"How are things at work?"
"Just peachy. It's pretty much a divided camp. Most of the guys are okay with me as long as they don't have to work with me. The rest just ignore me, which isn't a smart play. I don't need them, but more than occasionally, they need me."
"I'm sorry they reacted so badly."
"I don't often miscalculate, but I sure did on this one. You had it nailed, and I never thought of myself as naïve. I'd say your co-workers have been a whole lot more stand-up."
"Yeah, but our shop has a lot of gay guys and gay couples. That's one reason I went to work there."
"I guess we'll have to concentrate on integrating me into your crew."
Justin started laughing.
"What, W A?"
"You sound like you're planning some kind of cop operation."
"I am, and you're in charge. I'm the rookie on this one."
"Okay, but it's going to be hard. Write this down. Just be you. They'll like you because they see how you treat me and how happy I am. You don't mind that I'm not going to bang my head against the wall of your shop?"
"I'll be pissed if you bruise my favorite head, W A. And, if I understand you, I can spare my head because my naturally pleasant nature is going to win your folks over."
"You still feeling lost in the material world?"
"A little, but I'm finding it less frightening."
"Justin, take it from a guy who has never fit in anywhere. Trying too hard is a waste of energy. Maybe we should be satisfied with creating our own world, fitting it in around us. And for the umpteenth time, I'm not straight. No one who likes you in his ass the way I do is straight. It's a good thing you're slender all over. And, I can't help it if I'm attracted to women. Just think of it as a quirk. Besides, my boyfriend once told me that you don't have to act on every attraction."
"You are turning into an unexpected bottom and you fit in just fine with me. I guess we've already started a world with Robert and Annabelle and Juan and Sammy."
"Not too shabby a start, W A, but I think we need to throw a party. Invite your aunt and uncle."
"Jeezuz, Donnie, you're crazy. They're in California."
"Tell them they can stay with us."
"Let's go to bed. We'll flip for who takes it."
The next Thursday, they drove across the I5 Bridge and took the exit into downtown Portland across the Broadway Bridge. If you lived near Portland, you used a lot bridges.
"What the fuck, W A? We're going to have to stand through the whole thing?"
"Stop bellyaching. You're in better shape than ninety-eight percent of people my age, much less your own decrepit age bracket. You will love it."
Donnie thought, 'I suppose I will, but only because I'm with you and you're obviously very happy about this,' but immediately regretted the thought.
"I really like their recordings, and you've told me they're better live, so I know I'll have fun." Justin looked uncertain.
They entered the Roseland Theater on Portland's west side. There were a few balcony seats in the bar area, but Justin made sure they got funneled to the main floor, where the crowd already nearly filled the venue.
'Oh great,' Donnie thought, 'the mosh pit of life.' Then he thought, 'Shut the fuck up. Justin is happy and wants to share this with you. He gave your crowd a fair shake, and you're going to give his the same.'
The noise level was uncomfortable, and Donnie was deeply surprised that Justin would be happy in this melee, albeit a dancing melee. He was definitely going to have to wave a cell phone eventually. Since Justin had entered his life, he was listening to this band, Panic! at the Disco, and others like the Wombats, Good Shoes, and Fun. Justin just sucked up alternative music, while Donnie had traced the evolution of all the bands, including their musical influences. For him, everything was an investigation.
The show began, and the colored lights slid across the enthusiastic audience, mostly Justin's age and younger. As Donnie looked around, he noted that a few of them had an androgynous look. Even in the jeans and leather jacket, Donnie did not look androgynous, nor did he look Justin's age. He worried that he looked obviously like a cop. As the band picked up their instruments and a familiar song began, Justin turned to Donnie and looked so excited.
Donnie was jealous, wishing that he could simply enjoy the moment without analyzing everything. He was working hard to let Justin teach him, but a career's worth of resistance wasn't easy to overcome. He just hoped that Justin wouldn't give up on him. He was standing behind Justin and put his arms around his waist, swaying a bit with the music. Eventually he relaxed, infected by Justin's enthusiasm. Justin reached back, cupping Donnie's crotch, feeling the stiffening. Donnie pushed into Justin's hand and kissed the back of his neck. Donnie thought the move was fairly discrete and also fun. No one tried to lynch them.
He suddenly was aware that his attention had lapsed, and its return was a jolt. He was irritated that he had lost touch with his surroundings, lost control. He pulled away from Justin's hand a bit.
'Well,' Justin thought, 'It's a start.'
The band really was better live. Their songs were intelligent and they were assured performers. Donnie particularly enjoyed the drum work, not very subtle, but driving and complex. Talk about a work out. When they played and sang "Behind the Sea," they asked the audience to wave their hands–the cell phone moment.
