By Anel Viz
Illustrated by Eve le Dez
[Originally published in two parts over Issues 10 and 11]
~ 1 ~
Alfred Damier didn’t get home from work till after seven-thirty, his eyes red with fatigue and his sandy brown hair looking a bit wild from having run his fingers through his curls over and over as he yawned in the car. He’d put in his full eight hours at the supermarket the day before and then had to go back at eleven to supervise restocking the shelves, which the general manager insisted on rearranging completely now that summer had come.
As he expected, his mother was already up and about, but not in her robe and slippers. She had dressed for the day, in a grey skirt and white blouse that barely contained her ample bosom, not just a housedress. Mother and son could not have looked more different. Though tiny and roundly plump, her stiff posture gave her a severe air that bespoke a woman set in her ways, while he gave the impression of being unsure of himself despite his slim, muscular build and above average height. Her head, its grey hair pulled back in a tight bun, hardly reached his shoulders. Her wire-rimmed glasses couldn’t hide the wrinkles at the corner of her steel grey eyes, while his, honey colored, had always enjoyed 20/20 vision.
“Good morning, Mom. You look nice. Planning on going out?”
She smiled at the compliment. “Cissy’s back from university,” she said.
“Is that all you have to say? Your high school sweetheart comes home, and all you can say is ‘That’s nice’?”
“Cissy was not my high school sweetheart.”
“You took her on dates.”
“Twice, and not since our sophomore year.”
“I’ll never understand why you didn’t ask her to the prom instead of that silly Housley girl with the freckles.”
“Jenna? What was silly about Jenna?”
“I was being kind, calling her careless instead of wanton, though if you ask me, she was both. A mother and barely out of high school! And it was silly of her not to say who the father was, letting him off the hook like that. You’re lucky she didn’t name you.”
“Why would she have named me? I’ve told you a hundred times I’m not the father.”
“Well, more than once. You asked when we found out about it and again when the baby was born.”
“I asked because I was worried. It’s only natural. I’m not naïve. I know what goes on at proms nowadays.”
“I told you. Nothing went on. I kissed her good night. Is that a crime?”
“Testy this morning, aren’t we?”
“I’m sorry.” He realized that his answers to his mother had become a tad snide lately, like a rebellious teenager. She hardly ever noticed, or she pretended not to. Why would she? He never did in front of other people and nearly always gave in to her, so he didn’t accomplish anything by it. By way of apology, he launched into an explanation. “I’m just tired. I had a hard night of it, trying to get it all right, or as close to right as possible. It’s the same every time. Carl’s diagrams didn’t leave enough room in some aisles. It was a nightmare. Boxes all over the floor making it impossible to walk through. I didn’t think we’d get it cleared up before noon.”
“I’ll never understand why Carl has to rearrange everything every couple of months.”
“Because people are looking for different things in summer. Not just produce. Less canned goods, more things to barbecue, more cold drinks…”
“But why put everything somewhere else so no one knows where it is?”
“I dunno. To give the place a new look, I suppose, and so people will see things not on their list while they’re trying to find what they want and end up buying more.”
“Now isn’t that clever of him!”
“All supermarkets do it.”
“They didn’t use to. Do you know who the father was?”
“Of Jenna’s baby? I have no idea. Is it any of our business?”
“I suppose not. But it did give me some sleepless nights thinking about it.”
“The prom? I told you, nothing happened.”
“How could I be sure? You never told me what did happen. ‘Did you have a good time? — Yes, it was a lot of fun.’ Fun! What was I to think, out almost all night and all?”
“Pregnancies don’t last eleven and a half months.”
“You don’t have to tell me that.”
Alfred bit his lip. If anything, she should have told him so he would not have had to go to the library for his sex education. He didn’t say it, though, for he knew what was coming next. She was saying it already.
“I know how long pregnancies are. I carried you for nine months, and I haven’t forgotten what it was like delivering you. Poor girl, to have to go through that alone!”
“She wasn’t alone. She had her family.”
“Yes, they stood by her, didn’t they? I’m not sure I would’ve. Saints, that’s what they are. It must have been a martyrdom. Would you like some breakfast? There’s coffee.”
“No coffee; it’ll keep me up. Just a glass of milk and a piece of toast.”
“Is that all? That’s no breakfast!”
“Some cheese with it, then.”
“Should I make you a sandwich?”
“No thank you. I’ll have a real meal after I get up. Right now I just want to go straight to bed. Won’t even take the time to shower. Might wake me up. It’s a good thing I don’t have to work today.”
Mrs. Damier crinkled her nose. “You’ll shower.”
Alfred went into the kitchen and sat down at the table while his mother put down two pieces of toast and sliced the cheese thick. She also took a blueberry yoghurt out of the fridge.
“I told you, just toast and cheese.”
“If you don’t eat it I can put it back, can’t I?”
“And don’t fill the glass too high.”
“I’ve already poured it.”
She set his breakfast down on the table and sat across from him with a loud sigh of fake contentment, waiting for him to say something. He could guess about what.
“Is Hal back too?” he asked. Hal was Cissy’s kid brother.
“I haven’t seen him. Why ask about him? He wasn’t your friend.”
“I’m holding a spot for him at the supermarket. I need to know if he’ll be wanting it. Summer jobs are very much in demand, the economy being the way it is.”
“That’s very thoughtful of you. You’ll have to ask Cissy when you see her.”
“Good. Then I’ll know soon.”
“So you are going to see her.”
Alfred rolled his eyes. How could he not see her? She lived right next door.
* * * *
Alfred slept till nearly two. Lots of sunshine, as the morning had promised. Hot, too; they’d need the AC. He got out of bed, straightened his boxers which had got all twisted in his sleep, and shuffled over to close the window. Cissy was stretched out on a lounge chair on her back patio, sunning, an open book face down on the ground next to her and a tall drink beside it. Her white bikini matched the thick layer of cream on her nose. She’d let her hair grow. It came down to her shoulders now, thick and curly and shiny dark brown. Very pretty girl. Woman, he ought to say. She filled the bikini nicely; overfilled the bottom half, but that was the bikini, not her.
“Alfred!” The first syllable glissandoing up a major sixth to the second, louder and a hair sharp.
“Are you up?”
“I thought that was you moving around. What should I make for your lunch?”
“A sandwich will do.”
“There’s leftover meatloaf. Should I use that?”
“Are you decent? I don’t suppose you bothered putting on pajamas.”
“I will be soon. Just give me a few minutes and I’ll come down for lunch.”
“Potato chips with that?”
“Potato chips will be fine. Have you turned on the AC yet?”
“Do you think we’ll need it?”
“I’m sure we will.”
“Then I will. What should I pour you to drink?”
“What about a pickle?”
He’d already made it to the bathroom. He turned on the water so she’d stop asking him about lunch. She certainly was in one of her insistent moods today!
“Cissy’s in back,” his mother said when he came to the table.
“I know. I saw her from the window.”
“She’s wearing a bikini.”
“I saw that too. I thought you didn’t like bikinis.”
“I thought you did. It’s a hot day. She’s drinking iced tea. I hope it’s iced tea.”
“Then it probably is.” Of the Long Island variety, he thought.
“I’ve made iced tea too. Would you like a glass with your sandwich?”
“That’d be good.”
“Aren’t you going to say hello to Cissy?”
“She may not be there anymore.”
“What’s the rush? If not today, then tomorrow or the day after.”
“She won’t be in town long. She’s leaving for Europe. She told me. Six whole weeks!”
“Don’t talk with your mouth full. I didn’t ask.”
“Then I guess I won’t be seeing that much of her. She’ll have more than enough to do getting ready for her trip.”
“You could take in a movie,” Mrs. Damier persisted. “She asked about you, by the way. I think she’s interested in you.”
“Really, Mom! She was just being polite.”
“So why can’t you be polite and go see her? And why wouldn’t she be interested in a good-looking boy like you? You’re very handsome, you know. Everybody says so.”
“I’m okay, I guess.”
“You’re better than okay. And don’t think Cissy can’t see it.”
“I’m sure she has a boyfriend at school, probably several.”
“Who else is there?”
“How should I know who her boyfriends are?”
“I meant you.”
“Does there have to be somebody?”
“Alfred! You’re twenty-six years old…”
“And working in a supermarket. For Heaven’s sake, look at the two of us. She’s taking graduate courses in something or other…”
“…and I only finished high school and work at the local supermarket.”
“As a manager. How many people get to be a manager before they’re twenty-five?”
“We have lots of managers. And I’m twenty-six.”
“And you’ve been a manager for two years. Don’t talk yourself down. Though I’ll never understand why you didn’t go to college.”
“My grades, Mom.”
“What was wrong with your grades? So you didn’t get A’s all the time. Everybody can’t get all A’s.”
“I don’t think I got any.”
“Well, you had more than enough B’s to make up for all those C’s, and only one D. Anyone can find a college willing to take them. You just have to put in the effort to look around. I read it in a magazine. Are you done? Would you like some more?”
“I’m good, thanks.”
“Then water my herbs, will you? I forgot to this morning, and the sun’s hot. You can say hello to Cissy at the same time.”
Dutifully, Alfred went to get the watering can from the garage and filled it at the outside faucet in back. How long would she keep it up? She was always like that when Cissy was in town. Good thing she was leaving for Europe.
“Oh, hi, Alfie. Over visiting your mom?”
“I live here.” She had to have known that. His mother would have said something.
“I thought you were thinking of getting a place of your own.”
“Changed my mind. Mom needs my help, what with Dad gone and all, and it’s a lot cheaper that way for both of us. Gives me a chance to save up so I can buy a real house and not have to rent when I get married.”
“You could still live here. Your mom would give you the master bedroom.”
She was being catty. As if his wife would want to move into a house some other woman had furnished and decorated! And what were the chances she and his mother would get along?
“I hear you’re going to Europe.”
“Six whole weeks! You’ll see every museum there is.”
“That would take a lifetime. And I’ll spend a little time in other countries, too. At least Paris and Amsterdam. For the modern art.”
“Are you going alone?”
“I’ve arranged to meet a friend.”
Boyfriend, probably. “Hal back too?”
“Not for another two weeks. He made the soccer team, and there’s a training camp. Another right before classes start again, but I think that one only lasts a week.”
“Yes, varsity, and him just a sophomore. He’s very excited.”
“Are you sure it’s only a week in August? Right before the season?”
“I could be wrong.”
“Anyway, I’ve been holding a spot for him at the supermarket. Maybe he can even cashier this time. Do you think he’ll want it?”
“Maybe. He was talking about finding a counselor position at a summer camp somewhere. Now that he’s on a college team they’ll be hot to take him.”
“I suspect those jobs are mostly filled by now. They pay lousy, too. He’d make more as a stock boy.”
“They give him room and board.”
“He’d get that at home, and wouldn’t have work to round the clock.”
“But he’d be out in the fresh air doing what he likes.”
“Taking care of kids?”
“Well, ask him about it when you speak to him. I can’t hold it open forever.”
“I’ll try not to forget.”
Hal called that evening.
“Hey, Alfie. Celia tells me you’ve been holding a place for me at the store. That’s great. It looks like I’ll be needing it.”
“So you’ve decided not to be counselor?”
“Camp attendance is way down this year. People just can’t afford it, even with many of them going to three-week sessions.”
