Sunday, September 11, 2005

Small Town Boys - Chapter 18

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
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17

The Empty Space – 1992

The next morning at the office Eric showed Donny a little article in the Los Angeles Times business section. McKay-Gemini Announces New Software. “Bryce did that. He knows some people at the paper.”

“Wow, cool,” Donny said.

“Yeah, isn’t it? We’ve already gotten a couple of calls on it. So listen; how’d you like to learn some more about writing software? Pick up where you left off?”

“How hard is it?”

“Once you get the hang of it, it’s not that tough – hell, I taught myself and look where it got me. But I need some backup on this if we’re gonna make it to the roll-out in time. Greg’s ass-deep in promotion and Bryce is trying to knock Bill Gates off the roof. So it’s you and me.”


“Lotta long days coming up. And some long nights, too.”

“Hey, whatever it takes.”

“Think Mike’ll be cool with it?”

Donny leaned back and sipped his coffee. “Yeah.”

“How’s it going?”

“Good,” Donny said, not looking up. He reached into his in-basket and grabbed the stack. “Just catching up.” He shuffled through some P.O.’s that were ready for final approval.

Eric looked out to the hall then sat down in the chair next to the desk, leaned back, and waited until Donny looked up briefly. “So everything’s cool?” he said quietly.

“Yeah.” Donny glanced up at Eric and grinned tightly. “Sorry about the phone ringing last night.”

“Didn’t even hear it.”


“Well, yeah, I did.”

“It was Mike.”

“Everything okay?”

Donny looked past Eric to the hall, wishing for once he had a door to close. When he saw it was clear, he mimed tipping a bottle to his lips. Eric shook his head.

“That happen a lot?”

“Never seen it in person. Just when he’s alone, I guess.”

Eric mulled it over for a moment, then said, “Maybe that’s why he wanted you to live with him.”


The phone buzzed. It was Bettie from the cable company, and Eric mouthed, “See you later,” and Donny nodded. “Hey, Bettie, what’s up,” he said into the phone.

If Mike remembered the phone call, he didn’t say anything about it that night and Donny was not in the mood to bring it up again. The more he thought about his dinner with Paul, the more it seemed to him that Mike was proving to Marty and maybe himself that there was more to their relationship than just sex, and that had to be good, right? For the first time since he’d moved out, he spent the night with Mike, getting up before dawn to get home to change and get to the office. Mike was up, too, getting out for an early call. “This is it,” he said as he slugged down a cup of Taster’s Choice.

“What is?”

“Full blast for the next five weeks. Shooting, promos, parties, press, the big guns. As Rory said, ‘It’s the big sprint.’”

“Yeah, same with me. Pelican comes out in five weeks. Eric says by the time it does, I’m gonna know how to write it.”

Mike grabbed his gym bag with his change of clothes and stood in the door to the garage. “Looks like we’re not gonna be seeing much of each other for a while. Call me later at the studio. Tell whoever answers it’s you. They’ll know. Love you.”

“You too.”

Donny was so busy he didn’t think about calling until he was eating dinner. It was after nine. He and Eric had been trying to track down a printer bug most of the day. For some reason the new invoice form wouldn’t print in the correct format on the laser printer. They had gone back and forth over the code checking every entry, checked the printer and the cables, even tried it from Donny’s newer computer. Nothing. They finally gave up, ordered a pizza, and ate it on the small conference table in the sales room.

“Saw a promo for Mike’s show last weekend,” Eric said.

“Oh, shit,” said Donny.


He grabbed the phone on one of the desks and punched a number. “Mike. Supposed to call him.” The machine picked up. “Hey, it’s me. Sorry I forgot to call. I’m at the office.”

“Try your machine at home,” suggested Eric. “See if he left a message.”

There was no message on Donny’s machine. “Fuck,” he muttered. “Just empty space.” A few seconds later Donny suddenly said, “Shit,” jumped out of his chair and went to his computer. He scrolled through lines of code so quickly it looked like a blur. He suddenly stopped, squinted at the screen, and hit the delete key once. “Okay,” he whispered, “here goes nothing.” He closed the code screen, went to the main file, and tried to print. They held their collective breath, and then the printer spooled up and printed the test page. Eric whooped and wrapped his arms around Donny in a big bear hug. “The empty space,” Donny laughed. “I left out a space between the end of the code and the close of the command.”

Eric laughed and hugged Donny again. “Man, I could kiss you!”

