Thursday, March 23, 2006

Small Town Boys - Chapter 31

Autumn 1993

Marc arrived on his first day promptly at eight dressed in a conservative well-tailored suit and tie, his shoes polished to a military shine, and wearing wire-rimmed glasses. Donny offered him a cup of coffee and Eric showed him his new office. He nodded approvingly, booted up the new computer, and checked the phone.

“It works,” Eric said. “Line four is your private line; the intercom goes to your secretary. You’ll be sharing Lily with Donny until we get someone hired for you.”

Greg took him into his office. “I can’t tell you how glad I am to have you with us, Marc. Both Donny and Cathy will attest to that.”

“Thanks; I can’t tell you how glad I am not to be waiting on tables or rich gay men.” That got an appreciative laugh. “So, where would you like me to start?”

“Sit down with Cathy and let her show you what we’ve done. Get to know the place, then come up with some ideas, and once you’re comfortable, let’s sit down and you tell us where we go from here.”

Marc spent the rest of the day working with Cathy setting up spreadsheets and accounting structures, then began in earnest to go through all of the company finances and statements. At the end of the week he sat down with Greg, Eric, and Donny in Greg’s office and closed the door.

“So,” Greg said, “how’re we doing?”

Marc nodded soberly. “Not bad. For a bunch of guys who really didn’t know a whole hell of a lot about starting a business, you did pretty well.”

Greg looked around at his brother and Donny and shrugged. “Beginner’s luck.”

“Yeah, and you had a good business plan to start with, so that helped.”

Eric laughed. “What business plan? We just started selling stuff and writing software. It was more like dumb luck.”

Marc cocked his head in acknowledgement. “Sometimes that’s the best way. You hired good people and didn’t get all wrapped up in procedures and models and business theory. The trick is to know what you want to accomplish in the long term. A lot of companies have gone tits up by just planning to get through the next quarter.” He opened a large binder. “There are some areas of concern, but I think we can get them straightened out. For one thing, let’s not use the company checking account for personal purchases. The IRS frowns on that.” He looked up at Donny and Eric and grinned. “For instance, buying a car.” He held up his hand as Eric started to answer. “I know you paid it back, but still....” He flipped through the next section of the binder. “Your receivables look good; Cathy’s been great handling that, and I think we can save a lot of money in the payables if we take the discounts that most of your vendors offer.” He turned more pages, never looking up. Eric and Greg exchanged glances. “The investment plan looks solid and so does the options idea, but you’d better let someone who’s a tax attorney make sure that the employees understand the tax implications.”

Greg said, “We’ll get you a meeting with our attorney. He’s also my dad.”

“Great.” Marc plowed on through the book, pointing out things in production, receiving, benefits, and long-term capital investing that could be adjusted or implemented. Then he turned to the last section. He put his hands on the table, took off his glasses, and looked at them soberly. “Now we come to the last area. Sales.”

Donny waited around the office until the rest of the staff had gone home before he went into Marc’s office. It was the first time all week that he’d had the chance to sit down with him alone.

“Pretty interesting first week,” Donny said.

Marc was packing his briefcase. “Yeah,” he said quietly.

“Hey, you told ‘em what you found. It’s not like it’s your problem.”

Marc shrugged. “True. Just doing my job.”

“So,” Donny said, “you want to go get some dinner?”

“Sure,” Marc replied. “Follow me back to my place so I can change and we’ll go from there.”

“Sounds good.”

Donny followed him to his tidy little two-bedroom apartment in West Hollywood, but after Marc hung up his suit and got his shirt off, they took it from there into his bedroom. Fortunately, his roommate, a woman he’d gone to grad school with, was still at work. Afterwards, they ordered a pizza and sat on the couch in their underwear watching HBO.

“I can’t believe Bryce thought he could get away with it,” Donny said as he picked up a slice of pizza.

“Yeah,” replied Marc absently. “Hey, you know what? Let’s make it a rule: when we’re together outside of the office, let’s never talk shop, okay?”

Donny shrugged. “Sure. And when we’re in the office, let’s never talk about what we do when we’re together, okay?”

“Oh, yeah, that goes without saying,” agreed Marc. “Deal?”


The next morning Donny’s phone rang at nine o’clock. He was just getting out of the shower and still had his towel wrapped around him.


“Donny, it’s Mom.”

He sat on his bed, his hair still dripping. “Hi. What’s up?” he said, trying to remember the last time his mother called him out of the blue on a Saturday morning.

“Well, I just had the strangest phone call from Ruthie Bigelow. She said she saw a picture of you in a magazine.”


“Yes! She was in the store and picked up one of those supermarket tabloids – you know how long it takes the checker sometimes – and there you were in a picture in some soap opera magazine with some actor, Lance... What did she say the name was? Lance something. She said it looked like you were having lunch or something with him.”

Donny thought fast and furiously. “Oh, wow,” was all he could come up with.

“Well, I told her I’d ask you.”

Donny took a deep breath. “Yeah, it was me. That’s Lance Michaels. He’s thinking about investing in the company and I – we took him to lunch. Didn’t I tell you?”

“No, but that’s wonderful. I’ll tell Ruthie.”


“Well, how’s everything going?”

“Great. Great. You want to talk to Danny? I think he’s up.”

“Oh, dear, I completely forgot about the time difference. No, I’ll call back later.”

“Okay, Mom.”

He dressed quickly, grabbed his keys, and drove to Ralph’s. He leafed through the tabloids until he found the picture in a spread of other soap opera stars called “Out and About.” It looked as if the picture had been taken from a long distance; the focus was fuzzy, and it caught him from the side as he sipped his tea. Donny was in profile and not in the best light, but it was clearly him. The caption was “Lance (Dusty) Michaels has lunch al fresco in Beverly Hills.” Neither of them was smiling, and Donny wondered at what exact moment the photo had been snapped. He shuddered at the idea that the editors might have meant something by labeling it “out and about,” but all the other stars seemed to be having happy heterosexual moments; pushing baby strollers in Central Park, standing in line for brunch at Five Points, and one of Susan Lucci hailing a cab outside a Broadway theatre. He bought the magazine and a bag of doughnuts.