“Not unless I want to cook. No fun spending the summer over a hot stove.”
“So how long till you’re back? They’ll need to know when you can start.”
“A week from Friday. In time to say goodbye to my sister.”
“The Monday after, then?”
“That’d be great. Think you could get me on the day shift?”
“I’ll try. I’ll see you in a little over a week, then.”
“Thanks, Alfie. I really appreciate it.”
Day shift. That meant Hal would be working under him again. Well, why not? The kid was a good worker; no one could accuse him of playing favorites. Better remind him to call him Alfred, though. Alfie sounded too chummy.
What did Hal look like now? He’d missed him at Christmas. He must have grown up a lot in the past year. College does that. He’d always looked a lot like his sister — same eyes, same hair — and she was a knockout. Same smile, too, except Hal smiled more. Soccer, too. Good sport, that. Made you look muscular, but not muscle-bound. Alfred had always found him attractive. He didn’t fantasize about him or anything, but he knew what kind of attraction it was. He’d known since… how long? Hal couldn’t have been much over twelve. No, then it had registered that the kid was cute and would be a very handsome man someday, that’s all. The attraction had come later, after he’d realized a thing or two about himself.
Hal wasn’t a little boy anymore. Had to be at least nineteen, probably twenty. Who was he kidding? He’d be the kid’s boss, and he lived next door to them, for Christ’s sake. He’d known him since Hal was in first grade. It was practically incest. Funny he didn’t feel that way about his sister. Then he thought that if it stayed this hot, maybe he’d get to see him sunning in the back yard, like Celia. No harm in looking.
~ 2 ~
The heat wave didn’t let up until after Celia left. The worst in years. He’d only seen her again once, the following Friday, sunning on the patio. She hadn’t even gone to church.
On Saturday he convinced his mother to go to the pool. It took some doing.
“It’ll be just as hot there.”
“But you can go in the water. I’m sure we’ll find some place shady to sit.”
“You go. I’d just be in your way.”
“You can have one of their malts.”
“I don’t know. My arteries…”
He knew that would do it, though he didn’t know why he bothered. What would he do at the pool? Swim, until it got too crowded. Probably would be crowded by the time they got there.
It was. She didn’t go in the water. He did, just long enough to get wet. Then he joined her under the awning.
“Alfred, isn’t that Hal?”
“Looks like him. He must’ve got in last night. He got a crew cut.”
“And he’s wearing a Speedo! Have you ever? Since when does he wear Speedos?”
“It’s his school’s suit, Mom. See the insignia in front?”
“I didn’t look that closely. You have good eyes. Is he on the swimming team then?”
“So what he’s he doing wearing their bathing suit? Why can’t he wear trunks like everyone else? Those things are obscene.”
She would have to call his attention to that.
Hal waved and came to say hello.
“Hello, Mrs. Damier. Hi, Alfie.”
“Good afternoon, Hal.”
“I’m glad you called me that,” Alfred said, “or I’d have forgotten to remind you — ”
“Yes, I know. You’re Alfred at the supermarket. Have I ever slipped up?”
“How did the semester go, Hal?” Mrs. Damier asked. “Have you chosen a major yet?”
“You want to become an anthropologist?”
“I don’t really know what I want to be. I’m majoring in it because I think the classes are interesting.”
“Isn’t it about time you thought about your future?”
“I do think about it. A lot. I just haven’t made up my mind yet.”
“Well, I wouldn’t wait too long. It takes time to prepare a career.” Alfred felt sure her last comment was directed at him. “You’ve lost weight, Hal,” she continued.
“Have not. I gained five pounds this year. I’d put on more, but I lost it in training camp.”
“Don’t they feed you there?”
“Lots, but they keep you at it all day. At night I’d collapse on my bed and sleep like a log. What do you think, Alfred? Am I too thin?”
“You look great. Nice bathing suit, too. Even my mom commented on it.”
She shot him an angry glance. Ever in control, she said, “Don’t tease, Alfred. He didn’t put it on for us!”
He filled the suit nicely. That’s what his mother had meant by obscene. That bulge and the lovely line of fine dark hairs running down from his navel to… Gosh, he was wearing it low on his hips! Did he shave his crotch or something?
“I asked if you wanted to go in the water,” Hal said. “There’s no room to swim laps, and it’s no fun splashing around without someone to splash with you.”
“Didn’t Celia come?”
“One doesn’t ‘splash around’ with Celia. At least, I don’t.”
“Is Cissy here?” Mrs. Damier asked. “I didn’t see her.”
“No, she’s at home.”
“Packing, I expect.”
“Fretting is more like it. She’s been packed for a week.”
“So I imagine. She must be very excited.”
“I’ll say. How about it, Alfie?”
They hopped into the pool at the 4½ foot mark. On the way there Hal said, “Your mom still calls her Cissy, huh? She won’t be Cissy in Italy. It means ‘Yes, yes!’” and nudged him familiarly in the ribs. “And if they see it written it comes out more like ‘Cheesy’.”
Alfred had a great time splashing around and roughhousing with Hal like a couple of kids. He didn’t notice how late it was getting until his mother called them to the edge of the pool.
“I’ve had enough,” she said. “I’m going home.”
“Just give me a minute to dry off.”
“No, you stay here and have fun. I’ll take the car and Hal can drive you when you’re ready to leave. Won’t you, Hal?”
“No problem. C’mon, Alfie, stay. I only just got here.”
* * * *
Alfred had more to think about that night than Hal soaking up rays in the back yard. He had the locker room.
“I’m gonna change,” he’d said. “I hate driving in a wet suit.”
“What’ll I wear? I didn’t bring anything.”
“That’s okay; you can sit on your towel. But aren’t you going to rinse off all that chlorine?”
Hal’s Speedo had hidden everything he’d hoped for. Except for the crotch he didn’t shave, it had suggested what it held within. He’d never seen such a lovely penis. That didn’t mean much. How many penises had he seen besides his own? He’d have liked to, but he never browsed any of those magazines. They didn’t tempt him; pictures weren’t people. And he wouldn’t have dared if they had.
What was he doing thinking about Hal that way, anyway? He’d never thought of him that way before. Nor of anyone else, for that matter. He’d thought about it, of course, just not about anyone in particular. He’d lived twenty-six years without doing it — not even in his dreams — and suddenly, wham! He rolled onto his stomach and tucked his hands under the pillow to make them behave.
Celia was always friendly and showed polite interest, nothing more. Hal really liked him and always had. Alfred could tell. When he was a little boy, if he got a new toy, he used to show it to Alfred and seek his approval. He still did, after a fashion. Not with toys, of course, but just today at the pool he had asked what Alfred thought about his crew cut. He didn’t like it. That short you couldn’t see how the dark reddish brown matched the color of Hal’s eyes, and he missed its sleek straightness and how his bangs used to sweep across light skin of his forehead.
His question put Alfred on the spot. “It’s your hair,” he said.
“I know. That’s why I want it to look good. I cut it because it kept getting in my eyes on the soccer field, but a couple of my friends say it makes me look like a dork.”
“You could’ve just shortened the bangs.”
“Yeah, that’s what I was thinking. I’ll let it grow out again.”
Hal cared if he liked his hair. He wasn’t sucking up to him because he’d got him a job at the supermarket. It wasn’t just the hair, either. He’d also asked if Alfred wanted to go to the pool again tomorrow. He couldn’t; he had to work. It was his one Sunday a month, eight to six.
Hal had raised an eyebrow, facetiously. “Does that mean you’re skipping church? What does your mom have to say about that?”
“That all the big chains are run by heathens nowadays.”
Alfred had felt a little guilty making a crack like that about his mother. He’d done it to be chummy. Hal had laughed and said, “I wonder how Wal-Mart would answer that.” They were like little boys sharing secrets from their parents.
He wondered now if Hal had checked him out in the showers, too, and if so, if he liked what he saw. What were the chances that Hal was gay? He’d read somewhere that one man in ten was. If he wasn’t, then he wasn’t and that was that, and if he was, Hal would have to make the first move. He wouldn’t know how himself. He wouldn’t just want to have sex with him, though. It wouldn’t be right; he wasn’t like that. At least he hoped he wasn’t.
What would his mother think if they became lovers? How would he explain suddenly becoming best friends with a kid half a dozen years younger than him and still in school? Some kid! If he was gay, Hal would have to show him what to do. Embarrassing.
Oh, his mother would notice all right, and so would people at work. Let it lie; it’s not going to happen.
It would be nice, though, if it did.
Go to sleep, Alfred. You have to work in the morning.
* * * *
So the summer flew by. It was half over, Celia would be back from Europe soon, and then Hal would leave for soccer training. There had been no more feasting his eyes in the locker room, just Hal at work in jeans and a short-sleeve shirt and remembering what nestled behind his apron.
On a day they were both off, Alfred was working in the garden, mowing the lawn. Hal showed up in his back yard holding a soccer ball and asked over the fence, “Wanna go somewhere and kick this thing around? Whattaya say? I could use the practice.”
“I don’t know. I have a lot left to do here.”
“Go with him, Alfred.” His mother was at the back door. “You could use the exercise.”
“Mowing the lawn is exercise.”
“But not as much fun. Go, Alfred. The lawn can wait. You’ve done nothing all summer but stay at home and go to work.”
“You have any shorter shorts than those,” Hal asked, “and a decent pair of sneakers?”
“I think so. I’ll just grab a quick shower and — ”
“What for? We’re just going to sweat some more. Change into something you can play soccer in, and we’ll go. Better bring a towel, too, to wipe the sweat from your eyes.”
They drove to one playing field, then another. Little League games at all of them. They finally found an empty lot at the edge of town.
“Ever play soccer?”
“Let me show you a couple of moves before we start, then.”
Alfred had exaggerated his inexperience. He had played in the league until eighth grade. His game was rusty, but the moves Hal showed him were simple ones, and more came back to him. Moreover, he had agility and good reflexes, and a strong back and legs from lifting crates at the supermarket, so they played as decent a game as you can with only two people, laughed a lot, and quickly worked up a sweat.
“How about a swim before we head home?” Hal asked.
“It’s seven o’clock and a weekday. The pool’s closed by now. Besides, I didn’t bring a suit. Did you?”
“No, but I know this place on the lake nobody goes to where we can skinny dip. I bet you haven’t done that before.”
No, Alfred thought, nor anything else either. Was that why he told me to bring a towel? Is he out to seduce me? I hope so. No, that’s the last thing I want.
“So? Aren’t you tempted? You’re as sweaty as I am. That tee-shirt’s sticking to your back.”
Alfred would have been tempted if he were bone dry and cool as a cucumber. “It’s late already,” he said. “Mom will have dinner waiting. I should’ve been back an hour ago.”
“Call and tell her we decided to go for a swim. You can use my cell phone.”
“She knows I didn’t bring a suit.”
“How would she know that? And does that make a difference?”
“You don’t know my mom.”
“Aw, lighten up. You’re a grown-up now. Who is she to tell you what and what not to do?”
My mother, Alfred thought, but he caved in and called sooner than have Hal think he was a wuss. “How far to the lake?” he asked.
“From here? Fifteen, twenty minutes. Does that mean we’re going?”
How could Alfred resist that smile? He couldn’t stand up to anyone and… Well, skinny dipping with Hal. “You’re sure there’ll be no one there?”
“Cross my heart.”
