Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Small Town Boys - Chapter 27

Winter 1993

“Mr. Hollenbeck, Mr. Brickner on line one,” said the tinny voice.

Donny grabbed the phone. “Thanks, uh, Lily,” he said, pushing a button. He got a dial tone. “The other line one,” said the voice.

“Oh, sorry.” This time he got the right one. “This is Donny,” he said, glaring at Eric who was smirking over the wide expanse of the new desk. “Yeah, sure, tomorrow at nine is fine. See you then.” He hung up. “Damn, another head-hunter. That’s three this week.” He leaned back cautiously, not sure how far the new chair would go.

“What’s this one offering?”

“Finance people. Problem is they’re all either really expensive or they don’t know shit about start-ups. This Brickner guy says he can find ‘just the one.’ Him and about five others.”

“You’re a real popular guy,” Eric said with a grin. “Who knows...your name and phone number is probably on every college’s computer science department bulletin board from here to Seattle.”

“Thanks a lot,” grunted Donny, but he couldn’t help returning the grin. He looked around his new office. The full-length windows were tinted to keep out the bright sunlight but still the room was filled with enough light to make the overhead fluorescents unnecessary. The office itself was five times bigger than the space he occupied at the old office over the dry cleaners, and the new solid wood desk, guest chairs, computer credenza, bookshelves, and conference table still left him enough room for the leather sofa, end tables, and standing lamps that were on backorder. The Cambridge White walls and cut-pile carpet were a far cry from the cubicle walls and tile floor. It was the third week in February and they had been in the office for almost four weeks, but there were still boxes to be unpacked. Lily had been hired a week ago.

“So,” Eric whispered, glancing out the open door, “How’s she working out?”

“She’s great,” Donny, getting up and closing the door. “She’s a little scary, though,” he said quietly. “She screens my calls and won’t let me place outgoing ones by myself. She schedules my appointments.”

“That’s what secretaries do, Donny.”

“Yeah, well.... She’s twice my age and makes half what I do.”

Eric laughed. “Get used to it. By the way, you know that line four doesn’t go through her desk. That’s a private number in case you want to give it out to, y’know, friends.”

Donny grunted. “Yeah, right.”

“Anyway, I came in here to tell you that the guard in the parking lot called. He noticed that your license plates expired last September.”

“Yeah, I know. I just haven’t gotten around to switching my plates.”

“That truck of yours will never pass the smog inspection.”

“Then I’ll get my dad to renew the plates in Ohio.”

“Donny, you live and work here. There’s probably a law that says you have to register it here.”

“Well, then....”

“Look, you can afford to buy a new car now. So do it. How many miles are on that thing?”

“Hey, I will when you do.”

Eric gave him a mock glare. “Sell my Malibu? Forget it. It’s gonna be a classic.”

“Yeah, right, like a ’76 Malibu is right up there with a ’57 Chevy.”

“C’mon, Donny. We can stop by the one of the dealerships while we’re on lunch. Get you something really sweet.”

“I don’t want something sweet,” Donny scowled. “Just basic transportation.”

“Fine, we’ll see if they have any old Vegas in stock.” Eric went to open the door. “Don’t forget we have a meeting this afternoon with Greg to nail down the HR plan. We can’t just hire some kid who wanders in off the street and let him start writing code.”

“Why not? That’s how you got me.”

“Smartass. Don’t forget to tell Lily about that meeting you scheduled for tomorrow.” He went back to his office. Donny picked up the phone and told Lily that Mr. Brickner was due at nine the next morning.

That Saturday he and Eric strolled through several car dealerships. He did it more out of curiosity than anything else; his truck was still in good shape, and if it wasn’t for the stringent California emission standards, he would have been happy to have kept it. But it was risky to be driving around with expired out-of-state plates, so when he saw a brand new 1993 Ford F150 with automatic transmission, AM/FM stereo, and air conditioning – three things his present truck lacked – he sat down with the eager young salesman who introduced himself as Kyle and looked like he was fresh out of the last Jason Priestly wannabe seminar. He was getting to the point where Kyle was about to cave on giving him the bumper upgrade for free when something out on the used car lot caught his eye.

It was a 1965 Mustang GT convertible, red with a white top and white interior. Donny said, “Excuse me for a second,” got up, and walked out to the lot, Kyle trailing after him like a puppy.

The car was in excellent condition. The top was new, without a wrinkle or dirt mark on it. The whitewall tires were fresh, and the interior was perfect. It even had factory air conditioning and an AM/FM radio. Donny sat behind the wheel and felt the shifter in his hand.

“She’s a beauty,” Kyle said helpfully. “Want to take it for a drive?” Donny glanced at Eric, and he nodded back knowingly.

The mufflers gave off a low rumble as Donny idled out of the lot and onto the street. He ran through the gears smoothly. The handling was tight. The salesman rode with him, but he had sense enough to keep his mouth shut as Donny drove. After about a half-hour of city streets, boulevards, and a stretch of freeway at sixty-five, Donny returned the car to the lot and led Kyle back to his little cubby of an office.

Eric was waiting for them. He nodded at Donny, who then turned to the salesman.

“Okay, what are you asking for it?”

Kyle pulled out a list. “I can let you have it for thirteen five. That’s not including your trade-in,” he said, trying to make it sound like it was a hell of a deal.

Donny looked at Eric. Eric pulled a folded piece of paper out of his jacket pocket and spoke up for the first time. “While you guys were out joyriding, I called a friend of mine at the DMV who faxed over the latest Kelly Blue Book listing on that Mustang.” He put the paper on the desk and pointed to some numbers. “What you’re asking is about three grand over the average retail listing for it. That’s retail, not wholesale, and that’s giving it all the points for being in excellent condition and having A/C. So even if we throw in something for your profit and add on a little for washing and waxing, you’re still asking way too much for it. My guess is you probably gave the seller eight for it.”

“Well, it is a classic,” Kyle said, looking back and forth between Eric and Donny.

“It’s a used car that’s almost thirty years old,” said Eric. “It may be in great shape, but are you telling me you’re gonna ask that much for a ‘65 Barracuda? Here’s what we’ll do. We’ll give you five hundred over the Kelly price, give us whatever you want for the trade, and we’ll write you out a check for it right now. Otherwise....” He stood up. “Do we have a deal?”

Kyle shuffled the almost-completed sales contract on the pickup. “What about the F150?”

“Nah, I don’t want another truck,” said Donny nonchalantly.

Kyle looked at them again and said softly, “You guys a couple?”

“Just business partners,” replied Eric.

“Well, I’ll have to talk to my manager....”

