Monday, February 19, 2007

Small Town Boys - Chapter 41

Santa Barbara

“We have to be there by six for the rehearsal dinner,” said Eric. It was the Thursday before Rob’s wedding.

“So we gotta leave here by when?” said Donny.

Eric shrugged. “Well, we gotta get there, get checked into the hotel, get changed...I dunno, noon? One? You gotta figure traffic on a weekend heading up there’s gonna be heavy.”


“Oh, and Rob called. He’s got us in one room at the hotel; the place is full up. You mind?”

Donny shrugged. “Not unless either of us gets lucky this weekend.”

They left the office after lunch, taking their own cars since Eric was going back to Palo Alto on Sunday. They took the Pacific Coast Highway.

Donny found it hard to keep his eyes on the road. It was a beautiful day and he kept glancing left and right to take in the scenery; the bright blue ocean to his left, the steep hills almost overhanging the road to his right. He had never seen this part of California before.

They stopped outside Ventura for gas.

“It’s amazing,” Donny said to Eric.

“What, the drive? Yeah, I love coming up this way. I can’t believe you’ve never been up here before.”

“Yeah, well, I may just do it more often.”

The hotel, set on a hillside overlooking the Pacific, was made to look like an old Spanish mission. It had red barrel tiles on the roof, white stucco walls, colonnaded balconies running along each wing, and a central open courtyard with that led out to a patio with a spectacular view of the Santa Barbara Channel and the distant islands. The grounds were in keeping with the mission style with arching trees and low hedges of boxwood and evergreens. “Nice place,” Donny said as he followed the bellboy who had met them at the entrance and offered to carry their bags.

“This ain’t no Motel 6,” said Eric as he looked around, taking in the antique furnishings in the lobby.

Their suite overlooked the steep bluff that ran down to the ocean. It too was furnished in mission-style, and the bedroom had two large double beds and doors out to the balcony. The bellboy swung open the patio doors, turned on the light in the living room, and showed them the mini-bar, the large bathroom complete with Jacuzzi and double shower, and opened the armoire that hid the TV. Donny gave him a five.

“Definitely not a Motel 6,” Eric affirmed.

“Kinda reminds me of the Villa,” said Donny, “except that’s Italian.”

The rehearsal dinner was in one of the hotel’s banquet rooms off the main courtyard. Dress, according to the invitation, was casual, so Donny put on a polo shirt and chino slacks while Eric settled for a Pendleton and shorts. “I know what Rob means when he says ‘casual.’”

Cocktails were served in the bar. It opened out onto the patio, and Donny and Eric found Rob already there. He gave them both hugs, introduced them to a dizzying array of friends, relatives, future in-laws, and other guests before leaving them to fend for themselves. Donny got a drink and wandered out to the patio.

A waitress passed by with canapés, and after taking one, Donny noticed one of the guests who had arrived a few moments ago. He looked to be about his age or a little older, tall and lanky, and was wearing a colorful Madras shirt, shorts, and loafers without socks. Donny was fairly sure he’d seen him somewhere before, but couldn’t place him. He assumed he was a wedding guest, so when they exchanged glances, Donny nodded and smiled. The man returned nod and came over.

“Hi,” he said, holding out his hand. “Luke Connolly.”

It came back to Donny. He was the doctor at the clinic who’d drawn his blood for his HIV test almost two years ago.

“Oh, hi,” replied Donny, shaking hands. “Donny Hollenbeck.”

“Nice to see you again,” said Luke.

“You remember me?”

Luke poked one of Donny’s arms. “I never forget a great set of guns.”

Donny chuckled modestly. “Oh, thanks.”

“You’re welcome. I’ve been working out since I was in high school, but I’m not the type to get size,” he said, indicating his own biceps, which were long and corded with veins. “So I settle for the lean look.”

“Yeah, well,” Donny replied, “I guess you do what you can.”

“So, you’re here with your friend?” Luke said, looking at Eric, who was talking and laughing with some friends from college whom he hadn’t seen in a while. Luke had said “friend” in a way that implied he thought that they were lovers.

“That’s Eric. Eric McKay. We shared a house with Rob for a while in L.A.”

“Oh, that’s right; I remember Rob telling me about you guys.”

“That’s how I heard about the clinic. Rob told me.”

“Right.” Luke nodded. “So, everything come out okay?”

“Um, yeah,” said Donny. “I mean, I was negative.”

“That’s great.”

“Yeah, I was happy. I mean, not that I expected any different, but...”

“I know what you mean,” Luke said with a knowing look, and Donny noticed the little red AIDS ribbon button on Luke’s shirt collar. “So, how long have you and Eric been together?”

Donny shook his head. “We’re not together... like that.”

Luke looked mildly surprised. “Really?”


“Is he straight?”

“Um, no, actually, he’s not,” replied Donny, a little surprised at Luke’s forthrightness. “But... he was my boss for a long time, even when we were housemates, and so....”

“I get it,” said Luke. “Just friends.”


“Rob said something about one of his friends going out with some actor.”

“That was me.”

“Oh? Okay.”

“Yeah,” said Donny taking a sip from his drink.

