It was a beautiful afternoon, about 75 degrees and sunny, so I’d taken my laptop up to the rooftop deck.I found JP and Stef there, drinking tea and reading.“Good morning,” I said.JP, as was typical for him, greeted me then re-immersed himself in whatever he was reading.
“You seem to be in a good mood,” Stef said, which almost ruined the mood he was talking about, since it almost implied that I shouldn’t be.
“I am,” I affirmed.
“Have you heard from Jake?” he asked.
“I have not,” I said, then sighed, knowing that I’d have to open up to at least Stef on this issue.“I’m wondering if he’s running away from me.”
JP looked up from his article.“You certainly do know how to pique JP’s interest,” Stef said.“My conversation was evidently not as stimulating.”
“Everything about you is stimulating,” JP said to Stef, then focused on me.“And how did you scare Jake away.”
“I made out with him,” I said.“He is one amazing kisser.”
“If you had said you showed him your erection, that would have made more sense,” Stef joked, referring to how hung I was.
“He told me what his deal is, at least as regards being kinky,” I said, and almost laughed at how they both looked at me with full attention.
“You are going to enlighten us?” JP asked, which was hilarious, because he had to be dying to know to actually ask me about it.I smirked at him to annoy him, and almost laughed when it worked.
“He only barebacks, and he only bottoms,” I said.
“That is very dangerous,” Stef said, and seemed as horrified as I’d been.“Just because HIV is not a death sentence anymore is no reason to actively seek it out.”
“It is still a death sentence for some,” I said sadly, thinking of Kevin, who was doing pretty badly.“I talked to Cody yesterday, and even though he’d tried to be upbeat for me, he got pretty sad when he told me that Kevin isn’t doing any better.”
“That is unfortunate,” Stef said sadly.I quickly switched the topic back to Jake, before we let Kevin’s situation completely depress us.
“Jake claims that he is immune to HIV,” I explained. They both paused and looked at me blankly as they thought about that.
“That sounds like nothing more than a convenient excuse,” Stef pronounced.
“I think it is possible,” JP said.“I have read about that.There are supposedly some people who seem to be lucky in that regard.”
“I talked to Jack yesterday, and he said the same thing,” I said nervously.
“Are you planning to bareback Jake?” Stef asked.
“I’m thinking about it,” I told him, then grimaced.“Jack sure wasn’t in favor of it.”
“That is quite a risk,” JP noted.
“It is, and it kind of puts me into a Catch-22,” I said.They stared at me, waiting for me to explain.“If I fuck him, I take the risk that he’s lying to me and that he is positive, and that he makes me positive.If I don’t, I’m basically telling him I don’t believe him, and that I don’t trust him.”
“I would hope you remember that trusting someone in a business or professional capacity does not necessarily mean you should trust them regarding personal issues,” Stef said.
“Yet in this situation, when things are so intertwined, I can understand your dilemma,” JP said.I gave him an appreciative look, since that was my read on it as well.
“Jack scared the shit out of me by regaling me with all the other nasty diseases I could possibly contract,” I grumbled.“He covered everything from gonorrhea and syphilis to anal warts.”
“That is probably not a bad thing for all of us to consider,” JP said, even as we cringed at the thought of all the various STDs that were out there.
“He used to be a top, but he was shot in the back, and that caused nerve damage,” I told them.“So he can’t fully get an erection.”
“Then sadly, we are kindred spirits,” JP said.
“We have a new pill to try,” Stef said to JP hopefully, even as he patted his knee in a loving way.“We are going to try Cialis.”
“Good luck,” I said.“Jake says those drugs won’t help him.”
“That is unfortunate,” Stef said sympathetically.
“That was the one thing that was positive about my call with Jack,” I said.“He told me that they’ve made a lot of progress on treating spinal injuries, and that maybe they could help him out.”
“I suspect he would appreciate that,” Stef said, which was an understatement.“But I am assuming that, being a top yourself, you would not be overly upset by his disability?”
“I’m not,” I told them, then grinned.“He has an amazingly cute ass.”
“That would be an added incentive,” JP said.
“It sounds, based on what he told me, that he’s only a bottom because that’s pretty much all he can do, but I could be wrong about that,” I told them.“Regardless, I like the guy, and I find him really attractive.”
“It sounds like you had a nice interlude,” JP said.
“Interlude?” I asked, teasing him.
