Sunday, October 08, 2006

Small Town Boys - Chapter 38

Chapter 38

Take the Chance

“Drive it every couple of weeks to keep the battery charged and the tires from rotting,” Danny said. “I suppose I could sell it, but....” He glanced back at the Jeep parked in Donny’s garage. “Plates are good for another year,” he added. “Registration’s in the console, and the insurance is paid up.”

“I’ll take care of it,” said Donny. “C’mon, let’s hit the pool. I started the grille and the potatoes are in the oven.”

It was the Saturday of Labor Day weekend. Danny had been on his new assignment under strict security protocols for nearly three months. He’d moved out of the house the week after Donny had vacated, stored a few boxes of clothes in the spare room at Donny’s, and moved into the base housing. In the middle of August he got a week’s R & R and went home to Ohio, then came back with his new deployment orders. He was to report on Tuesday.

They went out to the patio. The high fence and wide setbacks of the neighboring houses made skinny-dipping permissible, so Donny took off his clothes, tossed them on the chaise, and dove in. The cool water felt deeply refreshing. He surfaced at the other end and leaned back against the tiles. He’d gotten into the habit of going for a nightly swim; usually ten or twelve laps, and it was a good way to unwind, especially if he came right from the gym. On weekends he’d sit by the pool and read or do the crossword puzzle. He decided that the best thing about the house was the pool.

Danny pulled off his t-shirt and shorts and folded them neatly on the table. Donny looked at his brother’s physique. “Jesus, when did you get a six-pack and pecs? You didn’t have them last spring.”

“The base has weight room and I’m surrounded by a bunch of buff kids. So I’m hittin’ the weights again.”

“What’re you benchin’?”

“Two-twenty-five; two-forty-five with a good spotter.”

“Damn, you’ve got guns, too.”

“Yeah, about sixteen inchers. Nothing like yours.”

“I’ve got the size, but you’re cut.”

Danny chuckled. “You checkin’ me out, faggot?”

“Yeah, and you love it.”

They both laughed. Danny said, “Hey, remember that time in junior high gym class when Stan Tasker snuck into the weight room and said he could bench one-thirty-five?”

“Oh, yeah...but he did it without the collars on the bar...”

“And half-way up he lost balance and unloaded the plates, wham! wham! Man, I thought the coach was gonna have a stroke.”

“Jesus, what a dick,” Donny said. He ducked under water and swam two length without resurfacing. Danny swam several lengths, and then settled on the steps in the shallow end. “I saw Stan again when I was home,” he said, shaking the water out of his ears.

“What’s he up to?”

“Same shit. I guess he heard about you out here ‘cause he wanted to know how the big Hollywood producer was doing.”

“Where did he hear that I’m a producer?”

“Who knows. He heard about my promotion; that was in the paper, so he comes up to me and says, ‘Semper Fi!’”

“No shit,” laughed Donny.

“Yeah, I didn’t bother to tell him that that was the Marines, but what the hell. Once an asshole....”

Donny hiked himself up and sat on the edge of the pool. “God, I am so glad to be out of there,” he said. “I mean, I miss the folks, but....”

“Know what you mean, twin. If we hadn’t gotten outta there, we’d be just like Stan.”

“Or Craig,” Donny mused. “Or Scott....” Donny wondered about Scott; what he was doing in Chicago, if he’d met somebody. He remembered the nights with him; sitting on the porch or in the living room, lying in bed with him, and remembering Scott asking him if Danny was hung, too. He glanced at his brother, and then looked down at himself. About the same, he mused. “So, what else did you do when you were home?”

“Dad and I went trout fishing. He’s joined this club and we went for the day.”

“How was that?”

“Good. He caught a couple of good-sized ones.”

“You catch any?” Donny asked.

Danny chuckled. “He tried to teach me how to cast, but he had trouble with the whole left-handed thing and I ended up snarling the line or catching a tree branch. I ended up watching him. It was okay.” He squinted up at the sun for a moment. “He wears glasses now, y’know.”

“Who, Dad?”

“Yeah. Mostly for reading, I guess, but ... it was weird seeing him put them to tie the flies.”

“Dad with glasses,” mused Donny.

“Well, he’s getting up there, y’know. He’s what, forty-six?”

“Something like that.”

Danny splashed some water on his shoulders to cool them. “So when was the last time you were back there?”

“Haven’t been since I came out here.”

“Ever thought about a visit?”


“Mom was just wondering. Said it would be nice to have the two of us home together for our birthday or Christmas. Maybe we should think about it.”

“Can you get away?” Donny asked.

“Don’t know, but it doesn’t mean we couldn’t look into it.”