There was a small wrought-iron table nearby. Luke pulled out one of the chairs and sat down, and he motioned to Donny to take the other. He did.

“So, you still together, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“No, it’s cool. Uh, no, not really.”

“Sorry to hear that.”

Donny told him the story of his on-and-off relationship with Mike, never saying his stage name, leading up to the weekend at Palm Springs. “I guess now he thinks I’m just another Hollywood wannabe,” he concluded, rattling the ice in his now-empty glass. A waitress came by and offered a fresh one.

“This other guy you mentioned,” Luke said, also ordering another. “You still seeing him?”

“Well, yeah, but only at work.”

Luke shook his head with a mixture of wonder and sadness. “Jesus,” he said. “What is wrong with this picture?”

“What do you mean?”

Luke spread his hands. “Well, look at you. You’re a smart guy, you’ve got a good job, you’re handsome – buff as hell – and you’re obviously not some sleaze ball out to screw people over, but this Mike guy and Marc, they just walk away. So what am I missing?”

“You tell me.”

The waitress brought the drinks, and the patio started to fill up with other guests, some of them not with the wedding party. Eric came over and Luke introduced himself.

“Oh, right,” Eric said. “Rob told me about you. The cowboy.”

Luke laughed. “Yeah, that’s me. The queer doc from Dewey, Oklahoma.”

“Where’s that?”

“Just north of Bartlesville, just south of the Kansas line. Middle of nowhere in the middle of nowhere.” He kicked the other chair away from the table. “Here, have a seat.”

They talked about life in L.A., cars, computers, even a little about the Dodgers, until Rob came over and waved them into the banquet hall. Everybody had a place card, and Donny was seated with some of Rob’s teenaged cousins from New York and two of Marcy’s friends from high school. At first he didn’t know what to say until the cousin – Rebecca – asked Donny if he knew any movie stars.

“A few.”

“Like who?”

“Um, well, you’ve heard of Lance Michaels?”

Rebecca thought for a second, then nodded. “Anyone else?”

“Well, I’ve met Jeremy Dixon,” he said. That drew the appropriate gasp.

“No way you know Jeremy Dixon!”

“I’ve met him,” Donny said, picking at his shrimp cocktail. “I don’t really know him.”

“That is so awesome! How did you meet him?”

“Well, we have mutual friends,” he said. He was tempted to tell the story about Small Town Boys and Palm Springs, but he could hear his mother in his ear reminding that bragging was unseemly.

Rebecca’s brother, David, a thin fifteen-year-old with his cousin’s prominent nose, a mop of curly hair, and a spattering of acne across his cheeks, asked, “So how do you know Lance Michaels?”

“Oh,” replied Donny nonchalantly, “you meet people around here.”

“That sitcom he’s in sucks,” said David.

“Which one is that?” asked Trish, a trim brunette who was one of the girl friends.

“Return to Something.”

Return to Sender,” interjected Donny.

“Yeah,” said David, poking his shrimp with a fork.

“I’ve seen that,” said Meagan. “It’s okay.” She turned to Trish. “Have you seen Friends?”

“No, what’s that?”

“Oh. My. God,” said Meagan. “It is so awesome. Matt LeBlanc is in it.”

Rebecca prodded Donny. “So tell me about Jeremy Dixon.”

“Like what?”

“Is he... What’s he like in person?”

“He’s a nice guy.”

“How’d you meet him?”

“Well,” Donny replied, glancing at her, “I was out at a place in Palm Springs, and this guy I know knows him.”

“So you met him. Just like that.”

“Pretty much.”

“I bet he’s a fag,” said David.

“He’s married to Miriam Webster, jerk,” retorted Rebecca.

David scowled, glared at his sister, and stabbed a shrimp with his fork. Donny looked around the room and saw Luke and Eric across the room, sitting together and talking animatedly. Donny wondered how he had drawn the short straw to be seated at the kiddie table.

“He looks like a fag,” muttered David. Donny was tempted to ask what exactly a fag looked like, but thought better of it. A waiter came by, offered him some wine, and he took the white to go with the chicken cordon bleu.

“Are you in the movie business?” asked Rebecca.

Donny decided that this wasn’t the place to talk about being an executive producer in some fashion, so he shook his head. “No, I’m... I work in an office.”

“Oh,” Rebecca sighed and dug into her food.

Trish smiled knowingly. “Not everyone in L.A. is in show business.” She turned to Donny. “They just know people who are, right?”

“That’s right.”

Donny noticed that Trish had been looking at him appraisingly since he had sat down. He had a flashback to the last time he was aware that a girl was interested in him. It was his junior year in high school when Elaine Gruber, a sophomore, had developed a crush on him. At the time he was pretty sure he was gay, so he wasn’t sure what to do when Elaine, who had started out by smiling at him and yelling his name the loudest when the cheerleaders did the roll-call chant during football pep rallies, escalated her attention to finding ways of sitting near him in study hall or talking to him as they walked down the hall between classes. He decided that it wouldn’t be a good idea to explain the real reason why he couldn’t reciprocate her attention, so he had been politely distant and hoped that at some point she’d get the impression that he was just a dumb jock and direct her attention elsewhere. At the end of the school year, Elaine had come up to him and asked him to autograph her yearbook. He wrote, “Best of luck, Donny.” She grinned and wrote in his, “Always Elaine. Donny wondered if it would continue into his senior year, but over the summer Elaine became enamored of another football player who was grateful for the attention.

