The Columbia River moved by in his peripheral vision as he ran west. He threaded his way past the walkers in front of him on the broad sidewalk, occasionally slowing to avoid running up their backs. This he did on autopilot. His face, wet with tears, would dry soon i n the cool, fall air.
He did this every day now, running for four or five miles just to use up the minutes. He wore brief nylon running shorts and a long sleeve, wicking shirt, and around his waist at his front left was a fanny pack containing his insurance card, ID, and shield in the front compartment and his Sig P239 with spare magazine in the rear. It was heavier than the small Glocks his colleagues preferred and carried less ammunition, but he had carried it for a long time and it had never failed.
He never carried water on these short runs. He watched people walking or running toward him on his left, observing them as he was trained, but his unhappiness removed him from the process. He saw some of the women and a few men eye him with more than casual interest and thought about how he and Lynn used to joke about attracting those looks when they ran together. She thought he was the object, and he was sure she was.
Almost a year after Lynn's death, all he did was work, walk, workout, and run. His friends had begun to gently suggest that he should be moving on by now. What the fuck did they know? How could they appreciate the gaping wound in the world caused by her death, the disorientation always with him now? He knew that Lynn would be cross with him, and disappointing her, even though she was dead, engendered a deep anger that came to the surface more than he would have liked. Anger and his job were a bad mix.
Because he had a graduate degree and read a lot, he had attracted the nickname "Goren," and the short fuse wasn't helping, although most of his colleagues liked him enough to ignore his churlishness. Lynn and he had talked as she was dying, and she had told him that she would be pissed if he moped around after she died, but he just couldn't see how to connect to a world without her in it.
Walking up the stairs to the second floor in their townhouse, he passed the tangible reminders that they had bought or made together. On the second level were the living and dining areas and the kitchen. The bedrooms were on the third level with the bathrooms. He took the second set of stairs to the master suite, where he stripped and took a cool shower. As he cleaned between his legs, his dick plumped. He hadn't even jerked off much since Lynn's death and the funeral. The department shrink called that a sure sign of depression.
'My,' he thought, 'the brilliance that a PhD confers.' He had turned down the offer of antidepressants; he wasn't going to medicate his way out of this because, if they had known Lynn, they wouldn't think his reaction disproportionate. When he finished his shower, he left the stall and began to dry himself in front of the wide mirror. At least his grief hadn't lead to overeating. If anything, he was leaner now. He almost smiled, looking at his lightly hairy body. Lynn had told him once that she had enough of boys, and that she loved the short hair on his chest and belly. The hair didn't disguise his definition, and the cuts in his abs were clearly visible. He wasn't going to let himself go.
After his tour the next day, he stopped by the gym for his usual grind, using more minutes. He preferred free weights but used them only when one of his colleagues worked out with him. Today, he was using the machines. Across from him a kid in baggy basketball shorts and a T-shirt was working out. He brought himself up a bit for thinking kid. He was forty-two, and the kid was probably in his twenties. Shit, a kid. He admired the deliberate pace of the boy's work. He used just the right amount of resistance to produce good results, and he wasn't acting like some of the gym bunnies, as Lynn used to call them, who were there to show off. When the kid finished at his machine and switched to a leg machine to Donnie's right, he nodded to Donnie who returned the nod. The kid's look was direct and something passed between them.
Donnie thought, 'That's strange. I don't feel like telling him to just leave me alone.'
At this time of night, the gym was lightly attended. He was in the shower when the kid came in. The result of the kid's work was obvious without clothes. He was smooth and Donnie couldn't help but notice that his pubic hair was trimmed really short. Lynn had always kept Donnie's short, as he had hers, to make oral sex easier, but the kid didn't have all that much to begin with.
'Maybe,' Donnie thought, 'he's not as old as I thought.'
He realized he'd been staring at the kid's package and quickly raised his eyes. He found the kid's eyes looking back at him with a slight expression of amusement. The kid nodded again, and Donnie returned the nod.
After drying and walking back to his locker, Donnie began to dress. The kid had a locker in the same row and, arriving a little later than Donnie, dressed also.
"Do you always use the machines?"
At first, Donnie didn't realize that the question was directed at him. Then, the kid walked over and waited for his answer. Before he could snap at the boy and tell him to get lost, Donnie heard himself respond civilly.
"I prefer free weights, but no partner to spot me tonight."
"Me, too. Maybe we could spot each other if we're here together. My work schedule just changed so I'll be here a lot at night."