“Hmm,” Donny replied again. “Okay, if I can get away.”

“So, how was your summer?” Danny asked.

“Busy,” Donny said. “Between figuring out how to open a branch office, settling the lawsuit, having to fire half of the warehouse staff, and the usual bullshit that goes on in the world, I’ve been lucky to catch my breath.”

“Who did the firing?”

Donny pointed his thumb at his chest. “The VP of HR.”

“Wow. How come?”

“One got busted for DUI in the company truck, two guys were smoking weed on the job during their lunch break, and one guy made a wrong delivery.”

Danny scowled. “The DUI and the pot I can understand, but you hosed a guy for making a wrong delivery?”

“He was supposed to drop it off at a store in the Valley. Well, the store was about three blocks from his girlfriend’s place, so he decides to catch a nooner. But he was so fuckin’ horny that he forgot to lock the van and somebody ripped off fifty copies of Pelican and two hundred feet of Ethernet cable. He wouldn’t have been fired if he had told the truth, but he was so embarrassed he called the cops and told them he had been held up. Unfortunately his girlfriend lives in a complex with security cameras and they caught the whole thing. So he’s looking at time for filing a false police report. Firing him was easy.”

Danny glanced at his brother. “So, do you like firing people?”

“Part of my job. Why?”

“I just never figured you for the firing type. You avoid confrontation.”

“Where’d you learn to talk like Oprah?”

“Hey, it’s one of the first things you learn as a soldier; how to spot a man who will take on confrontation or run away. Life depends on it.”

“Yeah, well, like I said, it’s part of the job.” In truth, Donny didn’t particularly like it. Firing the delivery guy had been rough because he had two kids and a sick mother, but, as Greg had said at the time, “He should have thought of that before going to get his horn honked.”

As a result of the firings, the company decided it was time to draw up an employee manual, so Donny had spent a good part of July and August with Greg and Allen coming up with rules and procedures. In light of the FAStrak incident, they made everyone connected with the company sign a non-disclosure agreement. When they finished the manual and were getting ready to review it with the staff, Greg said wistfully, “We’ve taken our first step into the corporate mindset.”

His father replied, “It’s this or let people like Bryce eat your lunch. It’s a dog-eat-dog world we’re in. I don’t think you want to be wearing Milk Bone underwear. And if we’re going to move into Silicon Valley, it’s the right thing to do.”

They swam some laps, roughhoused a little like when they were kids at the quarry, then Donny got out, went into the house, and got the big beach towels.

“What’s the word from Eric? How’s things going up in Silicon Valley?” Danny asked as they went back into the house.

“So far so good,” replied Donny. He got the lettuce out of the refrigerator and handed it to his brother. “It’s kinda quiet around the office without them, but they’re making some headway, and we should be ready to beta Gemini Control by Thanksgiving.”

“How’s things with Marc?”

Donny started to slice an onion. “Good,” he said cheerfully, but Danny looked askance at his twin.

“Yeah?” he said doubtfully.

“Yeah. Really. We’re doing really well. We’re having one of the best quarters ever, in spite of the competition and the expense of the move up north.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“Yeah, I know.” Donny wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and sniffed. He looked at his brother and smiled a little. “We’re... fine. Friends. Co-workers. He’s....” Donny went back to the cutting board, rapidly finished chopping the onion, and dumped them into the large mixing bowl. “Here, make yourself useful and tear up some of the lettuce.”

They ate at the table by the pool. It was still daylight, but the sun had moved behind the trees to the west and the air had cooled off.

“Just friends,” said Danny.


“When did this happen?”

“It’s always been like that. You know that. We’re not in love.”

Danny chuckled. “That’s an old song by 10CC, right?”

Donny shook his head. “Yeah, right. Look, we’re friends, and other than the fact that we like to have sex every now and then, well, that’s just part of the deal. Nothing more.”

“Yeah, and how long has it been since you and he made close order drill?”

“A while,” Donny admitted. In fact, the last time had been the night Donny closed on the house and Marc came over; the night Donny had hinted that he should move in with him, and the night Marc had said he wasn’t the one he should be asking. They ended up in bed nonetheless, but since then there had been an unspoken understanding between them, and Donny and Marc saw each other only at work.

Danny nodded slowly and then shook his head. “That’s too bad.” Almost as an afterthought, he said, “So what’s Mike up to?”

“Oh,” said Donny, “he’s busy as hell. He’s got the sitcom, and when that’s not going on he’s got the movie....”

“The one about the twins?”

“Yeah, except they’re fraternal now; he’s shooting it with Jeremy Dixon.”

“Who’s Mike playing, the soldier or the draft dodger?”

