Justin and Donnie drove east on Washington 14 and passed the heart of the growing Cascade Park area toward what used to be only stone quarries and farms. They headed north on 192nd Avenue, passing new subdivisions and shopping centers, including a J C Penny and a Walmart. North of most of the development, they turned at a blue sign announcing simply, "The Pit."
Not many cars were parked in the small gravel and dirt parking areas. At the back of the Forester, Donnie pulled out his range bag containing the weapons, magazines, ammunition, a small gunsmithing kit, and targets rolled between the bag's top and handles. "Can I carry it?"
"Sure, W A. I'm getting too old to be lugging this thing around."
As Justin took the bag, he was glad they had continued working out. "Damn, Donnie, this is heavy."
They walked through a gate in a chain link fence and down a steep path to the rangemaster's shack.
"This really is a pit," Justin muttered to himself.
At the shack, Donnie paid a young, attractive girl, and Justin had to review the range rules. Donnie had told him what to expect. Then, they descended further to the bottom of the wide pit. High, tree-covered dirt and rock walls surrounded the place and high berms separated the ranges. The rifle ranges were to the right and next to the pistol range was a 50-yard rimfire rifle range. Justin was surprised to see two or three kids with rifles, supervised by parents.
When they turned into the shelter on the pistol range, Justin heard, "Hey, cutie."
"Annabelle!" Then he saw Robert. "Donnie, what's going on?" he asked in an accusatory tone.
"Well, I'm not about to try to teach my husband or wife or whatever. That would be very unwise. Besides, if I'm behind you, you'll be distracted. Robert's offered to be your coach."
They were the only ones on the pistol range this early Sunday morning. "Annabelle's just going to watch?"
"No, I'm going to shoot. You're the only newbie here, Justin."
By the time they finished, Justin had done all right. His shot groupings improved over the morning. When he looked beside his target stand at Donnie's, which was farther down range, he saw one small ragged hole in the center of the target.
His initial reaction to the discharge of his pistol and the recoil was to flinch. But, Robert showed him how to control the muzzle rise with his shoulders and chest muscles, and how to roll the trigger back instead of yanking it. Robert was an excellent instructor. The biggest surprise was Annabelle. Her target looked more like Donnie's.
Justin shot two hundred rounds over the morning. He went from being afraid and letting the gun control him to beginning to control the gun, and he could see his improvement. Not surprisingly, Donnie was like a mechanical man, each shot looking alike. Three or four times, Robert had to bring Justin's attention back to his own target. He hadn't made any safety errors.
Before they left, more pistol shooters, some of whom obviously knew Donnie, had arrived. During breaks, Donnie introduced Justin as his partner. Justin was proud that Donnie didn't give a shit what the others thought, but he detected no change in anyone's attitude toward Donnie. They made their weapons safe, cased them, and trudged up the paths to the parking area, stopping at a hand washing station.
Annabelle and Robert would meet them at home by the river for lunch. The drive home, back toward density and the city was quiet until Justin put a hand on Donnie's right thigh.
"Probably a good idea you didn't try to teach me. With Robert it was like learning a new sport."
"What did you think?"
"I was surprised at how much I liked it. It felt surprisingly natural. I think I could get good."
"You did very well. I know people that take months to get where you are now. The noise and the physics of the explosion can be hard to master."
"I'm really glad we had the ear protectors."
"Anyone who's had a gun discharge near him without protection will tell you that it's painful. I know guys who stopped hearing for two or three hours. For me, shooting is a meditation. My mind quiets, and all I am is watching, attending, and breathing."
"I think that's a perfect description of you all the time."
Justin was stroking Donnie's thigh and he thought that Donnie's customary willing acceptance of his affection was something else unexpected.
"I was trying to think about everything Robert was saying. I wouldn't say it was exactly relaxing for me. I'd like to go again, but it's not like playing Angry Birds for me."
Donnie gave him a smiling glance. "Good. I'd worry if you loved it."
They had a nice light lunch on the deck. Annabelle kidded Robert that he had found a new calling. She knew Robert enjoyed being the mentor for a change. She was grateful, though, that Donnie was mentoring Robert, and not just by instructing, but also by letting Robert share how he approached problems, treated other people, and loved Justin. Donnie was never "on;" he was just Donnie.
