OUT AND ABOUT IN MIDTOWN - Previous Chapters

A serialized novel by Darrell Scheidegger Jr.

c h a p t e r   o n e

Jack and Kevin live in a cute bungalow on 25th Street beneath Modesto Ash and Japanese Maples.  It needs a new coat of paint, but the orange and yellow tulips in the front yard make up for it.

Jack works two jobs in retail: clothing and books, his two favorite things.  He has been losing hair since his 20s, and when there wasn’t much left to comb or brush, he decided to shave it all off (he called it “mowing his head”).



His partner, Kevin, teaches art to high school students.  He still has his hair, but it’s going gray.

Nature gets you one way or the other.

Today is Tuesday.  Jack is home early because he had an opening shift at the bookstore.  He’s in the kitchen preparing a salad for dinner when Kevin walks in the door.

“Hey, Honey!” Jack calls out.

“Hi,” replies Kevin entering the kitchen and kissing Jack’s cheek.

“How was your day teaching our hope for the future?”

“If they’re the future,” mumbles Kevin, “we’re gonna need more than hope.”

Jack pulls a glass from the cupboard and pours Kevin some wine.  Jack has already started on his second glass.

“Roger called me into his office this afternoon,” Kevin says, picking up an olive, putting it on his fingertip, and eating it.

“Oooo!  When was the last time you got called into the Principal’s Office?” asks Jack.

Kevin thinks, then answers, “Fifth Grade.”

Jack smiles.  “I remember you telling me.  It was for defacing school property by drawing a cock on the restroom wall.”

“It was a rocket ship.”

“Yeah, right,” smiles Jack.

“I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up,” explains Kevin.

“You wanted to DO an astronaut when you grew up,” teases Jack.

Kevin grabs a crouton and throws it at him.

“You wanted to boldly go where no man has gone before,” continues Jack.  “Guess what?  Lots of men have gone there before… especially in a public restroom.”

“Knock it off,” says Kevin. He takes a deep breath and a deeper swallow of wine.  His voice grows quiet.  “Roger wants me to present at the Arts in Education conference next month.”

“Congratulations,” says Jack.

“I don’t want to go,” Kevin whispers.

“Why not?” asks Jack.  “You’ve done it before.  What’s the big deal?”

Kevin pauses.  “It’s being held in San Diego.”

Jack looks up and catches Kevin’s eyes.  Neither one of them speaks for several moments.

Finally Jack says, “It’s been over five years, Babe.  You need to forgive and forget.”

“How could I ever forget something like that?” Kevin almost shouts.

Jack steps toward him.

“And forgive who?” asks Kevin.

Jack puts his hand on Kevin’s shoulder and answers, “Yourself.”

The doorbell rings and interrupts the conversation between their eyes.  Kevin pulls away from Jack as he moves to the entrance hall and the front door.  He leans forward to look through the peephole; nobody is there.



c h a p t e r   t w o

Kevin pulls the door open to find a cat licking its ass on the WELCOME mat.

“How the hell did you ring the bell?” he asks.  The calico looks up at him and blinks twice.

“I rang the bell, you idiot,” says a voice to his right.  It’s Abby from next door.  She had stepped across the porch to admire the purple hydrangeas in the side yard.

“Oh, hi…” says Kevin, without a smile.

“Come here, Cupcake,” sings Abby, bending down to pick up the cat.  “Mommy loves pussy.”

Kevin doesn’t doubt that.  Abby is the neighborhood’s self-proclaimed King of the Lesbians.  Sporting Birkenstocks and plaid shirts, she enjoys being a stereotype (but pronounces it “stereo-dyke”).  Her hair is short, and her patience is shorter.  She has a wicked sense of humor, and makes fun of everyone; some more than their fair share.

Kevin tolerates her; Jack adores her.

“What can I do for you?” Kevin inquires.  Help you down the steps and back to your front door? he thinks.

“I need a favor,” she says, kissing Cupcake between its ears.  “I want you to whip up a pitcher of your delicious sangria for my Tupperware party Saturday afternoon.”

Abby calls her women-only get-togethers “Tupperware” or “Avon” parties.  She thinks it’s ironic, and it makes her laugh.  No food-storage or make-up products are involved, just booze and broads; the boozier and broadier the better.

“Sure,” sighs Kevin, not wanting to extend the conversation any further.

“Great!  I’ll pick it up around 2:00 p.m.”

“Jack will bring it over.”

“Thanks!  You guys are the best.”  She hugs the cat to her hip and turns to walk down the stoop.

“Bye, Dick!” she calls out.

Abby knows Kevin’s name.  She knows every neighbor’s name.  She just likes calling men “dick.”

Jack steps out onto the porch.

“What was that about?” he asks.

“About two minutes of my life I’ll never get back,” answers Kevin.  “Just Abby ordering a pitcher of sangria.  I’ll stop by the market later.”

Kevin starts back inside, when he notices a folded piece of paper tucked under the doormat.  He bends to pick it up.

“What’s that?” asks Jack.

Kevin unfolds it and reads it out loud: “It is better to be hated for what you are, than to be loved for what you are not.”

“What does that mean?” Jack wonders.

“I don’t know.”

“Who left it?” asks Jack, looking up and down the street.

“I don’t know,” repeats Kevin.

“Abby?”

“Cupcake!” smiles Kevin.

Jack follows Kevin inside the house, while a pair of eyes from across the street follow Jack.  The door closes quietly behind him.  Then the deadbolt clicks.



Chapter Three


“I can’t believe she just assumes we’ll drop everything to help her entertain at a party that we aren’t even invited to,” grumbles Kevin.

“Abby’s the proverbial eccentric neighbor,” says Jack. “Like Gladys Kravitz in “Bewitched.” Every neighborhood has one, or should. It makes life more interesting. Besides, she makes me laugh.”

“She makes me wish we lived in a gated community with 24-hour security.”

“Whatever,” replies Jack. He stops and looks at Kevin. “About San Diego…”

Kevin turns away and goes to the silverware drawer.

Jack puts the salad on the table and continues. “I think you should go. When you’re not teaching workshops, you can maybe …”

Kevin stops Jack with a look.

“What can I do to help you?” pleads Jack.

“Get the napkins,” answers Kevin.

“C’mon, Honey…”

“Let’s talk about this note, instead,” suggests Kevin, pulling it out of his pocket. “Who put it under our doormat? What does it mean? Is it for you, or me - or BOTH of us?”

“Stop it!” shouts Jack. “What are you afraid of? When are you going to finally deal with these feelings you still have?”

They both grab their glasses of wine and sit down at the table across from each other. Before either of them can begin to answer any of the questions asked, the phone rings.

“I got it,” says Jack, jumping up.

Kevin scoops some salad onto his plate.

“Hello?” answers Jack. “Oh, hi, sweetie! What? When? Yeah. We’ll try to make it. Kisses!” Jack hangs up the phone and returns to the table.

“Who?”

“That was Bingo,” says Jack. “She wants us to come to her show next week in the City. She’s performing a new number, and needs our unbiased opinion.”

Kevin sighs. “We always say the same thing: ‘You were fabulous!’”

“Drag Queens might look big and strong,” Jack says, “but they need reassurance. They’re really just little girls inside.”

“Bingo has never been a little girl,” responds Kevin. “Inside or outside.”

“Don’t be mean,” scolds Jack.

“Okay,” says Kevin. “But let’s not talk about San Diego tonight. Please?”

“Whatever you want,” says Jack. He gets up and walks over to Kevin and puts his arms around him from behind. “I love you.”

Kevin stands up and grabs Jack by the neck. He kisses him deep and hard. He needs to feel something other than the fear he feels inside. The knot in his stomach is soon replaced with a bulge in his pants.

Jack returns Kevin’s advance with equal enthusiasm. The two men stumble from the table to the living room floor. They begin to help each other get naked. This is like the sex of ten years ago, with sweat and surprise. Kevin wants to disappear for a while; to get lost inside of Jack (in more ways than one).

They lick and bite and push and pull, and the noise of their lovemaking masks the sound of Jack’s cellphone which buzzes with an incoming text: caller unknown.

 

c h a p t e r   f o u r

Bingo is at The Depot at 20th and K Streets, sitting with one friend and waiting for another (his not yet boy-friend, but more than benefit-friend).  He’s out of drag, and as a man, people call him Ben.  He’s big, black and beautiful, and he never passes up a chance to remind others of that.

Tony is sitting next to him, and they are both enjoying long island iced teas.

“The guy I hooked up with last night,” Tony explains, “looked nothing like his profile pic.”

“Tell me more,” smiles Ben, taking a sip of his cocktail.

