Thursday, July 28, 2005

Small Town Boys - Chapter 15

Chapter 1
Chapter 2, Part 1
Chapter 2, Part 2
Chapter 2, Part 3
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14

Summer – 1992

It didn’t take long for Donny and Mike to return to the way things had been. Donny would go over to Mike’s after work two or three nights a week and on weekends Donny would spend Saturday night and Sunday morning with him. As the summer progressed and the shooting got more hectic, the evening visits were cut back and they’d spend time talking on the phone, sometimes Mike talking in whispers from a phone in the soundstage where the show was filmed. They rarely went out, and when they did, it was always in a group that included women from the show, and in a restaurant they never sat next to each other. This was to keep up appearances. The women were friends of Marty or production assistants, and Donny at first didn’t say much to them, but after a couple of nights out with them he found out that they were fun to talk to and one of them, Audrey, the production secretary, was from Sidney, Ohio. Donny enjoyed the time out, and since he never had to pay, it was fun, and the best part was that he got to go home with Mike.

By the middle of July Donny was feeling comfortable at work. He’d settling into the purchasing job and had established good relations with the vendors, and they liked him because he wasn’t always all business and he didn’t beat them up over mistakes in shipping or billing. He got to know the reps on a personal basis, sometimes talking to them after the business was concluded about nothing that had anything to do with business. It wasn’t something he planned; it just happened that way, and he didn’t even think of it until Greg mentioned in passing that he heard Donny on the phone with Bettie from the cable company asking her about her dog’s operation. Donny guiltily apologized and said he’d keep it all business from now on.

“Why?” said Greg, “it’s great. They like it when you do it. Besides, you never know when you might need a favor from them and you’re building up a lot of ‘fer-me’s’ when you do that.”

“A lot of what?”

“Fer-me’s. Y’know, like, ‘please send that order overnight. Do it ‘fer-me.’ Brownie points. Oh, and Bettie thinks you’re a stud.”

“She does?”

“Yeah. She asked their sales rep what you look like, and he described you, and he said she’s got the hots for you.”

“Whoops,” Donny chuckled.

“Yeah, I think she’s in her forties, and I don’t think she’s your type.”

“Yeah, probably not.”

Eric stuck his head in Donny’s cubicle. “Got a sec?”

They went back to Eric’s office. “How much software writing did you pick up in that class at B.G?”

“None. I just learned my way around Windows and how to hit control-alt-delete when it crashes.”

“Great. Here, sit at my computer.”

Eric’s computer screen was showing what looked like the standard McKay-Gemini purchase order. He sat next to Donny and with a few clicks of the mouse showed him how to fill it in from a variety of drop-down boxes and fields, and then he went through a series of screens showing the inventory control, an invoice, a vendor tally sheet, and finally a database listing every open account and every vendor, including names, addresses, and phone numbers. Eric talked quickly and softly, sometimes so fast that all Donny could do was nod and say “yeah” every so often. Finally Eric sat back and grinned. “So, whaddaya think?”

“It’s great.” As it was they wrote everything down on standard business forms then typed them up for the books. Donny could see that typing into a computer would make it go a lot faster.

“Well, it’s still in the smoke-test stage,” Eric said, “but see how everyone could use it? You, Cathy, Greg, Irene, even the guys out back. The computer assigns every job a number, and all you gotta do is call it up by that and you can print out an order form, an invoice, an inventory sheet, whatever. We network it here to my computer.”

“So this is what you’ve been cooking up in your room late at night?”

“Yeah, but this is just a start. I’m working on making it so that we can get a website launched and have people order stuff through that. I’m still working out the bugs on that, but give me some time and pretty soon we’ll be able to do it.”

Greg came in. “So,” he said to Eric, “can he work it?”

“Yeah,” Eric replied.

“Pretty straightforward,” Donny said.

Greg played with it for a few minutes, Eric prompting him every so often. When he was satisfied, he turned to his twin. “Okay. I like it. When can we start using it?”

Eric shrugged. “It’ll take me a few days to link all the computers, but once that’s done and I’ve made sure there’s nothing that will make it crater...what?” He was looking at his brother and grinning as if he had picked up on what he was thinking.

Greg grinned back. “You know what we can do with this.”

Eric nodded.

Donny looked a little puzzled. “What?”

Greg turned to Donny. “Sell it.”

Mike had three days off over the last weekend in July. “Let’s get the hell out of here,” he said to Donny on Tuesday night. They were lying in Mike’s bed in the dark.

“Where to?”

“Idyllwild. I’ll bet we can find a nice little motel or something and just go. Can you get off work?”

“I’ll ask.”

The next morning Eric said, “Sure, have a great time.”

“How much vacation time do I have?”

“Oh, hell, forget about that. With all the stuff we’ve been doing on the database you’ve earned a couple of days off, even if we had some kind of hard-ass vacation plan. Just make sure everything’s caught up and then get the hell out of town. I’d tag along if I didn’t think I’d be a third wheel.”

For a second Donny wondered what it’d be like spending the weekend with Eric. “Could be fun,” Donny said with a bit of a leer.

“Don’t I know it. But...I’m gonna see if I can get the network interface bulletproof, so you kids go ahead and have a great time.”

“We will.”

They left Thursday around noon and got to Idyllwild around five after taking a circuitous route through some small towns along the foothills of the San Jacintos. The motel was small but neat and their room had a balcony that looked out over the valley. They found a nice place for dinner then wandered through the town enjoying the cool evening air and ended up back at the motel sitting on the balcony in the dark, listening to the breeze in the trees.

Mike had been silent most of the afternoon, and at dinner he hadn’t said much, and nothing about work. Donny was getting used to this side of him, and actually he liked him better for it. Not that he minded listening, but he was more comfortable when he didn’t feel like he had to carry on the burden of a conversation.

Mike lit a cigarette and looked across the hills. “This is perfect,” he said softly. He nudged Donny’s thigh with his knee. Donny agreed and nudged back.

“How’s that project coming?” Mike said suddenly.


“That thing you’re working on with Eric.”

“Oh, the database. It’s good. We’ve got it working pretty well.”

“He knows all about that stuff?”

“Yeah, he can pretty much write it any way he wants it.”

Mike’s cigarette glowed. “That must be something.”

They went to sleep with the balcony door open, letting the cool air fill the room and woke up to the clatter and jeers of a jay outside on the balcony. They had breakfast at a coffee shop and then drove up to the edge of the town, parked at a trailhead, and hiked up through the pines and the manzanitas to the top of a ridge. The going was slow because neither of them was in a hurry, and the mile-high air was thin and dry.

After a half-hour, Mike stopped and sat on a boulder next to the trail. He looked back down over the small town, the roofs barely visible through the trees.