"I'm stealing Justin for dinner. You and Robert can fend for yourselves, maybe spend the evening telling boring war stories."
"What makes you think you can take Justin on a date?"
"He's becoming my best bud, Donnie. He needs someone to give him a reality check about you."
"Point taken. Where are you taking him?"
"Big River Grill."
Robert chimed in, "I'm jealous. Great place and he's younger and better looking than I am."
"Ah, yes, but unfortunately I'm taken." Looking at Justin, she said, "I'll be by to pick you up at five."
After seeing Annabelle and Robert off, the two went for a late run. After noon, even though shaded by persistent clouds, the river walk was more crowded, so their pace slowed. They cruised past Who Song and Larry's and under the I5 Bridge, continuing into downtown. Walking around and through the park, Donnie reached for Justin's hand. They sat by the carillon and watched a couple of boys run around in the dry water feature. Justin watched Donnie smile at the children's play.
Still holding Justin's hand, Donnie asked, "You going to make it?"
"What do you mean?"
"If you can't make peace with my job, then I should quit."
Justin's breath caught. In that moment, he understood that Donnie wasn't a cop who loved him, but a man who loved him and had a job as a cop.
"You'd be miserable if you quit. I'd never ask you to do that. Figuring out how to put everything together for me is my job. Give me some time to work on it."
"I want us to have a lot of time, W A."
From the park, the run back was quicker. After ritual one, they made love for a couple of hours, mostly playing around and laughing. Justin was trying to give Donnie the same physical relief from the stress of his colleague's death that Donnie had given him from his terror. He just couldn't find the tension. Either Donnie had buried it so deeply that it was unreachable, or he'd figured out a healthy way to deal with it. Still, he loved rubbing and stroking Donnie. He loved being with a man, not another boy.
As Donnie slowly fucked him, he reached between his spread legs to pull Donnie into him more deeply, feeling the ass clench and relax. He looked at the joining of Donnie's thick piece and his ass. Perfect, fucking perfect. Using fingers on his left hand, he tugged on Donnie's nipple until Donnie moaned and emptied himself. Before Donnie could roll off, Justin hugged him until he relaxed and rested on Justin's body. Justin reveled in the slight exertion of breathing under Donnie's weight.
"You're safe here," he whispered into Donnie's ear.
* * * * *
Riding with Annabelle on Highway 14 through Washougal and Camas toward Cape Horn, Justin commented on her skill at the range.
"I shouldn't carry unless I'm good."
"You know, wander around armed."
"Wouldn't guess, would you?"
"Because I can't carry Robert."
"No, I suppose not."
He was floored that she would go around with a gun. They rode in silence, looking at the winter scenery of the gorge. He had always thought that view from Cape Horn was among the most beautiful in the State. After they passed Bonneville Dam, they made their way into Stevenson. On the south side of Washington 14, which became 2nd Street in the middle of the small downtown, Annabelle parked on the street.
The Big River Grill was long and narrow with windows on the east wall, facing a patio. They took a booth near the back, and Annabelle ordered smoked sturgeon spread. They looked at the menu, both selecting wild salmon. The sturgeon spread arrived and the server took their orders, including home brewed root beer.
"So, this is your idea of getting lit?" Justin laughed.
"This is as lit as I can get! I'm the designated driver and I'm armed. I think I'd like to see you a little wasted, though."
"I only got drunk a couple of times in college, and it wasn't pretty. I don't think I change when I drink, just get stupider."
"We'll get lit on root beer, then."
She looked at him very directly. "You're only the second one I've seen close to Donnie that I think is as interesting as he is. Smart people surround him, so that's saying something. Do you remember how hurt he was when you met him?"
"That's why I approached him. He was so raw. Plus, he was hot."
"Almost no one else saw that pain. They all thought he was doing fine, because that's what he told them. And, he is hot in a weird, perfect way. I prefer someone a little more boyish and prone to error. To each his or her own."
"I've been a better person for living with him. We're not in competition. He's not trying to change me, even when he can't understand something about me. I still don't understand his sexuality, other than the fact that he's very good."
