They’re everywhere. They come in all shapes and sizes. They’re on the roads, in our workplaces and even in our own homes. The American D-Bag could be anyone or anything. They are a special breed. To the outside world they are obnoxious, irritating jerks, but in their own minds they are gods among us. They are the chosen ones. You can tell by how they act as though they own everything in sight or how they seem totally oblivious to the world around them, simply because their time is too precious to waste on the lesser beings they have been forced to live with. But what makes a D-Bag? They aren’t just born. They are bred. They are crafted like a fine microbrew beer.
Based only on my casual observations, I shall offer up some of what I believe to be principles of being a D-Bag. Where shall we begin? How about principle #1? Sounds good.
Principle # It doesn’t matter if the clothes are ugly, as long as they’re expensive.
We’ve all seen them at the mall. The 40 year old frat boys running around in their ripped jeans, distressed T’s and backward baseball caps. They look like they got dressed in a Goodwill shop, but thing again. Looking that douchey comes at a steep price. Take a closer look and you’re sure to find a label from Abercrombie & Fitch (the official outfitter of all douchebags) somewhere in their ensemble. Everyone knows good clothes are never on sale. The rags selling for 20% off are clearly insufficient. The stores never put the good stuff on sale. Check out that patchwork denim jean jacket for $300. That’s style! If it cost less than thirty dollars, it doesn’t belong on your body; and that includes underwear.
Lounges & Latinos
Ken had been doing some cleaning around his apartment for no other reason than sheer boredom. He had pulled out every drawer he could find. The amount of lost treasures he found was becoming quite significant. He had uncovered a pod of porn magazines he hadn’t seen in over three years. Some old souvenirs from the weekend he went up to San Diego. Old movie ticket stubs and a small metal tag he had received as a ticket the last time he had gone to the museum. The cleaning came to an abrupt end when Ken discovered an old pack of photographs he hadn’t laid eyes on in months. Forgetting himself, he opened it up and pulled out the slick papers. His heart sank as he looked down upon the two smiling people looking back up at him. They had smiles on their faces that seemed to tell a story. They were two people who seemed as though they had the rest of their lives together to look forward to. He saw promise and hope. He saw Greg and himself during happier times. The picture was no more than a month old. He and Greg had been together long enough that Ken was secure that Greg wouldn’t just change his mind and leave without a word. He was comfortable enough to take pictures. He was sure that he would not live to regret it. He was sure that Greg would not leave behind a field of emotional land mines that he would later have to tip toe across in his wandering mind. He thought that at least. Ken threw the pictures into the nearest garbage can he could find, but thinking better about it, he went back and fished them out. He turned them over so he wouldn’t see the pictures and carefully folded them back into their envelope. He strategically placed them back in his closet way in the back of everything. He hoped enough time would pass before he endeavored to clean again that he would have gotten past the pain of Greg’s betrayal or better yet, found someone better, and he’d be able to look at the pictures again and not feel tremendous loss.
Ken continued burrowing through his papers and drawers. He found more packs of pictures but he didn’t bother opening them. He was just about finished with the last drawer in his computer desk. He was sifting through some old papers that he wasn’t sure he needed or not and he wasn’t really in the mood to read anything so he just assumed he’d need them and pushed them back into his desk. Just as he was about to shut the drawer, he noticed a corner of a small business card. He reached in and pulled it out. It was laminated and brightly colored. There was a colorful drawing of a lovely little resort surrounded by palm trees on it. He read the little text that was printed on the back of the card and realized it was indeed a pass for the Los Gatos Inn that Jason had received from Ben, and Jason then passed on to Ken. Ken had taken it and giggled a bit when he found out what the resort was all about. There were times he would find the card mingled amongst old magazines and old junk mail and thought of tossing it along with them. He never did though. He thought it was an interesting little item to hold onto, if for only the novelty of ever actually going, which Ken would never have considered. Not usually anyway. Ken sat there, holding the card in his hand. He began thinking. He knew he wasn’t in the best shape of his life and since it was a clothing optional establishment, he felt that could be an issue. He also knew the reputation of the Inn was that of a higher class bath house that catered to the beautiful and cosmetically adjusted elite of West Hollywood. Ken knew he would not fit in. He knew he’d be an outsider. He also knew he didn’t care at that point. He needed to escape. Any escape.
It took Ken two days of hard concentration to work up the nerve to even step out the door and begin his journey. He decided a plain, casual ensemble would be best; something that didn’t call attention to his slightly growing midsection. He settled on a baggy t-shirt with white cargo shorts and some beaten up tennis shoes with ankle socks. His hair was the only part of his body he wasn’t ashamed of, but still felt the need to cover it up with a small baseball cap.
Ken drove over the hill and found parking on a small residential street off of Laurel Canyon. It was at least six blocks to his destination. His heart beat louder with every step. He went through a panorama of feelings as he made his way down the street. He was ashamed because he just knew people walking and driving by knew where he was going. They knew what dirty business he had on his mind. He tried to think clean thoughts, but it didn’t matter. They already knew. He knew it. He also felt awkward because there were a few very cute guys who strolled up past him obviously leaving from where he intended to go. He could have sworn a few shot him little glances as if he were an alien. As if he were some grotesque monster who had no business being anywhere near their general air space. Before long, he reached his destination. He stood before the Los Gatos Inn. It looked like a large two story house and blended in along the row of homes and apartment buildings that surrounded it. There were large Ivy bushes growing up the front of the house making it impossible to sneak any peek of what was going on beyond that. Ken had imagined there would be naked men running around on the roof or loud music playing. Instead it looked more like a house with Ivy grown over it with a small sign out front with the name Los Gatos Inn in red neon letters. Ken took one final breath and walked through the front door. It began to seem like any other bathhouse that he had ever been to. Behind a glass window was a young man with an angelic face.
“Hello,” The young man said happily through the window. “Can I help you?” Ken was frozen in place. He walked up and fumbled for the pass. He found it and passed it under the glass. The young man took it and read it. He looked back up at Ken with a smile on his lips but a questioning stare in his eyes. “Of course. Come on in.” Ken heard a buzz and he opened a large door to his left. He walked on into the main lobby of the inn. There was another man, Latin he seemed, who came up to Ken and handed him a towel.
“The pool is right out that door there. Feel free to enjoy our facilities for the day, sir.” The Latin man said more enthusiastically than the front guy said. Ken nodded and proceeded to the pool area.
The sun was sparkling off the surface of the sapphire pool. There were lounge chairs lined up along all sides of the area. Ken walked out into the warm sun and saw a few men already camped by the pool and two men wading in the pool itself. One, a solidly built older man with salt and pepper hair, was wearing a very small Speedo that seemed to be stretched to its limit against the force of his crotch. The other, a very stunning Asian boy with jet-black hair and a tight, muscular body, was totally naked. They were swimming around until they met in the center at which point the older man scooped up his Asian lover in his large arms and they began to kiss. None of the others outside seemed to even care as most of them were laying down on some of the large chaise lounges that were lined up around the pool. They were all laying face down so Ken couldn’t tell if they were cute, but he could tell they were all in exceptional shape. They all had slender waists and curvy, muscular backs that glistened in the sun. Ken also went unnoticed as no one looked up as he walked out and the two lovers in the pool remained locked in their passionate embrace. Ken simply strolled around the area towards a bunch of chairs clustered in a shady corner that were empty. He laid down on one of them and settled in his place. He opened his bag and pulled out his CD player and a book. He didn’t even bother to take his shirt off. He just laid there in the sun, listening to Coldplay and reading another one of his trashy gay novels. Time passed and the world around him suddenly faded from his notice.
Ken was on chapter twenty of his book when he finally put it down and looked about. The sunbathers had turned over and he could see their chests. Ken looked around and noticed the older man and his younger, Asian lover had gotten out of the pool and were quietly fucking in the shade. The Asian boy was laid face down as his larger, muscular lover was gently pushing into him. Every now and then the Asian guy would lift his head and Ken could see what looked like pain melt into ecstasy. Every now and then one of the sunbathers would turn his head over to see the show, but they didn’t stare for long. Ken looked down at his watch and it had only been two hours since he had laid down.
“Enjoying yourself?” A voice came from behind as Ken’s glare was locked on the fucking couple as the Asian guy flipped over onto his back, begging for his lover’s cock. Ken looked around, startled. It was the Latin guy from inside. He was even cuter in the sunlight. His hair was dark and fluttering in the breeze. His eyes were deep. He had a small moustache running along his upper lip and he had some sort of boyish quality in his face that qualified him for the adjective ‘adorable’.
“Yes. I am. Thanks.” Ken said nervously.