At least twenty minutes to reach the lake and another fifteen to walk through the woods to Hal’s secret swimming hole, a little cove surrounded by dense bushes and tall trees. They had to push through the last of them, but there was a path — barely wide enough for one, but still a path. It could almost have passed for a beach if there’d been room for more than four or five to put down towels. No sand, but soft grass right up to the water’s edge and no weeds. The bank was about half a foot above the water.
“My dad used to bring me here to fish. That’s how I found out about it.”
“Did he take you skinny dipping too?”
“A couple of times.”
“Is it deep?”
“Over your head, but there’s a sand bar to stand on about a hundred feet out. Up to your waist there.” He already had his clothes off, and dove in and swam toward the center of the lake. Alfred followed.
They stopped on the sand bar. “Can’t people see us when we’re this far out?” Alfred asked.
“I doubt it. Anyway, there’s nobody here at this time. Later, at the public beach, when it gets dark. You can’t see that from here.” He winked. “They don’t come to swim. But I don’t have to tell you that. You’ve been there, haven’t you?”
“I’ve been, but skinny dipping is better. Nothing like it, is there?”
Alfred hadn’t thought about it. He’d been thinking about Hal and what might happen. “Sure feels different,” he said.
“I love it. Letting your balls hang free with the cold water swirling around them. Clean. Why’re you looking at me like that?”
“Balls. I haven’t heard you use a word like that before.”
“What else do you call them? You haven’t heard me say scrotum, either.” He grinned. “But you have, I’m pretty sure of it. At work. Meat balls. Remember? They were on sale just last week.”
He ducked under the water, swam between Alfred’s legs, stood up, and flipped him over.
“It’s okay here. No life guard to tell us to quit the horse play.”
“It’s just that you caught me by surprise.”
He ducked under the water again and disappeared. Alfred couldn’t guess where he’d pop up or what he’d do. He surfaced a good fifty yards further out. “Yoo-hoo! Over here!”
“I’m not swimming out there. Someone will see us. I bet there are a couple of boats out fishing.”
“I’m staying right here.”
Hal disappeared under the water again, for a long time. Where was he, anyway? Alfred didn’t see any bubbles.
He came up behind him. “Didn’t see me, did you? Are you just gonna stand there? Get your head down between my legs and hoist me up on your shoulders. Then see how far you can toss me.”
It went no further than that, feeling Hal’s dick soft on the back of his neck. Hal made no moves on him, as far as he could tell. Maybe he thought he’d made enough moves already… if they were moves, that is. In any case, neither of them got hard. Alfred mouthed a silent blessing on the cold water. It was as close as he had come so far to having sex, maybe as close as he’d ever come.
A couple of weeks later, Celia came back from Europe, and then another week and a half before Hal left for soccer training. And that was Alfred’s summer. His whole summer.
~ 3 ~
Hot summer, cold winter. Alfred got home from work one evening and found his mother looking at travel brochures.
“Florida. From the church. Two weeks at a motel with a pool and very cheap.”
“You don’t like swimming pools.”
“I like snow less. I’ve made up my mind. People from church have been there and say it’s very nice. Christian management. Bibles in every room.”
“All motels have a Bible in every room.”
“How many motels have you been in? Have you been going to motels behind my back?”
“No, Mom. Everyone knows they always put a Bible in a motel room. They get it for free, from the Gideons or the Mormons.”
“This place doesn’t have a Mormon bible. Mrs. Grayson would have told me. Anyway, I’m going. The only question is when.”
“How about after Christmas? January’s the coldest month.”
“Do you want to come too?”
“Can’t. I have to work.”
“Then who will I go with?”
“Find someone from the church. Or go alone.”
“How will I get around?”
“The same way you get around when the car’s in the shop. By cab.”
He wasn’t always that sassy, but since summer she’d been getting on his nerves. Mrs. Damier let his snide remarks pass over her head as long as he didn’t snap at her. Alfred could imagine what she was thinking: “The fledgling’s itching to spread his wings and fall plop on the ground, most likely. That’s all right. I’ll be there to pick him up.”
Maybe she was right.
She went for the first two weeks in February, with her friends the Norths. Alfred made a joke of going south with the Norths. She either let it pass over her head or it did without her noticing.
“Are you sure you won’t come along, not even for a week? Their daughter Felicia goes to school in Florida, and she’ll be coming to visit them.”
“I don’t know Felicia. And I have to stay here.”
“We’re going to Sea World.”
He wouldn’t have gone with her if she was going to see the whole world, from Aberdeen to Zanzibar. He hadn’t been on his own for one twenty-four-hour day in all his twenty-seven years, and he’d have the house to himself. For two whole weeks.
He drove all three to the airport — his mother and the Norths. She patted on him the cheek and told him to be a good boy. “But I know you will. You’ve always been a good boy.”
Then he drove home and was a good boy.
* * * *
After two days Alfred was at loose ends. The third day he thought he’d have to go out or go crazy. Go where, though? Where do men go when they want to go out and don’t know where they want to go? To a bar. He’d never been to a bar, didn’t know of any, except… And it was a… Well, if he was going to go to one of those places just once in his life — his mother called them “those places” — he might as well go to a gay bar.
The Black Pussycat was somewhere on East Grove Street. He drove up and down looking for it until he finally spotted it. He had expected it to look different. More brightly lit, or else sinister. There was nothing special about it from the outside. Inside it looked ordinary, like a little restaurant with a saloon counter like he’d seen in Westerns, but poorly lit and with photographs of near-naked and very beautiful young men on the walls. The clientele, about two dozen, were also mostly young, fully dressed — his mother still would have disapproved — and, with a couple of exceptions, not particularly beautiful. The handful of older men were a mixed bag and differed from the others in that they leered more, whereas the younger men postured. Alfred belonged to the younger set and as such attracted attention. Most of the men seemed to have come by themselves and stood apart, others were talking quietly, mostly in couples, though there was one group of four or five. Occasionally a loud laugh rose over the whispers. A jukebox on the wall across from the bar played country music, louder than the piped-in music at the pool, but not too loud.
Alfred, who didn’t consider himself all that good looking and didn’t know how to posture, could see that people were looking at him and attributed it to his clothes. He’d put on slacks and a clean ironed shirt for the occasion and was the only one his age not wearing jeans or leather. Also to his awkwardness. He looked around him, embarrassed and bewildered, and didn’t know if he should sit down at a table or stand at the bar or nod to everyone in the room in greeting or what. Probably the bar, but he had no idea what to order. He didn’t know one kind of alcohol from the other and was afraid of asking for something the bartender would laugh at.
“What’ll it be, handsome?”
It took a moment for Alfred to realize that “handsome” meant him. “What he’s having.” His daring amazed him: he had actually ordered alcohol. Why hadn’t he asked for coffee?
The bartender looked puzzled. “Beer? What kind?”
“I said, ‘What he’s having.’”
The bartender shrugged and poured him a stein. Alfred sipped it cautiously. It was sour but refreshing. He wondered how many it would take to make him drunk.
He thought he ought to strike up a conversation with someone but didn’t know how to begin. “Howdy, stranger” would probably make him sound like an idiot, and he was afraid he already looked like one. And what did gay men talk about? If he was in any way typical he knew what they thought about, but he couldn’t know for sure, being in no way typical, as he was all too aware. More than getting started or finding something to talk about, he was held back by the knowledge that conversations in places like this hid ulterior motives. How far did he want to go? He’d already taken his first sip of spirits and the idea of anonymous sex appalled him.
He had finished his second beer — he’d noticed that the others gulped the first few swallows and drank the rest more slowly — and had ordered a third when behind him a voice he didn’t recognize said, “Alfred? I don’t remember ever seeing you here.”
Sam, a paunchy man with broken fingernails and shirt-sleeves rolled up to reveal hairy arms, had worked at the supermarket a few years before Alfred became a manager. His hair, dyed darker than Alfred remembered it, reflected the dim light of the ceiling lamps. He kept his eyes fixed on Alfred, and was definitely one of the leerers.
They talked for about a quarter of an hour. Alfred was relieved he was no longer by himself and noticed that people had stopped looking at him now that he was with someone. They talked about absolutely nothing. It seemed totally innocent until Sam crooked his head to one side and looked at him in an odd way. Alfred also crooked his head to the side and gave a questioning shrug.
“Want to go in back?”
“There’s a big room. It’s dark.”
“No. Not here.”
“My place then? It’s just a few blocks away. We can walk.”
What the hell? Once you’ve started down the primrose path there’s no turning back.
Out in the street, Sam said, “Did you see how they looked at us? I bet they thought you’re doing this for money.”
“Because you were the hottest number there and me…” Alfred stopped dead in his tracks. “Don’t worry about it,” Sam went on. “I know you’re not like that.”
Oh, sweet Jesus! What was he doing? What had he done?
Sam’s apartment was tiny. Before Alfred had time to turn around, Sam was unzipping his fly. He took it as a cue to unzip Sam’s. That made two penises he’d seen besides his own. Hal’s was nicer, no comparison. But a penis was a penis, and this one was hard. He went down on it.
Sam held him by the head and pushed to the back of his throat. “Hmmm. Feels good.”
Push, push, push. Alfred did his best not to gag. What if he came in his mouth? He shouldn’t swallow it; that much he knew. But how would he react to the taste? He wished he’d tasted his own. It hadn’t occurred to him to try it.
It didn’t get that far. Sam said, “Let’s get in the sack.”
Now Sam went down on him. It did feel good. He let Sam take over and didn’t grab on to his head. He didn’t want to touch his greasy hair.
It was over in five minutes. Sam spit into a dirty washrag he pulled out from under the bed. “That’s one great cock you got there,” he said. “Big and tasty. Nice head, too.”
Alfred couldn’t tell if he meant the head of his penis or he liked giving him head.
“Well, aren’t you going to bring me off?”
Alfred didn’t feel much like sucking him anymore, but he liked his other option less. Sam didn’t mention it; he just knew what it was. At least Sam didn’t grab him by the ears and drill his mouth like he was driving in rivets this time. He lay on his back and spread his legs wide apart, scratched his neck, and swung his arm back across his body in a broad, sweeping motion by way of invitation. Beyond that he only gave directions — when to suck, where to lick — and some encouragement too: “Yeah. Like that.” His butt was one of the places he wanted licked. Alfred hadn’t realized men did that, but he went along with it. It was clean and not as bad as he thought it would be except for the hair.
He finished him off with his hand. Sam reached for the dirty rag and told him to wet it and wash him off.
“In the sink?”
“Whattaya think I meant? For you to piss on it?”
Alfred liked that part best, wiping off the sticky mess, watching him go soft, taking his time to explore it. Not a bad cock, really, just not as nice as Hal’s. Now there was a penis he’d like to bathe. Tenderly, thoroughly.
“I’m going to have to ask you to leave,” Sam said. “I like to sleep alone.”
“How will I get home?”
“Didn’t you bring your car?”
“But I’ve been drinking!”
“How the hell did you think you’d get home from the bar?”
“I didn’t know I was going to drink.”
“That was over an hour ago. You’ll be fine. If you can’t get to your car walking in a straight line, call a cab.”
As far as he could tell, Alfred walked in a straight line, but he decided to drive slowly just to be sure. Too slowly. A cop pulled him over.
“Can I see your license and proof of insurance, please?”