“Yes,” he snapped slightly, making me chuckle.“What makes you think you scared him away?”
“Our conversation ended on a positive note, and was actually pretty positive throughout,” I said.“But he was suddenly intent on going to Washington, and it seems that he could have put that off until today.”Jake had made it seem like he’d been totally focused on working on solving the land problem, but I thought there was more to it than that.
“Maybe he felt vulnerable after he revealed so much of himself,” Stef suggested.
“That is possible,” JP said, but he sounded skeptical.“It is also possible that, in addition to that, he was leaving to give you some space to contemplate things.”
I blinked a few times as my mind processed that.“If he’d have been here, especially last night, I would have felt pretty pressured to sleep with him or not.”
“I would think those would be your only two decisions,” Stef said, giving me shit for explaining that badly.
I gave him a faux dirty look.“It would have forced me to make a decision before I had a chance to work my way through it,” I said, getting what JP was saying.“That was a really nice thing for him to do.”
“It was, if that is indeed why he did it,” JP said, reminding me in his typical way that we were merely speculating.He took that opportunity to change the subject.“I had a chance to update Wade on our conversations about Lord Preston.”
“What did he think?” I asked.
“He did not express an immediate opinion,” JP said, then looked at me curiously.“What do you think?”
“I’m skeptical,” I said.“This whole thing isn’t adding up.”
“You do not think Jake was being honest with us?” Stef asked.“That would certainly make your decision to sleep with him easier if he was not.” It would be frustrating and annoying if he decided that Jake wasn’t reliable and trustworthy before I’d found out the truth about him.I didn’t need Stef questioning Jake’s every move and statement.
“I don’t think that’s it,” I said, struggling with how to explain my intuitive feeling on this.“Based on what he told me, I have to believe that Lord Preston is either a blithering idiot or a virtual genius and sociopath.”
They began to mull that problem over.“Those would appear to be incompatible traits.”
“They would,” I confirmed.“I don’t know much about South African society, but I’m supposed to believe that he’s quite the A-list person.I find it hard to believe he’d be so readily accepted by polite society if he was a drug lord.”
“I would think that his title and his breeding give him an instant entre into their elite social class, but I tend to agree with you.Organized crime bosses are not generally welcome in such circles,” JP said.
“If he’s a blithering idiot, then he’s walking into a trap in Mexico, and they’ll make short work of him,” I said, thinking through my two options on Preston.
“What if he’s not?” JP asked, just to get my thoughts. “What if he is quite shrewd?”
“Then there is a lot more going on here than we know about,” I said.
“Let us hypothesize that is the case,” Stef said.“What else could there be?”
“I don’t know,” I said, frustrated.
“But you think Jake is being honest?” JP asked me.
“I don’t know that either, but I think he is,” I said.“Look, I’m betting he’s getting intel from grunts on the ground.They’ll know what’s going on tactically, but they won’t see the big picture.”
“If he were being thorough, would he not have vetted that information and put it into the proper context?” Stef asked, and seemed glad to have something to snipe at Jake about.
“I don’t think that’s all him,” I told him.“He found out what’s happening in Mexico, and that’s all we could really expect from him at this point.”
“One would hope that when the playing field is expanded, the rest of us would be able to offer some insights,” JP said.
“I suspect that’s what our meeting on Saturday is about,” I said.
“I wonder if Elizabeth Danfield or Alexandra Carmichael have the big picture?” Stef mused.
“I doubt Elizabeth does,” I opined.“I think if she knew, she’d have been more active in this situation.Wade’s been at Goodwell with her for a while now, and he told me he sensed confusion from her.”
“He shared that with me as well,” JP confirmed.
“I have no idea what Alexandra knows, and I’m not sure it matters.I’m not likely going to be able to get much information out of her, at least not without a price,” I said with dread.
“If this situation continues, where we do not know what is going on, it may be worth the price,” Stef said.
“Another missing link in this whole thing is Lord Preston’s wife,” I said.“Mike told me Alexandra said he would not like her, because she was devoid of honor.”It bugged me that I’d all but forgotten that fact, and wondered if it would end up being important.
“Perhaps the Marchioness has a role in this,” JP mused.
“Yet another person we will have to try to investigate,” Stef said in a grumpy way.I decided we’d talked about this enough, so I changed the subject.
“I talked to Will.He and Darius are at the hotel.I told them they could come back whenever they wanted.”