“So how do you know Rob and Marcy?” Trish asked.

“I shared a house with Rob for a while in L.A.”

“Oh. The place he moved into when he and Marcy were taking their break. So you’re the computer whiz.”


David perked up. “You’re into computers?”

“Um, I work for a company that writes software.”

“Cool. What?”

“We sell a program called Pelican.”

David scowled. “Never heard of it.”

“It’s a jobs database and project manager,” replied Donny.

“So you know anybody who writes games for like Nintendo?”

“Nope, ‘fraid not.” That was not exactly true. Donny had met several writers of games and he knew that Eric had worked with some of them, but he didn’t want to get into a long conversation about them.


Trish smiled indulgently at David, then gave Donny a dazzling smile. “So how do you like living out here?”

They spent the rest of the meal chatting, although Trish did most of the talking, and once or twice she patted Donny on the hand, which he took as a sign of implied intimacy. She told him how she knew Marcy, what college she went to, what her dad did, and how much she enjoyed living in Orange County. Donny had heard of this; the resume recitation was a part of the Southern California mating ritual, although she seemed to be doing it with an edge of sarcasm, as if she was doing as polite party chat and that was it. He responded by telling her that he’d grown up in the Midwest and had never graduated from college. He left out the fact that he was gay, and he wondered why Rob had never bothered to tell Marcy that he had been living with two gay men while they were on their break. Well, Donny mused, at least I’ve got some material to suggest to Aaron for an episode of the show: a gay man getting hit on by a bridesmaid.

As dessert was being served, Avery, the best man, clinked his wine glass and began the ritual of the toasts. There were the gag gifts, leering allusions to the wedding night, and a series of inside jokes from college that involved a box turtle that some of the people at the head table thought were uproariously funny. Finally Rob stood up and said, “Do I finally get some time for rebuttal?” Everybody laughed, and then he launched into an alcohol-lubricated thank-you toast to everyone at the head table including his friends, and his parents. “I also want to say a special thanks to my old roomies, Eric and Donny, who put up with all my med school stuff for so long. I just hope they can get along without me now; ‘course now that they’re millionaire software geniuses it doesn’t much matter.” He laughed, which cued the audience. Donny found that everyone at the table was looking at him with renewed interest, and Trish patted his hand, held and squeezed it for a second.

Rob finished off with the appropriately gooey romantic toast to Marcy, and she stood up and hugged him. Everybody clapped; a few people wiped away tears, then the party broke up, with people standing around as the waiters hurried to clear the tables. Donny said goodnight to his table companions, including Trish, who made gave him a quick hug. He smiled, not really knowing why, and made a graceful but quick exit for the door. He had suddenly realized that he desperately needed a cigarette.

He found a quiet corner of the patio outside where it was okay to smoke. The last tinges of twilight were fading over the ocean. Out on the horizon the lights of a ship glowed like stars on the surface of the water. Somewhere, mixing in with the sound of distant traffic and the crickets, a jazz trio was making their way through a slow version of In the Mood. Donny found himself staring at the lights of Stern’s Wharf.

“There you are,” said a voice behind him. It was Trish. She came over to the rail and leaned her elbows on it. “Smoke break?”

“Yeah,” said Donny with a touch of embarrassment.

“Same here,” she replied, pulling a pack of Benson & Hedges menthols out of her small purse. Donny gave her a light.

“So,” she said, “was Rob kidding?”

Donny knew what she meant, but he still said, “About what?”

“Are you really a millionaire?”

Donny raised his eyebrows at her directness and she laughed. “Sorry, it’s genetic. I’m from Orange County. It’s like asking where you go to school. Enquiring minds want to know.”

“No, that’s okay,” replied Donny, thinking that it was the second time in two weeks he’d come across that phrase. He shrugged. “On paper, mostly. One bad batch of software and I’m broke. And I just blew most of my savings on a new car.”

“What’d you get? Wait, don’t tell me. A Ferrari 350 Spyder.”

“Chevy Tahoe.”

Trish laughed. “Pretty modest.”

“Hey,” said Donny, “not that long ago I was pounding nails on a garage roof in Sugar Ridge, Ohio.”

“So no mansion in Beverly Hills?”

“Three bedroom place in Santa Monica. But it’s got a pool. And I also have a ’65 Mustang convertible.”

She grinned. “That’s more like it. So how’d you get to be a software genius in L.A.?”

“I answered a want-ad in the Times.”



“Must have been an interesting ad.”

“I honestly don’t remember.”

They sat at one of the little tables. Trish said, “So, how do you like it out here?”

“You already asked me that. At dinner.”

“Yeah, but that was just polite dinner conversation. I really want to know what someone from somewhere else thinks about here.”

“California or Santa Barbara?”

“Either one. Or both.”

“It’s nice. I like the weather. But I could do without the wildfires, the earthquakes, and the traffic.”

“Agreed,” she said. “I grew up here and I sometimes feel like I’m living in a different world than everywhere else.” She looked at Donny. “So, is there someone special in your life?”

