Dessert at the State Diner was as delightful as ever, and we went on home with full stomachs and happy smiles. We went in the house and put on a pot of coffee. Well, we had a long, quiet evening ahead of us, and with the excitement of the day and the news that the Commons was saved, we were too tired to do anything too strenuous. When the coffee was ready, we took our cups into the living room and settled down on the couch. Gregg retrieved the remote control from the coffee table and began going through the channels to see what might be interesting. He hit on a movie that was just starting; it was one that neither of us was familiar with, but we decided to watch it for a while, and if we didn't like it, we had the technology in our hands to look for something else.
Gregg was snuggled close to me, and as the movie began, he pressed a little closer to my side. I looked over at him and was greeted with a warm, contented smile. I had to return the smile; I couldn't remember when I had been so contented, myself.
The movie wasn't really exciting, but it was all right, so we decided to watch it. During a commercial break, Gregg went to the kitchen and got the coffee pot to refill our cups. He sat back down and snuggled up to me again. We watched the movie in silence. I noticed, though, that Gregg kept glancing over toward me, as if he wanted to say something, but wasn't sure how to say it. I didn't want to push him, so I just pretended not to notice.
The movie ended, and he searched the channels to see what else might be interesting. Then he gave me a long look, rather nervous, it seemed, almost afraid. He clicked the TV off, moved a little away from my side, and looked at me again. This was something really serious! I didn't know what was on his mind, so I just smiled at him and waited. Finally, he spoke; his voice was a little shaky, as if he were having a hard time trying to find the words.
"Harley, may I ask you a very personal question?"
"You can ask me anything; I didn't think we had any secrets at this point, but if there's something you want to know, I'll be glad to tell you."
He hesitated and looked down at the floor. It seemed that he was almost ashamed to ask. My curiosity was now very high.
"Harley, have you ever been tested for AIDS?" His voice was soft and trembling now.
"Why, yes, but not in a number of years. There was no need for testing, since I had always tested negative, and after about ten years, I didn't see any point in it. I had been alone so long by that time that I didn't really care about trying to find someone - and certainly, not for casual sex."
He looked at me. "You understand that Jerry and I were both virgins when we met. In all the years we were together, neither of us ever had the urge to look for someone else. We had everything we needed between us. And then, when I lost him, I couldn't face the thought of finding someone else to take his place... until now." His voice was just a whisper now; I could barely hear the last two words.
I could feel the blood pounding in my temples. I just sat there, dumfounded.
He couldn't mean... not that! I was almost ready to cry; in fact, the tears were already rolling down my cheeks. He looked up at me again, and his eyes were full of tears, too.
"Oh, Harley, I'm so sorry! I didn't mean... I don't want you to think... I just... " He began to cry softly, like a child. I pulled him to me and held him close. Tears were streaming down my face, too, but I ignored them. I just couldn't believe that he could mean what I thought he meant. I've learned the lesson too well: it it's too good to be true, it's probably not true!
He was trembling, and I stroked his hair and his back, the way I had comforted my boys when they were little. He looked so much like a lost and frightened child that I had to comfort him, protect him. And I knew at that moment that I would do just that, as long as he would let me do it. This dear, sweet child-man needed someone to look out for him, and I wanted, more than anything else I have ever wanted in my life, I think, to be that someone.
We sat there for a long time, just holding each other. Then he stood up. "I think I'm ready now. It's time." He reached out his hands to me and I took them, standing up to face him.
"Are you really sure about this, Gregg? If you're not, I can wait. You've already given me more than I could ever have hoped for."
"I wanted to say this before, but I was afraid you wouldn't understand, that you'd hate me, and I just couldn't bear the thought of that." He was smiling, but his eyes were pleading. I drew him into a hug.
"And I've been afraid to say anything to you, for the same reason. Aren't we the pair of silly old codgers!" He chuckled then.
"Aren't you the one who told me not to call you an old codger?"
I had to laugh. "Well, it's true, I am; but I really didn't want to hear it at that moment!" Now we were both laughing. The tension between us was broken, gone. It was as if we had been freed from prison.
He started to pick up the coffee cups. I took them from him. "I'll take care of these, if you want to get into the bathroom first." He nodded and walked toward the bathroom. I took the cups to the kitchen, turned off the coffee pot and shut off the light. When I returned to the living room, the light was on in the bedroom. I went into the bathroom and took care of what I needed to do there and hurried across the hall. He was already in bed.
