed and I was the older one, it was still more than likely to fail.

Still, having a new really good friend was a gift, and one to be cherished. Donner and Blitzen liked him, and that meant we’d be able to do things together… the kind of things good friends do… together.

I was sitting down with a glass of wine when the text came in.

<Thanks for the best Thanksgiving ever! 🤗>

Texting with Seth had forced me to look at the palette of emojis and broaden my usage.

<Really? 😲>

<Totally! I have to work tomorrow. Can I walk the dogs with you this weekend?>

I grinned to myself as I sipped my wine, feeling a warmth inside me that had nothing to do with the wine.

<There will be two walks, and you have an open invitation to either… or both, lol!>

***

I spent Friday in the office doing catch up on office paperwork. Seth called me about four o’clock.

“It’s quiet in the store and I just wanted to say Hi.”

“Thanks, it’s good to hear your voice.”

“No word from Craig yet, in case you’re wondering.”

“I’ve had one or two thoughts about it. He’s probably having a hard time checking your references over the holidays.”

“Right! I’ve got shopping and chores to do in the morning, so I’m hoping you’ll be walking the dogs in the afternoon.”

“As it happens, that’s the plan. We’ll walk over and pick you up and head for the city park.”

We did, and we did the same thing on Sunday. The weather had held over Thanksgiving weekend, but the clouds were thickening and lower in the sky and the forecast was for a few days of rain ahead.

“With rain for the next few days, long walks will be more challenging. Should we go by the foster home on the way to your place and see if Adrian can get out for a little while for a dog walk?”

“You’re serious?” He had a disbelieving expression on his face.

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

“No one cares about Adrian. Well, I mean I do, and my family did, and the foster parents, but Andrew thought he was a pain in the ass.”

I looked him square in the eyes. “Andrew was the ass. He was an ass about Adrian, and he was an ass about you.”

“You… you really mean that?”

“Yeah, I do. Meeting you is the best thing that’s happened to me in a long time. I’d forgotten how important and wonderful having a good friend is. You’re not the only one that’s been alone, you know.”

He gave me a quick hug and when we got to the foster home went in to get Adrian released for half an hour. He had a wonderful time holding the leashes and taking the dogs for a walk while his brother and I followed along!

Seth called me late on Monday, obviously from work because he was trying to be discreet.

“Craig just called me. He offered me the job.”

I felt a thrill run through me for him. “And you’re surprised?”

“Well, yeah. I sure didn’t expect he’d offer me the job.”

“Let’s look at the details. More money than you’re presently earning?”

“Yes, with an advancement plan because what he wants to be hiring is someone he can train into being his office manager.”

“That also means his assistant. The advancement plan comes with pay increases?”

“Yes… based on performance.”

“You do understand that long term this could result in you becoming a certified insurance agent and financial planner, don’t you?”

“Well, yeah… I mean in general terms. But you think that’s for real?”

“I know Craig really well, and if he’s offering you this job, he believes it. That means, it’s as real as real can be.”

“So, what do I do now?”

“What’s your heart telling you to do?”

“Truth! Give my two weeks’ notice, right now!”

“Did you accept the job over the phone?”

“Pretty much. He wants me to come to the office tomorrow and sign the paperwork.”

“Then what you do is meet him, review the paperwork and make sure it says what you discussed on the phone. Then after you sign it, you go back and give your notice. You know, many a slip twixt cup and lip, and all that.”

“I owe you big time, Wilt.”

“You don’t owe me anything. I was fortunately in the position to connect two friends, both of whom had employment needs. If you hadn’t had the experience and the skill set, he wouldn’t have offered you the job.”

“You are too much! I’ve got to get back to work. Thanks… just thanks!”

I was so happy for Seth. He seemed truly and honestly enthused about getting this job offer. I remembered the feeling when I got my first real job offer. It has been as a sales rep for a major medical equipment company, and that was the entry into the industry and now here I was seventeen years later with my own business.

 

Seth

I’m driving back to work after signing the papers for the job offer. It was everything Craig said, and I’m still pretty much pinching myself. I didn’t plan on being in retail forever, or staying at the wireless store for years, but this just came out of the blue. And here I am walking in the door and about to give my manager my two weeks’ notice.

I decided to be cool and not text Wilt but wait and call him after dinner. When I told him the offer was everything Craig had said, he basically just said, “Uh hmm,” like that was what he expected. “How’d it go, giving your notice?”

“Truth? My manager said he was surprised I’d stuck around this long.”

“Really?”

“That’s what he said. I’ve been thinking about it, and I think mainly it’s that I’ve been down since Andrew dumped me and haven’t thought about much else. Like possibilities. Like life. You know, stuck in place, or something. Does that make sense?”

“It sure does. When you’re down, much like when people are depressed, you tend to focus inward. Thinking of yourself and your problems at the expense of everything else. You can lose sight of the rest of life and the bigger picture. At least, that’s what my brother the psychologist keeps telling me.”

“Why would he have to tell you that?”

“Because I’ve gone through my share of shit and being in the dumps, too. And he was always there for me. My relationship with Patrick was going sideways a couple of years before he got his cancer diagnosis, so I’ve been there and done that.”

“Wow! I didn’t realize that, but thanks for sharing something so major with me. All of this has got me rethinking the whole thing with Andrew. I’ve got more still to think about.”

“Go for it, you’re on a positive roll right now. Are we still on for Thursday?”

I paused, and a felt a grin form on my face. “Do you mean are we on for our next date?”

“If that’s what you want to call it. And, for the record, I think that’s sweet. I’ve just gotten used to us meeting up on Thursday evening. It’s a major thing for me now.”

“It’s a major thing for me, too. I’ll see you there after I drop Adrian off at art class.”

