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”

“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.

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