Thursday, June 22, 2006

Small Town Boys - Chapter 35

Rocky Mountain High

Donny had just gotten a cup of coffee when Greg called. It was a little after eight and the office was quiet; Lily was opening his mail and Irene was watering the plants after the long weekend.

“You got my message last night?” Greg said. He sounded tired.

“Yeah. What’s up?”

“Dad’s sending over one of his associates to go through the files. Park’em in my office.”

“Okay,” Donny said, looking at the five boxes he had hauled in from the store room as soon as he’d gotten to the office. They were stacked on his conference table. “What’s going on?”

Greg audibly sighed. “I’ll tell you when we get back tomorrow.” He didn’t sound happy, and Donny decided not to push him on it.

“So how’s the expo going?” he said.

“Good,” said Greg. “A lot of interest in us and even some celebrity spotting. Michelle won a hundred bucks at the craps table. What’d you do this weekend?”

“Not much.”

“Okay. I’ll call you back if I get the chance.”

“Let me know if there’s anything I can do.”

“I will. See ya.”

Donny hung up and stared at the boxes. They were neatly labeled and had a fine coating of dust on the top. He wondered what was in there that was suddenly so important. He summoned Margaret and they moved the boxes to Greg’s office, clearing a space on his conference table.

Half an hour later Lily buzzed him and announced that a Mr. Lowry was here to see him. “Let him in,” he said.

Mr. Lowry turned out to be a tall young black man with a serious expression. He was dressed in typical lawyer garb – a conservative navy blue suit and grey tie. He solemnly shook Donny’s hand, shifting his black leather briefcase to his left hand. “Good morning, Mr. Hollenbeck. I’m Justin Lowry from Mr. McKay’s office.”

“Right,” Donny replied, “you’re here to...”

“That’s right.”

“Follow me, please.”

They went to Greg’s office. Justin put down his briefcase, took the lid off the first box, and ran his fingers across the row of file tabs. “Very good,” he said, almost to himself.

“Can I get you something? Cup of coffee?” Donny offered.

“No, thank you,” replied Justin, deftly taking off his jacket and hanging it carefully on the coat track. He took the lids off all of the boxes, laid them carefully on the table, and in a gesture that reminding Donny of a scene in some movie where the doctor approached an autopsy table preparing to examine a cadaver, carefully pulled the first file folder out the first box.

“Okay,” Donny said. “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.”

For the first time the lawyer smiled a little. “Thank you. Close the door after you, please,” said Justin.

Donny went back to his office and got absorbed in his work. At noon he told Lily he was going to get a sandwich and looked at Greg’s office. The door was closed, and still was when he came back.

“Any sign of life?” he asked Lily quietly, glancing at the closed door. She shook her head, then corrected herself. “About ten minutes ago he went to the bathroom.”

A few minutes later his private line rang. He was expecting Greg, but it was Mike. “Hey,” he said over the sound of someone pounding a hammer in the background, “had a chance to type it up?”


“The treatment.”

“Oh. Uh, no, not yet.” The script idea had completely slipped his mind. “I’ll...I’ll do it now,” he said, swiveling around to his computer. “What should I do with it?”

“I’ll handle it. Just bring it home with you. Listen, I told Milo I had heard about this interesting story about four guys sharing a house and he thinks it’s a good idea.”

“You didn’t mention my name, did you?”

“Nah. Just ‘heard on the street’ kinda stuff.”

“Okay, good.”

“All right. Well, I’ll see you tonight.”


Donny looked at the stack of invoices still to be approved and the latest batch of resumes that had come in because of the Sunday article, then booted up the word processing program. In fifteen minutes he’d printed out the two pages of the treatment for Small Town Boys. He grabbed an empty plastic report binder from the supply closet, slid the papers into it and tossed it on the desk in his “go home” pile with his mail and car keys.

A few minutes before five Justin tapped on his door. “I’m leaving now, Mr. Hollenbeck. Is there some place I can put the files under lock and key?”

“Let’s bring them in here,” Donny suggested, and they did. He suppressed an urge to ask Justin what he was looking for; he had the impression that Justin wouldn’t tell him, even though Donny knew what was written on each piece of paper and had written most of them himself.

Greg had not called back, so Donny went home with no more idea of what was going on than when he arrived in the morning.

He was about to head out the door for the gym when his phone rang. It was Marc.

“Hey, I’m back.”

“Great. How was it?”

Silence for a moment then, “Okay. You, uh, free for dinner?”

“Sure. Here or there?”

More silence, then, “Here. I’ve been traveling all day and I don’t feel like fighting rush hour. I need to clean up and put stuff away. Get here about eight and we’ll go to that Mexican place down the street.”

Marc looked tired; his eyes were red and bleary, and it looked like he hadn’t slept for a couple of days. He gave Donny a perfunctory hug and a kiss on the cheek and was silent as they walked to the restaurant. It was quiet except for tinny mariachi music playing in the background. The waitress brought a basket of chips and salsa. Donny ordered a Dos Equis; Marc asked for iced tea.

Donny told him about the call from Greg, and Justin’s arrival. Marc stared at the chips basket and slowly picked out one.

“I think I know,” he said quietly.

“You’re one up on me,” said Donny. “What’s going on?”

Marc shook his head. “Just a theory. I’d rather not say.”

Donny snorted. “Look, I may not know a hell of a lot about business, but even I know that when you have a lawyer in a closed office going through boxes of files and then locking them up at night, I figure there’s something going on that’s kinda serious. I’m a partner in the company. I think I have a right to know.”

“That’s just it, Donny. I don’t know. I’m guessing, and I may be way the hell off base.”

“Right now I’d settle for that.”

The waiter brought the drinks and Marc took a long drink of his tea before he looked at Donny and nodded. “Okay. A couple of weeks ago I heard that another company was working on a product to compete with Pelican. No big deal, right? Lots of software companies offer competing products like Lotus, Oracle, Microsoft, yada yada.”

“Yeah,” said Donny. “It was only a matter of time, I guess. I mean, it’s not like we invented the wheel or something.”

“Exactly. So, my guess is that Greg saw the new product at the expo and wanted to make sure that we’re selling a better product.”

“So what do we need a lawyer for?”

Marc shrugged. “Could be a patent attorney.”

“The guy had me lock the files in my office. They’ve been sitting in the warehouse for over a year, stuck in the rafters and covered with dust and bat crap. Why the sudden security?”

“Lawyers,” said Marc as if that answered the question.

They ordered dinner and munched chips while a family with two small children settled in at the table across the way from them. Marc smirked a little. “No matter where I go in a restaurant, I always get stuck at a table next to noisy kids.” As if to prove his point, the youngest child began to wail for no discernible reason.

“So how was Colorado?” Donny asked casually.

“Okay,” replied Marc, fiddling with the straw wrapper. He rolled it up into a ball and deftly flicked it in the general direction of the family. It fell on the floor and rolled unnoticed under the table.

“You want to talk about it?” Donny ventured.

Marc licked his lips, looked away, then looked at Donny. His expression was somber, almost mournful, and Donny instantly regretted asking the question. “Look, I’m sorry. Forget it.”

“No, it’s okay. Marc took off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose, closing his eyes. “I’ve been talking about it for the last week.” He looked around the restaurant. Several more people had come in and the place was filling up. “But let’s wait until after dinner, okay?”

“Whatever you say,” said Donny.

“So... what’d you do this last weekend?” asked Marc?

Donny shrugged. “Went with Mike to see his new house up in Idyllwild. Hung out. That’s about it.”

The waiter brought their plates, cautioning them to careful; they were very hot.

They were half-way back to Marc’s apartment, waiting for the light to change before crossing the street, when Marc asked suddenly, “Do you remember the moment when you knew for certain that you were gay?”

The light changed and they started across, dodging a cab that was making a right turn on the red light. “I don’t think it was a ‘moment,’” replied Donny. “But I think that first time jerking off with Craig at Lorenzen’s quarry kinda sealed the deal, if you know what I mean.”

“But you knew before then, didn’t you?”

“I guess so.” Donny remembered that when he was eight or so he saw the movie Superman and couldn’t take his eyes off Christopher Reeve in the tight-fitting costume. When he was twelve he couldn’t figure out what all the fuss was about when Stan Tasker filched a couple of Playboy magazines and went ape over the centerfolds. But he didn’t remember either of those events meaning much more than he wanted to be muscular when he grew up, and that at some point he would figure out what was so enchanting about women’s breast. Marc nodded and they continued walking in silence, Donny wondering what this was leading to and what it had to do going to Colorado for a week.

They got to his apartment building and Marc fumbled for his keys. He motioned Donny to come in and tossed his keys on the table. “You want something – water, soda?”

“No, I’m fine.”

Marc nodded and kicked off his shoes. His open suitcase was on the floor in the middle of the living room with clothes strewn half-in, half-out. Marc stepped around it, got a glass of water from the kitchen and leaned against the little counter that divided it from the living room. “Well,” he said, “it was a thunderbolt for me.”

“Beg pardon?”

“Figuring out I was gay,” Marc said, and Donny realized this was a continuation of the conversation that had started in the cross-walk. “I had no idea what being gay was. Or straight, for that matter. I mean, I knew what sex was – what kid doesn’t? But I never really thought about it when I was a kid, and when I hit puberty I figured that I’d grow up, meet a girl, fall in love, get married, have kids, yada, yada....” He drank some of the water and chuckled. “That was probably from growing up with divorced parents and wondering what life would be like in a ‘normal’ marriage. I lived with my mom who really didn’t know how to talk to a boy about growing up, and my step dad...well, the less said about him the better.” Marc scowled at the thought. “He’s a nice guy to my mom, but he and I just never.... God knows I tried, but....” Marc chuckled hollowly. “I’m sure there’s some Freudian shit mixed up in it, and the fact that he is a pretty hard-core right-winger who blames the queers and the commies for everything didn’t help.”

“Guess not.”