“I only ask because many of our patrons take at least their shirts off. To relax. That is the point here. To relax. Leave the outside world behind and just be yourself. No judgment.”
“No judgment?” Ken questioned. “Are you nuts? These are gay men here. They do nothing but judge! I think we invented that.”
“Oh, well, maybe some. I don’t.”
“Well, these guys out here I’m sure do. The shirt stays on.” Ken said and went back to his book. He expected to hear the Latin guy walk off, but instead he sat down on the lounge next to Ken.
“Don’t you have to work?” Ken asked as he looked over at the Latin guy.
“I’m on my break.” He said. “Good book?”
“Not really. A friend suggested I read it, but this thing is just like all the other gay novels out there. All the main characters are young, good looking and rich. What the hell problems could they possibly have?” Ken then slammed the book shut and tossed it into his bag.
“Are you okay?”
“I don’t know. I just wanted to get away and I guess this wasn’t a very good choice of escape plan.” Ken said, trying not to stare as the Asian guy started to go down on his boyfriend.
“I’m Julio.” The Latin guy said as he offered Ken his hand.
“I’m Ken. Nice to meet you, Julio.” Ken’s lips curled into a slight smirk.
“Nothing. It’s just Julio.”
“Yes? It’s my name.”
“I know, but it just sounds like one of those exotic Latin names that no one actually has. I’ve never met a Julio before.”
“Well, I never met a Ken before. Until now I thought only plastic dolls got that name.”
“Touché.” Ken then saw a glint in Julio’s eyes.
“Well, if you’re not taking your shirt off, I am.” Julio stretched up and pulled his uniform shirt off. The skin on his body was just as dark and brown as the skin on his face. His body was smooth and muscular. He had very lickable nipples, Ken thought, as Julio laid back down, shirtless. Julio kept his stare on Ken.
“Thanks.” Julio said broadening his smile to expose his bright, white teeth. Ken was beginning to feel light headed.
“I better go.”
“Wait, don’t go. Don’t you feel okay?” Julio asked as he turned to Ken.
“Just a little light headed.”
“Come with me.” Julio said as he took Ken’s hand and led him away. Julio took him inside and back through a door that said employees only. They walked up a small stairway and Julio took Ken to a small room with a cot all set up.
“Some of the guys who work late sleep in here. Just lay down here a minute. It could be the sun. You were out there for awhile.”
“Yeah.” Ken said as the words Julio was speaking began to make sense. Ken lied down on the cot and Julio kneeled next to him and began stroking Ken’s chest. “What are you doing?”
“Just relaxing you,” Julio said with a daring smirk. “Feel good?”
“Yeah. It does.” Julio suddenly hooked his thumb under the bottom of Ken’s shirt and pulled it up over his head. Ken pushed his shirt back down.
“Yeah. Look, Ken, I see guys coming in and out of here all day. Most of them are hot. Extremely hot and in my earlier days, I’ve had my share of them. I’m older now though and the physical aspects aren’t so hard and fast with me. I don’t dig ripped muscle heads. I like a little meat on the bones. A little imperfection. Wabi Sabi.”
“The beauty of the imperfect. I believe in that.”
“You think I’m beautiful?”
“If I said yes, would you go out with me?” Ken had to try clearing his ear to make sure he heard correctly. Julio, a man that could have given Antonio Banderas a run for his money, was sitting before him, shirtless, and was asking him, also shirtless, for a date.
“Sure. I would even if you had said ‘no’.” Julio’s face lit up and he pulled out a small piece of paper from his pocket along with a pen. He scribbled down something and handed it to Ken.
“You were prepared, now weren’t you?” Ken said.
“Have to be prepared. Call me. I should get back to work now. Break’s over.” Julio then leaned in and kissed Ken’s lips before bolting up and running out the door.
An hour later, Ken collected his things and came down to the lobby and started towards the exit. The young man behind the glass called out to Ken, as he was about to leave.
“Excuse me! You still have use of the Inn for the rest of the day, sir.”
“That’s okay.” Ken said as he skipped out the door.
Dates & Calls
Jason was settled in his room watching television. He was nervously flipping through the channels trying to find something good to watch, but due to the lack of cable, he found that task near impossible. He began playing with the idea of popping a DVD in but he couldn’t settle on what to watch. He was debating between collecting his TV show box sets to recreate a night of prime time programming from a time when it was actually worth watching, or something from his overly large movie collection. His head was about to split when the phone suddenly rang.
“Hello?” Jason asked.
“Hey there.” Matt purred on the other end.
“I wasn’t expecting to hear from you,” Jason said with some surprise. “I thought you said you were going to catch up on work all this week.”
“I was, but I can’t concentrate on it tonight. I was wondering if you were up for a movie or something.”
“You want to go out?”
“Yeah. How about it? Can you take a break from movie making?”
“Uh, I think so. What do you want to see?”
“I don’t know. How about we just meet at the theater and decide there.”
“You know I hate going in without a plan. We should really decide now.”
“Ah, come on! Live a little.”
“You call that living?”
“Fine. When and where?”
Matt had instructed Jason to meet him at the largest theater that was geographically between them. It was a large twenty-one screen multiplex in Northridge that had always struck Jason as more of a fortress than a mere theater. The front of the theater was bathed in so much artificial light; it felt like it was the middle of the day as Jason walked up to the illuminated box office. He stood a few paces behind the lines and stared up at the red electronic board inside that displayed all the shows and times. He had trouble reading the numbers without squinting. He saw that most of the movies’ next showings were but a few minutes away and he looked around and saw no sign of Matt.
Jason looked down at his watch and then back around anxiously for Matt. He then felt a sudden heat rising up from his neck. Sweat was forming on his forehead. He had always hated meeting people in large crowds, even if they were friends. He was prone to slight panic attacks in such circumstances. If he had arrived there intent on seeing a movie by himself, it would not have been a problem, but somehow in Jason’s mind he knew that everyone there knew he was supposed to be there with someone. They also knew that he was being stood up. He didn’t know how they knew, but they knew. He could tell in the quick glances he caught from people passing by. As if someone standing around alone was suspicious. Jason realized that Matt was only five minutes late, but he was starting to consider leaving. Just then he felt a slight pressure on his shoulder. He spun around. Matt was standing before him wearing a bright, gleaming smile underneath a slight growth of facial hair over his square jaw.
“You’re late,” Jason said he gently stroked Matt’s cheek. “Soft.”
“Thanks, and sorry. I was hitting all the reds over here. So, what do you want to see?”
“I don’t know. There’s really nothing out now. We’re in that lull between movie seasons.”
“Well, I’m desperate. How about we see the next movie playing. No matter what it is?”
“Oooh. Cinema Roulette. You like to play dangerous. All right.” Matt looked over at the show listings. He leaned forward and squinted.
“Okay. The winner is,” Matt began but suddenly stopped. His face went sour. Jason squinted and saw what Matt saw. A smile stretched across his mouth.
“I know. I know.”
After they got their tickets to the show, Matt and Jason walked into the lobby of the theater. The cool air and thick scent of popcorn hit them both like a train. The lobby was over run with teenagers. Large cardboard displays of future releases lined either side of the large foyer. They walked over and gave their tickets to the ticket takers. Jason slipped his stub in his back pocket for safekeeping. Matt started toward the theater on his left, while Jason started toward the concession stand on the right.
“Where are you going?”
“Popcorn.” Jason said shortly and continued toward the concession stand.
“Wait,” Matt grabbed Jason by the arm. “The movie starts in less than five minutes.”
“The line is a mile long!”
“Popcorn.” Matt rolled his eyes.
“Fine.” They then both took their place in line.
Matt and Jason stepped into the auditorium just as the lights were coming down. There weren’t any other people, so it was easy for them to find good seats.
“Twenty damn movies playing and the earliest one was a Disney film.” Matt lamented under his breath as they took their seats.
“Oh, come on. You loved ‘Princess Diaries’.”
“I never saw that.”
“Don’t try that. I saw your secret stash under your bed. You’ve got the first and second movies on DVD! Well watched too by the looks of them.”
“Shut up,” Matt then grabbed a fistful of buttered popcorn. “But ‘Corn Princess’?”
“It could be good. The girl trying to be the winner at a county fair beauty contest as well as trying to save her father’s corn farm by winning a dance contest and, in the process, winning the heart of the boy of her dreams,” Matt looked at him strangely. “I read a review in Entertainment Weekly.”
Suddenly, Jason’s cell phone started to ring. He stood up and grabbed it out of his pocket. He flipped it open and saw it was from Mike.