Donny returned the hug. “Hey, no problem.”

Eric said, “Okay,” and before Donny could say anything, he kissed him hard and squeezed him again. “Wow, thanks.”

Donny, still a little stunned by the kiss and the tingling he was feeling from it, just nodded.

Mike did not call that night, nor the next day, or the day after that. Donny left a message on his home machine every evening and called the studio number during the day. The woman who answered the phone took the messages, said she would pass them to “Lance” – Donny had once asked for Mike and ended up talking to one of the gaffers – but he did not return the calls, and there were no messages at home. Well, he thought, he’d said it would be like this. He shrugged it off and kept his mind occupied with Pelican, but at night, drifting off to sleep, he wondered what Mike was doing at that very moment, and if Mike thought of him as much as he did when he wasn’t buried in his work. Sometimes he wondered if this was Mike’s way of letting him go. Donny would roll over and put himself to sleep by thinking not about Mike but about work.

It was after six on the sixteenth of September. Irene had gone home. Donny heard the phone ringing and picked it up at his desk.

“McKay-Gemini. This is Donny.”

“Hey, twin. Happy birthday.”

“Hey. Same to you.”

“How’s it going?”

“Good. We roll out in two weeks.”


“Yeah, almost.”

“Must be getting down to crunch time. I tried calling your house.”

“Oh, yeah, no shit. Eric and I’ll be here until ten at least. We’re doin’ a complete backup and it’s gonna take forever.”

“No shit. So, how’s things?”


“How’s Mike.”

“Busy as hell. Hardly see him anymore.”

“You guys still...?”

“Oh, yeah; he’s just doing a lot of filming for the new series.”

“Oh, yeah, I caught a promo for it.”

“Yeah. So, Dad said you had a good time on leave last month.”

“Oh, yeah, didn’t I tell you? We went up to Grayling and did a couple of days on the river. Caught some nice ones. Oh, guess what. I saw Stan Tasker.”

“How is that shithead?”

“Still the same old prick he always was. Has a big old beer gut and a bitchy little wife and two rugrats.”

“Where’d you see him?”

“We went to BG for dinner. He was in the restaurant. Hardly recognized him when he came up to me. Wanted to know if I was still playing soldier.”

“What an asshole.”


“So, what else did you do?”

“Painted the garage with Dad. Mostly decompressed.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

“Mom wants to know if you’re gonna make it home sometime.”

“Sometime. Maybe after we get this launch going. Maybe Thanksgiving.”

“Uh huh. Say, I get some time off over Christmas.”

“Wanna come out here?”

“Thinkin’ about it.”

“That’d be great.”

“How’s Eric and Greg?”


“Maybe we can do another twins’ night out.”


“So. Twenty-two.”

“I know. Gettin’ old.”

“Yeah! Practically over the hill.”

They both laughed.

“Anyway, twin, good to talk to you.”

“You too.”

“Miss you.”

“Yeah, me too. See if you can get stationed out here.”

“Hey, I’ll look into it.”

“Do that.”

“Say hi to the guys for me. And Mike.”

“Yeah, I will.”

“Love you, twin.”

“Love you, too.”

For a few moments Donny stared at the phone thinking of Danny, thinking of being home for their birthday, thinking of sitting on the back porch after dinner and listening to the Tigers game over the cicadas’ endless whirring, catching the smell of drying alfalfa drifting over from the grain elevator, seeing the lightning bugs glowing in the hedge that surrounded the back yard, and hearing the distant horn of the train over on the tracks that ran by Lorenzen’s quarry.

Bryce’s connections had generated buzz in the computer world and he and Eric spent most of the days trying to get Pelican “ready to fly,” as Bryce said. Since Donny was more familiar with how the system should look to the untrained user, he spent most of his time trying to tweak the forms. Two weeks before the promised roll-out date they sent a final version to a friend of Eric’s in Palo Alto. He’d agreed to be the beta tester, and they waited on pins and needles for his verdict. The resulting five pages of corrections, bugs, suggestions, and “issues” took nearly three days of eighteen hours of work each day for both of them. They went in at six, carpooling together into the office, got the normal routine of the office paperwork out of the way by noon, and then spent the rest of the day and into the night working on the program. Greg was lining up service contractors to handle the tech support, and they farmed out the instruction manual to a tech-writing class at a community college. When the galleys came back they spent an entire day just proofreading. “Nothing fancy,” Greg said as he flipped through the spiral-bound book, “but it does the trick. When we hit a million sales we can go four-color.”