Eric was in the kitchen. Donny wordlessly opened the tabloid, put it on the counter, and pointed to it.

“Holy shit,” said Eric.


“How’d you find out?”

“My mom called me. She got it from the town’s biggest gossip.”

“Holy shit.”

Danny came in dressed in a GI t-shirt and jeans. It was his turn to cut the lawn. He took a doughnut and looked at the picture. “Well, it could be worse,” he said. “It could say ‘Lance (Dusty) Michaels has lunch al fresco with his ex-boyfriend.’”

Eric poured some coffee and took a doughnut. “You ready to go?” he said to Donny.


“What’s up?” said Danny.

“Meeting with dad at the office.”

“On a Saturday?”


“Have fun.”

“We will,” said Eric. “We get to fire Bryce.”

On Monday morning Greg called a staff meeting and announced that Bryce had left the company and that he was temporarily assuming the duties of sales manager until a replacement could be brought on board. The rest of the staff, especially the sales group, was stunned. The door was closed so no one had noticed that Bryce’s office was empty; his desk cleaned off, his pictures, golf clubs, miniature bust of Ronald Reagan, and potted palm gone.

Irene followed Donny back to his office.

“What happened? Did he quit or what?”

Donny shook his head. “I really don’t think I should talk about it.”

Irene scowled at him. “You know I’m going to find out anyway, so you might as well tell me know and spare yourself my bad karma.”

Donny laughed in spite of himself. “If Greg says I can tell you, then I will.”

Irene turned on her heel and marched out of his office. In less than a minute she came back with Greg. She closed the door and glared at both of them. “I’ve worked here longer than anyone other than you and Eric, so I have a right to know.”

Greg nodded. “It’s called ‘stuffing the channel.’ We pay commission quarterly based on the quarterly sales. Right before the end of the quarter Bryce would get some of his favorite customers to over-order product, report them as sales, wait until his commission check was cut, then let the customers return what they didn’t want or need. Cathy didn’t catch it because we were paying on sales, and the returns didn’t show up against his commission because,” he shrugged, “no one thought to match up returns against the sales. We just took it back and resold it to someone else, and sometimes he’d make double commission on the same product.”

Irene cocked an eyebrow. “So how’d you bust him?”

“Marc went through the books, matched up sales, returns, commissions and invoices and found it. It’s pretty easy to spot if you know what to look for. We just weren’t looking for it. We called him into a meeting with us and my dad on Saturday morning, showed him the books, and after about five minutes of excuses, he admitted to it. We gave him a half-hour to clean out his office. The end.”

“Jesus H. Christ,” muttered Irene. “Anyone else in on it?”

“Not that we can tell. I’m having a meeting with the sales group in about ten minutes, so if you’ll excuse me....”

“Wait. How are you going to prevent it from happening again?”

“Effective immediately, we’re changing the commission structure to pay only when the final invoice is paid, not when the sale is made, and any returns other than defective product or legit exchanges will be charged against the commission. Starting the first of the year we’re switching over to a base-plus-bonus system, the bonus based on company performance not just individual sales. They’re all Marc’s ideas.” Greg opened the door. “Gotta go. I’m going to make sales exciting.” He mugged a grin and was gone.

Irene scowled at Donny. “I never did trust that prick. I hope he ends up cleaning out the grease trap at a Carl’s Junior.”

“He might have to,” said Donny. “We’re canceling his stock options and taking back all his commissions from this quarter. It won’t pay us back, but it will at least make him sorry he did it.”

“How much did he rip us off for?”

Donny went to his desk, sat down, and whispered. “About eighteen thousand bucks.”

Irene narrowed her eyes to slits. “A grease trap would be too good for him.

By the middle of November the changes to the financial system were already making a noticeable difference. Ordering was streamlined, accounts receivable collections picked up, and sales increased dramatically after a PC magazine gave Pelican 2.0 a good review. Three more distributors signed up, including a regional chain of office supply stores. Following an intense round of interviews that included Donny, Greg, Marc, and Allen, the new sales manager, Michelle Swainson, an MBA from Stanford and a former associate sales manager at Apple, was hired three weeks after Bryce’s departure. Five more investors, including an Oscar-winning director and his wife, joined the ranks, and at the quarterly board meeting on Friday, November 19, the first of the stock dividends were announced. After the meeting Greg walked into Donny’s office and handed him a slim envelope. “The board voted unanimously to give out bonuses a little early.”

Donny opened the envelope. “Holy shit,” he breathed.

“Don’t spend it all in one place.”

Donny stared at the check. Pay to the order of Donald F. Hollenbeck the sum of Fifty Thousand Dollars. “I don’t think it’s possible to spend it all in once place,” he said.

“Maybe now you can buy some decent shoes.”

Donny glanced down at his scuffed loafers. “Yeah.”

“Thanks for everything, Donny. Jim McGruder, Marc... This doesn’t begin to cover how much of a difference you’ve made,” Greg said.

“I didn’t....” Donny began, but Greg cut him off. “Knock off the humble bit, willya? You earned every cent of it. Take a little credit, dammit.”

Eric was standing in the door. “So, can we talk about buying the house now?”

Marc came by a few minutes later. “Congratulations, big man,” he said with a little grin. “Let me take you to dinner.”

Donny held up the check. “Maybe I should be taking you. I assume you had something to say about this?”

“Only that we could afford it. Besides, after I explain the hit it’s going to add to your income taxes, I should buy the dinner.”

Donny smiled. “Okay. This time meet me at my house.”

After stopping at the bank, Donny drove home. He didn’t notice the BMW parked in front of the house and it wasn’t until he was walking across the lawn to the mailbox that he saw that Mike was standing next to the car.