“Go ahead,” Matt said anticipating Jason’s question. “It’s not like you’re going to disturb anyone.”
“Hello!” Mike squealed. “Guess where I am!”
“I’m at the movies with Matt. Let’s just cut to the chase and you tell me!”
“Fine. Right now, I’m just about over Syracuse.”
“Syracuse? As in New York?”
“Yes! I’m on my way to London!” Mike said with growing excitement.
“I thought you weren’t leaving until Wednesday.”
“I thought so too, but when I went to see Ivan this afternoon, he surprised me! Cool, huh?”
“Yeah. Great.” Jason said, trying to hide a slight tinge of jealousy. He didn’t want to give Mike the satisfaction.
“Well, it’s not all great. Ivan wants me to meet his mother when we go to France.”
“What’s the matter with that?”
“I don’t do ‘in-laws’ okay? I’ve never really gotten along with the parents of any of my boyfriends, and from what he’s told me, she’s rich, old, very traditional and very French.”
“I’m sure she’ll love you. She’s okay with Ivan being with you, isn’t she?”
“That’s kind of the catch that makes me nervous. He hasn’t told her about me.”
“Does she know he’s gay?”
“I don’t know. Everytime I ask him he deflects.”
“Well, just remember, it doesn’t matter what she thinks. He loves you.”
“He’s a momma’s boy. When you deal with a momma’s boy, the mother’s gotta love you or it’s over.” Mike said matter of factly. Jason was about to open his mouth but then the phone went dead. Jason looked down at the display on his phone and it said that it had lost the signal. With a shrug of his shoulders, he tucked his phone away into his pocket and sat back down with Matt. He saw that the movie had not yet begun and a trailer for some new computer animated movie was on the screen.
“What was that all about?”
“Mike and Ivan left for Europe early and Mike’s nervous about meeting Ivan’s mother.”
Jason and Matt emerged from the auditorium an hour and a half later. Matt was subtly wiping his fingers below his eyes. Jason looked over and tried to stifle a laugh.
“Hey!” Matt said defensively as he caught Jason looking. “I think some salt from the popcorn got in my eye.”
“Sure. Whatever,” Jason said. “This was nice. Just the two of us.” Matt wrapped his arm around him.
“Yeah. I just wish we could do it more often.”
“Well, wish granted.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, my lunch today didn’t go as planned. I ran into Bill.”
“Bill? You’re kidding. What did he want?”
“He wants to direct my movie.”
“And you said?”
Jason turned and looked at Matt with an almost surprised look on his face.
“What do you think? I said yes!”
“You think you can really trust him? How many years did he string you along with his promises and then you wound up writing porno!”
“Look, I know how Bill can be, but it’s different this time. He’s working for me now. I hold the cards. I told him no tricks, no changes.”
“And you believe that.”
“I have to. I was in over my head. I can’t make a movie! I’m a writer, not a producer. I don’t have the know-how or the connections. Bill does. This way, I just hand over the reigns to him and let him deal with all the headaches. He can get the cast. He can get the cameras and lights. I think I’m doing the right thing. It means I’m going to have more time to spend with you. Isn’t that a good thing?”
“Yeah, it is. Sure.” Matt said with some trepidation.
“Yes. Of course it is. I’m just thinking of your movie. I know how badly you want it made and I’m just worried Bill might pull one of his tricks on you again.”
“Let me worry about that.” Jason gently kissed Matt on his mouth. He then heard a stifled gasp. They both looked around and saw a small, dumpy woman staring at them with horror on her face with her hand tightly pressed over her child’s eyes. “Grow up.”
Jason and Matt arrived at Matt’s house. They walked in and without a word between the two; they began kissing and ripping each other’s clothes off. Just as Matt was about to pick Jason up and carry him off to the bedroom, he noticed a red blinking light next to his phone.
“No, I have a message.” Matt peeled away from Jason.
“So? You can listen to it later.”
“It could be about work.”
“This late? It’s probably Ken or something. It can wait.”
“I have to listen to it. I’m sorry.” Matt walked over and pushed down on the red blinking light. An electronic voice came on informing Matt that he had one new message. After a short, high-pitched beep, the message played.
“Hey, Matt! It’s Stew! I know it’s been a long time, but I just moved back out here and thought I’d look you up. How are tricks? Call me back at 818-567-8236. Later.”
“Stew? Who’s Stew?”
“Stewart Heed. He was my best bud in the academy and we worked together on the force for a couple years. He moved back to New Jersey after that. I can’t believe he’s come back.” Matt said as he picked up the receiver to the phone.
“Excuse me, but what are you doing?”
“Calling him back.”
“Now? I believe we were in the middle of something.”
“I haven’t seen him in over twenty years! Just let me try. I bet he’s asleep anyway. I’ll just leave a quick message,” A few moments passed. “Hey, Stew. It’s Matt. Just got your message. Hmm? Oh! Hi, Stew. I didn’t think you’d be up. Yeah. How’d you get my number? Oh, right. I forgot about that.” Matt said happily as he looked over at Jason whose arms were crossed tightly and tapping his foot. “Uh, look, I have to go, but how about we get together? Tomorrow? Sure. You have the address? Yeah, I figured. Great. So, tomorrow at noon? Great. Bye.” Matt looked over at Jason who looked fit to be tied, but not in the way Matt liked.
“Are you ready now?”
“I’m sorry. You know how it is with old friends.”
“I guess. You never mentioned Stew before. How good a friend was he?”
“We were tight back in the day. We’d sneak out after hours to some local strip joints.”
“That was before I came out,” Matt said. “We were kind of the resident partners in crime back then. I think he was more an influence on me than I realized. Things changed after we graduated and started working on the force. We got stuck with different partners and we’d just see each other passing in the halls. We’d go drinking and partying and hung out sometimes. He was the first guy I ever came out to. That was pretty intense. I always felt like there was a change between us after that. That was the last time I saw him.”
“That was when he moved back to New Jersey?”
“Yeah. I was a little crushed because I was so used to him being in my life. We tried to stay in touch for a while, but eventually we drifted. Happens all the time, I know. I never thought I’d hear from him again though.”
“Anything happen between you? You know?”
“What? No. No. He’s straight.”
“Well, some guys switch sides and it sounds like you two had a pretty intense thing going on.” Jason said with an edge.
“Oh. I see.”
“I am not!”
“Oh, come on. It’s cute,” Matt said as he pulled Jason in tightly. “Let me take care of that.” Matt said as he started gently nibbling on Jason’s neck. Jason intended to stop him in order to set the record straight in reference of his supposed jealousy, but suddenly found his power failing him as he melted into Matt’s embrace.
Neighbors & Families
Jason returned from his lunch with Bill just as a moving van was pulling up to the front of his building. He swung into the garage and parked. As he walked into his apartment, he saw Ben sitting at the nearest window, peaking out from behind the blinds.
“What are you doing?” Jason asked.
“The new guy is moving in.” Ben said, not taking his eyes off whatever it was he saw for a second. “Steve was not jerking me, either. This guy is beyond hot!”
“Fascinating.” Jason tried to sound as uninterested as he could manage.
“Check this guy out!” Ben called out as loudly as he could without yelling. Jason, despite himself, hurried over. He looked over Ben’s head out the window toward the door across the courtyard that led to the stairs leading to Cynthia’s old apartment. Jason was taken aback with memories of late night gab sessions and junk food binges. It had been so long, he began thinking, since he had even spoken to her. He had been afraid married life would change things. She said it wouldn’t but it would seem she was wrong. Jason’s thoughts were shunted to the side as he caught a glimpse of someone walking out the door across from them.
He was at least six feet tall and had large, thick arms and a pillowy chest. His face was unimaginably beautiful. Perfect nose. Perfect mouth. Deadly eyes. His face was youthful but it was clear that he was quite a bit older, mid to late forties Jason guessed. He saw a streak of Matt in his face. His brown hair was just shaggy enough to give him that boyish, bad boy look. His blue jeans were sufficiently ripped and torn. He had on a pair of small flip flops, which topped off the whole look and made Jason really start to hate himself. He could hear Ben sucking the drool back into his mouth.
“Oh my god! How the hell can any one person be allowed to look that good?”
“I don’t make the rules. So how long do you think?”
“How long do I think what?”
“How long before I land him?”
“You don’t even know his name! Maybe he won’t like you.”
“Everyone likes me,” Ben said. “Watch.” Ben then straightened up and stripped off his shirt, exposing his tanned and ripped torso. Jason used to be made breathless at the sight but living with the man for almost five years had made him immune.
“So, just like that? You skip out there shirtless and he falls for you?”
“That’s how it usually works. Come on.” Ben then ran his fingers through his hair and walked out the door and Jason was close behind.