"Oh, I can just imagine. He doesn't understand or need to understand. He trusts his instincts, especially the instinct to love you."
"I've always been nervous in relationships, trying not to screw up. With him, I just try to do what's right. He told me he'd quit his job if I couldn't deal with the risks."
"Let me guess. You told him not to quit, that you wouldn't ask him to do that for you. You tried to do the right thing."
"I won't put him in that position."
"Look, Justin, you should know that no one puts that man in any position. Look for him to do what's best for both of you. Now, tell me, how's the sex? When I asked Robert what he thought, he almost ran away."
"Annabelle! That's very private. Let's just say that we both smile a lot … and he gets as good as he gives."
"Enough about sex. You were going to share your method for keeping sane while living with a cop."
Their food came and, as they ate, Annabelle shared her coping strategies.
"Remember, I told you that you're either in or out? I've stayed in and relatively sane by ignoring the risk, keeping the fear in a deep compartment, a compartment so deep that it almost disappears. Probably not the healthiest strategy, but it works. When he goes off to work, I just refuse to think about what he's doing. When he comes home, he doesn't talk about the gory details. We keep his work life separate from our life together. When that compartment opens, I just let the anxiety roll for a short while and then I close it back up and send it down again. What I really need is a kindred spirit to talk to. That's one reason we're going to cultivate this friendship, apart from the fact that it will drive Robert crazy trying to figure out what we talk about."
"That's helpful Annabelle, but with Donnie, I just say what's on my mind. If I can't make peace with him being out of my sight, I do need to end it."
"Listen. If you ever get to the point where you're thinking about ending the relationship, talk to me first. I don't see you as the kind of person who can't tolerate risk. You just have to draw a line between reasonable concern and obsessive worry."
"Thanks, Doctor. You're worth your outrageous hourly fees."
"Hey, I'm taking you to dinner. Be thankful, because next time you're paying."
"Gee, I've never had a girlfriend. You'll have to train me."
The hour and a half drive back on the unlit mostly two-lane stretch of winding highway was quiet. Annabelle picked up Robert, and Justin sat with Donnie in the living room. Looking around, Justin thought the room had less of Lynn now and more of him and Donnie. Lithographs they had chosen together hung on the walls, including some of men in various states of undress, and photographs by Nels Johnson from his days in Hawaii in the mid-seventies.
"How'd you and Robert get along? I mean, was it all war stories?"
"We talked mostly about you."
"Oh, yeah. I told him how talented you are."
"Good, assuming you didn't gross him out. I had the same discussion about you with Annabelle."
Donnie laughed. "Knowing Annabelle, I have no doubt. I'm really happy that you and she are becoming close. You feeling ready for our coming out party, W A?"
"I'm feeling like having fun, old man. With the catering, we won't have that much to do. Just being with our friends will be enough. I do like the idea of showing you off a bit."
"I'll be happy meeting more of the people in your life. I don't want your friends to see me as a curiosity. T-shirt and jeans, no sidearm."
"You're unexpected, not a curiosity. For one thing, you're too ordinary."
"Well, you're one of only three people who have ever believed that, and you're very perceptive. I want to use the occasion to celebrate a decision I hope you'll make with me."
"You know I'm all about convention. I want us to register a domestic partnership with the State."
Dead silence ensued, as Donnie waited for Justin's reaction. "First, nothing would make me happier, but I can't let you do that, Donnie. The little left of our separate lives would be entangled. This place, everything. People will think you're crazy and that I'm a gold digger."
"Let's see, W A, I'm a man who had a happy long-lasting marriage with a woman and who is now enjoying a very happy marriage-like relationship with a man; that certainly marks me as a guy who worries about what people will think. There's only one 'people' whose opinion matters here and that's you. Or, are you averse to formalizing things. I could see that. You worried we'll have to undo this?"
"All right, doofus. You're braver than I am. I don't care how formal we make things, but, if it suits you, I'd be honored and happy to domestically partner with you."
"That's just the kind of wild enthusiasm I expected W A, and you'll have to trust me to be clear about whose idea this is. But, I'm going to be damned clear that I'm not forcing you into this."