“Funny; my dad’s pretty conservative, too, but we get along okay. I guess when you live and ranch in Colorado and have to deal with all the government red tape you get tired of it.”

“You see your dad much growing up?”

“Summers,” said Marc. “I’d go up from June through August and work on the ranch with him and Jessica – she’s my step mom. That was cool.” Donny noticed that Marc was staring at the picture over the TV set. It was a large photo of a full moon rising over snowcapped mountains, and there were soft dots of yellow light at the base. Donny had never paid attention to it before, but he figured it must be the view from his father’s ranch or some place like it. Marc was silent for a moment, then he seemed to snap out of it. He looked at Donny. “Then all of a sudden I was in high school – boarding school – in Colorado Springs, and one day, wham.” He thumped his fist on the countertop for emphasis. “There he was, staring me right in the face. Barry Kessler.”

“Guy in your class?” asked Donny.

Marc refilled his water glass. “No. Nothing so simple. He was a teacher – my math teacher – and the assistant football coach.”

“Oh,” replied Donny softly. “I see.”

Marc glanced at Donny. “Yeah. I know it sounds like something out of a really bad made-for-TV movie with Kristy McNichol and Markie Post – except it was Robby Benson and Harry Hamlin. But it wasn’t like that. I never – we never – it was just – nothing happened at school. But we both knew there was something and we were really close. I told him everything, and he was like my older brother. When my grandmother died he drove me to the airport and picked me up when I came back. He listened to me complain about how I hated my roommate and how much I loved math and why wasn’t I getting any bigger in the weight room and how come the Broncos couldn’t find a decent backup quarterback and all the shit that I could think about just so I could be around him. I couldn’t stop thinking about him. I watched him in class, I watched him on the field, I even sat at the dining room table so I could see him sitting at the other table with his wife – oh, yeah, he was married. Beth was her name. I wanted to see him. I wanted to be him. I wanted.... Well, you know what I wanted. And...” Marc faded off, staring once again at the photograph. The moon seemed to be too large for reality; maybe it was trick photography.

“You went for it?” Donny prompted, breaking his internal vow to keep quiet.

“No. I told you nothing happened then. After a while – like after the first semester – I got used to being around him and I got used to having this major crush on him. He was just there. And he was there the next year, and the next, and the next, and I just... let it be. I knew I was gay and I even knew other kids who were and we’d talk about it, and I even had other guys come on to me – never out in the open – just the usual bull sessions and jerking off in the locker room shower and crap like that. You know. You played football.”

“Yeah,” Donny said. “I remember. So what does this have to do with going to Colorado last week?”

Marc held up his hand. “I’m getting to that.”

“Okay, sorry.”

“The day that I graduated I shook his hand, said goodbye, and tried to put him behind me. Well, a week later I was at my dad’s ranch working, thinking about college, not thinking about school any more, and he called me up out of the blue. He was in town, passing through on his way to Utah, Idaho, somewhere, whatever. Would I like to meet up and have lunch? I said sure. I took the pickup, drove into town, we had lunch at the local diner, and then he said, hey, come on over to where I’m staying and let’s hang out. So I followed him over to the Holiday Inn or the Travel Lodge or whatever the hell it is, and we’re not in the room ten seconds before we have our clothes off and we are going at it like you wouldn’t believe. I swear to God, we must have done it about five times in one afternoon and the only reason we stopped was because I had to get the truck back home so Dad and Jessica could go pick up some hay. It was like something out of a porno flick.”

Donny remembered the first time he and Marc had had sex at the Villa. He remembered Marc’s passion and energy and imagined what it must have been like with someone he’d been wanting for four years. He felt himself blush in spite of himself.

“And then I drove home,” Marc continued. “My legs and cock were sore for two days. I never heard from him again until the week after this past Christmas when he was arrested on multiple counts of sexual molestation of minors, including three boys at the school last summer and two that he had met through friends of those kids.”

“Jesus,” Donny whispered.

Marc rubbed his eyes with his fists. “And to make matters even more interesting, the bastard kept a diary. He listed every guy he’d ever slept with. He wrote their names down, he wrote full descriptions of them, including their height, their weight, their hair color, the size of their dick, whether it was cut or uncut...everything. And he wrote out the details of all the sex he’d had with them – everything. It was all there.”

“Including you.”

Marc laughed softly. “Oh, no. I wasn’t just a diary entry. I was practically a whole book. He had written down everything about me from the day I walked into his classroom when I was a freshman to the day we finally got it on in his motel. It must have been a hundred pages dedicated to the life and times of Marc Griffin. There was a whole chapter on me taking a shower after we lost a game and how the tears of our loss mingled with the sweat from my body and the water from the showerhead.”

“You read it?”

“I had to.” Marc went back to the kitchen and put the water glass in the sink. “The reason I went to Colorado was to give a deposition for the defense.”

“The defense?” said Donny incredulously.

“Yep,” said Marc flatly. “I’m being called to testify that Defendant Kessler never acted inappropriately towards me or even gave the appearance of improper behavior when I was a student and that it wasn’t until after I had graduated that we had sex, that I had been a consenting participant in it, and that I was of legal age when it happened.” He paused and leaned against the counter, his shoulders sagging. “And it’s all true, Donny. He never touched me when I was at school. We were never alone together, and the closest he came to doing anything that could possibly be considered of a sexual nature was the big bear hug he gave me the day I graduated.” Marc shook his head. “Oh, he knew what he was doing, all right. He was very, very careful.”

“So how did he get busted?”

“His wife found a crumpled-up page of one of the diaries stuffed in a trash bag last summer. She started snooping around, she found the rest of the collection, she filed for divorce and subpoenaed the diaries as evidence. They arrested him over Christmas break.”

“You said he was very, very careful.”

“He was. Never went after a kid who was a student or who he thought was underage. But one of the kids who wasn’t a student had a fake ID and turned out to be seventeen instead of whatever age Kessler thought he was, and....”

“So now what happens?”

“I may be called to testify at the trial. In his defense. And if I am.... My dad....”

“He doesn’t know.”

“No. About any of it. I never told him about Kessler, I never told him about his arrest; he doesn’t know about...anything.” Marc took a deep breath. “Look, I’ll make it easy for you guys. I’ll submit my letter of resignation effective at the end of the month. That way you can get someone else in there before I go.”

“Bullshit,” said Donny firmly, reflexively. “No fucking way.”

“I knew you’d say that, but hear me out,” Marc replied just as firmly. “There’s no way I can stay on the job if I have to testify. My name would be all over the papers as the one witness who testified in the defense of a pedophile, and if I’m working for McKay-Gemini, the papers would say that. They’d come after you, too; not just as the guy who hired me but as the guy I’ve been sleeping with. Are you ready for that? I’m not going to ask you go through that. You or Eric or Greg or anybody else. This is my problem, not yours.

“Yeah, well, we’re not going to just step aside and let you go through it alone, either.”

Marc snorted. “Oh, don’t be so fucking noble, Donny. It’s not worth it.”

“Have you talked to a lawyer about it?”

“Who the hell do you think I’ve been talking to for the last two months?”

“No, I mean about leaving the company.”

“No,” Marc admitted. “That’s my own idea.”

“Well, then, we’re going to talk to Allen first. You haven’t told Eric or Greg yet, have you?”

“No. I figured I’d try it out on you first. You’re the VP of personnel.”

“Then shut up about it.” Donny went over to Marc, and silently offered him a hug. To his great surprise he felt Marc start to shake. He heard him gasp back a sob, and they held each other until Marc stopped shaking. He sniffed heavily and wiped his eyes with a piece of paper towel.

“It’s all right. It’s just that...” He sighed and closed his eyes for a moment. “Y’know, the one thing I’ve always been proud of is my ability to assess a situation and figure out how to handle it before it gets out of control. It’s just the way I am. I plan things out and I work to achieve them. I don’t believe in just trying to get through life without bumping into the furniture. I knew I wanted to go to Stanford from the minute I entered high school; I knew I wanted to get a job in finance, and I knew I had to get to meet the right people to do it. Doesn’t mean I did anything outside the bounds of how they should be done because... well, what the hell is the point of doing something if you have to cheat to get it?” He gulped and looked at Donny. “And then shit like this happens.” They held each other for a while, not saying anything, then Marc wiped his eyes and laughed. “Y’know, the worst part was that I lost my virginity to that asshole. What a waste.”

“You should have waited for me,” said Donny.

“You were worth waiting for,” Marc said, cracking a smile. That broke the tension, and they laughed until they were exhausted, then they hugged and kissed. Marc sighed and kicked his suitcase gently. “I’m beat to shit. I’m gonna hit the sack. I’d love it if you stayed over, but then I’d never get any sleep.”

“Not a problem,” Donny said, heading for the door. “I’ve gotta get some myself,” “And no more of this talk about resignation. Forget it.”

Marc wedged his hands in his pockets. “We’ll talk about it when Greg gets back,” he said. He opened the door. “See ya.”

Donny drove home in a haze, not paying attention to the music on the radio, only subliminally alert to the traffic around him. He tried to imagine what Marc was going through; having to sit in a courtroom and talk about his sex life in front of strangers. He wondered what his parents would think if somehow the story got into the papers. Marc Griffin, 26, a former student of the defendant, testified that he and Kessler engaged in multiple sex acts on one afternoon in June 1987 at a motel in rural Colorado. Griffin, the former chief financial officer for McKay-Gemini, a Los Angeles-based software company, was once linked romantically to Donald Hollenbeck, the vice president for personnel at the company. Hollenbeck was in court to offer moral support to the handsome young witness. A horn honked and Donny jumped; the light had changed to green. He stomped on the gas and laid a little rubber.

Danny had his tech manuals spread across the dining room table. Mike wasn’t home yet. Donny got a beer and told Danny about Marc. When he finished, his brother shook his head. “Jesus, that’s rough. Think he’ll really do it?”

“Quit? He sounds like it.”

“You think he should?” Danny asked. Donny looked at him to see if he was playing devil’s advocate.