“God damn, this is beautiful. You’d never think you were in southern California.” He pulled a bottle of water out of his daypack and they shared some of it before going on.

After another half-hour or so the trail flattened out and suddenly they were looking down the other side over a steep drop-off. To the northeast was the flat desert floor of Palm Springs, and to the south were the rest of the mountains. Heat shimmered off the distant desert, but up there it was still cool.

“Hell of a drop,” said Donny.

“Yeah, you go from a mile high to below sea level in about twenty miles. In the winter in can be snowing up here and seventy-five degrees down there. Probably a hundred and ten down there today.”

They found a shady spot and rested. It was very quiet; not even the wind made much noise.

“So you really like it there,” Mike said. “At McKay-whatever.”

“Yeah, I do.”

“Think that’s what you’ll do for the rest of your life.”

Donny shrugged. “I don’t know. So far it’s fun and the pay’s decent.”

“And you’re learning something. Skills that will be useful in later life.”

Donny glanced at Mike, who grinned a little. “That’s good,” Mike added. “Always nice to have something to fall back on.”


A few minutes went by before Mike said absently, “Unlike me...all I know is...” He drifted off, staring off to nowhere in particular.

“All you know is what?” Donny said.

Mike picked up a pebble. “This stupid business. It’s dumb. All I do is stand around and say things I don’t know and look good for the camera. It’s not art. It’s posing. All those classes I took at MSU on theatre – they’re useless here. I mean, what’s the point?”

“Isn’t it what you wanted?”

“What, to be a TV star? Jesus, I guess I did...but now it’s all.... I mean, it’s not an art form, really. It’s just.... They pay me a lot of money and I get all this attention and all these people want to write to me and get my autograph, but it doesn’t mean anything.”

“You’re a celebrity.”

Mike snorted. “I’m not really. I’ve had a couple of good parts and I’ve gotten mentioned in some reviews, and that stupid movie of the week where I played the cheating boyfriend of Gail Edwards got me a nice ‘also starring’ mention in People. But if the series tanks and the western goes south...” he chuckled at the little pun, “then it’s back to commercials and local stuff and Lance Michaels is just another guy who’s gonna show up ten years from now in a ‘Where Are They Now?’ edition of TV Guide, if I’m lucky. I’ll be a cherry farmer in Maple City with a beer gut and a thirty-ought-six in the gunrack of my pick-up.”

Donny picked up a twig and scratched the dirt. “The series doesn’t go on the air for a couple of months yet. What if it’s a huge hit?”

Mike smiled a little. “Then everything I just said is all bullshit, this is the greatest business in the world, and you’re sleeping with a star.” He tousled Donny’s hair.

Late that night in bed, Mike said, “There’s a real estate office down the road. You want to stop in there in the morning?”

“What for?”

“Just look around. See what’s for sale.”


“Doesn’t mean I’m gonna buy something.”


“Good investment, though. Buy a place, rent it out.”

“You don’t want to be a landlord, though.”

“Have some management company run it. Or just buy some land, hang on to it for a while, then sell it and make a profit. People are building up here; now’s the time. Something to think about.” He rolled over and nuzzled Donny’s neck, which got the desired result.

The realtor was named Brucie Anthony. She was in her early forties, perky with a Dorothy Hamil haircut and a contemporary ensemble, but after the polite introductions and offers of coffee, she was all business. She made some suggestions of some properties that were on the market and also some vacant land that was available, and then took them to see some of them. She drove a Jeep Grand Cherokee with fake wood grain on the sides and a Realtor logo in the back window.

“Now this,” she said as they pulled up to a log home on a half-acre of land with a For Sale sign out front, “is a darling place. Four bedrooms, three baths, a great kitchen, hot tub out back, and a view – well, let’s take a look.”

The house was vacant and the rooms were empty. The main room had a cathedral ceiling with a large stone fireplace at the end. Large windows overlooked the deck and the land dropped off quickly so that the basement below opened out onto a covered patio beneath. The kitchen was fully equipped with a large stove and full prep area including an open pantry, and a hall led to two bedrooms in the back, both of them large enough for a king bed and furniture. A carved log staircase led to the upstairs with guest suite in front and a large master bedroom and dressing area overlooking the back with a small balcony. Brucie kept talking as she led them through the house and out to the attached two-car garage, pointing out features and amenities, including the hot tub, which was drained and covered with a tarp. “And,” she added, “it even has its own well and septic system, plus a generator.”

Mike had said nothing during the tour, but he had grinned at Donny when he saw the master bedroom. Donny went out and looked over the deck railing. The land below the house quickly turned into pine woods with a narrow view down a canyon to the distant valley below. Some birds were making a racket in the trees, but otherwise it was quiet. The air smelled of pine and warm earth.

“So,” Mike said when they were standing in the great room at the end of the tour, “how much?”

“They’re asking a million two,” said Brucie as if she was quoting the price of a sandwich, “but I’m sure they’ll look at any reasonable offer.”

“How long has it been on the market?”

“A little over a month,” she replied.

Donny didn’t say anything, but he wondered what Brucie’s definition of “a little over a month” was. The floors and countertops were dusty, the windows needed cleaning inside and out, there were some cobwebs in the corners, and a newspaper spread under a can of Raid in the pantry was dated the previous November.

As they walked down the driveway and got in the Jeep, Brucie told them a little about the owner. He was an actor whose name Donny remembered from sitcoms and some commercials in the late ‘70’s. He’d built the house in the early ‘80’s as a weekend getaway from L.A. but she said that now he was concentrating more on a theatre career, was spending more time in New York, and didn’t have time for it. She thought it would be perfect for a young up-and-coming actor to have a place like this where he could spend time enjoying his time off, or set it up as a rental property which she would be happy to manage for him. And she repeated her speech about being sure that the owner would consider any reasonable offer.

Donny, sitting in the back seat, looked sharply at the back of Brucie’s head. When they had walked into the real estate office that morning, Mike had not introduced himself as “Lance Michaels,” nor had he said what business he was in. It had been simply, “Hi, I’m interested in looking at some property for sale,” and Brucie had launched the pitch. But Mike said nothing and didn’t acknowledge this discrepancy. Donny sat back and stared out the window.

They looked at three more places and four empty lots. The prices for the other houses were lower, but they were also not as nice as the log house, and one didn’t have a garage or even a carport. The lots were both about the same size – what Brucie called a “builder’s half-acre,” but to Donny, who knew something about property sizes, they looked about half that. The cheapest lot was basically a hillside with a flat section at the bottom that was rutted by run-off streams.

Back at the office Brucie gave them spec sheets about all the properties plus several others on places further out of town. They thanked her and walked down the street to a little sandwich shop in a shopping strip.

Donny ordered sliced turkey and a Coke. “So,” he said casually, “who’s idea was it to buy a place up here anyway?”