Donny laughed. “Boy, you get right to the point, don’t you?”

“I believe you should always be direct, even if you have to be devious about it.” She smiled, moved a little closer to him, and Donny caught a whiff of her perfume. It was nice.

“Well...” He was about to answer when a waiter, a handsome young guy in a well-fitting outfit of black pants and a white shirt and black vest, came over and asked if they’d like something from the bar. Trish asked for white wine and Donny asked for whatever they had on draft. The waiter smiled and walked away.

“Oh, damn,” said Trish.

“What,” said Donny, “changed your mind? I can go tell him you want something else.”

“No,” Trish sighed, and then smiled wanly at Donny. “I’m an idiot.”


“You’re gay,” said Trish with a hushed voice.

“Uh, yeah,” said Donny, “I know.”

“I’m sorry. I’ve made a complete ass of myself. Excuse me while I go find something to open a vein with.” She turned to leave, but Donny took her gently by the elbow and pulled her back.

“Hold on. It’s cool.”

“You sure?”


Trish looked at him apologetically. “It’s just...never mind. You’re sure you’re not like totally repulsed by me coming on to you like that?”

“No. Actually, I was kind of enjoying it. It’s been a while since a girl’s even noticed me.”

“You’re shitting me.”

“Swear to God.”

“They must be blind.”

“Well, maybe it’s because I don’t notice them noticing me.”

“Jesus, how could they not?”

Donny smiled. “So how’d you figure me out?”

“The waiter. He was checking you out, and you did the same to him. Your eyes went right for his crotch, and he scoped out your arms and pecs.”

“Yeah, well, I guess it’s instinct.” Donny replied. “But no... there isn’t.”

She looked puzzled for a second, then got it. “Oh, the ‘someone special’ question. Really?”

“Well, there was. For a while. But...”

“I’m sorry.”

Donny shrugged. “That’s the way it goes.”

“So what happened?” Donny looked at her doubtfully, and she added, “I don’t need all the details; I’m just interested in knowing what breaks up people in relationships, seeing as how I have my own tales to tell.”

“Well, we didn’t have a whole lot in common other than.... y’know.”

Trish smirked a little. “Yeah. Sometimes that’s all there is between two people. Really great ‘y’know.’”

Donny nodded and wondered why he had reduced the two and a half years and all the time he had spent with Mike down to just that. “Well, we had more than that, but....”

Trish lit another cigarette. “I’m sure there was,” she replied. “But still you broke up, so...”

The waiter brought their drinks, and Donny signed for them. The waiter smiled, showing a nice set of dimples, and left.

“He’s got your room number now,” said Trish impishly. “Think he’ll come knocking when he gets off work?”

Donny had an instant flashback to his first time with Marc at the Villa, and grinned a little. “Nah, that only happens in porno flicks,” he said. “Or so I’ve been told.”

“So you’ve been told.”

“Yeah. So... what about you? How come you don’t have someone special?”

Trish tasted her wine. “The guys I meet only want two things. Sex or money, and they think that if they go out with me, they’ll get some of each. Wrong.” She took another sip. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a nun, and I enjoy spending some of daddy’s money, but if we’re talking serious relationships, I want a guy who’s secure enough in himself that he doesn’t need me around to validate his manhood in the sack or pay for his club membership so he can go play golf with his frat-boy buddies and screw around.” She looked at Donny and grinned. “In other words, a guy just like you.”

“I see your problem,” Donny said dryly.

“Yeah. The guys I like are unavailable, and the guys I don’t like I have to beat off with a stick.”

Donny chuckled. “Well, there’s your problem. That’s not how you do it. I should know; I’ve been doing it since I was fifteen.”

She gave him a puzzled look for a split-second, then laughed out loud. It was a clear, pleasant and infectious laugh, and Donny joined in with her. Finally she shook her head. “Oh, damn, you even have a sense of humor.”

“Well, if it’s any consolation, I have a twin brother, and he’s straight.”

Trish perked up. “Really? Where is he?”

“In the Air Force.”

Her shoulders sagged. “Shit.”

“Next time he’s in town, I’ll introduce you.”

“What’s his name?”


“Officer or enlisted?”

“First lieutenant.”

“It’s a deal.” She looked at her watch. “Well, Donny, it’s been great talking to you, but a bunch of us are supposed to take Marcy out for a ‘surprise’ night on the town, except she’s the one that chose the place, so not much of a surprise there.” She got up and Donny got up too. She smiled and gave him a soft kiss on the cheek. “You’re a great guy; I hope someone finds you.”

Donny returned the kiss and said, “You too.” She waved and went back into the lounge. Donny watched her go, smiled to himself, and finished his beer. The waiter came back and offered him another, but he shook his head. After a while he got up and strolled into the lounge. The jazz trio had switched to some Brubeck.

“There you are,” said a voice coming up behind him. It was Eric, with Luke behind him. “Thought you and that girl had made a getaway,” he added with a little wry chuckle.

“Yeah, right. So now what? We take Rob out for a bachelor party or something?”

