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reclaiming austin

Reclaiming Austin Chapter Nine

By Bill McBride

Like everything that day, work was a hazy, fluffy clouds, sunny, birds singing

in magnolia trees, everybody's happy kind of day. I'm sure there were grumpy

people, it was probably pouring rain and the birds were assuredly all

cantankerous pigeons with raspy voices, but it seemed all sunshine and happy to


Marika and the other workers were teasing me, I was so happy. I retold my

weekend adventure to the whole office over lunch; those that wanted to hear it,

anyway. The girls were all "Awwwwwww," and the guys just wanted to know who "he"

was, what sport he played, and if I could get them his autograph. My reply was

to bring a nice present to our wedding, and he'd sign their invitation.

I was singing to my Dee Lite album all the way home. Groove was so in my heart

that afternoon. After I parked and started up my stairs, I saw a guy standing

outside my apartment and talking on his cell phone. As I got closer, I saw that

it was Glen.

"Yeah dude, maybe five or 10 minutes. Yeah, you too. Bye." Glen said as he gave

me a forced smile and hung up his cell phone.

"Who was that, dude?" I asked.

"No one. Just a friend. How's it goin' Alex?"

I twirled over to him and laid my head on his shoulder as I smiled up at him.

"Excellent. Come on in and tell me why you're here dude?"

Glen stepped in and briefly looked around.

"Ya got any beer, dude?"

"In the fridge, big guy. I think Austin left a few," I said as I opened the door

and headed to my bedroom to lose my coat and tie.

As I walked out, Glen handed me a beer. I noticed right away that he didn't look

me in the eyes, and he was acting a little funny.

"Everything OK with Jennifer?" I asked, trying to figure out what was going on.

"Yeah, yeah she's fine. Let's go sit down."

I gave him a funny look as we went to my living room and sat opposite each other

in mismatched rockers.

"So, what gives Glen? You look awful?" I asked.

He was just beginning to stammer out an answer when my phone rang. I told him

to hold for just a second while I got rid of whoever it was. He told me to take

the call, that he was going to the bathroom. As I grabbed the phone, confused

by Glen's behavior, I was thrilled to hear Austin's voice.

"Hi, Alex. How ... how are you dude?"

If Glen had sounded strange, Austin sounded awful.

"Austin, honey, what's the matter? What's wrong?"

There was some stammering on the other end. A long pause, then in the deadest

voice I'd ever heard.

Slowly, quietly, he whispered: "Alex, yesterday ... At Disney ... dude ... We ...we were

seen ... I was fuckin' recognized ... Alex, the fuckin' rumor got here before I


His voice was full of fear, confusion and terrifying resignation.

"I ... I ... I don't understand Austin. Who saw you? How? Where at Disney? I don't

understand." I said almost silently, fear rocketing up my spine.

There was silence for a moment. The only sound I hear was the thumping of my


"Austin? Austin, what are you saying? What does this mean? What did you do?" I


" I lied Alex ... I told everyone it was just a fuckin' joke ... I told them that we

... that you were an old friend and we were just fuckin' around. I don't know if

anyone believed me. It was so fucking stupid of me to go there," his voice

rising with each word.

"Austin, What does it mean? A-a-are you still coming home when school's out?"

My plea poured into the receiver.


His voice was almost silent.

Where moments before, my heart was soaring with the eagles, now it was crawling

on the bottom of the sea with the slugs.

I stood and began to shake. In my panic, I began pleading with Austin, as though

my cries could sway what was obviously an awful and painful decision for him. A

decision as resolute as it was tragic.

"Nooooo, Austin. We can work it out. We'll figure it out. Austin, baby, there

has to be a way. I-I-I'll act more masculine. I'll stop telling people about me.

I can act butch!"

My pleas only earned me a sob from the other end. I could picture his face

twisted in guilt and pain, and it made me more determined to ... to take him in my

arms and make it all go away.

"It's done Alex. I-I-I can't tell you how sorry I am. I didn't mean to hurt

you. It isn't fair. Hate me if it'll help. But don't change for me, Alex. You're

... You're so perfect, sweetheart. God, Alex, I am sooo fucking sorry."

"Noooooooo ... Austin?" I shouted into the phone in a pained voice.

In a deliberate, smooth voice, one holding back and dominating over his pain,

Austin continued, "Alex, I have to cut all ties, for both of us, you and me ...

and to hide what I've done ... Please, don't call me ... don't email me..."

After a long deadly pause he added, "Good bye, baby."

The phone line went dead, and all I could do was stand there holding the phone.