I knew I was being over-excitable and probably looking needy… and maybe dependent, but the next day I had to at least text him.

<I’m still so stoked about this new job I just have to tell you again! 😍>

As soon as I sent it, I thought to myself, ‘the hearts were probably a mistake.’

 

Wilt

I’d been trying to rein myself in. I mean I truly was happy for Seth getting the new job, and his excitement and enthusiasm was infectious. Still, it was important not to get carried away and seem silly. He’s a good friend and you support and commiserate with good friends, and I’d do that.

So, I hadn’t called or texted him. If my brother had me in his office, he’d probably make me admit the real reason: fear. I didn’t need another train wreck of a relationship. And there was the age difference after all! So, be cool… be there… support Seth and enjoy the friendship.

So, wow! I was really surprised when the text came in that had the heart-eyes emoji. The dogs weren’t part of this conversation, so what did it mean. Had to be he was in love with the situation… the new job and future prospects. I could hear my brother in the back of my mind asking me what I was afraid of and just shut that door hard!

<You should be excited. You deserve it. Looking forward to seeing you tomorrow night.>

And that was the preamble to watching Seth come into the bar. This time I’d watched him enter in the mirror behind the bar and was watching for him to look at me. He did and broke into a massive grin that came through the mask he was wearing. Our eyes followed each other as he walked my way and pulled off his mask as he came up behind me… and gave me a huge hug with his chin resting on the top of my head.

He softly said, “I can’t thank you enough. I’ve been like walking on air all day.” My hands had unconsciously come up from the bar to cover his.

“I’m glad you’re so happy about these developments. Here, I saved you a seat.”

He slowly disengaged and sat down on the stool next to me. “Good day?”

I nodded. “Yeah, it’s the post-Thanksgiving quiet while everyone recovers from eating too much and consumes the left-overs. In another day or two it’ll pick up and be like last week. Remember what I told you about all those people trying to get surgeries on this year’s insurance deductible?”

“Well, that’s good for business, isn’t it?”

“Sure, it is. Just would be nice if it was spread out over four or five months. Anyway, what else is up?”

He took the first sip of his ale after the bartender set it down and was licking the foam off his lips as he turned to look at me. I was watching his tongue follow the shape of his lips, and almost missed what he said next.

“I’ve got a favor to ask you. Well, actually, we’ve got a favor to ask you.”

“Who’s the ‘we’ in this question?”

He smiled innocently, and then said, “Well, me and Adrian, of course.”

“Go on.”

“Can he start coming with us on one of the dog walks on the weekend. I mean, which ever day is best for you, but he really loves Donner and Blitzen and is so excited and can’t wait, and …”

I put my right index finger on his lips. “Enough said. The answer is easy and it’s Yes.” I smiled at him and damned if he didn’t kiss my finger. Or maybe it was my imagination… fueled by my beer and the fantasy I’d just pulled myself back from when I watched him lick his lips.

“Fabulous. I knew you’d be cool with it.”

“What else would I say? You know where I work and where I live. You could make my life miserable if you wanted to.”

His eyebrows went up. “Now, that’s a thought isn’t it. You know though, if I was going to specifically do something to your life it would be the opposite of making it miserable.”

“I’m gratified! Shall we order something to eat?”

 

Seth

I was pumped on the walk from McMennamin’s to the community center. We’d had another great time and Wilt was fully into having Adrian come on weekend walks with us. He also hadn’t said a word about the first part, meaning ‘our walks’ with the dogs… like that was now a given. But why was he so standoffish about the affection I was trying to show him? He’d done a lot for me and the vibe between us was fun and positive, so why the hesitancy?

After I dropped Adrian off at home, I thought some more about it and kind of reminded myself of what he’d shared with me about his relationship going sideways before his partner got the cancer diagnosis. He’d told me Patrick died two years after he found out he had prostate cancer. He’d said he got the dogs a year before that, so that meant back another year or two, maybe? The relationship had been bad or breaking down for two or three years? Wow? That made the nine months since Andrew dumped me seem like nothing.

We weren’t married or anything and didn’t have much together. Mainly we shared the apartment and slept together and had sex… well, that’s what it had turned into, and the sex had gotten less and less. But when he made his decision, it was easy for him to pack up and move out. That was way different than if we’d had years together. And then to have your partner get a death sentence diagnosis. I know some people wouldn’t want to hang around for that, but apparently Wilt did. He was a great person.

I settled onto the couch in the apartment and pulled out my phone.

<Thanks for another great date! By the way, in case no ones told you lately, you’re one of the good guys!>

I decided to leave the emoji with the heart eyes out this time. Didn’t want to seem too emotional or anything!

 

Wilt

I wasn’t expecting a text since we’d said goodbye at McMennamin’s. The line about being one of the good guys caught me by surprise. It was a very thoughtful thing to say.

<Thanks for that. I appreciate it. You’re a pretty good guy yourself.>

As soon as I sent it, I wondered if it wouldn’t come off as kind of lame… but, it was gone now, so too late.

We both had busy days on Friday, but I texted him about the weather forecast, that Saturday afternoon looking like broken clouds with some sun, so it would definitely be the better day. He agreed, and I suggested we drive to a larger state park and asked if he could have Adrian out for that long. He said he’d cover it in the morning, and I told him I’d pick him up at one o’clock.

When I pulled up in front of his apartment building, he was standing outside waiting. His eyebrows went up when I honked, and he realized it was me driving the Ford Explorer.

“Whoa! Nice wheels,” he said as he slid into the front seat. He turned to look at Donner and Blitzen in the rear cargo area and said, “Hi guys.” Then he looked at me. “Will they stay back there?”

“This will be a test. They know full well their space is the cargo area, not on the seats. I don’t know what’ll happen when we pick up Adrian. Who should be in the back seat, you or him?”