Jason and Ben walked out to the front where they found the handsome new neighbor climbing out of the moving van with a large, brown box in his grip. His well-shaped biceps were straining and flexing due to the exertion. Ben strode over confidently while Jason stayed back and was prepared for a show.
“Hi there!” The handsome man said enthusiastically.
“Hi,” Ben said in his most smooth and suave voice. “Need some help, neighbor?”
“Oh, thanks, but no. I got it covered.” Just then, a young boy no more than seventeen emerged from the van with a smaller box in his thin arms. He was a tall, thin young boy with black hair that seemed a bit disheveled and crazy. A bright, beautiful looking older woman followed him. She had short, black hair and a full bosom that was testing the limits of the slim sports bra she was wearing.
“That’s Justin,” The man said pointing to the young boy who looked as if he wanted to be anywhere but there. “And that’s Victoria.” He continued as he indicated to the woman who was brightly smiling down upon them all.
“Great. So, your sister and nephew?” Ben asked with a glimmer of hope.
“No. Son and wife. I’m Ty. Ty King,” He said offering his hand underneath the box in his arms. Ben took it half heartedly but Ty didn’t seem to either notice or care. “You’re the first people we’ve met here so far. Aside from Steve of course.”
“Of course.” Jason then burst to life realizing someone had to rescue him from the situation.
“I’m Jason Preston and this is Ben Kollins. Number Nine. Nice to meet you.”
“Likewise.” Ty said nodding simply to Jason.
“You sure you don’t need any help?”
“Absolutely, but thanks for the offer.”
“Well, then. We’ll leave you to it then.” Jason gently turned Ben around and led him back to their apartment.
“I don’t get it.” Ben said breathlessly as soon as they were out of earshot. “He’s straight! And hot!”
“It happens, you know. They can’t all be gay.”
“But, he’s so pretty. Married. With a kid. Pretty old kid too, so I guess they’ve been married for some time.” Ben reasoned. “Maybe,”
“No.” Jason blurted, blocking Ben’s thought. “Let it go.”
Ben spent the rest of the afternoon watching Ty and his family move into Cynthia’s apartment. For every one box Justin dragged up, Ty brought up four. Despite his youth, Justin seemed to be out classed by his father at every step. The resemblance was difficult to see except in the face. Justin clearly did not have his father’s perfectly sculpted body, but he did have his well formed face and the same pair of ice blue eyes. Every now and then Ben could have sworn he saw Justin looking back at him through the window. He thought maybe there was a reason Justin was taking things a bit slower than anyone else. Almost instinctively Ben got up and walked back out to the front. He walked out and saw Ty and Justin struggling with a large chest of drawers.
“Come on, son! Lift!” Ty yelled sounding both exasperated and encouraging at the same time. Then the chest of drawers landed with an audible crunch. Ty turned away and put his hand to his face, obviously trying to keep from saying anything he would regret. “Justin? Maybe you can help your mother with the unpacking inside.” Ty said in a calm, trembling voice. Justin seemed to understand his father’s tone more than Ty thought as he angrily stomped away back into the apartment building. Ty looked up and over at Ben who had silently witnessed the exchange.
“Ben! You look pretty fit! How about lending me a hand with this thing?”
“Sure.” Ben said. He got onto the van and grabbed his end of the chest of drawers. Ty counted to three and together they lifted. This little maneuver worked out better for Ben, as he was able to finally show off his physical prowess to Ty without having to risk a clumsy come on. Ben looked over and saw his arms were straining and pulsing as much as Ty’s. With a great push of force, Ben and Ty lifted the chest of drawers up and Ben brought his end down off the van.
“I guess Justin doesn’t take after you in everything, huh?”
“Yeah. He’s a good kid though. I try not to put so much pressure on him. It’s hard though. In my line of work, pressure is what it’s all about.” Ty said as he carefully guided the chest of drawers along onto the sidewalk.
“What do you do?”
“I knew it.” Ben said softly under his breath.
“I worry about him though. He’s so withdrawn. He’s never been to a school dance. Ever. Can you believe that?”
“It’s natural. I remember how it was when I was young. You never know what you’re feeling. Justin just doesn’t seem to be one of the lucky few who sail through puberty effortlessly.”
“I guess he got that from his mother. When I was his age, I didn’t think life could get any better. I lettered on all my teams. I got good grades. I was popular. I’d get hit on by all the girls, a few guys, and even some of the teachers. It was the greatest time of my life.”
“Really? What about now?”
“Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’m happy. It’s just back then I had a freedom that I just don’t have anymore. It’s just something that comes and goes with time. No complaints.” Ty said. Ty went on about his life with Victoria and Justin. He talked about how they had been living in New York up until three years ago when Victoria’s employer laid her off after twenty years of loyal service. It was at that point that they decided that the time had come for a change. They both agreed that moving to California was just the change they needed. Ty knew his training could travel with him and Victoria was certain she’d find a new job out in Los Angeles. Justin, Ty said, didn’t weigh in on the moving issue. He just seemed to agree with it as he did with most things and went with it. They had been living in Hollywood up until six months ago when a shift in their income forced them to find a building with lower rent.
After Ben and Ty moved the chest of drawers in, they joined Justin and Victoria in unpacking the other boxes. Ben was happily opening box after box, half way hoping he’d open up the box containing Ty and Victoria’s bedroom things. He was wondering what kind of porn he enjoyed. Did he get off on girl on girl stuff or was he more traditional? Did Victoria enjoy it with him or did she, like most wives as Ben understood it, just tolerate it for the sake of harmony? Victoria seemed to have the wild streak needed for such activities. As he pulled open the flaps of the last box, he found disappointment, as he looked down upon a pile of old dishrags. He began to dig through but there was nothing more inside. Victoria popped over and snagged a couple handfuls of towels and flashed a courteous smile at Ben.
“Would you care to stay for dinner?” She asked. “Nothing fancy. We were just going to order in a pizza.”
“Thanks, that would be great.” Ben said as he rested on the couch. He kept himself hunched over in order to keep his sweaty back off the upholstery. Justin was sitting across the room sorting through one of his boxes. His eyes were intent on the contents but Ben noticed Justin catching quick glances at him every now and then.
The pizza arrived and Ben sat down with the Kings in the living room. They sat on the floor in a circle. Ben did his best not to linger on Ty who was, like him, still shirtless. He just shot quick glances when he thought he was safe. A few times he thought that Justin had caught him and once he could have sworn Victoria had too, but she didn’t change her demeanor so it must have been a mistake, he thought. The only eyes Ben felt on him were those of Justin who seemed to be looking at him even more frequently as they were closer to each other.
“Oh!” Suddenly Ty spoke out. “I almost forgot! The van!”
“Oh! That’s right!” Victoria checked her watch. “It’s due back in ten minutes!”
“I’m on it.” Ty said as he pitched himself up, his muscled chest undulating with his movement. It was all Ben could do to keep himself from just jumping up and taking a bite out of him. Victoria struggled up as well.
“I’ll come with you. Sorry to run out on you like this, Ben. Go ahead and finish your dinner. We’ll be back in a little bit, Justin. Be nice to our guest.” Victoria said to Justin in an oddly motherly tone as they left.
Ben and Justin lingered on their dinner after Victoria and Ty left. There were no witnesses so Justin stared at Ben unapologetically.
“What?” Ben snapped.
“Nothing.” Justin said quietly.
“I’m going to call it a night. Tell your parents I appreciated the meal.” Ben then got up and walked to the door.
“You like my dad, don’t you?” Ben stood, frozen, at the door. He slowly turned.
“It’s okay. Happens all the time. Everyone likes my dad.”
“Why are you asking me this?”
“I saw you looking at him all day. I know that look. I’ve seen it on a lot of people’s faces. Teachers. Baby sitters. Distant relatives.”
“Okay. You got me. You’re dad’s hot,” Ben said. “And since we’re talking about who’s staring at who, how about you looking at me?”
“I was not.”
“Come off it! Every time I was turning around, you were turning back the other way. I’m not stupid.”
“You’re cute, okay?”
“It’s okay to admit it.”
“I know. It’s just kind of new to me. I don’t know if it’s anything serious. I read that all guys go through this stage where they’re attracted to other guys.”
“I’ve heard that too. What do you think it means for you?”
“I don’t know. I’m kind of working that out.” Justin said brightly.
“Well, I’ve never really been the counselor type, but if you want to talk, let me know.”
“Really?” Justin asked as he lifted his head up. A slight smile formed along the corner of his mouth.