Mike looked at him for a moment, apparently struggling to maintain a straight face, but he finally smirked and said “Shit. How’d you figure it out?”

“Brucie and her ‘up-and-coming actor’ bit.”

“I was hoping you didn’t hear that.”

“Doesn’t matter. So what’s with all the secrecy?”

“It’s Marty’s idea. He thinks I should buy a place up here.”

“What’s wrong with buying a house in the same place you live and work?”

“Strictly for investment.”

“What about stocks or bonds or something like that? You really want to sink a million bucks into a log cabin a hundred miles away from where you live? Not that it’s any of my business.”

“It could be.”


“You’re investing in your company. Why not invest in a little piece of property with me?”

“They’re just giving me stock options. Pieces of paper. Could be worthless.”

“You’re making, what, thirty grand a year? That’s pretty damn good for someone just starting out. You oughta be putting it away for when you get tired of working and just want to kick back for a while.”

“I sure can’t afford to go halfsies on a million-dollar house, Mike.”

“Well, for one thing, it won’t be a million. We both know that place hasn’t been on the market for ‘about a month.’ I’m guessing a year at the least and I’ll bet the guy is so desperate to unload it he’ll take half that just to get the hell out from under it. The taxes alone must be killing him.”

“Which means whoever buys it will be paying them. And how hard would it be to get out from it if...?”

“If what?”

“If the computer business goes down the crapper?”

Mike nodded. “I thought you were gonna say if my career follows this guy’s path.”

“Well, yeah, there’s that.”

Mike leaned back and tapped his fingers on the table. “Well, I’m sure Marty can figure out a way to shield it. He’s a fuckin’ CPA as well as an agent. This is his idea.”

“Does he know you’re asking me to be a part of it?”

“No. Strictly my idea. Tell you the truth, I just thought of it.”

“Well, I gotta think about it.”

“Yeah. Me too.”

They were walking back to the car when a white Jaguar pulled up next to them. “Well, hello there!” said the driver. It was Ben.

“Oh, hi,” said Mike absently, obviously not remembering, but Donny smiled. “Hey, how are you?”

“Very well! So, just up for the day?”

“Nah, we’re down at the Bluebird. Just takin’ some time off.”

“Let me pull over.” Ben pulled the car to the curb as Donny said to Mike, “At the Villa. We had dinner with him and his boyfriend.”

“Oh, yeah.”

Ben got out of the car and they shook hands. “Well, this is a pleasant surprise! Got any plans for dinner?”

Mike shrugged and glanced at Donny. “Not really.”

“How about the Chart House?”

“Sure, that’d be great.”



“Perfect! See you then. I have to run – the dog’s at the groomers and they hate it when I don’t pick him up on time.” He got back in the car and waved as he drove off. As they walked on, Donny said, “You okay with that?”

“Sure. The Chart House is nice.”

“You’re kidding!” said Ben. “That’s great! It would be so nice to know some other people up here.”

They were at a small table in a corner. The restaurant was fairly busy for an off-season evening, but the maitre d’ had been able to get them seated without too long a wait. The waiter brought their drinks. Ben had asked them what had brought them up to Idyllwild. After a moment’s hesitation and a shrug at Donny, Mike told them how they’d spent their morning. Julian, ever the silent one, nodded his approval and said, “Brucie knows her stuff” before burying his nose in the menu.

“Well, I’m just thinking about it. Strictly for investment. I wouldn’t live here full-time. Not now, anyway.”

“Oh, well, still,” Ben said, “this is a great place to visit. Did you see anything that struck your fancy?”

Mike told them about the log house, and Ben nodded. “I know the place. Nice property. Isn’t that... oh, who owns it?” He looked at Julian who filled in the actor’s name. “Oh yes. Very nice. I met him once at some chamber of commerce event a while back. His wife is a dear. But I’m afraid he’s had a run of bad luck recently.”

“Really?” said Mike.

“Nothing but guest shots and bit parts. I heard he’s doing a lot of dinner theatre and small town summer stock. He was very big in the sixties, you know, but, well, times change.” He looked at Julian. “What do think of the salmon?”

The conversation turned to other things, but Donny noticed that Mike sat quietly through the rest of the dinner and drank a lot of wine. He offered to pick up the check, but Julian waved him off. Ben said, “It was my idea,” and that was the end of it. They said goodnight in the parking lot, Ben extracting from them a promise to keep in touch if they bought the place or not. Julian got behind the wheel of the Jag and drove off. Mike handed Donny the keys to his car. “I’m really beat. You drive.”

They were getting ready for bed – Donny was in the bathroom brushing his teeth – when Mike said, “Hey look at this.”

The TV was on, and Donny heard, “...takes you behind the scenes to the most powerful place on earth: Capitol Hill.” This was followed by a swift montage of shots of the cast moving quickly through the halls of what looked like the capitol to the drumbeat of patriotic music and a zoom-in shot of Rory Donovan standing on the floor of the Senate making an impassioned speech. “The men and the women who make the rules on Capitol Hill! Coming this fall to CBS.” The end shot was the cast clustered around Rory all staring at the camera with a quick dissolve to the Capitol dome and the title.

Mike grinned slightly. “First I’ve seen of the promos. I’d heard they were gonna start running this week.” He got in bed while Donny went to spit out his toothpaste.

“So what do you think?” Mike said when Donny had gotten in bed and turned out the light.


“The house.”

“It’s nice.”

“But you don’t think I should buy it.”

“Didn’t say that.”

“Didn’t say I should, either.”

“It’s your money, Mike. I’m just...”

“Along for the ride?”

“C’mon. You know better than that.”

“Hmph.” Mike was silent for a few moments, then he rolled over and faced away from Donny. Donny began to drift off. He’d had one drink and one glass of wine – half of what Mike had had – and he was fading fast. Mike muttered, “We’ll talk about it in the morning,” but Donny was asleep.

He woke up a little after six. Mike was not in the bed. Donny sat up and saw him sitting out on the balcony smoking. He was wearing just his boxers.

Donny went to the door. “You okay?”

Mike flicked an ash. “Yeah, I got up to take a piss around five and couldn’t get back to sleep.”

Donny yawned. “You want some coffee?”

“Not yet.”

Donny went to the bathroom and came back out onto the balcony. It was already getting light, the sunshine hitting the top of the hills off to the south. “You still pissed about the house?”

Mike looked at him with a puzzled look. “I’m not pissed. If you don’t want to do it, you don’t want to do it. I understand.”

“Yeah, but why would it matter whether or not I want to do it? You know I don’t make that much money. Paying a mortgage on a place like that would kill me, especially when it’s a hundred miles from where I work.”

Mike put out the cigarette. “The money’s not the issue, Donny. Marty’s a smart guy. He’s a prick, but a smart one. He’ll figure out a way to finance it so that there’s no upfront cost, and he’ll shelter it so that it could even end up making money. But that’s not the point.”