Shaking, begging to a dead line for another chance, trying to figure out what

had happened.

I jumped as a hand touched my shoulder. I turned around to find Glen standing

there, tears in his eyes as he mouthed how sorry he was. I wanted to talk, but

when I tried my bottom lip started to quiver, then my eyes got wet. A moment

later, I lost control and sunk into his arms. It was the second time in less

then as many months that I had fallen apart in Glen's arms.

To be honest, I don't remember much beyond that that night. As the night went

on, I was swallowed by the black fog which blotted out light and reason. I fell

from the cliff of jubilation to the depths of a black abyss. Poor Glen could do

nothing but utter pointless platitudes.

I tried to get ready for work the next day, but I could do little but cry and

stare out the window. Thankfully, Glen had spent the night and called my work

and explained to them what happened. Then he called his own job and did the

same. Glen called several of my other friends when he thought I couldn't hear

him, explaining what happened. And once he found my address book, he called my

doctor, too.

About noon, Mrs. Tremere came in and tried to talk with me. All I remember was

crying on her shoulder as she held me. Some time later, she left a platter of

food, which I had no interest in eating.

My reactions might seem excessive or overly dramatic to some people, but my

actions weren't for sympathy or for dramatic effect. The part of my brain

governed by logic had been replaced with a screaming, frightened child.

To Glen's credit, he got me to the doctor after lunch, and I was started on

Prozac and Xanax that afternoon. Glen was given some sleeping pills for me if I

needed them. That evening, Michael showed up and took over the shift for Glen.

When I started to protest Michael simply said, "Alex, I took off work and I am

here to help you. If you start fighting me, I will Baker Act your ass! I'm your

best friend, and I'm sure as shit not going through what I did the last time."

Michael wasn't being mean, just firm and blunt. No one understood me better in

this situation than he did. No one else had earned the right to talk to me like

this or threaten to have me committed. Michael had been through hell with me

and come out still calling me a friend.

Then Michael came over and put his arms around me, an act which might seem

normal for most people under these circumstances. But Michael wasn't most

people. He wasn't governed by the warm fuzzy laws of emotion which prevail over

most people's lives.

"I'm sorry, Alex. I really am, sweetheart. None of us saw this coming. Maybe

he'll come around when he gets over the shock. He was obviously in love with you

Alex. We're trying to figure out who's gonna talk to him. His bitch of a

girlfriend won't let him have contact with anybody here. She's threatened to

tell everyone in Gainesville that he's gay if he tries to get in touch with

anybody here. You just hold yourself together."

So my big, strong best friend held me as the storms within raged and I cried

until his shirt was soaking wet.

The 29th came. It was a Friday, and it was also Austin's birthday. Cynthia and

Phil took me back to Phil's house to get me away from my apartment. While I was

out, I later learned that Michael was downloading all my information on Austin

onto CDs so I wouldn't get mad and destroy all the letters and pictures I would

never be able to replace.

They tried to help, as did Korma and Steve. But nothing could pull me away from

the fact that today was my boyfriend's birthday. Even if he didn't ever want to

see me again.

Late that night, as Phil played soft rock on his guitar in his living room, Ryan

showed up and scooped me up into a huge hug. He whispered how sorry he was about

what had happened, and set me back on the couch so I would lean against his

side. His big, tanned, gym-toned arm draped protectively around me.

"Hey, Alex, would you like to do me a huge favor?" Ryan asked me.

I nodded detachedly.

"Not sure I'll be much good, but if you think I can help ... " I said slowly.

"I was thinking that maybe you wouldn't mind coming down to spend the weekend at

my house with me and Brandon. And then tomorrow night, you could accompany me to

a dinner party."

I was about to protest about my mood when Ryan interjected, "And don't worry

about your mood, Alex. These are all formal, tight-ass Disney officials and

their equally dull dates. You'll be the cutest and youngest guy there. So if

you're a little down, you'll fit right in. I won't even have to worry about you

being bored."

I thought about it a few a minutes, and when he squeezed my shoulders I finally


"The Prozac is kicking in, Ryan. I'm not promising I'll be a lot of fun. But

sure, I think I can handle a dinner party."

Ryan got up and said, "Great, we'll swing by your house since I doubt I have

anything that would fit you. You're doing me a great service, Alex. There's

nothing worse then showing up to an office dinner party single. Every wife,

girlfriend, significant other and boyfriend would be trying to set me up on

blind dates over the next month."

I think I smiled for the first time in a week at that image.