Donny said, “The draft dodger. Milo thinks Jeremy’s got the look for the soldier.”

Danny smirked. “He’s a pretty-boy. Maybe if he played a sailor...”

“Nah, I saw some publicity stills of him in uniform; he looks okay.”

“So, you’ve been keeping in touch with Mike a lot, I guess.”

“He’s up in Idyllwild when he’s not shooting. I talk to him every so often when he’s in town.”

Danny raised his eyebrows. “And?”

“And nothing. Just... ‘hi, how-are-ya, what’s up,’ that sort of shit, helping out with some of the scripts. He’s still got me doing that.”

Danny stabbed a piece of steak. “Why don’t you ask him to move in here with you?”

“We tried that, remember? It didn’t work.”

“It didn’t work because his agent had a fit ‘cause he thought you were some kind of hustler. After the quake he lived with us for six months and his agent never said a word.”

“That’s different. We weren’t sleeping together. And officially, he’s living in Idyllwild. Nobody knows where he stays in town.”

Danny chewed thoughtfully for a moment. “So what would be the difference if he just moved in over here instead of just lived at the old place?”

“What are you trying to be, the matchmaker?”

Danny glared at his brother. “Look, I lived in the same house – the same room – with Mike for six months. The guy still thinks you’re the one. He talks about you all the time, and I gotta tell ya, the nights when you’ve had Marc over, he’s lying there wide awake, listening to every sound, probably hard as nails, doing his best not to jerk off. And it’s more than just the sex. He thinks you’re the only guy in the whole world who doesn’t give a shit that he’s a celebrity; that liked him because he was just Mike, not Lance Michaels.” Danny shook his head. “Y’know, twin, you’ve been going through this whole thing like some big muscle-bound goof, completely unaware of what’s going on. And I’ll give you credit for trying really hard, but it’s all an act. I know it. I can see it. Look, I’ve been watching you guys. It’s really funny in a way, the way you avoid any kind of ... I don’t know ... close contact. But damn, twin, it’s so obvious. You’re still in love with him, and boy, is he still in love with you.”

“He’s got a funny way of showing it.”

Danny tossed his napkin on the table. “What, taking a job in New York for nine months?”

“Well, yeah, there’s that. And other things.”

“Letting that director blow him? Fooling around with Eric that one time? It’s not as if you’ve been a monk the whole time, y’know. How long after he split did you hook up with Marc?”

“That’s different.”

“Oh, really,” said Danny sarcastically. “Well, what about that weekend in Idyllwild back in, what, February?”

“That was just... messing around.”

“Well, so was Eric. Look, I can’t tell you what do to, twin. Never could.” Danny reached across the table and grabbed his brother’s wrist in a tight grip, much like he used to in the football huddle just before the break. “Dammit, I’m heading outta here for who knows how long; I’m not gonna be around here to tell you that if you don’t at least give him a chance, you’re...well, just give him a call.”

Donny smiled a little. “Did he put you up to this?”

Danny snorted. “Fuck no. I haven’t seen him since I moved out, and I’m not his messenger boy. ‘Sides, I’ve got a high security clearance now so I don’t say anything without orders.”

They cleared the table and cleaned up the kitchen, then Danny went into his room and closed the door to do some studying. Donny went out to the patio and lit a cigarette. It was dark now and the patio lights were on, leaving little puddles of yellow light along the edge of the shrubbery and under the palm trees. The night insects made a steady, almost subliminal undertone except for the occasional cricket chirp.

The cordless phone was on the table. Without much thought he picked it up and dialed Mike’s number. It rang four times and the machine picked up. He waited for the beep. “Hey, it’s me. Guess you’re up in Idyllwild. Just thought I’d call and ... see what you’re doing this weekend, but ... Anyway, I’ll talk to you later.” He clicked off the phone and picked up his cigarettes. He had just lit one when the phone rang.

“Hey,” said Mike. “I was outside.”

“Oh. Thought you’d be in Idyllwild.”

“Nah; there’s a rental in there that’s paying me enough for the weekend to take care of three month’s mortgage. Can’t say no to that.”

“Guess not.”

“Yeah. So, what’s up?”

“Not much; how about you?”

Mike chuckled. “Kinda like that song... ‘Not sure why I called; I guess I really just wanted to talk to you.’ Remember that one? England Dan and whatsisname?”

“Yeah, I guess so. So, um... You want to come over?”


“Danny’s here. He’s leaving Tuesday, so we’re... uh...”

“Hey, great; it’d be good to see him again.”

“Yeah, well.... Good. See you in a few, then.”

“All right. Let me grab a shower and I’ll be over in about half an hour.”