“Well, what is it then?”

“It’s about you and me.”

“It is?”

“Yeah. It’s about you and me having something together. As partners. Something that we share other than just...” he jerked his head in the direction of the bed. “It’s me wanting to have something I can hold on to with you. We can’t live together. I can’t take you out to the publicity shit. I can’t tell the freelancer from TV Guide that my love interest is a guy. I can’t even have you come to the studio’s premiere party. But having a place where we can be together and just.... be together, even if it’s just on weekends during the off-season and the place is rented out for the rest of the year, well, shit, that’s a start.” The nylon ribbing of the chair was beginning to dig into Donny’s legs – he was wearing only his briefs – and he shifted in the chair. Mike looked at him for a second then chuckled softly. “You get it now?”

“Yeah, I think I do.”

“About fucking time.”

“Marty doesn’t know about the house.”

“No idea.”

Eric let out a low whistle. “Whoa,” he said.

It was Sunday night. Mike had dropped Donny off around four and gone home to do his laundry and study his lines for the next morning. Eric had spent the day with his parents and got home around ten o’clock. Donny was in his room folding socks.

“Have a good time?”

“Yeah, it was fun,” Donny said.

“Where’d you go?”


“Oh, that’s nice up there.”

Donny nodded, pulled out a t-shirt from the laundry basket and folded it before he said, “Yeah. Mike wants us to buy a house up there.” That was when Eric whistled. “Yeah,” Donny said. “Strictly for investment.”

“You together”


Eric leaned against the door jamb. “I had no clue you guys were that serious.”

Donny looked at Eric. “Neither did I.”

Eric examined the door jamb for a moment. “Oh, yeah, I wanted to tell you. Tomorrow we’ve got a guy coming in to consult about marketing the database. Bryce Ferguson. Guy I knew in college. Whiz at that sorta stuff.”

“Great. Anything you need from me?”

Eric shook his head. “Nah, just be ready to talk to him about what works and what doesn’t on it.”

“How soon you think you’re gonna hit the streets with it?”

“That’s what we’re gonna find out.”

Bryce Ferguson was tall and thin with crew-cut red hair, a prominent Adam’s apple and long thin limbs. He wore a tan summer business suit with a small “Re-elect Bush” button on the lapel and loafers without socks. He had a slight stammer, but Donny couldn’t tell if it was a speech defect or just on account of the fact that he was borderline hyperactive. He was high energy all over, never sitting still even when he was in Eric’s office looking over his shoulder as Eric ran through the fundamentals of the program. He asked some questions about the design, launching into computer-speak that sounded to Donny more like a recitation of The Jabberwocky, but Eric, replying in the same geekspeak, was able to answer without too much hesitation. Greg seemed amused by the whole show, and when Bryce rattled off a series of questions to him about marketing, margins, cost-per-unit and stand-alone supportability, Greg took them one at a time and finally said, “Bryce, the reason you’re here is to be the guy who not only asks but answers those questions.”

Eric and Bryce went in to Greg’s office and closed the door. A moment later Irene walked by and stood in Donny’s door space. She nodded in the direction of Greg’s office.

“He’s a Republican,” she said flatly.

Donny looked up from a stack of packing slips. “Yeah?” He tried to sound non-committal. He avoided politics for several reasons; he knew that a lot of people in California were passionate about it and there was no point in getting into an argument, and also because he didn’t really pay that much attention to it. If pressed he would have probably admitted that he was a Democrat strictly on the basis that he had the feeling the Republicans weren’t wild about gays.

“He’s got a ‘Re-elect Bush’ button and he lives in Orange County,” Irene said as if that was enough evidence to close the case. “Greg thinks he’s brilliant, though,” she added. “And frankly, if it takes a Republican to get things on the fast track, well... I guess I can live with it. He just better not put up any pictures of Reagan.” She spat out the name of the former president like she was hocking a loogie.

“He’s just a consultant,” Donny said absently, not wanting to poke her into one of her patented rants. But Irene shook her head.

“I think they want to hire him full-time. As in work here. In Linda’s old office.” The office that the previous purchasing manager had occupied had been quickly taken over as the default storage area. Greg had originally offered it to Donny, but it was dark and stuffy – the air conditioning vent was stuck half-closed – and Donny preferred his cubicle that at least had a view to the front windows if he stood by the corner of his desk and leaned to the left.

“Who says?”

Irene chuckled. “I can tell. They’ve thinking about it since June. They just were waiting for the right time.”

“They told you?”

“I can tell. Remember,” she said, closing her eyelids to slits, “I’m Chinese. I’m inscrutable.”

Donny laughed and Irene went back to her desk.

She was right. Bryce was introduced at a quick and casual staff meeting as the new McKay-Gemini marketing director, and the next day he took over Linda’s old office. He didn’t have much interaction with Donny for the first week except to nod at him and say “What’s doin’” when they passed in the hall. He spent most of his time on the phone or in with the sales people. Greg watched him working with the sales staff and Eric spent time with him making the software bulletproof and ready for general sales. They tried a beta version on some of their more reliable customers and it was a hit with them, so at the end of August they called everyone together, ordered in some pizza, and announced that on October 1, 1992, McKay-Gemini would launch Pelican 1.03, their version of database and project management software.

Eric held up a little stuffed pelican that he had found at Toys R Us and said, “We call it Pelican because it doesn’t look too good when it’s sitting on the pier, but when it takes off, it really soars – and it can hold a lot of stuff at once.”

“Actually,” Greg said, “we didn’t know what to call it until last week when I happened to flop open a copy of National Geographic and there was this article on shorebirds. I figured, hey, it’s better than DPMS.”

Everyone laughed and clapped, and Greg said it was all thanks to Bryce and Eric, and they hoped that it would be the start of something really big. “If not – well, you all know how to say ‘You want fries with that?’”

Donny took his pizza and Coke back to his desk. He’d known for a few days the announcement was coming, but Eric had sworn him to secrecy. He hadn’t even told Mike, but he hadn’t had much of a chance to tell him anyway. True to what Mike had said back in May, the shooting on Capitol Hill was becoming intense. He was working twelve hour days with some shooting on weekends, and since the weekend in Idyllwild he hadn’t spent the night with him, although they talked on the phone once a day, usually late at night when Mike got home. He was about to pick up the phone to call Mike’s studio phone number when Irene buzzed through a call for him.

“Hello, Donny,” said the voice on the phone. “This is Paul Jeffries.”


Thursday, July 21, 2005

Small Town Boys - Chapter 14

Chapter 1
Chapter 2, Part 1
Chapter 2, Part 2
Chapter 2, Part 3
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13

In Between - 1992

“Eventually” turned out to be the next day after work. Donny got to the house just after six, changed into sweats and a tank top, and was in the kitchen making a sandwich to hold him until dinner – Mike had a late shoot – when the doorbell rang. It was Marty. He was dressed much as he was yesterday; slacks and a blazer seemed to be his uniform.