“Fine,” said Eric. “You’ve got five minutes.” He looked at his watch. “You guys got a Coke machine around here?”

Kyle left. Eric sat down and smiled at Donny. “He’ll come back with twelve, we’ll stick to our guns and end up writing a check for ten, including the trade.”

“You’re vicious at this,” said Donny.


An hour later Donny picked up the keys to the Mustang. Eric stood next to him. “Basic transportation, huh.” Donny just smiled, put the top down, and drove home. It was a little chilly, but it didn’t matter.

The next Monday Donny dialed Mike’s number. The phone rang ten times and the machine didn’t pick up. The next morning he tried from work. This time he got a recording: “We’re sorry, but the number you have reached is no longer in service. Please check the number and dial again. If you believe you have reached this recording in error --.” He stared at the phone for a few moments until Lily buzzed through a call from Bettie. That night after work he drove by Mike’s house. There were no lights on and the drapes were pulled shut. Leaves were piled up against the garage door.

By the first week of March Eric had a full staff of five software engineers in place: three were recent graduates from UCLA, one was a “retired” software designer from Palo Alto named Sky who bore a startling resemblance to Jimmy Buffett and dressed in pretty much the same manner, and Eleanor, who was two years out of the University of Colorado and defied every geek stereotype: she was female, she was pretty, and she didn’t speak in code. The UCLA guys – Steve, Brany, and Diego – were practically interchangeable. They all shared a large office with desks and terminals against the walls and a central conference table that was perpetually covered in paper and empty pizza boxes.

Eric’s office adjoined the “war room,” as he called it, and he spent much of his time in there with the team working on the new version and customizations. It soon became apparent that this was now the power center of the company. Bryce was the first to learn this. He came into the war room one morning and reeled off a list of customizations that a medical supply company in Bakersfield was asking for. Sky, as the elder statesman of the group, looked at Bryce and the list he’d left on the table and politely told him that they would take it under advisement.

Bryce nodded and said, “Well, the thing is, it’s not something we can just take under advisement. They’re expecting a finished copy in ten days.” Bryce turned to leave and Sky replied, “Bullshit.”

Bryce froze and turned around. “I beg your pardon?”

“I said ‘bullshit.’ Try and listen better the next time.”

“What do you mean?”

“What I mean is you don’t come marching in here and slap something down on the table like you’re ordering at the drive-through at McDonald’s, and you sure as hell don’t promise a customer something when you don’t know whether or not we can deliver it. Now if you want something like that, you go through Eric and consult with us, okay, before you tell them we can do it.”

The door to Eric’s office was open; the stereo was playing Aqualung. “Hey, Eric,” Bryce called out.

Eric appeared in the doorway. “What’s going on?”

Sky handed him the list without a word but he gave Bryce a withering glare. Eric looked it over quickly and handed it back to Sky.

“He’s right, Bryce. It all goes through me. We’ll get it done, but leave these guys alone.” He turned and went back into his office.

Donny heard about this on Friday night after dinner. He was cleaning up the kitchen with Eric. “Bryce is a prick,” Eric said, “but you can’t argue with the results.”

“No shit,” replied Donny. “We’ve got a hundred thousand dollar backlog for the month already.”

“I know,” Eric said. “Jesus, it’s just been nuts. Good nuts, though. And it keeps Greg busy, which is always good.” He put the saucepan away and shook out the drying rag. “Hey, you know what I haven’t done in a long time?”

“Gotten laid?”

“Well, yeah, that, but been to the beach. You wanna go tomorrow? Put the top down on your ‘Stang and beach-boy it?”

It was a partly cloudy day and still cool, but the beach was clean and the surf was rolling in. They found a nice spot near where they had sat the year before when Danny had visited and watched the surfers in their wetsuits paddle out where the waves started. Eric unfolded a beach lounger and pulled off his shirt.

“I’d almost forgotten we lived near the ocean,” he said. He adjusted his baseball cap to shade his eyes. “So, can I ask you something?” he said to Donny, who was applying sunscreen to his shoulders.


“Heard from Mike?”



“Not since Christmas. His phone’s turned off, too.”

It occurred to Donny that it had been almost exactly a year ago and at this very spot where he had first met Mike; where they’d sat and talked and then driven back to his house. He fingered the gold neck chain.

Finally Eric said gently, “That’s a bitch.”

Chapter Guide


Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Small Town Boys - Chapter 26

Christmas 1992

It took a little getting used to hearing Christmas carols and seeing the holiday decorations on all the stores while people were still going around in shorts and sandals, but after a few days Donny assumed that in Los Angeles, a city that made its living on make-believe, it was no different than any other movie set. And, he decided, it was better than the grey skies and sloppy slush that usually accumulated in the middle of December in Ohio.

He tried not to let that night in the kitchen with Mike bother him. He chalked it up to Mike’s tension over the movie and the cancellation of the series and figured that it would soon blow over. He half expected to get a phone call from him at work, and when he got home from the gym he smiled when he saw the light flashing on the phone machine. It was a wrong number; somebody jabbering in Spanish. That had been a week ago. There were no calls.

After the designated ten days, he called the clinic and read off his number. He waited a few moments on hold, then a voice came back and said, “All tests negative.” Even though he knew that would be the result, he felt a wave of relief. He thanked the nurse, thought for an instant about asking for Dr. Connolly but couldn’t come up with anything to say to him. He said thanks again and hung up.

He called Mike to tell him, got the machine again, then went out to make dinner. Eric came home later and reported on the meeting Greg and his father had had that afternoon with Bart Blumberg. It was complicated, but the bottom line was that James McGruder wanted to be a silent partner, he would become a minority stockholder of the company, and he would try to bring in other investors. His name would not be listed anywhere in the incorporation papers, and he retained an option to sell his stock back to the company at any time with an appropriate amount of notice. “The bottom line,” Eric said with a little smirk, “is that he just handed us a half a million dollars to play with, and all we have to do is not fuck it up.” He got a beer out of the fridge. “So,” he added, “we decided to do a couple of things.”

“Like what?”

“Well, for starters, hire some people who are really trained in how to write software. This is getting bigger than you and me, and frankly, there’s a shitload of people out there who know more about how to write it than we do. Second, we’re going to get our own offices and production facilities. Third, we’re going to actually set up a corporate structure that shows we’re more than a bunch of guys working out of our garage. That was one thing Bart suggested; if we look like we mean business then we’re gonna attract more business.” He took a swig. “So, how does V.P. of H.R. and Purchasing sound?”

“For you?”