“Our schedule is flexible enough to accommodate that,” Stef joked, since we had nothing to do today.Today was the day we were supposed to go to New Jersey, but I had dealt with enough over the past few days, and I’d ultimately bailed on that plan.I’d had a very unpleasant conversation with Jeanine’s mother when I’d called her and told her, but I decided that it was worth it.“How did it feel to have both of your sons running off with significantly older partners?”
“You don’t think older men are sexy?” I asked, pushing Stef into a corner.
“I am also most interested to know your thoughts on this,” JP said, piling on to give him a bad time as well.
“I think they can be very sexy,” Stef said.“I just wondered how you felt about the age difference?”He got a nasty look from JP, inasmuch as one could get that kind of overt facial expression from him, since Stef was poking at me as if trying to start an argument. It was a wasted effort on his part, because I wasn’t going to fall into that trap.
“I don’t think it makes much difference what I think,” I said honestly.I was quite aware that my sons would not welcome or tolerate my involvement with their decisions on whom to fuck.“But it really didn’t bother me.”
“That is a bit surprising,” Stef said, probing.
“Will and Darius are responsible, and mostly make good decisions.In this case, they’re walking into the situations with Patrick and Bellona with their eyes wide open,” I explained.“I also don’t think either one of those liaisons is more than a fleeting hook-up.”
“Patrick is very handsome,” Stef said.
“I was kind of surprised that I liked him,” I said.“After he snaked Ella away from Darius, it would have been more likely that I’d keep him pretty far away from me.”
“I am not sure that ‘snaked Ella away’ is an accurate way to explain what happened,” JP said, with his fussy sense of justice.
“Well, if snake is a metaphor for his dick, I’d say he did,” I joked.“For a fashionista, he’s pretty down-to-earth, and seems just like your typical bro.”
“You like him because he is not bitchy and flamboyant?” Stef challenged.He could be both or either of those things, so it was no wonder he was asking me this question.
“No, I like him because he’s not a huge drama queen, and because he’s nice to Will,” I said.Our conversation was truncated when JJ came out the door, pausing briefly to put on his stylish sunglasses.
“It’s nice up here,” he said pleasantly.
“It is,” Stef agreed.“How are you this morning?”
I looked at my watch.“I think calling this morning is a stretch,” I joked, since it was already 11:30.
“I took my time getting ready,” JJ joked back.He was in such a good mood it was almost disturbing, and a bit surreal.
“You look good,” I said, and he did.Even when he had been skating, his muscle tone had always been subtle, and now it was even more hidden since he wasn’t constantly on the ice.I grimaced to myself when I thought that he’d turned into a twink.
“What are your plans for the day?” Stef asked him.
“There’s a new store on Fifth Avenue I wanted to check out,” JJ said.
“That sounds interesting,” Stef said, smiling, even as he got up to leave.
“I called for the car already,” JJ said, smirking since he’d known Stef would want to go.“I figured we could get lunch while we’re out.”
“Then we will see you gentlemen later, for dinner,” Stef said to us.JP and I stared at them in surprise as they left, since this whole departure was unexpected, and since Stef and JJ were neither one of them speedy when they went somewhere.
“It would seem we are on our own for lunch,” I said.“Perhaps we should go back to that pub around the corner?”
“That sounds like an excellent plan,” he said, and so we walked back to the same pub we’d gone to when I’d arrived from China, and drank almost as much as we did that time.
September 13, 2003
New York, NY
“We are ready to leave,” Stef said to me.
“Give me a minute,” I snapped, then apologized with my eyes.It wasn’t his fault Zach hadn’t called me on September 11, and it wasn’t his fault that Zach hadn’t called me on September 12.“I just need to make a phone call.”
“That is fine,” he said soothingly, which was almost more annoying, but I managed to control my emotions and just smile at him.I waited until he left the room, and then called Zach.I didn’t think he’d answer, I didn’t think there was any way he’d actually man up and talk to me after blowing me off, so it didn’t surprise me when my call went to voice mail.
I listened to his standard, phone-company derived greeting, then left a message:“Hey Zach, it’s Will.I just wanted to wish you good luck on your game today.Get a touchdown for me!” I smiled when I thought about how he’d react when he got it, how he’d feel guilty and like total shit.Darius had coached me on this; on how much smarter and better it was to take the high road.It may be the smart thing to do, but it certainly wasn’t the easy path to take.I’d been pretty messed up after September 11 came and went with no call from Zach.If it weren’t for Patrick’s amazing sexual healing, I’d have probably been a basket case. I smiled when I thought about him, and what a total animal he turned out to be in bed.He wasn’t aggressive and dominant like Carullo, but he was definitely in charge, he certainly had some stamina, and he was surprisingly resilient.It was almost tough to keep up with him.Almost.