“Hi,” said Donny, somewhat surprised. “Mike’s not here.”

“I know. May I come in?”


They went into the living room. Marty took off his sunglasses, looked around to be sure they were alone, then looked at Donny seriously. “You’re living here?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“For how long?”

“’Bout three weeks.”

“Whose idea was it?”


“Not yours?”


Marty rocked on the balls of his feet as he absorbed this. Donny watched him carefully, getting a sense of what was about to come.

“So how did you two meet?”

“At the beach one afternoon in March. Say, can I get you something? Coke, beer, a glass of water? Anything.”

“No thanks,” Marty replied tersely. “Look, I have to tell you that I’m not wild about this.”

Donny was expecting that, so he nodded. “Yeah, I can imagine you’re probably not.”

“Are you an actor?”


“So, you’re not in the business?”

“Oh, hell no. Not at all.”

“Well, I don’t get it. What is there...I mean, what is it between you and Lance?”

“Well, I can’t speak for him, but I like being with him and he likes having me around.”

“And you’re sleeping with him.”

Donny knew that was coming, too. He wasn’t sure how he’d handle it – whether to tell him it was none of his fucking business what he and Mike did together, or just accept that Marty was going to ask it anyway and he should just answer it honestly. So he did. “Yeah, I am.”

Marty stared out the windows to the pool. After a moment he said, “You’re the one he took to Palm Springs.” It was not a question, and Donny said he was. Marty continued to stare out the windows. Donny knew that Marty was waiting for him to make the next move; to say something like, “Look, is there a problem?” at which he knew Marty would say “Yes.” So he waited him out. After what seemed like a geological age, Marty turned and gave him a little grin.

“Okay, I’ll make this as simple as possible. Lance doesn’t need any distraction from his work right now. He’s just landed a part in a series that could put him really out there, and he’s about to get a great part in a film that could cement his reputation for a very long time. Having you here...could make it tough for him to concentrate on what’s important. He needs this time alone. So I think it would be best for him if you were to leave.”

Donny nodded slowly. “Does Mike agree with you?”

“We discussed it.”

Donny remembered the conversation from yesterday. “Yeah, I know. But does he agree with you?”

Marty apparently wasn’t expecting this response. “One of the things I do for Lance is look out for him. I keep him out of dead-end roles in bad projects with directors that are going nowhere, and I keep him focused on things that are best for him. Sometimes that means telling him things he doesn’t want to hear, and sometimes that means telling him how to live his life.” Marty looked around the room. “I also should tell you that this house is leased in my name, so if you want to get technical, you’re living in my house.” He grinned broadly. “Look, I know you’re probably a nice guy and all that, and for what it’s worth, you’re a good-looking one, too. I can see why Lance would be attracted to you. But right now...” Marty shook his head, “he needs his space.”

“I’d like to talk to Mike first,” Donny said, trying with great effort to keep from either laughing out loud or shouting – he wasn’t sure which.

“There’s nothing to talk about. I’ll tell Lance that you’re gone.” He reached in his blazer pocket and pulled out a wallet. “Got a place to go to?”

“Beg pardon?”

Marty took some bills out of the wallet and offered them to Donny. “Here, check into a motel for the night until you get a place to stay, get settled, y’know.”

Donny was stunned. All he could gasp out was, “I have a place. I share a house over on... I have a job. I don’t need your money.” Donny could feel his legs start to tremble, and he suddenly remembered that the last time he hit someone other than Danny was in sixth grade when Stuart Tasker knocked him off his bike with a garden rake. Marty quickly put the money and his wallet away.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply...”

Donny didn’t hear the rest of the sentence. He strode out of the living room and into the bedroom. He flung open the closet, found his duffel, and had his clothes, both the clean and the stuff waiting for the laundry, packed in a few minutes. He found a piece of notepaper off the pad from Paramount Pictures, scrawled “Call me” on it and stuck it on the mirror over the dresser where he knew Mike would see it when he got home.

Marty remained in the living room, and when Donny came out carrying his duffel, he nodded approvingly. “I’m sure you understand. I’m only thinking of Lance.”

Donny tossed the house keys and the garage remote on the table. “Well, all I know is that it was Mike’s idea to have me move in, not mine. I don’t know who the fuck this Lance guy is that you keep talking about.” Donny didn’t wait for an answer but went out to the garage, backed the truck out, and drove out of the driveway, just narrowly missing taking off the side mirror of Marty’s Mercedes. He made it back to his house in time for dinner.

Mike called shortly after nine. “What the hell happened?”

“Ask Marty,” Donny replied simply.

“Marty? Don’t tell me he came over...”

“Yep. Told me you needed your space and that I was a distraction. He offered me three hundred bucks to go to a motel.”

“Son of a bitch!” The line went dead. Donny went back out to the living room. Eric raised an eyebrow.

“He’s pissed,” Donny told him.

“Yeah, I’ll bet,” Eric said. He had filled Eric in on the meeting with Marty over dinner. Eric’s response to the offer of money had been a low whistle. “Damn, Donny, you’re in the wrong business working for me. You should be out there hustling.”

“Now what?”

Donny sat on the couch and picked up the TV guide. “I don’t know. Wait and see, I guess, and check the eleven o’clock news for any shootings of a talent agent.”

Eric shook his head. “What an asshole. So what are you gonna do?”

“What can I do? Marty thinks I am some kind of hustler. No point in arguing with the guy.”

“Yeah, but what about Mike?”

Donny glanced at Eric. “We’ll figure out something.”

Eric said quietly, “Look, it’s none of my business, but how do you feel about him?”

“It’s okay,” Donny said. “I guess I love him.”

“Think it’s mutual?”

Donny remembered the blacked-out phone call. “Don’t know.”

An hour later the doorbell rang. Donny was in the kitchen washing the dinner dishes. Eric called from the front, “Hey, Donny.”

It was Mike. He was still in his work clothes – the Levi’s and a t-shirt with a Paramount logo that he wore before changing into costumes – and there was still hairspray in his hair. He had calmed down considerably and he was smiling when Donny came out from the kitchen drying his hands on a towel. “Hey,” Mike said shyly as he gave him a hug. He smelled of cigarette smoke and whiskey.


“Sorry to barge in this late, but...”

“Sure. Have you met Eric?”

“No, not formally. Hi, I’m Mike.” They shook hands.

“Eric McKay.”

“You’re the computer genius.”

“Well, so far I’m just messing around with them.”

Mike nodded. “Sounds good.”

Eric turned to Donny. “Let me finish up the dishes. Nice to meet you, Mike.”