“I tried calling your office, but they said you’d already left. So, got any plans for dinner?” he said, giving Donny a hug.

“Uh, as a matter of fact, I do,” he said, “I’m going out with a friend.”

“Oh. Your friend?”


At that moment, Marc pulled up in his Nissan. “Hey, nice to see you again,” he said to Mike, offering a handshake.

Donny watched Mike as they shook hands. It took a moment for Mike to recognize Marc, but when he did his expression went from puzzlement to shock and then to the canned smile that every celebrity used when they’re recognized in public by a fan. It happened in a split-second, and Mike replied cheerfully, “Paul’s party, right? Hey, man, how are you?”

“That’s right. I’m Marc Griffin.”

“Well, great, Marc. Good to see you again.” Mike turned to Donny, his expression unreadable, but his cheerfulness was still in full mode. “So, you’re... uh, going out? I mean, to dinner?”

“Yeah,” said Marc, who either by design or by habit matched the cheery tone. “We’re doing a little celebrating.”

“Oh? What’s the celebration?”

Marc looked at Donny, who said, “Oh, uh, I got my bonus from the company today.”

Mike nodded vigorously. “Well, that’s great, Donny. Congratulations.”

“Thanks.” Donny looked quickly at Marc. “Marc’s the new VP of finance at the company. Been there, what, about six weeks now? Really making a difference.”

“Well, that’s great,” Mike said again, this time sounding a little hollow.

“Say,” Marc said, “you want to join us? We’re just going over to a little place I know that has great Italian food. You’re more than welcome to come along.”

Mike put up his hands. “Oh, no, thanks.... I wouldn’t want to intrude. You kids go on and have a great time.” He started to go back to his car. “I just wanted to stop by and let you know I was back in town. Got a little place Marty’s renting for me in the valley until I close the deal on the house in Idyllwild. Hey, you still up for a weekend there? Both of you?”

Donny shrugged. “Sure, that’d be great.”

Mike opened the door. “Okay. I’ll be in touch. Hey, nice to, uh, see you again, Marc.” He got in and closed the door before Marc could say, “Same here.” They watched him drive off, then Donny said, “Think I laid it on a little thick with telling him exactly who you were?”

Marc smiled a little. “Think I laid it on with asking him along?”

“He’ll get over it.

They had a quiet dinner and talked about nothing to do with work, then came back to the house. Marc stayed the night.

The phone rang at 1:45.


“Donny. ‘S me. Mike.” He was very drunk.

“Oh shit,” Donny whispered. In the dim light he could see Marc stirring, sitting up, and mouthing “what’s wrong?” Donny motioned to him to go back to sleep.

“Donny donny donny” Mike said in a sing-song voice. There was background noise; wind in trees.

“What is it, Mike.”

“Zee luh yoo?”


“D’zee luh yoo! Luvvv yooo?”

“Jesus, Mike, go to sleep.”

“Can’t zleep. Wanna know ‘f he luvs you. Or ‘z just like to have that rock-hard cock o’ yours bangin’ his fuckin’ brains out.” The wind noise picked up and in the distance a police siren wailed.

“I’m hanging up now, Mike.”

“No, wait! Lissen a sec. Please.”

Donny sighed. Marc was still sitting up, watching, listening. “I’m listening.”

“God, Donny, I really screwed up.” He sounded more sober now, his voice not as trembling. He took a couple of deep breaths. “Jesus, I really know how t’ fuck things up. I really want to make up.”

“Yeah, well next time try it without quoting back your lines from the soap opera.”


“At Paul’s. All that shit about trying your damnedest.”

There was a long pause. Then, “Oh my god.”

“Yeah. Look, Mike. I’m...” Donny looked at Marc. “I’m sorry, too. But....”


“G’night, Mike. I’ll talk to you later.”

Another pause. “’Kay.”

After Donny put the phone back he lay back down and pulled Marc to him, spooning him, holding his back to his chest.

“What did he want?” whispered Marc.

“To know if you love me.”

Marc sighed softly. “Okay,” he murmured.

Sunday afternoon Donny was folding socks. The phone rang. It was Mike. This time he was sober.

“Can we talk?”


“It’ll take me about a half-hour to get there, so....”

“Marc’s not here.”

“Okay. See you in a few.”

He showed up wearing faded jeans and a Michigan State t-shirt to match. Danny, sitting at the dining room table going over tech manuals from work, barely acknowledged Mike. Donny offered him a beer.

“Actually, you got a Coke?”

They sat on the patio.

“Sorry about the other night,” Mike said apologetically. “I just....”

“It’s been a while, but I’m used to it,” Donny replied.

Mike closed his eyes. “This has been one crazy fucked up year. Up and down, the TV show, the movie, the soap, all this crap, all these people, now the house....” He let out a sigh. “And the worst part is that I lost something that really meant a lot to me.”

“Mike, if I really meant that much to you....”

“I know, I know, I wouldn’ta dropped off the face of the earth. I know all that. But you don’t know what I was up against. I can’t take a shit in this town – or anywhere – without clearing it with some assistant producer or PR asshole tagging along. Shit, that time I took you to lunch it ended up in fucking soap magazine.”

“I know. My mom called me about it.”

“Y’see? So when I told the people at the company in Santa Fe I wanted to fly you up for a weekend, Marty and his little cocksucker of a press agent went fuckin’ ballistic. Even Stuart didn’t want you to come up.” Mike chuckled cynically. “He had his own reasons for that, I’m sure.”

“Yeah,” agreed Donny.

Mike waved it off. “He never touched me again. He tried, but.... I just told him that I needed to concentrate on the work and – well, he found some well-hung local talent to hang around with in Santa Fe. But as soon as the shoot was done I told Marty I was coming back here and pick up with you.” Mike looked at Donny for a moment. “Funny thing. The day after I told him that, I got the call from the casting director of the soap. It was like some vast conspiracy to keep me out of L.A.”