I started to get undressed, and, as I went to toss my shirt on the chair with his clothes, I noticed his boxer shorts lying on top of the pile of his clothes. I felt a sudden tingle of excitement that I hadn't felt in years. I sat down on the edge of the bed and pulled off my shoes and socks. Then I stood up, took off my pants and laid them on the pile of clothes in the chair. I turned to the bed, still in my boxers. He was watching me with a smile, half of welcome, half of anxiety. I sat on the edge of the bed, reached over to turn off the bedside lamp, then pushed my boxers off and kicked them off my feet. I slipped into bed and felt his nude body, as we snuggled close to each other. He sighed. "Oh, Harley, it's been so long!"
"I know. Same for me." Then we didn't talk any more.
I rose slowly up through warm, dark layers of dreamless sleep and opened my eyes. The sun was coming up, and the bedroom was filled with a soft, warm light. I was wrapped around a sleeping Gregg, and I felt so completely contented that I could have stayed there forever. But nature was calling, in a rather loud and impatient tone. I moved as carefully as I could, so as not to disturb his sleep. I went to the bathroom, took care of my problem, and stumbled out to the kitchen to put on coffee. I realized, as I sat down on a cold chair seat, that I was still naked. Oh, well, ...
When the coffee was ready, I debated with myself for a moment, whether I should go to the bedroom and retrieve my boxers. Then I remembered Gregg's face, with its peaceful smile, as he slept there. No, I'll just tough it out!
I was on my second cup of coffee, when he came wandering into the kitchen. I was secretly pleased to note that he was also nude. I got up and poured him a cup of coffee, then sat down and slid it across the table to him. The look on his face suggested that he, too, was debating the wisdom of leaving his boxers in the bedroom. I smiled and relaxed with my coffee. When I got up and brought the pot back to the table, he was staring at me.
"Not bad for an old codger, Mr. Harley!" He was grinning now. I poured his coffee, topped off my own cup, and put the pot back on the burner. I tried hard to look upset or disgusted, or anythingbut relieved. This was the moment I had been dreading. Here I am, almost seventy years old, and he can say something like that! Now, if I looked likehim, twenty years younger and gorgeous, I could understand it. I still have difficulty believing that he is only eight years younger than I am!
I had to know. "Are you all right with this?"
His smile was radiant. "You know, I've been thinking this morning; making love is rather like a trip. You have a destination in mind. Young people are in such a hurry to reach their destination that they miss the best part of the trip. Of course, they have time - and energy! - to make the trip again and again. But when you get older, the destination isn't as important, any more. In fact, you may not even care whether you reach the destination; you just enjoy every minute of the trip. Jerry and I were young together, and we were so much in love that we made that trip as often as we could.
"But last night, with you, I realized that we have a whole different outlook on love. It really doesn't matter if we reach that destination - or if we even can! I'll have to admit that I enjoyed what we did last night as much, maybe more than all the wonderful times with Jerry. It was enough, just being with you, sharing the experience. Did you? Share the experience?"
"Oh, Gregg! I couldn't have said it half as well! I've dreamed and fantasized over the years what it would be like, to share myself with someone who really loved me, someone I loved beyond belief. And I have to tell you, the dreams and fantasies didn't come even close to what we had. I have you to thank for that. You made it all happen for me."
Our tender moment was shattered by the ringing of the phone. I was muttering obscenities under my breath, as I went to answer. If this is a telemarketer, he's going to hear some things I bet he'll never want to hear again! He'll probably quit on the spot and go looking for a safer job!
"Harley, it's Beau. Hope I didn't disturb you." You couldn't have disturbed me more if you had just walked in, Beau! But I smiled, imagining his face, if he had walked in on us right now.
"No, not at all! What can I do for you, Beau?"
"Becca and I have been talking. We really need to get moving on this situation in Ithaca. We've decided to fly in Sunday afternoon, so we'll be ready to get going Monday morning. Is that going to work for you guys?"
That will be fine, Beau. What time are you planning to arrive on Sunday? I'll make the reservations at the Statler, and we'll plan to meet you. I'll get the car for you, just like last time."
"Great! I really appreciate this, Harley. I think we're going to work well together! Oh, we'll be arriving in Ithaca about 4:00 pm. How does that sound to you? We can go out for dinner, and then we'll have some time to plan strategy."
"Sounds good. Oh, Kate Dolan made me promise that we would all have dinner with her while you guys are here. Her sister in Florida isn't well, and she'd like to get down there as soon as she knows what your plans are for the house."
