This page was last updated: September 20, 2007
Episode Three of 'Steven's Story' an original story
Melissa J. Vivigatz

~ * ~


  I was doing the final buttons up on my shirt as the doctor returned to the examination room, traditional clipboard of the profession in hand, papers being folded back and ‘ah-hummed’ over. Lucked out because he wasn’t one of the young ones, you know, kids who seemed to look for respect by tossing out big words at you, like they had to prove they knew what they were doing before they shoved a thermometer up your ass. Arrogance and insecurity all in one. No, this was an old fellow, hair white and thick, and if not exactly in a comfortable situation, at lease someone you could speak too.
  “So what’s the bad news, Doc?”
  “None for you, Mr. Hanscom. Only for myself, I am glad your complaint is not the norm, otherwise I would never be able to keep that place at Martha’s Vineyard. And before you ask, no, despite the blood work, which will not be in for a week or so, I see no reason for a cat scan.”
  Relief in part, because such machines and environment brought back bad memories, still.
  “So you know what is wrong? The, well, reason for my problem?” He grunted and I was glad it did not have to be repeated. Talk about an embarrassing thing to speak about with another guy. (Unless you were at a bar and there was something long legged-and fine sitting in view to wonder about that was.) Then again, imagine what it was like for the poor S.O.B.s who could only point south?
  “I might have an idea. Couple of questions first. Said you recently went through a divorce?” I nodded. “Bad one?”
  I snorted bitterly, “Aren’t they all?”
  “Not always, though sad to say usually.”
  Thank you for leaving it there and not telling me about yourself, old timer. You still wear a ring. Long set and grown together, a comfortable graft of bright gold and aging flesh. Part of something, never alone...
  Oh, Shell...
  Flip of paper, “Now, this so-called problem of yours started about two months ago you said?” I nodded. “Right after the divorce?”
  What did that have to do with anything? “That ended a year ago.” Not technically, but physically. Out the door and no looking back except at her stuff. Jesus, the bitch had all but needed a tractor trailer for her clothes alone!
  Well, if nothing else, her and her broke broker could start one hell of a second hand clothing boutique. Not that that would ever happen. No, once Sheila got her claws into something she never let got...not unless she found something she liked better.
  Bitch, bitch, Sheila, you whoring, bitch!
  “Mm-hmm.” Nod, sound of my tight voice clearly telling.
  The doctor lowered his board, bottom edge against his potbelly with crossed hands bracing on the other end and looked at me, getting ready to lay out the heavy.
  “Now then, Mr. Hanscom, to make things clear you are as healthy as a Kentucky race horse at the gate. Racquetball is probably the strangest method developed by man for a couple of guys to try and kill the other, but it sure keep you fit. Ones like you, I mean, not the other half which ends up down in emergency with a busted ticker. What the hell happened to good old fashion jogging for crying out loud?”
  “In this city?” I huffed wryly.
  “Yes, suppose you’re right. Back to you though, Mr. Hanscom.” He braced himself a little, not a good sign. “Now again, I’m not a head-shrink, the mind isn’t my field, only in my time I have seen people go through the most horrible things, stresses and situations I return home thankful with prayers every night I never had to go through myself. Just saying this so you know that despite my degree, I’ve had opportunity to see real people.”
  “Are you telling me I am crazy?” Yeah, I was planning to commit suicide in a couple of weeks, (not that I’d mentioned that,) but crazy? Shit.
  “Hell no,” he said to my semi-relief. “What I am saying, Mr. Hanscom, is that you are a man who has clearly gone through it, still is, and from the deep-set look in your eyes will be for a long while yet. Only during this time you’ve been wrapped up in this thing you’ve met someone. A someone your body is trying like crazy to tell your head about. My professional advice is to stop beating around the bush and get to it.”
  “Doc, swear to god, if I had met someone, that is exactly what I would be doing now instead of standing here talking to you!”
  He laughed, “Good man. Yet that is just it, Mr. Hanscom, there is someone out there close to you, but you just can’t see the rose through the thorns. Tell me, when exactly does your little problem rise?”
  Oh, fun-ny. “That’s just it, Doc, it happens all the time. Both when I am alone at home and at work surrounded by people.” And in the car, while shopping, hell, I was just lucky I managed to get out of the kitchen ‘unnoticed’ that time David was at my place cooking dinner! Talk about a close call, imagine getting a rock hard one when you had one of your buddies around! Guys would think you were queer for them or something. Not that I had a lot of friends to hang around with, but still!
  “Tell me about it.”
  “No, you tell me about it, Mr. Hanscom. You work in an office building?”
  “I am a lawyer, yes.” Considering the situation, I was not going to add that it was a ‘big firm’. Christ!
  “So, anyone new around? You said at first this happened mostly while you were at work. A new lady lawyer there, perhaps a cute secretary?”
  “God, I hope not.” He looked at me, white eyebrow arched expectantly. “What I mean is there are a couple of new people, but the only one I can imagine is a bi... She is a worse gold-digger than my wife is, which is saying a lot. I can’t stand her at all.
  “Besides, word around the office is she’s tapping one of my bosses. A married one three times her age.” Just the word? Ha!
  “Believe me, Doc, it is not her.”
  He took a deep breath and sighed, “Well, Mr. Hanscom, I have done just about all I can for you. I still think I’ve called this correctly, and suggest you pay more attention. Note exactly what you are thinking about and who is in your surroundings when this thing happens. Worse case scenario, if you can’t get this situation figured out and managed then come back to me. Old trick from the navy, salt peter in mashed potatoes. Keeps all the sailors down if you catch my drift.”
  “That’s sick,” I shuddered.
  He shrugged a shoulder, “Fact of life, Mr. Hanscom. Get trapped in close quarters for a few weeks or months, nothing to do and everyone all young and healthy, ready and able as it were. Well, as the old saying goes, any port in a storm.”
  “Jesus Christ!”
  “Pray all you want, lad, doesn’t change a thing.”
  “No, but they pay for it.”
  “Church go’er, eh?”
  “Every Sunday,” I nodded proudly.
  “Hmm. Well, check that place out as well. Can’t all be spinsters sitting nearby. Perfume is a strong trigger. Shampoo, hair spray, never know what gets the old hind-brain to wondering. The olfactory senses are amazing things. Triggers, Mr. Hanscom.” He tapped the side of his head, “It all starts up here.”
  Swell, my brains were in my dick. Then again, that was how Sheila always led me around. Cock and balls, and from there is was a homerun straight to the wallet.
  “Pipe man, eh? Comes off the jacket,” he sniffed as I pulled it on.
  I nodded, “I’m not about to get a lecture, am I?”
  “Hell no! Just jealous. Got too much slack around here. All this crap being spouted about these days, research that doesn’t hold up, yet sounds mighty fine on paper. Research grants, catch my drift? Told more than once how it wasn’t ‘healthy’ for my career so gave it up. These damn yuppy kids in their management suites, don’t know a stethoscope from a tongue depressor, younger than some of my grandkids for Christ’s sake, and they think they know better than me?
  “That’s what I loved about George Burns,” he said as we started walking towards the door, “that joke that wasn’t a joke about him outliving all his doctors. Killed me every time I heard it. Poor bastards probably worked here. Damn, I count the days to retirement if only for that,” he finished with a grunt.
  “Maybe I am the lucky one, Doc. All I had to wait for is my wife to leave me.” Right when I turned forty. Happy Birthday, Steven!
  He grinned, “Oh yes, a true pipester, Mr. Hanscom. Always find the silver lining no matter what. Fellows are the salt of the earth.”
  I liked the old gent and we shook hands at the door, “Well, I won’t torture you then about the Peterson Anniversary edition I have coming in.”
  “You better not, or instead of the peter I have to solve you’re problem I’ll prescribe a scalpel!”
  “Ouch, Doc.”
  He squeezed my hand tightly, good grip on the old codger, “That’s my middle name, kid. Doc R. ‘Ouch’ Samlin. And don’t you forget it.”
  “Not with this hand,” I said, shaking back the circulation and he grinned.

