Marc stood in the middle of the apartment, watching Andy McKinnon's back as he walked out the door of Stick's apartment at the Mid-City Manor, oblivious to Stick's glare. He paused listlessly, then walked into the bedroom where he'd left his things, freshly moved down from his old rental room. He began to put things back into the bags. Stick followed him and stood just outside the door, studying the stone face and observing the deliberate, steady moves.
"And just where are you going?" Stick asked softly, seeing past the mask to the inner pain, and hiding the anger he felt for the departed McKinnon.
"Away," Marc told him solemnly, emptying a drawer full of underwear into a black plastic trash bag, avoiding the man's look . "I just want to put as much distance between me an' this miserable city as I can. My court case disappeared, and so can I."
Leonard Stickman nodded. After that crap, I don't blame you. And the bastard didn't even recognize me. But he kept the anger and resentment out of his voice. "And just how are you gonna live?" he asked softly.
Marc avoided the man's eyes and shrugged, as he filled another trash bag with clothes that still needed to be laundered. "I'll do what I have to, Stick," he said, hefting the bag to the side. "I still got the money Josh paid me. If you can carry me for awhile on the brake job... well, I'll pay you back. I promise."
Stick shook his head, studying Marc's pain. It's all he can do to keep from crying... or screaming. And how the hell can he keep from doing either? He snorted and a thin smile tugged at the corner of his lips as he leaned against the jamb. "C'mon kid," he said. "You got less than five hundred bucks to your name. How long is that gonna last? And even then, how long before you start..."
Marc's face reddened.
"...well, you know," Stick continued, leaving the sentence unfinished. "How the hell could you ever pay me back? You barely get by now as it is."
"Dunno," Marc mumbled, pulling out the shirts he'd just hung up in the closet not long before. "But don't worry about me turning tricks again, Stick. I got lucky once and that's not gonna happen again." His dark brown eyes sought Leonard Stickman's, and the man shuddered at the familiarity of their secret, anguished look. "But if I stay here, Drew's gonna come lookin' for me sooner or later and... well, I just don't want to deal with him, okay?" He shook his head and wound up the top of the bag and set it down before grabbing another. "His father's right. I'll probably wind up fuckin' up his life, too. So I'll just get out of town, like I said."
Leonard Stickman studied the face of the boy who carefully averted his eyes. "How come you didn't take McKinnon's money? He ain't Bill Gates, but he can swing five thousand pretty easy. He'd probably've kicked for ten if you pushed."
Marc slammed the door of the closet closed and glared at him. "Because if I took that money, then I really would be a whore... wouldn't I?"
Good answer, kid, Stick thought and nodded. "Shut up and listen to me," he said quietly. "Come into the kitchen, sit down and eat the burger I made you, okay? Mine too, if you're hungry. I'm gonna make some calls."
Marc opened his mouth to protest.
"I said shut-up, and I meant it!" the man growled, and walked into his bedroom with the phone.
Marc dropped at the table, not at all sure he could really eat, until the second bite of his burger reminded him he hadn't had much for the past few days. He wiped out the sandwich, munched a healthy handful of unhealthy potato chips, and eyed the second burger for all of three heartbeats before he started to make short work of it. When he'd finished, Stick walked back in and eyed the empty plate.
"For someone who's never hungry, you did pretty good," Stick said. "Okay, now keep that mouth either chewing or shut, as long as it's quiet. I got a place for you to go and a job."
The boy looked up suspiciously. "Where?"
"Did I say you could talk?" Stick cut in gruffly. "No, didn't think so. This company of mine - S&M Realty Trust -- is a bunch of different places. Most of those places I've just got a silent partnership in. A couple of them I own outright, and one of those is the Captain Harker House in Provincetown, down on Cape Cod. I have a manager who takes care of it. He usually has someone to stay with him through the winter and keep things going, but the guy cut out on him when he found himself some rich daddy a few months ago -- Corey, Rory, some name like that. It's been okay until now, but he's gettin' closer to the tourist season and Charlie's gonna need help putting the house in order. The pay ain't much - just a roof over your head, food in your belly, and enough money in your pocket to have some fun with and maybe even tuck a little away if you're careful." Stick sat down and leaned across the table. "But, it's something else, too," he continued. "Remember what you said to me the other day? About how all you wanted was your life back -- a chance to go back to school, where no one knew who you were or what you'd done? Well, you're getting it. Once you establish residency, you can enroll in the schools there. All you have to do is have Andover transfer your records, and Charlie can help you with that. He knows everyone down there."
Marc blinked at him, his face a blank. I can have a life back... no one staring at me, no one laughing... no one waving money at me. It's almost too good to believe. "I don't get it," he said in a thin voice. "What does it matter to you? Why?"
Stick shrugged and stuck his hands in his pockets, grimacing for a second and then looking away. "Doesn't matter, kid. And make no mistake -- this ain't a hand out. It's a place to live and money to work for. Charlie needs help, Charlie's my employee, so I'm hirin' help for him. You all packed?"
Marc nodded and looked around. He never did have the chance to unpack completely. "I guess."
"Are you still hungry?"
Marc shook his head, and Stick grabbed a bag of clothes in each hand.
"Alright. Then there's nothin' more to do. Let's get this stuff in your car. I'm gonna give you my phone number, and Charlie's. If that rusted heap of yours breaks down shy of the Sagamore Bridge over the Cape Cod Canal, call me. After that, call Charlie. Now, let's move."
They loaded up the car, but it didn't take long to pack in everything Marc had. After they finished, Marc and Stick stood opposite each other, separated by an uncomfortable silence.
Marc looked at the man. He wanted to embrace him, but everything in Stick's body language warned him not to. He wouldn't know what to do... he wouldn't know how to act. "Thanks. For everything." Marc said, and held out a hand.
Stick gripped it, almost crushing it, and for a second Marc thought the man would lose control of himself.
After a few moments, the man cleared his throat. "You've... you really should get goin', kid," he said, looking away. "I got things to do, and so do you."
Marc stepped back and nodded, and eased into the comfortable darkness car. Then wiped his eyes.
"Thanks," he said hoarsely, looking up from the shadows.
Leonard Stickman stood, and watched the car pull away. He stood for a long time after that, watching the spot where Marc's car had stopped, turned left, and disappeared. Then he fished in his pocket for a stick of Nicorette gum, and popped it into his mouth.
"Goodbye, Brian," he murmured quietly to himself.
* * * * *
In the faint, dying sun of a cold March day Marc drove off, fighting back memories. Unwanted faces came up in his mind... people he knew, his family. - and Drew. Always Drew. I can't pull him down with me... his Dad'll never put up with me around, and I've got nothing else back here. Then heHe thought of Alan, almost a stranger who'd put himself out for him; and Stick, who cared more than he should have or had any reason to. Another face came into his mind, and that was the hardest of all... he could see the deep blue eyes, the pale fair skin and the unruly black hair. Drew. He always came back to Drew. I can't pull him down with me... his Dad'll never put up with me around, and I've got nothing else back here. He fought down this memory more than any other, and concentrated on the treacherous roads.
Marc followed the directions Stick gave him, which were easy enough: I-93 south, until he saw a sign extended across two lanes of highway that said `Cape Cod', and then straight from there until the Sagamore Bridge spanning the canal that actually made the Cape an island. After that, it was almost a straight shot down the Cape Highway until, as Stick put it, "The only thing left to do is hit the brakes or plow into the Atlantic. That's Provincetown."
Listening to the strained sounds of the old car and praying nothing went wrong, he watched the effects of the late season storm taper off and finally disappear. By the time he passed Plymouth; most of the storm had hit on Massachusetts's North Shore. The traffic was light once he cleared Boston, although he didn't see it that way. Once on the Cape Highway, traffic all but disappeared. Cape Cod from this road looked like an endless stretch of motels and stands selling T-shirts and souvenirs, although most stores were still shuttered. In summer time, cars were lined bumper to bumper from Fridays to Monday for the almost hundred mile stretch of the Cape, but right now it was as clear as any country road.
It was long past nightfall and suddenly there was fog. Just out of his sight Marc could hear water lapping at the shore. He was lucky enough to see a sign directing him to Provincetown before he found the Atlantic. He spent a fruitless hour or more criss-crossing through town, proving once more the inability of any man, straight or gay, to ask for directions. He finally gave up and spotted a lone figure walking along the road. The man told him he was already on Bradford Street, and that he'd passed the Captain Harker by a quarter of a mile.
Been by here twice at least, Marc grumbled under his breath. The Harker was a large house, two stories high with a variation of a mansard roof, for looks more than functionality, and topped with a small cupola. Marc had the uneasy feeling he'd seen it before. He had, in a movie... and he realized with a start that the movie was Psycho. It didn't help that even from the drive he could see the low-ranging structures of a motel in the rear. The sign was unlit, but a front light was on, and he pulled into the driveway, looking up tentatively hoping there was no mistake. A figure appeared at the door, and Marc got his first look at Charlie Bassett. He swallowed.
Six foot four, two hundred and forty pounds of Charlie, decked out in a red flannel robe standing on the stoop of Harker House. He was backlit in the doorway and that hid his features, but Marc could see his ominous shape standing with hands on hips staring out at the car, tapping his foot impatiently. Marc sat, blinked and started to have second thoughts about all of this.
"Well?" the man boomed from the door. "Are you Marc?"
Marc jumped and he nodded dumbly.
Charlie shifted around and cocked his head. "I get the feeling you're nodding, and that goes over real good in a dark car. C'mon, kid! Haul your ass outta there! I'm freezing my tits off out here, and Murder, She Wrote is on!"
Marc swallowed, grabbed a black plastic bag of what he hoped were clean clothes, and hustled out of the car. He stumbled up the walk, his brown eyes open wide as he got his first good look at his new boss. Charlie stepped back into the light and stood, hands folded across his chest now, left eyelid closed and the other just a slit under an arching eyebrow. Marc saw full lips pursed, set off nicely by a neatly trimmed goatee, and what he was certain were trimmed eyebrows. He swallowed while Charlie tapped his right foot in a slow tempo. His voice was raspy and nasal.
"I'm in a very Bette Davis mood tonight," he said haughtily, rearing his head back. "Unfortunately for you I'm the Bette from Baby Jane instead of Now Voyager. Piss me off and see just how quick I become the Mommy Dearest Joan - the hanger scene, no less." Still looking at Marc through narrowed eyes he extended his left arm grandly, pointed down with one manicured finger and rotated it. "Turn."
Marc shuffled awkwardly until his back was to the man, more than a little uncomfortable. What the hell's Stick got me into?
"Ooo, nice," he heard in a more-pleasant voice. "A little flat maybe, but damn sweet after that saggy thing Corey had. Then again the little tramp had more mileage on it than a Michelin. Okay, you pass the eye candy test. Let's go sit in the lounge, Pumpkin, and I'll read you your fate from the Book of Dooms."
Marc turned and saw the big v-shaped smile set off by the trim beard.
"Really got you, didn't I, Pumpkin?" the man sniggered. "Dickens must've had you in mind when Pip met Miss Haversham the first time." He chucked Marc under the chin and waved him to follow. "I'm harmless, kid," he said, dropping the severe mannerisms. "But I just can't resist a good rib now and again. But I'll grow on you, just like any social disease."