Justin pulled Donnie to his feet, and they shared a deeply satisfying and arousing kiss.
"Old man, I'll make it clear that this is our idea. If you want to screw my brains out in front of everyone, go for it."
"I think not. Knowing a little bit about the crowd, I think they might enjoy seeing that, not to mention learning a few things, but I'm in the mood to do that to you now, just the two of us, upstairs."
And, he did.
* * * * *
The day before the party, Donnie came home with a cardboard box that he left in the office on the ground level. When he got upstairs, he said, as if he were commenting on a passing flock of geese, "I put in my papers. Let's hit the gym."
"I told them I was through."
"You know, quit, finito, not going in anymore."
"Donnie, what happened? Tell me why before I invent a very unfortunate story?"
"I told you that if I thought enough of them wouldn't have my back, I'd leave. It has nothing to do with you and everything to do with a changed landscape."
"Someone threatened you?"
"No. No one had to. Enough of them are uncomfortable about me that I can't predict how they'd behave."
"If I weren't here, they wouldn't have an excuse."
"W A, you're being dense. That's like saying that if people didn't breathe, they wouldn't get colds. You are necessary for me, like breathing, and they are like a cold I can do without. You can thank Lynn for that. I'm not in love with a career, I'm in love with you."
"Donnie, I don't want you to regret this next week, or month, or year."
"Look at me, W A. We're honest with each other, aren't we? Do I make decisions like this without thinking them through?"
"I've had a standing offer from Justice. I'm going work for the Feds in Portland and see how it goes."
"It'll be so secret, even I won't know what I'm doing." Justin threw a pillow at him.
"Aren't you just trading one bad situation for another? These guys won't be happy with you either, will they?"
"They're all gay, W A."
Jason looked perplexed.
"Gotcha! I don't have a history with them. And, believe it or not, Oregon's a little more progressive than Washington. Besides, I'm not committing to them for a lifetime. We'll just see how it works."
"What kind of work?"
"White-collar crime investigations mostly. Very tame, I promise."
"What about Robert?"
"He's a big boy. I think I've corrupted him sufficiently that he'll keep the ship right. Jim knows how good he is, and he's with Annabelle, so they know I haven't corrupted him that way."
"He'll miss you."
"I'll miss him, but we're not moving to Mars. Look on the bright side. I've got a month before I start. Think of how I'll wear your ass out!"
"If you haven't managed by now, unlikely. But, let's give it a go."
* * * * *
The living room and the deck were full. Donnie was sitting on the couch, watching Justin with the group, mostly his friends. He was warm and funny, and Donnie could see how much they all liked him. Juan and Sammy were carefully trying to force him to mix more and observe less. Several of the guests cornered him for a closer look. True to his word to Justin, he was wearing jeans and a T-shirt, no gun and no shoes, and his examiners seemed convinced that he wasn't abusing Justin. The prints of nudes here and there on the walls helped, but he probably gave "straight acting" a whole new dimension.
Later, while he was on the deck grilling while the caterers did everything else, he noticed Beck and a friend leaning on the railing and quietly commenting to themselves on the attractive men who ran or walked by. When Justin walked up behind Donnie and, holding him around the waist, kissed his neck, several of the examiners saw him relax into Justin and they smiled and relaxed. Annabelle and Robert fit in beautifully, especially Annabelle, who obviously appreciated the gay sensibility brought by many of the guests. All, including the straight couples, enjoyed themselves, largely because Justin made everyone feel appreciated. As dinner was served, Justin called them all to attend.
"Donnie and I have a couple of announcements. First, we're going to formalize our relationship by executing a domestic partnership. Donnie and I hope you'll celebrate with us. Second, Donnie's going to be working in Portland for the Department of Justice."
Everyone began to hoot and clap. When they settled a little, Donnie said, holding Justin's hand, "Thank you all for joining us and being patient with the wise ass, here. I'm a better man for loving him, and he's taught me to look at the world in a less jaded way. We're looking forward to a wonderful but never boring life together. Now, please, eat and enjoy each other's company. We want to see you here again."
The next day, Justin's co-workers wandered in to let him know they had a great time and that he and Donnie were lucky. 'Lucky doesn't begin to cover it,' Justin thought.