“He was bald like an orange and shaped like a pear,” complains Tony.  “A total lemon!”    

“Ha!” laughs Ben.  “A fruit basket!”

“Without much of a basket,” adds Tony.

“My new friend is like fruit, too,” says Ben.

Just then the door opens and a tall, blonde twenty-something walks into the bar.

Ben turns and waves at him.  “Here comes Mr. Banana, now.”

Introductions are made.  “Tony, this is Jerry.  Jerry, Tony.”

“Hi!” says Jerry, offering his hand.

“You’re kidding me,” says Tony, shaking it.

“What?”

“Ben and Jerry?”

“He’s vanilla and I’m chocolate,” explains Ben.

“A delicious combination,” adds Jerry.

“But he ain’t vanilla in the bedroom,” winks Ben.

“And he likes it with whipped cream and nuts on top,” smiles Jerry.

“Get a room, already!” jokes Tony.

Jerry and Ben look at each other, and grin at the suggestion.  There’s a restroom just around the corner.

“I gotta pee,” says Ben.

“Me, too,” says Jerry, as they both walk away.

Tony is in his late twenties, with short, brown hair and a friendly smile.  He wishes he had a boyfriend to banter with.  Tony is gay, but that isn’t what he came out about several years ago.  He’s trans, and some people still have trouble understanding or accepting it.  He remembers the time he first told Ben.

- - -

“When I was born, I was Tony… with an I.”

“You were born with only one eye?” asked Ben.

“No,” answered Tony.  “T-O-N-I… Antoinette.  I was a girl.”

“Oh.”

“But now I’m a guy.”

Ben looked carefully at Tony.

“On the inside, and most of the outside,” he explained.

“No need to draw a diagram, mister,” said Ben, giving him a hug, then a punch in the shoulder.

- - -

They have been best friends ever since.  They totally get each other.  They can talk about anything; sometimes laughing like girls, and other times belching like guys.  They enjoy the best of both worlds (even though many people don’t want to share those worlds with them).

Just then a scream bounces off the walls and knocks Tony back into the present.  The bartender drops a glass.  Tony jumps off his stool and runs toward the restroom.

 

c h a p t e r   f i v e

Tony opens the door and finds a large woman in a plaid shirt standing inside the men’s restroom.

“What’s wrong?” asks Tony. “I heard a woman scream.”

“That was me,” pants Ben, exiting a stall.  “This lady barged into the restroom and startled me!”

“Who you calling a lady?” barks Abby.  “I’m a woman!  And I was the one who was taken by surprise… by your big, black boner bouncing all over the place.”

“What are you doing in here?” asks Jerry, zipping up his jeans, and joining the group.

“I gotta take a leak,” she answers.

“The ladies’ room is over there,” Ben points.

“The stalls are full,” explains Abby.  “You guys have urinals, so I figured I had a better chance in here.”

“Well,” sighs Tony, “if everyone’s okay…”

“I’ll be okay,” says Ben, “when I’ve finished my drink.”  He grabs Jerry’s hand, and after checking their reflections in the mirror, they leave the room.

Abby stares at Tony; Tony walks out.

The three men gather back at their stools.  The bartender is sweeping broken glass into a dustpan.

“What happened?” he asks.

“This woman marched into the men’s room…” starts Ben.

“Oh, Abby.  Yeah.  Okay.”  He dumps the glass into a trash can, and goes back to wiping down the bar.

“That was kinda stupid,” says Tony.  “You never know when somebody might walk in on you.”

“Well, usually that somebody is a guy,” says Ben.

“Yeah,” agrees Jerry, “and usually the more, the merrier.”

“Just be careful,” suggests Tony.

“From now on,” pledges Ben, holding up his right hand, and placing his left hand on his crotch, “I promise to use the seat cover for my protection.”

“And to always wash my hands before returning to work,” says Jerry.

“Whatever,” smiles Tony.

Ben looks at the others and adds, “And to not talk with my mouth full!”  The three men laugh.

Abby flushes, washes her hands, and exits the restroom, when a woman approaches her.

“Where have you been?” asks Sheila, a brunette in skinny jeans and a tank top.

“I had to use the facilities,” says Abby.

“But that’s the men’s room.”

“A toilet is a toilet is a toilet.  Didn’t Gertrude Stein say that?” laughs Abby.

“It’s your turn,” Sheila says.

“Am I stripes or solids?”

“How many drinks have you had?”

“I shoot better when I got a buzz going,” says Abby.

“Whatever.  Do you need any help with your Tupperware Party on Saturday?” asks Sheila.

“Nope,” replies Abby.  “I’m taking care of the food, and my neighbor, Dick, is taking care of the drinks.”

“Who’s gonna be there?”

Abby hesitates to recite the guest list.  She’s sure that one of the names will make Sheila pause; or perhaps raise an eyebrow; or more likely shit a brick.

“The usual,” smiles Abby, picking up her cue stick.

“Like last time?” inquires Sheila, picking up the chalk.

Abby nods.  Except it won’t be like last time.  It will never again be like last time.

 

c h a p t e r   s i x


Kevin stops at Safeway on Alhambra to pick up some fruit for the sangria.  He regrets agreeing to Abby’s request, but decides to make the best of it, and grabs some bottles of wine for himself and Jack.

While choosing some lemons and oranges in the produce section, he notices a man in a green jacket and sunglasses.  He looks familiar, but Kevin can’t place where he has seen him before.  Maybe he shops here, or lives in the neighborhood, he thinks.  But there’s something odd about him.  He isn’t selecting any fruits or vegetables; he’s just standing there.


“Are you finding everything okay?” asks a perky girl with a ponytail.

“Just gathering ingredients for some sangria,” Kevin says.

“Sounds delish,” she smiles.  “Let me know if you need any help.”  She skips away to another customer.

Kevin turns around and the man is gone.  He takes his basket to the checkout.

Jack is ending his shift at J. Crew while helping an attractive man put together an outfit for a special occasion.  Jack is hoping to sell him a suit, which would require a fitting (i.e., measuring his inseam).  But the gentleman is satisfied with a pair of chinos and a button-up shirt.  He doesn’t even want to try them on in the fitting room; just buys them and leaves.  Jack gets credit for the sale, but he doesn’t get the opportunity to provide his excellent customer service.

When it’s time to clock out, Jack punches in his employee number, then goes to his locker to get his keys and phone.  There are messages waiting; five of them.  They all say the same thing: “Why?”

Jack doesn’t know the name of the caller, but he knows the answer.

That night, both Kevin and Jack toss and turn.  Kevin is dreaming about a young boy at Rich’s club in the Hillcrest in San Diego.  He sees blood and hears screams, and wakes with a pounding heart and shortness of breath.

Jack doesn’t recall his dream after he wakes up and runs to the bathroom to splash water on his face and stare into his eyes in the mirror.  But it isn’t a five-year-old memory that awakens him.  It’s something that hasn’t happened yet.

Abby sleeps like a dead man, even though her snoring is loud enough to wake the dead.  She dreams of a woman with red hair named Deb.  Abby calls her “Debutante,” and they dance and laugh and hold hands.  In her dream, they kiss.

Tony sleeps like a baby and dreams he is living in a house with a husband, a dog, and 2.5 kids.

Ben and Jerry are working the dance floor at Faces until “Last Call.”  They finally fall asleep at 4:00am and dream about different things:  Ben is entertaining a crowd with his Diana Ross medley, and Jerry is groping a stranger who had given him his phone number on the dance floor.

The sunrise announces a new day; another opportunity; a multitude of possibilities.

c h a p t e r   s e v e n

The electric can opener calls Cupcake into the kitchen with the promise of chicken, beef, or seafood.  She is looking forward to making a withdrawal from the tins of cat food in the cupboard, and later to making a deposit in the litter box on the back porch.  Her daily schedule is packed with activities: naps in the sunlight, loitering in the backyard, and the licking alone will take the better part of the afternoon.Abby sets her dish on the floor.


“BONE Appetit!” she laughs.  Abby knows that dogs like bones, not cats, but what does Cupcake know about puns or wordplay.

Actually, Cupcake knows plenty; she knows about whispered phone conversations, late-night visitors, and odd toys kept in the bottom dresser drawer.

“Eat up, sweetie,” sings Abby.  “Mommy has to get ready for her Tupperware Party.”

Abby grabs some produce from the fridge, and plates from the cabinet.  A knock on the front door interrupts her preparation.

She opens the door to a young woman in a pink tee and jean shorts.

“Deb!” smiles Abby.

“Hey,” replies Deb.  “I know I’m early, but thought you might want some help.”

Abby steps back and motions her inside.

“I know you like to decide on the menu, but I brought some dessert, just because.”

“Cupcakes!” says Abby.