Alfred handed them to him, and he took them back to the squad car. Alfred kept turning around to see what he was doing. What’s taking him so long? Perfect, just perfect! What better way to celebrate losing my virginity? Serves me right. How much closer to anonymous sex can you get? A guy I hardly know and couldn’t care less about.
Back comes the cop, finally. “Will you step out of the car and blow into this, please.”
I knew it. A DWI.
Apparently not. “You’re under the limit. Just. That means you’re legal, not that you should be behind the wheel. You were going pretty slow. Just how many have you had?”
“A couple of beers, three or four hours ago. But I wasn’t sure how they’d affect me. That’s why I was driving slow. …Ly.”
Had he been warned? The cop hadn’t said anything that sounded like a warning. God, maybe. Maybe being stopped was a warning from God. Thank you, God. Better a cop than telling my mother.
He pulled up in front of the house rather risk pulling into the garage. “Just under,” the cop had said. Then he couldn’t get his key to turn in the door. He jiggled, shook, shook harder, and the lights came on and an alarm went off. Shit! He’d tried to break into the next door neighbors’.
Hal’s dad opened the door. At least he didn’t have a gun.
“Sorry, Mr. Madison. Wrong house.”
“That’s all right. We all make mistakes sometimes. No reason to be embarrassed.” He was laughing.
There was more to come. Not five minutes after he got inside the phone rang. “Alfred? Where have you been? I’ve been calling and calling. You had me worried sick.”
“I went out. What’s the matter, Mom? Is anything wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong. I just called to tell you I was having a good time. Your voice sounds funny. Have you been drinking?”
“No…” Why deny it? She’d only hear of it from the Madisons. “Not really. Only a couple of beers.”
“Oh, Alfred! You know I don’t approve of hard liquor.”
“Beer isn’t hard liquor, Mom.”
“It has alcohol in it, doesn’t it? I hope that’s all you’ve been doing. I’m disappointed in you.”
~ 4 ~
Going home with Sam had left Alfred feeling dirty; what happened after left him feeling foolish. He was ready to put the incident behind him. He’d made a mistake, and now he knew better. Once a nerd, always a nerd, he thought. Then, a couple of days later, Hal called.
“I hear you’ve been kicking up your heels.”
“You too! Does the whole world know?”
“My folks told me. You must’ve been pretty soused.”
“I wasn’t. Flustered, maybe. The realization that I had been kicking up my heels, as you put it. And I got stopped on the way home. I guess that means my mom will find out too.”
“The police tattle on you to your mother? How did she arrange that?”
“I meant your parents.”
“They won’t say anything; they thought it was funny. They aren’t Puritans. That isn’t why I called, though. Not entirely. When’s your mom due back?”
“Not for a week and a half. Why?”
“I was wondering if you’d like me to come down for the weekend.”
“Come down here?”
“Where else? Look, I have a confession to make. I didn’t only hear about your little escapade from them.”
“God! Who else on the block saw me?”
“No one, as far as I know. It was somebody at the tav. What were you doing there? Don’t bother answering. I know.”
“You know the Black Pussycat?”
“I’ve been there. Not a lot, but I know people who do. Did you go home with anyone?”
“Would you mind if I did?”
“What right do I have to mind? Well, maybe I’d be a little jealous.”
“Yes, I went home with someone.”
“And? And what do you think?”
“Then you’ve taken the plunge. Did you fuck him?”
“Did he fuck you?”
“I had sex with him. It made me feel cheap. Do you need to know any more?”
“You’re right. I’m sorry it was a bad experience, but maybe some good can come of it.”
“If you hadn’t gone to the tav, I wouldn’t have known.”
“I could’ve gone there and not gotten picked up. Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”
“Can’t you just come out and say what you’re thinking? No, you don’t have to. That you won’t say it says you understand. So, shall I? Come down, I mean. I could, easily. I have nothing going on. No assignments, nothing.”
“Won’t somebody see us?”
“How could they see us? Will you open your bedroom curtains and keep the light on?”
“I mean, your parents will know you’re home.”
“I’d get in late-late Friday, hide the car in your garage, and leave before dawn Sunday. Or after midnight, if we’re having too good a time. What do we have to lose?”
“Scared of what?”
“Of what this could lead to.”
“I hope it leads to something. I’ve been waiting to get into your pants since high school.”
“How did you know?”
“I didn’t. I just thought you were hot… until Celia told me.”
“She knows about me?”
“No, about me. That’s when my thoughts about you fell into place. So, do you want me to come? Please say yes. It took me two days to work up the nerve to call you.”
“What if it doesn’t work out?”
“Then no one will be the wiser.”
“And if it does?”
“Then I’ll take the car out of your garage and let my parents in on it.”
“I was only kidding. It wouldn’t matter to them, though. They already know about me. I came out to them my senior year.”
Alfred didn’t know how to respond. Hal had given him a lot to digest. “Was it hard, coming out?” he asked.
“I can tell you one thing. Coming out has to be a hell of a lot better than being caught in the act.”
“Seriously? They caught you at it?”
“Not. God forbid! Was it hard? Not that hard. I thought it would be, but it wasn’t. They suspected, like Celia. And you? Are you afraid to come out to your mom?”
“She’ll throw me out of the house.”
“Is that so awful? It’s about time you got your own place.”
“It isn’t about where I live. She’s my mother.”
“I was joking. She’ll come round eventually, Alfie. Who else does she have? You’re her boy.”
“You’re making fun of me.”
“It’s hard to resist, but that’s one of the things I like about you. One of many things. Look, do you want me to come?” Alfred didn’t answer. “Do you, Alfie?”
“I’ll leave my car in the street and the garage door open.”
“That people will notice.”
“I won’t open it till after eleven. You won’t get here any earlier, will you?”
“Probably not till after midnight.”
“Oh, and Hal…”
“When we’re in bed, please call me Alfred.”
Hal had got it wrong. He hadn’t taken the plunge, just tested the waters a little. This would be taking the plunge. Hal did anal, too, if he’d understood correctly. He hadn’t wanted to do that with Sam, really hadn’t wanted to, but the idea of doing it with Hal excited him. Fuck and be fucked. They’d kiss, too, and roughhouse like at the lake, only this time it would be sexual roughhousing.
He was hard, and he could feel his excitement inside him. A new feeling, a nice feeling. What was it like to get fucked?
Don’t come now. Save your juices for Friday. And Saturday… and Sunday.
* * * *
When he got back from work on Friday, Alfred tidied the house and changed the bed linens in preparation for Hal. The anticipation was killing him; he needed to keep busy. It had snowed that morning, so he went out to shovel and salt the walk. He worked up a sweat, took another shower, shaved, and changed into something nice. Then he got a book and went to wait in the living room, but found he couldn’t concentrate. He tried watching television, but that didn’t hold his attention, either. He was too nervous even to leaf through a magazine. So he paced, going to the window every few minutes to watch for Hal’s car, then going to look at the clock. He had to do something to keep himself occupied until Hal arrived, but what? Phone his mother? No, that wouldn’t calm him; it would only make her suspicious. Besides, it was too late to call. “Why aren’t you in bed, Alfred? It’s after ten o’clock.”
He opened a can of soup to warm up and made sandwiches. Hal would probably be hungry. Should he go out and buy beer? Hal was twenty-one now, wasn’t he? He’d only have one himself, and with food. More than that and he’d get buzzed, but one would calm him so he wouldn’t be too self-conscious when they had sex. And what a guilty pleasure it would be to sneak beer into the house behind his mother’s back! But where would he find a liquor store open at this time of night, and what if Hal arrived before he got back?
Around eleven thirty, a thought hit him: I’m not prepared. No condoms, no lube. He couldn’t count on Hal bringing any. He dashed off a note to leave on the door.
Hal, I’ve gone to get… What, condoms? Could he write that? …a few things. The key’s under the doormat. I left the garage unlocked. Leave your car there and close the door behind you. Back in half an hour, tops.
He drove to the all-night pharmacy and bought a box of three dozen Trojans and the biggest tube of K-Y he could find. It took over ten minutes to decide what lube to buy. What did he know about lube? At least K-Y was something he’d heard of. His doctor used it. Then he stopped off at the supermarket to pick up enough provisions to last the weekend so they wouldn’t have to leave the house. On the way home, it occurred to him that three dozen condoms were too many. Eighteen apiece, assuming they both bottomed. That came to six times a day both ways for three days running. Was it doable? No way. And where would he stash what was left over where his mother wouldn’t find them? Hal would just have to take them back to school with him.
Alfred had been gone about an hour, and Hal still wasn’t there. He began to worry. The roads were icy, it was a long drive and the middle of the night. What if he’d had an accident?
It was nearly two o’clock and Alfred was frantic when Hal finally rang the bell. “What took you so long?” he asked. “I thought I’d go out of my mind.”
“Sorry. I had to drive slowly. The roads are treacherous. And I stopped for a bite.”
“Are you cold?”
“No, my car heater works just fine.”
“You look flushed.”
“I’m excited, that’s all.” Hal smiled. “You’ve said exactly four sentences since I got here, and all of them sound like your mom. I brought a twelve-pack. I didn’t think you’d have any in the house.”
“I thought of it, too, only too late. The liquor stores were closed.”
“That doesn’t sound like your mom. You’ve had it before?”
“Once, the night I tried to get in your parents’ house.”
“Did you like it?”
“Sort of. Pull into the garage and I’ll leave mine in the driveway. I made us sandwiches. You wanna sandwich?”
“With your legs for bread. You’d like me to make one for you, too, I hope.” Alfred blushed crimson. “I’m sorry, that was kinda crude. I’m joking because I’m nervous.”
“Not half as nervous as me. I’ve never done it before. Have you?”
“A few times. Not that often. You have been with a man, though?”
“I told you on the phone. And I am looking forward to trying that kind of sandwich — both kinds — with you. Very much. I didn’t get beer, but I bought condoms.”
“I was hoping you had. I forgot mine at school. I only brought a change of clothes — not that I intend to wear much of anything. You got a dozen, I hope.”
“Three… three dozen.”
“That many we don’t need.”
“I wasn’t sure what size to get.”
“They only make the magnums for the sake of some guys’ egos. Those come in extra large. So do dicks, but as far as condoms go, one size fits all. Am I embarrassing you?”
“No. I feel I should be, but I’m not. It’s always been hard for me to talk about sex, but for some reason with you it isn’t, even though…” He hesitated.
“We haven’t done it yet? Let’s get the cars off the street.”
Back in the house, Alfred hung Hal’s coat in the entrance closet. “You’re trembling,” Hal said. “You should’ve worn a coat when we moved the cars.”
“I’m not cold. It’s nerves.”
“A little. I don’t have much experience, and I so much want it to be good. Good for both of us.”
“It will be.”
“It won’t hurt too much, will it?”
“Did he hurt you?”
Alfred shook his head. “We didn’t do that.”
“You’re a virgin? I don’t know why, but that makes me feel warm inside. I’ll try not to make it hurt at all.”
“You do me first so I’ll know how not to hurt you.”
“Don’t worry. You’ll do fine.”
Hal smiled kindly, lovingly, but Alfred still felt anxious. “So, now we go up to the bedroom?” he asked.
“What’s your hurry? Kiss me.”