Donny lit a cigarette. It gave him a moment to wonder how much of this was true and how much of it was just Mike’s way of trying to ease his guilt. Or was he just trying to get laid? The night at Paul’s left Donny no doubt then that Mike was just horny and hoping that what worked on TV would work in real life. Now, sitting on the patio with Eric in the garage working on his bike and Danny inside, going into the bedroom was out of the question even if Donny was interested. For the record, he noted, he was not.

“So, anyway,” Mike continued, “now that I’m back I just... I want to see where we stand.”

Donny shrugged. “Hey, we can be friends. I still like you, Mike,” he said, showing him a small grin to assure him. “But we’ve both moved on. You’ve got your career to think about. And I’ve got mine.”

“And you’ve got Marc.”

“Well, we’re not boyfriends. I mean, we’re friends, but we’re not...”

“Not lovers.”

“Not really. We work together and...”

“And play together,” said Mike. “I get it.” He lit a cigarette. “Y’know, I kinda had the feeling you’d end up with him.”

“Oh, yeah? How so?”

Mike fanned the smoke away and shrugged. “Just could tell. He never took his eyes off you at Paul’s. He was watching you the whole time. He even cut in line at the buffet table so he could stand next to you. It was kinda cute, in a way.”

“Didn’t know that.”

“Oh, yeah. So...he’s your VP of finance. I always thought he was a hustler or something.”

“He went to Stanford and he’s got an MBA,” Donny said, somewhat defensively. “In his first week he busted the sales manager for ripping us off for almost twenty thousand bucks, he’s streamlined the ordering system, and we’re on our way to a record year in sales. We have five investors, including some names you’d recognize. And the reason Marc and I were going out to dinner the other night was to celebrate my bonus.”

“Bonus or boner?” Mike said, and when Donny glared he held up his hand. “I’m sorry, that was rude. Just being a smartass. Look, I’m really happy for you. That’s great. I wish you all the luck in the world. You’ve really landed on your feet.” He chuckled. “Too late to get you to go in halfsies with me on the place in Idyllwild?”

“Eric and me are talking about buying this place.”

“Really? You and him together?”

“Sure, why not?”

Mike looked around. “This is a nice place. Not a bad idea to invest in a piece of property.”


Mike finished his cigarette. “So.” He looked at Donny and held him in his gaze for a few moments. “Okay.” He got up. “I’ll.... let you get back to whatever it was that you were doing.”

“Folding my laundry.”

Mike laughed. “Yeah, I gotta do mine, too. Hey, even a ‘big star’ has to have clean underwear.”

Donny walked him out to his car. “I’ll be in touch,” he said, handing Donny a card with his new phone number on it. He touched Donny’s chest and drew his finger down his breastbone. “And for what it’s worth...I still love you. That’ll never go away.”

“Yeah, well...” Donny stammered, suddenly feeling an overwhelming urge to embrace him. Instead he blinked quickly, patted Mike on the shoulder and said, “Keep in touch.”

Donny walked back into the house through the garage. Eric had his bike on the rack as he adjusted the derailleur gears. “So,” Eric said casually, “how’s Mike?”


Eric looked at Donny carefully. “You guys get things worked out?”

“Yeah. Just friends.”

“Ah.” Eric picked up a crescent wrench and fiddled with the adjustment. “I guess that’s for the best.”

“Yeah,” agreed Donny. He headed for the door. “For the best. But tell me something.”

“What,” said Eric as turned the wrench.

“How come it feels so shitty?”

Chapter Guide


Sunday, March 05, 2006

Small Town Boys - Chapter 30

My Boyfriend’s Back – 1993

Donny stared at the pen set on his desk for a full five minutes after hanging up. The birthday party was still going on. Eric had turned on his stereo and people were laughing and talking.

Mike was staying at Paul’s house for the rest of the week while he did some publicity for Silver Star, which was opening at Christmas. He was also there to talk to some people at Universal about another series, this time a sit-com mid-season replacement. He’d really like to see Donny; could they get together for dinner?

Donny had rehearsed it a hundred times in his head, always sure he’d know exactly what he’d say to Mike when he heard from him or saw him on the street. It wouldn’t be angry; that he was sure of. He was long over any feelings of loss, and besides, he was – until this moment – not really sure that he had ever loved Mike other than value his companionship and feel comfortable in bed with him. He wasn’t really sure what love was. (As if by some karmic coincidence, Eric put on his Journey album with I Want to Know What Love Is.) He would act as if it was just like hearing from an old friend who happened to call. There would be no emotion attached and there would definitely be no sexual stirrings; Donny could barely recall what making love to Mike was like. He would say it was great to hear from him, it’s really good to know that things are going well, and maybe they should keep in touch. He’d sign off with a crisp “thanks for calling” and go back to work. But when the voice came out of the phone, sounding as if they had last talked the day before with the familiar cadence and even the slight traces of the upper Michigan accent, the rehearsed speech vanished and Donny just listened, saying nothing but the occasional uh-huh. And try as hard as he could to not think about it, his cock got warm when Mike said, “I’d really like to see you tonight.” For an instant Donny almost caved, but then remembered that he and Danny and Eric and Greg had reservations for a birthday dinner, and he felt relieved to be able to say so.

“Okay,” Mike had countered, “how about lunch tomorrow? I’ll stop by your new offices.”

“Okay,” Donny said quietly. He gave him the address.

“Great,” replied Mike. “See you then.

Someone tapped on the door and he snapped out of it. It was Danny.

“Everything okay?”

Donny nodded at the phone. “Mike.”

“Mmm. Where is he?”

“Staying at Paul’s. Thank God Marc is still out in Palm Springs. That could have been weird.”

“What’d he want?”

“To see me tonight.”

“And you have plans. So...?”