A sign over the door declared it to be the Poseidon Lounge -- a large, comfortable room with old but not antique furniture that looked comfortable and could have been made in an era that turned out reasonable Victorian facsimiles. The walls were in raised panels, painted a semi-gloss off white that leaned to the gray end of the scale. There was a small bar built into one corner with half a dozen stools in front of it -- mahogany maybe, but more likely a piece of oak stained a dark reddish brown.
Marc looked around, noted a large painting of a youngish, attractive man in what could have been a late nineteenth century nautical uniform. Charlie wasn't quite the dangerous lunatic he'd thought. He watched as the large man flopped himself onto a day bed and motioned Marc to a comfortable-looking club chair. He eyed the slippers on Charlie's feet and fought back a laugh. They were a blue version of the Bunny slippers he'd seen on Nanny the first morning they'd met.
"Shush, now," the man said, motioning towards the TV. "This is the one with Adam West in it, and he was such a hunk when he was Batman." He turned the sound back on, but all it caught was the swelling of the closing theme and Jessica was making her Big Exit before the credits started to roll after the usual droll witticism in front of the supporting cast. "Shit, I missed it," Charlie muttered with a sigh. "Oh, well. That's the beauty of reruns and cable networks... it'll turn up somewhere else sooner or later." He clicked off the set and looked over at a worried and nervous Marc.
"Okay," Charlie said, stretching his arms under his head. "Here's everything I know about you, sweetie." He hesitated.
Marc held his breath.
Charlie smiled and waved his hands, quickly dismissing any cause for alarm. "Nothing," he said. "Absolutely nothing. Except that Lenny says you're a good kid who needs a break, a job and a fair shot at finishing high school. Whatever baggage you had is back in Lawrence, and the only opinions I'll have about you are the one's that you cause me to make. Capisce, Pumpkin? Good. Now, let me tell you about the job..."
For the next fifteen minutes, Charlie gave him the rundown. The main house had ten large units, most with a single king-size bed, and two full baths and two half baths for shared use by guests. In season, the room they were in at that moment was considered a common room for the guests. In back was a low structure of sixteen more rooms that looked like any motel along any American highway anywhere. Charlie referred to it as the `Bates Motel.' Each had two double beds and a full bath. In season, occupancy would be 100% every weekend, perhaps 80% during the weeks from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Every bed would need daily changing and every bathroom had to be cleaned. It was a given that the guests would be slobs. More houseboys would be hired bringing the staff up to Charlie, Marc and three others. Someone had to be on duty at the house twenty-four hours a day.
"And unless you screw up," the man warned, "you'll be the head boy -- which means you're my assistant manager and you get a better room out of the deal. The slaves live in the attic... real nice in summer. You and me live in the Honeymoon Cottage."
Charlie caught Marc's wary eye and laughed. "I know what you're thinking... but it's just what we used to call the place when Lenny and Brian lived there. Before that, it was just an old garage with the roof ready to cave in, even if we tactfully referred to it as the `carriage house.' I'm downstairs, you're upstairs, and since we put in the second bath on the main floor - with a jacuzzi for moi, I might add -- where the staircase used to be,the only way up is from the outside, so you can stop worrying about this old queen breaking in to steal your virginity. But that's not till late May, hon. During the off season, we live here in the main house... it's just too damn cold out there, and what the hell, a big weekend after Halloween and the New Year's bash is maybe five rooms until the spring, and I have to keep the heat on anyway.
"Well, that's our world, darling. We keep the place up, take care of the guests when we have them, and start cleaning up the outside. Come Memorial Day, we'll have a full staff, and that means cleaning every unit and the common areas every day. Expect to be changing linens on forty-two beds each morning, and then laundering everything all over for the next day. Oh," he added in a warning voice, "I'm a picky bitch, too. If it isn't done right, I tear the beds down and send the slob back in to fix it all over again. I've been known to strip thirty beds in a day and demand fresh sheets, just to drive home a point, so keep that in mind. Harker House isn't the biggest or the grandest place down here, but it's always neat."
Marc nodded quickly.
"Now," Charlie continued, "about the guests... well, it's a given down here that they come with every intention of playing Bedroom Bingo." He leaned in closer to Marc and his voice took on an edge. "Every now and then I get a boy who thinks he can pick up a little extra cash by providing... shall we say, `special services'? Well, this ain't like the Ranchero Bunkhouse down by the docks, and I don't allow that." He paused to let the message sink in and pursed his lips, tapping his finger tips together. "As soon as I hear about a little extra consideration being exchanged for special favors -- and I will -- the boy is gone." He snapped his fingers. "Just like that."
Marc felt his face reddening. Stick couldn't have said anything about my police record...
Charlie noticed his expression. "I give this talk to everyone, son," he said, "so don't look at me and sputter like that.... God, you'd think I just opened your biggest secret! Anyway, if I see that happening, the sun will not set on your hide in here again, friend of Lenny's or not. Also, if a guest makes a suggestion about wanting to play or gets a little free with his hands, a polite `no' is expected, whether you're interested or not. On the other hand, if a guest makes himself a pain in the ass and starts grabbing yours, I toss him out. Some of these guys see a pretty face and trim backside -- and you've got both, sweetie -- and, after a few drinks, they forget that we only rent rooms here."
Marc shifted around uneasily. He had Stick's word he'd never mention his past to Charlie. And he liked Charlie. Marc nodded, then opened his mouth to speak.
"Shut up, Pumpkin," Charlie went on airily, waving him off with a manicured hand. "Lenny also said your plan is to finish high school... you left after your junior year? Don't be embarrassed, hon -- unfortunately, stuff like that happens to a lot of gay kids when their families find out. Not all, thank God, but way too many, and this town is loaded with refugees." He smiled kindly, and his voice was soothing. "Maybe we can't help all of them, but every now and then you can help one."
Again Marc shuffled uncomfortably and swallowed hard "Uh, I never finished my junior year. I had to quit school about a month short. I never took my final exams or anything, but..."
Charlie clucked, held up a hand again and went on. "Damn. Well, I'll talk to Janet Creasey at the High School... she's an evil old witch -- and I say that with the purest knowledge and because my spelling sucks -- but she's my best friend once she hops off her broomstick," he said with a deceptively evil laugh. "We'll see if we can do some equivalency tests. I already talked to her tonight, and she'll be requesting your transcripts from Andover High first thing in the morning. We'll be going to her office, so you can sign some paperwork - releases and such, I guess." He looked at the boy carefully and raised an eyebrow. "You're not a minor, right?"
Marc shook his head. "I turned 18 last summer. And I have two picture ID's to prove it."
"Oh, good," Charlie said with a nod. "We don't have to go through hell with your parents." His eye twinkled again. "Plus I love to ogle, and as long as you're legal age I don't feel like a pedo. Not that it would stop me from at least looking."
Marc nodded, fighting back a laugh and Charlie's smile reached all the way to his squinting eyes. He went to open his mouth and ….
Charlie pretended exasperation and leaned forward again. "Jesus, Pumpkin, don't you talk? Oh never mind, I don't listen anyway. So -- and this is the fun part -- I'm not just your boss, but I'll be your tutor, to help you pass these damn tests. I don't suppose you were a model student, were you? I mean, you don't look like the brown-noser type at all." He cocked his head and leaned closer to Marc and spoke conspiratorially. "Or were you just another good-looking lout sitting up front for the teacher, with your big smile and your legs spread open, taking the cute-boy C?"
The boy floundered for words. Charlie leaned back, his hands waving Marc off again. "Okay, you were a C. And with your face and what's between those legs, I think you should have gotten at least a B." Suddenly, his mindlessly chatty voice changed to a serious tone and the smile disappeared. "But take my word for it, Pumpkin. You'll be an honor student by the time I finish with you... and I don't care how hard I have to break your balls to do it. So, if there's no further questions, I'll show you to your room."
Charlie bounced up from the chez-lounge -- motioning him to follow, hiking up the hem of the blood-red night shirt that he would always refer to as his New England MuMu. Marc grabbed the bag of clothing and followed him up while Charlie chattered happily. He spotted a series of photographs of a stunningly beautiful woman with long black hair leading up the stairs and paused to look.
"Those are me before I retired," Charlie said with a sigh. In the course of the next thirteen steps, two landings and a longish hall he learned that each portrait was a different shot of Charlie, who laid claim to being a retired drag queen. "I was the best damn Cher on the Upper Eastern Seaboard, at least during the off season. When I did `Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves' there was never a dry eye in the house -- and some of them laughed so hard they pissed their pants, too." He led Marc to the end of the hall and they stopped. "Well, here we are, Pumpkin -- this is the Andrea Doria room, and if you look out you can even see a little of the ocean from here. We name the rooms in here after famous ship wrecks. Try not to live up to the name and go tits up on me." He paused at the door and smiled again. "If you need something, I'm in the Hesperus suite."
He threw the door open and Marc stepped into a comfortably-sized room large enough for the queen bed, a dresser, a small table that could be used for a desk, and a leather chair. "Well, that's it," Charlie said airily. "The TV remote's on the dresser if you want to stay up for a bit, but the day starts early tomorrow, okay? I have coffee at seven," he said blithely and grinned again, "and your first job is to make sure it's ready when I arrive in the kitchen. 'Night, Pumpkin."
"Hey, uh... Charlie?" Marc got in -- the first full sentence he'd managed since arriving.
The eyebrows shot up and Charlie raised his eyebrows expectantly, rocking on his heels, his hulking body blocking the doorway.
Marc smiled sheepishly. "Could you do me a favor? Don't call me Pumpkin, okay? I mean..." he laughed uncertainly. "I mean... it's kinda silly, y'know?"
Charlie's mouth formed an O of shock and he fluttered his fingertips. "I'm sorry, does it bother you? Okay, Marc. I absolutely do not want you to feel at all uncomfortable."
Marc nodded and exhaled with relief. "Thanks, Charlie."
Charlie's nose wrinkled for a second. "No problem, Pumpkin," he said and closed the door.
Marc rolled his eyes and smiled as he listened to Charlie pad his way down the hall. He eyed the bed -- easily long enough for him, something rare for some time. He flopped down on it and stretched his legs fully for the first time since he'd left his father's house. He closed his eyes for a moment, deciding for a little rest before he'd start to strip down, but drifted off into the deepest, soundest sleep he'd had in over a year.
* * * * *
Marc stabbed at the rocky soil with the gardening spade, cursing the weeds and cursing Charlie Bassett for being addicted to the look of gardens, if not the work. He'd been on his hands and knees for two hours, chipping out crabgrass and forcing in tulip bulbs that wouldn't even emerge until next year.
"Stupid fuckin' flowers," he grumbled, hoping he'd remembered to put the bulb in the right way as he smoothed over the soil.
He'd planted fifty bulbs the day before, and then Charlie told him he'd buried them upside down when he dropped in the last. Today he'd unearthed each one again and flipped it over, more or less careful to avoid breaking them open, and then planted another twenty. He hadn't been entirely successful where breakage was concerned, but he had no intention of telling Charlie.