“I don’t know. It’s not like he’s done anything wrong.”

“That’s right.”

“It’s the other guy – Kessler – who’s in trouble. He’s just being called as a witness.”

“Right,” agreed Danny. “If it was you; what would you do? Would you quit?”

“I don’t know.”

His brother looked askance. “Oh, come on; yes, you do. You wouldn’t. I wouldn’t. It happened seven years ago, he was legal, and it had nothing whatever to do with what he’s doing now. Look at it this way, twin. Would you quit your job here because Craig’s wife found out you and he used to jerk off together? Think I’d resign my commission ‘cause of my little one-time shot in the dark with him? No way.” Danny flipped one of the notebooks closed. “Don’t let Marc screw up his career with you guys ‘cause of it.”

“Yeah, but Craig’s not going on trial for sex with a minor,” Donny said.

Danny snorted. “Only a matter of time, twin. Let me ask you something. Do you feel anything for Marc?”

“You mean, like...?”


Donny nodded, “Yeah, I do. But that shouldn’t have....”

“Sure it should,” Danny countered. “He’s a friend. This isn’t just business, Donny. The guy needs friends right now. For a moment stop thinking like a corporate drone and think about what he’s going through.” Danny smiled wistfully. “You and me have been pretty fuckin’ lucky, you know that? We’ve got each other – always there, even when we weren’t together. Marc needs someone like that now.” He picked up the binder with the treatment that Donny had left on the table. “Hey, I read this. Looks good.”

“Oh, shit, I meant to leave that for Mike.”

“What’s he gonna do with it?”

“I dunno, show it to some people. I don’t expect anything, actually. I think he was just blowing smoke up my ass.”

Donny put the binder on Mike’s bed. He went to bed after the late news and forgot all about it.

Chapter Guide


Friday, June 16, 2006

Small Town Boys - Chapter 34

Clear Air

Donny was glad he brought a jacket. He had gone from using the air conditioning while driving out of town to turning on the heater once they topped out the switchbacks climbing out of Banning off I-10, and when they leveled off at the top of the ridge and drove past the Lake Fulmer rest area and Pine Cove, there were still clumps of dirty snow under the trees.

The house looked the same from the outside except the yard had been cleaned up and the driveway was covered with a new layer of gravel. Mike twirled the key ring on his finger, whistled as he crossed the porch, and flung open the front door.

The scent of varnish, furniture polish, and new carpeting greeted them. The log walls had been shined and the floor buffed to a warm glow. The furniture – mission style chairs and couch in dark wood with light brown cushions and matching coffee table – was arranged neatly in the great room, and the fireplace had been cleaned and logs placed on the andirons ready to be lit. The area rug with a bright red and yellow Navajo pattern set the tone for the wall décor, which were tasteful prints of mountain and desert scenery in rough-hewn frames. There were even magazines on the coffee table and placemats on the six-place dining table between the great room and the kitchen area.

The kitchen had been cleaned to a surgical shine, utensils neatly hung on the wall, and the cupboards stocked. Mike kept whistling as he led Donny back to the guest rooms where the mission style theme continued with matching beds and dressers in each. Upstairs the master bedroom had a large bed that rivaled that of the one in Paul Jeffries’ home. The thick pile carpet, the heavy block dresser, and the subtle light trim on the rest of the furniture gave the room a comfortable masculine feel. Across the hall the guest suite had a large double bed, a matching dresser and desk. The bathrooms were all equipped with fresh towels and the beds were all made with new linens and quilted bedspreads.

“Well, whaddaya think?” said Mike as they went down the curving stair and out to the back deck. The planks had been sanded and varnished, but the strong scent of the pine trees overwhelmed the chemical smell, and the sun bounced off the shining wood to the point that Donny squinted for a moment until his eyes adjusted.

“Jesus,” said Donny, “when did you do all of this?”

Mike chuckled. “Brucie has a decorator on speed-dial. Most of it came with the place and the rest she picked up at Pier One.” He pointed at the hot tub. “That’s all set up and ready to go, too. The best part is that Brucie’s got it on the rental list so when I’m not here she rents it out to rich high class tourists by the week for enough money to cover everything – mortgage, utilities, the whole shootin’ match – for a month. All she’s gotta do is rent it out for eight weeks every year and the place pays for itself.”

“So what if you want to come up here and it’s rented out?” Donny asked.

“I just give her a couple of days’ notice and she moves the renters to the house down the road. Pretty much the same deal.” Mike grinned shyly. “Although Brucie says there’s something to renting out the house of a ‘star.’” He leaned on the deck rail and took a deep breath of the cold dry air. He fumbled for a cigarette, thought better of it, and inhaled again. “Damn, smell that pine. Jesus, this is a beautiful place. I could stay here forever.”

They brought in their luggage, Donny tossing his duffel in the guest room upstairs, and then went into town to the little supermarket to pick up groceries, including bread, fresh produce, a couple of steaks for dinner, and some wine. As he was picking through the lettuce, Donny noticed Julian standing at the meat counter. They exchanged greetings, Julian nodding at him and murmuring a soft “How are you?”

“Good,” replied Donny. “You?”

Julian cocked an eyebrow. “Good health, good spirits,” but he said it as if it was an automatic response. “Are you here with...?”

“Yeah, Mike’s over there,” Donny said, indicating the liquor aisle. “Just up for the long weekend.”

“Hmm,” he said, sounding a bit surprised, but didn’t elaborate.

“How’s Ben?” Donny asked.

Julian shook his head slightly. “Well, actually, he’s in the hospital in Palm Springs. Nothing serious,” he added, seeing Donny’s shocked expression. “Just a flare-up of an old complaint and they’re running a couple of tests. He should be coming home tomorrow or the next day.”

“Still,” said Donny, “I’m sorry. Give him my best.”

“Will do.”

“Say, would you like to come to dinner tonight?” Donny said, realizing as he said it that he probably should check with Mike. “We owe you for that time at the Chart House.”

Julian smiled genially. “You’re sweet, but I’m heading down the hill this afternoon to see Ben and won’t be back until late. I wouldn’t want to impose,” he added, glancing over as Mike came back to the shopping cart with two bottles of wine and a six pack of Olympia. They exchanged greetings and Donny filled him in on Ben.

“Wow, sorry to hear that,” said Mike. “Nothing serious, I hope.”

“Oh, no,” said Julian, repeating the line about the ‘old complaint.’ The butcher put his order on the top of the counter and Julian picked it up. “Well, good to see you boys again.” He smiled quickly and went to the check-out line.

“Damn,” said Mike as they were driving home.

“Forget something?” said Donny, taking his foot off the gas.

“No, nothing like that. Ben. I’ll bet I know what the ‘old complaint’ is.”


Mike shook his head. “AIDS.”

“How do you know?”

“I don’t. But....”

“But what?”

“How many guys do you know that age that have to go into the hospital? He’s what, forty-five? Maybe if he was sixty or something.”

“It could be anything,” Donny countered. “An ulcer. His heart. Or it could be something like a trick knee. ‘Sides, the last time I saw him, he looked okay.”

“When was that?”

“’Bout a year ago,” Donny conceded, remembering the weekend at the Villa when he had sat with Ben and Julian after dinner.

“Things can happen in a year.”

After lunch they went for a walk up the road beyond the house and up the hillside. They went by several more homes, all large, all set back from the road, some behind high fences. The road narrowed and became less traveled, and after a half-mile there were no more houses; just trees, the hillside, and the narrow ditch along the road that collected the run-off. The manzanitas and pines thinned out so there was more bare ground and wider patches of snow. They came to a turnaround and hopped over a brown Forest Service gate with a sign that said “No Unauthorized Vehicles Beyond This Point.” The road became a dusty two-track.

After another half-mile the road ended at another turnaround that overlooked the valley below. A row of large boulders were lined up in a semi-circle at the edge of the lookout. Apparently some people had recently made the hike up the road; there were a couple of empty bottles and a crumpled Marlboro pack next to one of the boulders. Mike leaned up against one of the rocks, shoved his hands in his pockets and looked out over the vista. Donny unzipped his jacket. It was warmer now and the sun felt good.

A large jay squawked and chattered across the valley. It got a response further down the hill. It flapped noisily out of the tree and soared down the hill.

After a few minutes of silence, Mike said, “You know that idea you had?”

Donny thought for a couple of seconds, then shook his head. “No.”

“The one last week when we were working on the script. About the sitcom.”

“You mean about making Josh gay?”


“What about it?”

Mike leaned against the rock and pulled out his cigarettes. “I’ve been thinking about it.”

“You said it wouldn’t work.”

“No, not for this show. But for another series. Something different.”

“Like what?”

Mike lit a cigarette and offered one to Donny. “What kind of show would you watch if it had gay characters?” he asked.

Donny smoked half his cigarette and listened to the jays chattering down the hill. “Well,” he finally said, picking up a beer bottle and flicking the ash into it, “Not a sitcom, but something like thirtysomething, maybe. Y’know, something where the characters aren’t just stereotypes. People with lives, jobs, friends, relationships. The only thing is that they’re gay, that’s all.”

“Yeah? Go on.”

Donny shrugged. “That’s it. Just... that. They have all the same problems and shit that everybody has except that they’re gay. I wouldn’t do all the shit about wild parties and disco and crap like that; I’d make ‘em real. And it wouldn’t all be about them being gay. I mean, they know they’re gay, so there’s none of the big whoop about them coming out and stuff. They’d just have normal lives. And they all wouldn’t be perfect hunks, either.” Donny grinned for a second. “Well, maybe one or two, but not everyone’s buff or beautiful.” Mike looked at him for a moment, and Donny shrugged. “Sounds boring, eh?”

“No,” Mike replied, slowly starting to grin. “I think it’s a great idea. The lives of average people have been the stuff of drama forever. It’s what happens to them and how they deal with it that makes it interesting.” He finished his cigarette and dropped the butt in the bottle. “Think you could write up a treatment?”