The calico cat runs into the entrance hall and rubs up against Deb’s legs.  

The same legs Abby is looking at and wanting to rub up against.

“Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Come into the kitchen.  You can help me with the food,” suggests Abby.

Deb follows her down the hall.  She passes the bedroom door and peeks in as she walks by.  The bed is unmade, as usual, and today’s newspaper is all over the floor.

Deb places the cupcakes on the counter.

“Chocolate frosting,” notices Abby.

“And chocolate cake,” smiles Deb, “with chocolate chips.”
Abby licks her lips.  “My favorite.”

“I know.”

Abby pulls a knife from a drawer and begins slicing the fruit.

“How are things?” asks Abby.

“Good,” replies Deb.  “Jamie and I are really happy.”

“Jamie?”

“I met him a couple months ago.”

“Him?”  Abby almost cuts her finger.

“It was like a movie,” explains Deb.  “Our eyes met across a crowded room, then we talked, and laughed, and danced, and…”

Abby grabs a beer from the fridge, pops the cap, and swallows half of it in one gulp.

“Can I get you something to drink?” asks Abby.

“Sure.  What you’re having,” says Deb.

Abby hands her a bottle.  The two women look at each other in silence.  

Eventually, Deb speaks.

“Thanks for inviting me.”

Abby doesn’t know what to say, even though that’s never stopped her before from speaking.  Words are always coming out of her mouth. But right now, the only thing coming out is air. Unfortunately, no air is going back in.  She has stopped breathing.

“I have something to tell you,” says Deb.

 

c h a p t e r   e i g h t

Deb takes a long swallow of beer before speaking.

Abby stands silently.  She can’t imagine what it is that this redhead who used to share her bed wants to say to her.  Their history was recent and their relationship was passionate.  Deb has already told her that she’s with a man; okay, Deb is bi. Abby had been with men in the past (until she came to her senses and realized women are better).  But Deb has a look in her eyes that suggests something more.

“What is it?” asks Abby.

Deb hesitates.  “I just want you to know that I never meant to deceive you.”

What the hell is she talking about? thinks Abby.  There was never any confusion about what either of them liked in bed (or licked in bed).

Abby grabs a chocolate cupcake and takes a bite.

“When we were together,” begins Deb, “I tried to be honest with you.”

Abby washes down her cupcake with the rest of her beer.  She wipes her mouth with the back of her hand.

“What are you talking about, Debutante?  That you’re into guys?  Who doesn’t like the feel of 5 o’clock shadow on their inner thighs once in a while?”

Deb looks away.

“What is it?” continues Abby.  “Do you vote Republican?  Cheat at cards?  Is red not your natural color?”

Deb shakes her head and whispers, “I take things.”

“Huh?”

“Remember when I brought Cupcake home?” she says.  “I told you she was a stray I found on your front porch.”

Abby looks down at Cupcake and then up at Deb.

“I was driving through East Sac and saw a kitten on someone’s lawn.  I thought she was cute.  I thought you would like her.  So… I took her.”

“Geez,” says Abby, while mentally taking inventory of the contents of her house.  Cupcake had been cat-napped!

“I’m a thief and a liar,” confesses Deb.

“Is Jamie a lie?” hopes Abby.

“No,” says Deb, “but I took some money from his wallet to buy these cupcakes.”

“You need to talk to someone,” suggests Abby.

“I know.  I was reading a great article in a medical journal in my doctor’s waiting room last week,” says Deb.  “Kleptomania is an impulse control disorder.  The article listed symptoms and causes and several helpful resources.”

“What did you do?”

“I stole the magazine.”

Just then, the front door opens.

“Time for a Tupperware Party!” shouts Sheila coming down the hall.  “Let’s burp those lids and lock in freshness!”

When Sheila enters the kitchen and sees Deb, she stops walking and laughing.

The three women make a perfect triangle.

Sheila almost spits, “What’s SHE doing here?”

 

c h a p t e r   n i n e

Tony parks his car on 21st Street and gets out.  He is headed to the Lavender Library.  His volunteer shift starts in a few minutes, but he has just enough time to get a soda from Zelda’s.  When he is finished at the library, he can go back for a cocktail and a pizza (the pesto is his favorite).

Tony enjoys meeting new people at the library.  He likes talking with students who are doing research for their gender studies and sexuality courses, and men and women who are exploring personal issues, but especially teenagers who are moving toward coming out; not yet to others, but to themselves.  The library has books, magazines, DVDs, and artifacts that cover all aspects of LGBT history.  And he is there to represent the G & T!

Tony is organizing books to be shelved.  He looks up just as a young boy, about 18 years old, with brown hair and blue eyes, walks up to the counter.

“May I help you?” Tony asks.

The boy hesitates before speaking.  “I was wondering…” he begins to say without looking at Tony.  “I have a friend who is… gay.”

“Me too,” smiles Tony.  “Lots of ‘em.”

The boy looks around the room and continues.  “He wants to tell his folks that… he…”

“My name is Tony.”

“Oh, yeah.  Hi.”  The boy smiles and shakes his hand.

“Are you looking for a book that will help him to come out?” asks Tony.

“Yeah,” replies the boy.

“There’s not a right or wrong way,” says Tony.  “But there are lots of resources here.”  He motions for the boy to follow him to the nonfiction section.  “Is he afraid of their response?” he asks.

“Kinda,” says the boy.  “And I don’t know if it makes a difference, but his parents adopted him when he was a baby.  They aren’t his real mom and dad.”

“They aren’t his biological parents,” Tony says, “but they’re real.  And they chose him, so that makes him special.”

“I suppose,” replies the boy.

Tony hands him a few books.  “Here are some titles I would suggest,” he says.  “Look through them and decide which ones you think would be best.”

“Thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” smiles Tony.  “What’s your name?”

“James.”

“Nice to meet you.”

“Same here,” says James.  “I appreciate your time.”

“Sure,” replies Tony.  He is starting to feel an attraction to this young boy.  Not sexual, although James is really cute.   It’s something else.

“I think it’s interesting how we meet strangers every day,” Tony says, “and after speaking for just a few minutes, we find that we have things in common. People are connected in so many ways.  We only need to take the time to discover them.”

“What do you mean?” James asks.

“I was adopted, too,” answers Tony.  “I never knew my birth parents.  The only thing I know is my biological mother’s first name.”

“Me too,” says James.  “My birth mom’s name is Evelyn.  What’s yours?”

Tony answers, “Abigail.”

 

c h a p t e r   t e n

The three women stare at one, then the other, for what seems like forever.  It’s the climactic scene at the cemetery in the last minutes of “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.”  Except these girls don’t have guns.

Finally, Abby speaks.  “I invited Deb.”

“Why?” asks Sheila.

“I thought we could start over,” explains Abby.  “You know, like a new chapter.”

“I thought you already shut that overdue book and returned it to the library,” says Sheila.  “Or was it from a USED bookstore.”

“Look, Sheila…” starts Deb.

“Am I talking to you?” asks Sheila.

“Well, you’re looking at me and speaking,” Deb replies.

Sheila clenches her fists.

“Girls!” shouts Abby.  “As much as I like watching two women in action, let’s leave this discussion for another time.  The others will be here soon.”

Sheila exhales and turns to Abby.

“What can I do to help you get ready?” she asks.  Then she turns to Deb and adds, “Take out the trash?”

“No,” says Abby.  “Go into the living room and put on some music, your choice.  Deb, there are some plates of snacks in the fridge.  Set them out on the table, please.”

The doorbell rings.

“And I’ll answer the door,” smiles Abby.

The three women slowly walk away from each other to complete their assignments.  Abby opens the front door and sees Jack.

“Dick!” she screams.

“Sangria!” Jack shouts.

“Thanks, Honey,” says Abby, grabbing the pitchers.

“I made two batches,” explains Jack.  “Didn’t want anybody to faint from thirst.”

“Women don’t faint,” says Abby.  “That’s an Old Husband’s Tale.”

“I fainted once,” says Jack.  “It was at The Eagle bar in SOMA.”

“Did you fall forward or backward?” jokes Abby

“Didn’t matter,” winks Jack.  “They’d turn me over if they needed to.”

They both laugh, and Jack starts down the steps.

“Kevin said to say, ‘Hi!’”

“No he didn’t,” says Abby, turning to go back inside.

“Okay.  Maybe he said to say, ‘Bye!’” Jack calls.

“Tell him the same from me,” she replies while shutting the door.

When Jack reaches his front yard, he notices a man with curly hair, wearing sunglasses and a green jacket, standing across the street.  Jack stops, looks both ways, then walks over to him.

“What are you doing here?” Jack asks.