"Why don't you give her a call and see if she's free Monday evening? Then she can make her plans, and we can get to work."
I'll call her today."
"Thanks. We'll see you on Sunday, then." He hung up.
I went back to the kitchen. Gregg looked up, as I walked in. He was grinning. "If you keep walking around like that, we're not going to get anything done today! Who was that on the phone?"
"Beau. They're flying in on Sunday afternoon. And don't let me forget that I have to call Kate Dolan to see if she's free for dinner Monday evening."
"There ya go again! I keep telling you, my mind isn't working this early in the morning! But I'll try to remember; it won't be easy, because I've got some other things that I don't want to forget!" He had a wicked grin on his face.
I returned it. "Well, maybe we can reinforce the memory, so you won't forget it. And while we're on the subject of memories, I can't remember when we ate last. Any chance you'd be interested in some breakfast?"
He laughed. "If you've forgotten the dinner we had at the Valley House last night, I think we'd better get you to a doctor right away! You need help!"
He got up from the table. I looked at him and just couldn't resist. I grabbed him in a full-body hug, shoulders to ankles. He pressed against me, and for a couple of minutes it looked as if breakfast would have to wait. Then we reluctantly separated. He grinned at me and shook his head.
"I think we'd better get some clothes on, or you're likely to starve to death!"
We went into the bedroom and found clean clothes to put on. Then we went back to the kitchen and, working together like an experienced team, we soon had breakfast on the table.
After breakfast, we cleared the table and washed the dishes. When they were all dried and put away, we went into the living room. I hunted up the phone book and looked up the phone number for the Statler reservation desk. "Too bad we don't have speed dial on this phone. I have the feeling we're going to need it quite often." Gregg chuckled.
"Well, you could write it on the cover. Then you wouldn't have to look it up every time."
"Good idea! I'll do that." I grabbed a pen from the desk and wrote the number on the front cover of the phone book. Then I dialed it. It only took a couple of minutes to reserve a suite for Becca and Beau. Then I looked over at Gregg, who was sprawled on the couch. "Do you know what time it is?"
He looked at his watch. "Almost ten o'clock. Why?"
"I didn't want to take a chance of bothering Kate Dolan too early in the morning. She's certainly up by now!"
"If we're talking about the same Kate Dolan, she's probably had breakfast, cleaned the house from top to bottom and mowed the lawn by now!" We both laughed.
"You're probably right!" I dialed her number. The phone rang twice before she answered.
"This is Kathryn Dolan. How may I help you?"
"Kate, it's Harley."
"Well, good morning, Harley! What can I do for you this morning?"
"I just talked to Beau. He wanted me to find out if you would be free Monday evening, so that we can go to dinner."
"Monday? Let me check. ... Yes, Monday's free. When did he want to go?"
"I'm not sure; he didn't say. They're arriving Sunday afternoon. I just made reservations for them at the Statler."
"I'm so glad. I really enjoyed their company when they were here before. Becca is so sweet - although I found out, when she was dealing with our friend who is now a guest of the State, that she can be a real spitfire, if she needs to!"
"Yes, I noticed that, too. So, I'll let them know that you will be free for dinner on Monday."
"Good. I'm really looking forward to seeing all of you again. You people really bring a lot of joy into my boring life!"
She hung up, and I turned to Gregg. "So, what would you like to do today?"
He grinned, a little self-consciously. "In view of everything we're involved in here, I feel a little guilty, even thinking about it, but what I'd really like to do is go to the mall and just wander around. I've got this silly thing about malls - I guess it's true what they say about gay men! But I really do love them, just wandering from store to store, looking at everything. Jerry and I used to spend our whole Saturday sometimes just strolling through the malls. We didn't have to buy anything; it was just fun to walk around and see everything - and all the people!" He grinned again and ducked his head, like a child who has just said a bad word. I couldn't help laughing. He is so much like a little boy sometimes.
We closed up the house and got into his car. As I started up the hill toward the mall, he gave me a strange look. "Isn't this the way to the airport?"
"Yes, but you must have missed seeing the mall on the way there. Do you remember the underpass, where we drove under the road crossing Route 13?
"Well, we take the turnoff and go up to that road. There are actually three malls there, two on the left of Route 13 and one on the right."
"Do you mean that I missed threemalls? Oh, call an optometrist, quick! I've got to have my eyes checked!"
"Well, you may have had other things on your mind. The last time we went by them, we were being followed by a State Police car."
"Oh, please don't remind me! I still get cold chills from that experience!"