"So basically I'm saving you from loads of anonymous sex and possibly meeting a


I got a sideways look soaked in sarcasm. "Yeah, exactly."

We got to my apartment. As we went through my closet looking for something

"dressy casual formal" Ryan finally sighed, "You have rugged casual, you have

jock casual and you have funeral or wedding formal. But what the hell do you

wear to dinner parties, Alex?"

"My cock ring and a lobster bib?" I asked sarcastically.

Ryan laughed. Then I admitted that I had never actually been to a dinner party.

"Alex, tomorrow we are going to take you out clothes shopping. Winter Park has a

few really nice places."

My eyes started to flash dollar signs so bright that Ryan saw them. "And don't

worry about the prices, Think of it as payment for helping me out," he said.

I nodded my head in agreement, feeling somewhat like a hooker. The Prozac was

cutting through the fog in my brain finally, and the pain was no longer pushing

me to the edge of suicide. I was coping, but barely.

So Ryan drove me to his house. It was a nice 1950s style four-bedroom house in

the College Park section of Orlando. It hadn't been decorated much yet, but it

was very nice. After we'd taken the tour and met Ryan's playful but big two

black Labs, Brandon came home.

Brandon was a nice guy - tall, short dark hair - but a bit shy. He barely said a

word before evaporating to his room. I asked Ryan later if Brandon was mad at

something or me. Ryan assured me that Brandon would behave this way for the

first few times that he met me. Plus, Brandon was working on a special project

and probably just getting home from putting in extra hours at work. Ryan said

that if Brandon hadn't liked me, he would have stayed out with us and glared at

me. So I guess in a strange way it was a good sign.

I slept in the guest bedroom. The next day, Ryan woke me early and we had a

quick breakfast which Brandon had fixed for us. Before 10 a.m., we were heading

to Winter Park to go shopping for something dressy casual.

I wanted to hit the main street and go window shopping, so we did. I would have

spent thousands if I'd had it. Neither rain, nor sleet, no mind-numbing

depression could fully stop a fag from shopping. I did try to hide behind Ryan

as much as possible around other people. Ryan humored me, but kept pointing out

that circuit and club clothes weren't what I needed.

Finally, he took me to this stuffy men's clothing store. In a few minutes, he

had me dressed in a dark gray silk wool-blend sports coat with pair of matching

slacks, a dark blue silk shirt, and a belt that cost more then most of my

sweaters and jackets. He sent me to get the jacket and pants fit while he paid.

I was grateful as if I had known the price, I'm sure I would have died from

whatever it is that makes one die when they realize how much someone has spent

on them.

I decided to buy my own shoes and he took me to some store I don't remember, and

I winced at the price but felt better that I at least bought these. I was going

to look damned good. Not that I really cared. Without Austin there to beam his

approval at me, the compliments would seem empty.

We ate lunch at one of the small bistros that Winter Park was famous for. We ate

foo-foo food and drank a little wine and were waited on by a very friendly gay

waiter named Raymond. I was beginning to worry about what kind of Jethro

Clampett impression I was going to make with this champagne and crumpets crowd.

Ryan was so suave in his casual assurance that they'd love me. He smiled and

said, "I know it sounds crass, but if they get to be too much, let them know you

just finished a long relationship with a professional athlete. When they find

out it was baseball instead of tennis or golf, they'll nod knowingly as they'll

have no clue about who is who, and wonder what you're worth now."

I smiled and looked out the window at the beautiful street. My eyes welled up as

I wondered if Austin would like this place.

"I'm sorry, Alex. I didn't mean to cause you any pain. Let's go find something

fun to do before we have to go back and get ready for that party," Ryan offered

with an encouraging grin.

"Don't worry about it, Ryan. It happens every 10 minutes whether someone brings

him up or not ... just gonna take time if what everybody tells me is true."

I wiped my eyes with my napkin as Raymond took Ryan's credit card up to cash us


"So why are you going to this party since you obviously don't want to go"? I


"Politics," was all he said as he took a drink of his wine.

"Well, is it politically acceptable to bring a gay date to an office party?" I

asked him.

"Oh, that's not really an issue. At least a third of the people there will be

gay or lesbian. I'm bringing you to let them know I'm gay without having to say

it, and to show them what kind of guys I prefer. More importantly, it gets you

out of the house. And like I said, with you beside me, I will be spared weeks of

blind dates and boring dinners."

We got up to leave, and Raymond brought Ryan's platinum Amex card back to him.

After signing it and leaving a tip that made Raymond smile and thank him several

times, Ryan finally asked me what I wanted to do.