“You too.”

Eric took the towel and left. Mike looked around the living room. “Nice place you have here.”

“Thanks. You want to...?” Donny indicated the couch, “or maybe out on the patio.”

“Patio’s fine.”

It was a quiet night. Mike leaned back in the folding chair next to the large flowerpot and lit a cigarette. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know Marty was going to come over today.”

“I know.”

“He can be a real prick.”

“I know. You want something to drink?”

“Got any beer?”

“Yeah. Coors or Oly?”


Donny got the beer. Eric was finishing up the dishes and made it a point to tell Donny he was going to his room when he was done.

Mike took a long pull on the beer and smiled a little. “He’s trying to look out for me.”

“He keeps calling you Lance.”

“Only to people he doesn’t know. Look, I ...”

Donny held up a hand. “Hey, I don’t want to get in the way of your career.”

“Fuck my career.”

“Nah, you don’t mean that.”

Mike took another sip and percolated up a soft burp. “I don’t know. People have this really fucked up idea about what life is like making TV shows and movies, like it’s some high art form or stuff. Most of the time you sit on your ass watching other people run around the set and yell at each other. Actors are just props with feet. It’s not theatre. It’s modeling.”

“Marty thinks you’re good at it.”

“Marty thinks anybody with a nice body, a big basket, and good teeth is the next fucking Laurence Olivier.” Mike ground out his cigarette. “Look, I know what Marty thinks, and I know what he’s worried about. It isn’t the show or the movie or me needing any fucking ‘space.’ He doesn’t want me ending up on the cover of the National Enquirer with ‘LANCE’S BOY TOY’ as the headline. He’s trying to protect my image as the macho studmuffin he thinks the world sees me as, and he thinks that any guy that gets close to me is gonna out me to the tabloids.”

“Does he think three hundred bucks would buy off a guy from the Enquirer?” Donny said.

“Oh, I almost slugged him over that. I asked him if he thought I was that dumb to pick up a guy that could be bought off for what he spends on a dinner at Spago. I came this close to firing him.”

“You did not.”

“Well, I thought about it.”

“No, you didn’t.”

“You’re right. But I did set him straight about you.”

“Yeah? What’d you tell him?”

“That you don’t give a shit about Hollywood, you have a steady job, you come from a good background, that small town boys are always honest and trustworthy, that you’re one hell of a good man to have around, and that I love you.”

Donny looked at Mike for a moment, their eyes holding each other. He smiled. “So what did he say to that?”

“What could he say? He said that we had to be very careful and that he had no problem with us being together. We just can’t live together.”

“I guess we can handle that,” Donny replied.

“Guess so.”

“Uh huh.”

After a moment Donny said, “Did you really tell him you love me?”

“Yeah, I did.”


“It’s true.” Mike was looking at him as if he expected a response.

Donny slowly smiled. “Love you, too. Want another beer?”

Mike left a few minutes later; he had an early call. “I’ll stop by tomorrow night. I’ll bring dinner – for everyone.” They hugged and Donny said, “You need a ride home?”

“One scotch and a beer? I’m good.” He kissed him good night and strode out to his car.

Donny knocked on Eric’s door. Eric looked at him expectantly.

Donny knew what he meant. “Yeah,” was all he said.

Eric grinned broadly. “No shit.”

“Yeah, he said it.”

“And you?”

“Yeah. Good night.”

“Good night.”


Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Small Town Boys - Chapter 13

Chapter 1
Chapter 2, Part 1
Chapter 2, Part 2
Chapter 2, Part 3
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12

Life Goes On – 1992

Mike was at the house before Donny arrived and he came out to the driveway as he parked his truck. “Pull it into the garage,” he said, pointing to the space next to his BMW. He did, and Mike closed the door behind him. Once they were in the house, Mike gave him a hug. “Sorry about last night. I tried to call you, but...”

“I forwarded the phone to here,” Donny said.

“Yeah, I was leaving a message for myself. So,” he grinned broadly, “here we are.” He looked at Donny’s duffel. “Is that it?”

“Well, enough for now.”

“Okay. C’mon, let’s get you settled in.”

He took him around the house as if it was the first time, showing him the alarm code, where the key to the backdoor was located, and handed him a set of house keys and a garage door remote. “Don’t park in the driveway. The neighborhood association is funny about that.”

“And you really don’t want people to know I’m here,” Donny said flatly.

Mike looked away then nodded. “Well...”

“C’mon,” said Donny. “I’m not that dumb.”

“Yeah, I haven’t told anyone. It’s not like I’m ashamed of having you here; it’s just that...”

Donny waved his words away. “Forget it. It’s cool.”

They went to the bedroom last. “So, which side of the bed do you want?”

For the first few days Donny felt like he was a guest. Mike got up early to get to the studio for make-up, so Donny had the house to himself for an hour before leaving for the office at 7:30 or so. He made sure he made the bed, cleaned up the bathroom, and put the dishes away even though the housekeeper came by every day to do exactly that. At work Eric dropped off his mail, such as it was, and on Wednesday asked him as they met at the coffee maker how it was going. “Good,” Donny replied.

“So what do you think?” Eric asked.


“The options idea.”

“I don’t know shit about business finances.”

“Me neither. This is Greg’s idea. But what do you think?”

Donny dumped some creamer in his coffee. “So how this works is that you guys give us stock options and if we stay with the company for five years we can cash them in for stock in McKay-Gemini.”

“Yeah. Each option is worth five shares. We’ll start off issuing everybody that’s full-time five options and then more every quarter or so. After five years we’re hoping they’ll be worth something.”

“What if in five years this place is a dance studio, Greg’s back wrangling carts at Wal-Mart, and you’re shacked up with some beach boy in Malibu?”

Eric smirked. “I might do the shack-up no matter what. Anyway, if the company takes off, well, we’ll all be in good shape. If it doesn’t,” he shrugged, “then you’ll have a lot of cool wallpaper. It’s not like it’s going to cost you anything – you’ll still get paid.”

Donny sipped his coffee. “Yeah, okay. What if you sell the company?”

“Greg says part of the deal would be to exchange our stock for theirs or buy up the options. Either way, nothing’s really lost.”

Donny shrugged. “Okay, count me in.”

By the end of the third week a pattern was emerging in his life with Mike. He usually got to the house around six if he went to the gym. Mike got home between seven and seven-thirty. He’d have a drink and unload about the day’s shooting while they made dinner together. Mike never asked Donny how things were going at his job, but Donny didn’t mind; there really wasn’t much to tell. Afterwards they would watch some TV, then go to bed around eleven. Sometimes Mike would be so tired that all he would do was mumble good night and roll over. On the weekend they would sleep late – perhaps until eight or so – then drink coffee on the patio, read the paper, and do nothing much for the rest of the day, which was fine with both of them. If this was the glamour of life in Hollywood, Donny thought, it wasn’t much different than anything he’d seen back home.