“Lunch tomorrow.”

Danny sat down and smoothed out an invisible wrinkle on his pant leg. “You can handle that.”

“Yeah. I can handle it.”

“It’ll be interesting, twin; that’s for sure.” Donny reached in his pocket and pulled out a small box. He put it on the desk. “Happy birthday.”

Donny opened it. It was a small gold signet ring with his initials on it. Donny tried it on. It fit perfectly.

“I had a feeling it would,” said Danny. “I had them size it to me.”

“It’s great,” said Donny, looking at it in the light. “Thanks.”

Danny shrugged. “Hey, it’s the best I can do on second looey pay. I know we had the handshake, but what the hell.” By mutual agreement they had stopped giving each other gifts for their birthday when they were in junior high school; it had seemed at the time like a silly thing to do because they ended up giving each other practically the same things. They’d shaken hands solemnly on it ten years before. Donny smiled, opened his desk drawer, and pulled out a small, flat package.

“Yeah, I kinda figured the deal was off.”

It was a military watch with a gold band. His name was engraved in strong bold script on the back. “I don’t know what kind of jewelry you’re allowed to wear with your uniform,” Donny said, “but I guessed you could wear this.”

Danny fastened it on. “Yeah, I can. Thanks, twin.”

“And I got something for Mom and Dad,” said Donny, pulling another package out from behind his desk. It was a framed picture of the two of them at Danny’s graduation the previous spring, Danny with his grim officer’s smile, Donny showing a little more of a grin; Danny in his dress uniform, his wide shoulders set off by the new epaulettes of his rank, Donny in his civilian sport coat and open shirt. But they still looked alike; almost like the same man in two different worlds.

“Ready to take on the world,” Danny said. “So.... Lunch tomorrow.”


“Give ‘em hell, stud.”

Greg met them at the restaurant, a little Italian place complete with red checkered table cloths, which was close to the townhouse he’d just closed on. They ordered a bottle of Chianti and toasted each other on the birthday, the hiring of Marc to Greg’s great relief, and the general upward trend of their lives.

“Here’s also to beating the odds of every other start-up company that lasts about as long as a fart in a windstorm,” said Greg. “We’re good for the long haul, it seems.”

They clinked glasses, then Danny said casually, “So tell me about Eleanor.”

Greg raised his eyebrows. “What do you want to know?”

Danny shrugged. “Single? Dating? Straight? Criminal record?”

“Ask Donny. He’s the one who keeps the personnel records.”

Donny looked at his brother with amusement. “What’s it worth to you?”

“Just curious.”

Eric gave Danny Eleanor’s background. “I thought I saw you chatting with here over the cake this afternoon. Gonna ask her out?”

“Thinking about it.”

“Go ahead,” said Donny. “It’d be nice to see you find a social life.”

“What makes you think I don’t have one?”

“Because you’ve spent every night since you moved into the house in your own bed, that’s how. So unless you’ve got something going on behind the O club or you’re sneaking off to a motel, you haven’t got a social life that I’ve seen.”

Danny laughed. “Well, yeah, but... I get around.”

Eric asked, “Did you date much at the Academy?”

“I had a couple of, uh, flings, I guess you’d call them,” he said. “I went out with a girl from Colorado College for a couple of months, but it’s not easy when you’re busting your ass at the Academy. Then there were some women that I’d hang out with at the base; fellow cadets, but nothing too serious. Dinner and a movie, mostly.”

“Wow,” said Eric, “you went four years without getting laid? That’s worse than Greg.”

“Hey, wait a minute,” protested Greg.

“I didn’t say I didn’t get laid,” replied Danny. “I just didn’t have a steady girlfriend for a long time, that’s all.”

“Hmm,” said Eric. “Well, Eleanor is all right as a person; she’s damn smart and can hold her own with the rest of the guys, so it might be fun to get to know her. I have no idea about her social life; she never talks about it.”

“She has an apartment that she shares with a roommate from college and two cats,” offered Donny. “She told me about the cats one day when she had to take off early to take them to the vet. And she listed her roommate as the emergency contact. Other than that, you’re on your own.”

“And good luck,” said Eric. “With the schedule she keeps, you’ll be lucky to get weekends off. Dating in this business is tough.”

“True,” said Greg. “When was the last time you went out?”

“Been a while,” conceded Eric. “’Bout the only guy in our group to have any kind of social life is Donny, and even now.... Have you decided what you and Marc are yet; friends, lovers, or just fuck-buddies?”

Donny shook his head. “Just.... I don’t know. Friends who.... After Mike, I’m not really wild about getting into something that could be....” He shrugged.

“You ever hear from Mike?” asked Greg.

Donny glanced at his brother. “Well, as a matter of fact, he called me this afternoon to wish me a happy birthday. He’s in town and we’re having lunch tomorrow.” Donny surprised himself at how casual he made it sound.

“Jesus H. Christ in a birch bark canoe,” whispered Eric. “He just pops in and says hi after, what, nine months without a word, and you’re going to have lunch with him?”

“What’s wrong with that? It’s just lunch.”

“Yeah, I guess. But I know what I’d tell him if that happened to me. ‘Fuck off,’ and I’d stick him for the lunch tab.”

“No wonder you’re still single,” said Danny.

“Look, after what he did, he’d be lucky not to find his tires flattened.”

“You’ll get your chance,” said Donny. “He’s picking me up at the office.”

“Well, I’ll be polite, but don’t expect roses and rainbows.”

They ordered their dinners. The waitress, a prototypical Valley Girl, seemed distracted and messed up the order when she read it back to them. Greg turned on the charm and she giggle-snorted as she read it again, this time getting it right. She left and Greg muttered “dingbat” under his breath. He suddenly looked around the restaurant as if someone had called his name or something.

“What’s up, Gruggie?” said Eric.

“Have you noticed that people are looking at us?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Check it out. Those people at the table across the way are staring at us.”