Not having any great ideas myself, I left it up to Ryan. We landed up looking

for furniture at several antique and second-hand stores. It was an interesting

afternoon and served to keep my mind off other matters for a while. In the end,

I helped Ryan carry two ornately carved cherry end tables back to his car.

"Ryan, I have a question," I stated as we got to his car.

"Shoot," Ryan said as he turned to face me.

"Why are you doing all this for me?" I asked.

"I mean, the wonderful birthday, now a bazillion dollars for a suit to a party.

Why so much?"

His body trembled for a split second, and his shoulders slumped slightly. He

looked up briefly and saw a sign several doors down.

"Let's go get some coffee," he said, without answering my question.

He held the door open for me and walked directly to the counter and smiled at

the girl behind the counter. She smiled back with that plastic Orlando grin.

"Can I help you?" she asked.

Ryan looked at me. "What are you having?" he asked.

I ordered a frozen cappuccino. Ryan ordered a large frozen citrus tea. He had me

pick a table outside, saying that he'd bring the drinks to me when they were


I chose a small round table off to the side from the others and sat down staring

down the old streets and at the beautiful old trees. I had barely gotten

comfortable when Ryan pushed through the door with our drinks. He set them on

the table and plopped down in the chair.

He took a sip from his frozen drink and let out a heavy sigh.

"I believe I owe you a story," he began.

I took a sip from my cappuccino and nodded with a heavy undercurrent of


"Melissa and a few of your friends know something about me that you don't," Ryan

started. "I was ... how do I say this ... recruited ... to help you."

I gave Ryan a funny look, but didn't say anything. What does one say to that?

"Since my junior year in high school, I've dated an athlete," Ryan said, pausing

to drink some more of his tea. "His name is Michael, and he played football and

baseball at the university in Colorado where my dad was the president. So, with

all due respect to Glen and Dan and your friend Michael, I have an advantage

over them. I've 'been' there."

He stopped to see my reaction. What could I do? I just nodded and waited for him

to go on.

"I know what it's like to have a secret that you'd love to share but can't. I

know what it's like to love someone with all your heart, all your mind and all

your soul, keep it to yourself and not let anyone know how truly happy you are,"

he stopped and looked at the trees that I'd been staring at.

"How did everybody know you could help then if it was such a secret?" I asked.

"And why didn't you tell me this before."

"I was going to, trust me. Nobody knew. I'm probably the least likely person

they'd ask to help. I haven't lived here very long, so nobody really knows

anything about me,"

Ryan said. "Melissa explained my history to Dan, and he gave a shortened version

to Glen. Glen called and asked if I'd talk to you."

Ryan let his eyes stroll from the park back to me.

"Don't get the wrong idea. It was my idea to invite you to the dinner party. No

one forced me. In fact, I was going to ask you anyway, if Austin gave me

permission, before I knew any of this had happened. I knew it would be a good

idea to get you out of the house." He gave a wry smile and added, "And I wanted

to see what you looked like all dressed up."

"Dude ... I don't know where to begin," I said.

Ryan glanced at his watch. "We have some time."

I thought for a second of what I wanted to know, where I wanted to start.

"OK, so how'd you meet this guy?" I asked.

Ryan smiled.

"I went to high school at the university where my dad was president. I played on

our baseball team. One day, I was standing in the outfield and some guys from

the university's baseball team were leaning against the fence heckling me. I hit

a home run in that game and made a great throw to the catcher for an out. That

kind of shut everybody up. When I came back out one inning, there was only one

guy left. He was shouting stuff like 'Nice homer' and 'Nice throw.' I looked

over at him and he smiled at me, and I smiled back. He was wearing these gray

sweats and a cap. I really didn't think anything of it.

He drank before continuing.

"Because we played our games at the university's stadium, several of their

players were helping us after the game. So I was helping my best friend with the

pitchers' mound, and the guy who had been watching came up and introduced

himself and asked if he could help. I didn't realize who it was until he

introduced himself. His name was ... is Michael Waters. He was like this

god-athlete. He played quarterback for the football team and outfield for the

baseball team, and he was just amazing at both. We became friends, we worked out

together, and in spending all this time together, we eventually learned that we

were both gay.

"Michael and I spent a weekend camping and talking and getting to know each

other better. One of the things that came out of that weekend was that we

admitted that we wanted to be boyfriends. We dated from until he graduated from

college and moved back to California. Then we talked at least two or three times

a week for more than two years until I finished school. I interviewed with

Disney at a job fair at the university. They were very interested in hiring me

when I graduated, and I told them I would work for them on the condition that I

worked in California and not in Florida. They said, 'fine,' and I moved to

California, and Michael and I lived together until I moved here."