On the third Sunday morning, Mike got out of bed and said, “Let’s go for a drive.”

It was still early and traffic was light. They stopped for coffee and doughnuts then headed east into the sun. Mike was a silent driver. Once in a while he’d point out something of interest, but he spent most of the time with both hands on the wheel, his sunglasses shielding his eyes, his face expressionless. Donny leaned back and watched the scenery. It was his first real look at the southern California landscape. They drove towards Riverside, then on side roads to Hemet and up into the San Jacinto mountains. The terrain went from coastal to desert to alpine in a hundred miles, the air changing from humid to dry to cool, the trees going from palms to scrubs to ponderosas. They kept the windows open.

There was an outdoor café under a large tree in Idyllwild. They sat under the tree and ordered sandwiches.

“In a weird way, this reminds me of home,” Mike said.

“How’s that?”

“Pine trees, cool air, tourists.”

“You miss it?” Donny asked.

“Sometimes. Not in winter, though.”

“When was the last time you were back there?”

“Christmas. Went for a week. Froze my ass off.”

Donny remembered Christmas and thought of Scott. “Yeah,” he agreed, “I don’t miss it much either.”

Mike looked around. “This would be a nice place to live, y’know.”

“A hundred miles from L.A?”

“On weekends, maybe.”

“Bet it’s not cheap.”

“Probably not. A lot of people in the business have places up here. Drives prices up. But still. ‘Course, you have to have more than just a bunch of guest shots. You need a series that runs a couple of years and maybe gets syndicated. Plus, you gotta have a name.”

“This is where Ben and Julian live.”


“Those guys we had dinner with at the Villa.”

“Oh, yeah.”

The food arrived and for a while they were silent. Then Mike looked at Donny. “Where do you want to be five years from now?”

“I don’t know. Never really thought about it.”

“Still working for the computer company?”

“Could be.”

“How’s that working out so far?”

“Fine. They’re putting me in with the purchasing people for a while. I seem to have a head for that.”

“That’s great.” Mike munched his pickle.

“What about you?” Donny asked.

“Hopefully still in this show. Doing movies when I can.”

“Think the show will last that long?”

Mike shrugged. “Who knows? So far it’s tested well, so they tell us, and they’ve been able to pick up some good sponsors. We’ve got a decent time slot.”

“What if it doesn’t?”

Mike looked at him. “Doesn’t what?”

“Doesn’t go?”

“It’s going. We’ve got a thirteen-episode commitment.”

“Then what?”

“Then we do a full season. Then we get renewed and go from there.” Mike leaned back and smiled. “This thing’s got legs. It’s gonna run for years. Everyone says so. The network’s gonna promote the hell out of it. Doesn’t hurt that Rory Donovan just had a movie of his come in at number two over the Memorial Day weekend. He’s gonna make this show a hit just by showing up.”

“Oh, okay.”

“It’ll go.”

The road continued on through the mountains then descended steeply through switchbacks and curves down to Banning. Mike drove expertly, taking the curves with very little effort. At one point he grinned and said, “Man, this would be great in a car like a Ferrari or a ‘Vette that could really handle stuff like this. Next time, eh?”

Back on the interstate heading west the air was hot and the roaring truck traffic prompted them to close the windows and turn on the air. By the time they got back to the house it was almost four. Donny felt like taking a nap. Mike changed into his swim suit and went out to the pool, sat on the chaise, smoked and studied his script for Monday’s shooting. Donny was asleep in minutes.

The phone woke him up. It rang twice and he heard Mike pick up the cordless out on the patio. The conversation was short, then Mike padded into the bedroom. “Marty’s coming over.”

“What’s up?”

“Don’t know. Said he needed to talk to me.”

“Want me to split?”

“Nah, just park your truck on the street. Make it look like you’re just here for a visit.”

Donny moved the truck and changed into clean jeans and a polo shirt. A half-hour later Marty showed up. Donny stayed out on the patio when the doorbell rang and Mike let him in, bringing him into the living room. He was youngish-looking, more like a bank teller than a stereotypical Hollywood agent with a thin frame, short hair, and a serious expression. He was wearing wool slacks and a blazer even though it was a warm afternoon.

Donny couldn’t hear what they were saying, but a few minutes into it Marty looked out through the French doors and saw Donny sitting under the umbrella table doing the crossword. Donny knew this because he was watching them out of the corner of his eye, and he saw the agent turn, do a small double-take, then pick up the conversation where it had left off. A few minutes later the door opened and Mike and Marty stepped out onto the patio, still talking.

They stood by the edge of the pool for a moment, then Mike led Marty over to the table. Donny stood up as they were introduced. Marty seemed to be very pleasant.

“So you’re the one I’ve heard so much about,” he said.

“Uh, well, I guess so,” said Donny, glancing at Mike, who looked a little mystified by that remark, but he nodded privately to Donny as if to say “follow his lead and I’ll explain it later.”

“Well, it’s nice to meet you...Don is it?”

“Yes. Nice to meet you too.”

Marty turned to Mike. “I need to get back. Walk out to the car with me.” He glanced at Donny again and smiled tightly. “See you later.”


They went back into the house through the French door and Mike closed it behind them. Marty stopped in the living room and turned to Mike, nodding back out to the patio and started talking rather quickly but softly. Donny could tell by his body language that he was not relaxed, and he could see Mike tensing up too. Mike shook his head once, listened to Marty, then shook his head again. Marty looked back out to the patio, then started for the front door, Mike following him. They were still talking when they got to the front door, and then when they were outside, their voices carried over the low roof of the house. Donny couldn’t make out everything, but the tone was argumentative and at one point Marty said something that ended with “showing up on Hard Copy.” The front door closed. Off in the distance he heard a car start up and drive off quickly. Mike went through the house, into the kitchen, then a moment later came out onto the patio with a beer. He plunked down in the chaise and took a long drink. Donny decided not to ask him what that was all about. He went back to the puzzle.

A moment later Mike said, “Hey, remember that western I was lined up for before I got Capitol Hill?”

“No,” Donny replied.

“Maybe it was before we met. Anyway, Marty says that they’re pushing it back to January and that I’ll be able to do it once we go into hiatus.”

Donny put down the paper. “He came all the way out here to tell you that?”


Donny didn’t quite believe him, but he wasn’t about to dig any deeper. Mike settled into the chaise and drank his beer. The sun was setting and the lights around the pool came on. A few minutes later Mike suggested they call The Great Wall for take-out, and they ate it in the living room while watching TV. Mike said nothing more about Marty’s visit, and Donny decided that if there was anything more to it, he would find out eventually.