“A what?”

“A treatment. An outline.”

“I don’t know anything about scriptwriting.”

“You don’t have to. Just crank out a one-page outline with a list of characters and a description of them and what they’re like and a basic plot premise. Hell, I’ve got a couple of treatments back at the house; I brought ‘em with me for some series that Marty wants me to look over if Return to Sender bombs. Use them as models.”

“Why don’t you do it?”

“’Cause it’s your idea, Donny. I’ll help you.”

“Then what?”

“I’ll show it to some people and see if anyone’s interested.”

Donny bent down, picked up a small rock, and tossed it down the hill. It banged against a tree trunk. “I get it,” he said. “If I do it, your name’s not on it. You can say that you got this treatment from somebody and it’s about a bunch of gay guys and.... Right? Keep your distance in case they all hate it.”

Mike looked at Donny and grinned sheepishly. “Yeah. But still, one of the things I’ve been wanting to do is get into producing and development. Paul’s been telling me that if I can get out there with something, I can do more than just be an actor waiting for the next thing to come along, living from series to series or movie to movie, or whatever.” He picked up a stone and tossed it idly after Donny’s. “But I’m serious. I think it’s a good idea.”

“You think TV is ready for it?”

Mike shook his head. “Network TV. Are you kidding? They’re still freaked out over Murphy Brown’s baby. But cable; HBO, Showtime... that’s where it’s gonna happen. You remember a series a while back called Brothers?”


“It was a sitcom about a guy who owned a bar in Philadelphia, and he had a gay brother. There were some other gay characters, all very normal; well, there was one flamer, but what did you expect in a sitcom? It was on for about four seasons back in the eighties.”

Donny shrugged. “Missed it. Never even heard of it.”

“It was on Showtime. It was like the first real TV show that didn’t show gays as prissy little queens or that hated themselves for being gay, or have a devastated mommy and daddy because their precious little boy was a faggot.” Mike paused for a second. “It also was one of the first shows to talk about AIDS.”

“We didn’t have cable then,” Donny said. “So you want to develop this for cable?”

“Whatever. Whoever will go for it. But I mean it. I’ll show you some of the treatments and you take a shot at it.”

Donny nodded noncommittally. “What the hell,” he said.

Mike dropped a manila envelope on the dining table. “Check ‘em out. There’s four treatments and a pilot script in there. Marty is always on the prowl.”

Donny slid the scripts out of the envelope. Two of them were bound in report covers, much like a high school term paper, one in red, the other in blue. One was done in an elaborate binding like a corporate annual report complete with coated stock paper and color drawings of characters and scenery. The last one was just three pages stapled together like a memo, paper-clipped to the script in standard studio binding like the ones from Return to Sender.

“Meanwhile,” Mike said, “I’m going out to the garage to assemble the grille that was delivered today. Don’t want to grille steaks in the broiler.”

Donny settled into one of the chairs by the fireplace and skimmed through the treatments. The elaborate one was for an action series called Black Ops and read like a combination of Mission: Impossible, The A-Team, and Delta Force. The premise was that the government had a small band of super-secret agents known only to the president and the head of the CIA who would go into a trouble spot and rescue hostages, overthrow evil governments, or take down corrupt officials. The cast was diverse with geeks, hunks, women, and a smart-ass child prodigy, and they all had high-tech equipment that boggled the mind. The pictures and plot outlines read like the show was a done deal and was going to be a huge hit, but Donny wondered who wouldn’t see this as just another warmed-over secret agent script from a 007 movie or a hundred other shows like it. He tossed it on the coffee table.

The next treatment was the one in blue. It was a romantic comedy called Keeping In Touch about a guy and a girl who lived in adjacent apartments in San Francisco. She was deaf and he was blind. That went on the coffee table, too. The red one was apparently by the same author, except it was about life in a retirement home and the hijinks that went on there. It was called Silver Threads and Donny recognized it as a rip-off of the Golden Girls, even down to the insult-spouting granny.

The three-page treatment on the script was called Back Home Again. It was a family drama set in the Midwest. It told the story of twin brothers Pete and Dave Granger. They were seniors in high school in 1968 and facing the draft. Dave goes, but Pete runs off to Canada. Fast-forward to the 1980’s after President Carter grants amnesty and Pete, now a music teacher in Toronto, returns home to reconcile with his family and make up with Dave, whom he hasn’t seen since they were eighteen.

Donny started reading the script. He was about half-way through it when he heard a loud clatter, followed by an exasperated “Shit!” from the garage. “Need a hand?” he shouted.


He helped Mike assemble the grille, which took most of the rest of the afternoon. They fired it up and christened it with the T-bones they’d bought that morning. Donny made a salad and baked some potatoes. Mike uncorked a bottle of red wine and they ate at the table with the fireplace going and George Winston piano music on the stereo.

As Mike was wiping off the counter after washing the dishes, he said, “Why don’t we hop in the hot tub for a little after-dinner soak?”

The night air was cold out on the deck. They got the new large towels out of the linen closet and Mike folded back the cover, releasing a huge cloud of steam.

Mike dipped his in the water. “Whoa, it’s perfect. Hot, but not too hot.” He went back into the house, grabbed the wine glasses and the half-full bottle off the table, and turned off the lights in the kitchen and over the dining table, leaving just the fireplace casting an orange glow. “Shall we?” said Mike.

Donny pulled off his shirt and kicked off his shoes, piling his clothes on the redwood bench. Mike did the same, then they slowly immersed themselves into the bubbling water. Mike poured a little wine into their glasses and let out a sigh of utter contentment.

Donny leaned back and closed his eyes, letting the warmth relax him almost to the point of sleep. He’d been tense all week from the preparations for the expo and he’d taken it out on his arms and chest at the gym. The walk that afternoon had provoked some soreness in his calves, but now they were letting go.

Mike nudged his foot with his big toe and said quietly, “So, what did you think of the treatments?”

“Hmm,” replied Donny just as quietly.

“Figure out how to do one?”

“Yeah, it’s like writing a book report for English class.”

“Any thoughts as to which one I should take seriously?”

Donny opened his eyes and sat up a little. He took a swallow of wine, which added to the warmth. “Well, not the one in the rest home. That’s stupid.”

“Yeah, no shit.”

“And the one about the blind guy and the deaf girl is also pretty lame.”

“It’s a rip-off with a twist from Butterflies Are Free.”

“Yeah, well, it’s not even funny. It’s kinda sick in a way.”

“They’re both from the same guy. He cranks ‘em out like a Xerox machine and hopes that someone will buy them.”

“Good luck, fella,” muttered Donny.

“Well, he managed to get someone to buy at least one. He’s the brains behind Return to Sender.”

“No shit? Well, you can see how good that’s going if some kid from Ohio can make it better.”

Mike snorted. “Well, what about Black Ops?”

“Enh. Another action series. There’s too many out there already.”

“What’d you think of the presentation? Pretty slick.”

Donny shook his head. “Big deal. Someone spent a lot of money at Kinko’s to make it look good, but it’s still the same old stuff.”

“You’re right. What about the one about the twin brothers?”

Donny chuckled. “I liked that one.”

“I thought you might.”

“Well, not just because of the twin thing. It’s a good story and there’s not a lot of clichés. Not too many shows out there are talking about things like that.”

“Like what?”

“The war. How it divided families and what happened after it. What it’s like when brothers go in different directions.”

“That’s right.” Mike leaned back, letting his body float in the water. Donny looked admiringly at his strong arms and shoulders and felt a slight twinge of desire. But just a slight one, and it didn’t manifest itself in any other way. He sipped his wine. “Well,” Mike continued, “I’m glad you like it because I think that’s the one I’m gonna tell Marty to take. And besides, you’re partly responsible for it.”


“Remember meeting a guy at Paul’s party last Christmas named Aaron White?”

Donny tried to recall the party where he and Danny and Marc and Mike had milled around the back yard nodding and smiling at people and nibbling on guacamole dip with green and red chips. He’d met a lot of people, but the name of Aaron White didn’t come back from the many people he’d been introduced to. “I guess.”

“Yeah, well, he remembered meeting you and Danny. He asked Paul all about you two, wanting to know your story, et cetera. I guess he got the idea for it from meeting twins who had gone in different directions; one into the military, the other who didn’t.”

A flickering memory of a short wiry man in his mid-thirties and longish hair came back. He’d stood next to the twins as they’d waited for the caterer to replace the empty chicken server and asked the usual “are you twins?” Donny sipped his wine again. “Short guy, glasses, long hair?”

“That’s him.”

“Wow. So which one do you want to play, the soldier or the music teacher?”

“That’s the problem,” said Mike. “I need a twin, unless they plan on making them fraternal or do trick photography and I play both parts.” Mike chuckled softly. “Or better yet, get you and Danny to do it.”

“Forget it,” said Donny. “I’m not an actor and Danny isn’t either and he wouldn’t do it anyway.”

Mike chuckled again. “Didn’t think so.” He touched Donny’s ankle again with his toe and left it there. “I’ll probably do both parts. It’s pretty amazing what they can do with photography today. So, think you’ll give it a shot?”

“What, writing something?”


Donny nodded. “Yeah, I said I’d try. Doesn’t seem too hard.”


Donny leaned back again and looked up at the sky. The fire inside had settled down to coals so the only light that was on now the one at the top of the stairs.

The sky was almost aglow from the stars. The air was cold and clear, and there were no lights from any of the surrounding houses, and the only other intrusion to the complete darkness was an almost imperceptible glow in the west where the mountains dipped down to the desert between there and Los Angeles, a hundred miles away. “Jesus,” Donny whispered, “it’s so clear.”

“That’s what I love about it up here,” said Mike. He slid over so he was sitting closer to Donny and looking up at the sky, too. Donny hardly noticed. A moment later a small meteor went by, and they both said “Cool” at the same time, and then laughed. Donny leaned over a little and rested against Mike’s shoulder. It felt warm and comfortable and familiar, and so it didn’t seem at all strange when, after a moment, he turned and kissed him.