As Ryan drank some more I asked, "How did you go for two years without seeing

him? I mean ... how?"

"Well, that's how much I loved him. Even though we told each other that we could

date other people, we never did. Instead, we talked by phone constantly. We saw

each other at Christmas and during the summer. Wait until you meet him. Then

you'll understand. The only reason I'm here and he's not is because this

transfer was too good to pass up. Michael's considering moving out here, but the

timing isn't right for him professionally. We're patient. We know it will happen


I contemplated this when he was done talking.

"No one knew you guys were dating? How the hell did you keep that quiet?" I


"Well, it wasn't easy. His teammates noticed that he was doing less with them

and more with someone else, specifically a guy who at first was in high school.

They also noticed that I started showing up at practice and stuff. We worked out

together every other night after our classes and practice. He'd drive me to my

house or I'd drive him to the dorm. Because my dad was the university president,

we lived in what was called the president's house on campus. Michael ate at our

house so much, my mom joked that his last name was really Fuller. Melissa found

out that we were dating because she caught us together."

My eyebrows arched, and I gave him a quizzical look and said, "Oh? You tell her

or did she discover it on her own?"

Ryan grinned and said, "Our folks were out of town, and she was supposed to be

spending the weekend at a friend's condo at Aspen or Vail. I don't remember. She

came home early because there was supposed to be a big snowstorm, and they

didn't want to get stuck on the highway and not able to get home. Our little

brother, Brian, was staying at a friend's house. So I had the house to myself.

Michael and I were watching TV. We had the fire going. We didn't have a stitch

of clothes on. We were lying on the couch, my back resting against Michael's

chest and his arms wrapped around me. Melissa walked through the door, and you

should have seen the look on her face. Fortunately, a big blanket covered us,

but she saw the clothes piled on the floor next to the couch and realized we

didn't have anything on."

I rolled my eyes and smiled at him, "So who freaked out worse, you, Michael or


He grinned and said, "She was really cool about it. She was floored that her

brother was dating Michael Waters, this big-time athlete. She promised not to

tell. And we were all grateful it was her who found us and not Brian or my


"So, you just hid for the whole time? How do you stay close when you're not

allowed to be open?"

Ryan shrugged and said, "Well, to answer your question, Michael and I did a lot

of things in public. We went out to eat, we went to bars - straight bars at

school but gay clubs when we were somewhere else - when I was old enough, we

went to movies, we went to other sporting events together, we went skiing, we

went camping, we went hiking, we went mountain biking. What we didn't do was

offer public displays of affection. We didn't hold hands in public, we didn't

kiss in public, we didn't flirt in public. We couldn't. And let me tell you,

when you love somebody that much, it hurts not to be able to show affection

whenever you want to. Because you never know who's watching and who recognizes

you. It's the sacrifice we chose because we both wanted to be together. It was a

trade off. I got a great boyfriend, but I had to keep that to myself"

"I wish you'd told us this before we went to Disney. H-he, might still be," I

trailed off as my eyes started to water up.

Ryan handed me a dry napkin and patted my hand as I wiped my eyes.

"I figured you were far enough away from his school it wouldn't matter. And I

had no idea he'd be that reckless," Ryan said.

"It wasn't his fault, it was mine. I'm the one who kept hanging off him and ..."

my voice trailed off.

"It wasn't anybody's fault, Alex. You were in love, and you both acted upon

that. You did what Michael and I couldn't do. If anyone is at fault, it's the

person who gossiped on you for being ignorant and intolerant. It was probably

someone who's scared of being around people are different."

I nodded my head and tried not to start crying again. My head was hurting trying

to process all of Ryan's story as well as the dynamics of Austin and myself.

"Anyways, my point was that no one knew about us," Ryan added.

"Except Melissa," I said softly

"Well, Michael's folks guessed but didn't say anything for about a year. They

said they could tell we were in love. When they told us, they said they could

see it in our eyes. Melissa said she knew something was up by the way we looked

at each other and acted around each other. But let me tell you, not being able

to share your love with others is the hardest thing I've ever done. That's why I

probably act closer to 40 than I do 30. I grew up real quick, thanks to


At that point, Ryan got up and indicated that we would walk around the streets

as we talked.

"I knew that if I wanted to keep him, and I did, that's how it would have to be.

Like I said, it's the sacrifice I had to make."