“Already did that with some of the guys on his rotation last weekend,” said Luke. “Took him to some titty bar out by the airport and got him good and trashed. No, tonight it’s just drinks or whatever here in the lounge so we’re not all hung over at the ceremony tomorrow. We can get wasted at the reception.”

They found an empty table far enough away from the music so that they could talk without shouting. Luke was now a resident in the E.R. and he told them stories about some of the more harrowing, tragic, and even funny cases that presented themselves at a hospital located between Beverly Hills and some of the seedier neighborhoods of Los Angeles. “We get everything from crack whores to starlets, gunshot wounds to suicide attempts,” he said.

They sat and drank until after midnight. Donny found himself staring back and forth between Luke and Eric, listening as they debated the most overrated bands of the 1980’s; Genesis, Duran Duran, or Journey.

His thoughts drifted back to that night on the patio smoking pot with Eric, and that warm feeling returned, but this time it was tempered by the presence of Luke and the blur that liquor gave him. He found himself wondering what it would be like to go to bed with Luke; he’d never kissed a guy with a mustache, and Luke’s reminded him a little of Tom Selleck’s on Magnum P.I., except Luke was taller and thinner.

At one point Eric looked at Donny and said, through a layer of fog, “You look hammered, Donny. Whydoncha head back to the room and crash?”

Donny slowly nodded and carefully got to his feet. He pulled a twenty out of his pocket and left it on the table. “Should cover it,” he mumbled. “G’night,” he added.

“Seeyainabit,” said Eric, and Donny made his way carefully out of the lounge and into the cool night air of the central courtyard, finding his way back to his room. He picked up the pace when he suddenly realized he really had to pee.

The suite was dark, but he found the bathroom without incident. After he was finished he felt much better, and turned on the lights in the living room. Someone had delivered a courtesy basket of fruit and crackers, and he nibbled on some Triscuits as he got undressed. He got into his bed and buried his face in his pillow, noticing as he drifted off that he’d left the light on in the living room.

He was awakened by someone fumbling with the door, and it took him a few moments to remember where he was. The room was now dark, but from the lights on the balcony he could see a shape moving through the room. “Whozat?” he mumbled.

“Smee,” said Eric.


“Onesumpn.” Eric was humming slightly. “Lukesniceguy,” he said.



“Mmph,” said Donny from his pillow. He was barely awake, but he could see Eric as he sat on the bed and slowly pulled off his shirt and tossed it on the chair. He stood up and slid off his pants, taking his underwear with them. He went into the bathroom and shut the door. Donny drifted back to sleep.

So that’s why it seemed like a dream when he felt someone pull back the covers and nudge him over to the other side of the bed. He rolled over obediently, not opening his eyes, feeling the coolness of the sheets. Then someone got into bed with him and wrapped his arms around him, cuddling, nuzzling the back of his neck, making a soft whickering sound. He felt his body press against his, holding him, and he felt utterly at peace in spite of the powerful hard-on that had sprung up almost at the first touch. He drifted back to sleep.

When he woke up for real, the room was light and there was strong aroma of coffee. He was alone in his bed; Eric was asleep in the other one, his back to him, snoring softly. The coffeemaker in the kitchenette burbled and sighed. The alarm clock read 8:07.

When he came out of the bathroom, Eric was awake. “Good thing I set that up last night before I went to bed,” he yawned. “I haven’t got the strength to get up and make it now.”

Donny poured himself a cup and took one to Eric. “Thanks a lot,” he said, taking a sip and wincing. “Damn, next time we stick to either hard liquor or Coke. Tequila gives you a gnarly hangover.”

Donny chuckled softly. “First time I’ve heard you use the word ‘gnarly.’”

“Yeah, well, that’s the first time I’ve gotten that trashed since high school.” Donny looked at him skeptically. “I swear. Now high – that’s wholenother thing.”

Donny looked Eric over carefully, checking for any signs of whether or not what he thought had happened was just a dream. He had no recollection of actually having had sex, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that they had at least attempted something. But Eric seemed himself, if slightly logy from his hangover, and when he got out of bed to take his shower and get dressed, Donny noticed that he was wearing his boxers.

The ceremony was at three-thirty, so they had some time to kill between breakfast and the pre-wedding lunch at Rob’s grandmother’s house in Goleta. Eric and Donny went into downtown Santa Barbara where they window shopped and tried not to look like the rest of the tourists.

They found Luke and Trish at a small sidewalk café having espresso. Both looked like they too were nursing hangovers, but they greeted them cheerfully and asked them to join them. Trish looked around the table at the three men she was sitting with. “Ever the fag hag,” she said somewhat wistfully.

Luke and Trish knew each other from the days when Rob and Marcy started dating, and they had been the ones whom the couple had turned to when they had their rough patches, so they told stories of long nights consoling them and rejoicing when they got back together. “I for one am glad they’re getting married,” said Luke. “I was getting tired of getting phone calls in the middle of the night when Rob would get lonely and want to talk to someone. Life’s tough enough in the hospital without having to be ‘Dear Abby.’”

“Oh, that would explain it,” said Eric with a nod. “All those late-night phone calls. I’d walk by his room at like two a.m. and hear him sobbing over the phone to someone. I thought he was talking to Marcy.” He looked at Donny. “You remember, don’tcha?” Donny shook his head; he had no such recollection. “Oh, that’s right,” replied Eric with a touch of a smirk, “You can sleep through anything.”