Without thinking, Donnie joined. He felt safe here only because he was with Justin. Fortunately, they were so packed in with all the others that real dancing was impossible. That would have been beyond mortifying for Donnie. He didn't mind slow dancing, but he looked pretty much as if he were having a seizure when he tried to dance otherwise. He had no rhythm.
They could manage only swaying—writhing would have been an overstatement for him but not for others in the mob—and jumping or turning in place. The experience was almost tribal, and Donnie deeply distrusted crowd mentality. Donnie was rooted to his spot on the floor but a lot of people flowed through the crowd like watercourses.
One attractive young guy made his way to Justin's side and shouted that if he wanted to ditch the old guy, the two of them could have a good time.
Justin smiled and screamed over the music and the crowd at the kid, "This one would leave you in his dust, on the trail and in bed. Don't embarrass yourself."
The kid looked at Donnie, scowled, and moved back through the crowd. Justin turned to Donnie and put his hands around his waist. As a slower song washed over them, Justin locked eyes with Donnie and they swayed together. The observer disappeared again, and only Donnie and Justin remained. Donnie really enjoyed the concert and he enjoyed Justin enjoying the concert. He really hadn't heard any live music since Lynn had died.
Justin had ditched his jacket, and he really looked great singing along with the band at the top of his lungs.
'Man,' Donnie thought, 'he is fine.'
Donnie, unfortunately, had to keep his jacket on, and he was soaked. Next time he'd forget the duty weapon. Next time. Yeah, there would be a next time. Conversation was impossible until after the show ended with a couple of encores. Once they were out in the cool December air, Donnie's sweat began to dry. Justin was still wound up, asking Donnie if he enjoyed this song and that song.
Donnie didn't have to fib, and kept saying, "Yeah, I really did."
"You had a good time, didn't you?" More of a statement than a question.
"You know I did, W A. We'll do this again soon, I promise. Maybe I'll take you to hear Greg Brown."
"Who?" Justin asked, circling Donnie as the crowd thinned and they walked back toward the parking garage.
Justin was oblivious to everything but residual good feeling in himself and for Donnie, but Donnie was attentive to everything around them. He had noticed three guys following them.
'Let's hope they're just parked where we are,' he thought.
They weren't closing with him and Justin, just maintaining a distance. Donnie slowed, grabbing Justin's hand to keep him close. The three guys slowed to maintain their distance. He thought, 'Well, shit. Really? In Portland?'
In his peripheral vision, he saw that they weren't dressed like most of the concertgoers. They might have come out of one of the bars near the theater. Then, the situation clarified instantly. Donnie dragged Justin into the street just behind a passing car, and walked to the other side.
Justin looked at Donnie, saying, "The car's over there, you know."
Donnie had seen that the trio had not crossed behind them. Relaxing a bit, he answered, "Oh, yeah. I guess I forgot. We'll cross back at the light."
As they did so, the trio had turned up the cross street. Justin had bought a CD at the show, and they played it in the car and sang along on the way back. Mostly, Justin laughed as Donnie tried to sing.
As they were going into the condo, Justin stopped and pulled Donnie to him. "Thanks, Donnie. I had a great time."
"Me, too. And, I almost had to fight for you."
"I couldn't believe that asshole."
"I might have tried if I didn't know you and saw you across a room."
"No, you wouldn't, but I love the thought."
When they got to the second floor, Donnie asked, "You want to do ritual one?"
"Of course, but I want to talk first."
"All right. What's on your very bright and curious mind?"
"Your memory never fails. What was the bullshit about forgetting where we parked the car?"
Donnie looked at him. He had promised to be truthful–no bullshit. "There were a couple of guys behind us, and I wasn't sure what they were up to. So I took us across the street."
"They were about thirty feet behind us."
"And you assumed they were trouble?"
"W A, I didn't assume anything. Trouble was one possibility, and I felt I had to put us in a better position."
"Oh shit." Justin looked at Donnie as if he had discovered a dark secret. "You're like this because, if you aren't, you could be in trouble when you're working. It never feels safe for you to turn it off."
"Like this? What the fuck is this?"
"You're being defensive. I meant that you're hyper-alert all the time. I have such a hard time distracting you. It's like even when you're with me, part of you is processing everything around us. You're like a parallel processing routine."
"Like when the processor in a computer conducts two jobs at once. It has to divide the work up."
"W A, I am not a fucking computer. Is that how you see me?"
"No. Absolutely, no! You just make more sense to me all the time. I have to know what's going on in you to stop myself from making bad guesses. Seems to me, for you, it's not only the act, it's also having a safe place to perform the act. I think that I feel safe almost all the time and that you feel safe very little of the time."