He paused and then said, “Probably both of us. I need to be able to calm him down if he gets excited or gets the dogs too excited. It’d be better if I’m back there next to him.”

His hands were resting on his thighs, and I put my right hand over his left hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. “You’re a good brother, in case no one’s told you that lately.”

He raised his eyebrows and smiled appreciatively, and we pulled away from the curb. Picking up Adrian was easy, and they both hopped in the back seat and most of the drive to the state park was Adrian giggling with both dogs trying to lick him to death over the back seat.

It was about an hour walk, and the trails were paved so the dogs didn’t get wet and dirty. Adrian seemed thrilled to be walking the dogs, holding their leashes and keeping them in position. We had him back to the foster home by 4:30 and Seth suggested I come in and meet the foster parents. He introduced me as the friend with the dogs who’d been taking Adrian on walks. They seemed nice and responsible, and after some appraising looks it appeared I passed their credibility test.

When we left, Seth got in the front seat, and when we pulled up in front of his apartment building, he looked over at me expectantly. He wasn’t the only one who was wondering about what next.

I smiled. “Are you doing anything special this evening?”

“No, why?”

“Well, because we both have to eat, and I for one, am tired of cooking and eating alone when I could be asking you to be part of it. So, that’s what I’m doing. Want to come over for dinner?”

He was grinning big time, and his blue eyes seemed to sparkle, reflecting the light off the dashboard as he turned in the seat to face me. “So, wait. Let me make sure I’ve got this right. You’re asking me on a dinner date, and you’re cooking at your house.”

“If that’s the way you want to put it. I’m just tired of eating alone and I like your company.”

“I like yours, too, so, the answer is yes. I cook, too, so you’ve got to let me help.”

“Far out! You can help cook, plan on that. I’m just tired of being alone, and maybe you are, too.” I shifted into gear hoping I didn’t sound lame. I hadn’t been paying attention and chirped the tires as we took off.

“Wow! Are you in a hurry, big guy? What kind of an SUV is this, anyway?”

I grinned at him. “It’s a Ford Explorer, but the Sport model and most people don’t know what the deal is. It’s a twin turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 engine that puts out 365 horsepower. You can see it’s got the fancy leather interior and stuff. That’s why the dogs get to stay off the seats.”

“Very cool. I should have known you’d be into performance stuff.”

“What? Do I look like a performance guy to you?”

“You look kind of high performance to me!”

Whoa! Was that a come-on line or what? Better dial this back. I smiled at him and said, “I went shopping yesterday so there’s plenty of food in the kitchen.” I parked in front of the garage knowing I’d run him home after dinner.

It was a very domestic evening. We fed the dogs and they settled down on their beds. We decided on what to cook and went to work and I opened a bottle of wine. We found out we could share tasks pretty readily, and the conversation was easy. We talked about the neighborhoods we grew up in, high school and college experiences and some about our families.

When I pulled up in front of his apartment I got out of the Explorer and walked around to the curb. “Thanks for saying yes to our dinner date. I had a great time. Did you?”

He looked at me with this innocent but quizzical expression on his face. “You’re kidding, right?”

“No, I’m dead serious. I had a great evening with you.”

“I did, too… with you. Do I get a hug… you know, for helping you cook?”

“You get a hug for just being you.”

We pulled each other into an embrace, which quickly got tight. One of those faces-in-each-other’s-necks kind of hug. I felt his hands slide down my back and go under my coat and then under my shirt and then slide up, stroking the skin below my shoulder blades and then softly stroking up and down my lower back.

The feeling was wonderful but wait. We were good friends, right?

He looked at me coyly. “You get one for just being you, too.”

“Thanks. That’s really nice. Now, I’ve got to get going.”

“Are you saying you can’t wait?”

“It’s getting difficult, because you’re a lot of fun to be with.”

I gave him a final quick hug and got in the Explorer to drive home, wrestling with why I’d stopped what had just happened between us.

 

Seth

Fuck! Did I go too far with rubbing his back under his shirt? He’s been playing it cool, and I have to respect that after what he went through. He was so nice asking me to dinner and just saying he was tired of cooking for himself and being alone. That’s just the way I feel, too. So, did I blow it?

I thought about it some more and decided that we were getting comfortable with each other and expressing it in different ways. He’d put his hand over mine and told me I was a great brother. So, I could hug him and rub his back… right?

Going under his shirt was bugging me, though, and twenty minutes later I sent a text.

<I meant what I said about a great evening with you. I’m sorry if I went too far rubbing your back under your shirt. I wasn’t thinking – just responding to what I was feeling. 🙁>

Just a few minutes later I got a reply.

<Nothing to worry about. We’ve both been alone for a while and have to sort out what it all means. It felt nice, for the record. 😂>

Well, I guess he wasn’t offended, but he wasn’t raving about how good my hands had felt on his skin, lol!

My phone pinged again.

<As my mom used to say, may you sleep well with sweet dreams.>

I couldn’t resist.

<That’s very nice, and I guarantee I will… but I’m telling you nothing about the subject of my dreams!>

 

Wilt

Sunday we were both doing domestic chores, but I called him in the afternoon just to say Hi. I joked with him a little about his last few days at the wireless store. He was upbeat and clearly happy to end this phase and move on.

Monday started the week as crazy as the last one had ended. Not only were we really busy, but with Christmas approaching, employees were taking a day off here and there, and that meant I was filling in. With a small crew it only took one employee taking a day off or being sick and I was filling in on the delivery truck, in the warehouse, wherever. We talked in the evening, and when I told Seth he thought it was hilarious that the guy that owned the business spent a day driving the truck making deliveries.