I thought about this a second before asking slowly. "So ... were you guys ever


Ryan laughed, "All the time, just not in public. We left town a lot. Like I

said, we'd go skiing or we'd go camping or we'd go horseback riding or we'd go

hiking or we'd go biking. We'd find reasons to spend time away from the area.

When I graduated from high school, Michael and I spent a week at his folks'

house in San Diego. They lived in this huge house across the bay on Coronado

Island. I'd never been there before. I fell in love with the area. While I was

there, Michael surprised me with a weekend at a gay resort in Palm Springs. It

was amazing. But it was totally cool because we were with others like us and

could be ourselves. Nobody knew who Michael was, or if they did, nobody cared.

When I turned 30 a couple of years ago, Michael took me on a gay cruise. It was

one of the most fun times I've ever had, in part because we could be who we are.

You should see some of the pictures."

I was taken out of my funk for a time, captured as I was by his reminiscing.

"And your folks never knew?" I asked.

"Well, if they did, they never admitted it," Ryan said. "The closest I think we

ever came to getting outed to my folks was when Michael got hurt during a

football game. He had to get carted off into the locker room. I started crying

in my dad's suite at the stadium, and he had security escort me down to see

Michael. I refused to leave his side, and he kept asking me to do little things

for him. My dad even let me stay with him in the hospital. At that point, I

didn't care if my folks knew or not.

"When Michael and I went to San Diego, his parents let us sleep together in

their house for a week as long as we promised not to have sex while they were

around. That was cool. But once they were gone to work in the morning ... Oh my

god! We decided that since Michael's folks knew and were cool with it, we should

tell me folks. Michael was there with me. My folks were totally cool. They'd

already been treating Michael as if he was a third son. Since Melissa already

knew, I didn't have to tell her. But I came out to Brian. He gave me a big hug

and told Michael 'welcome to the family.' Everybody was so awesome about it."

I smiled lost in my thoughts.

"My mom was cool about it when I came out. She barely lifted an eyebrow. She'd

love Austin. But his parents are so mean to him. His father is so conservative

and right wing, he'd probably never talk to Austin again."

Ryan was silent for a moment.

"I know it's not like that with everyone. Michael and I had it lucky. Not

everyone is so fortunate. The bad news, Alex, is that while I can totally relate

to your dating an athlete, I can't relate to your reaction to what Austin told

you on the phone the other day. Michael and I are soul mates. Like I said, wait

until you meet him."

My eyes threatened to water up as his words cut me. Ryan immediately stepped in

front of me, turned to face me and held my hands firmly.

"Alex, I sense the same thing with you and Austin. You just have to weather this

storm. I know you probably don't believe me, but you'll get through it. I wish I

could tell you how quickly, but I can't. You just have to fight through it. You

can't stare at the phone, and you can't ask 'what if we hadn't gone to Disney?'

You just have to accept what's happened and move on. Because if it wasn't

Disney, it would have been some place else. You have to live your life. What

doesn't kill you will ultimately make you stronger. You have to believe that."

I looked up in his eyes and asked, "You really think he'll come back to me?"

Ryan released my hands, and we began to walk again down an old brick street.

"I can't promise that will happen. And I can't tell you when. But I sense it,

Alex. I see a lot of Michael and myself in you and Austin. But you just can't

wait around, marking days off on the calendar and waiting for it to happen. You

have to stop acting like a victim and take charge of your life."

"I know," I said. "It's just hard for me to think clearly about anything right

now. But I ... I appreciate your help. I guess it helps knowing I can turn to


"I promise, I'll always be here for you," Ryan said. "And Austin, too, if he

ever needed me."

A minute later, we climbed in his car and drove off to his place. Once at his

house, we set up the new tables in his living room. Sure enough, they looked

awesome. Then after a shower, we got ready for the party. Despite my mood, I had

to admit, I looked damn fine in that outfit.

Ryan and Brandon gave long wolf whistles when I walked into the living room,

where they were sitting and chatting.

"Alex, you're stunning! Everyone at the party is going to think I paid for you!"

I blushed, but couldn't help smiling and looking at myself in the mirror. I was

pretty hot in that outfit.

"You are paying for me, Ryan." I reminded him as I fingered my lapel.

Brandon got up suddenly and said he had an important phone call to make. A

second later, he was gone. Ryan just shrugged his shoulders and walked up behind

me as I was admiring my figure in the mirror and put his hands on my shoulder

and gently pulled me back against him.

"Screw Michael and Austin, I'm keeping you!" Ryan said with a trace of humor in

his voice.