Donny tapped on the spare room door and said, “Mike’s coming over.” Danny opened the door and grinned at his brother. “Cool,” he said. “About damn time. Are you gonna ask him?”

“I... If the chance comes up, yeah.”

“Take the chance, twin. And if he wants to spend the night...close the door.”

Mike brought some beers and they sat on the patio. Danny joined them for a while, then excused himself. “Good to see you again, roomie,” Mike said as Danny got up.

“Yeah, you too.” Danny glanced at his brother, nodded, and went back to his room.

Donny fiddled with the pop-top on his beer can. “So, how’s the movie coming?”

Mike shifted in his chair. “Pretty good. We’re on a little break now; Jeremy’s got some other film commitments he’s gotta keep for the next couple weeks or so, but we’ll get back to it by the end of the month. Should be ready by next spring.”


“Yeah.” Mike looked around the patio. “Hey, the place looks good.”


They sat and talked about work, the house, and each time Donny felt he had the chance to steer the conversation to the question, it slipped away. After an hour or so Mike glanced at his watch. “Well, listen, I’d better get going.” He stood up and stretched, his t-shirt riding up a little above his belt, revealing a peek of his flat stomach and the trail of light hair running down from his navel. Donny felt a sudden rush of lust.

“You don’t have to, y’know,” he said, trying to sound casual but unable to keep the tremble out of his voice.

Mike smiled. “I’m supposed to drive out to P.S. to meet with some people tomorrow and I need to get going early.”

“Oh. Okay, that’s cool.”

“But thanks for the offer.” Mike rubbed his knuckle on Donny’s chest. “Any other time...”

They walked to his car, Donny still feeling the warmth in his chest and below.

“Well,” Mike said, fumbling with his keys, “good to see you.”

“You okay to drive?”

Mike nodded. “Yeah, I’m good. I’ve been pretty much dry all summer except for the occasional brew after a hot day. But thanks.”

Mike swung open the car door and Donny blurted out, “Hey, why don’t you move in here?”

Mike stopped and glanced at Donny. He chuckled a little self-consciously. “Yeah, well, I was wondering if you were going to get around to that.”

“Yeah, well, I’m a little slow on the uptake, y’know. Just a big old muscle-bound goof.”

“Yeah, well, that’s what I love about you.”

“So, how about it?”

Mike leaned on the open door of the car. “Yeah, well, we should talk about it. I’m.... I’ll call you.”

“So...what do you think?”

Mike looked at him and smiled. “What do you think? I’ll call you. G’night, Donny.” He leaned over, gave him a quick peck on the cheek, and got in the car. “Sleep well,” he said as he drove off. Donny watched him go and thought that his chances of sleeping well were not very good.


His alarm went off at 4:30 on Tuesday morning. Danny’s flight was at 7:30. He sleepily made coffee, pounded on Danny’s door and hollered “Reveille!” then took a shower. It was still dark when they left the house. Danny was wearing civilian clothes; a polo shirt and pressed khakis, an unconscious imitation of his brother’s workday outfit.

In spite of the early hour, the airport departure concourse was crowded with people getting flights to the east coast. Danny had not said where his flight was going, but the agent that checked his bags handed back the ticket and said he was checked through to Tampa.

They said goodbye at the security screening, Danny giving his twin a powerful hug. “I’ll see you at Christmas – maybe.”

“Yeah. Have a good time, whatever you’re doing.”

Danny glanced wistfully at the GI-issue locked briefcase he was carrying. “Not much chance of that.”

“Can you call out from there?”

“Oh, yeah, sure; I’ll call you when I get there.”


“And let me know what happens.” He raised an eyebrow. Donny knew what that meant. Mike hadn’t called.

“I will.”

“Okay.” Danny squeezed Donny’s bicep. “And, twin; stop trying to just get through life without bumping into the furniture. It’s okay to take a chance now and then.”

Donny felt his eyes prickling and his throat tightening. “Okay.”

Danny passed through the screener and waved from the other side. He mouthed, “Love you,” and proceeded down the concourse to his gate.

Donny made it to the office early; the traffic was light on the morning after the holiday. Irene came into his office and put a newspaper on his desk. It was Daily Variety; her husband worked in accounting at MGM. “Check this out,” she said, pointing to a small piece inside.
Production Halted on ‘Back Home Again.’
Filming of the Jeremy Dixon feature “Back Home Again” is on hold while Lance Michaels’ Cherry Bend Productions looks to round up more backing. Exec producer Michaels has been working with Paul Jeffries to secure the final bucks and hopes to meet its May release date.
Donny looked up at Irene. “Lily here yet?”

“She’s getting coffee. You need something?”

“Yeah. Paul Jeffries’ phone number.”

Chapter Guide