“Small business reality! Wait till you start working for Craig, I’m betting you’ll be discovering similar kinds of things.”

He kind of giggled and said, “I’ll give you a full report on Thursday night!”

***

I’d reached the point that I was looking forward to watching him walk into the bar, look for me, and walk toward me with an ever-widening grin.

He put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed as he said Hi and then sat down.

“You look like a happy camper for a guy that just started a new job.”

“Happy is the word. You were right about Craig. He’s a really good person. Totally seems to have his shit together, really responsible and has high standards. He’s also got really good people working for him.”

“You were welcomed and felt accepted?”

“Completely. I mean I have a ton to learn, but they all made me feel like I was part of the team. That was pretty wonderful.”

“Nice to be accepted. I doubt it’ll be a cake walk for the next couple of months, but that’s a great start.”

He asked me if I was still driving the delivery truck and I filled him in on my week. After we’d eaten, I agreed to join him picking up his brother and walking him home. Adrian was surprised to see me, but to my pleasure stepped right up and gave me a hug. I found myself hugging him back with no hesitancy. He kind of giggled but was leaning into my chest. We talked about pencil drawing technique on the short walk to the foster home, and after we’d said goodbye Seth and I walked back to the Explorer.

“What you did was so nice to see.”

“What? What did I do?”

“You hugged Adrian back when he hugged you. You’re the kind of guy who accepts stuff like that, but Andrew always acted like Adrian was a leper or something. Didn’t want to touch him and couldn’t wait to be away.”

I started the Explorer and drove the few blocks to his apartment. “You already know what I think about Andrew. Your brother is a really sweet guy… even if he does almost always win at Scrabble.”

“Yeah, but you act like you’re not put off by his condition.”

“I’m not. My brother’s a psychologist, remember? We talk a lot and I just probably know a lot more than most people about conditions. Plus, I’m in healthcare and I’ve seen a ton of stuff. I figure we’re all fucked up one way or another, more or less, you know? It’s just that for some of us you can see it… for the rest of us it’s hidden away and most of us work hard to hide it and look ‘normal’… whatever that is. With Adrian, what you see is what you get. With most of the rest of us it’s a struggle to get us to open up and show the real us because that lets other people in to see what the problems really are.”

We’d parked in front of his apartment building, and he turned in the seat. “That’s pretty heavy. So, you’re admitting to me that even though you’re a high-performance guy, you’re not as perfect as you look, and that you have problems, too?”

“Yeah, I not. Count on it.”

“And you don’t have a problem with me having a brother like Adrian… with Asperger’s?”

“Why would I?”

He paused and I could see an expression that seemed like fear, and it almost looked like tears could easily start leaking. “Because I’m the only person, the only family, Adrian has left. We’re like… together.”

He was sitting with his hands on his thighs, just above his knees, squeezing his legs like he was nervous. I reached over and put my right hand on his left.

“Relax about it, okay. I can see how much you love him and take care of him.” He looked at me, questioningly. “I know you and Adrian are a package deal.”

His eyes widened at the same time as the smile started to form. Then his lips took on that incredible sweet shape as the smile widened.

He lifted my hand in his and pulled me over to him. “Thank you,” he said softly as he leaned my way and pulled me in to a kiss. It got passionate quickly, and I went as long as I could leaning across the console. Finally, I said, “You’re the best kisser I know, but I can’t handle this console digging into my ribs anymore.”

He giggled and let me go. “You’re a pretty amazing kisser, too. Very sensuous! And thanks again for what you said about Adrian. You don’t know what that means to me.”

 

Seth

The first two days at my new job had gone great and I was stoked, like I told Wilt… but that was nothing to how I felt when he said what he did about Adrian. I hadn’t meant to tell him the bit about Andrew acting like my brother was a leper. It just came out because we’d been sharing about ourselves and our families. And then he told me he knows Adrian and I are a package deal!

Wow! And if that wasn’t enough, he admits he’s fucked up in his own way and has his own problems. I mean when he said we all have problems, it sounds so reasonable, but really! Who just tells someone they’re getting close to that they’ve got problems?

I guess now that I say it, we’d both done that. I also guess that his psychologist brother would say that kind of honesty is a good way to start a relationship. I hope we’re starting a relationship. I just feel this pull. I want to be with him, be part of him.

Deep breath! Better chill on that part for a while.

I got organized for the next day, my third at the new job, and heard my phone ping.

<The weather for tomorrow afternoon and Saturday looks bad. How about we walk the dogs with Adrian on Sunday?>

Yay! Even after what I’d said we’re moving ahead.

<Sounds good to me. Bet it’ll be a shitty Friday night commute home for those people that have to drive, lol!>

A couple of minutes later his reply came in.

<You’ve got that right. Lucky us. Also, for the record… lucky me. I can still feel your lips on mine!”

I decided I didn’t need to reply to that one… I just held it close to my heart.

 

Wilt

We were doing our walk on Sunday, and both had planned chores for Saturday. It was raining hard and windy. It dawned on me that going to the grocery store and stuff wouldn’t be fun, and I didn’t know the details of Seth’s vehicle.

<I just finished breakfast and plan on going shopping and running some errands. Wanna go with me, and we can save on gas?>

I thought that was neutral enough… just reaching out to help a friend.

<You can only save on gas if you’re driving your car. Mine’s a beater and I don’t trust it.>

Okay, so now I knew about that part.

<Fine. Then how about instead of you getting soaking wet and freezing your ass off in the rain, you keep me company and make me happy?>

When I hit send, I immediately had that after-the-button-push feeling that I’d given too much away. I wanted his company, and it was his company that made me happy. Oh, well! It was a few minutes, as if he was thinking about what to say.