Donny woke up the next morning in his own bed. He felt a touch of a hangover from the wine, and the pillow smelled a little of chlorine from the hot tub. His clothes were in a heap on the floor by the bathroom door and the large towel from the hot tub was draped over the shower curtain rod. It was almost nine.

He remembered kissing Mike and Mike returning it. After a few more Mike whispered, “This is so seventies; making out in a hot tub. You wanna take it inside?” Donny had said, “Sure,” and they went silently up to Mike’s room. Afterwards he had collected his clothes, took a quick shower, and fell into bed.

He took another shower, this time washing his hair, and pulled on fresh jeans and his Sam’s Gym sweatshirt. Mike’s door was open but his bed was empty. The smell of coffee came up the stairs.

“G’morning,” Mike said. He was leaning against the counter stirring sugar into his mug. “Sleep well?”

“Yeah.” Donny poured coffee and dosed it with milk.

“So, you wanna go get some breakfast?”

They picked up a newspaper at the store and went to the crowded little café for French toast and bacon. Mike out of habit handed Donny the section with the crossword puzzle.

“Whoa,” said Mike, scanning an article in the business section.


“You guys got a write-up.”

“What guys?”

Mike read out loud, “’Little guys make big inroads. The usual rags-to-riches story about software companies hitting the big time seems to be working for brothers Greg and Eric McKay of Pasadena. Their little start-up, McKay-Gemini, so named because they’re identical twins, is garnering praise from both the technical and business community for their innovative jobs management software, Pelican, now in its second version. At the national computer expo taking place this week in Las Vegas, an event that draws the large and the small – from Microsoft to high-school classes – McKay-Gemini is showing little companies how it’s done with a small staff, and big companies how it’s done with efficiency and a rock-solid business plan that has attracted investors, including some of the biggest names in both the computer and entertainment industry.’” Mike put the paper down. “Wow. Front page of the business section.”

Donny sipped his coffee. “It’s an old story,” he said. “It sounds like the one they ran when we launched Pelican last year and just updated it. They needed something to fill in on Sunday morning.”

“Well, maybe, but what about this?” He read again, “’One of the company’s admirers is Melanie Tischler, vice president for product development at Microsoft, the world’s leader in software. Said Tischler, “McKay-Gemini is one to watch. Unlike a lot of the new companies in the dot com business, they actually have a product to sell, not just a website.”’” Mike looked at Donny. “That’s not bad. Microsoft likes you.”

“That’s because we’re no competition to them,” replied Donny, eating a forkful of toast. “If we were, believe me, she wouldn’t be saying nice things about us.”

“Still,” said Mike, “it’s better than nothing.”

As they were paying at the register, Ben and Julian were parking the car. Ben looked pale and a little thinner than before, but he was energetic in his greeting, and he didn’t sound like someone who’d just left the hospital. They shook hands all around, and Mike asked Ben how he was doing.

“Oh, I’m fine,” he replied dismissively. “My heart doctor is a little overcautious, that’s all. It was nothing but two days of sheer boredom. Even the male nurses weren’t worth looking at,” he added with a chuckle. “It’s great to see you, though,” he said. “We’d invite you over for drinks tonight but the place is a mess; we’re having the floors done and there’s sawdust everywhere.”

“Well, come to my place then,” said Mike, getting a surprised look from Donny. “Around six? And maybe the Chart House after?”

Ben looked at Julian, who nodded yes. “Six it is. We’ll bring some cheese.”

“You know where the house is?”

“Oh, yes. We have friends just up from there. Been by it many a time.”

“Great. See you then.”

As they were driving back to the house, Donny said, “I didn’t think you were in an entertaining mood.”

Mike shrugged. “Just for a drink. Besides, aren’t they investors in your company?”

“Yeah, that’s right,” said Donny.

“So, chalk it up to investor relations.”

They picked up another bottle of wine and a box of gourmet crackers. They spent the afternoon cleaning up the back yard, which wasn’t much more than an open field sloping down the hill to a row of scrub trees. Donny dragged fallen limbs and branches into a pile behind the garage while Mike hacked at the largest weeds with a shovel and hoe that had been left by the previous owner.

After about an hour, Mike leaned on his shovel and looked at Donny, who was kicking the last of the small branches into the pile. “So anyway....” he said, raising an eyebrow.

Donny looked at him. “Yeah?”

Mike glanced at him guiltily. “Look, about last night....”

Donny pulled off his gloves and slapped them against his thigh. “Not a problem. If I remember, I started it.”


“We’re cool.”

“Okay.” Mike poked the ground with his shovel. “It was fun.”


They went back to work.

Mike opened a bottle of red and a bottle of white, set four glasses on the bar, and got out the crackers. He had showered and changed into a chamois shirt and grey slacks. Donny ran his newest jeans through the wash and put on one of Mike’s cable knit sweaters over a t-shirt. Mike said that was fine for Idyllwild casual. They lit the fireplace, tidied up the kitchen, and promptly at six Ben and Julian arrived carrying a large basket full of cheese, crackers, and other gourmet snacks. Mike gave them a tour of the house, poured the wine, sliced some cheese, and then they settled into the chairs around the fireplace. They clinked glasses in a casual toast, and Mike said, “Here’s to your health, Ben.”

That got an appreciative chuckle and Ben explained that he had little episodes of what his doctor called premature ventricular contractions – an extra heart beat – and his doctor wanted to monitor him for a period of time. “So I got to sit in a hospital room at God knows how much per day, watch TV, read, all the while with these little monitors leads taped to my chest.” He laughed. “I think the only thing reason I ran the risk of was skipping a heartbeat because it was breathtakingly boring. Other than that,” he rapped his knuckles on the coffee table, “I’m as healthy as a horse. All tests normal.”

Donny glanced at Mike, remembering his gloomy diagnosis, but Mike just nodded and said, “That’s great.”

“So, what have you boys been up to?” Ben looked at Donny and raised an eyebrow. “I saw that article in the paper this morning. That’s wonderful for you.”

“And you,” replied Donny.

“Well, yes,” said Julian, smiling slightly. “Mike, Paul says you’re in a new series starting next month.”

“It’s a sitcom called Return to Sender. Just a little mid-season thing; ten episodes if we’re lucky,” Mike said modestly.

“We’ll look for it.”

“And,” said Mike, munching a cracker, “I’m looking at doing a little producing myself.”


“Well, just seeing what’s out there, y’know, looking for projects that I could make on my own and see if... well, if there’s more to this than just being an actor.”

Julian nodded. “Always wise to have a back-up plan. Found anything yet?”

“There’re some things out there that I’ve seen that could be worth while,” Mike said, setting his glass on the coffee table. It wasn’t until then that Donny noticed the proposal for Black Ops was next to the cheese tray. “F’r instance, Marty sent over this treatment for a new action series. It looks like it could be worth looking into.” He handed the treatment to Ben, who thumbed through it, stopping, Donny noticed, on the centerpiece that displayed renderings of the cast members, some of whom were impossibly well-muscled men in tight military t-shirts and butch-cut hairstyles. He nodded approvingly and handed it to Julian. He glanced through it and smiled a little.

“That’s ambitious,” he said. “I’d be surprised if you could find backing for something like that as your first project.”

“Well,” said Mike, spreading his hands, “I’d start out small; doing something for cable TV or a movie of the week. Just to get my feet wet, y’know. I’d like to go with small but unique; something that will get me noticed and go from there.”

Julian nodded and said, “That’s the way to get started. Small things lead to bigger things. If you’re going to get into it, it’s better to get known for a little quality than a lot of noise.” Mike leaned back, sipped his wine, glanced at Donny, and gave him a little smile.

The conversation turned to life in town and Ben made suggestions for places to shop and where to go for dry cleaning. They offered to introduce Mike to other locals and some fellow denizens of the business who lived there. Mike said that would be great.

After about an hour of pleasant conversation, Mike said, “I’ve made reservations at the Chart House for us, but we’d love to have you join us.” Julian nodded and Ben said, “We’d be delighted. We’ll follow you in our car.”

They got a table near the windows. Julian recommended the blackened fish and he ordered a bottle of white wine, and the waiter hurried away. Mike led off the conversation by asking Ben what he was working on, and Ben launched into a long and involved story about consulting for a new performing arts center in Miami. Donny remembered the last time they’d been to dinner with Ben and Julian and noted the change; Mike had barely spoken and seemed bored with the whole thing. This time, Mike listened attentively and asked good questions.

When the check came Mike took it and paid for the entire meal with his American Express Gold card, shaking off the mild protestations of Ben. “My turn,” Mike said as he handed back the little folder to the waiter.

They shook hands in the parking lot and got a promise from Mike to call them when he came back “up the hill,” as Ben called Idyllwild. “Will do,” said Mike with genuine charm, and Ben smiled. “And Donny,” Ben added, “we’d love to see you again, too.”

Mike was smiling all the way back to the house, and he whistled softly between his teeth as he and Donny cleaned up the cocktail mess. It was after ten.

“You’re in a good mood,” Donny said.

“I had a good time. To be honest, I used to think they were kinda boring when we first met them, but now....”

Donny dumped the uneaten crackers back in the box, wiped down the counter, and went upstairs to bed.

They left the next day around noon, early enough to beat the holiday traffic coming back into town. Mike had dropped off an extra key at Brucie’s office so the housekeeping service could get in and change the sheets; the first rentals were due the next afternoon. They stopped in Hemet for a burger, slogged their way through the early rush hour, and were back at the house before Danny got home. Donny took his laundry out to the garage.

Mike had a phone message to call Marty, and after returning it, told Donny he was going to have a drink with him and catch up with him. “I’ll be back before too late; can you help me run lines?”


“And don’t forget...I meant it about writing up that treatment.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

It wasn’t until after Mike was gone that Donny noticed his own phone machine. “You have three new messages,” it told him.