  Well, I tried the advice, at least so far as my head was concerned, yet nothing there.
  That night though, tossing and turning in my bed, punching a pillow that just would not get right, drifting in and out of restless sleep I had some hellified dreams.
  Started out with Sheila. (Didn’t they always, though?) My wife—ex-wife, damn it!—coming to me...coming home. So real, it was like she was in our—my—bed with me.
  Talk about smells! Her hair, always her wonderful hair, amber from touch of Irish decent (even had green eyes, exact same shade as my own) and the way, despite her liking for chic was never cut, never styled anything but natural, long, curly waves free flowing.
  Loved that hair, sight, smell and feel. The way the silk coils just wrapped about the fingers like caressing snakes of Eden; never tangling no matter how much it was played with...way I would bury my face in it and inhale deeply everything that was woman about her.
  Gorgeous body, could have been a model, even did a little work back when we were younger and money was tight. She loved the spotlight, but not the fact that it was work; the only glamour there long after the shutter was clicked and her legs were gracing some add or other.
  Oh, those legs. Smooth as satin and went all the way up just like an angel’s trapped on earth were supposed to, beckoning one towards the warmest of heavens between them.
  Not an angel though, not Sheila. Cold heart so opposed to the fire she instilled in men, calculating mind with eyes to match.
  Only in the dream she wasn’t like that. In the dream she had actually meant those words she spoke to me during or final video call together. Fact that she was sorry, that she knew she had made a mistake, had been a fool to have slept with another man.
  (Yeah, for two years she had made that ‘mistake’. Over and over again, several times a week in our home. Our bed, the couch, on the god damn kitchen island. I knew because she had left a DVD of the action for me in the player. On purpose after she left, the bitch.)
  Except in the dream none of that had mattered, did not exist, and more, as she came slinking across the wide bed, red silk robe open, her firm, voluptuous breast swinging freely she did something she never had when we were married. No, mouths were not for ‘that place’, yet in the dream they were, and it was gripping the pillow for other reasons then as pouting lips opened and I felt touch of her tongue.
  Nothing sharp about it here, soft, delicate...then used stronger so that one of my hands came down, slipped through the coils of her hair, wrapped themselves deeply in it as she was taking me deeply and I looked down...saw that the color had changed.
  Blond, not amber. Still her face though, same eyes, so at odd with the shade now cascading down from her head across both me and the bed.
  Not Shell. Not Sheila’s hair, that. And thank god it was not the eye-popping bottle tone of Baxter’s whoring little ‘secretary’; the one who’s little ‘flirts’ with me, the younger, the divorced and well moneyed option, were getting bolder—more teeth-grating annoying—every day.
  No, this was natural, innocent of falsehoods, a younger person’s hair.
  David... David’s girlfriend had hair like that. Like my friend’s own, very close to it, trimmed in short cut, and if the young idiot would just come to his senses, forget about his own horribly ended failed relationship then he and Kimberly would get married and have children with the same. Just one, picture perfect family; an beacon of light in a world dark and made of shit.
  Thank god it was still Sheila’s face, still her mouth on me, but—no, oh no, I have no interest in Kimberly. My god, I wouldn’t do that to David!
  Came full awake from the dream at that instant, my dick a clear tent no matter the heavy covers and I hurt. Not sexual, but an physical, actual pain and I had to do something about it, would die if that aching was not released...
  Yet it was same as it always was, the self abuse exactly that; no relief to be had from the orgasm despite it being a hard one. Mess of the bed, mess of myself and I just lay there in it, the drying stickiness as disgusting as I felt myself to be. No relief though, just a pressure still within, something trapped deep inside, just biding its time till the next which would end the same way. Unsatisfied, pointless, unfulfilled...just like my life.
  Just a few more weeks, Steven. Hold on just a few more. Still some things to do yet, items needing taken care of.
  Could I make it though, that was the question? Two days after Thanksgiving, too many remaining between now and my appointment with my maker at Christmas. Winter in New England, my final walk into the woods...
  Talk about a sacrilege. Suicide at that holies of times.
  Again though, what did it matter? Hell was my destination, a step from one to another with no stops between, unless I was already in that place of limbo. Possibly. More than likely even, still, so many things left to do...
  No, one had to be careful, do these things right. Shift accounts carefully, close some and open others, make all the right transfers under the radar; no warning flags made, hints of what I was about and planning. No risk of any loopholes.
  Only friend I have in the world, David my boy. Everything to you. God, what a laugh. Barely knew the kid, only started working for the firm a few months back, yet in the entire world he was the only one I could think of, the only deserving human being I knew.
  Yet I know what I see, David. You are a good person who never should have suffered a fraction of what you did. (Anger at that, the knowledge of what my friend had been forced to deal with in his life. Deal with alone, yet he had survived and come out the better. Yup, that was David, a survivor, who no matter what, came through with a smile. That and absent flip back of the unruly lock of hair always in his blue eyes and a ‘cool beans, man’ attitude.) Won’t matter what happens when I’m gone to cinders, yet I do know, deep in this dead heart of mine that you’ll do better than I did with this shit we call life.
  Merry Christmas, kid.
  Not a son, no, I did not view him as that, half my age though he was. No, David was something far better. He was a friend. A real one who had helped me last this long. Lawyers and windows were so fucking cliché. Least I would be saved that indignity, if no other. Yeah, just for that alone he had earned his ‘Christmas present’—a new life, a new start and a chance.
  With Kimberly. Oh, that damn doctor had better be wrong! Yet even if he was, for the life of me I did not see it. Felt nothing beyond a mild affection because she was so close to David. Was good for him; a helper no matter he was always quick to claim he didn’t need such from anyone, ever. Was used to that being the case. Far too used to it in my book, no matter the age.
  Little Davey against the world, she calls him. Kicked out of his home, left to live on the streets at age fourteen and by god, just look at him now! Oh, yeah, if there was anyone ever destined to be someone, to make a difference in the world, it was our cute Little Davey.
  Suppose I should feel weird about that, calling him cute in my mind, but straight truth was that was what he was. Cute handsome, same as his Kimberly was a chipper little button. Meant for the other and no doubts about it.
  I smiled, “Do me proud, kid. Keep the flash and the cash on the outside where it belongs. Get over your hang-ups and keep that girl in your heart.
  “Not too deeply though, David, just enough. Keep safe and keep alive. Don’t end up like me. Please, God, do not let him do that. Amen.”
  And on that note, I finally managed to sleep the last remainder of the night through.

  Since my promotion (a thing that only happened because David had done the stunning thing of giving over complete credit to his sole weeks’ worth of sleepless work wading through the worm corrupted load of monster files and fixing a hardy chunk of them to me. Screw the promotion, my friend had saved my job with that move. Felt a little better, because he had been shocked that I told the high-ups that the young man had helped me. David was right, no one else in this place would have done that. No, they would have just grabbed the laptop and fired his ass before risking the truth come out.) I had started to work Sundays. Still part of the Thanksgiving ‘holiday’ though, and unlike normal, I was one of the few there. (No family after all. No, fucking wife.) I liked it like that, no teeny-bopper ‘secretaries’ shaking their plastic doctor’s tits at me, all in hopes I would nab her as my trophy wife.
  No thanks and no how, baby. Twenty and hard as they came, that bitch Sally would have to be to even manage a single episode with the real monster of the law firm, non-affectionately called Beast Baxter. Old, ugly and mean as sin, his office’s ‘red’ phone was certain to have a direct line to Old Nick himself. Fact that the girl could manage it was proof enough to keep well clear even if there wouldn’t be fall out from the Beast.
  Had to watch it though, had feeling there was a steak of vindictiveness there in her. Not so subtle at all her last time, had all but asked straight out if I’d like a hand-job, but no matter my ‘rising’ problem, just the though that those hands had touched the Beast’s shriveled me right up. Thank god for small favors, yet if I wasn’t careful she might go tell my boss that she had.
  Tell you truth, if it weren’t for those like old Betty, head of the secretarial department and David’s girl Kimberly I would give up on the breed entirely. Wright women off as nothing but bad news. Not that I had anyone to write off; not that I had had anyone in my life since Sheila.
  Possibly soon though. That girl behind the dessert counter at the local gourmet shop near my building was nice so far. Had only seen her twice, the first time that night David and me were having a batch dinner (though the way my friend could cook he could open a restaurant. Lamb roast with ‘scratch-made’ mint jelly. F me.) Saw her the second time the day before Thanksgiving, determined not to just booze that ‘holiday’ away in my apartment, attempt in some small way to do something a little extra. The pumpkin pie was nothing like my Aunt Lillian would make, too fancy with the spices, yet that along with the pre-made packaged turkey breast and assorted tubs of ‘sides’ had helped.
  Heating times right on the label and I followed them exactly. I didn’t know if this had me elevated past the boil-water-and-dump-in-spaghetti and twist-open-jarred-sauce-top level or not, but at least this take-out hadn’t tasted like the stuff it had come boxed in.
  The girl though, Susan, (I had gotten her name this time) mid-twenties, brown hair with eyes to match was nice looking. No bombshell; short, a real person in my book with only scant touch of makeup, was nice in manner as well. Offered her name, not me asking, so yes, might just be a possibility there at that.
  Hmm, no reaction at the thought. Mixed relief I supposed. Someone like that did not need a guy coming into her life just to walk out of it after the bed business was done. Nice, friendly, yet not anyone I was about to change my plans because of. Certainly she was not the one the old doctor had told me to look out for either. My problem had started long before meeting her after all.
  No, I just needed a good lay. Over a year, I imagine even a real ‘Kentucky race horse’ would be scratching at his stall over the lack, if not flat out battering the thing down to get loose before his balls exploded.
  Well, who knew, maybe my luck would change and that would be seen to tonight. Sunday, going to take a half day because tonight the plan was to go out. Me and David hitting the clubs, just two guys catching some live jazz, and considering his looks, it was good thing only one of us would be on the prowl.
  “Forty-one isn’t old, Steven.” No, but it sure as hell wasn’t sandy blond, blue eyed and twenty-one either, kid.
  Tell you though, half of me was glad that Kimberly was off with her folks for the weekend. Man, talk about being a third wheel otherwise! No, this would work out well both for me and David. No fun being alone, and all heard of troubles between her and her folks aside, David’s girl sure did spend plenty time away with them. I wondered how those two had met? Clearly the girl’s family was well off. Kimberly having a nice little car at nineteen (twenty in January) and was always picking up or driving David to work in it.
  David Taylor, who had been kicked out of his house two years after his mother had passed away, on the streets at age fourteen (though he still hadn’t told me that, just an overheard conversation when the two young people thought they were alone) and then despite everything, managed to grow up and get into college, a good one, yet a one which had left him with student loans up the ass. Not so bad, except he had lost everything with the breakup with his old girlfriend six months ago; living together for three years, mutual savings and checking accounts, the insane girl tossing David out and over for some psychotic who had gotten, literally, everything.
  I had never seen the place David was living in now, the only thing he could manage having to start completely over again with loans on his back. Only knew it was bad. Real bad; so fucking slum-poor that the kid couldn’t even leave his place dressed in his work cloths for risk of being mugged. (Though he had been anyway. Swear, bad luck seemed to follow David. First the accident at the skating ring which left him a scar on his cheek, then mugged a few weeks later, looking like a grinning raccoon around the office, then not paying attention and tripping down the stairwell, reading a book at the time notwithstanding, the only luck there not ending up with a broken neck.) Changed before arrival at the god damn bus station, for Christ’s sake. Went white as a sheet at thought of me driving him home in my car, a full goody-spouting black BMW which would all but demand the junkies set on us in riot.
  Where he managed the money to get the tools he needed for the job, from laptop to clothes (he had only escaped with a half-bag of such) I had no idea, not on the pittance work intern paycheck he had been subsisting on before that miracle with the Parkinson files had seen us both upped the ladder, yet he had, no one here at the firm left the wiser.
  So he had lied on his dossier to get in, so what? Again, I would never tell his secret. Smart, yet honest in all ways that counted, a survivor with hardened steel under that boyishly charming, humorous exterior. Nor was his housing situation going to change soon even with the little increase in his check, not with rents being what they were in this big meat grinder of a city.
  Not for much longer though, David. Set you up right, home to the beamer once it is shipped back here. Just a couple more weeks, kid. You can hold out till then, I know you can.
  Smile at the thought, because reconsidering him and his girl’s situation, that might be exactly the reason the two didn’t tie the knot. The girl’s mother was reported to be a bit of a snob, the two always fighting and one extended week when I knew David had been barred from coming over. ‘Just friends’ my ass, you little scamp. Only hope you two kids got to finish your fun before the old broad caught you on the couch.
  “Son of a bitch,” I swore and shifted in my chair. “No, I will not have this, do you hear me down there? I have no idea what you are thinking, but it sure as hell does not jive with what is going on with the real one in charge so forget it!” No, the old quack was way off on this one. What he had called just routine blood work tests were not back yet, not at this time, another week at least considering the holiday. Had to be something there, an imbalance, and if things came back negative (Figures, doctors called finding you were healthy ‘negative’. Talk about shysters!) then he, Steven was going to go to one of those ‘managerial suits’ and have them do the works, cat scans, probes, whatever, because this was torture.
  A brain tumor, or more like brain cancer. Told him it ran in the family. Cancer that was, even if it wasn’t in the head. Three that I know of including Aunt Lillian, so sorry ‘Doc’, you just leave the head-shrinking to those with the degrees for it.
  Head shrinking. God damn it, this hurt!