Eric laughed. “No, you big dope, for you. We’ll put you on full salary, get you an assistant to handle the daily crap like buying the materials and following up orders, and start hiring the people we need to get this boat off the ground. You’ll be in charge of that.”

Donny gaped. “But...”

Eric waved his free hand. “Yeah, I know – you don’t know anything about that. Shit, neither do I, and I’m gonna be Chief Operations Officer. Greg’s gonna be C.E.O. ‘cause he knows how to do that shit, Dad’s setting up a board of directors, and Bryce is gonna be V.P. of Sales.” Eric shrugged. “He’s a bit of a prick, but what can we do? He’s done a good job so far.”

Donny remembered the lunchtime chat and wondered what Bryce thought about the new structure.

Eric went on. “Irene will be the official office manager, Cathy will be head of Accounting, and so on. Greg and Dad are going to look at some office space tomorrow; after they stop off at the bank and deposit the check from Bart Blumberg. He gave us a twenty percent commitment today.” Eric took another long swig of beer. “I’ve never seen a check for one hundred thousand dollars before.”

This was all swirling around in Donny’s head until his eyes landed on the calendar. A year ago he had been standing on a ridgeline of a new garage in a driving snowstorm, his fingers numb in spite of his thick gloves, trying to tack down roofing felt before he dropped his hammer. Now here he was a year later in sunny California, about to become an executive in a software company. It was like it was happening to someone else.

Eric said, “How does fifty grand sound to you?”


“Your salary.”

“Fifty grand?”

“Yeah. Plus the options and bonuses and benefits. Is that okay?”

Donny gaped. “Uh...yeah. Fifty grand?”

Eric shrugged. “You’ve earned it. And you’re gonna earn it. This next year is gonna be wild. We already have enough orders to keep the production going for eight weeks non-stop, and we’re getting requests for upgrades and customized versions. We gotta get moving, and you’re gonna be busy as hell trying to find people to work for us.”

“Yeah...” The room swirled again. Fifty thousand dollars a year was more money than his father made at the bank, and he was a vice president. His mother barely made thirty.

“Oh,” added Eric, “you can tell Mike now. We’re putting out a press release tomorrow.”

Mike did not answer the phone. He tried several times that night up until eleven, but kept getting the machine.

Danny arrived late in the evening of Saturday the twentieth after an overnight drive from Colorado Springs. He threw his duffel on the spare bed and went out on the back patio and had a beer with Donny and Eric.

“So you’re turning him into a tycoon?” he said to Eric.

“Yeah, the next thing you know he’ll be winging around the world in a Gulfstream making huge deals with all sorts of people.”

“As long as I can do it in jeans and a t-shirt, that’s fine,” Donny replied.

“Fifty grand,” said Danny. “Jesus, twin, a year ago you were barely making fifteen swinging a hammer. You told Mom and Dad yet?”

“Thought I’d surprise them for Christmas.”

“That’ll do it. That and the rest of it.”

“Yeah, well....”

Eric got up. “I’ll be right back,” he said, and went into the house.

“You’re not gonna tell them?” Danny said after he heard the bathroom door close.

Donny shrugged. “What’s the point? I’m negative and Mike said he didn’t want to meet them. So I don’t see why I should drop it on them.”

Danny leaned back in the chaise. “Well, for one thing, I think they figured it out.”

“Yeah, you said something like that. So, if they know, why bring it up?”

“Because if you don’t it’s gonna be the elephant in the living room that no one talks about. Just tell them you’re gay, tell them you’re negative, and oh, by the way, I’m making fifty g’s a year. Why doesn’t Mike want to meet them?”

“He’s gonna be real busy getting ready for the movie.”

“So that’s the excuse?”

“It’s not an excuse. He just.... We’re having a little rough spot here,” Donny finally said. He told Danny about Mike’s reaction to him getting tested and that he hadn’t heard from him since. “So we’re cooling it a little.”

“For how long?”

Donny shrugged. “Until the movie’s done, I guess. How should I know? I’ve never broken up with anyone before.”

Danny shook his head. “Yeah.” He reached over and squeezed Donny’s shoulder. “Damn, twin, I’m sorry. He was a nice guy.”


The day before Christmas Eve a box arrived via UPS for Donny. It was from Mike; the return address was Marty’s office.

His parents were sitting on the patio with Danny and Eric. They had arrived the night before and settled into the casita at Ron and Barbara’s house and came to the house the next morning. Mom was genuinely impressed with how nice the place was; Danny had told them in August that Donny wasn’t living in a pigpen, but until she came into the living room and saw the freshly-shampooed rug and neatly-polished furniture, she had entertained visions of a college dorm suite.

Donny took the box into his bedroom and opened it. It was a book; a collection of anecdotes about Hollywood stars like Cary Grant and Charlie Chaplin and how they came from humble beginnings to achieve fame and glory in the movies. The title page was inscribed “Happy holidays and best wishes for a great 1993 from Lance Michaels.” It wasn’t his handwriting; one of Marty’s assistants had probably been given the task of sending out the presents.

Donny had bought Mike a Christmas present when they were in Key West; a sea-shell abstract sculpture that had caught his eye at a little shop off Duvall Street. It was wrapped and in his closet.

Christmas Day morning Donny and Danny drove to Ron and Barbara’s to deliver and open presents, then helped with the traditional family dinner of duck and wild rice with some friends of Ron’s from the school system. Mom and Dad regaled them with their cross-country trip; it had taken them three days and four Books On Tape to get there. Cousin Jeff, who was majoring in archaeology, told a long but finally interesting story about his summer dig in Canyon de Chelly in New Mexico, and Cousin Sally sent a videotape of a Christmas pageant that her school in Angola had done, dressing all the shepherds and wise men in native costumes. Danny answered questions about his senior year at the Academy with perfunctory but polite replies, and when Uncle Ron asked how Donny’s job was going, he just said, “Fine,” and left it at that.

After dinner Donny wandered out by the pool. It was still warm enough to be outside without a sweater, so he sat in the shade of the eucalyptus and watched the leaves drift in the current and get sucked into the filter. He lit a cigarette and settled back. He could still hear muffled chatter from inside the house, but the meal had made him tired. He was almost asleep when he heard the patio door slide open.

“I’d hoped you stopped smoking,” his mother said as she came outside. “You’re spending all that time going to the gym; isn’t that counterproductive?”

He put the cigarette out. She came over, swept some leaves off the other chair and sat down. “Well, this is certainly a change of pace. Ruthie Bigelow said there’s another snowstorm coming back in Toledo.”

Donny grinned. “I don’t miss that.”

“I can see why you like it here.” She smiled. “I’m so happy for you. Your father is so proud of you.” He had told them about the raise and the promotion the night before. “And so am I.”