Sunday, July 03, 2005

Small Town Boys - Chapter 12

Chapter 1
Chapter 2, Part 1
Chapter 2, Part 2
Chapter 2, Part 3
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11

The Answer — 1992

Donny went home around dusk. They had spent the afternoon quietly around the pool, Mike working on his lines for the scenes to be shot the next morning and Donny cueing him. The dialogue sounded a little forced to Donny, like the writers were trying to make the characters sound cool, which wasn’t easy when the subject was politics. The subject of moving in didn’t come up again.

The only interruption was a phone call in the late afternoon from Marty, which Mike took inside on the cordless. He was gone about ten minutes then came back with a tight grin. Donny didn’t ask what the call was about. Mike peeled off his shirt and dove in the pool.

Eric was mowing the front yard. Rob, as usual, was gone for the weekend; he would leave Friday after work and go visit his parents, returning late Sunday night with plastic bowls of food for the week. It saved on groceries.

Eric waved as Donny got out of the truck and kept on pushing the mower, an old hand-powered reel model they’d found at a garage sale for ten bucks. Donny went to his room and changed into clean clothes and rummaged through the fridge for a beer. He was settling in on the couch when Eric came in. He had been mowing without his shirt and the smell of cut grass followed him.

“Hey, what’s up?” he asked casually.

Donny shrugged. “Not much.” He leafed through the TV section. Nothing worth watching was on. Eric disappeared into his room and came out in a tank-top and sweats.

“I’m thinking about going out to get something to eat. Rob won’t be back with the leftovers for hours. Wanna go?”

They went to a small sandwich shop and ordered hamburgers and iced tea. The place was nearly empty.

“So what’s up?” Eric repeated, this time not as casually.

Donny looked at Eric and shrugged a little. Other than the time at the beach, he’d never talked to him about Mike, and other than the time at the beach, he’d never talked to him about being gay. But he seemed to know that something was going through his mind. Donny picked up his straw. “He asked me if I wanted to move in with him,” he said, carefully watching Eric’s reaction.

Eric was unfazed. “Really?”


“Wow. I didn’t know you two were that serious.”

Donny shrugged again. “I’m not sure we are. I mean, I like him a lot, and...” he grinned a little, and Eric grinned back. “Yeah, that too. But...”

The waitress brought their drinks, and they busied themselves with the preparation of squeezing the lemons and adding sugar. Eric took a long sip through the straw. “So what did you tell him?”

“That I’d think about it. I mean, there’s our place. I don’t want to leave you guys in the lurch.”

Eric shook his head. “Not a problem. We can always find someone else. Hell, Greg’s making noises like he’d like to get his own place.”

“Yeah, but if this doesn’t work out with Mike...”

“So you move back. Tell you what – give it a try, see how it goes. If it works out, great. If not, we’ll keep your room ready.”

“For how long?”

“As long as it takes you to find out.”

“I’ve never lived with anyone before. I mean, other than at home...or with you guys.”

Eric leaned back and chuckled. “You’ll know in a week,” he said with assurance. “Ten days at the most.”

“How do you know?”

“That’s how long it took me.”

“You lived with someone?”

“Yeah. When I was in college.”

“For how long?”

“Senior year.”

“Then what?”

“He got a job in Texas.”

“That was it?”


“Didn’t want to go to Texas?”

“I had other plans.”

“Like what?”

“Well, not living in Texas, for one thing.”

Donny laughed at that. “Was it serious?”

Eric shrugged. “I guess it was, for a while. We were dating each other for a few months, and it was great and we each thought, wow, this is the one, yeah, let’s do it, so we got an apartment and moved in together. It was really exciting, y’know; every kid’s dream to have his own place – come and go as you please, eat in the living room, that kind of thing. That lasted about a month. Then it got to be that we really didn’t know each other that well and this living together wasn’t making it any easier; we both had school and friends and family, and after awhile it was sorta like, huh, what’s next? It was convenient. Then I guess we both got on each other’s nerves, and the only way to get over that was just admit that, hey, the only reason we’re even speaking to each other is ‘cause we like the sleeping together part.” He stirred his tea with the straw, making the sugar crystals swirl like snowflakes. “I think it was kind of a relief to both of us when he left.”

“Still friends?”

“Oh, yeah – he calls when he comes to town and we go out and have a beer or something. But...” Eric paused. “I’m not saying that’s going to happen to you.”

“Who knows?” Donny said. “I think he just wants some company, to be honest.”

“Well, there are worse reasons to do it.”

Donny called Mike when he got home. “Thought about it.”


“Let’s give it a shot.”


“Yeah. See how it goes.”

“See you tomorrow after work, then.”

Monday after work Donny packed up enough change of clothes for a week, call-forwarded his phone to Mike’s number, and drove to the house. It was a little before six and traffic was still heavy. The house was dark, so he sat parked on the street and waited for Mike to show up.

A half-hour went by. Donny wondered if somehow he’d misunderstood what Mike had said. A police car drove by, then a few minutes later the same patrol car came by from the opposite direction, slowed as he passed the truck, then went to the corner and stopped. Donny, not wanting to be mistaken for someone casing the house to rob it, decided to leave. He found a piece of paper in the glove compartment – the back of an old packing slip from 84 Lumber – and wrote Mike a short note, stuck it on the garage entry door, and drove back to his house. Eric was not home and Rob was in his room studying and barely acknowledged his arrival. Donny put his duffel on his bed, unforwarded the phone and called Mike’s number. He got the machine and hung up before the beep. He went to the kitchen, opened a can of Dinty Moore beef stew, and ate it while watching the news on Channel 4.

Eric came home a little later and looked quizzically at Donny sitting in the living room watching TV. “I thought this was the day...?”

Donny glanced at him. “He wasn’t home when I got there. I left him a note.”


“No big deal.”

He tried calling again at eight. Still no answer, so he went back to watching TV. For a moment he wondered if Mike had changed his mind and this was his way of telling him, or if something was going on at the studio and he couldn’t get away. He searched for something on TV to take his mind off it and got caught up in a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie.

Mike called shortly after ten as Donny was getting ready to go to bed. “I’m sorry. We got really behind today and I just had to go get something to eat.” He sounded tired and slightly drunk.

“It’s okay.”

“Too late to come over?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“Okay. Tomorrow then. I will make sure I get out of there by five. I swear.”

“It’s okay.”

“You’re coming over tomorrow, then, right?”

“Yeah. Goodnight, Mike.”


Eric stuck his head in. “So...what happened?”

“He said they got behind.”

“Shit happens on movie sets.”

“That’s what I figured.”

Eric nodded. “Hey, stop by my office tomorrow morning. Greg and I have an idea that we want to bounce off you and the gang.”

“Sure. What is it?”

Eric grinned mischievously. “Tell you tomorrow. But I think you’ll like it – or at least be intrigued by it.”