  Everything right and proper, the matter ‘taken in hand’ as it were in the restroom and suit shucked back at his apartment, it was in ‘casual’ slacks and cotton shirt, heavy, brown leather jacket to ward off the late November chill; a simple elevator’s ride down to the lobby of my building, standatory waves to security and the door keep, (Oh yeah, good afternoon to you too, you bastards. Pleasant day and all that to all of you who just sat around on your asses for two fucking years laughing behind my back while my wife had an affair. Son of a bitch even had a reserved parking space, his own, fuck him key-card issued to my home! Some ‘security’ job, alright.) and I was going down the marble steps; smiled as smell of pipe smoke came drifting over.
  “Hey, David,” I called and he got up from his sit against side of the building and waved, nose a touch red from the cold. “Why the hell didn’t you wait inside?”
  “No smoking in the lobby,” he said as he grinned around his pipe stem. Gift from me, and swear god, even if it wasn’t a ‘Lord of the Ringer’ he still looked like an elf with that curled garlic in his red-nosed pucker.
  “Well there is in my apartment. Why didn’t you use the key-card and come up?” He just shrugged. I had given him the bit of coded plastic soon as I’d heard about his trouble at Kimberly’s place. I was at the firm more often then not, the empty apartment perfect for a little rendezvous with his girl. Far as I know they hadn’t used it, the stubborn little bastard.
  Ah well, just a couple more weeks, “So then, ready for dinner?”
  “You bet!”
  We finished our way down the steps and I tried to wave down a taxi without getting flattened by one, while he, with casual moves (clearly practiced,) tapped and then blew out the remainders in his pipe before rolling it up in its protective pouch and tucking the lot into his green parka.
  “So what do you feel like having tonight?”
  “How about some Indian? That Ganesha CD put me in the mood for it.”
  “Oh yeah, Mr. Tusker.” I had forgotten about that lark purchase. Picked up in the gourmet shop because it looked like a tea box. I loathed tea, but that was David’s drink. Ah well, each to their own.
  “Hey, he’s a god.”
  “Sure he is,” I snorted as we got into the cab. (Ugh, cigarettes. Never could understand the attraction. Agreed, there were some pipe blends out there enjoyed more by the puffer than the bystander, yet name one time you’d ever heard of someone walking into a cigarette smoker’s den and go ‘mm’—including another cigarette smoker!)
  “You tell him,” David said to the cabby. Not surprising it was one of the ones covered in gee-gaws and beads. “Ganesha is a god.”
  Heavily accented, I got a little spiel about something or other. Not just a ‘god’ but a lord as well. Wisdom or something. Obstacles in the path. Considering his ‘horizontally-challenged’ figure, I could get the obstacle part. That was one dude who would have a narrow hallway all to himself, all right.
  I cut the guy off, meter running and all that, “So you should know of some Indian restaurants I imagine?” Of course he did, and I left David and the cabby to talk things over and we were off.
  “I already knew about him, by the way,” David started up again as we cruised through traffic just to wait at stoplights.
  He rolled his eyes at me, “Ganesha of course! Only I wanted to hear that Japanese and Chinese music you found, more. I figured you weren’t ready for Hindi stuff yet.”
  “As long as my stomach is, that’s all that matters.” He shook his head. “So how come you know that weird stuff?”
  “Because I read. I think I spent half my life in some library or another. How I got into music as well. You’d be amazed at some of the stuff people donate. I’m glad everything transferred over into computers, but I still miss all those cards. I think it is sort of funny that you go into the library and have to use a computer to find a book, but at least it is faster.” I nodded. I hadn’t been in a real library since I was a kid in Connecticut, the stacks at college not counting. Beyond the weekly cribbage meet, Aunt Lillian had a book club, and once a week we were down at the local one, rows of small wooden drawers with their little paper cards far as the young eye could see. They had replaced that with computers? Man, what a loss.
  Yet Mr. Lord Ganesha wasn’t the only thing David had once mentioned he read about. We hadn’t had a chance to finish that conversation yet, disturbing though it was.
  “About coming back,” I said. Reminded him about the few sentences passed across the table before the lamb had been brought out, “You really believe that garbage?”
  Hand to flick back his lock, “Just because someone thinks differently than you it doesn’t mean it is garbage.”
  My turn to shrug, “Maybe.” Crap on that, we lived and we died. No more ‘coming back to learn new stuff’. Just ‘the end’ case closed. Still, I saw no reason to get into a fight about it. I had never seen David mad before, determined, upset, sure, but now there was a hint of that steel in those blue with green flecked eyes which spoke of a nerve being stepped on.
  I think he realized it and sat back, smiling easily, annoyance vanished.
  “What church do you go to?” I asked suddenly.
  He just shrugged, thing which unsettled.
  “Oh, I haven’t been to one of those since I was a kid.”
  “That’s not good, David.”
  “That is what you think.”
  “David, I am serious here,” I grit my teeth as he wrinkled his nose teasingly.
  “So am I.”
  More serious, “Steven, I’ll tell you the difference between us.”
  “You’re Jewish.”
  He rolled his eyes, “No, I am not Jewish.”
  “Hey, I have nothing wrong against Jews. Plenty at the firm. Some are decent guys.”
  “Good for them, but even they go to Synagogue. Not me though, I don’t need a big building with someone up on stage telling me what to do, how to live my life, and if I don’t do it just right according to them I’ll get punished.”
  “So where do you go?”
  “I don’t have to go anywhere. It’s all right here you see,” he tapped his chest, then gestured outside the cab window. “You say God made everything, right? So how come you can only ‘connect’ when you are in certain buildings? That’s so stupid.”
  “No, that is, well, that’s the way it is.”
  “Ha,” he snorted, still smiling easily, “Oh, I can understand making a place a little more separate to concentrate easier in, but that doesn’t mean that place is all there is. Some places are nicer, but that doesn’t make them better, Steven. All made up by God, right? So no, I do not need a building where someone else tells me what to do. I’ve got as much right as anyone to listen and connect all on my own. Just go in here and rely on that.” He tapped his chest again and grinned.
  “How old are you again?”
  “Old enough to stay up as long as I want where I want. I mean, it’s a good thing we are eating early, because The Echo is small. The cool stuff is going to start around nine, but if you want a table with stable legs you have to get there early, and word I got is there are going to be some great folks playing tonight. Kimberly’s friend Casey is a waitress there. I don’t know how I missed the place before meeting Kimber, but like I said, it is really small.”

  Not the restaurant we went to though. Large, yet tiny all at the same time, small booths like islands with hanging carpets and sequined things enough to give a claustrophobic fits. Busy place, even Mr. Tusker, who had grown some extra arms, was seated in one corner draped in scarves, bowl of water with flower petals floating in it, candles surrounding. Other statuary wearing beads, which were like, yet not, rosaries here and there.
  “This place is great,” David said with a grin as he tried to catch in everything.
  “Plenty to look at, that’s for sure.” Smells galore, no telling the difference between spicy foods and incense.
  “Come on, you like it, I know you do.”
  “Some of it,” I admitted. Not exactly my style, my culture, yet there were some fine looking antiques about the place. Things of cut brass and bronze; wall scones for candles; raised decoration trays hung along above a carved and bright painted beam polished just enough, yet not sparkling, allowing the touch of remaining tarnish to bring out the edges of the designs more. “Which one is that,” I asked as I picked out another statue. A seated lady with a flower in her hand. Reminded me of an aristocratic hippy.
  “That’s Tara. A white one. She comes in different colors, but in her white aspect it means compassion, long life, healing and serenity. That blue one in the painting is also her. Helps deal with anger, teaches you to use the energy generated by it for better things.”
  “That doesn’t sound so bad.” Sounded very Christian, actually.
  He was smiling, “See the yellow one by the cash register? Wealth and prosperity.” Cool beans, she had the Jews covered as well. (Not that I meant it or had anything against them, hell some of the jokes Stanowitz told would get him barred from his synagogue faster than you could say kosher. Still, more and more the place was looking like a finance lawyer’s Mecca.)
  “Huh. Is there a reason she doesn’t have a top on?” Nor was rainbow lady the only one. Place felt like a statuary nudie bar. Whew, talk about brass knockers.
  “Yup. It is because they are more spiritual representations that don’t have hang-ups about the body.”
  No kidding. The more you looked the more it felt like the place needed an R-17 rating. Or many a good, solid X from the look of the ‘happy’ couple across the bar. Meditating my ass, those two needed a room. Ouch.
  Cleared my throat and had some beer. A Taj Mahal with bottle size to match. Good thing there were two of us to split it, “I don’t think I’d like to meet that lady on the tiger. Talk about a woman with issues!”
  “Geesh, Steven. She needs that stuff. Durga goes around fighting demons to keep the world safe. She’s really pretty nice.”
  “If you say so.” I wasn’t going to ask about the other one though. Talk about giving a man the creeps!
  “That’s Kali,” he said with a wink. “She fights demons too. Kicks ass hard.”
  “I don’t think I’ve ever tried to eat something with someone holding up a severed head before. Not unless it was Halloween.”
  “Yeah, she likes to show her victories, sort of like, ‘See this, you other demons? You don’t want to mess with me, so stay away’. See that one? That’s her husband.”
  “The one dancing like a Russian on fire?”
  “Well, I don’t know about that, but the circle around him is the universe. He dances it into creation and Kali destroys it.”
  “I can relate. Poor bastard.”
  “No, it’s not like that at all. Imagine a copy machine that you can’t shut off. It just spews out paper after paper till the room it full and clogs up. Nothing moving anywhere, just stuck jammed in place. Kali is like the one who gathers it up and puts it in the recycler so there can be more paper. Keep the circle flowing, right?”
  “Seems kind of pointless to me.”
  “Yeah, but you’re young yet.”
  “Bite your tongue,” I said, using one of his expressions back at him.
  “I probably wouldn’t notice. ‘Medium’ means different things to different people I guess. I bet you’re going to like the coffee here. Steven, it is okay, right?”
  “You want the truth?” He nodded seriously, the gesture requiring him flip his hair back again. I smiled, “Yes, I do. The music makes more sense now.”
  “I know. It is like you get the colors in it. Everything all layered upon itself, just like the decoration.”
  “Exactly what I was thinking.”
  “Cool beans.”
  “Groovy, man,” I said and he tilted over laughing. That expression always killed him.
  The coffee at the end of the exotic meal was good. Like espresso, and I drank mine while David had something milky that smelled strongly of ginger spice. Apparently you could do a lot of things with tea.
  All sorts of desserts (I could tell he wasn’t going to get anything) but I ordered us an assortment of things anyway, small, white little dishes on a silver tray.
  “Mango ice cream, what will they think up next?”
  “How about fried ice cream?”
  “You are making that up. You can’t fry ice cream.”
  “The Japanese do. See, they drop a scoop into the middle of some dough and then dunk it quick in a fryer. It is so hot and in and out so fast that the ice cream doesn’t have time to melt. I’ve only had it once with Kimberly, but it was really neat.”
  “Sounds like a plan for next time. Though at the moment I am wondering what this is. A donut hole or something?” I poked the gooshy sphere around with my spoon.
  “I don’t know.”
  “Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained,” and I scooped it up along with some of the clear syrup it was laying in. Whoa, talk about a sugar hit! David laughing when I grabbed the last bit of my coffee to get it down. “I didn’t know it was hot. Man, I am going to be up all night now.”
  “Good. About ready to go?”
  “Yup. David, put your wallet away, I have this.”
  “Why?” he flushed.
  “Because I still haven’t covered you for my half of that lamb dinner you cooked yet is why. Come on, my treat. Besides, I’d have never even known a place like this existed if you hadn’t thought of it. Not to mention an statue lesson included in the bargain. You can leave the tip if you want to though.”
  He did, exact amount as traditional. Ouch for David, I was going to see if there was a way to possibly ‘drop’ a twenty spot someplace for him to ‘find’ at the nightclub. Then again, knowing David, he would probably hand it to a waitress in case anyone came looking.
  There was a section by the register on the way out, “A restaurant and tourist shop, how groovy is that? I’ve never had incense in my place. Anything you recognize to recommend?”
  “No, I usually burn sage and stuff. They smell good though, whatever they are.”
  “So you do burn your dinner sometimes!”
  “No,” he snorted as I grabbed some bright things at random. “White sage. You don’t use it for cooking, just incense. Native American thing.”
  “You can tell me about it in the cab. You want Mr. Tusker to go along with the CD?”
  “Why not?”
  “Steven, come on. You don’t have to, well...” he shrugged, lips pressed tightly.
  “All right. Just felt funny only getting a souvenir for myself is all. Feels like we went to India itself.” I stood up from the case and shook my head at the young guy in the bright clothes who’d come smiling over to assist. “Maybe next time.” Shit, the kid was right. What was I doing? I had once told him this life was all about trade. Was that what I was doing then, some pathetic attempt to show gratitude or something? Or was it worse, just an ingrained habit?
  Shell, you messed me up bad. Just another sign missed on my part; fact that the only way I could feel good about myself was to give someone something, pay them for sharing some time with me.
  Sheila, you really are a whore. And what did that make me? Not a husband, just a fucking john with a ring on his finger...
  “Which one were you thinking of getting? For yourself?”
  Annoyed, “I don’t know. Was kicking that idea of yours about the herb plants and grow light in the kitchen. Thought a mini statue would work in a mini garden.”
  “Then get a Green Tara.”
  “Not a blue?” I scoffed.
  “It would look like a Smurf.”
  “Yeah, with tits. Ah well, next time.”
  “No, go ahead.”
  Habit, yet the only one I knew, “Only if you pick one out as well. Come on, we can trade them off like action figures.”
  “All right, but I will get Rama if that is okay?”
  “Sure, whatever you want,” I said as the little white-painted dude with the arrows and curvy bow (wearing a skirt, but that seemed to be all these guys wore, just like most of the women. Oomph, what a culture,) was nabbed from the case. “What’s his deal?” I asked as they were wrapped in some paper, snorting sardonically inside because if I was a dog my tail would be wagging as comfort patterns were reestablished.
  Pathetic, Steven.  Real pa-the-tic.
  A shrug after we’d popped them into coat pockets, “He sort of when through some stuff, but it all worked out in the end. Even became emperor of the world for a few thousand years.”
  “Lucky.” No, it sounded perfect. Not that I was going to leave him the world or anything, but it was best I could do.
  “Yeah, well, you know. He just kept going, no matter what happened, you know?”
  No, I didn’t then, but I did later. Amazing what you could learn on the internet.
  Lord Rama: exiled for fourteen years from his father’s house. His wife Sita, captured by a demon during that time and a terrible war fought to get her back. Happy ending, everything fine and dandy with smiles for everybody. Ta-da!
  Oh, David...