It was Alfred’s first kiss, not counting the pecks on the cheek he gave his mother — his first real kiss. And from the moment their lips touched and Hal opened his mouth inviting him to do the same, he knew that Hal was right. It would be good. Better than good, he thought, their bodies pressed together. Better than wonderful.
* * * *
It was already light outside when they finished making love. Alfred snuggled up against his friend and sighed. “Happy?” Hal asked.
“Very happy. And you?”
“Blissfully happy. Think you can fall asleep like this? Have you ever slept with someone? I mean, when you were a kid?” Alfred shook his head. “Me neither, but I think I could with you.”
“Me too, only now I’m too happy to sleep. There’s too much going on in my mind. Anyway, my mom would wake us up in an hour or two. She said she’d call Saturday morning. I only hope I can sound normal like nothing special’s happened.”
“Then let’s go down to the kitchen and have that sandwich — the food kind. Aren’t you hungry? We can get some sleep after she calls.”
~ 5 ~
Except for aprons to cook and wash dishes, Alfred and Hal didn’t put on clothes again until Hal left toward midnight on Sunday. Everything Hal did was sexy — the way he looked at Alfred, the most casual touch, even lying naked in bed doing his class assignments.
The three days sped by more quickly than any Alfred could remember. They didn’t go through all the condoms, but they did drink all the beer, saving the last two for Sunday morning when Alfred should have been in church. “I’ll be damned,” he told Hal, “…blissfully damned. You’ve corrupted me.”
“I’m glad it was me,” Hal answered. “It had to happen sooner or later.”
“My only regret is having waited so long. I could never get enough of you.”
“Or I of you.”
“Me? What’s so special about me?”
“Where to start? You’re passionate and so giving, so eager to please, so enthusiastic. Frankly, if I didn’t know you, I’d never have believed it was your first time. And that’s just the sex.”
“There’s more? Look, I work in a supermarket, for Christ sake. I’ve never been to college, I’ve only been out of the state once —”
“Don’t knock yourself. There’s much more. You’re the nicest guy I know, and you’re one of the most beautiful men I’ve ever seen. I’ve had a crush on you since before I can remember. You’re a damn good lover, too.”
Alfred beamed. “I am?”
“You better believe it! And you’re no dummy.”
“I feel like one sometimes.”
“That’s your shyness talking, the same stubborn shyness that made you wait so long to listen to your instincts. Tell me, was it worth waiting for?”
“You need to ask? But how long will I have to wait until next time?”
“As long as I do, Alfred. Now that I’ve had you, I’m not making love with anyone else no matter how horny I get, which won’t be for some time. I’ve done it more in the last two days than since I left for college. Why do you ask? Are you ready for it now?”
“Don’t tease. Really, when will I see you again?”
“Spring break is a month from now, and —”
“Won’t you have training camp?”
“For soccer? That’ll be at Easter. There’s still too much snow on the ground for real practice and they can’t afford to fly us all someplace warm.”
“Then you’re off for a week?”
“A week and a half. I thought I’d drive down to Fort Lauderdale. Think you could wangle a few days off work and come with me?”
“Go to Florida with you when I wouldn’t go with my mother? And she knows all about spring break and all the drinking and wild parties they have down there. She’d throw a fit.”
“It’s probably too late now to get a room for just us two, anyway. I was going to share with a group of friends — straight friends — but it’s no big deal if I back out. How about if I come home for a couple of days and then we go on a ski trip together? It won’t be hard to find a motel for Monday through Friday. Will your boss let you off five days?”
“My boss isn’t the problem; Mom is. How will I explain suddenly coming up with a ski trip out of the blue? I don’t ski.”
“I’ll teach you. You’ll be slaloming like a pro in no time. You have strong legs… and hips.” He made a grab for Alfred’s crotch.
“I thought you said I wore you out.”
“You did. Wear me out again.”
Hal lay back on the bed, his arms behind his head. “So? How about it?”
“You call this later?”
“I meant the ski trip.”
“I’ll have to prepare her.”
“Your mom? No problem. I’ll make all the arrangements when I get back to school, then I’ll phone you about a week before the trip and say I was going with a friend, but he broke his leg —”
“No broken legs. Mom won’t let me go if she hears something about a broken leg. She wouldn’t even let me go sledding when I was a kid.”
“You’re not a kid anymore. Okay, then, I’ll say he got sick and won’t be able to go, so I thought of you. She’ll believe that. You never go anywhere. Just clear it with your boss right away. Your mom doesn’t have to know a thing until I call.”
“She’ll make a fuss.”
“Stand up to her. You’re a big boy now. Very big. You want to go, don’t you?”
“Do I ever! And Hal…”
“When you come to pick me up to go skiing, call me Alfie in front of my mother like you always have so she won’t think anything’s different between us. You can call me Alfred after we’re back. She won’t think twice about it once we’ve spent a whole week together.”
“Whatever you say. She’s your mother. But you can’t stay in the closet forever.”
“I’ll come out when I’m sure.”
“Sure you’re gay?”
“I’ve known that for years. You don’t have to have sex with a man to know you want to. I meant sure of you. Sure that you’re the one.”
“How can you be? We’re both still young and you’re still in school. Who knows what we’ll be like even a year from now.”
“You sound so worldly wise.”
“I’m not worldly, not worldly at all. Just cautious. I’m sure I’m gay and I’m sure that for now we’re right for each other. It’s too soon to make a commitment.”
“You want to play the field?”
“Cut it out.”
“Will a week at a ski lodge be enough to convince you? It’ll be like a honeymoon.”
“With the boy next door.” Alfred laughed.
“What’s so funny about that?”
“It’s just that my mother has this fantasy about my marrying the girl next door.”
“You’re kidding! You and Celia?”
“Of course me and Celia. You don’t think she’d want me to grow up and marry the boy next door, do you?”
“I don’t think she wants you to grow up, period.” He laughed, but Alfred didn’t. “She’d get off your back if you came out to her. Anyway, it’s too late for that.”
“Too late for what?”
“As soon as the semester’s over. Now, how about our honeymoon?”
Alfred grinned. “We won’t be able to spend all our time in bed. You’ll have to teach me to ski, you know.”
“What if I break my leg?”
“Then we will spend all our time in bed.”
* * * *
Mrs. Damier reacted to Hal’s invitation exactly as her son had predicted. “People get hurt skiing.”
“It happens sometimes, but most people don’t.”
“I’ve seen it happen at the Olympics to trained athletes. They wipe out all the time.”
“One or two at most, and we won’t be racing.”
“Since when do you ski?”
“Hal says he’ll teach me. We’ll have five days, and he says I’ll get the hang of it in no time.”
“Five days! What about work?”
“I’ve racked up a lot of vacation time. You must know that since you asked me to go to Florida with you.”
“But on such short notice?”
“Mr. Grant says it’s all right. He’ll find someone to cover for me.”
“You asked him for time off?”
“Of course, Mom. He’s my boss.”
“Meaning that I’m not. Well, I suppose you’re right about that. After all, you’re a grown man now and don’t need my permission. Still, you might have asked my opinion first. But you’d go whatever I said, wouldn’t you?”
“No, I know I’m right, don’t deny it. I don’t like the idea, but I won’t stand in your way. Not that I ever do.”
“Why shouldn’t I go, Mom? I never go out, and I hardly have any friends.”
“Is that my fault?”
“Did I say it was? I like Hal, Mom; I enjoy his company.”
“Isn’t he a little young for you?”
“Not anymore. I just turned twenty-seven; he’s twenty-one. Twenty-one and a half.”
“In other words, old enough to drink. I bet he does, too.”
“Not on the slopes, Mom. Hal’s not that stupid.”
“Both his parents drink. I’ve seen them in the back yard. What kind of example is that to set for one’s children? I don’t want you drinking alcohol, Alfred.”
Alfred sighed. It was one objection he hadn’t anticipated. “It’s Hal’s spring break, and he chose to go skiing, not to Cancun or Fort Lauderdale. Does that sound like a lush to you?”
“Promise me you won’t drink. Do you really think it’s a good idea? Five whole days on top of one another. Aren’t you afraid you’ll get —”
“Me and Hal get —”
“Hal and I.”
“…we get on well together. We had a lot of fun last summer, remember?”
“If you’re such good friends, why did he wait till the last minute to ask you?”
“A friend invited him, and they made all the arrangements, and then his friend came down with mono. It was all set up and he needed someone to go with him, so he thought of me.”
“Mono, huh? The kissing sickness,” she snorted. “Aren’t you afraid of catching it from him?”
“Now, how likely is that? You said yourself it’s the ‘kissing sickness’.”
“Don’t get fresh with me, young man! It’s very contagious.”
“His friend got it, not his roommate. I’m going, Mom. I’m not gonna let you talk me out of it.”
“You really think that’s what I’m trying to do? I just want to be sure you look it at from all sides. That’s what mothers are for. Where exactly is this resort?”
“I’m not sure. Somewhere up state, I think.”
“Do you have everything you need for the trip?”
“I can rent skis there.”
“Do you have all the right clothing? Do you even know what you’ll need? Isn’t there a special kind of pants they wear and special gloves? I see them wearing goggles on TV.”
“I’ll ask Hal. He’ll tell me what to buy.”
“Don’t get fresh with me,” his mother had said. Respectful, considerate, obedient — that’s how people always described Alfred. Had she noticed the change in him since she came back from Florida? He hadn’t even promised not to drink when she asked him to. But he’d been chomping at the bit for years.
Could losing one’s virginity really be such a life-altering experience? No, he had lost it with Sam, and afterward he had only felt guilty and embarrassed. It was his weekend with Hal that had made the difference; he’d felt happier that weekend than he ever had in his life. Happy and free. Not free as in free love — free as in liberated, free to be himself. And now he was going to be happy again for five whole days. I’m blossoming, he thought.
Mrs. Damier made a show of being supportive by getting a book on skiing out of the library for him. “It sounds very difficult,” she said. “I thumbed through it while I was on line to check it out.”
“How to do something always sounds difficult when you try to put it into words, Mom. Have you ever tried explaining how to tie a shoelace without using your hands?” Another example of standing up to her in small ways.
A couple of days before Hal came home for spring break, Mrs. Damier told him she’d run into Hal’s mother at the market that morning. “She couldn’t stop saying how happy she is that Hal’s going with you. She thinks you’re a steadying influence. She approves of you. ‘Just the kind of friend my Hal needs,’ she said. Her very words. Isn’t that nice?”
“Very nice,” Alfred agreed. He doubted they were her very words. He couldn’t imagine Mrs. Madison referring to her son as “my Hal”. But he found himself wondering how much she knew about their relationship.
~ 6 ~
Alfred phoned his mother three times from the ski lodge just to tell her he hadn’t been injured. He knew he would never hear the end of it if he didn’t. He kept the conversations short, though, and said that skiing was exhausting, he felt sore all over, and he just wanted to go to bed. He didn’t mention what he’d be doing in bed or go into details about where he was sore.
When they got back, Mrs. Damier asked, “Did you have a good time, Alfred? You look so… I don’t know how to describe it. So healthy.”
“We had a blast, Mom.”
They had. Alfred couldn’t believe how much fun skiing was — the speed, the thrill of being in control yet knowing that in seconds he might not be. And having Hal there to warm him up when they got in from the cold and to rub his sore muscles… and having Hal to warm up and Hal’s sore muscles to rub, too. After dinner they’d get a split of champagne to share by the fire in the lounge before they went back to their room and to bed. Everyone there could tell they were in love. One guy even called them the honeymooners as a joke.