They all looked furtively around the room, and it seemed to be true; not just one table but several other groups of people were paying attention to them. A waiter passed by, nodded, did a double-take, grinned, and went away.

“Jesus,” said Eric, “that’s creepy. What is it, did one of us forget to wear our pants or something?”

Danny looked at them and then grinned. “It’s not what we didn’t wear; it’s what we’re wearing.”

The four of them looked at each other for a moment, and then burst out laughing. They were all wearing identical outfits; white polo shirts and Levi’s.

“Wow, it’s like...some weird karma,” said Eric. “I didn’t plan this out.”

“Me neither,” replied Donny and Greg.

“I’m so used to seeing people in the same outfit that it didn’t even dawn on me,” said Danny. “But we must look like... I don’t know....”

“A vocal group on dinner break,” said Eric. “’The Four Polos’ or something.”

The waitress came back with their salads, giggled again, and said, “Are you guys like twins or something?”

“No,” replied Eric earnestly. He pointed at Donny. “I don’t look anything like him, do I?”

This threw her completely, and she left to get more water.

Donny said, “Okay, let’s try not to do this again.”

Donny did not sleep well that night, wondering what lunch would be like, and the next morning there was not a lot going on in his office to keep him distracted. Finally at 11:30 Lily buzzed his phone. “Mr. Michaels is at the front desk.”

“I’ll be right out.”

He was wearing a cream short-sleeved silk shirt and grey slacks that made him look like he had learned how to pick out clothes that complimented his build and his complexion. Dammit, Donny thought, he looks good.

“Hey,” Mike said with his killer smile. They hugged quickly, Donny not letting the familiar feel and scent sink in too far. “Let me show you around,” he said by way of changing the subject.


They went past the reception area into the atrium where the secretaries and administrative assistants worked. Donny pointed out the spaces perfunctorily; “Bryce and Cathy’s offices are over there, that’s Greg’s, then the conference room, the war room, Eric, me, and vacant. In the middle are the secretaries. That’s Julie, Margaret, Sidney, and Lily. Past Eric’s office down the hall is the sales staff cube farm and past that is the warehouse and production office. Production is in the building next door with shipping and receiving.”

Mike looked around at the open ceiling and skylights, the modern office furniture, the potted ficus trees, the thick carpeting, and the quiet hum of business. “Wow, this is a little different from the last place,” he said.

“Yeah,” said Donny, trying to remember if Mike had ever been to the old office. “This is my office,” he said, leading him in but leaving the door and the blinds open.

Mike let out an appreciative whistle. “Damn, Donny, this is a nice set-up. And your own secretary, too.”

“Yeah, that’s Lily.” Donny felt a little awkward; he wasn’t sure if they should sit down or what.

“So, what do you do here?”

“VP of HR,” Donny said. “Uh, vice president for human resources, although I still handle some of the purchasing.”

“Nice, nice.” Mike looked out the window. “So, you’ve really got it...nice here.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty good.”

They looked at each other, and Donny smiled self-consciously. “You look good,” said Mike. “Still going to the gym?”

“Yeah, same place by the old office; it’s near the house.”

“Still live in the same place?”

“Yeah; Eric and me and Danny.”

“Your brother?”

“Yeah, he’s stationed at the base here.”

“Wow. Didn’t know that.”

Donny nodded, thinking, well, yeah, there’s a lot you don’t know. “Yeah. So, you want to go get something to eat?”

“Sure, that’d be great.”

“Okay.” Donny thought that if the rest of the conversation was as awkward as this, lunch was going to be torture.

They were leaving when Eric came out of his office. He shook hands with Mike, gave him a nice smile, and said it was good to see him again. “You too,” replied Mike.

Mike had a rented Lincoln. He drove to a small café on the edge of Beverly Hills that was favored by some of the younger stars. They sat out on the patio under a green umbrella table that was set with sterling silver and crystal glassware. The menu was understated, and the prices were high enough that Donny, even with his increased income, wondered who the hell would pay twelve bucks for a club sandwich. Mike ordered a Long Island iced tea, and Donny ordered lemonade.

After the drinks arrived and they ordered their food, Mike leaned back, put his Ray-Bans on top of his head, and smiled at Donny. “You look great,” he said. “You’ve gotten bigger in the shoulders, and man, your arms must be eighteen inches.”

Donny sipped his drink and smiled a little. “Never measured ‘em,” he said, knowing that Mike was flattering him to draw him out. But Donny had decided that he would let Mike be the one to do all the talking.

“Well, you’re headed for Schwarzenegger territory there,” Mike said. Donny laughed, and so did Mike. “Anyway. It’s good to see you. And.... I want you to know that there’s no excuse for me just dropping off the face of the earth. I mean, I know I should have called or something, and you have every right to be pissed.”

Donny shrugged. “I understand. Paul explained it to me. He invited me out to the Villa last spring for a weekend, I think, just to tell me what was going on.”

“He told me that. I’m glad. So you know that it wasn’t me just, y’know, skipping town. I had to go.” One of the stars of a number one rated sitcom passed the table and nodded at Mike, who returned the nod with a smile. Mike continued, “There wasn’t time for me to even pack up my stuff. Marty had someone go to the house, pack everything up, disconnect the phone, everything. I had twenty-four hours from my wrap before they had me on the red-eye to New York, and I was on the soap set the next day. It’s been like that ever since. This is the first time I’ve had any time off since I got the job.”

Donny nodded, thinking that it sounded plausible enough that if he was really pressed, Mike would stick to that story. “Yeah, I know what that’s like,” he said.

“Not that I’m complaining, y’know,” Mike continued. “It’s great to be working in something like a soap; it’s steady work, the pay’s great, and some pretty good actors make their bones doing them. Did you know that Ray Liotta started out doing soaps?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Yeah. And since it’s in New York, a lot of producers and movie people work out of there, so I can be seen. I’m getting coached by some of the best people in the business. They got me this great furnished apartment, too, in the East Village, right near NYU. I can walk to anything or take the subway, and it’s not like, y’know, big scary New York; it’s like living in a small town.”