Instead of automatically declining, Donnie replied, "Sure, if we're here at the same time." Then he turned away and reached for his pants.
He turned back and said, "Donnie."
The kid left, and Donnie got his pants and shirt on and strapped an ankle holster to his left ankle.
In his car, he unlocked his service weapon and placed it in the hip holster. Then, he put the Ruger LCR in his ankle holster. One of his mentors in Army CID had told him always to carry a revolver as a back up. The Army had also trained him to use the M-1911, and he was one of the few in his agency that the director allowed to carry a modern version now, a Dan Wesson CCO. When he got back to the condo, he tried to figure out his change in emotional tone. He was close to escaping the "black dog," as Churchill had called his foul moods. Then he sank back and was stuck again. Going up to the bedroom, he put the sidearms in a safe by the bed and as he always did now, took about an hour to fall asleep. Another symptom of depression, Mr. PhD said.
He was off the next day, and, after breakfast, did a morning run along the river and back to the condo for a small lunch, and then went out to do errands followed by an afternoon run. He might have gone to the gym in the afternoon, but ran instead. He'd go to the gym tonight when it was quiet. Nothing about the possibility of working out with Justin crossed his mind; Justin didn't cross his mind. When he got to the gym, he did notice that he felt a little less numb. After locking up the handguns in the car, he grabbed his bag and went in. A few minutes after he started his routine in the almost empty gym, he noticed Justin walking over.
"Hey, Donnie. Want to have a go?"
"Sure, Justin. Let's hit the weights."
Donnie wasn't sure why, after a year, talking to this kid and agreeing to work with him seemed natural. He was an only child; maybe the kid was a brother substitute. Justin was a good and attentive spotter, and between sets the boy asked a few questions, attempting to know Donnie a little better. Donnie was again surprised that he answered them at all. By the end of the session, Justin knew Donnie's basic outline, including the fact that he was a cop, which was usually enough to turn people off. Justin didn't seem fazed.
"Your wife doesn't mind you working out this time of night?"
'Where did that come from?'
Then, Donnie remembered that he often still wore his wedding band, mostly to avoid awkward conversations with women. Justin was sharp to have remembered that fact from the other day.
He was about to give a curt "no," but instead said, "Dead."
What the fuck was he doing telling a stranger about this? This meant more explanation.
"Shit, Donnie. I'm sorry, man."
That was all. No prying into the details, no exhortation to hang in there. This kid understood boundaries and respected them–unusual for someone his age. Donnie thought he should at least know a little about his new workout partner.
"So, give me the short course on Justin."
Donnie learned that he had been right about the age. Justin was twenty-three and just out of college. He worked for a non-profit health care organization, something about an FQHC. He'd have to look that up. No conversation about music, movies, or sports. Just the facts, sir.
During the cleanup from the workout, Donnie found himself looking at Justin more carefully. The kid was open. If Donnie was a good judge, and he was, the boy was also honest, with no agenda apparent. Cops look at everyone as potential offenders, a habit that occasionally had made Lynn apoplectic. Lynn. Donnie suddenly realized that, during his conversation with Justin, Lynn hadn't been lurking in the background.
He couldn't remember a time since the funeral when she had not been ever present. She was still there most of the time, and he was vaguely uncomfortable that she wasn't there in these circumstances. He couldn't find the source of the discomfort, though. In the shower, they chatted about neutral things, and Donnie noted that Justin had to break from looking at him a couple of times.
When they finished and got to the parking lot, Donnie saw someone waiting for Justin, another boy about the same age. The guy smiled and, when Justin got to the car, kissed Justin on the cheek.
'Ah,' Donnie thought.
He wasn't morally outraged and knew how hard it was to predict someone's orientation. He quickly assessed whether or not Justin had been trying to pick him up. The parking lot kiss suggested no, and he hadn't gotten that vibe. Besides, he knew gay cops, gay cousins, gay acquaintances and knew that they weren't all prowling for a hook-up. He looked across at Justin, who smiled and waved. Donnie waved back and smiled. Life was hard enough without adding another homophobe to the kid's life. And, Justin hadn't ignored Donnie when he found out Donnie was a cop. They had agreed to work out again in two days. This could be a great, safe way to maintain his late night gym schedule.
The next couple of days were like the all of them: running, work, walking, the range, the dull ache. The ache abated a bit as the night came and Donnie headed to the gym. Last night he had worked out alone and realized that he missed the free weights and … seeing Justin.