The wedding was at the Douglas Family Preserve on the bluff overlooking Hendry’s Beach and the ocean. It was a small ceremony with only about twenty invited guests; the rest would show up at the reception at Rob’s parents’ house. A chuppa had been set up on a small raised platform with chairs set in a semicircle around it. A guitar duo played off to one side.

The ceremony was performed by a slightly balding rabbi who looked to be in his early forties. He was wearing a dark blazer and khakis, and he welcomed the guests with a few jokes before nodding to the guitarists. They plucked away at Mendelssohn’s wedding march as Rob, wearing a light-colored sport coat, chinos, and an open-collared shirt stepped forward, accompanied by Avery. Then everyone turned and watched as Marcy, in a light full-length dress and wearing a tiara of small flowers, came down the aisle on the arm of her father, followed by her mother, sister, and two bridesmaids.

The ceremony was short. Rob and Marcy had written their own vows with the advice of the rabbi, and they exchanged rings. After the ceremonial sipping of the wine and the benediction, Rob broke the glass with a gleeful stomp. Everyone shouted “Mazel tov!” and the rabbi said, “Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you Mr. – soon to be Doctor – and Mrs. Robert Jacob Goldwasser!” Another round of “mazel tovs!” and the guitarists burst forth with an arrangement of the triumphal march from Star Wars.

Eric had the map, so he had driven Donny, Luke, and Trish to the luncheon then on to the wedding. They piled into his Suburban for the drive up to the Goldwasser’s house which was up in the hills near Parma Park, not far from the Mt. Calvary Monastery. They found a place to park near the house, and walked up the road. They could already hear the little band warming up out by the pool.

“Okay,” said Eric, “who wants to be the designated driver, ‘cause I plan to enjoy myself.”

They looked at each other and Donny said with a shrug, “Okay, I’ll do it.”

“You’re a credit to your liver,” Luke said.

Eric tossed Donny the keys. “One glass of champagne at the toasts and that’s it,” he said.

“Not a problem,” Donny replied, also thinking that if what he thought happened the night before happened again, he wanted to be sober for it.

The house was, like most of the homes in the area, a Spanish-style mission with an open courtyard in the center leading to a wide patio and a pool. A dance floor and a tent had been set up over the pool. There were several bars set up at strategic locations, and the early arrivals were already crowding around them. Rob’s parents, Nina and Jake, had magically arrived at the house within fifteen minutes of the breaking of the glass and were there at the door to greet the guests as they arrived. Jake, a sturdy man in his late forties, had a prominent nose and a Long Island accent. He greeted Donny and Eric warmly, reminding them of the time he’d taken them to dinner back in the early days of Rob’s tenancy in the house, and Donny faintly remembered an evening at a steakhouse to celebrate Rob’s first week in med school. Jake was a dentist with a thriving practice that, he said, interfered with his golf game. Nina was a tall blonde who reminded Donny of Blythe Danner right down to the husky voice and the impish grin. At one time she had done some extra work in the movie business and had a lot of friends in Hollywood – it was through her that Rob had gotten the job working at 20th Century Fox.

They went out to the patio and started mingling. Trish went to the bar and got a glass of wine, then took Donny on a tour of the house.

“I didn’t know you’d been up here,” he said.

“Oh, Marcy and I came up here with Rob last Christmas. Let me show you Jake’s collection of toy soldiers?”

“His what?”

“He’s got this amazing collection of toy soldiers.” She led him into the study off the living room. The room was lined with bookshelves with hundreds of tiny soldiers all in British parade uniforms, marching in row after row, occasionally interspersed with an elaborate horse-drawn coach.

“It’s the coronation parade for Queen Elizabeth in 1953,” said Trish. “They’re all correct, right down to the stripes on the pants and the colors of the buttons, if you can see them without a microscope.”

“Wow,” said Donny. “There must be thousands of them.”

“Rob says over seven hundred, and that’s just the ones that fit. He says that if his dad ever put them all out, Nina’d leave him.”

“When you said ‘toy soldiers,’ I thought you meant GI Joes,” said Donny.

“Oh, God,” Trish laughed, “don’t let Jake hear you say that. Everybody’s gotta have a hobby, I guess.”

They looked around at the rest of the room with its neatly whitewashed walls and mission-style furniture. “Nice place,” Donny said.

Trish swirled her wine glass. “So, what’s up with you and Eric?”

“Huh?” was all Donny could manage, and he felt his ears start to burn.

“He wasn’t the guy you were talking about last night, was he? The guy you had nothing in common with other than... ‘y’know.’”

“No, he’s just a friend and my business partner...”

“Reason I ask,” Trish went on, running her finger around the edge of the glass, “was that I was watching you guys today; at the coffee shop, at lunch, at the wedding. You couldn’t take your eyes off him, and he was pretty much doing the same to you.”

“He was? I mean, I didn’t know....”

“Oh yeah. To quote my little sister, ‘he is so totally into you.’ Now Luke says that you told him there was nothing going on between you too, but from what I saw...”

Donny stammered, “You talked to Luke?”