  The little hole-in-the-wall jazz club called The Echo took some time to get to. One of those mid-point places where one side of the street was fine, almost residential, but the next one over had broken streetlamps and more garbage on the walk. The way he felt about my car, it was no wonder David had suggested taking a cab. (Well, buses, actually, yet even I had to draw the line someplace.)
  “You can smoke here,” he ‘whispered’ with a sly grin and wink.
  “My god, a speak-easy!”
  “A what?”
  “Ha! My turn to learn you something. There was a time when the US of A outlawed alcohol. There were special places everyone knew about but no one talked of called ‘speak-easies’ or just ‘speaks’. Folks of all background would gather and party down, listen to the real jazz greats no matter they were black. Broke down some barriers as well as gave rise to the old-world gangsters. You know, Al Capone and all them.”
  “Oh, right,” he said with a quick nod, yet I got the feeling he had no idea who I was talking about.
  “His nick-name was the Big Cap.”
  “Geesh, I know that,” he snorted and flicked back his hair. “Table!” he suddenly yelled and went dashing off to where some folks were just standing, leaving me to follow more slowly through the tight and dimly lit place, small frown inside.
  “You lose,” he said with a smug grin as already seated he tapped an empty spot on the table ‘first’.
  “Warn a guy next time.”
  Things moved quickly here, and I was just sitting when a sexy voice behind me drawled, “So what’s your poison a’ the night, sugars?”
  “Hey, Casey,” David grinned as the girl, the black woman of late twenties complete with small fro, tops of chocolate boobs all but pillowing out of her low cut top sidled around, white teeth flashing.
  “’Lo, Davey-child.”
  “She just fakes it,” David leaned over and explained.
  “Ain’t nothin’ fake ‘bout these babies, white-bread,” she said and with arm hefted her goods higher. “What you think, Mr. Man?”
  “Works for me,” I managed, eyes popping.
  “Leave him alone, Casey,” David—not my friend at the moment—snorted.
  Oof when she picked up the tip left by the last patrons and slipped the fold straight down into her ‘safe’. Yowza.
  “Been hangin’ round that snooty Queen B too long, child.”
  “Not after that last stunt you pulled at Kimbers. I’ve been banned for a month.”
  “What a’ bitch,” the woman flounced her fro, “Just cause I ain’t on the sah-vant staff.”
  “No, it’s because...well, just because.”
  “Gotcha,” she winked. “So, Davey, keepin’ Mr. Man’s name all to yourself or what?”
  “Casey, this is Steven. Steven, Casey. We work together at the law firm.”
  “Pleasure to meet you, Miss Casey.”
  “Bet your ass it is, Mr. Man.”
  “Sure ‘nough.” She leaned over and started gathering up empty bottles and glasses. “Here,” she pulled a piece of folded paper out of her low-cut jean’s pocket and slid it across the table to David who nodded and slipped it in his. “Call anytime.”
  He nodded, “Thanks.”
  “Kimber is going to kill me,” she said, loosing the drawl.
  “I said thanks, Casey.”
  “Sure ‘nough.” Flash of teeth, “So, usual poison, white-bread?”
  “No, I want a Keoki tonight.”
  “Ooo, fancy. Uh, Davey? Boss was riding my ass the other week.”
  “Gotcha. It’s cool, I got a raise!”
  “Well Lordy be praised now. ‘Bout time, too.” Turned to me, “How ‘bout you, Mr. Man? Got yourself a’ taste for somethin’ sweet?”
  Whoa, did I ever! Chocolate pudding all the way.
  “Just a beer for now, Miss Casey. How about you tap me something dark?”
  “Ooo, I like this friend a’ yours, Davey, suit or not.”
  “Hey, I’m not wearing a suit,” I protested.
  Then had another mental ‘whoa’ as she leaned full over and pinched my cheek, “Not yet your not, Mr. Man.”
  “Ouch,” I said aloud as I watcher her round bottom swagger off.
  “Sorry, Steven, she just does it to get higher tips.”
  “We’ll she’s got mine high, that’s for sure.” I turned to him though, “David, seriously though, is this something I shouldn’t mention to Kimberly? Passing you her phone number I mean?” Don’t do it, kid.
  He blushed, “No, it’s not like that. Casey and Kimberly are good friends.”
  “That hasn’t stopped many before. It rates high on the top ten reasons for divorce cases.”
  “Maybe, but this is different. Steven, I...well,” he ducked his face away. “See, there are some people out there. Sometimes, well, they need a little help.”
  “Like what?”
  “Well, like someone to talk to sometimes.”
  “About what?”
  “All sorts of things. Only, they need someone who can sort of relate to them, you know?”
  I nodded, though I didn’t. Could imagine though. Homeless kids, maybe runaways. That overheard conversation between David and his girl about why he was so determined to become a defense lawyer, because there were those out there who couldn’t do it for themselves...and there was no one else who cared to.
  Little Davey against the world. What a kid.
  One who did not know that I knew he had once been one of them.
  I know he finished college, those documents and recommends are not fake, not the way these things get check out. But not knowing Big Al, David? Holy crap, how did he get into the college he did on a god damn G.E.D?
  “And Kimberly has a problem with that?”
  He flushed and then raised his chin, “She just likes to worry about stuff. It’s no big deal, Steven.”
  “All right. Just be careful.” Because if it had Kimberly worried it probably meant he was going to shelters and like places. Or maybe finding kids to bring them to such.
  “I can take care of myself.”
  “I know you can.” He grinned at me, like I had given him the finest compliment in his life or something.
  Bouncy Casey returned with our drink, but the place was getting busier and she couldn’t stay for much banter. No free tables that I could see, apparently we had timed out arrival just right.
  “A coffee?” I asked as he sidled up to his whip-cream topped drink.
  Standard duck and blush, “I always wanted to try one.”
  “Well good luck. I think coffee is the last thing they add to those, though.”
  He sipped from a straw, “Wow.”
  “Sounds like they got it right. Just be careful, those things can knock you on your ass.”
  “I believe it. I think it just burned away the spices!” he said as his nose went pink.
  For myself, Casey had brought some sort of larger, dark with a foamy head. Groovy.
  I picked it up and leaned back to sip. The place was dim, but eyes were adjusted now easy. Good, because there were some interesting people to be seen. A lot my age as well I was relieved to note. Very mixed crowd, some even wearing suits. Ha.
  Another outstanding ‘profile’ silhouette, and I just had to ask the kid about her again.
  “She calls herself a ‘free performance artist’,” David told me. “Casey can do voices like you wouldn’t believe. Said she wanted to be an actress, but because of her ‘bussom buddies’ she only got offers for certain types of movies she wasn’t interested in. Waitressed around a lot, changed styles according to where she was working. Sometimes she comes here in full sixties costume, others times it’s all disco sequins.”
  “She must make a hell of a disco ball.” Yeah, a real two-fer.
  “For real. Once she wore this silver top and sat on the bar with a couple of flashlights on her. She’s not allowed to wear it anymore, even the band couldn’t play.”
  Lord have mercy.
  “Here we go,” David said as the lights flickered and the canned music (Miles Davis) went off as a trio picked up where the famed horn blower had ended.
  “Hey, they are good.”
  “I told you.” And determined to make an impression as ‘coffee’ was pushed aside (smart kid) and he brought out his pipe fixings.
  Packed and lit, (an drug store cherry. Sighs.) but he got it going first try, leaned back (feet tucked in though, too much risk of tripping someone) and smiled as he puffed.
  “And there you have it,” I applauded. He made a dashing elf, if too tall for a hobbit. “Keep that up and you’ll be beating them off with a stick.”
  “Nah, I’m cool. How about you?”
  I snorted, “Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell me this was a speak.”
  “I’m sorry. You want it?” he offered the thing across the table.
  Christ, did he think I was that desperate?
  I just waved my hand, “Nope. Virginia man, I told you.”
  His look a little nervous, “But this is okay, isn’t it, Steven?”
  “Of course it is! Why should I mind what you smoke?” I chuckled wryly.
  “Well, because it’s your pipe and everything.”
  “It is your pipe, you mean.”
  “Well, yeah, but...”
  “No buts. And no putting it away, either.”
  “Okay.” Except it did not look like he was enjoying it so much anymore.
  “Anything the matter?”
  A ‘coffee’ drink and now upset because he was smoking the wrong thing. (Which was impossible. You smoked what you liked and screw the other guy.)
  Oh come on, David, what are you trying to do, impress me? Or if you’re trying to emulate the old man, forget it. If anything, there should be more people trying to be like you.
  I sat back (feet tucked under chair) and tried to relax with the music. He’d once said he wanted to be just like me. I guess sometimes even David could be an idiot, too.
  No comment a little later when he put it away, because it was true relaxing then, just listening to the music and crowd watching as we talked easy stuff.
  Lots of applause when the set finished and the canned music resumed.
  “Four o’clock,” David the scamp, said to me.
  “I’m not blind, kid,” I answered back as the lady in the side-slit skirt ‘idly’ glanced my way again and switched her crossed legs after returning her ‘attentions’ back to the bar where she was sitting. Alone.
  “Well, I was just checking. Most people start needing glasses after thirty.”
  “You are so looking for a good ass kicking, I swear to god,” I laughed...then caught the lady’s eye again.
  “Go on already,” he all but shooed me.
  “David... No, it’s fine. Hey,” I frowned suddenly, “This wasn’t just some ploy, was it? Get the mopey old man out of the office?” Christ, David, am I that pathetic even in your eyes? Don’t tell me this night wasn’t just about two friends hanging out together...
  He smirked, “What do you want to bet that I can get her pone number before you?”
  “You wouldn’t.”
  “I don’t know, Steven. I was searching the web and there’s this site that has all the pipes from the Rings on it. Strider’s looked cool. Though the way you’re acting maybe Gandolf’s would be better for you.”
  “For your information, kid, Strider is like a couple hundred years old.”
  “He is?”
  “Yup. Picked up the extended version and they talked about it. During that scene where the blond almost killed him with her cooking. I think he’s part elf or something.”
  “I didn’t see that part.”
  “Bring some beers over tomorrow night and you will. That is if I am not busy.”
  “Then you better hurry up, because I think she’s getting the idea you aren’t interested in girls.”
  “That’ll be the day!”
  So on that note I picked up my near empty and made way through the crowd to the bar to get another. Nervous as a kid myself—more like twisted in knots—on the inside, but I was a lawyer, and a large part was being able to come across as confident even when you knew the party you were defending wasn’t worth shit. What a life.
  Rusty? I’ll say, but it was the lady who had made the invitation, so the few casual greetings and comments did not go so badly.
  “Is that your nephew?” Well, at least she hadn’t totally shrunken up the old balls by asking if David was my son, but, crap. Then again, under the makeup, she was no spring chicken herself.
  “Just a buddy from the office. An intern, but a good kid.”
  “Oh, good,” she said as she re-crossed her legs again, giving me a fine show since I was leaning on the bar and had perfect view. She noticed my looking and smiled, “It is so hard to tell these days.”
  “Tell what?” I asked as I studied the end of the cut. Not bad, and thankfully, I was not making too much of a ‘show’ myself. Not yet at least.
  “Nothing. I guess you think I am being forward? I have come here a few times with my girlfriends, but they get sort of pushy. I am recently divorced you see, and, well...”
  “So am I,” I said, trying not to grit my teeth too hard as I smiled.
  “I can tell.”
  “No, I did not mean anything by that, just...” She flushed and turned away, “I am sorry.”
  “No, it is all right. Guess maybe we understand the other a little.” I took a bit of a breath, “Mind if I ask you, how long?”
  “Two months since the last papers were signed. Bastard and his secretary. Twenty-three years down the drain just like that. I hope she gives him a heart attack.” Then she glanced at me before looking away quickly.
  “Don’t worry, the secretaries have their cases full where I work. My bad luck was a stockbroker who drove in on a Ferrari. Like you say, seventeen-years, just like that,” I snapped my fingers bitterly.
  Should have bought her another car, she really wanted something silver and flashy. Would have had it if she had not ruined two previously. Blew the engine on the first one because she did not feel like taking it in for the scheduled maintenances. (I was busy working, but come one, Sheila was a grown woman.) Second was totaled (hired someone to bring it into service,) when she flew through a red light. Matter of a fresh pedicure and not wanting to mess anything up by using the break pedal. Figured people would know enough to get out of her way. (All shaking of her boobs aside she did not talk her way out of that one with the cops, cameras on the intersections after all. She was in the wrong and the insurance was out the window.) After that I gave her a choice: shopping or a new car in the garage with no place to go spend anymore money, because like it or not, there was not enough for both no matter how many hours I put in. Way she went at it, daily taxis were cheaper than a jaguar.
  “I do not understand people sometimes, Steven.” (We had already passed the name exchanging part. Hers was Miriam.) “Are they really all that happy now, you think? I hate myself, because part of me would like to think so. Just because... Well, it still hurts.”
  “I know. Look, maybe...” we started to say together, then she chuckled while I snorted.
  “No, I think it is just better to hate,” she said, staring into her drink.
  “In that we are in agreement.”
  “I am sorry, Steven.”
  “Hey, look, it is no problem. The first two months are bad.” And it only gets worse from there. Sorry, old gal, wish I had some better news for you.
  “Still, I would like to give you my number. Maybe...maybe in a couple of weeks you could call me...?” she was already getting off of her stool, show over.
  “Sure, that would be nice, Miriam.”
  “I really am sorry, Steven. is just...”
  “Say no more,” I waved my hand easily. I do know what it is like.”
  She handed me a piece of paper, taken from a small notebook in her purse; looked up at me, touch of bitterness at corners of eyes, “I wish I was a man. It is not so easy when you are a woman.”
  “If you say so.”
  Clearly she wanted to make her escape before she started bawling her eyes out, yet she nodded with her chin, “You had better go back to your friend, I think he is in trouble. I saw those two here the other evening. I do not think they are very nice.”
  I whipped my head around, the woman gone from my thoughts (and out of my life) when I saw the scene. David, sitting upright and ridged on his chair with two toughs standing way too close to him even with the tight surroundings.
  Two guys with their fucking arms around the other’s hips.
  I made my way back fast, one of those little things which happened with crowd noise, small instant of quieting and I heard my friend say, “You aren’t allowed to come near me.”
  “Sorry, Davey, I was here first. Restraining orders don’t count,” the bigger tough grinned slyly, “Besides, I have a witness, don’t I, babe?”
  “Yes, Frank. You were here first.”
  “Problem, David?” I said loudly as I came up behind him. So what if they were bigger, no way I was going to get creamed by a couple of fags.
  David didn’t turn, just shook his head, “I can handle this.”
  “Who’s the mark, Davey?” the bastard nodded at me.
  “Shut up!”
  “Ooo, he’s cute when he’s mad, Franky.”
  “No, just stupid. Figured the little shit’d think twice before sayin’ something like that to me in any tone a’ voice. Told you to remember that every time you looked in the mirror, Davey. Guess I should make the cut longer this time.”
  “What is El going to say about him?” David jerked his head at the other queer. David, who had not received that blade scar on his left cheek from any fucking ice skate.
  “Not a thing, he knows his place.” He? David’s ‘El’ was a he?! “Knows it really well. Too bad you can’t afford to visit the site. Marks love it when a top gets turned over.”
  “H-he...El wouldn’t do that,” David said, voice thin and shaking.
  Exactly what the one pushing him was looking for, way his eyes gleamed.
  “Be surprised, Davey, thing people will do when they love someone. And like I said, everyone loves a top who’s been flipped. It’s the others you get the urge to just grind under your heel like a roach.”
  “Leave me alone.”
  “Sure, Davey. This time. I like this place, you see. Don’t want to cause any trouble. In fact, I plan on coming here a lot no matter what they call music is shit. By the way, get your computer fixed yet?”
  David just sat there unmoving.
  “So much for your sense of humor. Well, looks like we’re done here. Hey, babe, what time is it?”
  ‘Babe’ lifted his wrist, “We should go, Franky. Don’t want to be late.”
  “No, can’t have that. Still, they’ll wait. By the way, like your new present, babe?”
  “Yes, Frank,” fag two said as he held up his wrist. “Except my name isn’t David.”
  “We’ll get that fixed. The back of the watch, I mean. Catch ya later, Davey. And I mean that. Catch. You. Later. Only next time it won’t be the ribs I’ll kick. You need a better reminder, and I really hate your face. See ya, roach.”
  “Ciao,” Babe waggled his fingers at David and we watched the two of them leave.
  How many had witnessed the scene? How much of the laughter I was hearing stronger in the background was directed this way? We had all been pretty close and Frank had kept his voice low, but were people us?
  I was probably drawing attention just by standing there, only I couldn’t sit down, even if it was across the table, and...
  David, face set calmly turned, “I am not ashamed of who I am and I do not hide it. Only my private life is my own and nobody’s business, Steven.”
  “David, I...” I think I am going to be sick. This can’t be true. Not David being queer for Christ’s sake!
  “You are not going to start lecturing at me? Sins and all that?” He raised his chin defiantly, steel in those blue eyes. “I’ve had enough crap for one night.”
  Shook my head. No, I just wanted to leave.
  Memories, memories, memories. Topping them all that time he had driven me home; had needed to be driven because I was so drunk at the time.
  Had woken the next morning in bed, undressed to the skivvies.
  I cleared my tight throat, “David, that time... My birthday...”
  “Steven, come on. I didn’t peek or anything,” he said angrily, whipping his hair back.
  I raised a hand through my hair, laughed shakily in relief, “Christ, that gives me the creeps.”
  His face went full pale, eyes wide as if struck.
  Then he jerked and got out of his chair, money already on the table, throat working rapidly, “Good night, Mr. Hanscom.” Then he was out the door, knocking into people as he went.
  “Shit.” Which was exactly how I felt. He’d forgotten his parka, so I put on my coat, grabbed his (people already dashing for the empty table) and left myself.
  “Hey, David, where are you?” I called when I was outside. No people out here, they were either inside or elsewhere, the night cold. And even through the music coming from behind the closed doors I heard the sound of someone being sick.
  “David, is that you?” I asked as I started around side of the building.
  “Go...away...” I heard the thin response.
  “You forgot your...coat...” He was leaning on an outstretched arm, other about his guts, throwing up again.
  Finished, he jerked upright, face like stone and started stiff-legged walking towards me.
  “Thanks,” he said as he grabbed it and yanked it on.
  “David, look...”
  “It’s all right, Mr. Hanscom.” He took a deep breath, anger dimming and lips working to regain his standard smile, “I am used to the reaction, no surprises here. Only I have to go now. Good night,” he nodded and started heading down the broken-lamped side.
  “David, wait, let me give you cab fair or something.” Not about to share one, it was the least I could do.
  He just lifted a hand and waved, not looking back, “No thank you, I can take care of myself. Night!”
  “Night,” I muttered back and turned to take the other direction...wait, I needed a cab. Returned to the club long enough to use the phone and decided to wait outside, sound of laughter at my back loud in my ears. Not likely at me, only...
  Back to my place. Empty apartment.
  “So much for Lord of the fucking Rings.”
  Then is was an abrupt loosing of legs as I landed on the couch, hand on my face. What the hell was I thinking?
  “I can’t believe I said that. My god, Steven, what is wrong with you? Didn’t you hear what was going on there? What the fucking hell he is going through?”
  I had. Been shocked, outraged, furious...and then it all vanished like smoke the instant that utterance was made, realized David was a fag.
  My god, that son of a bitch used a knife on his face! More, that fall...and hadn’t Kimberly question that when he told her?
  David: “Kim, I’m fine, I promise. It wasn’t that bad a fall.”
  The girl: “Was it?”
  David: “I told you so, didn’t I?”
  Kimberly, looking tense: “Yes, you told me so.”
  Then there had been that bit as they talked about the problems David was having at work, the ridding he was getting from Baxter.
  “I handle my own problems.”
  “Because you won’t let anyone help you!”
  “No, because I do not need any help,” he had said firmly.
  “Little Davey against the world.”
  Or is it the other way around? The world against David?
  “They’re not all like that, Kimberly,” David had said about the people he worked with. “Some really nice people up there, I told you that too.”
  “Yeah, some friend, alright,” she had snorted disgustedly and I felt my face color now in remembrance, same as it had then.
  Jesus Christ, David.
  “It’s all right, Mr. Hanscom. I am used to the reaction, no surprises here.”
  Bullshit, David. Not with that look on your face before you ran out of the club. No, because we were friends—are friends—and friends do not...
  My turn to make a dash and I managed the toilet just in time to throw up.
  “Kimberly was right. Some god damn friend I am.”
  “That’s your problem, Steven,” Sheila had said. “You don’t do anything—for anybody!”
  “Fuck you, bitch. Fuck me, too. But it’s not right. David, it isn’t right being a...doing stuff like that!” Was that it then? Reason David was made to suffer like he was? God’s punishment?
  “No. I can’t—I will not believe that. That’s not the way things work. David is a good person, I know that, and if I know it than God does as well.
  “You hear me up there?” I looked up at the mosaic ceiling of the john. “David Tyler is a good person! All right, I understand why he does not go to church, yet that young man is generous and thoughtful; he is kind and he is—son of a bitch!” I swore as I felt the ache, looking down, furious.
  “No. Oh, no. Nope, no way in fucking hell are you going to start your tricks right now, do you hear me? Now is not the time for it! I am not going to think about myself—or you right now, is that clear?” Apparently not as I hissed in effort to ignore the throbbing as fabric stretched further.
  When were those god damn test results going to be in? This was not normal. This was not just a matter of things backing up either, not when it hurt like this.
  “So much for your advice, Doc. It’s medical and that’s a fact. I mean for Christ’s sake, the only one I was thinking about was...oh. My. God.”
  No. Oh, no, no, no. Again, no way in fucking hell is it David! I am not queer! I have never even glanced at another guy at the gym’s shower. Never imagined or pictured or anything, ever!
  “I am not, I’m not. God, I swear I am not like that! No way and no fucking how!” I grit my teeth and hissed through them as another throb hit, “No and nope. I like women and that is final. Only way it should be, and for sure I am no saint in that department. I liked that black chick’s boobs in my face and the legs of the one at the bar, so there is no way in fiery hell you are going to convince me otherwise!”
  Enough, it was too bad and I had to do something about it. Only one way though, only one form of punishment I deserved and I managed my way to the living room, (though unlike in the past I had to actually put the DVD into the player, return to its former shrine) and hit the button which brought up Sheila and her stockbroker, skipped the foreplay and went right to the action; scene they’d had right here on this couch.
  “Sheila, you bitch. You fucking whore...” I gasped as I yanked. Only thing left for me, only way I would ever see my wife in such a state again.
  Sheila, Sheila...oh, why? How could you do it? How did I never see what type of person you were? Why can I only see it now, here, as I watch you destroy everything we had over and over?
  “Oh...Shell...” I groaned at the final jerk; cried out with the pain of release...that released nothing as I fell sideways on the couch, still hurting inside as I fell into sleep...landed in a mound of fiery amber curls...that were mixed with ones of sandy blond.