"Well, you can get over them, now. The problem is safely out of our way for at least the next twenty-five years."
He grinned, but he didn't seem convinced. I noticed the overpass just ahead. "Hey, we're here. See? He peered out through the windshield. I pulled into the right lane and took the off-ramp leading up to Triphammer Road. When I reached the top of the ramp, I stopped, then turned left, when traffic was clear. Gregg was turned in his seat, looking at the mall on the other side of the road. We crossed over Route 13 and Gregg was examining the big strip mall on the right. Just past it was a large complex of doctors' offices. I pulled into the left turning lane and waited for traffic to pass. Then I pulled into the mall. Gregg's eyes got big.
"Oh, yeah! That's what I'm looking for."
I threaded my way through the complex of driveways leading to different areas of the mall and found a parking place as close to the entrance as possible. I didn't want him to have a long hike back to the car after walking all over the mall. It's a good sized place.
We entered at what had originally been the "front entrance." Over the years the mall had expanded, and there were now several entrances on the front of the building as well as a number of side and rear entrances. For the next couple of hours we just wandered through the mall, looking at every store we passed, and going into a few to look around. Since it was a weekday, the stores and the halls were not crowded. I mentioned this to Gregg.
"I don't come here during the Christmas shopping season. There's something about the season of love and peace that seems to bring out the worst in people!"
"Where do you do your Christmas shopping?"
"To be honest, I don't. I've reached the point where I try to ignore Christmas completely. It's not easy, but I just can't deal with the whole thing. When I had a family, I loved Christmas, looked forward to it. But now it just has too many painful memories. I'd like to be able to forget the whole thing, but that's impossible, because it's in your face, wherever you turn.
"But to answer your question, I could never deal with the mall at Christmas time. My wife used to love coming here. If I had to come with her, I'd deal with it as long as I could, and then I'd find a bench here in the hall. I'd tell her, "When you're ready to go, I'll be here waiting." Then I'd just sit there, with my feet tucked under the bench, so they wouldn't get stepped on, and watch the herds of shoppers, like migrating buffalo! I noticed, though, that there wasn't much seasonal joy on any of their faces. They were all so intense and determined, as if the free world would collapse, if they didn't complete their missions."
"Wow! You've got a really distorted picture of what Christmas is supposed to be about. We're going to have to work on that this year!"
We stopped at the food court and bought sandwiches for lunch. Gregg was looking around. "Oh! They've got Ben and Jerry's ice cream! I just love that!" He stopped suddenly and looked at me, blushing. "I'm sorry! I didn't mean that the way it must have sounded." He was on the verge of tears again, and I reached over and patted his hand.
"Look, Gregg, you've got to understand something. I know that Jerry is going to come up from time to time in our conversations, and there's no need for you to feel guilty about it. I'm not the jealous type. You could ask my ex-wife about that! She used to get upset with me, because I wasn't! You have a past that I have no part in, and that's yours. If it was a good one, why not talk about it? That keeps the feelings fresh for you. OK?"
He looked a little glum, but he nodded. "I didn't mean that to sound the way it did. But I really do love their ice cream!" I just laughed at him.
"So do I! Let's get some!" We did. After lunch we were both a little tired from all the walking, so we decided to go home. When we got there, I looked at him. "What would you say to a little nap?"
"Hello, little nap! Am I glad to see you!" He was chuckling. "Do you know they have the most abominable coffee at that place we got our lunch at the mall? I really need a cup of the good stuff to get the taste out of my mouth!"
"I should think the ice cream would have done that! But it sounds like a good idea. Then I reallywant a nap!"
We went to the kitchen and warmed up a couple of cups of coffee in the microwave. We sat down at the table. Gregg took a sip of his coffee and looked up at me. "Even warmed up, this is better than that stuff we had at the mall!"
I took a sip of mine. "I guess I'd have to agree with you." We finished our coffee and went to the bedroom. I grabbed the blanket from the shelf in the closet; then we both kicked off our shoes and lay down. Gregg snuggled up to me, pulled my head close, and gave me a long, tender kiss.
"You're so good to me. I don't deserve all that you're doing."
"Yes, you do, but don't get used to it! Once Beau gets things moving, we'll probably be too busy to do more than wave at each other in passing!"
He laughed. "You're probably right!" He snuggled closer and tucked his head into my shoulder. We drifted off to sleep.
This is a great chapter and gives us the opportunity to see them finally showing each other how much they really do love each other.
As always, I'm ready for the next one.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher
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