"Fuck the tulips," he grumbled again.
The only good thing about gardening was that Marc wouldn't have to do it much longer. Charlie told him that he'd be the head Houseboy at the Captain Harker House, and he could hand off the gardening when they took on more help in a few weeks.
Marc cringed at the sound of Charlie's pet name for him - one he had yet to get used to, even after eight weeks of daily abuse.
"Wha-a-a-at?" he called back in a toneless voice, smoothing over the mound of dirt on the last bulb.
"Don't `wha-a-a-at' me! I'm not your mother," Charlie called back in mock irritation, leaning against the porch post at the back door. "When you're done playing in the dirt, Pumpkin, I need you to go to the A&P. We've got some guests coming in later, and we're running low on some stuff." He looked past Marc at the flower bed. "I gather everything is all set here now?"
"You and your damn flowers," Marc grumbled, flexing his cramped shoulders before bending over in a vain attempt to rub the dirt off his knees. "If you like gardens so much, how come you never do any of the gardening?"
The corners of Charlie's eyes crinkled and his special V-smile took over his lower jaw. "Think of it this way, Pumpkin," he said with an evil giggle. "Shit rolls downhill, and one of the advantages of being the boss is you get first dibs on the high ground. Cheer up! Once I start hiring some new house boys, you're in charge of `em. And you can hand out the crap jobs like gardening to anyone who pisses you off."
"Yeah, yeah," Marc said smiling while he worked at his knees. "You keep sayin' that... so when are you gonna take someone else on?"
"Soon, Pumpkin. I've got an interview sometime later today... a new boy someone recommended. He'll be getting into town late afternoon or this evening." He eyed Marc. "Another refugee, hon. You'll get to break him in."
"I love the way everyone in this town gets tagged," Marc said wearily, dropping the hand tools into a bin near the backdoor of Harker House and following Charlie into the side door. "I'm a Refugee... then there's Summer Help... then there's the Year-Rounders."
"And don't forget the lowest of the low, hon -- tourists." Charlie chuckled, walking into the kitchen and then began pouring himself a fresh cup of coffee, offering some to Marc, who declined. "This is a live-and-let-live town, Pumpkin, but everyone has their place. Even the Year-Rounders break down in the caste system. First you've got the Natives, whose families have been here since Massachusetts was a colony. Then there's New People, like me. I've lived down here steady for over ten years and every summer for twenty-five before that, but if I live here another thirty, I'll still be one of the New People. Anyway," he said with another sly smile. "Your status is about to change. I got a call from Miss Creasey at the High School."
Marc looked up, his face an anxious question mark. Charlie slowly stirred some sugar into his coffee. Marc waited. And waited.
"Charlie! Stop being yourself and tell me what she said!" Marc half-shouted, knowing he was being teased.
"Is that your way of calling me an asshole?" the man said indignantly, adding another spoonful. "Or an evil old queen?"
"Okay, both. Jesus, Pumpkin, keep your jockstrap on," Charlie sipped his coffee. Slowly. "Well, she says you passed all your equivalency exams to complete your junior year of high school. One of the old farts in the superintendents' office still wanted you to take some formal class work this summer, but you managed to score high enough so he couldn't justify making you do that, too. And just so long as I swear in a blood oath that you live here full time, they'll let you in. So - congratulations! Next Fall, you get to be a senior at Provincetown High."
Marc leapt out of his chair and gave the man a hug. "Thanks, Charlie. I couldn't have done it without your coaching."
"It's bupkiss, darling. Just bubkiss. Now, if you're going out, you better change those pants. If you show up on Commercial Street with schmutzy knees like that, there'll be no end to speculation about how you were spending your afternoon."
Marc shook his head and blushed. Charlie was in one of his Harvey Fierstein moods today. Charlie idolized Harvey. He pointed to the dryer in the corner, not missing the opportunity to give Marc a little pat on the backside.
"I did some of your stuff up. Fish yourself out some clean pants, bubee."
Marc reached into the dryer and pulled everything into a basket, finding several pair of his own jeans. He kept his back to Charlie as he changed clothes. "You staring at my ass again, Charlie?"
"Of course, bubela. Sixty doesn't mean I'm too old to look! And in this town at my age, looking is about the only thing I can do, unless I want to scatter hundred dollar bills around. Besides that, you're family -- so, no touching."
"Right, Charlie. We're family, and you're the house mother," Marc said, smoothing down the front of his pant, then tucking in his shirt.
Charlie gave one of his special smiles and wrinkled his nose. "Mother, hell," he snorted. "I'm just your old auntie... the naughty one nobody would talk about." He gave Marc a cheek pinch. "Besides, you've got such a pretty little ass... not that you ever put it to any good use." Charlie sipped his coffee and gave Marc a sidewise look. "You know, Dean down at the Deli looks at it a lot. And he's a cute guy... only a little older than you,nineteen."
Marc flushed again and smiled. "You know my rule, Charlie . I need to get stuff straightened out. I don't need any... y'know, entanglements."
Charlie sighed. "Entanglements, feh! Youth. Leave it to meshuggina kids like you to waste it. And I didn't say to marry the guy or even jump in the sack with him... I just mean he's a nice kid, he's all alone, and you could both use some friends. You hang around with me too much. You're cramping my style!"
Marc eyed the long list on the table Charlie made out and pulled on his faded jeans jacket. "Right," the boy said. "Like I'm cramping your style. Watching re-runs of Murder, She Wrote isn't usually considered a style."
"Exactly. And if you weren't such a shmendrik, you'd go out with Dean some night and have some fun. And if not him, then one of the other young guys around here." Charlie gave him his most sincere motherly look. "Going to the movies with someone doesn't mean you're dating, you know."
Marc shifted his eyes to the floor and tried to look like he was in a hurry. "Yeah, okay," he murmured in a flat, distant tone.
"Don't `yeah, okay' me! That's how I used to blow off my mother too, you know. I'm only saying this for your own good."
"Back in the Bronx when you were a good little Jewish kid going to schul?" Marc looked up and smirked. "Yeah, okay," he taunted.
Charlie tossed a cube of sugar at him. "Get your tuchis moving, you. And I was never a good little Jewish kid from the Bronx. I'll have you know I was a model of Mormon propriety from Heber, Utah."
That made Marc pause. "You? A Mormon?"
The older man affected an air of innocence. "I wasn't always evil, you know. I was raised to fear God, tithe to the Church, praise Jesus, and pray for the redemption of all sinners. Hell, I didn't know you could even buy a cup of coffee in a public place until I was eighteen and found myself at a lunch counter in the Big Evil City. My parents got the idea maybe Brigham Young University wasn't the best place for me... so they packed me off and let me look perdition in the face." He sighed theatrically. "And I, of course, succumbed to temptation immediately."
" `Big Evil City'," Marc took up. "Where'd they send you? New York?"
"Hell, no!" Charlie affected a look of wide-eyed stage horror and leaned in close, whispering. "Worse than that! They shipped me to Des Moines. Can you imagine? Talk about a happening place. Let me tell you, Iowa was a real walk on the wild side in the 1960s!" He raised a sly eyebrow. "You could not only buy coffee on the Sabbath, but my first week there I found a place where you could get a shot of whiskey and a blowjob," Charlie chuckled, then leaned back. "I may have passed on the coffee and the whiskey, but the blow job was a different story altogether. Although for the longest time I was more familiar with the giving than the getting for some reason."
Marc shook his head and grinned. "Janet Creasey is right. You are the Queen of Evil."
"Don't soft-soap me," he retorted. "She calls me the Queen of Death, and that's one of the nicer things she says, too. Now pay attention, Pumpkin. I want you to pick up some supplies." Charlie went down a list while Marc looked over his shoulder. Mostly just things for the house, although his ears pricked up on the last item.
"You want a case of condoms?" He asked, his eyes widening.
Charlie gave him a withering look. "Of course, Marc... Harker House does its best to promote safe sex," he said disdainfully. "I want four placed in every room, now that business is picking up. Just put `em in the nightstand drawers... on top of the Gideon Bible would be best, but the Book of Mormon is just as good. The Four Seasons does pricey chocolates on the pillows," he added grandly. "We tend to be more practical down here."
Marc cocked his head. "How come four?" he asked.
"Silly. The young guys think it's all about quantity, and the old ones just appreciate the compliment. Oh, and try to see if they have anything else besides those damn Lifestyles, too. The colored ones are okay, but none of those flavored jobs. Last year I had a New York lawyer who threatened to sue me because he claimed the citrus-flavored ones gave him a burning sensation back there and it ruined his weekend -- I had to give him a special rate just to shut him up."
Marc shook his head again and headed out the door, listening to Charlie's giggle fade. Heber, Utah? And a Mormon? Well, that fills in some more of the puzzle, Marc thought, starting up Charlie's no-frills GMC pickup. Or at least as no-frills as you could get, since pickups were a popular item again. It was six years old and been used hard, but it still ran better than Marc's aging Cavalier, which sat in its spot behind the converted garage where Charlie felt it looked best... out of sight. Charlie insisted Marc use his pickup whenever he could.
"First of all," he explained, "so no one thinks I pay you the slave wages I do -- and second, so I don't have to pick you up whenever it breaks down." Which was Charlie's way of saving the car wear and tear, which Marc couldn't really afford, either.
But Charlie was nothing but surprises, as Marc found. For the first three hours of every morning, he grilled Marc on the homework and sat with him at the table when the house was empty -- which was most of the week that early in the tourist year -- and gave him lessons and tasks. Bit by bit Marc learned more about Charlie. He may have `postured, preened and queened' as he liked to call it himself, but he was a hard taskmaster when it came to studying. He gave Marc reading lists to go through on his own, and even drew up lesson plans for them to follow. He pushed Marc to do things on his own, but showed him how to handle things he couldn't quite understand. He was sharp and shrewd at business, and even better at analyzing people.
"I spent twenty-five years teaching in a well known all-boys boarding school, honey," he'd confided.
Marc leaned back with his hands behind his head. "I thought you were a drag queen?"
Charlie snickered. "I was... from Memorial Day through Labor Day. I'd come down here to work after the school shut down for the summer. I made quite an impression!" He shrugged and leaned back comfortably in his chair. "I started coming down to P-Town back when I was a pup," he reminisced . "Right after the boys cleared out of that school, I was out the door behind `em. I'd work down here for the summer as a houseboy and a fill-in bartender at some of the clubs. They love a barman who doesn't drink down here. I'd do little shows and things here and there, just for laughs. And I really did get to know Harvey Fierstein in the `70s, back when he was scratching out a living in pumps and black sequins. Like I said, that was my routine for twenty five years... but then word got back to the school about how Mr. Bassett spent his summer's making beds in Queer Town and doing gag bits as a Cher impersonator." He shrugged. "Well, I went back that fall... and had a discussion with the headmaster. We came to an agreement. At least we did after I saw a lawyer."
Marc raised his eyebrows begging for more information. "I'm surprised the Evil Witch hasn't told you all this."
Marc grinned. "Ms. Creasey says you've got a lot of skeletons in the closet. She just won't open the door for me."