<I’m all for not getting soaking wet and freezing my ass off. I’m also happy to keep you company. If I make you happy… will you make me happy? 😳>

I’d set myself up for that, hadn’t I?

<Yes, and yes. I’ll pick you up around ten o’clock, okay?>

He gave me the thumbs up and what unfolded was a day of grocery shopping, a stop at the liquor store, the laundromat because his apartment didn’t come with a washer/dryer and a couple of other errands.

It was about four when I dropped him off, and he said, “Thanks for another great day. It was way more fun doing it together. So, now to make up for that and since it’s my turn, will you have dinner with me… here?”

I smiled to myself. Turn around is fair play. “So, now you’re setting up the second date of the week?”

He smiled back, very coyly. “No, today was the second date of the week. Dinner will be the third one.”

Okay, then! “What time do you want me here?”

“How about six thirty. That’ll give you plenty of time to walk and feed the dogs, take a nap, freshen up… you know.”

“I’m helping cook, too. Just like you did.”

“Cool. See you then”

I was back on time with a bottle of wine, and Seth immediately put me to work in the kitchen. He had some music on I recognized but couldn’t identify. Like the previous weekend, we worked just fine doing the various parts of preparing dinner. He was roasting a chicken, which impressed me.

“I don’t know to cook all that many dishes, but my grandmother taught me the basics and a handful of dinner dishes. This is one of those dishes that’s way more impressive that it’s difficult.”

“Meaning?”

“That it’s not hard to roast a chicken. Rub it with some oil and sprinkle some herbs and into the oven. The hard part is what goes with it and getting the timing right.” He partially opened the oven door to look in and then said, “I’m guessing twenty minutes. We’ve having mushroom risotto with it, and that’s cooked and just needs to warm. You cut up all the veggies for the salad. Let’s have another glass of wine and I’ll put the newest Coldplay album on, and we’ll chill for a few.”

“I like your thinking.”

We settled on the couch, side by side, leaning together with my arm around his shoulder and talked about cooking and life and other things I don’t remember. After we ate and washed the dishes and cleaned up the kitchen, we settled back down on the couch. This time around we weren’t making small talk, and before long we were making out big time.

The wine had relaxed us both and we were enjoying each other’s company. He’d looked so damn cute cooking and washing dishes in those tight jeans. It wasn’t long before we were laying side by side, kissing and stroking each other’s face and chest, and then I felt his hand over my crotch. It felt so warm and alive, so damn sexy and hot… and it had been so long since another hand was there. I groaned, and Seth took that as agreement.

Within a minute I was rubbing his groin, too, and he was groaning into my mouth. He was already hard and felt so good in my hand. His fingertips were running up and down my shaft, and even through my clothes it was electric. It was when I felt him start to unzip my pants that I pulled up short.

I don’t know why that was the trigger, but I pulled back and heard myself saying, “Seth, hey, we can’t be doing that. I mean, I really like kissing and hugging you, but we’ve got to think about what this is.”

He looked at me in total shock. “What do you mean what this is? I thought what this is, is a developing relationship that’s totally great. Am I missing something?”

“Well, I mean, we’ve only known each other a little while, and there’s our age difference and we’re both kind of rebounding and…”

Seth sat up and looked at me. “Wait, I don’t know what you mean. People get together and make out and feel each other up and fuck or whatever within hours or days. We’ve known each other over a month and have gotten closer and closer, right?”

I nodded, feeling stupid and confused. He sounded so logical.

“We’ve been spending more and more time together and know we’re compatible. We’ve been kissing and making out, so what’s the problem? I really, really like you. I’m pretty sure you really like me. So, what’s the problem? I’m pretty sure you’re not celibate, right?”

Now I felt doubly stupid. “No, not celibate, that’s for sure. I’m just… you’ve got to understand that it’s harder for me…”

“Why?” He hadn’t let me finish my sentence. “Because your last partner died? Fine, I get that ‘cause I only got dumped. You told me your relationship was breaking down for a long time, and I’m really sorry to hear that. But it’s over. I’m hung up, too. But we’ve both got to get over those relationships. They’re finished and what we’ve got is new and exciting. It’s full of possibilities. Don’t you see that?”

He was so sincere and so sweet, his eyes pleading for understanding.

“I do understand what you’re saying. That’s why it’s hard. I was about as many years younger than Patrick as you are younger than me. I know how hard it is to make a relationship with an age difference like that work.”

He looked at me like I’d offended him. “This is you and me, not you and Patrick. We can make it work if we want to.” He eyes glinted and he was defiant.

“Okay, I’ll give you that. But I told you I’ve got problems I’m sorting out.”

“So. Tell me about them.”

“I mean my partner died.”

“I know, and I’m really sorry.”

“But I didn’t feel that bad.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, like I told you, the relationship was breaking down. If he hadn’t gotten cancer we’d most probably have broken up. Then he got sick and died. And it was kind of a relief. It solved a problem. I felt like shit when I realized that’s how I felt.”

“But you stayed with him through it all.”

“What else could I do?”

“You were loyal and committed. What more is there?”

“That’s what my brother said. Still, it doesn’t change the fact that I felt like that and now feel guilty. And then when I got the dogs.”

“Where do the dogs fit in this?”

“I got them almost a year before Patrick got diagnosed. Things were going downhill, and I got two dogs.”

“What’s not to like? They’re great. Patrick must have loved them, too.”

“He did, but that’s not the point. He went along with it because that’s what I wanted to do. A while later my brother told me what he saw going on. It’s called diversion and transference. In other words, the dogs became a diversion from the relationship going downhill. Like a couple adopting children to try and save their marriage. And then transferring the love and attention onto the dogs instead of on our relationship.”

“Have you talked to your brother about all of this?”

“Just about everything.”

“And what does he say?”