The first was from Eric on Saturday morning, calling from a payphone in a hotel lobby in Las Vegas – there were crowd noises and slot machine music in the background – reporting in to say that they were having a great time, they’d met a lot of interesting people, and he’d give him a full report when they got back.

The second was from Marc on Sunday afternoon. It was very short, and he sounded very matter-of-fact, but also tired. “Hey, Donny, it’s me; I’m still in Colorado, but I should be back in L.A. Tuesday night. I’ll call you when I get home. Bye.”

The third call had come in about ten minutes before he and Mike had gotten home. It was from Greg. “Donny, first thing in the morning I need you to pull all the files we have on the Pelican start-up. Everything we’ve got. Get Margaret or Cathy to help you, and go through the stuff in storage in the warehouse. I’ll call you in the morning at the office and let you know what’s going on. See ya.”

Donny played the last message back again. Greg sounded very businesslike, and there was no background noise, so he assumed he was calling from the hotel room. But why did he need all the files on Pelican? Finding them wasn’t a problem; when they had moved from the old office to the new one, Donny and Eric had spent an afternoon sorting through all the materials, test runs, first drafts, and code printouts and putting them in clearly marked boxes in case they needed them as backup for the copyright filing. They were all on the top shelf of the store room. But why did Greg suddenly need them? Oh well, Donny thought, he’d know in the morning.

“So, have a good time?” Danny asked as he walked into Donny’s room. Donny jumped a little; he had not heard him come in.

“Oh.... yeah, we did. Nice place he’s got there.”

His twin looked him over carefully. “Yeah, okay. So...?”

“Just once. We got a little drunk in the hot tub.”

Danny scowled. “You didn’t do it right there, did you?”

“Nah. In his room.”

“Good. Screwing in hot tubs is strictly frat boy shit. Want to go get some Chinese? I haven’t eaten since reveille.”

They went to the Great Wall. Donny told him about reading the scripts and Mike’s encouraging him to write a treatment.

“Gonna do it?”

Donny shrugged.

“What the hell, twin. Whaddaya got to lose? How long does it have to be?”

“Couple pages, I guess.”

“You could crank that out in an hour. Remember how you used to write all that crap for Mr. Bartley? He ate it up.”

“That was in seventh grade,” Donny said.

“So what? He put it in the literary magazine.”

“That was ten years ago. I haven’t written anything since then.”

“Probably like riding a bike. What the hell. Give it a shot. What would you write about?”

Donny told him about the idea of four guys – at least two or three of them gay – sharing a house. Danny nodded approvingly. “Sounds like it could be interesting if you had the right characters. None of them too flitty or flamey.”

“That’s the idea. Just normal guys and not make a big deal out of the fact that some or all of them are gay.”

“Yeah. You might have a problem, though, with Middle America. Some of the enlisted men I work with are from the heartland and they’re pretty hardcore gay bashers; it’s ‘fag’ this and ‘faggot’ that and they really get all bugged out over ‘don’t ask don’t tell.’”

“Mike’s talking about selling it to cable.”

“That might work. Thought about what you’d call it?”

“Yeah,” Donny replied. “Small Town Boys.”

“Good title. I like it.”

Chapter Guide


Saturday, June 03, 2006

Small Town Boys - Chapter 33

The Doctor Is In – 1994

Valentine’s Day was on a Monday. Donny didn’t remember it until he turned on the lights in his office and saw the small gold box of Godiva dark chocolate sitting in the middle of his desk. There was a little card. Hugs and kisses – MG.

Marc was at his desk. Donny picked up the phone and buzzed the intercom.


“My pleasure.”

“I didn’t get you anything,” Donny said. “Let me buy you lunch.”


They went to the place with the green umbrellas. It was slightly crowded with couples, but they were able to get a table near the street.

“So,” Marc said, peering at the menu through his Ray-Bans, “how’s it going?”

“Like, ‘how’s it going’ at work or...?”

“Life in general.”

Donny thought this was an odd question since he saw Marc every day at work and they had spent Friday night and Saturday morning at Marc’s apartment and hadn’t gotten out of bed until noon; his roommate had landed a job in New York and had moved out on the weekend before the earthquake. The earthquake was a distant memory, business was good, Sky and the boys were working on making a Pelican version for Apple, Michelle had set an impossibly high sales goal of fifteen percent increase per quarter and they were already ahead of it, and Donny hadn’t had to fire anyone in the last three months. “Fine,” he replied, looking at the Valentine’s Day specials.

“How’s Mike?”

Donny shrugged. “Okay, I guess. I really haven’t paid much attention, what with his new show and everything.”

“Hmm,” nodded Marc. He closed the menu and pocketed his sunglasses, replacing them with his regular wire-rims. “Listen, I need to ask a favor.”


“I need to take some time off. About a week. I know I don’t have enough vacation time built up, but you can dock me if you need to.”

The way Marc said it made Donny think there was more to this than just time off. He looked at Marc carefully, but his expression didn’t change. Donny nodded. “Sure. Whatever you need. Is there anything I can do?”

“No, thanks. It just some, uh, family business in Colorado and I need to go there and, uh, take care of it.”

“When do you want to do this?”

“I need to be there by Wednesday. I’ll take off tomorrow after work and get back here as soon as I can.” He smiled apologetically. “I shoulda told you sooner, but I didn’t find out about it until yesterday.”

“Yeah, sure, not a problem. Just let Cathy know if there’s anything she needs to do while you’re gone.”

The waiter came and took their order and Marc’s mood seemed to lighten a little as they waited for their food. But Donny wondered what was going on in Colorado. He knew Marc had family there, but little else. In fact, Donny didn’t know anything about Marc’s family life other than that his parents were divorced. His mother lived in Ojai and had remarried. His father, also remarried, lived in Colorado on a ranch outside Aspen and raised horses. That information had been gleaned from the names, addresses, and phone numbers on the emergency contact forms in Marc’s personnel file. He knew that he had gone to boarding school in Colorado and that he had an older brother who lived in Minnesota and a younger sister in Albuquerque. This information had been divulged in passing conversations, but Marc had never said much beyond the mention of the fact that they existed.

When they got back to the office, Donny checked the records and Marc had earned just enough vacation time to cover five days, plus he had five personal days available as well. Donny told him, and Marc nodded. “Thanks. I’ll get with Cathy. Everything will be okay.”

“Sure. Like I said, if there’s anything I can do.”

Marc held up his hand. “I’m good. I’ll call you when I get back.”

That evening as he stood in the kitchen chopping spinach for a salad, he told Eric about Marc’s quick trip to Colorado.

“What’s going on?” Eric asked as he peeled an onion.

“Hell if I know,” replied Donny. “He’s never talked about his family.” He put down the knife and looked at Eric. “Wonder why that is. I mean, we’ve been friends for six months now and he knows just about everything about me. But....” He picked up the knife again and resumed chopping.

“Why don’t you ask?”


“Yeah. Ask him.”

“About why he’s going?”

“About anything. I mean, hell, Donny; you’ve been sleeping with the guy since last summer, and he works for you, and.... Just ask, ‘Hey, Marc, tell me about your family.’ How come you’ve never done that?”

Donny shrugged. “I dunno. Never really occurred to me, I guess.”

Eric chuckled and started to slice the onion. He wiped a tear away, grinned at Donny, and said, “You’d be surprised what people will tell you if you’d only ask.”

Donny was having an after-dinner cigarette on the patio when Mike came home. He dropped four thick binders on the table and groaned.

“What’re those?” Donny asked.

“Scripts. We’ve gotta shoot all the episodes we can upfront.” He picked up a script and thumbed through it. “And I’m in almost every scene.”

Donny picked one up. The series was called Return to Sender. Josh Sender, played by Mike, is a successful Hollywood actor with a great career going until his elderly parents are forced to move in with him. The problem is that Josh has a secret: he’s living with his girlfriend and no one can know about it because it would ruin his image as a bachelor stud, and his stuffy parents certainly wouldn’t approve. Josh also has his share of wacky friends and co-workers to fill out the ensemble.

“Maybe you can help me,” Mike said as he came back out to the patio with a beer.


“Run lines with me. I gotta have this script down cold by Thursday for the shooting.”

“Okay,” said Donny, trying to decipher the dialogue from the notations of camera angles and stage directions. “Just read the other characters lines?”

“Yeah, I should know most of mine; I’ve been doing them all day.” Mike lay on the chaise and closed his eyes. They went through the script, Mike reciting his lines flatly, Donny correcting him when he missed a line or stumbled, but it wasn’t very often and when they got to the end Donny closed the script and Mike sat up. He drained the rest of his beer. “One down, three to go.”

“Don’t they use cue cards or a teleprompter?” Donny asked.

“Yeah, but I like to learn my lines. Gives me a chance to get to know the character a little.” He smirked. “Not that he’s Hamlet or anything.”

Donny flipped through the script again. “Who writes this ... ?”

“’Crap’ is the word you’re looking for.”


“There’s a roomful of writers who crank it out. No one seems to know their names, but they turn it out.”

Donny read some of it again to himself, then looked at Mike. “Are you ever allowed to make changes in the lines?”

“What do you mean? Like, re-write it?”

“Well, yeah; y’know, make suggestions?”

Mike shrugged. “Yeah, I suppose. I mean, if something doesn’t work, the director can have me say something else. The writers put the changes in the script.”

“So, f’r instance,” Donny said, pointing to a line, “if you thought this was stupid, you could ask the director to change it, and he would.”

“Sure, I guess so. I mean, I saw Rory change a lot of his lines on Capitol Hill. But that was Rory Donovan. The guy basically owned the show.”

Donny said, “Well, this is your show, isn’t it?”

Mike nodded, took the script and thumbed through it. “What would you say?”

“I’m not a writer,” said Donny. “But a lot of this stuff sounds... I dunno... kinda old. Like I’ve heard it before. I mean, that scene where you’re hiding your girlfriend in the hall closet... that’s been done, I’m sure. Golden Girls...Three’s Company...”