“Really.” Ben looked into Justin’s timid grin. For the briefest of moments his mind was taken back to when he was growing up in Seattle and how he felt the summer he realized about his own bisexuality. He remembered the fear and anxiety of those weird feelings and the euphoria of finally accepting what he was as well as the feeling of having his whole life ahead of him. He saw a road ahead of him that held nothing but promise and new discovery. He suddenly snapped back as a small clock nearby began to ring. He looked over and saw it was nearly nine o’clock.
“I better get going.”
“Sorry. Gotta work, you know? Besides, I am trashed after all this moving, but I’m downstairs, across the yard. Number nine.” Ben said feeling more important than he had ever felt in his life.
“Okay.” Justin looked up to Ben and tossed him a slight smile which Ben returned just as he slipped through the door.
Luggage & Fix Ups
Ken was hunched over the keyboard of his computer. His eyes were intent on the screen before him. He had spent most of the day at home working on spreadsheets and proposal forms for work, but he had decided to take a little Internet break and had found his way into the chat rooms on HOMO.COM. He had intended only to observe the other chatters, but the urge overtook him and he had made out his own profile and was smack dab in the middle of the San Fernando Valley room. There wasn’t much going on in the main chat, but Ken was juggling four separate instant messengers. All four were pretty much the same. They were all in their mid thirties, they all were professionals who enjoyed outdoor activities and dinners with close friends, or that special someone, at least that’s what their profiles said. Ken was just jumping from one conversation to the next. All four discussions were surrounding mundane topics such as weather and each chatters’ dislike for their work. Eventually, almost at the same time, the chat turned to more personal matters. First the question if Ken worked out was asked by all four chat mates. He had barely gone to his gym in the months following Greg’s departure, but Ken lied anyway and said that he worked out at least three times a week. This impressed his new cyber friends. Then came questions of his physical measurements. Ken again fudged a bit. He gave his height honestly, but he shaved a few pounds off his weight.
Then the final, most important, question was posted. Whether or not Ken had a picture to share. Ken felt a slight chill run down his back. He was beginning to feel a stir in his lap from his talking to the four online strangers and wasn’t looking forward to popping the bubble. He took a gulp of air and realized it was bound to happen at some point. He told them all yes, and transmitted his most recent picture to them all. Time passed. Beads of sweat began to form on Ken’s forehead. ‘They must be having trouble downloading it. It was a pretty big file.’ Ken thought to himself. He asked if MANSTUD69 was having any trouble with the file. No answer. He then tried XXXBEERCAN, again, no reply. Ken’s fingers were starting to wiggle over the keys. He decided not to tempt fate with the other two and just let them simmer. Just as he was about to close out of the program, a new line of text popped up in MANSTUD69’s chat window. Ken’s heart began to race. He scanned the line of new text but then his heart sank a little. Apparently Ken wasn’t MANSTUD69’s type. A polite way of telling him he was repulsive. Ken quit out of his Internet browser without so much as an obligatory good bye. Ken knew in his head it was just on-line flirting. Nothing to be taken seriously, but in his heart, any rejection, however small, stung like a thousand knives.
He was still feeling vulnerable since Greg walked out on him, also with no good-bye or even explanation. Ken had been going into the chat rooms more and more frequently over the past few months. He was soon a veteran of the whole thing. He had the lingo and shorthand down pat. He knew the dance quite well. The only problem was he just wasn’t that good at it. Just as the onset of full force depression began to take hold of him, the front door of his Van Nuys apartment flew open and Mike came barging in.
“I have been trying to call you for over an hour! What the hell is wrong with your,” Mike stopped suddenly when he saw the computer was on and Ken had his head down. “Oh. Cruising the chat rooms again?” Ken slowly nodded his head.
“What are you doing here?” Ken asked as he picked himself up and took a deep breath.
“You said I could borrow your luggage, darling. Remember?”
“Oh. Right. I forgot. Sorry.”
“I didn’t want to barge in here like this, but Ivan and I are leaving on our trip in a couple days. I’ve got to start packing if I’m going to make that. Oh. Kenny, boy! Can you believe it? I’m going to Europe! I’m actually going! And not alone like some loser! I’m going with my boyfriend. My actual, ‘been together for a whole year’ boyfriend! I never thought I’d see the day.” Mike said in a breathy, happy tone.
“Neither did I.” Ken said brusquely as he pushed past Mike towards his bedroom to retrieve the luggage in question. Mike shot a hard sneer at Ken as he passed, but Ken would hardly have cared even if he had seen it.
“I don’t like the tone, missy.”
Ken opened his closet and up on the top shelf he saw his gold seal Samsonite leather cases. He had bought them years earlier at a time when he had been going on several extended trips for his firm. Ken had decided that a good set of luggage would be a good investment. After he bought them though, his trips had ceased and he was stuck with a set of luggage that nearly set him back a clear grand with no place to go. He had played with the idea of going to Europe himself. He had secretly wanted to go, although he never told anyone, due to the fact everyone simply assumed every gay man dreamed of going to Europe and he didn’t want to play into any stereotypes. He really wanted to go though, and that luggage was going to go with him, but that was a long time ago and the dust that was building on the luggage was becoming noticeable.
He reached up and pulled the largest case down. A cloud of soot drifted down with it. He grabbed the other two smaller bags and wiped off the dust. Ken then carried all three bags out to Mike who was waiting anxiously to take them in his hands.
“Oh wow! They look great! Like they’ve hardly been used.” Ken ignored his friend’s jab.
“Look, I’m sorry okay? It’s not like I planned for my relationship to be going so good while yours, well, while yours crapped out.”
“It’s okay, Mike. Really. I don’t give a shit anyway. What good are boyfriends anyway? They just add this unwanted pressure into your life. Someone you always have to look good around. Someone you’re always self conscious around. Does he love me? Do I love him? Please. I’m much more comfortable just being single. The way God intended.”
“Wow. Someone’s been getting drunk on the bitter juice lately.”
“Not all of us can land a fashion mogul like you.”
“Are you implying that I’m only with Ivan because he’s rich?”
“I’ll have you know that I would be just as happy with Ivan if he were poor. The fact that he is rich is just the biggest, best surprise in the world.”
“Look, I’m sorry. I’m just still shook by Greg. I am happy for you and Ivan. I really am. Maybe even a little jealous.” Mike’s steel features softened and he lovingly took Ken in his arms and hugged him gently.
“Oh, honey.” Mike cooed. “Of course you are.”
Mike cradled Ken in his arms and then released his embrace and looked Ken straight in the eyes.
“Look, serious, okay? It really is killing me seeing you such a mess. How about I fix you up?”
“A fix up? I don’t know.”
“Why not? That’s how Ivan and I met.”
“No it’s not. You hooked up in a bath house.”
“I know. We’re just telling everyone it was fix up. It’s so much more romantic, don’t you think? So, how about it? A little fix up?”
“I don’t think so,” Ken said. “Oh come on! There’s this really cute guy at the restaurant who’s just as desperate and hard up as you.”
“I didn’t mean it like that, but since the cat is out of the bag.”
“Is he really cute?”
“Babe, he is hot! I mean if it weren’t for Ivan, I’d be camping out between his legs right now.” Mike said.
“What’s his name?”
“Ramone Del Cruz. He’s very sweet. A little shy since the divorce.”
“Divorce? From a woman? He was married to a woman? He is gay right?”
“Darling! Why do you think she dumped him? Don’t worry. He’s totally down with the man on man thing. When do you want to do it?”
“I didn’t agree to anything. Yet. I have to think about it.”
“Fine. Think.” Mike said as he handed Ken a piece of paper. He looked down at it. It had a phone number and the name Ramone scrawled across it. “I told him all about you, so he won’t be too surprised to hear from you.”
“You gave him my number too, didn’t you?”
“It may have found its way into his pocket.” Mike said impishly.
“I appreciate it. I really do.”
“I love you, you know that. We all do.”
“Love me as much as your luggage, right? Well, my luggage,” Ken said with a smile. “I know. I’ll be okay. You go on. Enjoy my luggage. Enjoy Europe!”
“I will. Thanks.” Mike then gave Ken a light kiss on the cheek and sauntered out.
Mike came driving up to Ivan’s house in Brentwood. It was a ranch style house hidden deep in a small glen of ivy and old oaks. It was one of the few very secluded, exclusive, neighborhoods in a city as large as Los Angeles. The lights were off which concerned Mike as Ivan had told him he’d be home all night.
He parked the car on a small patch of gravel. He got out and as he walked towards the front door, the lights inside came on. Mike ran over and opened the door. He stopped when he saw a platoon of packed bags sitting before him.