“What made him say that?” Alfred asked on their way up to the room. “Are we that obvious?”
“Maybe he’s in the room next door and our sex noises keep him up… or get him up. Your enthusiasm makes him jealous.”
Alfred stopped in his tracks, unsure if he should take his friend seriously. “Do you think people can hear us? Am I really that loud?”
“Not as loud as some,” Hal reassured him.
“I’m not putting on an act. I can’t help myself.”
“Don’t worry about it. Really. You’re just loud enough to turn me on. If you have a problem with it you can bury your face in the pillow to muffle the sound. Or, better yet, why don’t you top tonight?”
“Why ‘better yet’? You make noises too.”
They had reached the door to their room. “Do I have to spell it out?” Hal asked. “I want you to fuck me.” And for the first time, he kissed him not when they were alone in a private room but in the middle of the hallway, though there was no one there to see.
They went into the room and closed the door behind them. “So, will you?” Hal asked.
“You know I will. But you have to lie on your back.”
“On my back’s good. But why that position?”
Alfred winked. “To muffle the sound. If you’re on your back I can be kissing you the whole time.”
“Now why didn’t I think of that? Kissed and screwed by the world’s best gay lover!”
“Second best,” Alfred corrected.
“That’s just your opinion. I know better. I’ve had more experience. But you’re right about one thing: your mouth will be better than any pillow.”
“Yeah, who needs pillows?”
“We do, two of them. To put under my ass so you can go deeper. You see? I have had more experience. It’ll work for you, too, but not tonight. Tonight you’re committed to topping.”
“You know, Hal, this is the first time we’ve talked about sex. About the mechanics, I mean, except for when you taught me to put on a condom. Usually we just do it.”
“You’re right. Enough talk. Let’s just do it.”
* * * *
They lay side by side, feeling too relaxed to get a towel to wipe off the sperm that Hal had spurted between them during their lovemaking, too relaxed to lift their heads to lick each other dry. It lost its viscosity and ran off their stomachs onto the sheet. “That was wonderful,” Hal said.
“It always is.”
“Then you’re sure now?”
“Sure about what?”
“About us. Are you ready to come out?”
“To the whole world or just my mother?”
“You’re afraid to tell her, aren’t you?”
“I am. I’ll have to tell her eventually, I know that. And I will, when the time’s right. I’m just not sure it is yet.”
“Have you thought of how you’ll break the news?”
“There’ll be a scene however I do it.”
“You may be surprised. After all, you’re all she has.”
“That’s one of the things holding me back. I suppose I’ll just wait for it to come up, and when it does, I won’t deny it.”
“Knowing your mother, it won’t. You’ll have to prepare her somehow so it won’t be too much of a shock. That, or wait until she hears it from someone else.”
“Let’s not talk about it, please. It’s my problem, not yours.”
“Do you mind if I tell my family?”
“Go ahead. I’m not about to tell you how to act with your parents.”
“Meaning that I shouldn’t tell you how to act with yours. I know I sometimes rag on you for being a goody-goody —”
“You don’t have to tell me that! It’s not just your gayness you keep in the closet, it’s all of you. You play at being what she thinks you are. Loosen up already!”
“I have this week.”
“That’s what I mean. The sex has been terrific, but what you’ve enjoyed most is being yourself.”
“I know. I guess it’s a habit, being the way I am at home.”
“Habits can be broken.”
“It’s not as easy as you think.”
They fell silent for a long time. Then Alfred asked, “Hal… are you asleep?”
“No. What is it?”
“Are you out to everyone?”
“No, just to people who matter. It’s nobody else’s business. Why?”
“When you tell your folks about us, make them promise to keep it a secret.”
“Don’t worry. They would anyway.”
Alfred turned onto his side, away from Hal. Hal snuggled up behind him and whispered, “You tell your mom when you’re ready, not before. I’m sorry I pressured you.” He kissed him behind the ear. “You know it’d make me very happy to marry the boy next door.”
* * * *
On the drive back home, Alfred said, “I don’t expect I’ll see you again till summer.”
“No, probably not.”
“I’ll miss you.”
“I’ll miss you, too.”
“I’ll be at loose ends.”
“There are always the bars.”
“Stop it. You know I don’t mean for sex. My old life just won’t hack it anymore. I’d gotten used to being lonely. Now I want more.”
“You should want more. You deserve more. What’re you going to do about it?”
“I was thinking if I take some night classes it would give me something to do. I have rank at the supermarket; I can make my own schedule.”
“Sounds like a plan. What kind of classes?”
“I dunno. Haven’t thought about it.”
“You just said you have.”
“Well, maybe work toward a certificate to be a medical technician. That way, if we’re still together after you graduate and you get job somewhere else or go on to graduate school, I could go with you and work in a laboratory or a hospital. You know, a real career so you wouldn’t be ashamed of me.”
“I’d never be ashamed to be your partner, Alfred.”
“So you don’t think it’s a good idea.”
“I think it’s a wonderful idea. For you, not for me. But it’s the middle of the semester. You wouldn’t be able to start classes till summer. You need to make some friends.”
“I’m no good at making friends.”
“You don’t know that; you’ve never tried. Why don’t you look for a support group? Something for gay men.”
“First you tell me to cruise the bars, now you want me to join a gay support group.”
“I was joking before. Support groups are different. They can help you come out.”
“You’re not going to bring that up again, are you? I’ll come out when I feel I’m my own man.”
“They can help you there, too. But you are your own man and always have been. I mean inside. You just need to come out of your shell.”
Alfred smiled. “The ugly duckling that turns into a swan, huh?”
“Not ugly. And the ugly duckling was picked on. Who ever picked on you besides your mom?”
“She doesn’t pick on me.”
“She pushes your buttons and finds fault where there is none, which comes down to the same thing, and she bosses you around. You’re more considerate of the kids who work under you at the store.”
“I don’t have to get on their case. They do what they’re supposed to without it.”
“And you don’t?”
“You don’t like my mother, do you?”
“She’s a sweet lady in her own way. She loves you and she means well. It’s your relationship with her I’m criticizing. If you stood up to her, you’d put a stop to that once and for all and you’d both be happier.”
“Now who’s trying to boss me around?”
“You really think that?”
“No, I know you don’t want to control me.”
“I don’t want anyone to control you.”
~ 7 ~
The announcement of Celia’s engagement appeared in the morning paper the week after they got back. “It appears our Cissy is going to be Mrs. Richard Norton,” Mrs. Damier said at breakfast, trying to sound pleased.
Alfred tensed up in anticipation of her recriminations. “I think it’s likely she’ll go by Celia Madison, Mom. For professional reasons.”
“In my opinion, a woman should always take her husband’s name. Women’s lib is all well and good, but marriage is marriage, after all. That’s something that never changes. I’d have wanted her to take our last name if she’d married you.”
“But it isn’t me she’s marrying, is it?”
“No, you missed your chance.”
“I never had a chance, never wanted one. I’ve told you that a hundred times.”
“Must you always tear yourself down, Alfred? Of course you had a chance! I’ll never understand why you chose not to pursue her. Cissy is a very attractive girl. Not to mention that there’s something very romantic about marrying your childhood sweetheart.”
“Cissy wasn’t my childhood sweetheart.”
“Wasn’t she? My memory is better than yours.”
“That’s not memory; it’s wishful thinking. Marrying the girl next door is something out of a storybook. If I married anyone from next door, it’d be Hal.”
His mother took it as he meant it, no more than a smart-ass remark. She’d come to expect them from him and knew — or thought she knew — how to deal with them. “I know you can do that in some states,” she snorted in contempt. “Let’s hope it never happens here!”
“So I won’t be able to marry Hal?” He hadn’t meant to press the issue; marrying Hal had just slipped out. Twice. Should he confess everything or cover up? Leave it open and decide which way to go depending on how she reacts to what I just said.
“Honestly, Alfred! Do you have to turn everything into a joke?”
“I wasn’t joking, Mom.” If she drops the subject, I won’t say anything.
Mrs. Damier paused as if to collect herself. She looked frightened. “I mean joking about Cissy.” She took a deep breath and went on. “I know you and Hal are good friends…” (She’s choosing not to understand, Alfred thought. Let it lie.) “…but if you’d married Cissy, you’d have had Hal for a brother-in-law.”
That did it. “First of all, one doesn’t get married to gain a brother-in-law,” he pointed out, exasperated.
“I know that, Alfred. I only meant —”
“I’m gay, Mom.”
Once spoken, those two syllables hung poised over the ensuing silence like a headsman’s axe. He looked at her, ready to repeat them if necessary, and could see in her eyes he didn’t have to.
“I didn’t hear that,” she said.
“You did, Mom, and you heard right. I’m —”
“Don’t say it. Don’t you ever say a thing like that it front of me.”
“Then I won’t. But I won’t take it back, either.”
“I suppose now you’re going to tell me you’re proud of it.”
“No, I’m not proud. I wish I weren’t, but that doesn’t mean I’m ashamed I am.”
Another pause, while it sunk in. “If you don’t want to be… like one of those, you can —”
“No, Mom, I can’t. If I changed, I would be somebody else, and I don’t want to stop being me.”
“To me it feels like you are somebody else,” she said sadly.
“I am what I am and I have to accept it. You have to accept it.”
“I’ll do nothing of the sort. I consider the matter closed.”
“How can it be, Mom?”
She stood up and left the room.
Nothing had been resolved. She could go on pretending indefinitely nothing had changed, but Alfred felt he would explode if they didn’t have it out. He had no idea what to do until she acknowledged what had passed between them. Unable to bear the suffocating silence, he went out to the back yard.
He couldn’t tell how long he stayed there, dwelling on that one topic yet unable to focus, his mind racing. It might have been ten minutes or half an hour or two hours when his mother came to the door. She’d been crying. “I’ve had two consolations since your father died,” she said, “you and the Church. Now I only have one.” A third consolation, a cold one communicated by the reproach in her voice, she left unspoken: that her husband hadn’t lived to find out his son was queer.
“You still have me, Mom.”
“Unless you cut me off. But you wouldn’t do that, would you?”
It was an invitation for her to hug him and say she still loved him. Instead, she murmured to herself, “What will people say?”
“They don’t have to know. And if they did, why should I care what they say?”
“Oh, you’d care, all right. You’d care very much. What if Hal finds out?”
“Hal knows. He’s gay too.”
“Oh, my God! How will I be able to face the Madisons, knowing what I know?”
“They know already, Mom.”
“About you and him?”
“I think so. In any case, they know about him.”
“I see.” She was trembling. “Then all that time you said you were skiing, you were —”
“Skiing. And at night we made love.”
“Love, he calls it!”
“Because love is what it is. We’re in love, Mom.”
As if it had finally sunk in, her shoulders sagged and she seemed suddenly old. “What can I say? It’s like I’ve been looking at you for nearly thirty years and seeing a stranger.”
Of all the things she’d said, that hurt the most, yet it made Alfred realize how necessary it had been to tell her. “I’ve been a stranger to myself,” he said ruefully.
She nodded and went back into the house.