“Yeah, I know. It still hasn’t sunk in yet. I can’t believe it’s really happening.”

“Oh, I can,” she said with a little grin that reminded him very much of Danny. “I always knew you would be successful at something. I was just never sure at what.”

“Me neither. Just lucky, I guess.”

“Oh, I think this was more than just luck, Donny. That’s one thing I’ve always known about you. Both of you. You never depended on luck. You were always pretty determined. We knew Danny would succeed in the Air Force and we knew you’d come up with something.” She was silent for a moment, then let out a little sigh. “All your father and I wanted was for you boys to be happy.”

Donny knew this was his cue. He had run through this next moment in his life a hundred times in the last week and countless other times in years before. He lit another cigarette.

The water in the pool rippled and he was back at Lorenzen’s quarry, the hot August breeze blowing across the surface. Craig stood on the rocks on the edge, his thin naked frame reflected crazily on the surface. Hey, Donny, he shouted, look at that bluegill! It wants to bite my dick! The boy dove in and swam underwater until his head popped to the surface, his hair mopped into his eyes. He nibbled me! Now it’s your turn! Now he was in the high school locker room, senior year, late afternoon, October, after football practice. Steam, the acrid odors of sweat and football uniforms, the pounding of the water on the shower walls, the rattle of the locker doors, the boys of all sizes in all stages of dress and undress, the cacophony of voices shouting, talking, chanting, teasing. Sitting on the bench pulling off sticky socks, peeling off a soaked shirt, feeling the ache of exhausted muscles, watching as Stan Tasker, the team asshole, flicked his towel at the freshmen he called faggots and sauntered naked into the shower. He thought he was Mr. Universe but he was more like Fred Flintstone. No one ever called Donny a fag in high school; he was too quiet and he never said anything. Craig laughed at Stan’s jokes and rode around in his car on Friday nights, but Donny knew Craig would never talk because if he told Stan about the sheep shelter he would be labeled the fag, not Donny. He remembered the nights with Scott and the silence of the room except for the occasional grunt of pleasure and the creak of the bed when he got up to get a washcloth. The warmth of the blankets and the scent of him in them came back. And then there was Mike. He could still smell the ocean on that first afternoon and the whiff of the sunscreen. He could remember the squint and crinkle around Mike’s eyes as they talked in the sun and the tremble and tingle as he followed him back to his house, and the wait for the first touch. The bedroom was dark. He could feel his hands as he fumbled with the buttons on his cut-offs and the mixture of lust and wonder as they hesitantly kissed. He remembered the other times, too, at the Villa, the motel in Idyllwild, Key West. It wasn’t just lust then. With him it was more than just sex, more than just getting off, more than.... It was....

Someone laughed inside the house and Donny looked at his mother. She hadn’t moved and his cigarette was still burning, barely smoked. “I am happy, Mom,” he said quietly. He smoked the cigarette in silence, his mother waiting patiently, then touched her hand, smiled in spite of himself, and told her.

It was a little after seven when they got home. Danny had just turned on the TV and Donny was putting away his new clothes when the phone rang.


“Hi.” It was Mike.

“Hey.” Donny tried not to sound too surprised. “How are you? Merry Christmas.”

“Thanks. How’s it going?”

“Not bad. Just got back from dinner with my relatives.”

“Yeah? How was that?


“Danny there?”

“Yeah, he’s here,” replied Donny. He covered the receiver and whispered “Mike” to Danny. Danny mimed drinking, and Donny shrugged. “Got here last weekend.”

“Cool. So, what’re you doing?”

“Um, not much.

“Can I come over?”

“Well, Danny’s here.”

“I just wanted to drop off my Christmas present.”

Donny was a little puzzled, but said, “Uh, sure, come on over.”

“See you in a few.”

Mike arrived about fifteen minutes later. He was wearing khakis and a dress shirt, but he had a three-day growth of beard that looked good on him. “It’s for the movie,” he said, rubbing his jaw self-consciously. “I have to look scruffy.” He shook hands with Danny. “Hey, how’re you doing? So, you’re an officer now?”

“Not officially. Not until May.”

“Then what?”

“Then I’ll be a second lieutenant.”


“Thanks.” Danny nodded and added, “Well, I’m gonna go take a shower. Nice to see you again, Mike.” They shook hands again.

Donny led Mike out to the patio. He handed Donny a small oblong box. It was wrapped in gold paper with a thin ribbon. “Merry Christmas.” He kissed Donny on the cheek. “Go on, open it.”

It was a thin gold neck chain. “Nothing flashy,” said Mike, “but I thought it would look good on you.” He chuckled. “All the young hotties wear them.”

Donny held it up, fingering the fine gold. “Thanks. Uh, I got you something, too.” He handed him the package from Key West.

“Oh, nice,” said Mike, inspecting the sculpture. “This is really cool.”

They sat down and traded awkward small talk about where they had spent Christmas; Mike had been invited to dinner at Rory’s as a final farewell to the cast of Capitol Hill. Paul Jeffries had been there, too, and had asked about Donny. “Told him you were doing great,” Mike said. He put out his cigarette and looked at Donny with a small grin. “I’m sorry I’ve been out of touch for a while. I got your message; that’s great about the test. And... I’m sorry I was such an asshole about it.”

“’S okay,” replied Donny.

“So, things good at the office, huh?”

Donny told him about the promotion and the new office space that Greg had found. “I’m gonna have my own office,” Donny said. “With a window and a door.”

“Wow,” said Mike, sounding impressed. “Real junior exec.”

“Nah,” said Donny. “Still the same old me. Just making a lot more money.”

Mike nodded. “Well, I’m off next week to Santa Fe for six weeks. We start shooting. Hey, maybe I’ll get you out there for a weekend.”


“Okay.” Mike looked at the sculpture again. “This is really nice. Thanks.”

“Sure. And thanks for the neck...thing.”

Mike came to Donny and hugged him, holding him, rocking slightly, and whispered in his ear, “I love you,” and Donny repeated it back. They hugged for a moment longer, then went to the front door. Mike said, “I’ll be in touch. I’ll call you when I’m settled in up there, and I’ll let you know when would be a good time for you to come up and visit.”


Mike walked out to his car, waved, and drove off.

When the lights were off later that night and Donny was settling down to sleep, Danny spoke quietly from the other bed.

“How’d it go with Mom?”

“Fine. She said she just wants me to be happy.”

“Yeah.” The sheets rustled as Danny sat up in his bed. “Hey, listen.”


“Back in August when I was home on leave, Mom asked me about you.”