“Well, yeah, now that Rob and Marcy are married, we’ve gotta have something to talk about. So what’s up? Your lips say No, but your eyes...the mirror of the soul and all that.”

“It’s... I didn’t even know.”

Trish sighed with exasperation. “What is it with you? Are you really that dense that someone has to hit you with a brick to tell you they like you, or is this shy bit all an act and you get off on people swooning over you and you act like you don’t know what the hell’s going on? How the hell do you ever get laid?”

Donny was taken aback by this onslaught, and he looked around the room to see that no one else was in earshot.

“Jesus, Trish,” he said quietly. “I swear I didn’t know.”

“You didn’t know you were staring at Eric all day? Come on.”

“Well, no, I...” He put his fingers to his lips then went and closed the door to the study, leaving it just a little ajar. “Look, last night... he and Luke and I hung out in the bar and we got pretty shitfaced.”

“I noticed the hangover this morning.”

“Yeah, so did I. Anyway, when I went to bed, I pretty much passed out, so when Eric came back to the room, I really don’t remember, but I think he got into bed with me and we....”

Trish’s eyes widened. “You and he got it on?”

Donny shook his head. “I don’t know.”

Trish looked at him skeptically. “I think you’d have to be pretty damn drunk not to remember something like that with someone like him. I mean, come on.”

“That’s just it. I don’t remember. He got into my bed – I think – and then the next thing I know it’s morning, he’s in his own bed, and I have a hangover.”

“Does your ass hurt?” Trish asked flatly.


“Any parts feel sticky that shouldn’t after a normal night’s sleep?”


“Got a funny taste in your mouth?”

“Other than the cotton mouth from the hangover, no.”

“My guess is that he thought he was getting in his own bed, cuddled up with you, passed out, then at some point woke up, realized where he was, and got into his own bed.” She shook her head. “So all this time I’ve been feeling sorry for you not having a boyfriend, there’s one waiting for you right under your nose.” She grimaced. “I need a cigarette.”

They went back out to the patio. Most of the guests had arrived and the band started playing. Donny saw Eric with a group of college friends – much the same that had been at the party the night before – and he wondered if he had been staring at him all day; he honestly couldn’t remember. As if on cue, Eric glanced over at him. They both smiled self-consciously, then Eric resumed his conversation and Donny followed Trish out to the edge of the patio where they could smoke and look out over the hillside.

“Y’know,” Trish mused, “guys have always hit on me with lame lines and stupid come-ons. I’ve always wondered; is it the same between two guys?”

“I guess. Never really made a study of it.”

“Well, how do you come on to someone you think is attractive.”

Donny shook his head. “Never done it.”

Trish stared at him. “You’re fucking kidding me. You mean you just wait for them to come to you?”

“Well, not like that. I just... I guess I’m shy.” Trish looked askance at him. He was getting a little flustered. “It’s not like I don’t think about it. I just never have.”


He thought back; Craig, Scott, Mike, and Marc. All of them had made the first move. “Nope.”

Trish blew an exasperated cloud of smoke out. “What’re you’re afraid of? Rejection?”

“Well, yeah, who isn’t? But no...I just...”

Trish nodded at Luke, who was on the other side of the pool, his hands in his pockets, talking to several people. “What about Luke?”

“What about him?”

“Ever thought about hitting on him?”

“I don’t know him that well,” Donny said a little guardedly, not wanting to bring up the first time they’d met. “I only really met him last night.”

“So? You were ready to jump that waiter last night and you don’t even know his name.”


“Come on,” said Trish with a small giggle. “Play along with me, willya?” She gestured across the patio. “How about Eric?” Eric was standing with his back to them talking to Jake, who seemed to be listening intently.

Donny grinned. “Hell, I’d probably cuddle back.”

Trish raised her glass, catching the eye of a passing waitress, and she got a refill. “Go for it,” she growled.


Rob and Marcy cut the cake as the sun was setting, then they had the traditional first dance together, then with the parents, and then everyone got up on the floor. Donny, remembering his manners, danced with Trish, then Meagan, Nina, and even Rob’s grandmother and two great aunts. Fortunately the band played easy-listening tunes that didn’t require any energetic steps. Then Marcy and Rob, after changing into traveling clothes, bid the guests a boisterous farewell in the driveway where they were pelted by birdseed from Rob’s younger cousins. They got in the back of the rented limo that would take them to Los Angeles for the night at a hotel in Beverly Hills before leaving for Maui in the morning. Marcy threw the bouquet almost directly at Trish, and she snagged it expertly. She beamed broadly at Donny and said, “Hey, maybe next time it’ll be for you.”

The guests began to leave and Donny, after getting a nod from Luke, went to get the Suburban. They drove back to the hotel in silence. Donny happened to glance in the rearview mirror. Trish was nodding off, her head drooping and resting on Eric’s shoulder. But Eric was wide awake, and when he saw Donny looking at him, he smiled.

In the lobby Trish waved goodnight, and Luke offered to escort her to her door. Donny and Eric returned the wave and went to their room.

“So, guess what,” Eric said as he sat on the bed to pull off his shoes. “Jake – Rob’s dad – wants to quote get in on the action, unquote.”