  The next day at work
  Did not start as days previous though. Usually I walked in and greeted David at his small desk in half-cubicle outside my office (if he had arrived first) then before things began there would be a little period where he would come in and we would discuss the attack plans of the day, or happenings in our life from the previous one, me with cup of coffee and he with some changing tea blend.
  Oh, the greeting was there, the young man’s cheery face normal enough, only it was Mr. Hanscom and then coffee brought in in my cup and saucer and then he left after it had been placed on corner of my desk.
  Too quick, I had still been trying to brace myself to talk to him, and sitting there alone only unrattled me further while I sipped.
  Half the cup gone and...screw this.
  Hit the little intercom button, “David, would you please come in here a moment?”
  “Yes, sir.”
  Quick, no delay and he was there...the calfskin roll pouch in his hands.
  “I figured you would want this back, Mr. Hanscom,” he said. Then, “I looked it up on the web. About cleaning and stuff.”
  He’s sterilized it, that mean.
  “No, David. It is not my style. I told you what to do if you decided you did not want it.” He just nodded. “Now, David—”
  “Am I fired?”
  He nodded, loose lock staying down, “I figured I would be. I came in early to print up some copies of my résumé. I understand if you do not want to sign them, Mr. Hanscom.”
  “David, why do you think you would be fired?”
  He shrugged, “Well, you know.”
  “So, you believe you were going to be fired because I know.” Nod again and I closed my eyes. “I see. So, your real opinion of me has finally come out.”
  “No, Mr. Hanscom. Only, I figured you wouldn’t want to be creeped out more than you are while at work. Mr. Baxter is bad enough.”
  I grunted a chuckle. Even now he used humor. Or else was serious from the look in his eyes.
  “David, you are not going to be fired. As if anyone could be these days for that...well, that reason.”
  “I wouldn’t contest it, Mr. Hanscom.”
  “God damn it, David, just shut up for one fucking moment, can you do that, please?”
  “Yes, sir.”
  “And screw that too.” God, I hated just seeing him standing there taking it, the anger coming out in my voice, “Oh, for Christ’s sake, will you just go get your fucking cup of tea already? I just want to talk to you about a couple of things, okay? Not work related shit or employee to boss. Just David to Steven, okay?”
  “Good! Now go get your fucking leaf water! Jesus Christ!”
  “You swear a lot for a religious person, you know.”
  “Fuck. You. Go. Get. Tea. Now.”
  “Geesh, talk about starting the day off in a bad mood,” he huffed and left.
  Returned quickly though, closing the door behind him. Like I’ve always said, he’s a smart kid.
  Sat down, look in his eyes not matching the small smile he was trying to hold on his face. Clearly he was nervous as I was.
  I leaned forward, (body language was important,) lacing my hands together on my desk, “David, I want to apologize to you. I was an ass last night and I know it.”
  “—No,” I interrupted. “Please, let me get this out.” Deep breath, “I have a problem with all this, I admit it. I also admit that it is my problem and not yours. I don’t...I do not understand whatever your reasons are and again, I’m sorry if this makes me a jerk, but I do not want to.”
  “You are not a jerk. Just a bigot.”
  “You’re welcome.”
  “Now that that is off your chest, this bigot would like to help you.”
  “I do not need any help.”
  “Oh? So you already have a lie ready for the next time that sick son of a bitch cuts your face open?” I was shaking and did best to contain it. So many emotions warring at once, yet it was the anger I always felt when something bad happened to the kid.
  (No, to David.) Shut up, I snarled back at it.
  “That...that is not going to happen.”
  “And why is that?”
  “Because I will not be going back to the Echo anymore.”
  “He doesn’t own the place, David.”
  A shrug of shoulder, “Doesn’t matter. Just because I am a friend of a friend of a waitress there doesn’t mean the owners will ban him or anything. Besides, I like the place. I wouldn’t want anything to happen to it.”
  “What do you mean?” He just shrugged. “David.”
  Flip back of hair, “It’s just that he knows a lot of people is all. Maybe they’re just stories, people like to talk big, right? But if anyone is crazy enough to burn down a place it would be him.”
  “Jesus Christ.”
  “I am not having that on my conscious.”
  “And the fall on the steps?”
  He flushed, “I was reading and I fell.”
  “So you told me.”
  “Steven, this is my business.”
  “And as your friend, I am telling you it is not your business alone.” I spoke softer, “David, please. You always insisted you were my friend. How come you won’t let me prove I am yours as well?”
  “Okay. I was reading only...I think I was pushed.”
  “That or something hit me. But he was at the bottom of the steps. I am just lucky his foot came down on my arm instead of my hand. I think he was trying for it, but I curled up. He got mad after that.”
  “Oh, David.”
  “It’s not that bad. If he really wanted to kill me or anything I would be dead. He didn’t even kick that hard.”
  “Fuck that. What about the mugging?” Answer when he flushed and ducked his head. “God damn it.”
  “That happened just like I told the police—and you. I was riding my bike and the trashcan came flying. I landed hard and didn’t see anyone. Only...they didn’t take my wallet. I did manage to get a restraining order after the stairs, only, they don’t mean much.”
  “Because he always has witnesses.” A nod. “This world is fucked.” And so was David if this didn’t come to an end. “Why is he doing this?”
  “Because he’s crazy. It shouldn’t last much longer though. There is this other club I used to go to. People talk. I’m not the first one he’s done this too. It’s just some sort of head game. He’ll get bored and start picking on someone else. I doubt he’ll even remember my name by summer. Steven, I am fine. I am telling you the truth, I swear.”
  “What are you doing to protect yourself? David, if you need help getting a permit, or if you can’t I can get one for you. Kid, it scares the crap out of me thinking of all this.” And if he lied to get where he was, he would not want to risk a background check. How the hell did he ever manage to get into that college?
  “It’s not so bad. And no, no gun. That would make it serious.”
  “This is serious, David. People do not use a knife on another person’s face for a god damn joke!”
  “I guess I just know more people than you.”
  “Will you stop with the fucking jokes?”
  “Nothing. David, I am your friend. I do not... Look, you work in a law firm, will take the bar test yourself soon enough, but until then you have me. Is there anything that I can do to...” Jesus, this was hard, “To, well, help with...El.”
  He closed his eyes and took a deep breath himself before shaking his head, “No thank you, Steven. That is over for good.”
  “Then why did you bring it up at the club?”
  “Because why? David, call me a bigot because I am, yet if you hadn’t said anything, despite the rest, I would never have guessed about you.”
  “I know.”
  Thanks a lot, “So if it is over why did you do that?”
  “Because I saw his look. He likes to hurt people, Steven. He was going to start saying stuff, messing with you. Bringing up Dellan stopped that.”
  “Yes,” he insisted strongly. “I know what to do, and he must really had have someplace to go or else they would have waited outside the club, but you don’t know what to do, Steven. You would have fought back and they would have killed you. Maybe for real.”
  “Come on, that can’t be the reason,” I scoffed.
  “But it is.”
  “So you would rather I... Rather receive the reaction that you expected from a bigot than see me get punched around?” He nodded. “For crying out loud, David, why?”
  “Because it was my trouble and not yours. You don’t need my garbage on top of everything else.”
  “On top of everything else...”
  “You don’t know street, Steven, I do. I am not having anyone else get hurt because of me. So no matter what, fact that we will only see each other at the office now, it was worth it.”
  “What do you mean by that? Only at the office?”
  He just shrugged, the insightful little bastard.
  “Could I borrow that extended DVD sometime? I like those movies a lot. Treebeard is so cool.”
  “Sure. I’ll bring it in tomorrow.”
  “Thanks,” he grinned at me. At me, Steven Hanscom the bigot who was no longer going to risk being seen with him at any restaurants or have talk rising because the kid came over to my place to hang out.
  Yeah, some friend, Steven.
  And it probably would have stayed like that till I left for me ‘vacation’, just connecting during working hours, trade off of DVDs or music CDs, coffee and tea breaks shared in idle chat if it wasn’t for the Parkinson files.