“So I told her.”

Silence, then Donny said, “Yeah, I kinda figured that out. How’d they take it?”

“Mom acted like she knew already, but I could tell she wasn’t over the moon about it. She worried about AIDS, of course, and then she worried about you not being fitting in or getting bashed or something.”

“Jesus, does she know where I live?”

“Yeah, I pointed out to her that L.A. isn’t exactly Podunk, and besides, you’re a buff dude now and no one’s gonna pick on you too easily.”

“You had to explain to her what ‘buff’ meant, I’ll bet.”

“Yeah. She made me promise not to tell you that I’d said anything.”

“How’d Dad take it?”

“You know Dad.”

“He just worried about Mom?”

“Yeah, that and why you didn’t want to tell them yourself.”

“Like when did I have the chance? Not like I’m gonna come home one night after getting my cock sucked by Scott Welles and tell them.”

Danny laughed softly. “Thanks for that visual aid, twin. He just thought you might trust them, that’s all.”

“I do. But what kid wants to tell their parents about his sex life?”

“Honest, twin, I don’t know. I didn’t have to tell them I’m straight.”

“By the way, did you ever tell them that you cornholed Craig?”

Danny laughed. “No.”

“We’re even.” Donny plumped his pillow and lay back down again. “I think they’re...happy we’re happy. You’re doing what you want, and I’m not living at home and pounding nails on some roof in Rossford. All things considered, bro, we turned out pretty good.”

“Damn straight.”

“Speak for yourself.”

Mom and Dad stayed in Los Angeles for the weekend after Christmas, taking in the sights and playing tourist with the twins, then drove to San Diego and headed back east along the southern route through Phoenix and El Paso. Danny drove back to Colorado Springs, leaving on January 1, 1993. The next week McKay-Gemini announced that on Monday, February 1 they would officially relocate to their new offices in Century City and that Pelican 2.0 would debut on May 19; fully customizable and available as OEM from three computer companies. Mike left for Santa Fe on the first Monday of the new year. He didn’t call.

Chapter Guide


Sunday, January 01, 2006

Small Town Boys - Chapter 25

The Test – 1992

Donny came back from his dinner with Geoff and Brian to find Mike already asleep, snoring loudly. The half-empty bottle of tequila on the dresser explained that. The next morning they went shopping to collect some last-minute souvenirs and presents, then packed and left for the airport for their flight to Miami and on to Los Angeles. Mike thanked the guest house staff and tipped them mercilessly, said his goodbyes to the other guests, and laughed when Alex said he’d like to get him in his next Hot Men calendar shoot. On the flight home he had two drinks, ate the dinner, and slept through the movie. Donny said nothing about what was waiting for either of them back home, but his mind kept going back to the message. 500K. What would happen now?

The limo dropped him off just as it was getting dark. Mike gave him a quick kiss before opening the door and said, “Usual Sunday tomorrow?”

“Yeah, laundry and stuff.”

“I’ll call you.” He waved as the limo pulled away.

Rob was sitting in the living room wearing green scrubs and watching TV. Donny was slightly surprised; Rob was never around on weekends.

“Hey, dude, how was the trip?”

“Great,” Donny said as he went into his bedroom and dropped his duffel on the bed. His mail was stacked on the dining table and he went through it quickly.

“So, hey, Eric wanted you to call him as soon as you hit the door,” Rob said.

“Where is he?”

“Up at his parents’ house. You got the number?”

“Somewhere. Speaking of parents, how come you’re here instead of up there loading us up with the week’s leftovers?”

“Study group meets here tomorrow for finals. Just thought I’d get prepped for it.”

“By watching re-runs of Trapper John, M.D.?”

Rob chuckled. “Yeah, gotta take a break. Anyway, call him. Oh, and call your bro, too.”

“Thanks. Hey, I got you something.” Donny opened his bag and pulled out the Jimmy Buffett parrothead shirt he’d bought for him. Rob held it up and grinned.

“Cool beans, man, thanks.”

Eric answered the phone on the second ring. “You got the message?”

Donny decided to play with him a little. “To call you? Obviously.”

“No, jerkwad, I mean the one last night.”


“Did you understand what it meant?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“Did you say anything to Mike?”

“No, he’s got other things on his mind.”

“Yeah, I saw it in the paper this morning. That’s too bad. How’s he taking it?”

“Okay, I guess. He went through half a bottle of tequila, but other than that....”

“Uh huh. Can’t say as I blame him."

“Yeah. So, what’s up?”

“Well, for one thing, we need to figure out what to do.”

“About what?”

“Donny, Jim McGruder just told us that he’s willing to invest a half a million in the company.”

“Well, that’s what we wanted, isn’t it?”

“Yes! But we thought he’d go for something like....Not that much. Like fifty grand, tops. I mean, Dad is freaking out.”

“I’ll bet. How’s Greg taking it?”

“Practically comatose. Listen, we need to come up with a plan.”

“I thought we did. That whole prospectus thing.”

“Yeah, but we didn’t think he’d actually buy into the whole thing. Anyway, come up here tomorrow morning, like first thing. Mom’ll make omelets and we’ll get some kind of strategy going. I hate to drag you out right after you get back, but....”

“That’s okay. Rob’s here and he’ll be having his study group here all day and I really don’t want to hang out with a bunch of med students talking about hemostats and aneurysms and stuff.”

“All right. See you around nine or so.”

“Oh, hey, can I tell Danny?”

“You mean you haven’t?”

“Well, I told him about the meeting, but....”

“Shit yeah. He’s not gonna buy our stock. See you.”

He called Danny.

“How was Margaritaville, twin?”

“Great. Gotta try it sometime.”

“I will. Say, I got the time off at Christmas. I’m driving out, should be there by the twentieth. So, any word?”



“500 K.”

“500 K?”

“500 K.”

“Holy shit, twin.”

“That’s what I said.”

“So now what?”

“Going to Eric’s folks’ house tomorrow to figure it out.”

“All right. Uh, by the way, just so you know, I think Mom’s getting close to figuring things out.”

“What things?” Donny said, although he knew exactly what Danny meant.

“You, Mike...things. Well, she doesn’t know about Mike per se, but she was sniffing around it. She asked me if I knew Scott Welles very well, and I said I knew Derek better, but yeah, I knew him, and she wanted to know if you knew him. I said I didn’t really know, but why, and she said that there were stories going around about Scott having a boyfriend in Chicago and that you and Scott had been friends before he moved to Chicago. So, you might want to be ready in case she brings it up.”

“Small town gossip,” sighed Donny.

“No shit. I wouldn’t worry about it. Mom didn’t sound like it was a big deal. She just asked.”