“He was brutally honest. When the relationship started breaking down, he pointed out that he thought part of why I was with an older man was to get the affirmation I’d never received from our father. That was hard to hear.”

“Yeah, no doubt. But people are complex, right?”

“They are, and I think I reconciled myself to that truth, but it wasn’t the only thing I found attractive about Patrick when we got together. Meaning, I was attracted to him and thought I loved him for who he was, and that he loved me, too. But it obviously wasn’t enough for the long haul.”

“What did your brother say about the dogs?”

“Apart from telling me what I was doing at the time, that I was making too much of feeling guilty about it. That people do all kinds of things to cope with their situations. That what matters most is that I cared enough to stick with it and saw it through and took care of Patrick.”

“That makes sense to me. Have you thought about one other thing?”

“What’s that?”

“That maybe without the dogs you wouldn’t have been able to make it through?”

That comment left me wordless. Maybe he’d hit the nail on the head. They had made all the difference, but behind all of this was my own… what? If I was brutally honest, it was my own fear of being hurt again.

“I care a lot for you Seth, and I’m not minimizing what you went through with Andrew, I… I just don’t know if I can love again… like that.”

Seth wasn’t giving up. “Well, it seems to me you can if you care enough.”

 

Seth

I’m no therapist, that’s for sure, even if it felt like it for a while. What I realized, though, was that Wilt was beating himself up for something he pretty much had no control over, just like I had been. Yeah, his deal was much bigger, a long-term relationship falling apart and a partner dying. Mine was just getting dumped by a boyfriend and having a brother with Asperger’s. But still. It felt like the same shit.

Knock yourself down, beat yourself up, start feeling guilty about it, feel bad about yourself… and then knock yourself down again and the pattern repeats. We talked about that, and how I thought we were both doing similar kinds of things and that we weren’t being honest about the situation or fair to ourselves.

He was kind of defensive for a while, but not much, and he seemed to accept the logic of it and agreed that we’d both kind of isolated ourselves in our misery.

“So, what about the age difference?”

“Wilt, who cares? I don’t. I told you I like high performance older guys.”

He grinned, his eyes twinkling. “That sounds like a new thing for you.”

“Truth? It is. But you know what, if we both like what we have and want it to work, why can’t we make it happen? And for the record, my mom died of breast cancer and my dad died in a car accident. They both accepted me being gay just like they accepted Adrian having Asperger’s. I’m not looking for affirmation from an older man.”

“I told you I’ve been through this before, the other way around, but still. You’re still willing to chance it?”

“Yeah. It’s how I feel about you. I want to be with you.”

“I’m willing to try it if you are.” It floored me that he said it. Maybe it just came out?

I leaned closer and kissed him softly. “There’s a really great Coldplay song called Everyday Life, that’s one of my favorites. It has a killer verse.

'Cause everyone hurts

Everyone cries

Everyone sees the color in each other's eyes

Everyone loves

Everybody gets their hearts ripped out

Got to keep dancing when the lights go out

 

“We’ve both had our hearts ripped out, we’ve hurt, and we’ve cried. How about now we see the color in each other’s eyes, love a little and keep dancing if the lights go out?”

He looked at me in disbelief.

“Why are you surprised? I like music and I was an English major. I’m just stating the obvious. Are you on board?”

I looked into his hazel eyes. It seemed like he was asking himself, was it worth it?

“Yeah, I’m on board. For you, I’m on board”

We spent the rest of the evening just holding each other, making small talk and enjoying the simple pleasure of being in each other’s arms.

Wilt went home late, and Sunday afternoon we all took a walk with Adrian. I worried a little in the morning about how he’d be after how heavy it had gotten the night before. But when Wilt arrived to pick me up there was no hesitation. He pulled me into a hug and gave me a kiss and simply said, “Thanks for everything last night. The talk and the affection. It was wonderful.”

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were busy for both of us. It’s amazing how many people want to have surgery right before Christmas. Maybe it’s a way to avoid family Christmas celebrations! I also felt like I was underwater trying to get my head around how the insurance business worked. But more importantly was the reality that my first job was to learn how the office operated so I could make sure it ran smoothly and efficiently for Craig. The details about insurance policies I could get easily by asking him or one of the office team.

 

Wilt

The community center was closed on the Thursday before Christmas, so Seth had arranged to join Adrian for dinner at the foster home. I invited him over afterwards to see a movie and hang out. I had a couple of IPAs to choose from, and we settled down on the couch to watch.

Seth wanted us to watch Boys which I guess I’d heard of but never seen and that he’d seen before and assured me I would totally love. It being the story about innocent friendship developing into love. I had to admit I was intrigued, and it was totally engaging and moving… even if Seth’s description seemed a little Freudian to me.

I knew Seth was completely into the story of how Sieger and Marc realize that their friendship was developing into something much deeper and more emotional, because of how he moved as we were watching it. Moved from sitting next to me to leaning on me, to slipping an arm around my waist… which I responded to by putting an arm around his shoulders and pulling him close. I was enjoying every bit of it, the entire experience of our bodies being so close together. Of feeling his heat and just how sexy he felt in my arms. Before the movie was over, we’d somehow rearranged ourselves so that I was leaning on a couple of pillows in the corner of the couch and Seth was between my legs leaning back on my chest. I held him close to me and softly run my hands over his abdomen and up to his pecs and over his nipples. When I did, he grabbed and squeezed my thighs and sighed, “Ahh, that feels so good. Your hands are so sexy.”

“You are very sexy,” I whispered back in his ear. “In fact, your name is sexy. If I say Seth slowly, like Se-ee-ee-th, it almost sounds like saying sex, don’t you think?”

He giggled and pulled my arms close to him as the movie continued.