  Half a week after the discovery and we were both crunching the hours away on joined laptops. David had pulled off a miracle with the corrupted thing, and part of our ‘promotion’ meant that we were the two sorry bastards given charge of it.
  I was going over my half, and admittedly, doing a crack job of it all on my own, attempt to re-gather all the parts of an ongoing case dealing with land rights in the *** when after five hours into the session I hit a snag.
  “Have you seen anything after the first paragraph of this one anywhere?” I asked, giving him the case number. “It should say ‘ocean’, but every time I do a search nothing comes up.”
  “Try tire.”
  Talk about being thrown a loop, but I took a second to rub my strained eyes, “Why tire?”
  “The worm was really funny. Sometimes I can almost get it, but I think it has to do with oil. And pollution. They use oil to make tires and tires used to fill up all the landfills. I sort of remember stumbling across that before. The Parkinsons do a lot of off shore drilling.”
  “Which is exactly what this case is about. Someone screwed up bad, because a whole meter of the platform sticks outside the damn border into international waters. Too bad their buddies lost the election two years later.”
  “Bet that’s why it all came out.”
  “No bets. Someone got cheap and forgot to scratch the other’s back. I know there are some decent people in the family, but swear to god, the majority are going straight to hell.”
  “Maybe. Hey, I wonder what happens if I type in petroleum? —Oh no! Oh, no, oh, no, oh no!” Sheer panic and eyes wide.
  “Don’t touch anything!” I yelled.
  “I’m not, but, Steven...”
  “What happened?” I said, not keeping the shake from my voice as I ran around to his side of the table.
  “I just types it in and stuff started disappearing everywhere!”
  “This bastard had to come from the environmentalists.” I stared at his screen, “Oh shit. Oh, David, oh shit...”
  “I’m sorry!”
  “Hold on, kid, don’t lose it on me,” I said and put a hand on his shoulder to lean forwards on. “My god, I can’t even tell what you were working on.”
  “Nothing big, my eyes are too tired. It was only gathering the permit lists for the paper mills in *** in one file. So they could see the dates. Some of them are going to expire next year, but they were all scattered randomly in everything else. That,” he placed a finger on an open document that now only contained the word ‘the’ and ‘account’ with occasional ‘affix’ and ‘sub-divide’ tossed in throughout a most blank page, “was the proposal for building the resort in Brazil. All of it on the up-and-up.”
  “Like I said, some decent folks there. Came across it last week. A lot of rainforest was going to be taken off the logger’s map. A whole hell of a lot.”
  “I know...” he wheezed, sounding close to tears.
  “Buckle up, kid. Don’t forget these are just back up machines after all. Lets see now. Tires and ocean because of offshore drilling platforms. What, using this skewed logic, would have petroleum associate itself with paper...or is it trees they were after?”
  “I...I... Sap?”
  “That would be my guest. Want the honors?”
  “You’re right. Okay, kid, sit back and let the old man take the blame,” I snorted and typed in the word.
  Cheer from David as things started popping back up on screen. Not in right order, no way in hell, but they were back.
  “You did it!”
  “Nope, joint effort,” I grinned smugly and patted him on the shoulder before heading back around my desk. Ugh, my eyes. “Hey, David, it is seven o’clock, how about we call it a night? Don’t think my heart could stand another jolt like that, or my eyes, because, hey, hey, our machines are connected and what I was working on now has text running in ascending order. Backwards to boot!” Not to mention random stanzas of what we had all come to learn was some rather lewd, French poetry.
  “I’m sorry.”
  “Are you kidding? This is a perfect sign to say stop right here. Probably would have been at it till ten the way luck was running before. Plus I’m starving. Feel like having some deep fried ice cream?”
  “Steven...are you sure?”
  I held up my hand, one that had been on his shoulder without either of us realizing it during the crisis, “Well, I don’t feel lighter in the heals or anything, so guess it’s safe enough.”
  “Geesh, Steven, come on,” he snorted.
  “How about you, interested in tits yet?”
  “I think it takes more than that.”
  “Well, hope for you yet.”
  “Don’t start.”
  “The exact words I was going to say to you.”
  “Maybe I should just stay here and work.”
  “David, I am sorry. I can’t help being an a...a jerk.”
  “I know.”
  “Hey, what the hell is that supposed to mean?”
  “That you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
  “Something for which I am truly grateful. Now come on and put The Monster away before I change my mind and leave you here. As it is you might have given me kudies.”
  “What’s a kudie?”
  “I don’t know. I think they are eight legged, purple bugs with big eyes.”
  “Arachnids have eight legs. Insects have six.”
  “Whatever. Just don’t give me any.”
  “I think you mean crabs.”
  “No, kudies. Rhymes with kiddies. You kiss little girls when you are a kid and you get them.”
  “Well, I don’t have kudies then. Or crabs.”
  “Hey, talk about pipesters finding the silver lining!”