Donny racked his brains to think if he’d ever actually told his mother that he was friends with Scott. He couldn’t remember if he’d told anyone. He and Scott had never done anything other than just meet up at his house; they’d never gone out to dinner or even for a drink. “Fuck,” he muttered.

“You already decided to tell them.”


“Well, thought I’d let you know. Anyway, good luck with the dough. Lemme know what happens.”

“Yeah. Love you.”

“You too, twin. Can I make a suggestion?”


“Get tested.”

“We’re safe.”

“I’m sure. But just do it. I did.”


“What do you think?”

“Yeah, you can’t catch it from jerking off.”

Danny laughed. “Oh, yeah.” There was a pause. “I mean it. And Mom will want to know.”

“Okay. Love you.”

“Love you.”

Rob was watching Star Trek. Donny waited until the commercial came on, then asked him where was the best place to get an AIDS test. Rob didn’t even turn around. “I’ll get you an appointment this week at the clinic. Takes ten minutes, get the results in a week or so.”

Donny took his laundry out to the garage.

At breakfast the next morning it was decided that Allen and Greg would sit down with Bart Blumberg and find out exactly what it was that James McGruder expected for his offer to invest five hundred thousand dollars in McKay-Gemini. All that the letter that came on Friday had said was that Mr. McGruder wanted to make a “substantial investment in the neighborhood of twenty-five percent of the company’s net worth toward the growth and prosperity of McKay-Gemini, Inc.” The prospectus had listed the company’s net worth at two million dollars.

“That’s a nice neighborhood,” commented Donny when he read the letter. He handed the letter across the table to Greg. They were in the breakfast room of the McKay’s house in Pasadena.

Allen said he would call Bart Blumberg first thing Monday morning. “Meanwhile,” he said, chewing on a piece of toast, “don’t start looking at Maserati catalogues just yet.”

“We need to get this news out there,” Bryce said, looking around the table. “This could shoot our sales right through the roof.”

“Whoa,” Greg said, “cool it. We don’t know what he wants. Suppose he wants to put his nephew in the office, or make us change the program so it only works on certain computers like the Apple IIc he has in his basement. He may want to change the name of the company to McGruder-McKay. Besides, it shouldn’t just come from us; Bart’s gonna want us to issue a joint statement. Or he may not want anyone to know about it at all.”

“He could be looking to be a silent partner,” Allen said.

“For a half a million?”

“Who knows?”

Eric got up from the table and went to the patio door that led out to the deck. “Donny,” he said, “you’re the only one who’s actually talked to James McGruder. What do you think he wants?”

Donny thought for a few seconds. “He seemed like he was interested in what we were doing and that we were writing software while everyone else is building computers. He said something like, ‘the only limit to software is your imagination.’”

Bryce looked at Donny skeptically. “That’s it? ‘The only limit is your imagination?’ Sounds like something out of Walt Disney.”

Greg said, “Don’t knock Disney. The guy built a multi-billion dollar business by drawing a mouse...”

“...and we’re gonna do it by clicking one,” said Eric.

Monday morning Donny spent the morning catching up and processing paperwork. By noon he had a headache from the jetlag and the fine print, so he went downstairs to the sandwich shop. He was nibbling the potato chips and doing the crossword when he saw Bryce come in.

Bryce didn’t usually eat here; most of the time he was either out of the office or going to lunch with a customer, but today he waited in line and ordered a turkey club and an iced tea. Conchita, the usual lunchtime waitress, took his order and motioned for him to step aside. Bryce nodded at Donny curtly but didn’t sit down. He stood by the counter jingling the coins in his pocket while his sandwich was being made, then headed for the door. Donny hardly noticed him leaving, and he was writing in an answer to 15 Down when Bryce came back in the shop as if he’d forgotten something and went to Donny’s table. “Mind if I join you?”

“Sure.” He slid the paper off to one side. Bryce unwrapped his sandwich and examined it carefully as if he was suspicious of the contents, then took a bite.

“So,” he said swallowing, “how was your trip?”


“Where’d you go?”

“Key West.”

“Oh, yeah? I have heard that’s a nice place.”

Donny shrugged affirmatively. He quickly racked his brain to remember when he’d had a conversation with Bryce that didn’t have anything to do with work, and he couldn’t remember one. He knew very little about him other than he was hyperactive – even now as he was seated across from him on the little booth bench he could feel the table trembling as Bryce’s legs fidgeted. He knew that he was not happy about the outcome of the election, casting gloomy forecasts about how the economy would worsen now that a Democrat was in the White House. He also knew that Bryce had a girlfriend named Leslie whose picture was featured prominently on his desk and that he talked about “popping the question” over the holidays. Donny didn’t know if Bryce knew he was gay or if he knew about Mike, and he didn’t particularly care. “Yeah, I had a good time,” he replied.

“Uh huh,” Bryce replied, sliding his straw through the top of the drink cup and taking a long pull. “So... you’re the golden boy now, eh?”

Donny looked at him sharply. “Beg pardon?”

“Well, you landed the big fish. James McGruder. Congratulations.”

“Thanks,” Donny replied warily, “but I didn’t land him. I just talked to him at a party. Eric and Greg and their dad did all the work. It’s their company.”

“Ah, but you were in on the meeting with whatsisname, Blumberg when they made the presentation.”

“Only because I helped type up the prospectus. They just needed another body.”

Bryce didn’t seem convinced. He wolfed down half of his sandwich in two bites and the trembling of the table increased. “Well, whatever, it seems like it did the trick.” There was an edge to the word “trick,” and Donny looked at him narrowly to see if there was intent behind it. Bryce grinned tightly. “Hey, look, it’s great. Fantastic. That kind of investor will get this company going like gangbusters. More and more people will take notice of us, and now that Eric wants to start customizing the software for our bigger clients....”


Bryce nodded furiously. “Yes, exactly. He wants to start writing it for specific client bases – doctors, architects, building supply businesses. My idea; came up with it while you were down in the Keys.”

Donny hadn’t heard about that, but it made sense. “Good idea,” he replied.

The table shook. “Thought you’d like it. But it means we’re going to have to hire some software engineers that know how to do that kind of thing. It’s not just fooling around with code any more.” Bryce leaned forward and lowered his voice. “Look, Don, I know that you’re a smart kid and that you and Eric are friends and all, and I really think it’s great that you helped get us going, but this is the big league now. Between you and me, a year from now you won’t even recognize the place.” He cocked his eyebrows, ate another half of his sandwich in one bite and nearly knocked over his Coke.