"Pfft to closets, hon'!" he said, with a wave of his hand. "Well, the school and I came to an understanding about my contract, and they paid it off instead of firing me -- after I contacted the Boston office for GLADD. They weren't too happy about my life outside of the school. And as long as I went quietly -- with a fat check in my pocket -- and agreed not to name the school, everyone was happy. The school has a big reputation for its open-minded attitudes." He rolled his eyes. "Well, that's a crock. If you ask me, it's a holding pen for the dumber sons of sleazy business men, scumbag politicians, unethical lawyers, and Republicans who can't get in anywhere else -- and I know that last makes the first three phrases redundant, of course."
Marc rubbed the little patch of yellowy-white beard just under his lower lip. He'd tried for a full chin goatee, but after Charlie's derisive comments, he'd given up. The blond hair was just too fine, fair and thin for it to look decent. But that one patch under the center of lip was the only part that looked right, so he'd left it. Charlie had several rude names for it and suggested several uses -- mostly sexual -- but Marc stubbornly kept it. Just like he'd begun to let his hair grow out... he'd had short hair for as long as he could remember, and he wanted a little change. Charlie said he looked shaggy, but he said it with admiration. Even in the paler sun of the middle Spring, his light brown was turning more to a summer gold, and the hair was just long enough for it to wave. Charlie pointed to the painting of the man in a uniform in the lounge of the Captain Harker and said he was starting to look like him. Marc asked if that was the original captain, and Charlie laughed.
"God, no. This was the Harker house, but the `captain' stuff is just for the tourists, a little local color. The closest thing Benny Harker ever got to being a captain was owning six fishing boats... and that was only back in the twenties so he could smuggle booze for Papa Joe Kennedy. You know -- Senator Ted's daddy? Father to Saints John and Robert? That's how the Kennedys made their money -- bootleg whiskey from Canada. Well, that and stock fraud, along with money laundering after he bought his own bank with the booze money," he added.
Charlie struggled to his feet and touched the face in the portrait. "Actually," he said, "that was Lenny Stickman's - well, we called it lover back then. Sounds a lot nicer than partner." He looked Marc over. "Actually, you remind me a lot of him -- not in the face so much. But he was tall and lanky like you, hon', and he had eyes like yours, like a wounded doe. Even the color of the hair. And now that it's growing out, the waves in it, too." He looked Marc in the face quizzically. "God, you two even have the same kind of lopsided smile to the left."
He gestured at the painting again. "Lenny painted that, just after Brian died," he said with a sigh. He raised an eyebrow at a curious Marc. "I'll bet you didn't know he was an artist, did you? Leonard Stickman had a growing reputation back then. Even a few big galleries were asking for his work. And to look at him, you'd think he was just the handyman around here. Brian was the one who looked like the Lord of the Manor. But the fact was, the two of them turned this place into what you see back when it was a falling-down dump and made it work."
Charlie sighed, then leaned against the wall and shook his head sadly. "They were the sweetest guys... even Lenny, although you had to know him. His idea of a big smile is a twitch in the corner of his mouth, but I guess you know that. But Brian? Funny as hell, worked his ass off, and the nicest guy you could ever know." He leaned forward, with a faraway expression in his eyes. "Beautiful boys, the two of them. They got down here when they were just kids, I even remember them then. And they just worked like dogs. Brian could build or fix anything, and he waited tables and did whatever he had to. Lenny? Well, starving artist was one thing, but he got jobs behind the bar and made a good choice for bouncer, too," he said with a chuckle. "They were almost a novelty down here back then... a pair of cute young guys who didn't sleep around and didn't use their looks to get ahead."
Charlie stared at the painting, reached out a hand as if to brush some lint from the arm and sighed when his fingers lingered. "Then he got sick. Brian, I mean. AIDS gets a lot of attention in the gay community and it should, but let me tell you, there are a lot of other ways to die that are just as cruel and ugly." He shook his head sadly, looked down at the ground before turning back to Marc. His voice softened, and he was off stage.
"I always pray I drop dead of a massive heart attack all at once -- you know that? Brian was two years dying from cancer. They filled him full of chemicals and whatever, and all that beautiful hair fell out. God, I remember how haggard his face looked. And he lost so much weight. `Wraith' doesn't even come close. They'd drain his lungs and send him back home just to turn around and readmit him to the hospital a week later. And Lenny -- well, Lenny always drank, both of them did. Not heavy hitters, but they were party people. But when Brian got sicker and he wasn't around, Lenny started to drink more and more when he was alone. By the time Brian died this place was a mess again and all Len did was drink. Then he just closed it one day -- locked the doors, ignored the phones. People would show up thinking they had rooms reserved and he'd pretend they weren't there. For almost a year after that he paid the market to deliver his food and the liquor store to deliver his vodka."
His voice trailed off, and Charlie studied the painting again. "Then one day Lenny called and asked me to run this place and checked himself into rehab. And when he got out, he called me and said he wasn't coming back and would I stay." He pointed at the painting again. "I found that sitting on the easel in his old apartment when I arrived. The paint was still wet." Charlie wiped his eyes. "So, I hung it here, and told everyone he was the Captain. I always thought Len would ask me about it one day, but he never has. I even asked him once and he hung up the phone."
Marc shook his head and felt a flash of shame. Until that moment, he'd never known a thing about Stick other than that he ran a dump called the Mid-City Manor in a dead mill town in northern Massachusetts. No inkling the man was gay... not a hint that he had painted anything other than a wall... no clue he'd ever been anything but alone in his life. And Marc had never once even thought to ask about Stick's life, just let the man help him with his own. He felt shallow, selfish.
He spent the rest of the afternoon running Charlie's errands and stopping to talk along the way to the people he knew. Charlie made a point of dragging Marc out of the house a few nights a week, getting him into clubs he was technically too young to be in, but no one minded. And Charlie made it clear that he shouldn't be served anything stronger than a ginger ale. Marc knew bartenders, drag queens, truck drivers and doctors. Provincetown was diverse, and a history all its own. It was a quiet, shuttered resort during the Spring, but that would soon change.
Marc had been told the sleepy village would come alive with mobs of people and their cars everywhere. P-Town was a tourist Mecca. For the casual vacationers it was everything from honky-tonk bars and junk shops to art galleries featuring the works of nationally known artists. For gay men on the east coast it was a bit of the Castro dropped down on the outermost finger of Massachusetts' Cape Cod, a tiny spec on the map before you slid off into the Atlantic Ocean. The town understood who dropped the most money their way, and in the tradition of a hard-pressed folk with a long history of poverty and little modern industry, welcomed their new residents and visitors if not with open arms then with a high degree of civility not seen in many places. New People worked with Natives to one end - to keep the town alive, to keep tourism going, and to keep the national chains stores out. The nearest Dunkin' Donuts was in Dennisport. No Golden Arch would ever see the light of day in a town filled with small restaurants that made their money from May through September. Some Year Rounders might be tempted to sell outside or bring in a franchise, but the Zoning Board made sure such schemes never got off the ground.
Tourism was in Provincetown blood from its start. It's first European visitor, Thorvald Erickson (Leif's younger brother) died there of a fractured skull. The next big influx of tourists arrived with the Mayflower, who stopped off briefly and who's new émigrés even considered settling, finding the native Indian population if not enthused by new neighbors at least scarce and more or less acquiescent. But the soil was thin and fresh water hard to find, and they only stayed from what would become Thanksgiving to a Christmas the dour Puritans didn't observe. They sailed off to Plymouth on 25 December, 1620, after writing up the democratic principles of law and coerced religion to create the Mayflower Compact, forcing all adult men to sign it -- or be banished. Women, naturally, had no say.
But later English settlers would come, and scrape out a living from the sea. They also made a living off at least the principles of tourism by lighting bonfires on the beaches, signaling ships to `safety' -- and when they piled into the sandbars and shoals, the thrifty locals would exercise their rights to salvage and pick the boats clean. A later generation would further the cause of local industry during the War of 1812 when locals of the village began selling provisions to the Royal Navy. They may have professed themselves loyal Americans, and swore allegiance to President Madison, but the temptation of selling beef at seven dollars a pound was too great a proposition to a poor population that eked out a living either in tilling the rocky, infertile soil of the Lower Cape or on the hard, cold seas of the fishing banks.
It set the tone for the future of the town, which began it's final evolution when it came to be seen as an "artistic haven" for writers, painters and sculptors during the Great War - the First World War -- when "bohemian" types could no longer slip off to Europe. With the exception of arresting Eugene O'Neil as a spy for the Kaiser when he slipped off to the dunes of the National Shore with a mysterious black box (which later proved to be a Smith Corona typewriter and not a radio to signal U-Boats), everyone settled in. The descendents of staunchly Protestant Pilgrims even set aside their differences with the upstart Catholic Portuguese fishermen that moved in after the collapse of the whaling industry and just prior to the demise of the great fishing fleets. At least for long enough to see that working together they could liberate the newcomers of cash in much greater quantities than either the land or the sea combined could yield. Hotels grew. Shops prospered. Summer theatre took root and more cash flowed in. And if the new people were a little, well, peculiar in their practices, ready money was better than uneasy poverty. If men wanted to walk down the street holding hands, Provincetown didn't have much of a problem with it. People there were used to taking in the ones no one else wanted-religious dissenters from the early days of America and later runaway slaves from the South. It came to be understood that as long as no one got hurt and it didn't include treason, force, or minors, what you did in private was your own damn business.
Summer help supplements the needs of a place that lives on seasonal tourism. A gypsy class of people chose to live a nomadic life that filled the staffs of restaurants and hotels or sold trinkets from Maine to the Florida Keys. Provincetown became another stop in this migration. And later, when freer attitudes recognized P-Town as a gay resort, a new sub-class grew: The Refugees -- mostly, but not exclusively, young men trying to scratch out a life because of some upheaval in their lives -- many of them underage, or close to it, and usually broke. Some would join the migration of seasonal help; others would take an easy route to comfort, as long as their youth and beauty held out. A very few would find a safe haven and a more or less permanent place for themselves in the town and perhaps use it to move on with their lives, or simply stay. Marc realized he was in the lucky class of refugee. There was not only a safe place for him, but someone watching out for him.
It was a little after dark and his eyes saw the first star of the night when Marc remembered something that seemed a lifetime ago... of staring up at the stars and asking for just one break. He hadn't thought it then, but being arrested that night just might have been the break he needed. Lawrence, New Era Millwork, the secret hustling, that life was all behind him now. There were things he missed, of course. Friends -- and family, such as were left.
The face was never far in his mind. He saw reflections of Drew in people he met. He saw things in windows and wondered if Drew would like them. Then he'd shake his head, and put the memory aside. But it was never far.
No use goin' there, he reminded himself. Drew's just the past -- leave him there. He doesn't need a loser in his life.
Marc cut the wheel and pulled into the drive of Harker House, sounding the horn to let Charlie know he was home, then swung around to the rear of the building. He paused, smiled. Home, he thought. I like that. This is home now.
Something shiny and bright caught his attention. He pulled up short when he saw it and smiled.
A Jeep Wrangler -- bright yellow, with a zip-top roof. Totally impractical, a gas guzzler, and a body style born in World War II for function and nothing else. Ugly to look at, really. Marc loved it at first sight.