I leaned my head against him for a moment and said, "You should know Ryan, if

anything does happen, it won't be because you're paying."

Ryan stiffened a bit and said very dryly, "Nothing is going to happen today

Alex, and if or when it does, trust me, it won't be because I paid for it. It's

way too soon for you any case."

So we let the matter drop and left for the party.

The word "party" conjures many things to my mind, fun being foremost among

these. This "party" was many things, but fun never entered the equation.

Ryan forewarned me that he would have to make lots of small talk with his bosses

and co-workers because Disney office parties seemed to merely serve as an

extension of the regular work day. I was introduced to several people from his

office and their wives, girlfriends and two fellow boyfriends (one gay, one


I finally excused myself to get a drink and wondered out to the patio to sit

quietly, stare at the night sky, escape the stifling atmosphere inside and

ponder my place in life.

"Mind if I join you?" a voice said from behind me a few minutes later.

I turned to see a gorgeous blond walking up to me and holding a martini.

"N-no, not at all," I stammered.

This guy was breathtaking, in his late 20s, tall, light brown hair with blond

highlights, tan, dimples, green eyes and a pair of sparkling diamond ear studs.

He wore a grey sports coat with a rich red shirt and a silver patterned tie. A

little over the top, but at least I knew he was gay. He smiled with a set of

perfect teeth gleaming in the reflected light and stuck out his hand.

"Hi, I'm Jason Brenner. I'm here with Donald Mayo."

I gave a brief smile and shook his hand.

"Hi, I'm Alex Johnson. I'm here with Ryan Fuller."

Jason looked me over with an appraising eye that made me uncomfortable.

"You're here with the cute new guy from California. Donald talks about him a

lot. From your accent I can tell that you're obviously from around here. So, are

you a new boyfriend or did he rent you, too?"

I was stunned by Jason's cavalier attitude. "I-I-I'm not either, I'm not a

hustler. Who told you that?"

Then I remembered that he said, "too."

"What did you mean 'too'? Who else is a hustler?" I asked, looking back at the


Jason was lighting a cigarette as he grinned and said, "Well, technically I am,

I guess. But only a few times a year."

I stepped back a bit, "Whatcha mean?"

Jason laughed, "Relax, you can't catch it from me!"

I was even more confused until I realized he thought I was moving because of the

hustler revelation. "Oh no, it's the ..." I pointed at his cigarette.

"Ohhhhhh, sorry, I usually ask," he dropped it and stomped it out.

"Thanks, you didn't have to do that, I just hate the smell so I usually just

stay at a distance till it's done," I smiled.

"Well, you know, my line of work, I have to be sensitive to other guys'

feelings," he grinned at me like it was a joke. "Especially if they're cute

little things."

I was seriously confused. All I could do was stammer a "thank you."

Jason saw my discomfort and started to laugh an easy casual laugh.

"Relax. I'm not hitting on you, and I'm certainly not trying to get you as a

client. Fact is, I only see three clients ever. I work at Sea World as a diver

the rest of the time."

I tried to think of what to say. He moved closer after he blew his smoke out

over my head.

"I don't want most of the stuffed shirts to know I'm not Donald's boyfriend. A

few do, but only other 'family,' " he said.

"I-yuh ... I ... how? Why?" I stammered in confusion.

Jason laughed.

"I met Donald through friends when I was in college. Back then, I depended on

older gay men for a lot of my income. I didn't even have sex with all of them,

most are like Donald and just wanted to be seen socially with a good-looking

younger guy. They wanted companionship and conversation. I traded that for money

and a chance to experience the finer things I might otherwise never get to try."

My eyes must have been bugging out.

"OK, stop looking at me like a circus freak," Jason said.

"I got to travel through Europe and all over the East Coast in college. And I

made a fair amount of money, too. Now I just see three gentleman, including

Donald a few times a year. Last time, I didn't even charge him. Besides, I'm

finishing up my MBA next year."

Jason took a drink as I digested this. I felt like I was talking to someone from

another world. I was in a way, I guess.

"Anyway, now it's more like a friendship courtesy. I've known Donald for eight

years and have been at these office parties for the last seven."

Jason took a drink then lifted his glass at me and asked, "So what is your

story, anyways? What brought you and Leon together?"

I smiled back, "It's 'Ryan.' We're just friends. I met him last month when he

came to a party I was at. He'd moved here and didn't know any gay guys, so his

sister invited him to meet us."

When I recalled the other half of "us," my face involuntarily dropped.