By the end of the movie, I was plumping up and I knew he knew it, and I could see his pants were a little fuller, too. He tipped his head back and pursed his lips… a clear invitation for a kiss. I leaned forward and responded, and as soon as our lips touched, his tongue was in my mouth, dueling with my tongue. After twenty seconds or so I realized it wasn’t comfortable for me, and had to be more uncomfortable for him, so I moved to have him turn over and face me.

He shook his head and lifted his weight on his hands, still resting on my thighs. What he was doing was sliding up my groin so that his ass was riding on my now pretty hard cock. I groaned and he sighed, “So good,” and kept slowly and softly rubbing his ass on me. The harder I got the more uncomfortable it was in my pants, so I said, “This feels wonderful, but wait a sec… I need to rearrange.”

I reached down, while he lifted up, and pulled my now hard cock free and laid it on my belly. He was obviously paying attention to what I’d done because as soon as I put my arms back under his shirt and started stroking his chest, he started rubbing on my cock again. This time, though, it was with an exaggerated motion, his crack riding up and then down the entire length of the underside of my cock. It was blissful, even if it was through my clothes. I continued to stroke his chest, kissing his ears and the side of his head, lost in sensations I hadn’t experienced for so long that I’d almost forgotten.

Then suddenly the sensations started to overtake me. “Oh, fuck! Seth, if you keep this up, I’m going to cum in my pants.”

He didn’t slow down one bit, instead sighing out, “Yeah, that’s the idea!”

My logical mind was trying to process the fact that this beautiful young man was purposefully working to make me feel this good and to get me off, while my nervous system was trying to process the raw sensations that were racing through it. It didn’t take long for my logical brain to lose the fight and suddenly I was cumming, a totally over the top explosion of pure sensuousness… the first brought on by another person in years. It didn’t matter that it was in my clothes. What mattered was what motivated it and how it felt. I was totally lost for a few seconds, breathless as I gasped into the hair on the side of his head… then fell back onto the pillow.

 

Seth

I’d told Wilt I wanted to watch Boys with him because I’d seen it and liked it, but I also knew it was about two guys discovering each other while they shared a common interest. For them it was training for a relay race. For us it was dogs and our life together and Adrian… all the stuff we’d shared together over the last weeks. We’d gotten past kissing and making out and even grinding on each other, and I think Wilt had even realized most of what he was hung up about with our relationship was in his head.

As we watched the movie, we got closer and closer on the couch and ended up almost on top of each other with me between his legs and leaning on his chest. When Sieger and Marc had their first kiss, that clicked for me. Wilt and I had turned a corner. We’d had that first kiss and we were now exploring and developing our relationship… and I knew what I wanted it to be. I also knew what I wanted sexually. He wasn’t there yet, but he was close, and knowing that and almost not even thinking about what would happen, I started rubbing my ass on his cock. He got hard fast, then had to readjust and that made it even better as he pulled his cock up on his belly and I could now make long strokes along the length. He didn’t last long, but when he came it was so intense it was like he was going to lose it. Just what I wanted.

Then, in a minute, when he’d recovered, he pulled me back tighter against him so he could kiss the side of my head and whisper how totally amazing that had been. I was so happy, and he was stroking his hands over my belly and up over my chest again, and then slowly his hands slid down and went under the waist of my jeans, his fingers under the elastic of my briefs, the fingertips playing in my pubes.

God! What a turn on. My high-performance guy was rubbing my pubes, nuzzling my ear, kissing and licking, and I tipped my head back, so it was resting on him. I barely felt his hands pull out of my pants and undo my belt and then the button and finally unzip my jeans. His hands slipped back in, able to go further down now, and his fingertips stroked around the base of my cock. I was totally hard and straining in my clothes, and he knew it because he whispered, “Lift up.” When I did, he pushed my jeans and briefs down and immediately took my cock in one hand and nuzzled under my balls with the other.

“I want you to feel as good as you made me feel,” he whispered softly in my ear. I knew I already was feeling great, but within a minute my hips were thrusting up into his hand and in no time he had me shooting up onto my belly and chest. It was so intense, another hand on my cock after so long. When I’d finished cumming and relaxed back against him and caught my breath, I said softly, “That was so intense, so amazing. You made me feel so good.”

“That was the plan.”

“We’re a total mess, you know.”

“Yeah, so. That’s why they make washing machines.”

 

Wilt

We decided we could wash our own clothes, and I walked Seth home hand in hand. We didn’t say much. We didn’t have to. It had been such a pleasant and satisfying evening together. Even without the sex it would have still been a great evening.

I kissed him passionately at the door to his apartment building, and he kissed me back every bit as strongly. He leaned back, looking at me from down the length of his arms and said, “I can’t tell you how strongly I’m feeling about us… about you.”

I was watching his blue eyes, and even though there were warning flags waving in the back of my mind that said, “Here it comes!” I ignored them and replied, “I’m feeling that way, too. I didn’t think I’d be able to care about someone this way again.”

He pulled me close and then gave me a quick kiss. “Let’s talk in the morning. Tomorrow’s Christmas Eve, so that makes it an even more special day!”

As I walked home, reflecting on all that happened in the last three hours, I asked myself why? Why was I walking home alone? Why hadn’t I asked him to stay with me, so we could hold each other as we fell asleep and wake up together?

The simple truth was because I wasn’t there yet. I still hadn’t resolved the challenges of our age differences, my hang ups, the responsibilities I already had to the business and the dogs and the practical reality that Seth had a brother he cared very deeply about who had Asperger’s Syndrome. Add it all up and there was plenty to consider.

As I took the dogs out for a last short walk, I felt a little guilty… like I hadn’t really expressed what I’d felt this evening. I pulled out my phone.