He got out of Charlie's pick-up and looked the Jeep over carefully, admiring even the garish color -- topped off by a thin rainbow decal that extended across the entire back bumper.
If you're gonna flame, you might as well flame in style, Marc thought with a grin. Charlie said there'd be some guests over the weekend, but a new guy was coming today, too. He hoped the Jeep belonged to the new houseboy, and had a vision of him and his new best friend zipping along Commercial Street with their shades on and looking cool. But he didn't put much faith in it when he spotted the lights on in two of the motel units. He sighed. Probably just some old fart from Boston with more money than brains, he figured. He'd been in Provincetown and around enough guests to realize that the coolness of the car always was in proportion to the number of decades chalked up. Guys in their twenties drove down-sized SUV-wannabes. Thirties meant a Corolla budget but maybe a Mitsubishi car loan. The really fun cars were driven by guys in their forties and fifties. Chances are whoever was working a summer stint as a houseboy was more likely to drive an aging Metro.
Hope for the best, Marc thought, and gathered up the bundles in the back of the truck, overloading himself to make it in one trip. He stumbled mid-way up the rear walk to the kitchen and swore as half the supplies fell, and resigned himself to a second trip. He plopped everything down on the kitchen table, knowing full well that no matter where he put things, Charlie would only ferret them out and move them, or drive Marc crazy for a week asking where things were. Marc understood Charlie's system. The fact that Charlie would gripe because Marc left everything out for him to deal with was just one of life's peculiarities.
He reached into the refrigerator for a soda and he heard Charlie from the Poseidon. "Bubala!" He shouted down the hall, still very much in a Harvey frame of mind. "Come on down and meet Bubbles! I just hired your first personal slave!"
Bubbles? He thought with a grin. I just hope the guy doesn't let on he doesn't like the name. Otherwise, he's gonna be Bubbles all summer -- just like I'll be Pumpkin `till the day I die. "Be right down!" he called back, but Charlie was already in the doorway.
"Wait'll you see this one," Charlie said, rolling his eyes and grabbing Marc's arm. "He's your age, got eyes to die for, and the cutest bubble but you ever saw."
Marc rolled his eyes. Well, now I know how he got to be Bubbles. He paused, wondering what it was about him that made Charlie call him Pumpkin. "Charlie, you're a total perv -- you know that?"
Charlie was non-plussed. "Well, yeah," he said, sounding exasperated and looking confused. "You say that like it's a bad thing! Ah, never mind. Come and see the new serf." He yanked Marc along and hauled him to the lounge.
Marc only saw the back of the head at first, and only half of that showing from the high-backed chair, but it was enough for him to freeze in his tracks and the color drain from his face.
Coarse, jet black hair sticking up and going its own way. From somewhere deep inside he began to tremble. Slowly, the head leaned forward, and the body began to rise. The body turned and Marc saw the deep blue eyes behind the gold-rimmed glasses, topped with nervously knitted dark brows. The eyes flickered to the floor, then up to Marc's face and then the floor again. The lips were pressed thin and trying to force a smile. Marc noted how the hands fidgeted by the young man's side, thumbs running nervously over the tips of fingers before they balled into loose fists.
His stomach knotted, and Marc shifted his hard face to a suddenly neutral, non-committal Charlie Bassett. Neither teacher nor friendly confidant at the moment, Charlie stared back.
"You know everything, don't you?" Marc said in a softly accusing voice.
Charlie's eyes flickered. "No, honey," he said soothingly. "Only what Lenny thought I had to know when I called him last night about your starting back at school. He said he had another boy coming down, someone special... but someone you might not want to see. Whatever tired secrets you have are your business and always will be with me, Pumpkin."
Marc studied the older man's face, accepted what he hoped was the truth, then nodded and turned his attention back to Drew. Conflicts ran through him. He was embarrassed, happy, angry and afraid all at once as Drew now looked steadily into his eyes. He felt his body tremble slightly as he returned the searching look.
Charlie regained his composure and returned to his private stage as the silly old queen and cleared his throat. "Well, I see you two need to get better acquainted. Actually, Bubbles here doesn't start for another two weeks, and he's here as a guest this weekend with some of his friends, so keep that in mind, Marc. On the other hand, it wouldn't hurt for you to show him around the place so he gets familiar with how things are laid out. You can start with the towels -- he and his friends are staying in rooms out in the Bates Motel, so I want you to deliver fresh towels out there."
"I changed them this morning, Charlie," Marc mumbled, dragging his eyes away from Drew's.
"That's nice, hon," he quipped and moved for the door. "Now go do what I told you to do. Once you show Bubbles everything he needs to know, you've got the night off. We've got three more units in the main house rented, but I'll take care of them myself. Ta."
Marc watched helplessly as Charlie swept out; it often amazed him how fast the man could move in spite of his age and size. Right then he didn't see it as a positive aspect of the man as he stood awkwardly trying not to look at Drew.
"He seems like a nice guy," Drew observed, unsure and desperate for something to say.
Marc grunted then looked Drew in the face. "Look, I don't know what you're doin' here, and I really don't care, but this is the last stop for me. I've got to make the best of it. Right now you're a guest, and my job is to take care of you... but when you come back here in two weeks, just remember that you report directly to me. Your private life is your own business, and mine is my own. If we stick to our jobs, we should do okay. Otherwise -- well, otherwise one of us will have to move on."
Drew studied the face he'd yearned for so much for almost two long months, desperately looking for some sign of hope. "I'm not here to make trouble, Marc. The last thing I want is for you to leave -- I spent too long waiting to find you again."
"Too long, huh?" Marc said bitterly. "How long have you known where I was?"
"Last night," Drew said simply. "I mean... I knew you left the first day you were gone... I just didn't know where, at first, anyway. Stick just said you packed up and left. I couldn't get anything out of him. Even Alan tried later, and he still swore you'd just run off somewhere." Drew swallowed hard and searched the deep brown eyes for some hint of something other than anger. He found them. Fear and shame.
"I know what happened, you know," he continued, softly. "I know about -- about how you got arrested. And why."
Marc's lip curled. "Uh-huh. Bet your daddy couldn't wait to tell you," he said defensively. "And it wasn't like you called or anything. I mean, I know it was in the paper."
"I never saw the paper," Drew said defensively. "Nanny - Nanny ditched it. And Dad didn't know either, or he's a better actor than I think. The first I heard was the day the storm hit us. Martin called me at home, and by that time it was snowing real bad and it was too late to get out. I had no clue about my dad gettin' mixed in."
"Yeah, right," Marc said sarcastically. "Well, you might as well know I cut a deal with your father and I intend to keep it."
Drew felt his hackles rise with the nasty tone. "I know about the five grand," he said between clenched teeth. "But I didn't know about that until weeks later, and I hit the roof. Stick never told me about that, I only knew you were gone. Then I found out -- Nanny found out -- you never took the money, either. She's the one that got Stick to tell us where you were."
Marc snorted. "Yeah, leave it to your grandmother to go diggin' where she's got no right," he sneered.
Drew took a step forward and glared at him. "You can call me or my dad any kind of an asshole you want," he said shaking his head in a warning, "But don't run her down, ever -- you got that? She never meant anything but good for either you or me. She could've kept her mouth shut and taken the easy way, but she put herself out for both of us." He paused for just a moment. "She's leaving, you know. Right after I get out of school, she's going to Florida. She was that angry with my Dad for the way he treated you."
Marc's jaw twitched and his hands flustered, but he nodded. "Okay, you're right. She was never anything but nice to me, no matter what. And I'm sorry about her leaving." He sat on the edge of a chair and stuffed his hands into his pockets. Drew leaned on the back of the chair he'd been sitting on. Neither would look the other in the eye. "So when did you find out -- about the money, I mean?"
"Beginning of April," Drew answered. "Right before my birthday."
Marc looked up sharply. "And it took you six weeks to come down here?" he demanded.
Drew shook his head and his lip curled. "Look, don't cop an attitude with me, okay?" he said hotly, his body tensed again. "Stick wouldn't tell me -- or Nanny -- where you were at first. And when we did get it out of him, he made me promise not to come down here until he gave us the word. He said you had a lot of things to take care of -- and if I showed up it might screw up everything. Well, last night he finally called and gave me the green light... and here I am. If that ain't good enough for you, I don't know what is."
"Things," Marc said slowly. "Yeah, things. I got my high school equivalency tests results for my third year yesterday... and last night I found out I passed. Charlie must've told Stick."
Drew nodded, brooding and still angry. "And Stick called Nanny. I cut out of school today after I took an exam... it's one of my last. I'm eighteen now, and basically I'm just about done with high school -- graduation is Memorial Weekend, but I'm blowing it off to come here. Legally I can do whatever I want. And what I want is to spend a summer on Cape Cod -- which I have every intention of doing, whether you like it or not, and if I can work through it that's okay with me."
He walked to the left, then looked around the room, not knowing why he felt the need to be harsh. "This place looks like a cushy spot to me," he said, leaning against the table . "Any jerk can make beds and do laundry. And you don't have to like me bein' here. I can deal with you as a boss... I've worked for an asshole before, you know," he added bitterly. "But right now, you're not my boss. I'm a paying guest, and I expect to be treated like one."
Marc glared back. He was furious with Drew. He was furious with Stick, with Nanny, and with Charlie for interfering in his life. "Okay, tourist," he spat back. "Looks like I'll get you your towels, like my boss said." A thought came to him and he paused. "By the way, how are you at gardening?"
Drew wrinkled his nose. "I fucking hate it. Why?"
Cushy job changing beds and towels, huh? I'll fix your ass. "No reason," he said innocently. "I just wanted to know. Let's go -- sir." He waved his hand towards the doorway.
"Fine," Drew growled, and pushed off the back of the chair to follow Marc down the hall and into the kitchen. Marc lead him to a steel cabinet in the corner where the two commercial-sized washers and driers were installed, and flung open the cabinet. He began yanking out two of everything from each shelf -- wash cloth, hand towels, drying towels.
"There's four of us, in two rooms," Drew told him, his voice still strained.
Marc looked at him questioningly. Drew shrugged. "I told Alan, and he told Dave, so they decided on a weekend. And that friend of theirs, Chris St. Jacques-- he came along, too." He made a face. "Chris and I are sharing a room, if you can believe it."
"He totally hates your guts," Marc replied automatically, grabbing a second set-up.
Drew shrugged. "We kinda buried the hatchet there, too... at least for the weekend," he replied, trying to sound less angry. "It's not like we could both afford our own rooms. This place ain't cheap. And, well... the guy had a point -- Chris, I mean."
Marc didn't wait for an explanation for what the point was. He gathered a second set of towels and turned. "This way, sir," he said sarcastically, and kicked open the back door and headed for the motel section with Drew trailing close behind. He paused at the car. "So was this a graduation thing? Daddy get you a new toy?"
"That's Alan's," Drew shot back, hustling up from behind. "He just got it -- a gift from his old man."
"At least someone gets things they deserve. And it wasn't a gift -- believe me, he earned it."
"Get off my case about that, will you?" Drew snapped.