“I wanted to see you,” he answers.

“Why didn’t you call or text?”

“I did.  Several times.  You never responded.  Why?”  The man reaches out and touches Jack’s arm.

Jack pulls away.

“What’s wrong?” asks the man.

“Not here,” Jack whispers.  “Not on my street.  Are you crazy?”

“Crazy about you,” he smiles.

Suddenly Jack looks at his front porch, then back at the man.

“Did you put that note under the doormat?” he asks.

“What note?”

“The one that said, ‘It is better to be hated for what you are, than…’ something,” Jack recites.

“But I don’t hate you,” says the man.  “I just want…”

“You need to leave,” interrupts Jack.

“I’m not leaving,” states the man.  He takes off his shades and stares directly into Jack’s eyes; his brown, Jack’s green.

He repeats, “I’m not leaving without it.”

 

c h a p t e r   e l e v e n


Ben and his friends, Ted and Ed, often perform together as “The Three Dianas!” Ben does a medley of Diana Ross hits, starting with “I’m Coming Out,” and ending with “Endless Love.”

Ted recreates Madonna’s “Vogue” choreography as interpreted by former Vogue editor, Diana Vreeland.  And Ed is Diana, Princess of “Whales,” a 300-pound man in a tiara and tutu, dancing to a recording of humpback whale mating songs.  They never fail to get a standing ovation with calls for an encore.

“Where’s my mascara?” shouts Ed.

“Somewhere in that pile of shit you call your make-up bag,” Ted answers.

“Don’t start,” warns Ed.  “I let you borrow my left lash AND a bottle of glitter spray last night.”

“It isn’t difficult to organize your essentials,” says Ben.  “Look at me; a place for everything, and everything in its place.”

“That’s a tackle box,” says Ted.

“It’s supposed to be used for fishing,” adds Ed.

“And what’s more appropriate for a man who dresses like a woman,” states Ben, “but a FISHY BOX?”

The three men burst into laughter.

“Who’s coming out to see us this weekend?” asks Ted.

Ben takes inventory.  “Tony and Jerry, of course.  And I invited Jack and Kevin.”

“Is that it?” asks Ed.  “I can try to pull in some guys off the street.”

“You always do,” says Ted.

Ed smiles and blinks his eyes.  “What’s wrong with exercising my feminine wiles?”

“What exactly is a ‘wile’?” asks Ben.

“If it’s a long one,” answers Ted, “it’s the last time Ed had sex… with someone other than himself.”

Ed glares at Ted.

“Are we driving or taking the train?” asks Ted.

“Tony’s gonna drive,” says Ben.  “He even arranged a place for us to stay overnight.  A couple blocks from the bar.”

“Bed or floor?” asks Ed.

“I think only two beds, so… first come, first served.”

“Ed always comes first,” laughs Ted.

“Shut up!” snaps Ed.

“Stop it!” admonishes Ben.  “We will be guests and I expect you both to act like ladies.”

“I only asked because of my back,” explains Ed.

“If you weren’t always on it,” suggests Ted, “you wouldn’t have issues.”

“I need the support of a good mattress,” says Ed.

“And I need the support of a wealthy man,” adds Ted.

“Amen!” sings Ben.

The men finish packing their make-up and wardrobes.

“Who exactly is offering their apartment to three drag queens on a Saturday night?” wonders Ed.

“I don’t know,” says Ben.  “He’s a friend of Tony’s, so…”

“Do you think he expects… sexual favors?” Ted asks.

“Of course not,” responds Ben.

“Damn!” grunts Ted.

Suddenly a phone rings and each man goes for his purse.

“It’s mine,” says Ben.  He looks at the screen and smiles.  “Hey, Jerry-Berry!  What’s up?”

Ben’s smile fades from his face while Ted and Ed exchange looks.

“I can’t perform next week,” states Ben.  “Jerry’s in the hospital.”

 

c h a p t e r   t w e l v e

 

Tony is swallowing his last bite of pesto pizza at Zelda’s when his phone starts playing the tune of “B-I-N-G-O.”  He picks it up.

“Hey, Ben,” Tony says.  He listens quietly for a moment.  “What happened?  Is he okay?  Sure.  Where are you?”

Tony downs the last of his drink, pays his bill, and jumps into his car.  Ben had mumbled something that included the words: Jerry, hospital, and injured.  He needed a ride, but also a shoulder to lean on and an ear to talk to.

Ben is waiting outside his apartment on G Street when Tony pulls up.

“Thanks, honey,” says Ben, jumping into the car.  “North Kaiser.”

Tony hits the gas and they head toward 80 East.

“What happened?”

“I’m not exactly sure,” replies Ben.  “Jerry said something about taking a shortcut down the wrong alley.”

“You spoke to him?” Tony asks.  “Was he mugged?”

“I don’t know if they wanted to steal his money,” thinks Ben, “or his self-respect and peace of mind.”

“What do you mean?” asks Tony.  “Who are THEY?”

“The assholes who beat him up,” spits Ben.

“How many were there?”

“How should I know?” snaps Ben.  “I wasn’t there to pass out nametags or organize a seating chart!”

Tony takes the freeway onramp and decides to stop asking questions.  Ben is staring out the window at the passing cars and twisting the ring on his finger; clockwise, counter-clockwise.  It was a mugging or gay-bashing or something, and they would know soon enough.

When they reach the hospital, Tony guides Ben to the Info Desk and soon both are walking down a hall to the Nurse’s Station.

“Hello,” says Ben, approaching the counter.  “I’m here to see Jerry Spencer.”

“Who are you?” asks the nurse with “Hello Kitties” decorating her scrubs.

“A friend.”

“You need to wait,” she says.

“Why?” asks Ben.

“The police are questioning him right now,” she explains.

“Police?” asks Ben.  “Are they getting descriptions of the men who attacked him?”

“I suppose,” she answers.  “Except for the guy he came in with.”

“What guy?  The one who beat him up?”

“If that guy beat somebody up,” she says, “he got worse than he gave.”

“Maybe Jerry was with a friend,” suggests Tony, “and they were both attacked.”

“Yeah,” mumbles Ben.  He turns to the nurse. “Who’s the man that came in with Jerry?”

The nurse responds, “I can’t release that information.”

“Why not?”

“It’s confidential,” she replies, “and part of a current police investigation.”

“But…” Ben starts.

“Look.  I don’t know who he was,” she says.  “Now please, take a seat.”

Ben stares at the nurse.  “What do you mean… WAS?”

She looks up from her chart and replies, “He died 30 minutes ago.”


c h a p t e r   t h i r t e e n

“Before we share the drawings you did yesterday,” says Kevin, “what is your definition of art?”

His students look at him with blank stares.

“A drawing is more than just pencil on paper,” explains Kevin.  “Your art should mean something.  It can represent a thought or emotion, for example.  But how do we best communicate to the viewer what we want them to understand?”

“What?” mumbles a teen in the back row.

Kevin and the class exhale in unison.  Why is this so difficult? he thinks.

A young girl raises her hand.  “Mr. Sullivan?”

“Yes, Katherine?”

“I was wondering,” she asks.  “Which is more important: The process of making art, or the finished product?”

“Excellent question!” Kevin smiles. “What do you think, class?  Is art Process or Product?”

The dismissal bell rings, waking a couple kids from their afternoon naps.

“Before you leave,” Kevin calls out, “I want each of you to answer Katherine’s question; three paragraphs, due tomorrow.”

Several students shoot glares at the girl before walking out the door.

Kevin sits down at his desk and checks his phone.  There is a text from Jack: “dental appt. teeth cleaning. will B home @ 5pm.”  Kevin likes it when Jack gets his teeth cleaned.  It makes him smile more.  And Kevin is starting to miss the smiles.

But Jack doesn’t go to the dentist.  He goes instead to visit his doctor at Kaiser.

“Hello, Dr. Edwards.”  The two men shake hands.

“Hi, Jack,” replies the doctor.  They walk into the exam room, and the doctor closes the door behind them.

“How have you been?” asks Dr. Edwards, sitting down.

“Okay.”

The doctor pulls up Jack’s medical record on the computer.

“You know, I’ve always wondered something,” says the doctor.  “You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to, but your last name is Daniels… and your parents named you Jack?”

“Yeah.”  Jack rolls his eyes.  “It was my father’s favorite drink.”

“Oh.”

“But it could’ve been worse,” Jack adds.  “Mom wanted to call me Vodka Tonic.”

The doctor laughs.  “What brings you in today?”

“Oh, you know.  Just a routine check-up… and maybe some blood work.”

“Blood work?”

Jack looks down at his feet and exhales.  “I kinda, sorta had unsafe sex with a stranger.”