“Yeah?” said Donny from the bathroom.

“Yeah. Another shareholder. Does that mean we can write this weekend off as business?”

“Dunno,” said Donny around his toothbrush. “Ask Greg or Marc.”

“Speaking of Marc,” said Eric, who was now taking off his shirt and tossing it on his open suitcase, “any more mystery letters?”

“Not since he made partner.”

“Ever figure out what’s up with that?”


“Okay.” Eric stood in the bathroom door. “Say, about last night...”

Donny found himself staring at Eric’s reflection in the bathroom mirror. From this angle he looked leaner and paler, his boxers hanging on his hips as if they were a tad too large for his waist. For the first time Donny noticed a tiny trickle of light hair that ran down his breastbone to his navel. “Last night,” he whispered, as if he couldn’t remember.

“Yeah, when I, uh, got in your bed.” He looked slightly apologetic but also curious as if he wasn’t sure if Donny remembered.

“Oh, yeah.”

“I, uh, I guess I thought I was getting into my own....y’know.” He shrugged a little. “And I guess when I found this nice warm body already there, I guess I ...”

“Hey, it’s cool,” said Donny, realizing after he said it that it sounded dismissive. “I mean, I didn’t mind. Tell the truth, though, I was so zonked....”

“Yeah, me too,” said Eric. “After a bit I figured out what happened, though. You snore, you know that?”

“So I’ve been told,” Donny replied. For a split-second Donny thought about saying, “You’re welcome to try again tonight,” but Eric edged passed him and stood at the toilet, peeing loudly. Donny decided the moment had passed. He spit the rest of the toothpaste into the sink.


The next morning Donny was up at the first light of dawn. Eric was still asleep, so he went out onto the balcony. The morning air was cool but not cold, and the sun was just catching the tops of the hills over the city, turning them deep gold.

He could see down the road that ran past the hotel, down the hill for about a quarter of a mile before it turned. A jogger was coming up the hill. He was wearing shorts and a tank-top, and Donny watched him, his long legs pumping, his lean, muscular arms swinging, his expression fixed with the concentration that long-distance runners get. After a moment he realized it was Luke, and as he turned in the driveway he glanced up, saw Donny, grinned and raised his hand in a quick wave. Donny returned the wave and felt of tinge of admiration as he watched the lithe form disappear around the corner of the driveway. Maybe if he stopped smoking he could start running.

They checked out of the hotel after breakfast and Eric loaded up his Suburban. He gave Donny a firm hug, said he’d call him at the office in the morning, and headed up the 101 towards Palo Alto. Luke and Trish said their goodbyes in the lobby; They were riding back with Meagan, who was waiting somewhat impatiently in her yellow GTI in the driveway.

“Call me sometime,” she said to Donny, giving him her phone numbers. “Just for grins, okay?”

“Sure,” said Donny, writing his own number on a piece of notepaper he found on one of the desks in the lobby. “You too.”

Luke gave him a hug, too, and said, “Hey, let’s get together sometime for a beer.” They exchanged phone numbers, and Meagan honked her horn. “Okay, okay!” He grinned, patted Donny on the shoulder, and dragged his suitcase out to the car.

It was still early in the day, so Donny got a map from the concierge and found a couple of scenic routes to take on the way. He went up through Carpentaria, turned north at Ojai, and drove through Los Padres National Forest, taking in the autumn scenery. At least that’s what he wanted to do, but he couldn’t stop thinking about Eric and wondering what would have happened if he had spoken a split-second sooner the night before.

He had a late lunch south of Bakersfield and found himself caught up in the long line of cars, vans, semis, and pick-ups with travel trailers that were heading into Los Angeles from the weekend away, caught like a leaf in the stream; if a leaf moved slowly in stop-and-go traffic on Interstate 5.

It was after sunset by the time he turned the corner onto his street. There was a black Land Rover parked across the street from his house, and he remembered that the middle-aged couple who lived there – Art and Esther, both administrators in the public schools – had said they were looking into getting one.

The house was dark except for the front porch light and the light on the timer in the guest room. He dragged his duffel bag out of the back seat and keyed in the alarm code.

The alarm was supposed to beep twice as the signal that he’d shut it off, but nothing happened. He looked at the little LCD display, and it said “System Ready.” That meant it had not been set. “Oh, fuck,” Donny muttered, thinking that he’d been away all weekend with the alarm off, and wondering if any passing thief had tried his luck.

The back door was locked, and he let himself in, dropping his duffel by the washing machine. He walked softly through the kitchen and into the living room without turning on a light. The front door was closed; no sign of forced entry. Everything seemed to be in place. He moved slowly to the bedrooms. Everything was as it should be. He let out a sigh of relief, cursing his stupidity for running out of the house Friday morning without setting the alarm, although by now it seemed like second nature to him. Next time you’re in such a goddam hurry, he said to himself, write a note.

He was crossing back to the kitchen when he saw the lights were on in the bushes by the pool and someone was sitting in one of the chairs by the table. He nearly shouted out, his heart pounding from the rush of adrenaline, before he realized who it was. He opened the patio door and went out to the pool.

“You really ought to change the alarm code,” said Mike.

Chapter Guide