“What is all this?” Ivan popped out from behind one of the larger suit bags.
“Just a little surprise.”
“Did you pack for a vacation or are you moving?” Mike was trying to comprehend the amount of clothes that sat before him.
“It’s Europe! The weather over there can be crazy so you need to be prepared for anything. Plus, we’re going to a number of official events so I need a good selection of dressy clothes.”
“Is there anything left in your closet?”
“Just my underwear.” Ivan said with a sly grin as he slowly slid his arms around Mike’s waist.
“Well, you won’t be needing those, now will you?”
“Nope. So, let’s go.” Ivan whispered in Mike’s ear. Mike bolted up.
“Yes. I called and had our tickets upgraded. We leave in about forty five minutes.”
“I can’t go now! I haven’t even packed!”
“You don’t think all these clothes are mine, do you?”
“The red bags are yours, the green ones are mine. I know your measurements and what you like so I took the liberty of packing for you. All originals. All French.”
“Oh my god. Ivan! It sounds so silly to say this but you shouldn’t have,” Ken’s luggage, which was still sitting in Mike’s car outside, was fading out of his mind. “Wait.” Mike said as a certain reality abruptly popped in his head. “My job. My vacation doesn’t start for two more days!”
“So? It’s just two days.”
“It must have been a while since you’ve been in the world of hourly wages, but normally employers don’t like it when you take off work days ahead of schedule.”
“I realize that, but I’m sure they’ll understand. Just call up your boss and explain the situation.”
“I’ll try.” Mike pulled out his cell phone and dialed Oscar Porter; the owner of the restaurant Mike was currently working at. It rang a few times. A thick, smoke scarred voice came on.
“Yeah?” Oscar blurted.
“Mr. Porter? It’s Mike.”
“Oh. Mike. What is it?”
“I was just calling to tell you that something’s come up and,” Mike wasn’t sure what to say. He knew that Oscar wasn’t one to give away free time too easily.
“Hey, Mike, if you’re calling about your vacation time, you’re talking to the wrong guy.”
“Yeah, I haven’t told anyone yet, but I sold the place today.”
Mike felt his head spin briefly as he heard these words hit his ears.
“I know. I was surprised too, but I just got a real good offer the other day and I figured I was about ready to retire. Don’t worry though. No one’s losing their job or anything. I was assured the business would stay open and be run as usual.”
Mike felt a bit of relief at that news but his more immediate concern was still hanging in the balance.
“Who do I talk to about my vacation then?” Oscar proceeded to give Mike a phone number. He thanked him and dialed the new number. He shot a confused look at Ivan as he waited for the sound of ringing. Then almost by coincidence, Ivan’s phone began to ring. He grabbed his phone and stepped away out of sight. Within a few seconds a familiar voice purred in Mike’s ear.
“Yes?” Mike could hear Ivan both over the phone and just a few feet away. Mike clicked off his phone and ran over to Ivan.
“You? You bought my restaurant?”
“I just thought it would make it easier for you to get out of there a couple days early.”
“How did you do this? Buying a restaurant has got to take mountains of paperwork!”
“Fortunately, I’ve got mountains of money.”
“Are you telling me you bought an entire restaurant just so you could make sure I could leave with you two days early?”
“That’s about the shape of it, yes.”
“That is so crazy! You don’t even know how to run a restaurant!”
“I’ll hire someone for that. I look at it as an investment. I’ll worry about all the nuts and bolts when we get back. Now, get your bags. We’re leaving.”
Mornings & Meetings
The rays of the morning sun lit up Jason Preston’s messy bedroom, giving light to the piles of dirty clothes on the floor and mountains of junk mail that had accumulated over the previous week.
Jason’s eyes slowly opened and just then the clock radio on his nightstand went off. As usual, he had beaten the clock. He then reached over and slammed on the snooze button. He winced in pain as he lifted his arm, but the nagging ache didn’t surprise him. It had been like that for months. It was one of the lingering souvenirs he had received from a serial killer known as the Road Rager who had attacked him the previous year.
Jason also had a lovely six-inch scar running down his shoulder, from where the killer’s axe had landed with the intent to kill, and a nagging limp due to moderate nerve damage in his spinal cord.
Jason slowly turned onto his back, trying not to make any sound. A little squeal of pain had become an involuntary reaction that he had been trying to control as best he could. He just lied there in bed, staring at the white ceiling. He began running through his mental to do list and remembered, with great relief, that he didn’t have to go back to his old job.
The money his friend Elliot Leskowitz had left Jason after his tragic death, also at the hands of the Road Rager, was more than enough to support him and keep the bills under control, despite the fact that the money was meant to finance the production of Jason’s movie. Jason wasn’t too pleased to realize that after all the loans and cards had been paid back, most of the money was gone. He had not realized it had gotten so bad.
Jason remained still in his contentment until he finally remembered that he actually had things to do. He had to meet with some of the actors he had been able to convince to work for free. They weren’t real actors, but rather drama students active in the theater department at CSUN. They weren’t very good, but their enthusiasm and willingness to work pro bono more than made up for any lack of talent.
Jason’s morning meditation was suddenly intruded upon when his phone rang. He looked back over at the clock to see that it wasn’t even 7:30 yet.
“Who?” Jason mumbled to himself as he carefully reached over for the phone. “Hello?” He asked with some trepidation.
“Good morning, baby.” A thick, full voice purred over the line.
“Matt.” Jason said, suddenly feeling a lot more energy in his brain.
“Sorry for calling so early, but I just wanted to say good morning.”
“What’s the occasion? There’ve been lots of mornings when you didn’t say good morning to me.”
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s because this is the first morning that you didn’t wake up over here.”
“I thought we talked about this. It’s not that I didn’t want to stay, it’s just I have things I need to get done and when we’re together, I get too distracted. I really have to pull it together here.”
“I know, I know. I’m sorry. I guess I’ve just been getting used to having you here lately.”
“Well, I’ll make it up to you later, okay?”
“Yes. It is a promise.”
“So what’s on tap for today?”
“I have a lunch meeting with Justin and Tanya.”
“No. Justin and Tanya are two of the actors I’ve managed to secure for the movie. They’re the leads in fact. I just need to go over the script with them and figure out how it’s all going to work.”
“And after that?”
“I promised Ken I’d go shopping with him later. He’s still kind of in mourning since Greg left him.”
“Ah, yes. Gay therapy.”
“I’ve been trying to get him back in the dating thing, but he’s so guarded.”
“Just give him time.”
“I suppose. Oh. I better get up now.”
“Yeah, I better get to work, too. I’ve got a lot of cases backing up.” Matt said, equally remorseful.
“Okay. Then hang up.”
“No. You hang up.”
“No. It’s your turn to hang up first.”
“It’s not my turn. Look, just hang up okay?”
“Oh god. Are we being cutesy?”
“Disgustingly. Yes. I’ll hang up. I love you.”
“I love you too.” Jason said just before he heard the click of Matt’s phone hanging up. Jason put the receiver back down in the cradle and with a deep breath pulled the covers off and started his day.
After putting himself together, Jason stepped out the door and took a deep, full breath. It was a beautiful day in the valley. The sky seemed especially blue and clear with only a few faint, wispy clouds floating above. The air was crisp, yet warm and comfortable. An energy came over Jason. A feeling of potential and promise took hold of him. For the first time in his life, he could see the endless frontier of his future and he was no longer afraid. He was ready to meet it head on.
Jason then made his way down to the garage and saw that his car was parked behind Ben’s in their tandem parking space so he was clear to go. Just as he was about to put his key in the door, a voice rang out behind him sounding excited and giddy. It was Ben.
“Did you see!?” Ben asked sounding very much unlike himself. Jason spun around to face him. He was wearing a white tank top; ultra short shorts and carrying a small basket of freshly cleaned laundry.
“What?” Ben raised one of his eyebrows and indicated across from them. Jason looked over and the only remarkable thing he saw was only one car on the other side of the garage was clean and shining. It was also the newest car there. It looked to be a dark blue Jaguar. It still had the temporary registration taped in the rear windshield.
“Check it. New money’s moving in.”
“Or someone got a new car.”
“I checked with Steve earlier. It’s a new tenant. He says the guy’s hot too!”
“All right,” Jason said trying to figure out how the information was important to him. Then a sudden shock of realization hit him. “He’s moving into Cynthia’s old place?”
“I think so, yeah. Oh, don’t tell me you’re still down about that! You were at the wedding. You knew full well she was moving out.”
“I know, I know. I guess it’s just as long as her place was just empty I thought maybe there was a chance she’d come back. Someone moving in pretty much shoots that fantasy dead.”