“Kinda, sorta?” asks the doctor.

“I had a condom,” says Jack.    

“And…?”

“Only it doesn’t work if it stays in your pocket.”

“You know the risks…” begins Dr. Edwards.

Jack holds up his hand.  “Yes.  I have no excuse,” he says.  “But you know how the blood rushes to your dick and not your brain.”

“Okay,” says the doctor.  He starts typing at the keyboard.  “I’m ordering a panel of tests for STDs and HIV.  You can stop at the draw center downstairs on your way out.”

“Thank you, doctor.”  Jack rises to leave.  Before he reaches the door, the doctor speaks.

“Does Kevin need any blood work?” he asks.

Jack looks back, but doesn’t respond.

 

c h a p t e r   f o u r t e e n

Tony walks into G Spot on J Street.  He’s looking for a get-well card for Jerry.  Kaiser is releasing him tomorrow.  Tony figures a card with a hard dick on it will cheer him up more than one with flowers and an inspirational quote.

He opens the door to the small shop and greets the clerk with a smile and a “Hey!”

“How’s it going?” asks Joey, the cashier.

“Okay,” answers Tony.

“We got a new item in this week’s shipment!  It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen!”

“Oh?”

“I’m not sure how it works, or even WHERE it works,” says Joey.  “The instruction manual is like a phone book!  But the customer reviews are ‘two to three fingers up!’”

It’s usually quiet in a store that sells sex-related merchandise.  Self-conscious customers often adopt the “Silence = Invisibility” approach while perusing the shelves.  But not in Lavender Heights!  Good luck getting a gay man to shut up (there’s only one way: stick a dick in his mouth).

“Just looking for a get-well card for a friend,” says Tony.

“Oh.  Well, we have several to choose from,” Joey replies.  “Illness?  Broken leg?  Crabs?”

“He was beat up,” says Tony.  “It happened just a few blocks from here.”

“Geez!” says Joey.  “Sorry about that.”

Tony nods, “Thanks,” and looks through the card selection.  He doesn’t see any with a naked guy, but finds one that says, “Hope you are soon up and getting around!”  Inside it reads, “Just like my cock!”  The man on the card is big and black like Ben, so Tony is sure Jerry will like it (although, Jerry seems to like any kinda guy; as long as he’s breathing and buying drinks).

Jerry told Ben that the entire ordeal was just a “misunderstanding… an innocent disagreement between acquaintances.”  Tony questions that explanation.  ‘Misunderstandings’ don’t usually result in multiple cuts, bruises and stitches.  And the man who died at the hospital turned out to be from another crime scene.  Ambulances brought both men in at the same time, but from different locations.  The dead guy wasn’t a friend or stranger to Jerry; just another victim of violence.

Tony grabs an envelope for his card and approaches the counter when he sees a familiar face in the “Naughty Toy” section.

“Hey, Stranger!” calls Tony.

James almost jumps.  He turns and then smiles.

“Hi,” he says.

“How are you doing?” Tony asks.  “Did your friend find any of those books helpful?”

“Yeah,” says James.  He quickly puts the dildo in his hand back on the display.  “Thanks again for your help.”

“Anytime.”  Tony looks at his shoes, then back up at James.  “You wanna get a cup of coffee at Peet’s?”

“Okay,” responds James.

Just then the door dings with the arrival of a new customer.

“Hey, Dick!” shouts Abby.

“Joseph,” corrects Joey.  “Hello, Abigail.”

James looks at Tony.  “Hey,” he whispers.  “That’s the name of your birth mother.  Wouldn’t it be wild if that lady was your mom?”

Tony stares at Abby and recognizes the woman from the men’s room at The Depot.

“Yeah,” Tony says to himself.  But he remembers Abby from another place, too.  A place and time he had often tried to forget.

 

c h a p t e r   f i f t e e n

Abby is searching the shelves at G Spot for something to catch her eye.

“Can I help you find anything?” asks Joey.

“I’m looking for a gift for a friend,” says Abby while walking around the store and picking up every other item.  “We had an argument last weekend, and I wanna say…”

“You’re sorry?” finishes Joey.

“No!  It wasn’t my fault,” corrects Abby.  “She got her panties in a knot over nothing.”

“Oh.”

“I mean,” continues Abby, “who doesn’t like knotty panties?  But I might have said something that could have been taken the wrong way.”

“Like what?” wonders Joey.

“Like, ‘Get the hell out!’” Abby replies.

“So, what do you want the gift to say?” Joey asks.

“I don’t want it to SAY anything,” she responds.  “Unless it’s a talking dildo.  That would be fun!”

“We don’t stock any talking dildos,” apologizes Joey.  “Ours are the strong, silent type.”

“I prefer mine strong and cheap,” laughs Abby.  “Like my drinks.”

Joey adds, “Like my boyfriend.”

Just then Abby stops; her eyes pop and her mouth drops.  “I got it!” she shouts.

“What?” Joey asks.

“Sheila collects spoons!  I’m gonna stop by that antique store near Broadway and get her something there.”

Abby exits the store with a “Later, Dick!”

“Thanks for shopping here,” calls out Joey.  “Come again… on my day off!”

Down the street at Peet’s Coffee and Tea, Tony and James are sitting on the patio sharing coffee and cookies when Ted and Ed walk over.

“Hey, handsome!” shouts Ted.

“Hi, guys!” responds Tony.

“Who is your younger and more attractive friend?” winks Ed.

“This is James,” Tony replies, “and this is Ted and Ed.”  They shake hands.

“Hi,” says James.

“You don’t need to remember who is who,” explains Tony.  “They’re always out together.”

“Joined at the hip,” says Ed.

“And just look at the size of Ed’s hips,” smiles Ted.  “He’s got room for several more friends.”

“How would you like my fist to be joined with your face?” suggests Ed.

“Let’s not fight in front of the kids,” Ted says.  “Remember, we’re bosom buddies.”

“And our bosoms are in a suitcase back home,” adds Ed.

“They perform drag,” Tony explains to James.

“Speaking of drag, does anyone have a cigarette?” asks Ted.

“You know what smoking does to your skin,” warns Ed.  “Besides, I can think of better things to put in my mouth.”

James begins to laugh at this impromptu street performance, then starts choking on his chocolate chip cookie.

“You okay?” asks Tony, slapping James on the back.

“I can perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation,” offers Ted.

“Don’t slap him so hard,” says Ed, “unless he likes it that way.”

James swallows then says, “You guys are funny.”

“Wanna be the president of our Fan Club?” asks Ted.

“Sure!” answers James.

“Great!” says Ed.  “Now all our club needs is fans!”

Suddenly James jumps up from his chair.  “I gotta go!” he says.  “Thanks again.”  He runs off toward K Street.

“Wait!” shouts Tony.  “What’s wrong?”

“Was it something we said?” ask Ted and Ed in unison.

A few seconds later a black car swerves from J Street onto 20th.  Its tires squeal as it races toward K.  James turns the corner and the car follows.

 

c h a p t e r   s i x t e e n

Jack and Kevin invite Ben over for dinner to give him a break from the drama of Jerry’s accident.  They’re sitting in the backyard around a table beneath the wisteria enjoying cocktails.

Ben is continuing the conversation he started at the front door.  “It pisses me off that something like that can happen in my own neighborhood!”  He takes a long swallow of his rum and coke.

“I know what you mean,” says Jack.  “A person shouldn’t have to look over their shoulder all the time.”

“Did the police label it a hate crime?” asks Kevin.

“Most criminals do what they do because of hatred,” says Ben.  “That’s what makes them criminals.”

“What about crimes of passion?” asks Jack.

Ben sits up in his chair.  “Are you suggesting Jerry was attacked by somebody who likes him?”

“I’m not saying that,” says Jack.

“If you love a guy you beat him off,” argues Ben, “not beat him up!”

“Hey!  I don’t even know Jerry,” Jack replies.  “You haven’t introduced him to us yet.”

“Yeah,” adds Kevin.  “What’s wrong with him?”

“Or wrong with us?” wonders Jack.  He looks over at Kevin.

“Nothing,” replies Ben.  “But you know how things are at the beginning of a relationship.  Right now, it’s still honey-moony.  But I’m currently preparing Jerry for his cotillion ball when he will be presented to society.”

Kevin and Jack smile.

“How’s he doing?” Jack asks.

“Good!” Ben answers.  “I’ve been nursing him back to health.”

“Oh, really?” teases Kevin.  “Kissing all his boo-boos and owies to make him feel better?”

“I’m kissing other things to make him feel better,” winks Ben.

“I’m just glad it turned out okay,” sighs Jack.  He rises to go inside to check on dinner.  “Anyone need a refill?”