"Us?" Jason asked.

I swallowed and tried to sound the same as I continued.

"The guy I was dating then. W-w-we broke up recently," I looked down at the

ground and averted my eyes a moment. Enough unhappiness came through in my

voice to show my raw wounds.

"I'm sorry, Alex. I didn't mean to upset you," he said softly while placing a

hand on my shoulder.

My eyes filled with tears and I looked at him and asked, "C-can we p-please not

talk about it? I-it's only been a few days."

Jason smiled at me and gave me a reassuring squeeze. Then he leaned in close and

conspiratorial and asked, "OK, so why do Disney execs wear their neck ties and

shirts so tight?"

I shrugged my shoulders as I wiped my eyes on the napkin Jason handed me.

"It keeps the foreskin from rolling up over their faces," he grinned devilishly.

It took a second, but when I got it, I began to laugh hard. Jason started to

laugh at me, and then I laughed even harder. It was the first time I'd laughed

in days, and I couldn't stop for several minutes. Finally, I stopped and

realized a crowd had joined us.

"I'm dying to hear what was so funny," Ryan asked as he walked up besides me.

I thought about telling him the joke for a second. When Jason's eyes get wide

with concern, I realized that it wasn't the joke to make friends with here,

"You had to be there, Ryan. Jason was just trying to cheer me up," I said,

wiping my eyes again.

Ryan gave Jason an odd look and then put his arm around me and asked if I would

talk to a friend of his. I turned to Jason and thanked him for the laugh, then

followed Ryan inside.

"Alex, you know who Jason is?" Ryan asked as we navigated the party.

"Your boss' boyfriend?" I answered, not knowing if knew about the intricacies of

their relationship.

"He's a hustler, Alex. Be careful with him! Brandon said he's gay for pay," Ryan

said out of the side of his mouth, even as he was smiling and waving to some

guest he hadn't talked to.

"I think he's nicer then you give him credit for, though. Besides, he's getting

an MBA soon, it's not like he'll need the money."

"Just be careful, Alex. I don't want to see you hurt by another pretty face."

Ryan said as we purposefully moved towards a small group of people.

I was introduced and asked some polite question by the group of women and men,

especially concerning my relationship with Ryan. The consensus was that Ryan

needed to be sure and not let me go.

As we got ready to leave, Jason came up and asked me if I liked the party.

"Well, it's better then sitting at home and crying," I smiled warmly. "And I met

a nice guy who made me laugh when I didn't think I ever would again."

"Funny, I didn't peg you as a drama queen," Jason grinned at me.

I grinned a little and stuck my tongue out at him. "Funny, I had you pegged as a

smart ass almost immediately."

"Well, seriously Alex, before you go I wanted to give you my card. You seem like

a really nice guy, and I thought we might hang out sometime if you want. Maybe I

could invite you to Sea World."

"I'd like that Jason, though you may have to put up with some more drama," I


He gave me a quick hug and then went over to Donald. Shortly afterwards Ryan and

I left the party.

"I saw Jason give you his card," Ryan said as he was driving me back to his


I felt guilty for some reason even though I had no reason to be.

"Yeah. Aside from you, he was the only person there that talked to me. He

invited me to hang out some afternoon if I wanted. It doesn't mean anything. And

even if I am an emotional wreck now, I know enough to not fall for a rebound


Ryan was quiet a moment, then simply said, "You don't have to justify anything

to me, Alex. I'm your friend and protector, not your keeper. Like I said

earlier, I just don't want to see you hurt."

I sat for a moment trying to figure out what I felt and how to proceed.

"Jason is a funny guy. He was supportive when he saw me break down. He even came

to check on me. I'm not planning to date him. Right nowm I'm pretty sure I may

never date again. It just hurts too bad. But he made me laugh. All my other

friends are so worried about me slipping into some suicidal depression, they

keep hovering around like ghouls asking how I am and treating me like a cancer

patient. Maybe I need to be treated ... like a real guy and not a fragile doll."

"I haven't treated you like a toy have I?" Ryan asked.

"No. You've not only been supportive, but it was you who brought me to the

party, explained that you could help and why, and got me out of my house. Thank

you, Ryan."

"You're welcome, Alex. I'm here for you whenever you need help."

We were both quiet after that. It slowly began to dawn on me that Ryan's

reaction wasn't only protective it was ... possibly ... jealousy? I turned and

looked at my tall and suave friend and watched him in the dark, the streetlights

and headlights lighting his face. He'd said several things recently that had

caught my attention.

I could only wonder what was happening to me.

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