“Man. You have got to be the only gay guy I know who has any kind of fantasy involving a woman,” Ben said. “Well, if this guy is everything Steve said he was, you’ll have a whole new fantasy to play around with.” Ben shot Jason a quick wink as he turned and started towards the door leading out of the garage.
Jason arrived at The Garden for the first time for a meeting that he had arranged. The sun was bright and blazing over the small Hollywood bistro. The morning crowd seemed a bit more sedate than those who came for lunch.
He was sitting at one of the large tables near the wall in a seat that gave him an optimum view of everything happening on the patio. An obviously gay couple walked in and Jason took quick notice. The two men looked nearly identical. They had the same type of build and they were both extremely good looking with very similar facial structure. They were also both inhumanly tan, with oddly blonde hair and dressed in clothes that were so ugly they just had to be name brand.
When the well-muscled greeter came up to them with menus in hand, they looked him up and down as if he were the special of the day. He led them away to a table inside, so Jason was left with his imagination to finish out the scenario. Once they were seated, they probably offered the young naive waiter a cocktail and in his youthful ignorance he would accept the drink. They would undoubtedly put something in his Cosmo or Fuzzy Navel causing their young, unsuspecting prey to start taking his clothes off. He was hot and it was a gay establishment so no one would object to such an action and before long, they’d be double banging the lad on their table; One in the back and the other up front. They’d shoot their wads and leave their servant spent and used. They probably would even forget his name after their moment of passion, or so Jason thought. The reality that one partner staring at the waiter would incite an argument between the two and by the end of the meal, one of them would be wearing their Long Island Iced Tea would never have occurred to him.
Hours dragged on. Most of the people Jason saw arrive, were starting to leave. He kept checking his watch. It was almost noon and Justin and Tanya were supposed to have been there at nine. He had finished his roast chicken sandwich and was on his fifth glass of cola. The pressure in his bladder was beginning to nag at him but he had no idea where the restrooms were. The thought of searching around the place as if he were some little lost child did not appeal to him.
Jason was just about to give it up when he saw out of the corner of his eye Tanya running up from the street, although it could barely be called running. She was shuffling along on her three inch heels as she made it onto the patio. She composed herself. She spotted Jason right off as she walked through the front gate and hurried over to his table, sitting down smoothly in the chair across from him.
“I am so sorry.” She began. “I was up all night studying for an art history exam.”
“That’s okay,” Jason said, barely meaning it. “You have your copy of the script?”
“Uh, no. I was in such a hurry.” Tanya’s eyes seemed pleading through the dark sunglasses that covered the top portion of her head.
“I guess that’s okay. We can just talk about where your head was. You did read it, right?”
“Yes. I didn’t get all of it, but from what I can tell, it looks pretty good.”
“Thanks. Now, what are your thoughts on Taryn?”
“Your character! Taryn!”
“Oh! Right. Her. She was fun. I mean, she’s been around, but hell, who hasn’t, right?” Tanya asked with a slight laugh. She winced in slight pain. She put her hand to her head and squeezed. A picture was forming in Jason’s head.
“Why don’t you take off those glasses?”
“What? Oh. No. It’s too bright out here. I’m good.”
“It’s not that bad. Besides, your back’s to the sun. Just take them off for a second.”
Tanya began to speak but couldn’t come up with a good excuse. She surrendered and took them off. Jason nearly fell back off his seat. Her eyes were nearly glowing red.
“Okay, I can explain.”
“I thought you said you were studying last night.”
“I was, but after I was done I went out for some fun.”
“We’ve talked about this, Tanya. I need you focused on this.”
“It was just a little slip. It won’t happen again,” Jason snagged her arm and took a closer look at her upper arm. He could make out small little holes along the veins. “I can explain that too.”
“I can’t believe this! We’re shooting this thing in a couple of days Tanya!”
“I’m under a lot of pressure right now, okay? My parents cut off my Visa. My Mercedes is still in the shop and that rental they gave me doesn’t even have an MP3 player in it! And on top of all that, all my teachers this quarter are female, which means I’m going to actually have to study for my finals. Well, for at least two of them, anyway. I just needed something to level off.”
“I can’t deal with this. Where’s Justin? I thought you were coming together?”
“Justin isn’t going to be able to make it.”
“Well, we were partying together last night, and I guess he couldn’t really keep up with me.”
“Where is he? Jail?”
“Morgue.” Tanya said.
“Morgue? You mean he’s, he’s…?”
“Dead? Yeah. He kind of passed out after the Vodka bong and then it all went downhill from there. Trust me. You don’t want details, and if you do, you can get them from the police.”
“That’s kind of the real reason I’m late. I had to give a statement. Maybe we could get together tonight and go over the script?” Jason had his elbows up on the table propping up his head. His mood was growing heavy.
“Go.” Jason said in a low, tired moan.
“I said, go!”
“Fine. I’ll call you when you’re thinking more clearly.” She said as she got up and waddled back out.
Jason’s mind was a swirl of thought, which was soon broken by the sound of clapping; A slow, deliberate clapping. Jason looked around and further back, behind a potted palm, Jason saw Bill Kaslow sitting comfortably at a table that was clearly too small for his girth.
“Bravo!” He called out as he squeezed out of his chair and walked over to Jason’s table.
“The one and only. How are you, Jay?” Bill said happily as he took the seat across from Jason.
“I’ve been good. Where have you been?”
“Well, I was riding high on the porno thing for a while, but I got bored with it. Figured that would happen eventually, but not so quickly. At first it was great. Hot chicks left and right. The drugs, the parties. I think I got laid more in the past eight months than ever before in my life! But then everyone was starting to get obsessed with the art of it. Pretty soon it was the same grind with the whining bitches and over inflated egos. I started to miss Hollywood all over again and thought maybe I’d get back into the regular biz again. Speaking of which, I heard you came into some money. Finally making your own movie, eh?”
“How on Earth did you just hear about that?”
“Hey, contrary to popular belief, Hollywood is a very small place. Sometimes you can hear a fly fart from across town.”
“Lovely. It’s true. Elliot left me the money in his life insurance policy.”
“Mmm, terrible. Sorry for your loss, but do you need a director?”
“Look, I was watching you with that girl. I can tell right off you don’t know how to handle actors, and that’s fine. You’re a writer! Handling actors is the director’s job. I can help you.”
“I don’t know.”
“Think about it for a minute. You’ll still be in charge, but I’ll be handling the grunt work. You’ll be like the executive producer.”
“Well, to be totally honest, the thought of jumping off a bridge has been on my mind lately. I guess I really didn’t know what I was getting into. There’s just so much! The lights, cameras, and actors! It’s a mess!”
“Which is where I can pick up your slack. I’ve been dealing with all that longer than you’ve been alive. Let me take the burden.” Bill said in a soothing tone.
“So,” Jason said, thinking. “You’ll be working for me?”
“I wouldn’t put it like that.”
“But you would.”
“You, Bill Kaslow, would be working for me, Jason Preston.” Jason said sounding more impressed by the idea by the minute.
“Okay. I get it. I suppose in your shoes I’d feel the same way. Do we have a deal?”
“I don’t know.”
“Look, Jason. It’s me! Bill! We go back a long way. It’s not like I’m some stranger. You know me. You trust me.”
“Well, I know you.”
“Come on man. I admit, I can be a royal ass when I want to, but as far as my art, I’m all business.”
“That’s true. Fine. Be my director.” Bill’s face lit up like Jason never saw before. He jumped up from his chair and grabbed Jason’s hand in his meaty grip and began shaking it wildly.
“You won’t regret this!”
“Oh, I know that.” Jason said warningly. “There are some conditions to this. I don’t want any double crosses or quick switches! I don’t want to see my movie ending up at the Tom Katt Theater!”
“I swear! Nothing like that. The script you wrote is the one that will get made.”
“It better. I’ll be checking up on you. Don’t think I won’t be watching.”
“You’re welcome to. In fact, I think it would be great to have you on the set while we shoot. I can teach you some of the finer points of film production.”
“Well, we’ll see about that. Come by my place tonight and I can give you all my stuff. You can see how much I’ve gotten done so far and you can get your starting point.”
“Can’t wait. I’ll see you tonight then.” Bill said just as a waiter came gliding up towards the table.
“Is there anything else today?” The waiter asked. Just as Jason was about to ask for the check, Bill’s large mouth opened up and an order started pouring out. The waiter jotted down every word and looked over to Jason, who just waved him off. Jason looked over to Bill with an accusing look.
“What? When you worked for me, I paid for your lunch.” Bill said as he settled back in his seat with his familiar, self-satisfied smile.