A week before the roll-out, Donny and Eric came home late. The house was dark, but a strange car was parked out front, and someone was sitting in it smoking a cigarette. Eric pulled into the driveway next to Donny’s truck. “Must be the guy who’s dating that chick across the street,” Eric said as they went into the house. “Rob said he’s seen it there a couple of times before.”

A moment later the doorbell rang. It was Mike. He looked tired and smelled of smoke and beer. “Hey,” he whispered to Donny. “Sorry it’s been a while.”

They went out to the patio. Mike sat on the end of the chaise, lit another cigarette and offered one to Donny. “So, how’s it going?” he said, still keeping his voice low and measured.

“Good. Busy.”

Mike nodded. “Yeah, me too. They’ve been running my ass off there like I’m some kind of machine.” His voice, still soft, now had an edge to it. “Like they can’t get enough out of us.” He looked around the patio, his eyes falling on the rose vines that had grown and tumbled all summer, untended. He let out a long sigh. “Guess you’ve wondered what’s happened, why I haven’t called or anything.”

“Yeah, I have,” Donny conceded.

Mike got up and paced across the patio and back, flicking his cigarette nervously. “Well, it’s been...things have been crazy. The show’s been picked as a hot item for the fall and the producers have been going all out to make us the big buzz. We’re gonna have this huge premiere bash next week and they’re even bringing in real politicians from Washington to do cameos on the show to give it, y’know, some kind of authenticity.”

“That’s great,” Donny said, not really sure why that was such a big deal.

Mike sat down again, this time across from Donny. “Yeah, it is. The thing is...everybody’s watching us now. We’re the flavor of the month. And so the pressure’s on to watch everything we do...don’t distract the attention from the show. Don’t do anything stupid, like DUI or speeding or....”

“Get caught having a boyfriend,” Donny interjected.

Mike nodded. “That’s why I had to cool it for a while.”

“I haven’t seen you in three weeks, Mike. Any cooler and it’s like we never met.” Donny finished his cigarette. “You breaking up with me?” There, he thought, I said it.

“No, God, no. That’s the last thing I want to do. I need you more than anything.” Mike looked around the backyard. “I need this. A place to get away from all that crap. I need to be with someone who doesn’t give a shit about my Q rating or whatever else Marty thinks matters. Look, when this is all over, you and I are gonna go away for a while.”

“That’d be great,” said Donny, knowing that there was no way that could happen.

“I mean it. Once we’ve finished this schedule. Once the show’s going. Take off for a nice vacation. I haven’t had one in years. I mean a real one, y’know.”


Mike stood up slowly, teetered, and nearly fell over. Donny jumped up and stabilized him. “You okay?”

Mike snorted. “I’ve been sitting in that car for about three hours. I bought a six pack to take home and I didn’t want it to go to waste. Don’t worry – I wasn’t drunk when I drove over here.”

“You’ve been waiting for three hours?”

“Yeah. I decided to wait for you to come home.”


“I really wanted to talk to you.” He grinned. “I’ve been parking out there every night for a week, but you were never home. And now I really have to take a piss.”

Mike couldn’t drive like that, so the only solution was to drive him home. “Yeah, okay,” Mike said, handing him the keys, “except how will you get home?”

“Eric can follow me and bring me back.”

“Or you could spend the night and I could drop you off here in the morning.”

The car was a rental. Marty had rented it so that paparazzi that recognized Mike’s car wouldn’t follow him. Donny had a flash of recognition; it was a Buick Century, the same car his mother had back in Ohio. It smelled of stale smoke and there were beer cans in the passenger seat. He scooped them into the trash in the garage.

Mike was quiet the whole way, and when they got to the house they went straight to the bedroom. Mike sat on the bed and took off his shoes. “Two more weeks,” he muttered.


“Nah, my shit’s in the can until after we premiere. It’s all the hype. Interviews, photo ops, and next week’s cross-country grand tour of personal appearances.” He stripped down to his shorts and pulled back the covers. “Oh, hey...Paul’s having a party this weekend. You wanna go?”

“I thought I couldn’t be seen in public with you.”

“It’s Paul’s. It’ll be people who either know who you are or will be there with their own boyfriend.”

Donny got in bed. “Yeah, okay.”

Mike turned out the light. “Well, if we’re gonna go as a couple, let’s at least act like one,” he said quietly, then pulled Donny close to him.



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