* * * *
Alfred needed time to sort out his emotions. On the one hand, it was a relief to have finally got it out in the open; on the other, to see his mother so diminished pressed on his heart like a tumor. He felt guilty he hadn’t prepared her for it. It was as if one weight had been lifted from his chest only to have another take its place. He needed to talk it out with someone. He called Hal. Hal wasn’t in.
Mother and son passed the day in silence. At suppertime she came to call him to the table, but they ate without saying so much as a word. If she had only looked at him reproachfully, he would have felt less desolate, but she wouldn’t look at him at all.
She stood up and began to clear the table.
“I’ll do that, Mom,” he said.
She nodded, went up to her room, and got ready for bed.
When he finished the dishes, Alfred tried calling Hal again. Still no answer. He didn’t reach him until close to eleven.
“Hey, man, how’s it going? I’m exhausted. I wasn’t going to pick up, but I saw it was you.” Hal had caller ID.
“Not too great.”
“What’s the matter?”
“I came out to my mother.”
“Good for you! How’d she take it?”
“She hasn’t thrown you out, has she?”
“No, but it hit her hard. She won’t speak to me.”
“She’ll get over it. Give her time. How do you feel?”
“Miserable. I wish you were here to hold me.”
“Shall I come down?”
“Would you miss any classes?”
“Three of them.”
“Then don’t. I can pull through. Come down this weekend.”
“I can’t. We have a game. If I say there’s been a family emergency, the coach will want to know what’s wrong. ‘My boyfriend came out to his mom’ won’t cut it. I’m free next weekend. I’ll I come down then.”
“That’s okay. Just being able to talk to you is enough.”
“Are you sure? You sound…” His voice trailed off.
“How do I sound?”
“That’s because I was off today. I had nothing to do but hang around the house and fret. It’ll be different tomorrow when I have to go to work.”
“Do me a favor. Find yourself a support group. I’m worried about you.”
“I’ll be all right.”
“Please. You’ll meet a lot of guys there in the exact same situation. They can give you ideas on how to smoothe things out. I can’t. I didn’t have that problem.”
“I wouldn’t know where to start looking.”
“The phone book, go on line, ask around…”
“Ask around where? Who do I know?”
“Ask at the Pussycat.”
“The Pussycat! Are you kidding? I can’t just go in there, strike up a conversation, and start asking total strangers if they know of a support group. I mean, what would they think? I can’t bare my soul like that.”
“What does it matter what they think? But you don’t have to bare your soul. You don’t even have to hang around. Ask Paul.”
“The bartender. He’d know, and you can trust him. Go now.”
“Now? But it’s eleven at night.”
“The bars stay open till two.”
“I have to work in the morning.”
“Do you think you can sleep?”
“I don’t know. I’ll try.”
“Go. You’ll sleep better if you feel you’ve done something.”
“I’m in my pajamas.”
Hal snickered. “Since when do you wear pajamas?”
“When I’m not with you, I do.”
“Take them off.”
“Take them off. We’ll have phone sex. It’s the best I can do right now.”
“That’s not funny.”
“Okay then, take them off, get dressed, and go to the Pussycat.”
“What if my mother wakes up and finds me gone?”
“Christ Almighty, always your mother! Does it really matter what she thinks at this point?”
“That’s not what I meant. We’ve never had a fight like this before. She’ll be scared that I’ve gone and done something drastic like kill myself.”
“Leave her a note. Tell her you couldn’t sleep and needed some air.”
“Oh, all right. I can see you’re not getting off my back till I give in.”
* * * *
Alfred chose an outfit he thought wouldn’t make him stand out at the Pussycat as he had the last time he went there. He wrote a note to his mother and made it as far as the car. What the hell am I doing? he thought. I can call the gay hotline and find a group. He went back into the house, tore up the note, and opened the phone book. Then he thought, This isn’t an emergency. I’ll call in the morning. He got back into his pajamas and went to bed.
He lay in bed wishing Hal was there to hold him. Then he realized he would be there in a week and a half but they wouldn’t be able to sleep together. His mother wouldn’t allow it. What would they do — go to a motel? The absurdity of the situation struck him. Twenty-seven years old and still living at home, sleeping in the same bed he slept in when he was in grade school! He made up his mind to get a place of his own.
He announced his decision at breakfast. It broke an eighteen-hour silence and caught his mother by surprise.
“You don’t have to do that, Alfred,” she said. “You’re still my son in spite of everything.”
“I know that, Mom, but Hal’s coming down for the weekend — not this weekend, the one after — and we’ll be sleeping together. Would you want us to do that here?”
“You didn’t tell me he was coming.”
“We arranged it when I called him last night.”
“You called him?”
“I needed someone to talk to. Besides, he had the right to know I told you about us. Anyway, I’ll probably get home late. I’m going to start looking right after work.”
“I see. I’ll put supper aside for you to heat up.”
“And we need to talk sometime. We can’t have my sexuality standing between us like Mount Everest.”
She shook her head. “Your sexuality isn’t my business, Alfred. You’re a grown man now.”
Not the answer he had hoped for, but an honest and reasonable one. At least ice was broken. They were speaking again.
~ 8 ~
Hal phoned that night to ask if he’d found a support group.
“I did better than that. I found an apartment.”
“Your mother threw you out?”
“No, she didn’t throw me out. Don’t you think it’s about time I left home?”
“So your mom’s okay with you being gay?”
“She won’t talk about it. Let’s just say she’s resigned. Don’t you want to hear about my new place? It’s not much, just a studio, but it’s cheap — utilities included — and close to work. I’ll need the extra money for Mom. Her house is paid off, but Dad’s pension isn’t really enough for her to live on. So, whattaya think?”
“Exactly what you said. It’s about time you left home.”
“I can move in this weekend, but I don’t think I will. I still need to buy furniture. There’s a long list of garage sales I need to check out. Do you think a double bed’ll be big enough for us? The room’s too small for a queen.”
“A double’s big enough for two queens. Are you forgetting our first time? We shared a single.”
“It’ll have to be a sofa bed. Otherwise it’ll take up the whole room.”
“Just make sure it’s sturdy, something that can take a beating, so get that new. You’ll wait for me to break it in, I hope.”
“You can count on it.”
“Two things more. I still want you to join a support group.”
“I will, I promise, only not now. I’ll be too busy setting up. What’s the other?”
“I called my folks to tell them I’d be in town and it turns out Celia and her fiancé will also be there that weekend. We’re invited for dinner Friday.”
“Yes, you. As my boyfriend, you’re considered part of the family.”
“I work till eight that night.”
“Then come for dessert. We’ll hang around some and then I’ll go home with you.”
* * * *
Alfred was surprised how comfortable Hal’s family was with their relationship. After dessert — his mother had baked a peach pie, Hal’s favorite — they moved to the living room to chat, and Hal sat close to him on the sofa holding hands, and no one so much as raised an eyebrow. They wanted to know all about his new apartment.
“It’s teeny,” he told them. “I didn’t bring much over and I still had trouble finding room for everything, but it’s all set up now and the place looks nicer than I thought. It’s a bit of a jumble since I bought most of the furniture at garage sales. Nothing really quite matches.”
“Does it feel cramped?” Mrs. Madison asked.
“Not really; it’s small but cozy. I have plenty of space to move around, but with two of us there I suppose we’ll be pretty much on top of each other.”
“How does it feel living alone?”
“I couldn’t say. I only finished moving in the day before yesterday. I suppose it’ll take some getting used to.”
“You’d be surprised,” Rick, Celia’s fiancé, said. “I was walking on air when I got my first place.”
“Alfred has issues,” Hal explained. “That is, his mother does — about us — so things are a bit tense at the moment.”
“It’ll work out, I’m sure,” Mrs. Madison said.
That Mrs. Damier had issues became clear in about half an hour. When Hal and Alfred were on their way to the car, she pulled into her driveway. Alfred asked what she was doing out so late.
“The Norths asked me to go to a movie with them. Why didn’t you tell me you were coming over? I’d have stayed home.”
“The Madisons invited me for dinner to meet Celia’s fiancé.”
“I thought you had to work this evening.”
“I did, so I just came for dessert.”
“Did you have a good time?”
“It was very pleasant. And you?”
“The movie was stupid but I enjoyed the company. I’m not used to living alone. Come kiss me goodnight. It’s chilly out and I want to get inside.”
“Your mom totally ignored me and you didn’t say a thing,” Hal said when they got in the car.
“Don’t worry, I will. I didn’t want to tell her off in front of you.”
“Probably a good idea. She might have made a scene.” He brightened up. “You really put your foot in it tonight when you said we’d be on top of each other.”
“Oh, my God! Did I really say that? Do you think anyone noticed?”
“My parents probably didn’t, but I’m sure Celia and Rick did. I almost said something when you came out with it.”
“I’m not sure I want to hear this.”
“I almost said, ‘On top of each other sounds good.’”
“It does, but I’m glad you didn’t. I was embarrassed enough with you holding my hand.”
“Why? My mom and dad really like you. My mom especially, and it’s not just because of the meal. They say I made a good choice. They should only know how good!”
The drive to Alfred’s took a little over ten minutes. He checked his mail box and found the invitation to Celia’s wedding the Madisons had told him they sent the day before. “Does my mother get one too?” he asked Hal.
“To the ceremony and collation at the church. Does she expect one to the evening shindig as well?”
“Not necessarily.” Then he winked and added, “It’s not as if I’m marrying Celia.”
“Well, my sister made up the guest list, not me, but if it was up to me, I wouldn’t have invited her. You’re my date that night. I can do without the competition.”
“Quit ragging on me. I cut the apron strings.”
“There’re still a few threads left, if you ask me.”
Alfred opened the door with a flourish. “Ta-da! It’s not much, but it’s home.”
“I like it,” Hal said. “It isn’t half as small as you said. We’ll have plenty of room.”
“Just wait till I open the bed.”
“You’re going to make me wait?”
“At least until we take off our coats first or we won’t have room to turn around.”
“And I bought champagne to celebrate, sort of a housewarming. You’re my first company.”
“I should hope so! Break open the champagne. I’ll propose a toast, we’ll take a swallow and finish off the rest of the bottle in bed.”
“I put on clean sheets.”
“Are you afraid I’ll spill? So what? They won’t stay clean for long.”
“The sooner we get them dirty, the better. You still haven’t kissed me.”
“When we toast.”
Alfred went to the bookshelf and turned his mother’s photograph so it faced away from the bed. “What’d you do that for?” Hal teased. “Afraid she’ll cramp your style?”
“No, yours. What I really need to brighten this place up is a picture of you.”
“We’ll go tomorrow and have one taken professionally of the two of us together. I want one, too.”
Alfred popped the cork and poured. Hal raised his glass. “To your independence, sweetheart! You’re a big boy now.”
* * * *
They made love for hours and woke up late in the morning. “Is there enough champagne left for breakfast?” Hal asked.
“Two small glasses, but it’s flat. Will coffee do?”
“Yeah, make coffee.”
“Just like a married couple, aren’t we? I love having you here. It makes the place finally seem like home. You’ll live here this summer, won’t you?”
Hal didn’t answer right away. “What’s the matter?” Alfred asked. “You think your parents will mind?”
“It’s not that. I’ve been meaning to tell you… No, that’s not true, I’ve been putting it off. I’ll be gone all summer. I’ll be out West on a dig. I didn’t think I’d get it but I applied anyway and they accepted me.”