I was sitting on the bed, staring at my phone, when Stef walked back into the room.I stood up abruptly, feeling bad that I was dicking around when everyone was ready to leave.“Am I interrupting you?”
“No, I just finished my phone call, and I was thinking about it,” I said, then sighed.“I called Zach and left him a message to wish him luck today, even though I’m pissed off at him for not calling me since I got to New York.”
“He did not call you?” he asked, shocked.I just shook my head.“I am sorry.There is only one reason I can think of for that to happen.”
“What?” I asked curiously, even though I was dreading the answer, that he’d tell me Zach had found someone else.Then again, I already knew Zach had found someone else; he’d found Joe.
“He must have become completely absorbed into the world of college sports.I saw this happen to Jeff Hayes, and we all saw it impact Matt.It is almost like a supernatural being that has captured him and hauled him off to its lair.”
“I get that, but it just shows how I’m so off his radar, and completely not part of his life anymore,” I said sadly.Stef reached over and wiped away the tear that fell out of my eye.His touch was gentle and caring.
Stef decided to change the subject, evidently having decided that there was nothing more we could do to solve my problem with Zach.“I have not had a chance to thank you for what you said at the dinner.”
“I meant it,” I told him honestly, “and Darius agreed with me.”
“I assumed since you said it, you meant it,” he teased.
I smiled.“It was a good opportunity to tell the world how much we appreciate you.”
“And since you are honoring JP at the talent show, this was an opportunity to do the same thing for me, so I did not get jealous,” he concluded, raising his eyebrow in an accusatory way.
“I didn’t think I had to worry about you being jealous of Grand,” I said, tossing it back at him directly.
“You do not,” he said firmly.
“I always think of you guys as a team, so when we do something for Grand, in my mind, it’s for you too,” I told him.“At the same time, it’s important to single you out once in a while.”
“I appreciate that you did that,” he said. “Your approach is exactly as it should be.JP and I are partners, not competitors.”
“Good,” I said.We smashed our fingers together, a sign stronger than saying ‘I love you’, then followed that up with a meaningful hug.He patted my cheek then walked out, giving me a minute to pull myself together.
I sighed and walked out the door, bracing myself for a round of chaos.“You are sure you do not want to join us?” Stef asked JJ.
“I really don’t want to deal with Mary Ellen, especially since Alex and I are at a good place,” he said.“If I see them there together, I may just really fuck things up.”
“I would have thought you may enjoy that,” Stef teased.
JJ chuckled.“It has some appeal, but I’m good.”It was obvious to me, at least, that JJ was staying here to wait for Carullo to get back.I wasn’t sure if Stef got that or not. Dad gave JJ a big hug, but avoided a long conversation, probably because he was so hungover.We’d picked him and Grand up at that neighborhood pub last night, and it had taken Darius, JJ, and me together to lug their drunk asses back to the condo.They’d both been hilarious.
“Be good,” Darius said, and gave JJ a perfunctory hug.They’d kind of worked things out, but JJ still had some ground to cover with Darius.In actuality, probably the next time they saw each other, they’d be fine, but as of right now, Darius was keeping a distance between them, and it was obvious in the way he said goodbye to JJ.
“They say ‘save the best for last’,” I joked, as I took my turn.
He swallowed hard, which meant he was going to apologize or do something similarly demeaning.“I really am sorry for being such a dick.”
“It’s over, remember?” I said.I didn’t want him carrying a bunch of guilt around.“Take care of yourself, and let me know how things work out with Carullo.”
“If they work out,” he said skeptically.
“I think he’s one of those guys where if you chase after him, he’ll run away from you,” I said.“All you can do is be pleasant and fun so he wants to be around you.”
“I don’t know if I can do that,” JJ said, cracking me up.
“Then just focus on the part where you don’t chase him,” I said, laughing.
“Chasing him will probably work just as well as chasing Zach,” JJ said, which was true, but the comment seared into me, since he was a touchy subject.