Ben and Kevin raise their glasses.

“I’ll be right back,” Jack says.

“Could you bring the newspaper with you, Honey?” calls Kevin.  “I wanna check the movie listings.  Ben needs a break from reality.”

“Thanks, sweetie,” says Ben.

“And a big tub of popcorn,” adds Kevin.

“With that delicious butter-flavored, lube-like product they squirt all over it!”

Jack soon returns with more drinks, and hands the paper to Kevin.

“15 minutes and dinner is served,” Jack announces.  “The garlic bread is baking and the lasagna is resting.”

“Lucky lasagna,” says Ben.  “I. Am. Exhausted!  Thanks again for everything.”  He touches Kevin’s arm.  “You guys are the best!”

Kevin starts to turn to the entertainment section when a headline catches his attention.

“Hey,” Kevin says.  “A man died at Kaiser last week from injuries sustained during a beating.”

“I know,” responds Ben.  “He was at the hospital the same night we were there.  At first I thought he was involved with what happened to Jerry, but it turns out he was from another crime scene.”

“Another hate crime?” wonders Jack.

“I have no idea.  What does the paper say?” asks Ben.

Kevin skims the article for information.  “He was found in the bushes near an apartment complex in Midtown,” says Kevin.

“Who was he?” asks Ben.

“It doesn’t say.  He didn’t carry any identification,” Kevin replies.  “All the police know is he had curly hair and brown eyes…”

“Poor guy,” says Jack, taking a sip of his drink.

Then Kevin adds, “…wearing a green jacket and sunglasses.”

c h a p t e r   s e v e n t e e n

It’s the second Saturday of the month, and the Midtown Art Walk is starting to get crowded.  Years ago it began with a few neighborhood galleries opening their doors for art receptions, but nowadays, it has exploded into an eclectic street fair that includes music, food, and crafts.  It is all about celebrating creativity (and a little bit of consumerism).

Folks from the suburbs venture into the city for a few hours to participate in the bohemian experience, then return to the safety of their automatic garage door openers (and closers).

Jack and Kevin are at the Kennedy Gallery on L Street.  Kevin has a few of his paintings in the current show featuring local gay artists.  A stranger is standing next to them studying one of Kevin’s acrylic landscapes.

“What’s gay about a tree?” he asks out loud.

“The artists are gay,” explains Jack, “not the artwork.”

“Actually,” says Kevin, “when I was painting this, I imagined two male birds in the tree branches building a nest for their future family.”

“Oh, yeah,” says the stranger.  “Now I get it.”

Suddenly he turns to them and whispers, “Hey!  Did you see the big piece upstairs?”

Jack and Kevin shake their heads.

“The artist strips naked, pours several colors of paint all over his body, then rolls around on a white bedsheet,” he continues.  “Afterwards, he jerks off on one of the corners of his ‘canvas’.”  The stranger takes a swallow of his wine and smiles.  “The cum stain is his signature.”

“Isn’t that how Van Gogh worked?” asks Jack.

“Yeah,” adds Kevin.  “Vincent often used his dick as a brush.  That’s how he achieved that wonderful texture.”

Across the street, Sheila is playing pool at the Mercantile with a few girlfriends.  She sinks a blue ball in the corner pocket, then looks up to see Abby standing there.

“What do you want?” asks Sheila.

Abby looks down at the table.  “Last week… I… you know… so…” She hands Sheila the gift she purchased.

“Is that supposed to be an apology?” asks Sheila.  Abby grunts.

“That was really sorry for an apology.”

“Well, apologies are supposed to be sorry,” Abby says.

“That’s not what I meant,” smiles Sheila, “but I know it was sincere, so I accept.”

She unwraps the gift and screams, “It’s a spoon!”

“For your collection,” says Abby.

“I figured.”  Sheila gives Abby a hug.

“What is it with you and spoons, anyway?”

Sheila responds, “My first girlfriend gave me a spoon on our One Week Anniversary.”

“Why?”

“Because we liked to spoon.”

“Oh,” says Abby.  “I like to fork.”

Down the street at Faces nightclub, the dance floor is currently the stage for the weekly Drag Show.  Bingo is singing “I Will Survive” (dedicated to Jerry, who is still recovering at home).

After her number, Bingo grabs a handful of dollar bills (collected during her performance) and makes her way through the applauding crowd, air-kissing friends and strangers on her way to the bar.

“What’ll it be?” asks the bartender.

“Vodka seven, please.”

“Grey Goose?  Ketel One?”

“Darling,” smiles Bingo, leaning on the bar, “the only top shelf I care about is the one in my medicine cabinet that holds my Vicodin.  Well is fine, thank you.”

Bingo pays with several ones, tips with a couple more, then tucks the remainder inside her bra.  She walks upstairs to the balcony overlooking the pool.  From her barstool she can see and hear the last of the Art Walk crowd heading home.  Bingo takes a sip from her glass and exhales.  A cool breeze caresses her wig and tickles her lashes.

Suddenly, she feels an arm wrap around her neck.

 

c h a p t e r   e i g h t e e n

The arm around Bingo’s neck tightens.

A voice whispers, “Guess who?”  Then a tongue licks her ear.

“The LATE whatever-your-name is,” answers Bingo, “if you mess up my make-up.”  She turns around to see Tony.

“You were fabulous!” he smiles.  “I wish Jerry had been here to see it.”

“He was here in spirit,” says Bingo.  “And in the two hickeys he gave me on my left and right buttocks.”

“I’m hungry,” says Tony.  “Wanna get something to eat?”

“What and where?” asks Bingo.  “It’s kinda late.”

“Mel’s on 30th is open 24 hours.”

“But it’s ten blocks away,” sighs Bingo.

“My car is parked on the next street over,” says Tony.  “C’mon!”

“I need to change first,” says Bingo, sliding off her stool and smoothing her dress.  “It’s a little too far outside the gayborhood.  I don’t want some waiter dropping a stack of pancakes when he spots Bingo waltzing through the door.  I’ll be back, and be Ben, in 15 minutes.”

Tony sits down and takes a sip of Bingo’s drink.  He watches two women stumbling up the street, and their conversation floats up to the balcony.

“I didn’t like the way she treated you,” explains Sheila, “like it was a given you would always say, ‘Yes!’ when she asked for something.”

“I was blinded,” admits Abby.

“By lust?”

“By her headlights.”  Abby looks at Sheila.  “You were really mean to her at the party.”

Sheila smiles.  “Yes, I was.  But only because I care about you.”

Abby trips on the uneven pavement and Sheila grabs her to break her fall.

“Thanks.”  They walk arm in arm through the intersection.

Ten minutes later, Ben and Tony step out into the evening and head to the car.  After a few traffic lights and whistles out the window at cute straight guys, they pull into the diner parking lot, jump out, and walk inside.

A waitress (who looks like she is at the end of her shift AND her rope) seats them at a booth, mumbles, “I’m Nancy,” drops two menus on the table, and walks away.

Ben turns to Tony. “She probably wants to check with the chef about tonight’s specials.”

“Yeah,” agrees Tony, “and review the wine pairings suggested by the sommelier.”

“What are you gonna get?” asks Ben, opening his menu.

“Anything with fries,” answers Tony.  “And lots of ranch dressing on the side.”

Ben looks up to see a redhead walk by, grab the tip left at a neighboring booth, then quickly exit the restaurant.

“That woman just stole money off that table!” whispers Ben.

“Should we tell someone?” wonders Tony.

Suddenly, they see and hear their waitress running out the door and screaming after the redhead.

“Well,” says Ben, “at least now we know how to get Nancy’s attention.”

Tony laughs.

“I miss Hamburger Patties,” sighs Ben.  “Where can a gay man go today to eat a messy cheeseburger, AND watch music videos, AND enjoy the best long island iced teas in the greater Sacramento area?”

“Uh…” answers Tony, “that would be your apartment.”

“Oh, yeah,” says Ben.

Nancy walks back in with a torn sleeve and smeared lipstick.  In her left hand she clutches four crumbled singles and a couple strands of red hair.

“Maybe we should just go to my place and raid the fridge,” suggests Tony.

“Good idea,” agrees Ben.  “There’s more drama happening here than on the stage at Faces!”

They get up and thank the bus boy on their way out.  Then they stop and stare at each other.  The car is gone.

c h a p t e r   n i n e t e e n

Jack clocks out of his closing shift at Barnes & Noble with a long sigh.  It had been an exhausting day of customer questions.  He understands when someone is looking for a title whose author they can’t recall (or vice versa), but when someone says, “I don’t know the name of the book or who wrote it, but it has a greenish cover,” Jack wants to reply with, “And is it a rectangular shape with paper pages inside that have words printed on them?  I know that book!  It’s right over here!  Follow me!”