“An archaeological dig. I’m taking an archaeology class this semester — it’s one of the electives — and the prof told us about this program. It sounded like a good way to spend my summer. I’ll be outdoors all the time. Do you mind?”
Alfred hadn’t considered the possibility that Hal might not come home for the summer. A wave of loneliness washed over him. “No, I don’t mind. Just disappointed.”
“I’m sorry. It’s something I have to do, you know? I’m enjoying the class, but I need to find out if archaeology is really my bag. If I want to devote my life to it.”
“How long will you be gone?”
“The dig lasts from the middle of June through the third week in August. That gives me two weeks after finals and one before soccer camp.”
“What about those two weeks’ training right after school?”
“I’ve been excused to go on the dig and for my sister’s wedding.”
“Then we have to spend this whole weekend in bed.”
“Can’t. We’re going to take a photo, remember? And I have to go shopping. There’s a ton of stuff I need to buy for the dig.”
“Don’t they supply the equipment?”
“Clothes, mostly. I’ll give you a fashion show, and you’ll give me one. You’ll need to buy some, too, for the wedding, and I have to rent a tux. So no more sex this morning. Let’s go shower, get all dolled up, and go take those photos.”
“Okay, but the rest of the time we make love.”
“Don’t you think that’s overdoing it?” Hal asked.
“I can’t get enough.”
* * * *
Alfred bottomed so often that weekend he was more than a little sore, not so much inside as around the perimeter, rubbed raw by hours of Hal sliding in and out of him. Without telling Hal, he got some aloe lotion to soothe it, but it stung like hell. Antibiotic ointment worked as long as Hal wasn’t fucking him at the moment. For that he used a numbing agent, figuring he would have plenty of time to heal after Hal left.
“I don’t know how you can take such a beating,” Hal said. “I’m sure I couldn’t.”
“All a matter of stamina.”
“Well, I guess I don’t have your stamina, but I do have some. You’ll have to take your turn on top occasionally or I’ll be so frustrated I’ll need someone to take care of it on the dig.”
“Don’t you dare!”
“Just kidding. I’m getting enough right now to keep me satisfied all the summer.”
“Just in case, I’ll also come up and visit you at school.”
“What about my roommate? He’s straight.”
“Does he know you’re gay?”
“Yes, but that doesn’t mean he wants to be in the same room with us when we’re having sex.”
“We’ll take a motel. You have any games coming up? I’d like to see you play. Or are you afraid you’ll get hard knowing I’m watching you and what’s in store for you after the game?”
“It’s a risk I’m willing to take. You would have to mention it, though. Now I probably will get hard, and it’ll distract me from my game.”
“And the whole world will know in those skimpy shorts. So we’ll make it two nights, and I’ll take care of it for you before the game. I’ll have to drive up a day in advance, anyway.”
“If I sleep with you the night before I won’t sleep, and I’ll play for shit.”
“Meaning that you’d rather score with an erection. I can relate to that.”
“Great. We have a home game at the end of April. Come up a day early and we’ll have dinner together, but I spend the first night in the dorm.”
“And then there’s Celia’s wedding. On the night my mom was hoping I’d take her virginity, I want you to take mine.”
“What a thought! Okay, it’s a deal. Except I know for a fact you wouldn’t have taken her virginity… and I certainly won’t be taking yours.”
~ 9 ~
Moving out of his mother’s house to set up on his own marked the beginning of a transformation so swift it surprised Alfred himself, a change more radical than even sex with Hal had been able to effect.
He realized that with Hal gone for most of the summer, he would need something more than his job at the supermarket to occupy his time. He saw, too, that as things stood his relationship with Hal led to a dead end. Hal had a future; he’d have a profession — maybe not as an archeologist, but something — that would most likely take him away to some distant city. His friends would be educated professionals with whom Alfred had little in common. Come to think of it, with Hal or without him, his life was stuck in a rut.
Alfred had only been half serious when he told Hal his idea of becoming a medical technician. Now he was convinced he had to. He should at least find out if he had an aptitude for it. He went to the Vo-Tech, inquired about their program, and signed up for two classes.
He told Hal what he had done when he went to watch him play soccer. He waited till after the game and broke the news when they were at the motel. “So you see, I’ll have plenty going on to distract me. Two classes and my day job. Busy busy busy. You don’t have to worry about my being alone.”
“Keeping busy isn’t enough. You need to meet people. Those classes will be good for that.”
“I don’t think I have much in common with the other people in the class.”
“How do you know if you haven’t even met them? Isn’t studying the same thing something you have in common?”
“They’ll be a lot younger than me.”
“So am I.”
“You’re right. I guess I like ’em young. Let’s make love.” His last words were unnecessary since he had been undressing as he spoke. “Aren’t you going to undress?”
“You first. I want to feast my eyes on the most beautiful man in the world.”
* * * *
Celia’s wedding was held the first Saturday in June, a church service mid-morning followed by a small brunch buffet in the fellowship hall. They hosted a late evening reception for about two hundred guests at a country resort some twenty miles out of town. Since Celia loathed Wagner and thought Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” over-used, she walked down the aisle to an arrangement of Butterfly’s entrance for string sestet. She’d loved Puccini ever since her stay in Italy. Their church had a very long nave, and the slow tempo made for a rather drawn out processional.
Hal flew in Thursday afternoon and left very hung over on Monday morning. Thursday evening, the Madisons hosted an intimate dinner for Rick’s family to which Alfred was invited. It went on till past midnight. Hal went home with Alfred. They didn’t have sex because they had to get up early for the wedding rehearsal. At Hal’s request, they’d made Alfred one of the ushers.
Rick threw a bachelor party Friday night. Alfred had to work and couldn’t attend. Hal didn’t know when it would end and slept at his parents’ house that night.
“How was the party?” Alfred asked when he met up with Hal at church the next morning.
“Very het. Thank God there weren’t any naked girls.”
“A bachelor party without strippers? What’s the world coming to?”
“There were two of them. They just didn’t take everything off. For a while there I thought they were going to, but they stopped at the G-string and pasties. Fortunately, there was plenty of booze. I mean, Christ!… What would I say to a naked lady?”
“What did you say to the G-string and pasties?”
“Nothing. I smiled — appreciatively, I hope — and applauded.”
At the reception, Alfred sat next to Hal with the newlyweds and their families. “Because you’re part of our family,” Celia said.
Her mother seconded her. “You are. There’s no reason you should only come over to see us when Hal’s in town.”
Like everyone else at the main table, Alfred was expected to propose a toast. He wrote his out in advance because he was afraid he’d become tongue tied and make a fool of himself if he didn’t when his turn came.
Although nobody toasted them, it almost seemed as if it were his and Hal’s wedding, too. When they were served dessert, they giggled and fed each other wedding cake as Rick and Celia had done when they cut it, and the wedding photographer took a picture. Then he had them get up and pose standing side by side and also kissing. A few of the guests applauded.
“Won’t Celia be annoyed?” Alfred asked Hal. “It’s like we’re upstaging her.”
Hal suggested that maybe she liked the idea of a double wedding. “Besides, she can’t be in the limelight constantly.”
It certainly didn’t bother Rick, because right before he and Celia left the party to go on their honeymoon, he threw the garter straight to Alfred, and he caught it. One of the men near him grumbled that it was unfair that a guy who would never marry should get the garter.
“Why shouldn’t he?” Hal protested. “Just because he can’t doesn’t mean he shouldn’t.”
“What am I supposed to do with it?” Alfred asked.
Hal explained he should choose a partner to start the next waltz. Alfred looked around the room, trying to decide what woman to dance with, but they were all looking at Hal. “And slip the garter on my wrist,” Hal continued.
So for the first time in their lives Hal and Alfred danced together.
Hal, more than a little buzzed, gazed dreamily at him through glazed eyes as they twirled around the dance floor. “I didn’t know you could dance,” he said. “You waltz like a pro. Where did you learn?”
“My mom made me take lessons in ballroom dancing when I was a kid. She said it would help me meet girls when I got older. As if kids ballroom danced nowadays! I know them all — fox trot, lindy, rumba, even the tango.”
“You can tango? That sounds so sexy. I’d love to be your partner for the tango, but I wouldn’t know where to start.”
“I’ll teach you sometime.”
“Do we have to spin this fast? I’m getting dizzy.”
“It’s the liquor,” Alfred scolded. “You must have drunk three times more than me.” But he slowed down.
Hal did seem a bit unsteady. “The room’s turning around us in circles,” he said and leaned in to Alfred and rested his head on his shoulder. “Since you caught the garter, it means you’re the next groom.”
“Does that make you the bride?”
“Mmm-hmm. Tonight you top.”
“Don’t you remember? I said I wanted to get fucked on Celia’s wedding night. I want you to rip my clothes off, ravish me.”
“But it’s a rented tux!”
“Okay, then undress me slowly. That’ll work too.”
“Anyway, I’m too drunk.”
“Must I carry you over the threshold, too? You’ll be able to get it up at least, I hope.”
“I’ll manage. I’m half hard already just from dancing with you. But I feel I’m in the perfect state to be passive. I want to be made love to.”
Hal spoke so loud the people around them turned to look. He was pawing at him, too. Alfred took his left hand and put it firmly back on his shoulder where it belonged. “Can you wait till we’re home?”
“I can’t wait… But I will.”
“You’ll have to. It’ll be a few hours. It’s a long drive and I need to sober up some before I get behind the wheel.”
* * * *
Alfred drove with the windows down to feel the night air on his face. He felt flushed, but his mind was clear and his reflexes seemed unimpaired. Hal, on the other hand, was reeling when they walked to the car, and Alfred had been quick to catch him when he stumbled. Now Hal leaned the passenger seat all the way back and closed his eyes. Alfred thought he had gone to sleep. “When we get home, I’m putting you under the shower, Mister. That’ll sober you up,” he muttered.
It turned out Hal was awake. “Afraid I won’t be able to perform?” he slurred. “Unzip your fly and I’ll suck you off while you drive.”
Alfred almost slammed on the brake in his surprise. He slowed the car and pulled to the side of the road. “You want to get us arrested for public indecency?” he asked.
“Nope, just to blow you. The road’s empty. Who’s gonna stop us?”
“Not that drunk. I still have all my facklities or whatever you call ’em. The only thing I’ve lost’s my inhibitions.”
“Well, I haven’t lost mine.”
“Still Mom’s uptight boy, huh?”
“Not at all. I’m done with that. It’s just that at least one of us has to behave like a responsible adult.”
“So now I’m the kid. Is that what you mean?” Hal waited a few seconds for Alfred to reply and went on, “Becoming the dominant partner, eh? Like when I was in high school and used to look up to you.”
“We weren’t partners then, and it depends on what you mean by dominant. Don’t forget I’m bottoming tonight.”
“Maybe. If you want me to top, you’re gonna have to let me suck you while you’re driving.”
“Is that an ultimatum?”
Alfred pulled his pants halfway down his thighs and shifted out of park. “Okay. Play with it, lick it, whatever… But don’t even dream of bringing me off,” he warned. “What are you smirking about?”
“I always dream of bringing you off.”
“Fine, dream about it. Just don’t do it.”
“Like I said—you want me to drive off the road?”
“And you want me still hard when we get home, don’t you?”
“Okay, there’s two good reasons. Now, have fun, but don’t get carried away.”
© 2011 by Anel Viz. All rights reserved.