TGIFBF! This week I offer “Something’s Always Wrong”, the second installment in the Jason Of The Valley series.
Sadly, this will be the last entry for this book this week, as there are only four parts. But take heart, loyal readers (few that you may be) tomorrow is Free Book Friday, and a new book shall be offered. Stay tuned! And if you want to full story, just follow this link and enjoy!
He’s been staring at me since the last stop. I admit he’s a cut above the others. At least he’s not some bug-eyed freak with no hair and bad skin. I just don’t know how they can even pick me out of a crowd. It’s not like I have some big tattoo on my forehead declaring I’m the daughter of the so-called Savior. I’m just plain old Larissa Corba, wage slave by day and woman of mystery by night. It’s not my fault my old man founded some crazy church and it’s really not my fault anyone with less than half a brain believes him. I heard the story from my mom so many times before. She just didn’t want me to forget about him. Kind of hard since he stepped out on us before I was even ten. I have to admit, what I do remember of him is good, but it doesn’t make up for the fact that he chose his church over his family. How long before we get to East Fifth Street? This train is taking forever.
He’s still staring too. He’s kind of cute actually. Nice face. Good hair. Hard to believe someone that well put together would fall in with the cult crowd, but then you can never really tell how dumb people are by just looking at them. It would be such a nicer world if you could, though. I could take him out. Maybe even have some fun. No. Stop. No way. I’m not going through that again. Once, a year ago, I let my guard down and it just turned into a big bloody mess. I still don’t know what I was thinking. You see a stalker so, of course, you invite him in for coffee and before you know it, you’re lashed to your bed with dried pig intestines and surrounded by a bunch of Goth priests waiting for him to come and make you a vessel for the next Savior. I was so lucky the intestines broke and I had that knife under my pillow. These days, you can’t be too careful. Another lesson from dear old mom.
I can feel the train slowing to its stop and finally the doors slide open. I push through the people in front of me. Not that I’m scared, but experience tells me to put as much distance between this freak and me as I can. I zigzag along the platform toward the stairs. There are too many people to stop and look around to see if I did lose him, but I’m pretty sure I have.
I walk out onto East Fifth Street and the cool air hits me hard. The sky is as dark as ever. A thick, billowy cover of gray and black clouds has floated over New York and apparently likes it so much it won’t leave. I’m just glad the rain has stopped. It was raining since I got up this morning. It’s actually been raining for several weeks now. Days and days of solid rain with a few breaks in-between. I noticed a couple weeks ago how it’s affecting people. Normally Herb, the guy I get my paper from, always has a smile for me, but three Mondays back, he was as sour and angry as most everyone I know. It was too bad. I myself skew a bit on the dark side and it’s always comforting to have a few smiling faces around. Takes the pressure off me to be happy.
I feel a drop of chilled liquid hit my cheek and soon it’s followed by all his friends. I whip out my umbrella quickly just as the icy water crashes down on everyone. A few slowpokes are still struggling with their umbrellas as I walk by. Must be tourists. Only someone who’s just visiting would let their guard down that easily. I turn my head a bit to get a better look at how bad the poor sucker gets soaked, but instead, I see my train buddy a few yards behind. I turn back quickly and focus on getting through the crowd. My building’s just a few blocks away. This guy isn’t good enough to keep up with me that long. I disappear into a flock of commuters. I purposely cut through the middle to ensure my friend has as difficult a time as he can possibly have in tracking me. I’m tempted to run, but if I run, he runs. I can get more distance between us if I just keep cool.
I’m just a few steps from my building and I feel a wave of relief. I quickly brush past my doorman, Will. He tips his hat to me as I walk by, as he always does, and I blurt out a ‘thanks’ out the side of my mouth, as I always do. I make a snap decision to take the stairs. I’m only on the third floor and I don’t have any heavy luggage. I can make it. I veer a sharp right just before the elevators and find the entrance to the stairwell. I start up, feeling a wave of comfort as I think about my stalker, stuck out in the miserable rain while I am safe and dry. I get to the third floor and open the door. The coast is clear. Not a soul in sight. I start down the hall to my door. I pass the elevator and as I do, it opens. There he is! I feel my spine stiffen. I curse myself just a little bit. I thought I was playing it safe with the stairs. Either I’m losing my skill at avoiding psychos, or this guy is one of the best. He’s closer behind me. I can hear his footsteps. I think I can even smell his aftershave. There’s my door at the end of the hall. It’s so close. Don’t run. Just keep walking. Eyes forward. Pretend you’re a laser burning through a wall of butter. Just cut through. He’s getting closer. I can hear the rustle of his pants as he steps. Okay. There’s no more time for running.
I stop suddenly and pivot fast. I barely recognize the look of surprise on this nutjob’s face. I grab his arm, spin him around and slam him into the wall. He tries to speak, so I shove his face hard in order to impede speech. I don’t really want to hear how I don’t understand and he didn’t mean anything by following me all the way from the subway. He bucks a bit under my grip. Pretty cheeky, if I do say so myself. I throw him to the floor and grind my knee into his spine.
“I live here!” He screams out.
“Three twenty three! Over there! I’m Mike Barnes!” He barks, looking over to the door a few away from mine. I feel sudden coolness erupt in my heart. I jump up from him quickly. I see he’s got his keys in his hand.
“Oh my god. I am so sorry! I didn’t know!”
“It’s okay.” He picks himself up and smoothes himself out nicely. He looks at me and smiles a bit. He seems to be a better sport than I would be if the tables were turned. “I’ve got a couple younger sisters. I know what kind of world it is.”
“I just thought you were following me. In my defense, that happens a lot.”
“I’m sure. Considering who you are.”
“What do you mean by that?” My guard goes back up quickly.
“Well, I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t know about your father. I saw you on that bit on the news a few months back.”
“Oh. Right. I was hoping that would have put an end to all of this. Just because my father is the founder of the Great Church of Corba doesn’t mean I’m any closer to God’s ear. Their editor chopped the whole piece up so badly though, now I’ve got more people coming up to me, hoping I can deliver them to The Savior.”
“It’s not your fault. I just got dealt a lousy father and now I’m paying for it.”
“That’s a little harsh.”
“What do you call a father who would rather run off and start some crazy church than be with his family? I don’t think I ever spent any time alone with him after they started filling his head with crazy ideas. He always had that creepy advisor with him. Couldn’t make a move without him. Mom couldn’t take it anymore and asked for a divorce, which he gave her just like that. No arguments. No fights. He just bolted out the door and never thought of us again.”
“Okay. Maybe it wasn’t harsh.”
“So, you live over there? I can’t believe I’ve never seen you in the building before.”
“You may not have seen me, but I’ve seen you a couple times. You always seem so focused and in your mind. I’d say hi, but you never replied.”
“I understand. If my life were like yours, I’d be exactly the same way.” He smiles again. Seeing him closer up, I can see how good looking he really is. His eyes are deep and a crisp shade of blue and his hair looks soft.
“I still feel bad about this. Maybe, if you want, you could come over for a drink sometime? We could get to know each other. I don’t really know any of my neighbors.”
“I’d be honored to be the first. Would tonight be okay?”
“Tonight? Uh, sure. Yeah. Why don’t you come by around eight?”
“Perfect. I’ll see you then.” He smiles again and trots off to his door. I watch him closely as he puts the key in and pushes the door open. Just had to be sure he really did live there. As his door closes, I feel satisfied and I go on to my home.
It’s a great day for someone today. The Supreme Court not only eliminated campaign contribution limits, but they also have declined challenges to gun control laws. I’m starting to think these guys in the robes are the real problem. They are really trying to stack the deck for their own party. I thought they were supposed to be impartial. BTW, I love this quote:
“With the ruling, we continue to chip away at the long entrenched status quo from the grassroots — a status quo that has kept challengers, better ideas, and new entrants to the political arena mostly locked out,” McCutcheon said in a statement. “Ensuring that citizens are able to contribute to multiple candidates or causes who share their views only provides further support to a system in which ‘We the People’ hold the ultimate reins of power.”
He’s actually trying to say the rich and privileged are the victims in this. Are you kidding me!? If your party is losing, maybe it’s because their ideas and policies are out of step with the rest of the nation. Maybe you should attend to that first. And once more, the Supreme Court makes a ruling that completely flies in the face of all sense and justice. I mean, they aren’t even trying to be subtle about it. They’re the ones responsible for this Citizens United nonsense in the first place. I really hate that thing. The name makes it sound noble, but all it does is give corporate America a blank check to buy the government and now they’ve opened that up even wider.
Get ready for the future people. A government that’s up for sale and guns for the mentally unstable. Woo hoo!