“That’s great. I’m happy for you,” Donny said, and he meant it.

“Yeah,” Mike said. He leaned back and raised his eyebrows. “Maybe you can come visit for a weekend or something.”

Donny looked at him sharply to see if there was any irony in his expression. There was none. He sipped his drink and finally said, “No, I don’t think so.”

Mike thought about this for a moment then nodded slowly. “Yeah, I guess I pretty much screwed the pooch, didn’t I?”

“Yeah, pretty much.”

“You’ve moved on?”

“You could say that.”

“Met someone?”


“Is it serious?”

Donny thought for a second about telling him who he was seeing, then decided now was not the time. “Well, we’re not living together or anything. We’re just – friends.”

“With benefits.”


The sun had moved past the umbrella and Mike put on his sunglasses. “I’m glad you’re not just jerking off.”

Donny remembered the night at the Villa and the times he and Marc had been together since. “No,” Donny replied evenly, “I haven’t been doing that.”

When the check came Mike grabbed it and paid cash. “The least I can do,” he said, and Donny didn’t object. On the drive back Mike sighed and said, “Look, I know I screwed up, but I’d like to at least still be friends, okay?”

“Sure,” said Donny.

“I’ll be in town for the rest of the week. You want to get dinner sometime?”


Mike pulled the up to front door of the building. Donny gave him a smile and opened the door. “Good to see you, Mike.”

“I’ll call you. And I mean it this time.”

An hour later Eric tapped on his door and raised an eyebrow.

“It’s cool,” Donny said.

Mike called the next day and offered dinner Friday night. “Come up to Paul’s and we’ll go from there.”

Donny arrived at Paul’s house just before six. The houseman – the same one from a year ago – opened the door, showed him into the living room. “Mr. Michaels will be down shortly,” he said and offered him a drink.

A moment later Mike appeared at the door. He was wearing jeans and a short-sleeved shirt, and he was carrying a Scotch on the rocks. He kissed Donny on the cheek. “Good to see you, man,” he said, and settled in the chair next to him.

“You too.”

He sipped his drink. “Something’s come up; I can’t leave the house tonight. I’m expecting a call from the producer back in New York.” He looked at his watch. “It’s almost nine-thirty there and he said he’d call by ten-thirty his time, so....” He spread his hands. “But I had Mr. Yang whip up some of his famous rib eyes and baked potatoes. You don’t mind eating here, do you?”

“No, that’s fine.”

“Great.” Mike patted Donny’s thigh. “It’ll be like old times.”

Dinner was served in the dining room with candles in the antique candelabra and some George Winston piano music on the stereo. Mike told him about working on a soap opera and the amazing number of fan letters the show got every day. “People actually believe we’re real people. I got a letter from this woman who told me that I would burn in Hell for getting this other character pregnant and then sleeping with her brother’s wife.” He shook his head. “Nobody ever wrote me to tell me Jarrod Chase was a ‘profligate sinner.’ But then, not too many people watched Capitol Hill.”

Mr. Yang appeared in the doorway as they were finishing. “Excuse me, Mr. Michaels,” he said quietly, “telephone.”

“Thanks.” He got up from the table slowly, the three glasses of wine having their effect. “Be right back. That’ll be the call from New York.”

Mr. Yang swiftly cleared the table. “Coffee will be served on the patio” he said.

Donny looked out over the manicured yard and shimmering pool. He remembered the dinner party; the lights, the tables, the conversations, his casual chat with James McGruder, bare-chested Marc in his swimsuit tossing the Nerf football, eavesdropping on the stairs, Mike’s sloshing wine glass and sullen mood after watching the pilot.

Everything was different now, he thought. James McGruder, Marc, and Mike had all shifted places in his life. Donny thought how naïve he must have seemed a year ago and yet he didn’t feel that much different; he still found it hard to believe that all of the things that had happened had happened to him. It was like watching a movie of someone else. Even in the here and now, sitting on the patio in the twilight, it was like he was seeing himself at a distance.

He glanced around as if he was being watched, then lit a cigarette, his first of the day. The building was non-smoking and although he didn’t make a special effort to go outside to smoke, this one tasted especially good. He leaned back and caught the faint sound of Mike talking; he was on the phone. He laughed, the sound echoing in the hall and out the door.

A few moments later Mike came out onto the patio and plopped into the chair next to Donny. “Well,” he said with a grin, “that’s over. Six more weeks and I am soap opera history.”

“What happened?”

Mike patted his shirt pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. “I’m done with it. My character goes off to Africa to work on an oil rig and I am free to come back here and.... well, Marty says that once Silver Star opens, I can write my own ticket. Stuart told Steven Spielberg that I was a dream to work with and I’d be perfect for his next project.”

“What is it?”

Mike shrugged. “Who knows? Who cares? It’s Steven Spielberg. The guy is a miracle worker. I’d play dead in a cowboy movie for him.” Mr. Yang brought out a tray with coffee and poured it for them. “Thanks, Mr. Yang,” Mike said. “I think we’re all set here.”

“Very good, sir. Please ring if you require anything else.” He bowed slightly and went back into the house.

Mike slurped his coffee a little and then smiled slyly at Donny. “And guess what.”


“Remember the house in Idyllwild? Remember how they were asking a million two but would look at any ‘reasonable’ offer? Well, it was still on the market last week, and so I called that realtor whatshername – Brucie – and told her I’d give ‘em six fifty and we could close the deal by the end of the month.” Mike smirked a little. “She hemmed and hawed a little and called me back. They accepted it.”

“Wow,” Donny said. “That’s a pretty good deal.”

“Yeah, well, I guess they were desperate.”

“Musta been.”