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Donny said, raising his voice a little more than Bryce liked; he waved his free hand to shush him.

“It means,” Bryce whispered as he got up from the table and furiously collected his sandwich wrappings and Coke cup, “that if you don’t know what it means, I’d be worried if I were you. See you later.” He was out the door before Donny could even say goodbye.

The lunch rush was still in full swing; the line at the counter moved slowly and Conchita was calling out orders over the noise of the kitchen fan and the clatter of the plates. Donny sat staring at his sandwich for a moment, wondering if Bryce was threatening him or giving him a friendly warning. Given their level of friendship, which was basically non-existent, Donny decided that Bryce was threatening him without really coming out and doing it. That way, if he confronted him about it, he could deny it.

The woman at the next table got up and accidentally bumped his, making his Coke jiggle. “Sorry,” she said as she slid past. Donny blinked and came back to Earth. “No problem,” he replied.

For a moment he debated about telling Eric what Bryce had said, then decided not to. There wasn’t any way he could frame it that didn’t sound like he was a child complaining about being bullied in the schoolyard. He ended up deciding to forget about it and just keep an eye on Bryce. He said nothing to Mike about it when he called him after work, partly because Mike sounded preoccupied with his own problems.

He had spent the day at Marty’s office rescuing, as he put it, what was left of his shattered career. He was sure Capitol Hill was cancelled; the studio was already making plans to clear the sets out of the soundstage, and all that remained was for him to pick up any personal items he might have left in the dressing rooms.

“You want some company?” Donny offered. “I can pick up some KFC.”

“Nah, I think I’ll just find something in the kitchen and call it a night. Thanks anyway. ‘Sides, I don’t really feel like... y’know....”

“We don’t have to ‘y’know,’” said Donny. “Just offering to be there.”

He could hear Mike softly chuckle, the same way he had the night in Key West when he got the news about the hiatus. “Thanks anyway. I’ll call you later.”

“Okay. Love you.”

“Me too.”

Donny knew what Mike would find in the kitchen, and it wasn’t food. Well, he thought, I hope he decides not to go for a drive.

By Wednesday he was caught up. Rob got him an appointment at the clinic for that afternoon and sketched out a map. He found the clinic in a medical office next to the hospital. It reminded him of the doctor’s office where his mother was the billing clerk in Bowling Green, right down to the same Red Cross and AMA posters and prints on the wall, the same knotty pine paneling, and the same early 1970’s furniture, except this was a little more worn out and it was upholstered in green instead of brown. There were five or six other people in the waiting room, including a young Mexican couple – they looked to be in their late teens – holding a fretful baby. He filled out the form and waited for his name to be called. There was a pamphlet in a rack; Playing It Safe. It was a guide to safe sex written for both straights and gays. He thumbed through it, noting that it was both interesting and informative, and it listed some sexual practices he’d never heard of. After reading it he stuffed it in his back pocket, pretty sure that what he and Mike did in bed was not only safe according to the book, but pretty boring in comparison. The baby let out a series of yelps and mother rocked the baby. She smiled apologetically at Donny. The young man with her stared at the floor.

After about ten minutes a nurse came to the door, called his name and he followed her back past the exam rooms to a hall lined with chairs with little desks attached to them. “Have a seat; he’ll be right with you.” A few moments later the couple with the baby went into one of the exam rooms, followed by a nurse and a doctor. A moment later the baby let out a long series of wails, followed by rapid pleading in Spanish. Donny wondered what was wrong with the baby.

“Hey there,” said a voice, and Donny turned to see a young man in his late twenties standing next to him holding a surgical kit. He was tall, with long dark hair and a full mustache. He had a lean runner’s build, complemented by his Adidas track shoes. He was wearing green scrubs. “Sorry, didn’t mean to spook you there.” His accent sounded slightly southern or western. There was a nametag pinned over his left pec: “LUKE CONNOLLY, MD.” Donny thought that sounded like a TV show.

“Oh. Hi, I’m...” Donny started to reply, but Luke held up his hand. “No names; this is anonymous. You’re...” he looked at the chart, “...06734. Remember that number; that’s what you’ll tell them when you call in for the results.” He pulled up a chair. “Okay, let me get this done for you. Takes just a second.” He expertly tied the tourniquet around Donny’s right bicep and swabbed his inner elbow. “Okay, make a fist. Nice arm. You work out?”

“Uh huh,” Donny replied, and as he said it Luke slipped the needle in. Donny hardly felt it and watched with interest as the tube filled up.

“Yeah, where?”

“Little place near my office near Palms.”

“Oh, okay.” Luke pulled out the needle and put a piece of cotton on the wound. “Hold that, please,” he said as he capped the needle and put it in the tray. He put a Band-Aid over the injection site. “There you go.” Luke signed off on the chart and handed a piece of paper to Donny. “Call in after that date for the results.”

Donny stared at the paper for a second. “Um....” he started to say, but couldn’t frame the question exactly, and he suddenly felt sweaty. “What if it...”

Luke finished for him. “If it’s positive, well, then you come in and we talk about what we can do. Just because it’s positive doesn’t mean you have AIDS.”


“Any reason to think you might be positive?”

“Oh, no.” He pulled out the pamphlet and held it up. “I’ve always been....safe.”

“What about your partners?”

“No, just partner. I mean, just one. And we...” he held up the pamphlet again, “we never do anything that’s....”

“Well, that’s good.”

“And he gets tested too,” Donny said, letting the male pronoun out ever so subtly, not wanting to make a big deal out of it and trying to sound casual.

Luke nodded. “Even better. Better safe than sorry.”

“Yeah,” said Donny, opening the pamphlet, “I’m not sure I even know what some of this stuff is. Like ‘fisting’ or ‘water sports.’”

Luke chuckled. “Trust me, if you don’t know by now, you don’t want to know. I’ve been outta the closet for ten years and there’s stuff that I can’t believe people do to each other. ‘Course, I’m a cowboy from Oklahoma, so I guess there’s a lot to learn here in the big city.” He grinned and stood up. “Listen, if you have any questions, just give me a call. My number’s on the sheet.” His pager beeped. “Oops, gotta go. Take care.” They shook hands, Donny noticing the strong grip and the veined arms and wondering for a split second if Luke had a boyfriend.

When he got home Rob had just pulled a TV dinner out of the microwave. He was in scrubs, too. “D’you go?” he asked Donny. As a reply Donny showed him the Band-Aid. “Who did it?”

“Guy named Luke.”

Rob nodded as he picked the plastic off the tray. “He’s cool. He’s a resident.”