<Thanks for one of the best evenings of my life. I don’t know what’s happening to me, I’m not sure I’ve ever felt this way before, but just… thanks.>

I was brushing my teeth when I heard the ping on my phone.

<It was one of the best evenings of my life, too. I do know what’s happening to me. ♥>

I fell asleep pondering that. Was this love. Was it possible… now… again?

 

Seth

I knew he was struggling with his feelings and what he was going through and probably overcoming some fear, and that it was probably easier for me than him. Even so, there! I’d said it. Or, at least, I’d texted it so he could chew on it and not have to freak out hearing me tell him that I love him. I fell asleep happily sated and dreaming of what it could be.

In the morning I texted him just to check in on times. Wilt’s brother’s family had dinner on Christmas Eve, and he was going to be with them, so I was having it with Adrian at the foster home. He’d pick us up there about seven and the plan was that we were having the rest of Christmas Eve at his house.

Adrian had gotten accustomed enough to Donner and Blitzen and visiting Wilt’s house that it hardly excited him at all anymore. We hopped in the back seat of the Explorer when Wilt pulled up and were warmly greeted by the two dogs in the rear cargo area.

When we got to Wilt’s house he had some plum pudding with a great cream sauce, and Adrian had ginger ale while Wilt and I had a glass of wine. Adrian wanted to play Uno, and it took five or ten minutes to teach Wilt how the game went, and we played three games—two of which Adrian won. I gave Wilt the eye, as if to say, ‘just like Scrabble!’ He laughed.

Then he said, “Alright you guys, come on, time for Christmas presents.” We put away the Uno cards and settled in the living room in front of his little Christmas tree.

He looked at us deviously, then reached behind the tree and pulled out two boxes, one of which he handed to each of us.

I was immediately suspicious. I recognized the size and that the two were the same dimensions. Adrian quickly said, “Can I open it?” to which Wilt said, “Of course.”

Adrian proceeded to pull off the wrapping paper and was holding in his hand the box with a new iPhone. His eyes got as big as saucers, like they do when he’s really surprised. “Wow! Cool! A new phone. I’ve never had a phone before.”

I looked at Wilt, then down at the gift in my hand and back at him. “You can’t do this.”

He grinned at me. “Sure, I can. Adrian needs to be able to communicate with you if and when he needs to. You also told me that your phone is a lease deal you got when you were working at the wireless company. Who knows how long that’ll last? I want you to have your own phone so we can communicate whenever we need to.”

“That makes sense, but it’s a lot of money.”

He looked at me pleadingly. “Seth, I can afford it. Will you please just accept it?”

That made me feel like an ingrate, so I smiled and told him I would happily do so. Before I could unwrap my present, though, Adrian said to me, “Can we do it now?” He was grinning and looking quite animated.

I smiled back and said, “Adrian, are you saying we should give Wilt and Donner and Blitzen their presents?”

“Yes, yes!” His face was now fully animated.

I said, “Okay” and retrieved the package that was under my coat where I’d left it when we came in.

I gave it to Adrian who handed it to Wilt and said, “This is for you… and Donner and Blitzen.”

Wilt smiled and gave Adrian a hug and looked my way.

“I didn’t know what to buy, but Adrian did. It was his idea and I bought it for him. The credit’s all his.”

Wilt looked simultaneously happy and quizzical, as if he was wondering about a Christmas present chosen for him by a kid with Asperger’s. I knew it was going to be great.

He carefully unwrapped the package, and as he pulled out the two gifts inside, he looked totally confused, then there was a dawning realization of what they were, and a further understanding of just what the significance was.

He was holding in his hand two overstuffed reindeer antlers for dogs. It started as a smile, then broke into a grin and that spread all over his face before he started laughing. “These are totally awesome!” He turned to Adrian and added, “Donner and Blitzen are finally going to look like reindeer!”

He handed them to me and said, “I think you and your brother need to do the honors.”

The dogs had comfortably curled up in front of the couch and had probably been asleep until they heard Wilt start laughing. Still, we had to make them sit up so we could put the antlers on their heads and then take pictures of each of them.

Things settled down after than and it wasn’t long before we had to walk Adrian back to the foster home. He was thrilled that the dogs still had their antlers on, and made the foster parents come out on the porch and see Donner and Blitzen wearing them.

We said goodnight to them all and started walking to my apartment. We were holding hands, each of us with a dog leash, and when we got halfway there, he stopped me.

“I want you to know, I understood the text you sent me last night with the heart.”

I felt my eyes widen and I tried not to smile. “You did? You didn’t reply or say anything today.”

“I know. I had some more processing to do. You know, about my hang ups. Anyway, I’m at a place I can say it now. I’m pretty sure I love you, too!”

“You are?”

“Pretty damn sure. I filled my brother and his family in on the details about us today and my brother said, ‘sounds like you’re in love.’ Later, when we were washing pots and pans, he asked me if I was in love.”

I couldn’t help it and smiled wryly. “And?”

Wilt smiled back. “He said that it was long overdue. Then he asked me again if I was. I said Yes, and his next question was if I’d told you yet. He knows me way too well. So, now I’m telling you, but I have one more question.”

I had felt my smile turn huge and his hazel eyes were sparkling in the light from the overhead streetlamps. As calmly as I could I said, “And what question would that be?”

“It’s Christmas Eve and we’ve exchanged gifts. Why am I walking you home to an empty apartment? Why don’t you come back with us? I really want you to spend the night with me.”

He was quiet, waiting for my answer.

I thought to myself, This is the gift I really wanted.

After a few seconds I said, “I will if you make love to me.”

A smile spread across his face. Then he said, “only if you make love to me, too!”

Donner & Blitzen

The image is provided using photos from Pinterest, both in the public domain and provided here under the doctrine of ' fair use ' which is believed to apply.