Jack is feeling better once he gets home.  He has some good news to share with Kevin.

“I got time off from my jobs at Arden Fair,” says Jack.  He sits down next to Kevin on the sofa.  “I took some vacation days, and got some co-workers to cover a few shifts.”

“Why?” asks Kevin, hitting the mute button on the TV remote.  “Where are you going?”

“We…” says Jack, “are going to San Diego.”

Kevin starts to speak, but Jack interrupts.

“You’re going to help out your principal by attending the conference,” says Jack, “and I’m gonna help you to face your fears, so you can leave what happened in the past in the past.”

“I don’t know…” Kevin says.

“You don’t have to know,” Jack explains.  “You just have to go.”  He takes hold of Kevin’s hands.  “I’ll be there with you.  You won’t be alone”

Kevin wraps his arms around Jack and pulls him tightly to his chest, then he buries his face in Jack’s neck and closes his eyes.

Three weeks later they pull onto I-5 south in Kevin’s mini cooper convertible with the top down and the tunes up.

“This extended weekend is all about you,” says Jack.  “Except I get to drive your car!”  He steps on the accelerator and passes a slow truck in the fast lane.  Jack feels just like Thelma (or is it Louise?).

“Arts in Education” is a state-wide conference being held at the San Diego Convention Center.  Attendees and presenters are staying at the Mariott, just a block away in the Marina, and west of the Gaslamp Quarter.  After checking into their room, Jack and Kevin drive up to the Hillcrest.  The neighborhood looks the same, but different.

It now boasts a Harvey Milk Street AND a rainbow pride flag (appropriately erected on a street named “Normal”).  They decide to grab a burger and drink at Urban Mo’s (the site of the former Hamburger Mary’s).  They are just a couple blocks from the B&B where they stayed five years ago.  And several blocks east is Rich’s; the dance club where it happened.

And after it happened, it was a year of prescribed anxiety meds, followed by a year of counseling, and a few more years of arguments and night sweats.

Jack hopes it will also be the place where it ends, and Kevin can find peace.

c h a p t e r   t w e n t y

OUT AND ABOUT IN MIDTOWN - Chapter Twenty
A serialized novel by Darrell Scheidegger Jr., This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it (if you missed the previous chapters, you can read them at http://outwordmagazine.com/inside-outword/music-and-books/1717-out-and-about-in-midtown-previous-chapters)

In chapter 19, Kevin and Jack finally make it to San Diego (and just what was it that happened there five years ago that we've been waiting since chapter one to discover?), and in chapter 20, we catch up with the rest of the "gang" and find out what's new with them!

c h a p t e r   t w e n t y

While Kevin and Jack are in San Diego, people are still out and about in Midtown.

Jerry is recovered from his injuries and enjoying lunch with Ben at Mango’s.

“What really happened in that alley?” asks Ben out of nowhere.

“I told you it was a misunderstanding,” replies Jerry.

“Over what?” asks Ben.  “How much he charged?”

Jerry looks down at his plate.  He inhales slowly, then exhales.

“Drugs, right?” asks Ben.  “Nobody pays for a blow job anymore.  There are plenty of guys giving those away for free.”

“I’m sorry I wasn’t honest with you,” Jerry says.  He looks at Ben.  “I need help.”

Ben reaches over and touches his arm.  “What can I do?”

The police locate Tony’s stolen car; a teenager had taken it.  It was his last chance to earn admission to a gang.  First he tried to snatch an old lady’s purse (but got a cane to the crotch).  Then he tried to shoplift some candy bars from a corner liquor store (but a helpful citizen tripped him on his way out the door).  Who knew stealing a car would be easier than purse-snatching or shoplifting?

The only damage done is he doesn’t fill up the tank before abandoning it in South Sac.

Sheila rings Abby’s doorbell.  Abby opens up and Cupcake runs outside.

“Hey, girl!” smiles Abby.

“Avon calling!” sings Sheila.

Abby laughs and gestures her inside.  There is already a group of women in the living room enjoying drinks and snacks and conversation.

Abby hugs Sheila, picks up the cat, and shouts to the crowd, “Sheila’s here!  Better cross your legs!”

One woman not in attendance is Deb.  She’s at the Crest Theatre with Jamie.  He holds her right hand with his left, but still manages to shovel in the popcorn from the bucket between his legs.  It’s gone before the previews are over, and he gets up during the opening credits of the film to get some more.

“Do you want anything from the snack bar?” he calls across a couple at the end of the aisle.

“No, thanks,” Deb responds.  She pulls up her sweater around her shoulders and slides down into her seat and stares at the screen as the images and sounds wash over her in the dark.

A few blocks over, Ted and Ed are spending a typical afternoon at home.

“Where the hell is the toilet paper?” screams Ted.

“I told you we were out yesterday,” Ed shouts back, “and that you should pick some up!”

“Shit!” barks Ted.  “I forgot.”

“We’re out of paper towels, too,” says Ed.  “I guess you’ll have to use the newspaper.”

“Bring me the Editorial Section,” says Ted.  “I read some opinions earlier that I’d like to wipe my ass with.”

There are still no leads in the investigation of the John Doe with the curly hair, green jacket, and sunglasses.  But the police found an interesting piece of evidence next to the body.  It was placed in a manila envelope with the rest of his effects and left for another day.

Across the street from Jack and Kevin’s house a new tenant is moving into the neighborhood.

His name is Glen Marcher (not pronounced as “someone who marches,” but Mar-share; as in the pop singer; the Academy Award-winning actress; the gay icon:  Mar-CHER).

Glen is in his early fifties with black hair, glasses, a mustache, and hazel eyes.  He looks like someone you’ve seen before, but don’t remember where.  He chose this particular room to rent because it is affordable AND close to work.

But more importantly, because it is directly across the street from Jack and Kevin.

 

c h a p t e r   t w e n t y - o n e

Jack and Kevin stand outside of Rich’s Club in the Hillcrest in San Diego.  Kevin recalled his therapist had recommended revisiting a scene of trauma to notice the ordinariness of the surroundings.

It can diminish the power of the mind’s memories that often portray negative events in a fantastic or unrealistic way.  Kevin hopes by stepping inside he will see a typical dance floor and bar, not the house of horrors he remembers.

Kevin walks through the door and is transported back in time.

He sees a young boy leaning against the wall, tapping his foot.  Kevin approaches and asks him to dance.  He likes to encourage wallflowers to pretend to be invisible to the eyes that judge awkward dance moves or imperfect bodies.  Kevin wants to show him how to get lost in the music; how you never feel more alive than when you dance.

Jack joins them on the floor and they move as if they are one body.  Smiles are shared and shirts are shed, but a hand on an ass and a mouth on a neck are interpreted as something more than just a friendly gesture.

The boy grabs Kevin and kisses him.  His tongue fights its way inside Kevin’s mouth.  Kevin pushes the boy away and they look at each other; their eyes hold an entire conversation in just a few seconds.

The boy runs to the restroom.  Kevin starts to follow, but Jack holds him back.

Several minutes later the thump of the music is accented by the screams of a man exiting the restroom.  He is yelling for help and an ambulance.

Kevin runs inside and finds the boy on a dirty floor next to a urinal; his life dripping out of him; bracelets of blood around his wrists.

Kevin opens his mouth, but only silence escapes his throat; a silence more deafening than the screams he heard earlier.  Jack pulls him out and holds him tight.

“Why did he…?” cries Kevin.

“I don’t know,” Jack responds.

“I rejected him,” shouts Kevin.  “Then he rejected himself.”

Jack shakes his head.

“I should have…” mutters Kevin, “I shouldn’t have…”  His mind is spinning in circles like the men on the dance floor just moments before.

Suddenly Kevin is back in the present.  He is staring at Jack, looking into his eyes for… something.

“Babe,” says Jack with his arms around him, “you’re a teacher who always looks for answers.  But you’re also an artist who understands life is filled with questions.”

Kevin stands still as Jack continues.

“You don’t have to know why that boy killed himself.  You just have to know that you only danced with him; shared a few moments of fun. Nothing you did had anything to do with what he did.  Feel sorry about it, but don’t feel responsible for it.  You have nothing to forgive yourself for.  You care about people.  If you didn’t, you wouldn’t have spent years remembering that night.  Please, Honey.  Say, “Goodbye” to that boy.”

Kevin breaks down in sobs.

The next day they both say goodbye to San Diego and drive back to Sacramento.

Kevin is glad to be home and surrounded by the things (especially the person) that make him happy.  Jack kisses him goodbye when he leaves for a closing shift at J. Crew.