“So.... Look, I know we talked about buying it together.....”

Donny waved the words away. “Forget it.”

“Look, you can still come up there any time you want. I’ll just be using it on weekends or when I’m not working.”


“I mean it.” Mike he looked at Donny and bit his lip. “I really do. You helped me find the place, and we talked about it being our place.”

Donny said, “Well, yeah, but....”

Mike nodded. “Yeah, I know. But....” He looked at Donny with the same steady gaze that he’d seen so many times before; the one that usually precipitated making love. Donny felt a small surge of adrenalin and he glanced away, hoping that the feeling would pass. He lit another cigarette.

“So,” Mike said gently, “tell me about your new friend.”

It was an odd twist in the conversation, and Donny wondered why Mike was taking it in that direction, but he shrugged and said, “Not much to tell. His name’s Marc.” He waited for a flash of recognition, but he just nodded. “He’s a nice guy,” Donny continued, then couldn’t think of anything else to say. There was no point in going into the details.

“Well...” Mike said softly, “that’s great. All I want is for you to be happy.”

“Like I said, we’re just friends.”

“Still. How’d you meet him?”

Donny had been bracing himself for this one, and he felt himself tremble as he replied, “Through, uh, Paul.”

Mike nodded. “Oh, that’s cool. Someone from the Villa, then. Great. Paul’s good at that; looking out for his friends.”

“Yeah, well.... yeah.” Donny was about to tell Mike who Marc was, but Mike stood up and walked over the edge of the patio. He stared at the pool for a moment, then turned and looked back at Donny. In the soft light it looked as if he had tears in his eyes.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered so quietly that Donny almost missed it. Mike shook his head. “I need to tell you what happened. Why I didn’t call. Why I....” He paused for a moment, bit his lip, and looked away. “I fucked up.”

Donny started to speak, to tell him that Paul had explained about Marty and needing to be focused on the job and that he knew that going in, but Mike held up his hand before he could say more than just “I under....”

“No, you don’t know.” Mike turned his back for a moment then said, with his back still turned, “That afternoon when I called you up and told you I got the movie. When you came over. The day you had your test.” He let out a deep breath. “I had sex with Stuart. Or I should say I let Stuart have sex with me.”

The first thing that popped into Donny’s head was “what’s the difference?” But he just stared at Mike’s back and let him go on. After a moment Mike turned and looked at him. “It wasn’t planned. We’d already signed the deal. I had the part. Marty had us together in his office to basically go over the last-minute shit like.... I don’t know, percentages and crap that meant nothing to me but had to be discussed as if Stuart could actually do anything about how much money I was going to be making or what kind of water they were gonna put in the trailers. It was just a formality. We had a couple of drinks, then Marty went off to get the contract Fed Ex’d and he left us – me and Stuart – in the office basically shooting the shit and him talking about how much he was looking forward to working with me, and ... he...” Mike waved his hand in the air, “put his hand on my leg and the next thing I knew I had my cock in his mouth.”

Donny nodded slowly. It made sense now; the sudden outburst in the kitchen, the overreaction to the HIV test, the suspicion that Donny was screwing around because an hour before Mike had been doing exactly that. In the back of his mind he had suspected it all along. Donny smiled a little, more out of the satisfaction of putting the pieces together than anything else. “It’s okay, Mike.”

But Mike shook his head. “You know what? In the ten-plus years I’ve lived and worked in this town, I never did that with anyone to get a job or anything. I know guys that do, too – even straight guys who wouldn’t give another guy a second look. If letting a director or a producer or a casting guy suck them off will get them somewhere, they do it like that,” he said, snapping his fingers. But not me.” He let out another long breath and sat back down on the couch, resting his hands on the bulge in his jeans and tapping it gently with his thumbs. “I’ve always been kinda proud of that,” he added, returning Donny’s little smile. He turned, moving close enough that he could feel his warmth and pick up the familiar scent of his aftershave. “I didn’t mean for it to happen,” he said softly, almost urgently. “It just did. And there are some things that – well, they defy explanation. But the one thing I do know is that you still mean a lot to me, Donny, and if there was any way I could make it up to you, I’ll do my damnedest.”

Donny stared at him for a moment, then leaned back and smiled. “I know you will,” he said softly, without irony, and without anger. He stood up. “Listen, thanks for a great dinner. It’s really good to see you. I’m really glad you’re back in town, and I’m glad you bought the house. It’s... great.”

Mike stood up. “Gotta go?”

“Yeah, we’ve hired a new finance guy and I need to make sure I have my shit together for him.”

Mike nodded, “Well, okay.” He gave Donny a strong hug, pressing his hardness against Donny’s thigh. Donny returned the hug and he let Mike kiss him quickly, then turned and headed for the house, doing his best not to seem rude and also not to cave into the warmth that was spreading and weakening his resolve.

At the front door Mike patted him on the butt and said, “I’ll call you. I’ll be back here in a month and we’ll go up to Idyllwild for the weekend, okay?” Donny just nodded, waved, and drove off, the trembling subsiding only when he was almost halfway home.

Eric and Danny were in the living room watching TV. Danny said, “So?”

“We had a good time.” Donny sat in the recliner and picked up the TV guide. Danny looked at his brother, smiled wanly, shook his head, then reached in his pocket, pulled out a five dollar bill, and handed it to Eric. “Ha,” said Eric. “Told you.”

“Told him what?” said Donny.

Danny looked at his twin dolefully. “He bet me five bucks you wouldn’t have sex with Mike.”

“How do you know I didn’t?”

Danny shook his head. “It’s not even nine o’clock, you’re not sweaty, you haven’t taken a shower, and .... I can tell you didn’t.”

“Ha,” said Eric again.

Donny just shook his head. “You guys,” he muttered, not letting on that if it hadn’t have been for that afternoon at the gym and catching that bit of the soap opera, Eric might well have lost the bet.

Chapter Guide