Marc glared but said nothing, and knocked on the door of the first unit. He could hear laughter inside, and as Drew closed the distance between them the door flew open and a grinning Alan looked up at him.
"Marc!" Alan shouted, his small face filled with excitement, and pulled him into the room. "He's here guys!"
Marc looked around, blinking. David was on the floor, his face red from laughing and pointed at Chris, who sat on the very edge of the next bed leaning forward and pulling his shirt away from his chest. His face was twisted up in an expression of pain. David fell over on his side pointing at Chris and laughing harder, and finally waved briefly to Marc.
"Yeah, that's it, Sciuoto -- enjoy yourself," Chris was muttering venomously. "Nice to know who my real friends are," he growled. "At least Alan's got the class not to think it's so funny."
Alan grinned even more. "Maybe, but right now I think you're pretty dim, too."
"Fuck you both," Chris snarled, and David only laughed more. He mouthed something that looked suspiciously like `dumbshit', but Marc couldn't be sure.
"What's goin on?" Marc asked, forgetting about Drew for the moment.
David tried to control himself. "Coming through town -- oh, Jesus! -- we were..." He broke off again and fell back helplessly again.
Alan was broke in. "We got into town like two hours ago, and dimwad over there," he pointed at Chris, "sees some place down on Main Street or whatever, and this big sign out front saying `body piercing.'"
"It's Commercial Street," Marc corrected. "And that's Jeffrey's place - The Body Iron." He looked at Chris and raised an eyebrow. "You decided on a little, ah... decoration?"
"Nipple," David choked, his laughter dying down but still gasping for breath.
Drew squeezed in between Marc and the doorway. "You got a nipple pierced? Cool!"
Chris winced from pain and shook his head. David held up a hand and extended two fingers and lapsed back into laughing again.
"Both of `em? At once?" Marc exclaimed. He shook his head. "Damn, that's gotta hurt," he said sympathetically.
"Like a bitch," Chris said forlornly and looking miserable, still leaning forward and pulling the shirt away. "The guy swore I wouldn't feel anything."
"Jeffrey's been known to-exaggerate a little," Marc said simply, nodding his head. "Not a lot, but just enough. Plus, I guess business is kinda slow."
Chris ignored the last remark and glared at Dave. "See? I hardly know this guy, and he's sympathetic. And you don't see Drew or Alan acting like a hyena, either."
Dave finally recovered enough to sit up again. "Marc just doesn't know how lame you are yet," he said still grinning. "And Alan's got a soft spot in his heart for idiot children. What's your dad gonna say when he sees you?"
"I'd worry about his mom more," Alan threw in. "Roland already knows his kid's dumb. But his mother's gonna kick his ass."
"Nice, you guys," Chris stood up and began to peel off his shirt, and they all gawked at the ugly, bruised flesh on Chris' thin chest. He looked down and winced. "Damn. So much for a little action for me this weekend. Well, it'll look cool later," he said confidently. "I mean, I seen pictures of guys on the net like this, and they got a little gold chain going across. You guys just wait until summer."
"Right," David said sarcastically. "A skinny stick like you."
"You should have said something," Drew added. "I mean... I could've helped you out."
Chris looked up, suspicious. "What do you mean -- helped me out?"
Drew shrugged, fighting back a smile. "I've got a pneumatic nailer at home. I would've pierced `em for nothin'. Let me know if you ever want your navel done. Or a guiche."
The short, thin boy's mouth was just shy of a scowl as he looked daggers. "Right," he said, glaring at each one. "You suck, all of you!" he grumbled, then gently tipped one of the rings up. He tried not to flinch but couldn't stifle the groan.
"Better come with me," Alan said, getting up and heading for the door. "That doesn't look too pretty, and I got something you better put on it. Iodine sounds about right." He glanced back at David, who made no move to leave. Alan nudged him with his foot. "You too," he added, motioning to Drew and Marc with his eyes. "I'm gonna need you to hold him down." He leaned in close to Chris. "Gonna make you squeal like a pig, boy!" he shouted in a southern accent.
David jumped up and Alan grabbed a protesting Chris, who began whining about the necessity of iodine. David paused long enough to grab a shirt and followed the other two out, closing the door quietly behind them after taking half the towels out of Marc's hands, but not before waggling his eyebrows at Marc.
Marc walked over into the bathroom and took care of his last assignment for the day. "Okay, that's it," he said simply. "I'm my own man now, and you'll have to excuse me."
"So, we're gonna fight some more?" Drew snapped. Then paused. Why am I being like this? The last thing I want is him pissed at me. Drew reached out and laid a tentative hand on Marc's arm. "Baby, don't be like this. Don't be mad at me. Don't leave me here. I need you."
Marc flung the hand off and his eyes flashed with anger. God, don't you get it? I'll only screw up your life. "Drew, we had some fun okay? And that's all it was -- fun. Well, fun time's over. You'll find someone else."
"I don't want anyone else," Drew pleaded. "Is it because I stayed away so long? Marc, you gotta believe me -- it wasn't my idea! And before that... well, you're the one who told me to stay away. I mean, I figured I'd give you some time to calm down after... after..."
Marc jerked his head up. "After the way I found out how you fucked over Alan? Just to save your own sorry ass?"
Drew felt an anger flash through him but fought it back - almost. "Yeah, that's right... after you found out I'd screwed Alan. I-I wanted to give you a week to cool down, okay? And look, if Alan can forgive me, why can't you? Jesus, I was fourteen. You gonna tell me you never screwed up in your life? Even when you were a kid?"
"I never deliberately screwed anybody," Marc shot back.
Drew's jaw tightened and his eyes smoldered. "Except for a price," he spat back in a flash of anger, and scored a bloodier wound than he meant to. Oh shit, why'd I have to say that?
"Look," Marc said, disgusted. "Just tell my why the hell you're here, huh? I mean, I thought you might catch the hint when I cleared out of town and didn't leave a note. Besides, I cut a deal with your old man."
"Yeah - I know all about that deal, I already told you. I know about the five grand. I also know you wouldn't take it, so lay off the bullshit. My Dad doesn't make deals for me anymore - I'm eighteen, I'm legally an adult, and I can make my own decisions. I already told him if he doesn't like something he can keep his toys and bribes, `cuz I can get by just fine without him or his approval. Now, will you tell me what the fuck is goin' on with you?"
"What's it matter?" Marc said angrily. "Hey, I don't owe you any explanations, Drew. I left town, okay? You don't own me, and I don't owe you!"
Drew's lips tightened. "Owe me? No, you don't. So tell you what," he said with a sudden cruelty, reaching into his back pocket and ripping out his wallet. He tossed it at Marc. "Why don't you pick through what's in there," he taunted, "and take what it's worth to you, okay? I brought a couple hundred down here to blow over the weekend. That oughta buy me some time with you at least!"
Marc caught the wallet on the fly and glared at Drew. "Fuck you!" he snarled, throwing it back as hard as he could.
Drew dodged his head slightly to the left then lunged at Marc, knocking him backward on the bed, pinning him there. "I was hopin' you'd say that," he growled, and forced his mouth down on Marc's, feeding him as much of his tongue as he could. Marc kissed back for a moment, and Drew could feel a hardness suddenly pressing against his leg. Then Marc fought back again and tried pushing him away and wrenched his mouth away from Drew's.
"Let go of me, dammit!" the boy cried.
Drew's finger's dug into Marc's wrists as he pinned him down, his face a scant inch from Marc's. "Go ahead, Marc," he rasped. "Tell me with your mouth that you want me gone just one more time! Tell me what your body's saying is just a big goddam lie. Just say it like you mean it, and I'm out of your life! No summer job down here, no more chasing you, no more begging. I'm just gone and you'll never see me again."
His eyes bored down into Marc's. "Listen to me," he said, quietly. "I fuckin' love you, Wildon. I want you with me, and I don't care what you did. You're the first thing I think of in the morning, and the last thing I think about every night. So when I let you go, either kick the shit out of me for jumpin' you right now, or kiss me and toss me face down on the bed -- I don't care. I don't give a fuck as long as I know for sure. And maybe then I can finally stop thinkin' about you."
* * * * *
Drew ran his fingers over his swollen lip, then prodded the flesh around his eye. His right shoulder ached, and there was a low throbbing in his side. Sore, but I don't think it'll show, he thought, rubbing the flesh under his eye. His head hurt, too, from where it must have struck the wall. He struggled to sit up. God, I ache everywhere. Who'd have thought it could be this brutal? He slowly eased a stiff leg into a more comfortable position, flinching from the low-grade pains running through his body.
He looked over to Marc standing in front of the dresser mirror, twisting his neck to see over his shoulder. Drew took in the long, lean body -- taught and defined, but not overly-built -- and glanced at the tapering waist to the slender hips. "Christ, you caught me a couple of good whacks," he muttered, shifting his weight around on the bed. Something else, too. His side hurt, and Drew looked for any signs of bruises, and spotted a few faint marks. Christ, what the hell caused that? It's like I was kicked... maybe I was, I don't remember. Everything happened so fast it was all a blur. He dismissed it, gingerly touched his sore mouth again, then turned back to face Marc, who was still on the other end of the room.
"That's it, man. I mean, no more of this -- you gotta put some weight on or something. I mean, your skinny-ass body is gonna kill me. I think you slammed my eye with your bony hip. And my lip's split!"
Marc chuckled, craning his neck over his shoulder and probing his naked back-side. "You didn't seem to care much last night when I was riding your face. And that was my elbow that caught you in the eye when you all of a sudden decided to be Mr. Butch and twisted me around so you could get my legs up. And you should talk about war wounds and leavin' marks," he said, shaking his head. "Buddy, you have got to clip those friggin' fingernails -- I think I got permanent scars in my ass. Not to mention the scrapes up and down my back. Damn!"
This time Drew chuckled. "Here's a quote: `You didn't seem to care much last night'. Well, that explains the eye. What happened to my lip?"
Marc's eyes twinkled mischievously and he looked back from the mirror, catching Drew's reflection. "Friction burns, maybe?" Drew threw a pillow and connected with the back of Marc's head. Marc turned and his face broke into a wide grin. "Well, we really didn't care when it was happening, okay? And I'm sorry about your eye, but you shoulda listened when I said to lay back and let me do the work, if that's what you wanted."
Drew rubbed his side again. "Okay, but how did this happen?" he said, pointing to the red, slightly-chafed skin.
Marc walked awkwardly back to the bed and looked at the light bruises and scratched his head. "Beats me... but whatever it was, it must've been pretty good if neither one of us noticed while it was happening," he said in a low voice.
There was some thumping on the other side of the wall and he looked up. "Well, it looks like they're up for the day."
Drew looked guilty for a second and his face flushed. "I wonder if they heard us?"
All of a sudden they heard the headboard slamming wildly against the wall, and three voices in a mock falsetto crying out. "Oh! OH! OOOOOOOOO!!!"
"They heard you, anyway," Marc said in an innocence that reeked of sarcasm, as he pulled on a pair of boxers.
Drew turned and looked at the wall behind the headboard with an expression of genuine disgust. "You know, havin' a bunch of wise-mouth assholes for friends can really bite sometimes." He pounded on the wall.