“So, you have a better idea?”

Donny took the script back. “Well, think about it. All it is is a bunch of sight gags and one-liners. And it’s not really that funny. Your dad’s a grumpy old guy, your mom’s a ditz, your girlfriend is too dumb to figure out that she’s being used – I mean, does Josh really love her or is it because she’s sexy – and your pals are all cookie-cutter stereotypes. It’s old hat.” Donny put the script on the table and picked up a cigarette, all the while watching Mike’s reaction.

His face was expressionless for a moment, then he nodded and chuckled hollowly.

“What?” said Donny.

“Y’know, that’s the first time you’ve ever said anything about my work.”

“Sorry. It’s just....”

“No, you’re right. The show is crap. It’s filler. There’s nothing original about it at all. The only reason we got picked up is because the network is desperate for something they can shove on the air for ten weeks before summer and then forget about.” Mike stood up and started pacing. “But if we gave them something slightly original, something just a tad better than the crap that’s on now, it might get noticed.” He dug in his pocket and pulled out a pencil. He tossed it to Donny. “Here. Let’s start making some changes to this. Not a lot...just a couple of lines here and there – I already know where it would work – and then,” he pointed to the other scripts, “we’ll get them to change the rest.” Mike sat at the table across from Donny and lit a cigarette. “You know what? I heard that William Faulkner wrote Hollywood screenplays.”

They went through the script again, this time Donny making suggestions and Mike penciling them into the script. That was Donny’s idea; doing it in Mike’s handwriting would give the impression that it was his work alone. They read through the script again, made some more changes, and by ten Mike yawned and tossed the pencil on the table.

“All I have to do is show up tomorrow and just say really casually, ‘Hey, you know what? I think this would work a lot better if I said....’ Be really nice about it – but firm – and I’ll bet they’ll go for it.” He leaned back, put his hands behind his head, and flexed his biceps. “’Sides, I have script approval. So they basically have to go with it.”

“Just don’t tell them I had anything to do with it,” Donny said.

“Yeah, the Writers Guild might not like that. But hey, if it works... you might have another career here as a script doctor.”

Donny smirked. “No thanks.”

The next day Donny got so wrapped up in work and planning for the computer show in Las Vegas that he completely forgot about his ghost-writing. So when Mike came home that night and gave Donny a hug and a not-so-subtle nudge in his crotch, he was surprised.

“They loved the changes,” Mike said with a huge grin. “The director said it was fresh and funny, and everyone else did too. And they meant it. Henry Diers, the guy who plays my dad, said he’s glad to be finally working on a show where he doesn’t just walk through the lines asleep and wait for the laughtrack. Everybody started making suggestions, and the whole show is taking a new direction.” Mike hugged him again. “We really kicked ass.” He threw the other scripts on the couch and got a beer.

“Wow, that’s great,” Donny said. “So they’re gonna re-write the rest of them?”

Mike grimaced as he twisted off the bottle cap. “Well, that’s the thing. The writers are okay with it – I mean, they said they were okay with it, but they have to; they’re just the writers – but they’re really not sure how I want to change the show, so they told me to go through the rest of the scripts and make the changes I want. Kinda like 'put up or shut up.'” Mike indicated the rest of the scripts with his beer bottle. “So we have some homework to do.”

Donny gulped. “What do you mean, ‘we,’ Kemo Sabe? It’s your show. I’m not a writer. Besides, Eric and Greg and I are buried getting ready for the expo next week in Vegas, and we’re short-handed at the office as it is. I can’t....”

“All I’m asking is that we sit down for a little while and just go through them and do what we did last night. We can’t just punch up one script and leave the rest out there in sitcom dreardom.” Mike picked up the script. “C’mon. We can do this one in no time.” He pulled out the pencil and held it out to Donny with a pleading look.


“C’mon, it’ll be fun.”

Donny was having a flashback to Mike’s wheedling tone, although in the old days it had usually been used when they were in bed and Mike was feeling a tad horny. Donny grinned inwardly knowing that it had never failed and Mike knew it.

“Okay. Just let me get something to eat.”

It was chilly and starting to rain so they sat at the dining room table and started to read the script aloud. About halfway through Danny came home.

“What’s up?”

Donny filled him in.

“Thank God,” Danny said. “The shows on TV suck out loud. Anything you can do to clean up the crap they’re selling is fine with me.” He looked over his twin’s shoulder and read a few lines as he started to unbutton his uniform shirt to change into his running clothes. “Yep,” he added. “Anything at all.”

On his way out Danny passed Eric, who was coming back from the gym and the store. “So, the Algonquin round table is at it again,” he said as he went into his room to change.

“Yeah,” replied Donny, getting the reference. Eric had had a subscription to The New Yorker since he was in college and his theatre history professor had required it.

After an hour of reading aloud, Donny stretched stiffly, giving Mike the hint that he was tired. Most of Mike’s lines had been smoothed out and some of the more obvious gags had been sharpened. “What I hate,” Donny said at one point, “is knowing the punchline before the characters. You gotta come up with something that hasn’t been done to death.”

Mike nodded. “Yeah, I know.” He closed the script, got up from the table and went out to the patio, standing under the eaves watching the light rain falling. He lit a cigarette. “That’s the trouble with TV today. It’s all recycled. And even when you get something new, like Friends, next thing you know everybody wants to imitate it. Shit, I bet if they made a sitcom about a gay couple and it was a hit, the next year the whole schedule would be full of fags.”

Donny came outside and stood next to him. “Think they’d ever do that?”


“Write a sitcom about a gay couple?”

Mike snorted. “Are you kidding? Oh, sure, they’d write it, but put it on prime time on a network? No way. The Moral Majority would go up like a puff of smoke. Even John Ritter pretending to be gay on Three’s Company got them honked off, and that one with Tony Randall a few years ago where he played a single older man with a ‘mysterious past’ was too much for some people. It’d never work. Country’s not ready for it.”

“There are gay characters on shows all the time.”

“Yeah, characters. But never leads. Besides, who’d do it? No actor – straight or gay – would play a gay character as a lead on a sitcom unless he was so big he wouldn’t worry about ruining his reputation by doing it. For that you’d need someone like James McGruder, Rory Donovan, or Paul Newman.”

Donny lit a cigarette. “So the chances of turning Josh Sender into a gay guy who’s living with his ‘girlfriend’ to hide the truth from his parents and the public wouldn’t work.”

Mike blew out a stream of smoke and stared across the yard. Donny waited for him to shake his head and laugh off the idea, but instead he turned and looked at him. “Well,” Donny continued, “you said you wanted something that wasn’t recycled.”

Mike nodded slowly. “Yeah, but that’s a little out there, don’t you think?”

“He doesn’t have to have a boyfriend or anything. He can just say that he’s gay. It’s not like we’re gonna see him fucking or anything.” Donny grinned. “Not that it wouldn’t liven up the show a little.”

Mike bit his lip. “It’s a great idea, Donny.” He put out his cigarette and tossed the butt in the ashtray that was half-full of rainwater. “And that’s exactly why no one will go for it. At least not today. And if I pitched it... well, I think the cat would be out of the bag, so to speak. ‘Hey, d’ya hear that Lance Michaels pitched a sitcom with a gay character?’ ‘Hmm; always wondered about him....’” He shook his head. “I’m not ready for that shit just yet. Say, you and, uh, Marc want to come to the taping Thursday night?”

“Marc’s out of town. Family business.”

“So, you and Danny?”

“I’ll ask.”

“That’d be great; we do it in front of a studio audience and we’ll need all the help we can get.”

The studio looked like a large warehouse on a fenced-in lot near the CBS studios. Donny and Danny showed their VIP passes that Mike had given them to the security guard at the gate and parked in the visitor lot. There was a small line of people waiting to get in. Most of them looked like tourists, ranging in age from senior citizens to families with small kids and bored teenagers. Mike had told them to show their cards to the guard at the door and they were let in ahead of the line, which drew some curious glances. An usher – a young woman in jeans, a Jurassic Park t-shirt, and a headset – led them up a ramp.

Inside it looked like a warehouse, too, except there were large black curtains on the walls and rows of stage lights hanging from the high ceiling. When they got to the top of the ramp they were standing in the middle of a set of aluminum bleachers, much like at a ball park, but there were rows of theatre seats instead of benches. Down on the floor of was the set for the show – a modern-looking living room with contemporary furniture. It reminded Donny of a theatre set, except there was no attempt to mask off the sides or hide the support structures, and next to the living room was the set for an office; Donny remembered it from the script as the office for Josh’s agent. There was a space in front of the set about ten feet deep with TV cameras, mike booms, and cables snaking across the floor, which was marked in seemingly random patterns of white glow tape. People were walking around talking loudly and pointing up at the rafters, and two of the cameramen were carrying on an animated conversation with their headsets. Someone from the back of the studio shouted, “Where the fuck is Jessica? She’s got the shopping bags!”

The usher led them down to the first row and whispered, “We’ll be starting in about ten minutes. When we’re done, Mr. Michaels asked me to escort you back to his dressing room. Enjoy the show.” They settled in and watched as the crew tested voice levels on microphones – one middle-aged bald man with a clipboard stood at various places on the set and intoned, “Test, test, test” over and over – and a lighting technician ran through the light cues, bumping the levels up to broad daylight and down to almost dark – there was a scene where Josh tries to sneak his girlfriend out of the house while his father sleepwalked.

Donny looked around the studio. There were several large TV monitors hung from the grid, pointed at the bleachers, all displaying color bars. Two large black boxes hung in the middle, and Donny could make out the lettering on them. One said APPLAUSE; the other LAUGH.

After about fifteen minutes, the little usher came out onto the floor and announced, “Opening the house.” A crewman pulled large black curtains in front of the set, leaving only the forestage and TV cameras visible. The audience trooped in. It had grown to about fifty people, and they all were hushed and apparently impressed by their first visit to a real TV studio. Several kids ran down the aisle to the front row and hung over the railing, craning their necks to see what was below, but their mother came and hustled them back to their seats with a whispered, “You behave!”