"So, this is you asking what was going on in me or telling me what was going on in me?"
"Informed guessing. See, you're not hopelessly dense, after all."
"You think I can't pay attention just to you?"
"I think I want you to do what you need to do to come home every day." Justin quickly kissed Donnie. "You still up for ritual one?"
Ritual number one led to the place where Donnie could be distracted. The deadbolts, the alarm system, the guns in the bedside safes, all gave Donnie enough sense of security to play. After they kissed everything they wanted to kiss, and sucked everything they wanted to suck, and smelled and felt everything they wanted to, Donnie pulled out a condom and the lube. He started to sheath Justin's dick.
"You don't get to bottom all the time, old man. Sometimes you have to do more of the work."
Donnie made love to Justin, making sure that he hit Justin's prostate in just the way Justin liked. Now, Justin could take him in the missionary position fairly quickly, and although they enjoyed doggy, Donnie usually wanted to look at Justin's face while they fucked. Justin saw that there was only one process now, and that he and Donnie were the only elements.
In the morning, they practiced the usual routine: small breakfast, run along the river and into downtown, bigger breakfast. Even though the air was cold, after they cleaned up, they sat out on the deck, reading. Justin thought that just being here with Donnie and reading was enough. He was less and less concerned with the rest of the world.
The next afternoon, Justin was in a cubicle at work explaining for the kajillionth time how to set up an Exchange account on a Droid. He hadn't succeeded in getting the Center to move to an Apple platform, so he spent a lot of time working through issues common to Windows servers and machines. When he got back to his office, he began to get ready for one of the interminable security updates to the server software. One of his co-workers, Beck, knocked on the doorframe.
"Can I bring anything?"
Beck was short for Beckett. Cruel parents. Before he had come in that afternoon, Justin had gathered the invitations that Donnie insisted they use, and, first thing when he got in, he had distributed them. This process was hopelessly formal for the clinic crowd. Justin had tried to argue that people would think they were invited to a wedding. Donnie had just shrugged.
"No. Just you and your current beloved." Justin wasn't being catty. Beck had a reputation and was proud of it.
"So, Juan says you apparently have a great place."
"Yes, but anywhere we were would be a great place."
"Ah, true love."
"You should try it."
"I do, with amazing frequency."
They had invited Justin's aunt and uncle and had received a polite note declining due to short notice, but the relatives invited them to California. More people dropped by Justin's office to ask the same question. Finally, in the break room at lunch, Justin had announced that he appreciated the offers but they weren't being invited to a potluck.
"Just bring yourselves, this time."
After work, as the server update ran, he and Donnie did their workout at the gym. By now the few people who were usually there knew they were a couple. Donnie had said that night shift crews have a whole different social dynamic, and these people were consistently decent to them.
When they got home, Justin reminded Donnie that they were shopping for the party tomorrow. Neither of them worked tomorrow, and they usually shopped on Saturdays. Shopping had become ritual number two. Occasionally, when Donnie had a rough Friday night, Justin would ask if he could shop alone. Donnie would always say no, because they shouldn't ditch rituals. So, Donnie and he went shopping together. His insistence on ritual befuddled Justin. Justin had always thought that conventional religious belief informed his parents' reserved acceptance of his sexuality, and then there was his sister.
Early in their relationship, Justin had asked Donnie about his take on religion. He knew Donnie didn't have typical social views for a cop. Donnie, it turned out, had absolutely no use for organized religion. He had gone on an animated rant about everything from the Catholic Church, through Protestant literalists, and ending with what he called the fucking Boy Scouts. That suited Justin.
Justin loved to irritate Donnie, who approached shopping like everything else in his life, with a plan and order. Justin kept the shopping list and delighted in traipsing through the store back and forth for forgotten items. Donnie would get exasperated and ask, "Why didn't you pick that up when we went by it the first time?"
Justin would say something like, "I got distracted by the cute produce guy."
Donnie would just smile, shake his head, and say, "Well, invite him home."
Then, he would kiss Justin, not caring who saw them. They both loved the outraged looks they got and the occasional smiles and thumbs up. But Justin knew that Donnie enjoyed the time together, getting what they needed for their home.
They had decided to grill, but Donnie hired a caterer to do the rest of the dishes and the finger food. He didn't want them to spend all their time cooking and serving. Justin had objected to no avail, and Donnie had convinced him. So, they were getting chicken and, for the vegetarians and vegans, Portobello mushroom caps.
'What kind of cop worries about vegetarians?' Justin thought.
On the way home, Justin was quiet. Donnie told himself to be patient. Eventually, Justin casually said, "I want to go to the range."