“Zach doesn’t need to worry about me chasing after him,” I said coldly.I gave him a warm but not overpowering hug, then followed the others out to the elevator.
“We probably should have flown down there last night,” Stef said.
“A few of us were in no condition to fly,” I said, smirking at Dad and Grand.They ignored me, but a closer look at my dad made me think his skin was almost green.The elevator doors opened and he pushed past us, charged through the lobby and out the front door, and puked in the gutter.
“Dude, you’re like a bum,” Darius said, shaking his head in disdain even as he walked past Dad.The rest of us did the same thing, and then waited in the limo for him to pull himself together.
“Better let him sit next to the window,” I said.He gave me a dirty look, but it turned out to be a smart idea, since twenty minutes later he had to puke out of that very same window.
“It is a good thing Jake is not with us,” Stef said.“That is most unattractive.”
“Whatever,” Dad snapped softly, then gave Grand a really nasty look.“How come you never get sick after you drink so much?”
“I think it is because alcohol kills bacteria, and since I am so pure and perfect, it has no battles to fight inside me,” Grand said in his pontificating way, which was both cute and hilarious.“You, who are saturated with evil, clearly have a much tougher battle.”
Dad rolled down the window and puked again.“Clearly,” Stef said.We got to the airport and boarded the plane, headed for Charlottesville.As soon as it took off, Dad vanished to the back, to the guest bedroom, making all of us chuckle.
“No keg stands for him,” Darius said, referring to Dad.
“He could do them just fine, it’s keeping all that beer down that would challenge him,” I said.
“So how was your time in New York?” Stef asked Darius. I had to hide my grin, since I knew where he was going.
“Okay,” Darius said in his clipped way.
“And how was Bellona?” Stef asked, raising an eyebrow.I repressed a chuckle and got a dirty look from Darius.
“Good,” he said.
“It seems appropriate that we are flying to Goodwell when this topic comes up, since it is at that location that you told us you wanted us to be more interested in your sex life,” Grand said loftily.
“It is most appropriate,” I said, mimicking him.
Darius sighed.“It was one of the best times I ever had.”That surprised even me.
“Indeed?” Stef asked.
“Most of the women I’ve been with are my age, and no matter what I do, they always hold back a little bit.It’s like there’s some guilt thing that tells them they’re not supposed to have that much fun.The girls my age that do, they seem to come with other issues.”
“Makes sense,” I said, since I could see how my female friends were all worried about being too slutty.
“With Bellona, she doesn’t give a shit about that at all.She knows how much fun sex can be, and she wants to enjoy it,” Darius said.“It’s pretty obvious that she finds me to be hot, and that’s kind of awesome.”
“It is very validating to be worshiped,” Stef joked with a smile.
“No shit,” Darius said.“And she doesn’t say no.”
“What does that mean?” Stef asked.
“If I want to have sex, she’ll have sex with me,” he said.“She doesn’t say that she’s tired, she doesn’t suggest we do something else, she goes for it, and when she does, she puts herself into in completely.She’s not just doing it for me.”
“I wonder how much of that is due to the fact that she appreciates how attractive you are?” Grand asked.
“That’s part of it, but I think another part is that she’s a confident woman who knows what she wants,” Darius said.
“Or maybe because she’s older,” I said, getting a dirty look from Stef.“Well don’t women peak at an older age than men?”
“Research suggests that men hit their sexual peak when they are approximately 20 years old, while for women it tends to be in their mid to late 30’s,” Grand said, sounding like he was quoting an academic journal.
“Cool,” I said.“The best is yet to come.”
“Bellona is older than her mid-30s,” Stef noted.
“Maybe she’s a late bloomer,” Darius joked.“So that means Patrick is past his sexual prime.”
“Dude, if that’s the case, I would have been scared to be with him when he was 20,” I said.“He’s an animal.”
“Ella didn’t think so,” Darius said, kind of blowing our minds.
“She talked to you about sex with Patrick?” I asked.
“When we went to Goodwell after September 11,” Darius said, even as we all worked not to let that memory drown us in sadness.“She told me that no one ignited her body like I did.She said Patrick was nice, but not all that enthusiastic.”
“Perhaps Patrick is more stimulated by a male partner than a female partner,” Stef mused.
“Cool,” I said, even as I began to think about Patrick in a whole different way. “It’s still a dick thing to do, talking about the guy she’s with to someone else.” Yet another thing to put in my reasons-to-not-like-Ella file.