Later that evening, Kevin goes to check his e-mail and notices that Jack is still logged in.  But before Kevin signs Jack out, he notices a subject line in Jack’s in box: Test Results.

 

c h a p t e r   t w e n t y - two


Kevin is waiting for Jack when he walks in the door.  But he isn’t waiting with a glass of wine or to share a kiss on the cheek; he’s waiting with a look that suggests it would be best for Jack to turn around and leave.

“I saw the e-mail from Kaiser,” Kevin says instead of, “Hello.”

“What?”

“Your test results: Negative,” explains Kevin.  “Congratulations.”

“Honey…” starts Jack.

“Shut up!” finishes Kevin.  “What the hell is going on?”

Jack throws his coat on the chair, sits down, and prepares to start something he hopes doesn’t end everything.

“That man who was murdered in Midtown… I knew him.”

Kevin wasn’t expecting that as an introduction.  He decides he needs to sit down also.

“I ran into him at Badlands,” explains Jack.  “We first met each other at The Edge in San Francisco; when I went there to see Bingo perform, and you stayed home.”

Kevin looks away.

“I don’t even know his name,” adds Jack.  He wants to reach out to Kevin, but doesn’t.

“Then what happened?” asks Kevin, not wanting to know the answer.

“We got drunk and went back to his place,” Jack says.

“The usual?”

“Not usual for me,” says Jack.  “I was never unfaithful before!”

Kevin just stares at the wall.

“He gave me a drink token from the bar.  He said it was a “token” of his feelings for me.”

“Did you have feelings for him?” Kevin almost shouts.

“No!” Jack answers.  “It was a mistake I will always regret.”

Kevin gets up and paces the room while Jack continues his confession.

“When I told him to leave me alone, he began to stalk me; showing up around Midtown at different places and times.  He even came to the mall once.  Then he asked for his token back.”

Kevin looks at him.  “You still have it?  You kept it?”

“No!  The last time I saw it was when Ben asked if he could borrow it; a good luck charm for an upcoming performance.”

“This is starting to sound like a fucking movie-of-the-week!”

“Bingo lost it at one of his shows at Faces,” explains Jack.  “Anybody could have picked it up off the floor.  The fact that it was found next to his body doesn’t mean anything.  I had nothing to do with it.”

Jack gets up and approaches Kevin.  “I don’t expect your forgiveness; I don’t deserve it.”  He takes a deep breath.  “But I do expect you to remember how much I love you… and need you.”

Kevin does remember.

It’s not easy to forgive and forget, but it is easy to love and remember.  And that’s what they both decide to do.

Across the street, Glen Marcher is remembering things too.  He looks out his bedroom window at the lights going out in Jack and Kevin’s house; first the living room, then the hallway, finally the bedroom.

Glen turns out his own light and lies down on his bed, staring at the ceiling… and remembering.

 

c h a p t e r   t w e n t y - t h r e e


“I came out to my parents,” announces James.  He and Tony are walking through McKinley Park.

“And…?” asks Tony.

“They totally freaked out!”

“What happened?”

“They signed me up for reparative therapy sessions.  I didn’t want to go, but they made me.”  James looks down at his shoes.  “I got a really bad vibe from the people at the facility.”

Tony puts his hand on James’ shoulder.

“So I ran away,” James continues.  “I wasn’t gonna let them hook me up to electrodes and shock me and stuff.”

“Did you go back home?”

“No.  I’ve been staying with friends.  But that day at Peet’s, when I left in a hurry?  I recognized the driver in that black car.  He was looking for me; wanted to take me back.  But I gave him the slip.”

Tony asks, “What are you going to do now?”

“I want to find my birth mother,” he responds.  “Will you help me?”

Of course Tony will.  James has a name and address, and together they make plans to drive to Idaho next week.

But first Tony decides to confront Abby.  He’s already done the research that James has just started.  Only Tony doesn’t need to drive to another state to meet his mother; he just has to find a pool table.

The next evening Tony approaches Abby at the Depot and asks her to play a game.  She hesitates before answering, “Sure.”

Abby breaks and sinks a solid.  When she pockets another ball, Tony says, “Nice shot… Mom.”

Abby freezes, exhales, and whispers, “Thanks.”

“Is that all you’re going to say?” he asks.

Abby takes a long drink of her beer and decides to start from the middle, not from the beginning (that way she can get to the end faster).

“I was at the Lavender Library looking for a book and overheard you talking to a friend,” Abby explains.  “I put the puzzle pieces together and figured out who you were… who you are.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t know if you knew, or wanted to know, or hated me, or…”  She doesn’t know what to say anymore.

Tony stares at Abby, daring her to leave.

“I am so sorry,” Abby mumbles.  “I was young and stupid.  I didn’t know what to do.”

“So you dumped me?” asks Tony.

“No!” corrects Abby.  “I gave you away to give you a chance.  Both of you.”

Tony catches his breath.  “BOTH of us?”

“You and your sister,” says Abby, wiping at the tears on her cheeks.

“I have a sister?”

“A twin.  But you were each adopted by different families.”

“Who is she?” Tony asks.  “Where is she?”

“I only found her a couple years ago,” explains Abby.  “I mean, she found me.”

Tony is almost shaking.  He wants to both hold Abby and hit her.  He decides to hug her; it hurts too much to hate.

“I’m sorry, honey,” Abby cries.  “I love you, baby.”

A few minutes later, Tony wipes his eyes and nose on his sleeve.  He looks into Abby’s eyes.

“What’s her name?”

“Sheila.”

 

c h a p t e r   t w e n t y - f o u r

Bingo is hosting Drag Queen Bingo at Mango’s.  Ted and Ed are helping by passing out playing cards and daubers.  Jerry is there; he began his drug rehab and is doing well.  He doesn’t need a fix as much as he needs the love of a good man and support of a kind friend; Ben is both.

Tony, Sheila, and Abby are enjoying a family reunion over a pitcher of sangria.  They are enjoying the opportunity to make connections that they never had the chance to before; Cupcake is enjoying the extra attention.

Abby excuses herself to answer the phone.  It’s Deb; Jamie is history, and she’s asking for a second chance.  Abby got a second chance with her kids, so she is willing to give one to Deb.  They make plans to meet for coffee later in the week.

Glen Marcher decides it is finally time to confront Jack and Kevin.  They recently returned from San Diego and he doesn’t want to wait another day.  He has something important to tell them; something that will completely change their lives, his included.

He walks across the street and up the eleven steps to their front door, takes a deep breath, and rings the bell.

Footsteps echo off hardwood floors as someone approaches the entrance hall.  Glen watches the knob turn and the door swing open.  A man smiles at him.  “Hello.”

“Wh- who are you?” Glen stutters.

“My name is Darrell,” the man responds.

“What are you doing here?”

“I live here,” Darrell answers, confused with the direction of this conversation.  Isn’t the person who opens the door supposed to ask, “Who are you?”

Glen removes his glasses and rubs his eyes.

“May I help you?” asks Darrell.

“I thought Jack and Kevin lived here,” says Glen, almost to himself.

“Who?”

“Kevin’s a teacher; Jack works at Arden Fair Mall.”  Glen scratches his head and looks next door at Abby’s house, then across the street, starting to wonder where exactly he is.

“Would you like a glass of water?” asks Darrell.  “Do you need to sit down?”

“No,” answers Glen.  “Where are Jack and Kevin?”

Darrell suddenly understands.  “Oh, you mean the characters in my book?”

“Characters?” mumbles Glen.  “Book?”

“I’m a writer,” Darrell explains.  “Jack and Kevin live in my imagination, so I guess you could say they live in this house too.”

This does not comfort Glen.  He is still frustrated and confused.

“Out and About in Midtown,” says Darrell.  “Did you enjoy reading it?”

Glen is distracted by a calico cat at his feet, sharpening its claws on his pant leg.

“Lola!” scolds Darrell.  “Leave the man alone.  Get inside!”

The cat runs into the house.

“Was there anything else?” inquires Darrell.

Glen stares blankly at him.

“Okay.  Have a nice day!”

Glen starts to respond as the door closes quietly.  Then the deadbolt clicks.

Glen Marcher looks down at his feet, trying to make sense of things, and sees a folded piece of paper tucked under the doormat.

He bends to pick it up.



A Note From The Author:

Thank you to OUTWORD and its readers for the opportunity to share my writing.  I had a great time creating these characters and adventures.  While writing each chapter, I never knew how things would turn out (I just made it up as I went along).  The challenge was how to explain everything and wrap up the loose ends in the last few chapters (I hope you found it satisfactory).  I decided after chapter 20 to end this series in order to focus on other projects, but I may return to these characters in the future, and hope to see you all out and about in Midtown!

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