  So life, as it were, resumed ‘normal’. The Japanese restaurant was a hit (and the waitresses in their uniforms of high-cut ‘kimonos’ proved again that I was not, well...just not damn it. Though, no, there were no resumptions of meeting alone at my place, I was still sick and having problems—getting worse by the day, yet like David had said, a man’s problems were his own to deal with.
  His, Steven. His.
  Yet plenty of lunches shared at the pub, sometimes with Parker and his crowd, though I held off on really joining them for when David was not around. No, there would be no more shows for him, meaning my dives into depression and pity-fests, not the other. Took his word that there had been no ‘peeking’, only...
  Couple of times Kimberly joined us for dinner. (She was a real button. Damn, David, what a shame. Come on, kid, straighten out!) And once even Tasty Casey hung out—literally—god bless her and her chocolate mounds, though alas, it appeared David had been telling the truth. A cock-tease, but a likeable one, and that evening ended up fine, all of us heading to my apartment and it was talk of music and popcorn while watching the Ring’s series, Miss Casey having her own sort of ‘pipe’ to which only she and a couple light tokes from Kimberly partook of. What the hell, I was a lawyer, not the law.
  “Be good for ya, Mr. Man,” she said, offering it.
  “Sorry, Miss Casey,” I said around my briar. “I’m a Virginia man through and through.”
  “Knew you was a cotton-honkey,” she winked as I broke up laughing.
  “Oh yeah? Can you do this?” And I puffed a couple ring.
  “Bet your ass.” And she did so. Damn, good thing I had those incense.
  “Well at least I won’t get pulled over for puffing on this.”
  “Not yet.”
  “This world is screwed,” David said around his. Kid was going burley tonight.