One voice changed its pitch to a low, throaty growl that built in intensity until it ended with a strangled groan and Drew chortled nastily, in spite of the two who persisted in the high pitched yelping. "Guess I ain't the only one they heard," he said in an evil undertone.
Marc turned red and looked for a distraction, trying to ignore the throaty groan coming through the wall... and the general laughter that followed. Then there was more thumping from the headboard, and the voices continued. "Ooooo, ride me you stud! C'mon Beer Can, do it haaaaaaaarrrrrrddddder!"
"Jesus, it's fuckin' cold in here," Marc said with a shiver, looking around and doing his best to ignore the voices. "Where's my shirt?"
Drew pointed up to the ceiling fan and Marc's eyes followed and he blinked. "I think you better use one of mine, though. In case you forgot, we kinda used it to wipe off my face and the headboard." His face dissolved into an intense look. "You didn't have to do that, Marc. I don't have any problem with... well, you know - taking it. I mean, I usually don't, but... well, for you..." he shrugged. "I mean you always do for me."
Marc reddened, and pulled a green and black polo out of Drew's suitcase, which had been kicked off the bed and onto the floor at some point. "That stuff is only relatively safe, Drew. We have to be careful, or at least I do... and you know why." He gave Drew a nervous look then glanced away, pulling on a pair of pants. "That's why I never let you take it. I've been tested and everything and it's always been negative but... well, I never wanted to put you at risk, okay?" He looked up furtively. "Always believe that. I was always careful of us going too far."
Drew nodded, and his face took on a sad look. They were dangerously close to something neither of them wanted to discuss... but knew they had to. Marc kept busy and located his socks first, then his sneakers. He slipped one Reebok onto his left foot then wrinkled his nose when he peeked inside the other.
"What's the matter?"
Marc held the sneaker upside down and rapped it on the side of the trashcan a few times. "Um - just a little used latex, if you know what I mean. Never flush these things, by the way. We're on a septic system here." He sniggered. "Oh, and we're supposed to tell people that when they check in."
There were three hard bangs on the wall. "Hey! Is it safe in there yet?" a voice roared.
Drew rolled his eyes. "Yeah, Chris. We're decent! You can come back in."
He hopped out of the bed and pulled on a pair of pants and the sweatshirt he'd worn the day before. There were two sharp raps at the door a few moments later and Chris came bounding through the door without hesitation before freezing in his tracks. Drew wanted to giggle. Chris' nose practically twitched and his narrow face screwed up when he caught his first whiff of the room.
"Damn," he said. "Wasn't bad enough I had to listen to you guys doin' it all night - now I gotta inhale it."
"So, did we give you guys a good show?" Drew asked, pulling on a white Nike.
Chris nodded his head while he dug through a suitcase that lay open on the opposite bed. "Oh fuckin' gross!" He howled all of a sudden, and jumped back until a red-faced Marc picked up another disposable latex unit. "Right on top of my brand-new A&F shirt," he whined. "Any other little surprise packages in here? I mean, Jesus!"
Drew rolled back on the bed laughing.
"What a cool weekend this is turnin' out to be," Chris continued to lament, to no one in particular. "First, I get tossed out of the room I'm paying for. Then, I get to listen to you two goin' at it till almost three in the morning. I mean... are you guys trying for Olympic medals or something? Then, I figure maybe I can finally get some sleep, except there's the other two morons trying to pretend they're not doin' anything in the next bed with me facing the wall, acting like I'm sleeping." He shook his head helplessly and looked up pleading. "Look, just do me a favor, okay? Gimme about twenty minutes in here alone, just to... y'know, take care of things myself? I mean, it won't take me that long, but at least I can relax a little after. `Cause it's gonna be that intense."
They heard some muffled, furtive sounds coming through the wall again and Chris looked helpless and lost, shaking his head. "Oh, great," he muttered. "And now I get to listen to them all over again. Do people in P-Town do anything else but screw?" he asked helplessly.
"They eat breakfast after," Marc said with a smile. "And that's exactly what Drew and I are gonna do. You guys wanna join us in a bit, just head for Commercial Street and ask anyone for directions to the Post Office."
Chris nodded but then caught Drew's expression, which made it clear even to him they should eat anywhere else but.
The two stepped out into the early morning mist. The sun lurked just behind the early clouds, but Marc knew it wouldn't last. He glanced at his watch. "God, it's not even seven yet. Guess this is what you get when you're in the sack by eight."
"Uh-uh. Maybe five hours' sleep, after you subtract everything else."
"It wasn't that much. I think." Marc elbowed him and led him down a series of stairs and ramps that trailed down from the hill Harker House was built on. They wound their way through a warren of narrow, crooked streets, past shanties with yards filled with debris and tufts of scraggly sea grass sitting next to elegant houses with manicured yards and shrubs. Finally they came out of the mass of narrow alleyways onto a recognizable street that emptied onto Commercial Street, the main drag for Provincetown. Most of the shops were occupied now, as the town geared up for its big season, but here and there a few windows were still soaped over. Trinkets and T-shirts were hawked next to art galleries filled with treasures, sometime both in the same place. It was a crowded mishmash of late nineteenth-century shops squeezed in with various experiments in architecture, good and bad. The most prominent of the bad was the former aquarium with its attempt at Miami-style art deco, but mostly it looked like a small town out of a bizarre time warp of the fifties. In a month it would look like Mardi Gras every day, as thousands of people - predominantly men - in skimpy beach gear, showing as much flesh as they could, including a good many who should have known better. But in the early morning hours of the off-season, the streets were deserted, and the two boys sauntered slowly, Marc pointing out a few places of interest. The only thing different were the rainbow flags and their variations hanging everywhere.
Drew took it all in. So far it looked like any of the other nameless East coast tourist towns that made its living selling `genuine souvenirs' marked `Made in China' if you looked close, until he froze in front of one display. He gawked. "I don't believe it!"
"What's the matter?" Marc turned and looked in the window. "You never seen a dildo display before?"
Drew shook his head. "Um... well -- actually, no. Uh, I was talking more about the other stuff," he said pointing further back.
Marc looked and shrugged. "Big deal -- they're just mannequins."
Drew looked at him like he was crazy. "Uh-huh -- but how many mannequins do you see in a harness and codpiece? And a muzzle?" he peered closer. "Yeah, and that's a leather cap. And a whip. What is this place? Souvenirs of Hannibal Lecter?"
"Local color," Marc said with a grin. "Think of it as a perv version of `Toys-R-Us'." He pointed to a set of manacles hanging from a rod next to a display of nipple clamps, just to the left of a leather tableau of half-sized mannequins that could have been children, except someone had thoughtfully applied moustaches and beards. "Maybe I should get us a pair of those."
Drew swallowed hard. "In your dreams -- or my nightmares." He bent over and leaned forward, squinting inside. "Jesus H. Christ. Is that a rack back there? And what's with all the paddles?" He peered even closer. "I know that's a cat-o'nine-tails. I've seen pictures on the net," he added quickly. Then he eyed some shiny silver circlets on a black velvet display. "What are those -- napkin rings? Kinda big, aren't they?"
Before he could answer "Only for you," Marc heard his name shouted and he turned. Drew spun around, looking as guilty as only a good boy from a Catholic school could, when he saw a short, middle-aged woman with dark hair lightly streaked with gray come jogging up in a forest green sweat suit.
"Hey, Miss Creasey!" he said, smiling.
"You guys shopping for a wedding trousseau? And it's Ms. Creasey," she said tartly to Marc, a slight slur in her words. "But that's okay -- I know it's that cross-dressing old fart who puts you up to saying it like that." She looked over to Drew. "You must be Bubbles," she said holding out a hand. "Just call me Janet. Charlie called up and told me he hired a new kid. He said you were a cutie, too. And from what I saw coming up on you from behind, I can see why he calls you Bubbles."
Drew turned a deeper shade of scarlet than Marc had ever seen before and shook her hand.
Marc looked at her sharply. "How come he gets to call you Janet?"
She pinched Marc's cheek hard enough to make him flinch. "First, because he hasn't been around that old degenerate you live with long enough to be his stooge and yank my chain like you do. And second, because he isn't going to be one of my students next fall. You can call me Janet after you graduate, Pumpkin." She smiled when she saw Marc flinch at the name. "And any more of your wise mouth, and that name'll follow you into the classroom."
Marc shook his head and waved his hands. "I give! I give! Anything but that!"
"You better," she said smiling, and then her manner shifted to a more professional one. "Seriously, though, Marc -- your test scores were excellent, and I want you to drop by Monday and look over some things. There're some advanced courses that might get you some college credits."
"Great," she said. "So, is Her Majesty up? I made my crumb cake last night and he whined on the phone for an hour for me to come over with his share." She checked her watch. "I told him I'd be over around eight o'clock, I just didn't specify which eight. But he'll get over it."
"You might catch him in his robe."
She snorted. "Better than when I used to catch him in his black gown at the old Shack Bar before his ass got too wide."
"Hey -- Charlie doesn't do drag any more, you know that."
Janet's eyes narrowed and her mouth curled at the edges. "Don't you believe that, kid. He's sixty pounds overweight, wears flannel shirts and jeans -- he's still cross-dressing, as far as I'm concerned. The only difference is he's pretending to be a lesbian now."
"Okay," she said with a wave. "You boys go have some fun. Oh, and congratulations."
She looked back and forth from each boys face and smiled. "On the two of you," she said smartly, and went trotting off again.
"What is this?" Drew complained. "I mean, do I have a sign on me or something? Or a big `Q' tattooed to my head in pink?"
Marc shook his head and they moved off down the street, stepping into the roadway when the sidewalk ran out. "It's no big deal down here, Drew. I mean, she knows I'm gay, that we work in a gay guest house, for a gay man -- a gay man who loves to gossip, too, in case you didn't notice."
"Well, great," Drew said, still flustered. "But I mean... she just about said we're sleeping together."
"Not sleeping, exactly," Marc said grinning. Drew gave him a sharp jab with his elbow. Marc paused, then pulled Drew to him and kissed him on the lips just as three young men turned the corner. Drew jumped back and Marc laughed when he saw the stricken expression on his face. Two of the young men smiled and the third stopped short and laughed out loud.
"No big deal down here, huh?" Drew grumbled. "There's always a goon squad."
"Nice goin', Marc," the laughing one said. "And here I've been tryin' to get some of that for a month! These two swore you were really a closet straight."
"Sorry, Dean," Marc said, slightly embarrassed. "Hey, is the Post Office open yet?"
Dean wrinkled his nose. "Well they're still setting up, but Kim Nishue's opening, only he won't unlock that door till eight on the dot. Especially for you." They chatted for a couple of minutes and Marc introduced Drew around. One of them called him Bubbles and snickered before the two groups broke up and went their separate ways.
Drew looked flustered. "I see what you mean by Charlie and gossip. Is that name gonna follow me everywhere?" He looked reflective and tried twisting his head around for a look. "Uh," he said quietly, "is my ass really that good?"
