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.

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