  So yes, life went on till around the first week of December, and my assistant and I had been in the court room. Not the real one, just judge’s chambers to deliver some affidavits for the big boys, though we did sit in as observers at an unrelated case. More experience for David than any need. Taking a break from The Monster, lots of points being scored for thing accomplished with those on the upper floors more than anything else. Quick stop at the pub and some wings, then back to the office around four thirty to get in a few hours before calling it a day.
  Did not even reach the desk and unopened laptops when I got what I thought was a break when my cell phone buzzed.
  Then a little start because it was not a number I knew. Impossible, no one got on this account. The firm’s service filtered them to clients, registered personals and...oh, medical icon.
  The tests. Finally, despite the fact that...
  “Hello, Doctor Samlin,” I said right off the bat, automatically loosening my tie as I stood there. “What’s the word? How long have I got left?” Let’s see, according to my calendar it will be—
  “Such a pessimist, Mr. Hanscom,” his tiny voice came through the speaker pressed to me ear.
  “Well, I imagine this is about the test results finally coming in, right? Not usual for the doctor himself to call the patient now, is it?” From the corner of my eye I noticed David start and glace up at me. I just shook my head and went to the couch, feeling I had better sit down for this. “On my private line at that.”
  I heard a gruff little chuckle, “Yeah, talked my way in, lad, sorry about that. Told you not to worry about those tests though and I was right. You’re fine, they are fine, everybody’s fine. No, had a moment sitting here before going home and got to wondering if that Peterson of yours arrived yet? Used the onus of the tests as my excuse.”
  I snorted and lowered my head to rub the fore with massaging fingers, “Not yet.”
  “Damn. One of the grandkids was helping me out on her computer and I went to do some viewing. So hard to tell much about these things from pictures.”
  “I know, looks can be deceiving.”
  “So, beyond my temptation, which I know I’ll give in to if I actually step into a shop, how have you been, Mr. Hanscom? Any give on that problem of yours?”
  I glance over at David under my hand, busy fiddling with something around the desk, “Nothing. There’s nothing at all.”
  “Yeah. Hey, Doc, about that suggestion of yours? The first one, not the scalpel...I think I better come in for it. I’ve been trying, but...”
  “That bad, Mr. Hanscom?”
  “The pain is killing me,” I breathed in defeated.
  “Son, you want to come in for those other tests?” he asked immediately; concerned manner, yet all business. “This really can be a serious matter. No imbalanced of the human body’s workings is minor or should be left to guesswork. Nor is it a television fiction about something putting pressure on the wrong spot within the cranium. Look, I’ll get right on it, shift some things around. You can come in tomorrow. Do my best, but we’re probably looking at later in the afternoon...”
  Even through the tiny speaker I heard the sound of papers rattling. Salt of the earth, one pipester doing for another.
  “No, Doc, I believe your call and the result of the last ones. Man, you call us bloodsuckers? Amazed I was able to walk out of there the last time. Good thing I wasn’t pulled over; police would have thought me a junky with all those holes you made in my arm,” I snorted and the old codger responded in kind.
  Then sighed, “So no, no more tests. I don’t think there’s anything else a cat scan or whatever else you have there can tell me. No offence, but I really hate hospitals.”
  “Be crazy if you didn’t, son. You all right there? Sounding a bit off.”
  I rubbed my head, “Just a little headache at the moment. A regular one.” I poked around a bit, not that it mattered, “I mean, I would feel that, right?”
  “Not necessarily. Rarely. There are no nerve endings in the brain, things would have to reach something on the outside like—”
  “Doc, please, no gory details. I was there with my aunt, I got pictures enough.”
  “Does not have to be cancerous, Mr. Hanscom. Though I still say that is not the case. You’re count levels were fine all across the board. Still, this headache. Anything behind the eyes or is it the temples? How is your vision? Blurriness? Are colors off or any darkness around the edges of your sight?”
  “Around the temples.” I blinked a few times, “I can see fine right now. No dark edges or blurriness or anything.”
  “Just stress then.”
  I nodded, “Yeah, it was one of the bad days.” I cleared my throat, “So, do I need to call and make an appointment to pick the prescription up? The sooner the better, I’ve been lucky as is that no one’s, well, noticed anything.” No shit. Talk about the number one reason for never forgetting your briefcase in the car...
  “No need to make the drive. Check the phone book for an incense shop. Potassium nitrate is what you are looking for. They use it as a burning agent to make incense. Couldn’t believe half the stuff my granddaughter has in her room picked up at those places. Looks like a little chemist in the making. Got something to write with there? All you have to do is—”
  “One second, Doc, let me grab a pen and...” I nodded absently as one and a memo pad was there. “Alright, shoot me,” I laughed oddly as I clicked the pen.
  “It’s not that bad, son. And just try it for a week or two, then stop. Give things a rest and then see what happens. Maybe that’s all you need, a break from things. Both your head and your body getting some time out. Any chance of getting some time off for vacation? Change of scenery?”
  “Already got it covered. Have a nice place in the country where it’s quiet. In fact, I just decided I’m going to leave for it early. Only thing they can do is fire me, right?” I grinned cynically.
  “That’s the ticket. But if it is a matter of employment I can write you out something. Fax it over tonight.”
  “Don’t trouble yourself, Doc. I’m a grown man and do not need a note of absence from the hospital to take time off. Not with the backlog of days they already owe me.”
  “Well, if you get any slack just give my office a ring.”
  “Will do, but I’m really not worried. Just blowing smoke rings here.”
  Then I wrote down what he told me. Simple enough.
  I sat back, wincing as I crossed my legs, “Well, thank you for everything, Doc. I am certain you are right. Only two weeks though? At the most?”
  “At most. Don’t worry, son, you’ll get back on track in no time. I’d wager a Peterson Anniversary edition on it.”
  I smiled, “Sorry, you’re not getting my pipe. Out of curiosity though, what would you smoke in it if you did?”
  “Anything Mac Baren. Old buddy of mine used to bring some Stockton back for me whenever he was in Europe.”
  “You know they are starting to distribute that blend in the states now?”
  “My god, they are?” I could hear the drool from here.
  “That and some others.” I named a couple of places where he could use his granddaughter’s computer to peruse, giving him something to write down. So much for waiting till retirement. “Well, as I said, thank you again. Guess I won’t be seeing you, so I’ll wish you an early Merry Christmas.”
  “You just did, son. Thanks for this and take care.”
  “You too. Bye.” I clicked off the cell and tossed it to land in a bounce on the couch’s far end; buried my face in both hands, “Two weeks? Fuck me.” No, it was going to be forever. Yet at least that forever would be ending on December twenty-fourth without pain, not to mention whole. The past few days had been hell, enough so I was contemplating the scalpel for real.
  “Not now, David. Actually, if you don’t mind I would like to be alone. You might as well go home.” Yes, go. I can’t stand to look at you right now. And I sure as hell am not going to be thinking about you when I go to the restroom. I am not a queer, or gay, or whatever you want to call yourself. Just...just real fucked up.
  “Steven,” I heard him say my name again, voice sounding odd enough to have me glance up.
  Was startled at what I saw, his expression pale, looking frightened.
  “Are you... Steven, are you sick?”
  I blinked. Sick? Yeah, I was sick alright... Then I thought back, realized what that conversation could have sounded like, only hearing my end of it. He thought I was dying, and it had him terrified.
  “David, I...”
  Oh god, kid, don’t cry. Not over me!
  “David, I...” So much for waiting till Christmas. It was going to be the window. Tonight. I would never be able to look at him again. Not after seeing that expression—what he was feeling, the emotional level so clear upon it. The true depth of it hidden till now.
  I took a deep, shaking breath, “Yes, I am sick, but not in the way you think. Not in any way you think. No, my body is as healthy as a god damn...” Pause and another deep breath, tried for more calmness, “David, I... Ahem. Well, I am going to leave my briefcase here tonight. Tomorrow... Tomorrow when you arrive I want you to open it first thing. There is a sealed file in the right hand side, the end pocket. Documents and things like that. Everything is set. You’ll know what it is and what to do with them. You’re a sharp kid, David.”
  “What are you talking about?” he whispered, still pale.
  “Oh, David,” I sighed, eyes blurring at the bottom, “I am so sorry. I was going to wait, but this is for the best. Believe me, it is. I’m sorry, though. I am not as strong as you are, David. I tried, only there are things I just can’t deal with, and it is simple as that.”
  “Steven, don’t let her win.”
  I chuckled shakily, “She won’t, I’ve already seen to that. Everything is done, really been burning the midnight oil this past week. Now all you have to see to is getting to that file before anyone else. Tomorrow morning, David. Good night.”
  “Steven, no.”
  “David...” I was getting angry. Wiped a hand quickly across my eyes, “God damn it, don’t you get it, kid? I’m tired! I can’t fucking live like this anymore! I can’t let her go and I can’t... I—I c-can’t...” Nothing. There is nothing in my life! I do not have a life! Don’t you get that?! And I am so fucked up now—so crazy desperate—to have anything filling that void that I...
  “Steven,” he said and knelt down, me flinching my head away fast when he tried to place a hand on it.
  Oh, god, I was in agony. Bad enough that he was here, that I was in this state that he might confuse the meaning of; that he would discover and think that I wanted him when I didn’t! And—
  “Huhh!” I gasped in sharply as his hand touched. Just trying for the knee since my head was pulled away, (he was easy with making body contact, always a shoulder or arm touched to least before I had found out about him,) but I had been shifting, starting to move so I could get up and leave and he had brushed me, felt me and...
  “D-david, what...?” He did not speak, just pressed his hand fully on me through the fabric while other lifted up for my belt bucket, not looking at my face.
  I have to stop this! Stop him, but—
  But I didn’t stop him. Maybe if he had looked up at me I would have, yet all I could do, stunned, shocked, hurting, was watch as he used both hands now to undo my belt, undo the buttons and zipper and my god, I even lifted my ass a bit to help the pants slide down some, leather of the couch creaking, so he could reach, could free me, erection hard and jerking with swollen, angry—demanding—expectation.
  Could only watch frozen in transfixed horror as his hands wrapped around me, having me gasp again before he pulled my too-sensitized member forward enough so that he could lower his face.
  Oh. My. God.
  No, no, no, this could not be happening! Not the knowing strokes of hands (of course a man would know) or touch of lips...the feel of them opening and sliding down the knob of my head; warmth of his mouth and breath, the gentle, sucking wetness...
  Oh, god, he’s good... He.
  This isn’t right! This is wrong! Only, god, it has been so...and he is just s-so...
  Squeezed my eyes shut even tighter, desperate to imagine, picture anyone else doing this for me—any woman—but I couldn’t.
  Hissed in through clenched teeth and let it out in a breathless grunt, hands digging into the back of the leather couch as tongue continued to swirl and lips grasped...slid down the length. Up, then back down again, hands still moving as well.
  God help me, I was sick. Evil, vile, because I did not want to imagine it was anyone else then who it was!
  Impossible, hating it, yet I felt myself going even harder at the thought. (David, this is David!) Rolled a fist and I hit the couch’s armrest several times—then lost it, an abrupt relaxation as well as muscular stiffness. Moan of pleasure as I lurched back, hands going to his head, fingers running up through his now sweat dampened hair, holding him...and in response he moaned and took me fully and sucked harder, stayed there willingly as the orgasm came.
  Exploding into his mouth; feel of him swallowing.
  Oh god, what have I done?
  Thought at the back of his mind though, face relaxed as he lay there. Relief, blessed relief from the aching, from the pain, utterly satisfied...realized that he was stroking the young man’s head as he caught his breath. Stopped it, and David finally pulled away from him.
  What am I supposed to say? To
  I closed my eyes again, not knowing what to feel.
  “You do not have to say anything. I just...” Pause as shaking breath was caught, words when they came soft, “I just hope you know now, how I feel about you. That someone cares about you.”
  “David, I...”
  “No. I mean it, Steven. Mr. Hanscom. You do not have to say, or do, anything.”
  I still couldn’t open my eyes, lift my head to look at him.
  Words came again, still soft, yet by the door now, “I never thought I could... After what happened with El, I did not think I could ever feel again about anyone else. You do not have to feel anything back. I understand that... Well, I just wanted to say thank you.” He, was thanking me? “I’ll leave the firm if you want, if it is too uncomfortable. It’ll be all right. But if it is okay, I would like to stay. You need someone, Mr. Hanscom. I’m not that one, I know it. You aren’t like me, I know that too. Still, if you ever want...need anything like that again I’ll be happy to do it. Because I care.
  “Good night, Mr. Hanscom. And...and I will see you in the morning. Even if I am only here long enough to clean out my desk.”
  Sound of the door opening and closing.
  He was gone.
  Mr. Hanscom. Barriers raised, not ones which would be coming down this time. No, it was the end of...something. Friendship ended. Closest intimacy ones could have balanced out by loss of the rest.
  Formality. Coldness.
  Friendship traded...for this?
  Oh, David, I’m sorry. You are right though, I am not... No, I do not want to be like you.
  Only, God, please forgive me, I think I am.
  Still sitting there, I lifted arm across my eyes and cried...

  Managed to get home, the long drive a blank. Traffic, streets, buildings a single blur.
  There were drinks when I got there. Not a debauch, just a couple things with ice rattling in my shaking hand as I stood before the window, the day completely faded to night.
  Electric stars filling the world below. Cold lights in a void unending.
  What was I feeling? Many things, yet at the same time...nothing. As for the rest of me, my body was no longer hurting...just the conflict in my soul.
  Bad, bad sign, because I was not about to go to church and make confession. Not about this.
  Nor was I going to use David’s trick of looking ‘inside’. I already had my answer: disgust throughout the core. Only with myself though, no one else. Small blessing I suppose.
  I stood looking through the windows for hours, doing my best not to think about anything and for the most part succeeded. No dinner, not tonight, but before I...
  I went into my den and picked up the phone. Dialed a number, quickly adding on the extension for voice mail instead of direct. What a fucking coward.
  “...messages for David Tyler at the tone,” the electric voice said indifferently.
  It droned in my ear, the recorder running through my silence.
  “Stay.” I managed. No introductions, no: ‘this is Steven’ or hellos, or screaming: ‘How dare you!’ with streams of cursing or...or anything worse.
  The recorder was still running in silence and I looked up at my briefcase, cleared my throat, “See you in the morning, Tyler. That brief on the Norman Case has to be finished by one.”

Continues with Episode Four: December Countdown
Back to top

Episode Four: December Countdown
Everything on this page is (C) Melissa Vivigatz 2007
No copying or reproduction without the artist's written permission, thank you!

The following story contains adult language and situations.
Sexual content. For mature readers only.
email me
Tell a friend about this page
Support the fight against AIDS
Support the fight against AIDS