"Uh-huh," Marc answered truthfully, but he gave Drew a long, sideways glance. "Listen, if `Bubbles' is really gonna bother you, just talk to Charlie." He smiled and his eyes narrowed. "Just tell him you don't like the name, that it's embarrassing. He'll lay off if it really hurts your feelings."
Drew nodded absently. "Yeah, cool. I'll do that."
They walked on down the street, which was filling up with a few more people, and Marc reached out and took Drew's hand in his. Drew felt awkward, then went with it. "This is one of the few places we can do this without getting any crap," Marc said. "No one gives a damn about it down here... and if they have a problem with it, they don't say anything. This is a live-and-let-live kinda town."
Drew squeezed the hand back. Then he shook his hand free and Marc was startled for a moment until Drew slid an arm around Marc's waist, hooking his thumb on a pocket. "Might as well go all the way then," he said happily. Then he focused his attention on Marc's nose, reached into his pocket for a handkerchief and began to dab at the end of it.
"What are you doing?"
"I meant to say something after your principal walked off," Drew said innocently. "You got a bit of brown stuff on your nose."
Marc jabbed him with his elbow, and in retaliation Drew brought a leg up and caught the boy on the rear.
"Ouch!" Marc cried, rubbing his posterior. "Easy -- I'm still sore back there."
"You still gonna bitch about my fingernails?"
"No," Marc said, then playfully shoved Drew away and began to scamper down the street. "I'm sore because it's been awhile and I'm out of practice, Beer Can!"
"Now who's a dick!" Drew shouted and they played tag, darting around trash cans, benches and sign posts, Marc's long legs keeping him just ahead of him until Drew finally caught up to him in the square in front of a tall, white building perched on a rise, with a long broad staircase rising grandly to arched triple doors. Marc stopped, out of breath, and dodged behind a park bench. The two boys lunged back and forth in a series of fakes and taunts, until Drew charged forward, scrambling over the top of the bench and jumped forward, wrapping himself around Marc. The two of them laughed as they tumbled over. Drew nuzzled Marc's neck and gently nipped at it with his teeth.
"Did you get that Ned?" a woman's voice screeched. She was holding the hand of an uncomfortable-looking fourteen year old who was clearly embarrassed by his parents but very interested in Marc and Drew. "Aren't they cute?"
Ned was holding a camera over them and snapping pictures of a confused Marc and Drew. He snapped three or four times more as they separated and got to their feet, then the three moved on. The boy kept looking back and Marc smiled, winked, and waved - gestures the boy tried to return until his mother jerked him into a shop.
"What the hell was that?" Drew said, as he struggled up to his feet.
Marc shrugged. "Tourists," he said simply. "They'll photograph anything. It's like going on the Whale Watch -- this place is like a gay theme park to them, and they're doin' a Queer Watch. We're the colorful natives for their entertainment." He pulled Drew down onto the bench in the square, and the two boys stretched out their legs and leaned back. The sun was burning through the morning mist and they could feel the warmth on their faces. "Probably Canadians... it's too cold for anyone else, but for them it's like mid-summer," he said giggling. "But from the looks that kid was givin' us, it won't be long before his parents won't have to travel far to see a sister."
They stretched out on the bench, slouching down low with their legs extended, eyes closed and enjoying the cool air and the warm sun on their skin as the morning mist burned off. Drew sat with his arms crossed and sidled over closer to Marc. Marc draped his arm along Drew's shoulders from behind, and his hand hung down. His long fingers gently kneaded the soft cotton of the shirt. Drew felt the light pressure against his flesh and smiled. He shifted a leg until it barely touched Marc's.
"So," Drew said casually, "you really are staying down here? Going to school?"
Marc nodded. "I start as a senior in the fall," he replied. "Right now, this town is something I need -- it's a safe place for me to start over." He paused for a second, then rubbed a sneakered foot against Drew's. "Later on... well, there's a world out there, and living in a gay theme park is fun right now, but there's a lot more I want to do with my life. Everything's all set, for now. I can work and live at the Captain Harker. But it's like you said," he added pointedly. "Any jerk can make beds and change towels, and I want a lot more than that. After high school... I don't know for sure yet. Maybe I'll do some time at the community college in West Barnstable. It's a haul from here, but it's another new start."
"Cape Cod Community College is 51.66 miles, one-way -- according to Mapquest," Drew remarked.
Marc raised an eyebrow.
Drew shrugged. "I checked."
Drew tried to look and sound nonchalant. "I was just curious what schools were down on the Cape - there's that and Mass Maritime." He paused and checked Marc from the corners of his eyes. "See -- I, uh... decided not to go all the way out to Amherst College. I'll be goin' to the University of Massachusetts instead." He paused, then put a hand on Marc's thigh. "U-Mass Dartmouth, to be exact."
There was a short silence. Marc shifted his foot then crossed his ankle over Drew's. He tried to sound reflective. "Dartmouth," he said nodding. "That's pretty close to the mouth of the Cape. Quite a coincidence, huh?"
Drew jerked his head and rubbed his leg harder against Marc's. "Dartmouth's 94.63 miles from here," he said matter of factly, still looking straight ahead. "That's 49.21 less than my house in North Andover... and, living on campus, I won't have to deal with my dad." He paused. "But there's one hitch. I can't start until January, because I applied so late... so I figured I could maybe take some intro classes at a community college. Just to keep in practice, you know? I mean, it's open enrollment and all." He swallowed. "Last night, Charlie kinda hinted that if I was okay, I could stay on for awhile after Labor Day... maybe until Halloween. And after that, we can work out a special rate if things... work out. At the House, I mean." He added quickly. "And he said they have extension courses for the College here in town. At your new high school, to be exact."
Marc nodded absently, and a silence settled between them. They watched as the street slowly awakened, and more bodies began to pass. Some were men in pairs, young and old and in-between, holding hands or standing closer than they might anywhere else. Others came singly, dressed either outrageously or just for a day's work. Groups formed as people paused to talk and then split off. Some looked at the two boy-men sitting quietly together on a bench, close and comfortable, and smiled. Others took no notice at all and hurried on about their business.
"How long are you gonna make me sweat this out?" Drew asked shyly.
"What are you talking about?"
"Don't be dim. I'm sendin' a message here!"
Marc smiled and tried to force a laugh. "I know." He brought his fingers up and began massaging the back of Drew's head, enjoying the feel of his hair. "And I get the message, Drew."
The awkward silence returned, and Marc tried to break it. "So, what's next? A champagne toast at Charlie's?" he said lightly until he saw the stricken look on Drew's face at his remark. "I'm sorry," he said seriously. " I -- just don't know what to say. I mean, you've got this all planned out..."
"I'm not gonna force anything on you, Marc," Drew said quietly. "If... if you don't want it to happen, just say it. I'll get out of your way. I'm not gonna hold you back. It really is okay if last night was just... sex."
Drew felt the clutching hand lock on his shoulder again to stop him from moving away. "I want it to happen," Marc said softly. "I really do. And last night wasn't just sex, Drew." He licked his lips nervously, then took a deep breath. "Last night you said you loved me, and -- and I know I've never said it, but -- I love you, too." Then he looked confused. "But, I don't understand. You got every reason to walk away because sometimes I had to … Because of what I was doing..."
Marc paused with his mouth open searching for the right words, then shook his head, and his mouth snapped shut and his face hardened. An edge crept into his voice. "No. I'm not gonna play with words to soften it up," he said firmly and looked Drew square in the eyes. "I was a whore, Drew. Forget `hustler', forget `rent boy', forget all those other soft words we come up with when we want to make something sound nicer, easier to live with. I was a whore, okay? That's why I sent you away that weekend, because I didn't want to be your baggage in life. That's why I made it easy for you to walk away." He shook his head, mystified. "I just don't get it. Why come after me? Why waste your time on me?"
Drew swallowed hard, and their eyes bored into each other. But when Drew spoke, it was in a gentle voice that trembled and he took Marc's hands lightly in his own. "Because
you're not a waste of my time. Because you're worth it to me." His voice caught and he licked his lips. "Have you noticed something, Marc? It ain't just me... everyone else is trying to put that-that shit in the past. Everyone except you, that is. Yesterday I asked you to cut me a break. Why don't you try cutting yourself one, too?" he snorted. "And me? I don't have a choice. Nan explained it to me - she said, `the heart wants what the heart wants.' And I want you."
Marc started to speak, but Drew held up his hand.
"Lemme finish," he said. "I told you before. I don't like what you did and thought you had to keep on doing, okay? But I can't do anything to change the past, and neither can you... but it is the past." Then his voice took on an angry edge and there was a smoldering fire in his eyes. Drew squeezed Marc's hands firmly. "But goddammit, if you ever do anything like that again because you're afraid or ashamed to ask me for help, then I will walk away."
Marc flinched at the strength of the grip, but he was caught by Drew's eyes and the changing inflection of his voice as it relaxed and became soft again.
"I came after you because you're worth it to me, Marc," Drew continued. "And I don't ever want to be sitting in a room alone when I'm fifty or something, wondering what it could have been like if I'd given us a chance, if I'd only tried... if, if, if! I've got to know that I -- that we -- did everything possible to make us work. And that's what this summer is about... us givin' it a chance, to see if it can be real.".
Marc swallowed hard, his eyes locked on Drew's. "I know. I want us to try, okay? I can't promise we'll work out-no one can ever know that for sure-but I want us to try."
Drew smiled. "That's what this summer and fall is gonna be all about... finding out."
Marc paused again. "And there's one more thing you gotta try, too, Drew. You said I should let myself off the hook. I can work on that. But, maybe you should let your old man off the hook, too, okay?"
Drew's face hardened.
"No Drew!" Marc insisted. "Think about it, will you? Maybe he did everything wrong-but damn, he cared about you Drew. He's not like mine. Mine just cut me out like I didn't exist anymore. Your Dad was willing to do everything he could to... to protect you. Promise me you'll try to make it up with him, okay? He can hire a bookkeeper, but he can't hire a new son."
There was a long pause, and then Drew nodded. "I know. And I'll try, okay?"
They sat on the edge of the bench, each holding the other's hands as tightly as they could, and then Marc leaned into Drew and gave him the longest, deepest kiss they'd ever exchanged. The world stopped for a moment as their arms slipped around the other, and they held on for dear life.
There was an earsplitting whistle followed by a sharp "HEY!" and they looked up, startled. David and Alan were waving from the opposite corner, and Chris tagging not far behind with another someone in tow.
Drew glanced down at his watch. "It's eight o'clock - looks like we'll be having company for breakfast after all," he said, and then squinted to see who was with Chris. He wondered briefly where he's left his glasses... again. He snorted. "Looks like your buddy Dean didn't waste too much time carrying a torch for you. Maybe it's my turn to get bounced out of the room tonight."
"I know a room you can stay in," Marc said as he stood. Then something flashed in his head and he grinned. "Hey-- I just thought of something: this is gonna kill little Martin when he finds out you're taken for keeps. What are you gonna do about him?"
"For keeps, huh? I like the sound of that." A smiling Drew reached out and took Marc's hand, but shrugged as they began their walk to the group. "We could always adopt."
They turned their faces to the warmth of the rising eastern sun, and hurried off together to join their friends.
Copyright 2002, 2003 by Keith. All rights reserved.