'Fuck, what is that about?'
Between sets, Justin asked if Donnie wanted to go on a hike on Saturday. Donnie answered with surprising speed. "Sure. Where do you want to go?"
"Okay. I'll pick you up early, seven sharp. We'll take a walk in the Gorge."
"Great! Here's my address."
Justin handed a folded paper to Donnie. Obviously, he had prepared. 'What would make a kid want to walk in the woods with a guy his age?' Donnie asked himself.
"Does your friend want to come along?" Donnie asked, smiling.
"Oh, no. That's my ex. We're just friends now. That doesn't bother you, does it?"
"What, that you're gay or that you broke up with a boyfriend?"
"The former." The kid was looking at him intently.
"No, why should it?" As they were leaving, Donnie said, "Seven, sharp."
Donnie mused that he hadn't really done anything like this with anyone since Lynn died. How strange that he was having the kind of walk that was his and Lynn's favorite activity with a near stranger. Well, he'd see how it went. Beyond strange was the fact that he wanted to see Wahclella Falls, Lynn's favorite spot where he had scattered her ashes as she had wished, again. He had thought he would never go there again, but now he wanted to see it.
Justin was waiting in the parking lot of his apartment building when Donnie arrived. They rode in silence across the river on I205 and then east out the Banfield, I84, into the Columbia River Gorge. Silence, but not an awkward, pregnant silence persisted for the first part of the drive.
Donnie thought, 'Why can't most of my old friends just be with me quietly; why are they so uncomfortable with me?'
"Justin, you are unusually quiet for someone your age."
After a pause, Justin said, "It takes two to converse. You're not ready yet. I can tell."
"You can, huh? I'm not complaining. Maybe we're both introverts."
They turned off at Exit 40 and crossed into the small parking area. In a place noted for its waterfalls, this was a hidden jewel. Donnie's Camelbak belt had a Safepacker attached with the Wesson inside. The Ruger was in his left back shorts pocket in a pocket holster. Funny how he could feel undressed without them.
After his stint in Army CID, he'd never used a gun against a person; never even had to draw one. They walked past the small fall sliding down a tall, smooth rock-face beside the wooden footbridge and then on up the ascending trail. Donnie was surprised that he was doing this without crying. The walk wasn't strenuous. They reached the point where the trail split, descending on the right to the creek bed and forming a loop. He and Lynn had always taken the right turn, and he led Justin that way, sharply descending in a couple of steep slippery switchbacks. When they got to the level of Tanner Creek, they crossed the recently replaced footbridge over the water and turned left toward the fall.
As they walked along, Justin asked, "Do you always carry guns?"
"A little, but only because I know you're a cop, I mean detective."
"Cop's all right, and technically I'm an investigator. Yes, I do. The job requires that I am armed."
"Even in Oregon?"
"Yep, the state police agencies have an understanding. Does it make you nervous?"
"No, not really. I'm comfortable with you."
Donnie smiled and thought that people hadn't been comfortable with him for a long time. They walked on until the fall in the distance was in view, behind a second footbridge.
Justin marveled, "That's amazing."
"Yeah, we thought it was a perfect plunge."
As they crossed the bridge, passing to the base of the plunge pool where the mist sprayed half way up the lower fall, Justin said, "We should never tell anyone about this place."
They hiked up the rocks to stand facing the fall, maybe fifty feet ahead. The basin was almost a perfect circle, its surface twenty feet below them, catching the broad lower fall. The noise was a perfect natural roar, and the Venturi effect produced a fair wind that blew spray toward them. Justin looked at Donnie, and Donnie recognized in the kid the same state of mind that possessed Lynn when she first had seen the falls. For the first time in many months, he volunteered something.
"When I took Lynn here the first time, three Nichiren nuns were sitting on the these rocks, chanting from their books of sutras. They and we were the only ones here." Justin put his hand lightly on Donnie's shoulder, and Donnie didn't shrug it off.
"I hope I see something like this with someone I love some day."
"I hope so, too, kiddo."
'Whoa,' Donnie thought, 'that sounded paternal, or maybe …'
Then he became queasy as he realized that he was talking to the boy in the same way he had to Lynn. He was dizzy to the point of falling and closed his eyes. This wasn't good at all. The stunning conclusion formed: he was treating Justin as he had treated Lynn. He began to think that the antidepressants might be a good idea.
"Donnie. You all right?"
"Not really. I'm just not feeling well. Mind if we head back?"