Donny didn’t ask if Luke had a boyfriend, and Rob didn’t offer any more information. He stuck the clinic sheet in his desk drawer. The light on the answering machine was flashing. It was Mike, sounding out of breath and very excited: “Donny! Call me as soon as you get this!”

The phone was answered on the second ring. Mike was ecstatic. “Get over here right now,” he nearly shouted.

“What happened?”

“Tell you when you get here. C’mon, Donny, get your ass over here.”

Mike threw open the door when Donny was halfway up the sidewalk. “YeeHA!” he shouted loudly enough to echo off the house across the street. He bounded out onto the lawn, grabbed Donny in a bear-hug and swung him around, nearly picking him up off the ground. He was laughing uncontrollably, and Donny, more out of wonder than knowing what was going on, joined in.

“What the hell, Mike? What’s happened?”

“I got it! Silver Star! The movie! The whole thing! Solo title credit! Everything! My own trailer! A press agent! Even a goddamn personal assistant!” They toppled over and lay on the grass, Mike still hugging him. “It’s a fucking done deal!” He went off on another whooping and giggling jag and then kissed Donny hard on the mouth, uncaring or unnoticing if anyone in the neighborhood was watching.

In the kitchen, Mike told him that the location filming would start the week after New Years in New Mexico, shoot for six weeks, then come back to L.A. for interiors. “The story takes place in the winter, so we’re gonna be running around in the snow and the mountains.” He showed him the script, his lines marked out in yellow Highlighter. “Look at all my lines,” he said. “I’m in almost every scene.” He pulled a beer out of the fridge. “Oh, and guess what. As soon as I get back, Marty’s got me lined up for about ten pilots and guest shots on TV and two more movies are sniffing around.” He swigged the beer. “Fuck Capitol Hill. That is so over.” He took another pull and pointed the bottle at Donny’s arm. “What’s with the Band-Aid?”

“Oh,” Donny replied, peeling off the bandage and throwing it in the trash, “I got tested.”

“Tested? For what?”


This stopped Mike in his tracks. He stared at Donny for a moment, then said, “Why?”

“Well, I thought it was a good idea. It’s the first thing my mom will ask me when she finds out.”

“Finds out what?”

Donny chuckled. “That I’m gay, Mike.”

“You’re going to tell your folks? They don’t know?”

“They’re coming here for Christmas. I think they suspect. Don’t you want to meet them anyway?”

“Well, yeah. But why did you think you needed to be tested? You know I’m negative.”

“Yeah, I know. But....”

“Unless there’s some reason you think you might need to be tested.”

“No, just making sure so my mom will have one less thing to worry about. She works in a doctor’s office.”

“She’s a nurse?”

“No, a bookkeeper.”

Mike nodded, strolled around the kitchen, and ended up staring out the window over the sink. He was silent for a while, then finally turned at looked at Donny. “So there’s no other reason for you getting tested other than you want to assure your parents that you’re just gay, not gay and HIV-positive.”

“Yeah, Mike. What other reason can you think of?”

“Well, I don’t know, Donny. What other reason could there be, unless, like you were fucking around with someone else, for example.”

This came from so far out of the blue that Donny just gaped back at Mike for a full ten seconds before he could gather a coherent response, which turned out to be simply, “What the fuck are you talking about?”

Mike spread his arms, the beer bottle sloshing a little. “Well, you tell me, Donny. Are you seeing anyone else besides me? Got a little thing going with somebody from the gym or the office? Maybe you and Eric or that beach boy from Paul’s? I don’t know, Donny. Why else would you need to be tested? You wouldn’t have picked it up from me, that’s for damn sure.”

“Holy shit, Mike, that’s crazy. In the first place, I don’t screw around and you know that. Eric?” A quick recollection of what had happened in the meeting at Bart Blumberg’s office flashed through his head and he banished it, as did the instant vision of a shirtless Marc standing by Paul’s pool, followed, inexplicably, by the memory of Benji Rubenstein from Boynton Beach. “I...” Donny shook his head with disbelief. “I can’t believe you’d even think that.”

“Unless, of course, you think that I screw around and you’re just being careful,” Mike replied.

The overheard conversation from Paul’s living room – “I’m sure if you get a few drinks in him he’ll drop his pants like any other hungry hottie out there.” – flashed through Donny’s head, along with “It’s no secret that you’ve made it your life’s mission to plow Lance Michaels’ ass.” Donny bit his lip and said, “Do you?”

“Do I?”

“Yeah. Do you?”

Mike shook his head slowly. “I can’t fucking believe you.”

“Answer me.”

Mike guzzled down the rest of the beer and threw the bottle into the trash so hard it made the can wobble. Donny involuntarily flinched, but he didn’t take his eyes off Mike. They stared at each other for a moment, and Donny felt something rising in his chest. It felt like he’d swallowed a piece of steak that was too large and it was fighting to come back up, but he struggled to maintain his gaze, and finally the lump settled into a dull ache. Mike dropped his eyes, shook his head one more time, and said softly, “Go home, Donny. I come home with the biggest move in my career and you just piss all over it. Go home.”

Donny left the kitchen without a word and went out the front door. There was still a dent in the lawn where they’d rolled together just a few minutes before. He got in the truck and drove away.

The phone rang at 1:47 a.m. Donny was half-awake, still replaying the kitchen scene, and he expected the phone to ring. He grabbed it before it completed the first ring.


“Donny.” It was Mike, but he didn’t sound drunk this time.




“I’m sorry.”

“Yeah. Me too.”

“I guess you surprised me, that’s all.”

“Sorry. It was Dan’s idea.”

“What was?”

“The test.”

“Oh. Good idea. You never know. I just thought...”


Long pause. Donny could hear music in the background. The Eagles’ Hotel California.

“Look,” Mike said softly, “I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to meet your folks. I mean, I’m sure they’re really great and all that, and I’d want them to know that I really care about you and that it’s not some pedophilia kind of thing going on...”

“I’m over twenty-one, Mike.”

“...but I just think that... maybe they just don’t need to know – about me, that is. I mean, you can tell’em you’re gay and all, but...”

“I gotcha.”

“Look.... um, I’m gonna be real busy for the next couple of weeks right up until the time we leave for Santa Fe, so... I just wanted you to know that in case you don’t hear from me in the next couple of days, that’s all.”

The dog next door started barking and Donny glanced at the window, the Venetian blind slats letting in faint rows of cold blue streetlamp light. They seemed to glow and pulse.

“Yeah, okay.”

“I’ll call you soon.”




The line went dead. Donny put the phone back, hugged his pillow, and wondered what was making the neighbor’s dog bark so much in the middle of the night.

Chapter Guide