After a few moments the lights over the bleachers dimmed and came up on the curtains. The audience became quiet, and a youngish-looking man came out from behind the curtain carrying a microphone.

“Good evening, everybody!” he boomed, and the audience all responded as one with an equally loud, “Good evening!” The TV monitors all changed to the title card for Return to Sender. “Great!” he continued. “I’m Clark Stone, and we’re really glad to have you with us for what I’m sure is going to be the next big TV hit, Return to Sender!” He led them in applause, and he nodded his approval. “We’ve got a great cast lined up for you, including one of your all-time favorites of stage and screen, the legendary Henry Diers, along with the lovely Rita Zachman, whom you’ll no doubt remember from the long-running series Angels in Brooklyn, and the incredible Tabitha Fitzgerald, who was such a big hit in the Universal action thriller of last summer, Close Cover Before Striking!” That drew spontaneous applause and whoops from the teenaged boys. “And of course we want a big round of applause for the star of the show. You saw him in Capitol Hill, the film Silver Star, and if you’re a fan of daytime drama you certainly remember him as Dusty, last summer’s bad boy on the number one soap – ladies, control yourselves – LANCE MICHAELS!” Everybody cheered loudly as Mike’s picture appeared on the TV screens. Danny nudged Donny with his elbow and smirked.

Clark then lowered his voice conspiratorially. “I’m gonna let you in on a little secret. You’re going to get to see two tapings of the show. We do that so we can put together the best of both. Now, have any of you ever been in a play?” Several people in the audience raised their hands. “Fantastic! Leave your name and number with the usher; we might call you! Just kidding. Well, what you’re going to be seeing is what you might remember from your theatre experience is the final dress rehearsal. We might stop and start, but that’s perfectly normal. Also, we’re glad to have a live audience because it really does help the actors feel like they’re doing it for you.” He grinned at the audience. “And to help you, we have these little helpers.” He pointed to the boxes in the rafters. “When those come on, we hope you’ll take the advice to heart. Let’s test them out.” The APPLAUSE sign flashed on and everybody clapped. “Great! Wonderful!” The LAUGH sign came on and everybody laughed. “Oh, come on,” said Clark, “you can do better than that!” The sign came on again, and this time the audience roared. “Much better! Okay, well, we’re about to begin, and I really hope you enjoy the show!” He started to go back stage, but then stopped and turned. “Oh, I almost forgot! Hold on to your ticket stub! At the intermission we’ll be holding a drawing for a brand new nineteen inch RCA color TV!” The audience murmured their approval. “So don’t go away!” Danny whispered, “We didn’t get tickets.” Donny whispered back, “We’re VIP’s. We don’t get things like that.”

The cameramen all took their places, and after a moment the lights dimmed and the curtain opened. Someone over a P.A. system called out, “Quiet, please. We’re rolling. Cue 1.” Music came up and the show started.

They made it through the first taping without incident. Donny noticed that Henry and Rita read all their lines off large cue cards held by technicians placed at strategic points out of camera range. Tabitha, a perky blonde that Donny recognized from the movies, worked well with Mike, and the laughter that they got from the audience wasn’t just prompted by the flashing sign. Donny remembered the lines he had helped write and it sounded strange to hear something he’d written being spoken by other people; it was as if he was hearing for the first time.

At the intermission Clark made a big deal about the drawing for the TV, which went to a large woman in a lime-green pantsuit from Waukegan, Illinois. Clark gave her a big hug and she practically burst into tears.

The second taping had to stop twice; once when Henry bumped a table and muttered, “Aw shit,” loud enough to draw a gasp from the audience and a “Cut!” from the P.A. Henry sheepishly nodded at the audience and said, “Sorry, folks.” The P.A. said “Let’s take it from your line, Rita,” and they went on. The second time was when Mike went to open the front door and the doorknob came off in his hand. He burst out laughing and said loudly, “Save that for Dick!” Danny whispered, “Huh?” and Donny shrugged. “Inside joke, I guess.”

It took a few minutes to fix the doorknob. Meanwhile the cast milled around, and Donny thought he saw Mike glance up in his direction. The technician tested the door, clicked his headset, the P.A. called out, “Okay, let’s take it from your cross, Lance,” and the show went on.

At the end everybody applauded, and Clark made a big deal out of introducing the cast who came out to take bows. “Thanks for coming, everybody! We hope you’ll tell all your friends! Return to Sender premiering Wednesday, March 30, eight-thirty eastern, seven-thirty central! Drive safely!”

The usher met them at the top of the ramp and guided them backstage, past the prop table, past the craft services with the food and sodas, and through a door into the dressing rooms. Several other people were standing around, including some that Donny recognized from the party that Mike had thrown at his house so long ago when he was working on Capitol Hill.

Mike’s dressing room door was open, and he was wiping his face with a towel to take off the make-up. He grinned. “So, whaddaya think?”

“It was good,” said Danny. “Not what I expected.”

“You’re not just saying that because Donny....”

“No,” said Danny. “It was pretty funny.”

“Great, great.” Mike peeled off his shirt and started changing clothes. He looked at Donny. “It made all the difference in the world, especially re-writing that bit between Henry and me where he explains how pissed off he was at losing his pension. Everyone said it made that scene really click.”

Danny said, “So what does ‘Save it for Dick’ mean?”

Mike chuckled. “That means save it for the blooper reel. Remember Dick Clark and Ed McMahon and the blooper show? Stupid doorknob.”

Someone knocked on the door. It was an older man with a white fringe of a beard, dressed in casual but tasteful clothes and carrying a script. “Oh, excuse me, I didn’t know you had company.” He had a cultured British accent.

“Oh, hey, Milo, come on in. These are friends of mine, Donny and Dan Hollenbeck. Guys, this is Milo Secor; he’s the director.”

They shook hands, and Donny remembered seeing a picture of him somewhere, perhaps in the entertainment section of the paper. Milo looked at them quickly and shook hands. “A pleasure.” He then did a double-take. “Are you twins?”

They nodded, and Milo smiled broadly. “My goodness. You’re both very handsome,” he said with such frank appraisal that Donny felt himself blush a little. “Ever do any modeling or anything of the sort?”

“No,” Donny said, and Danny added, “I’m an Air Force officer; they frown on that sort of thing.”

“Air Force? Stationed where, at Edwards?”

“No, sir, here at LAAFB.”

“The missile place.”

“Yes sir.”

Mike said, “Milo, Donny’s the one I told you about. The one who....” He gave Milo a nod, and Milo nodded back. He looked at Donny with a sly grin.

“So you’re the one who’s been doing a little...” he made a motion of scribbling on the script.

“Yeah,” Donny conceded, quickly looking at Mike, who smirked back.

“Well, thank you very much. It’s been a welcome addition, I must say. Just between us, of course, but it certainly has put legs on this show.”

Donny shrugged. “It was Mike, uh, Lance’s idea.”

Milo said, “Well, I just wanted to pop in and say good job, and we’ll see you first thing Tuesday, right?”

“That’s right.”

Milo turned to the twins. “It was a pleasure to meet you both, and if you ever decide to do some modeling, I would be more than happy to put you in touch with the right people.” He gave them one more longing look, waved, and left.

“Well, that was interesting,” said Danny flatly. “I’ve been cruised before but never like that.”

Mike pulled on his jeans and tucked in his shirt. “Yeah, Milo’s not shy about telling guys he thinks they’re hot.”

“I’d really get my ass in hack if I ever posed, especially for what I bet he has in mind.”

“Oh, no,” Mike said, “Milo’s not into porn or anything like that. But there’s a real market for good-looking twins for calendars and stuff, even posters like the ones you get at K-Mart for your dorm room. Teenage girls really dig do, I’m sure, certain other members of the population.”

“No shit,” said Donny.

“Oh, yeah. You guys could make a fortune, especially for catalogues like clothing and swimwear. So, Danny,” he added as he tied his shoes, “how could you get in trouble for doing something that’s off-duty and doesn’t show you in uniform? What does the Air Force care?”

“I’m not even gonna ask,” said Danny firmly.

“Too bad,” said Mike. “You and Donny posing in swimsuits at the beach? I’d buy it in a heartbeat.”

“Fine,” said Danny. “Hey, I gotta hit the bathroom.”

“It's right over there.”

When they were alone, Mike said to Donny, “I know I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone about you playing script doctor, but Milo suspected and I told him not to say anything.”

“It’s okay. No big deal.”

“Listen, I’m going out with some of the cast and crew tonight, but I was thinking; this weekend is President’s Weekend. You want to go up to Idyllwild with me and see the house? All the furniture’s there and I’d really like you to see it. We’d go up Saturday morning and come back Monday? How about it?”

Ever since Mike had moved into the house and was sharing Danny’s room, Donny knew that this moment was coming. Seeing Mike every day had gotten him used to being around him without thinking about him as a lover. The hours they had spent over the last few days going over his scripts had been free of any kind of subtle signals, and Donny had long ago stopped being wary of letting his thoughts stray back to the times when he could hardly get through a day without thinking of Mike and feeling a tingle of lust. Even seeing Mike change clothes now was devoid of any interest beyond the fact that he noticed Mike had switched from Jockey to Hanes. So in the moment that he thought about it and rationalized that Eric, Greg, Michelle, and Sky would all be out of town at the computer expo in Las Vegas, leaving Los Angeles at noon on Friday and driving up to stay at the Hilton next to the convention center; that Marc was in Colorado until next week at least and that Danny had drawn a weekend duty shift at the base; spending a long weekend alone at home sounded boring compared to a weekend in the San Jacinto Mountains and seeing the house that Mike had bought and confirming in his own mind that they were just good friends.

So it didn’t take Donny any time think about it, smile and say, “Sure, sounds like fun.”

Chapter Guide