Alone in this room...
Hand pressed to the cold dark screen
What did I do wrong?
Jerry returned to his old life, living at home in his house and commuting to his job. He hadn't left any clothing or personal articles at Matt's apartment that would need to be retrieved, and he didn't see Matt again.
August came and was about to end.
One afternoon, out of nowhere, Luca showed up in Jerry's office.
Jerry smiled warmly to him. "Hi, schoolteacher! What are you doing way out here in farm country?"
"I saw Matt before he moved to L. A. He told me you're single again."
"Like to go next door for coffee?"
"Actually,we don't need to. I brought refreshments for us. A picnic, really. We could go to Letchworth with it, if you like, and inspect old Indian remains and look at the falls on the Genesee."
At first Jerry wanted to rebel against this suggestion. It was too well-organized in advance--too much like the way that Matt had been accustomed to kidnap Jerry to Buffalo.
Luca continued, "You could show a city boy what life is like out here where you live."
Jerry had to admit that Letchworth was part of his own territory, so it wasn't exactly a kidnapping. There was something about Luca and the way he asked that made Jerry respond differently than he had to Matt.
"Okay. Let's go. I don't have any appointments today and Annie can cover the office."
Luca grinned, and relaxed.
Letchworth is a New York State park, about twenty miles long but only a few miles wide. It covers a scenic stretch of the Genesee River as it tumbles over the Onondaga Escarpment in a series of waterfalls. The river runs from south to north through a gorge that is eventually 550 feet deep. Although the river is not nearly as wide or as powerful as the Niagara, the park is lovely, green, and forested.
In Luca's car, Jerry laughed. "To tell truth, I can't show you around Letchworth. We'll have to figure it out together. I've never been there."
"What? Never at all?"
"You live in Castile, right?"
"Yeah, I know. It's a main entrance to the park. Look, I'm just getting used to the idea of living home."
"How long have you been back?"
"Six months. Is that long enough I should get oriented?"
"You could make a tentative start."
"Hmm. Ya think?"
"Okay," Luca said decisively, "so we'll improvise."
"I was in the park once before. We improvised then too."
"In college, my buddy Roy and I drove down from the city. We got there and we were so inspired by what we saw that we wanted to picnic, cook out, but we hadn't brought anything. So we went back into town. It was actually Castile." This fact elicited more giggles from both Jerry and Luca. "We picked up some pop, a loaf of bread, and some pre-formed hamburger meat. By the time we got back in the park it was dark and deserted, but we parked at a shelter with a fireplace, next to the Lower Falls. We gathered wood and made a fire. Of course we had to flip the burgers with our fingers, and that turned out to burn them a lot more than we'd planned. But, with a lot of yelping and joking around, and after dropping one burger on the ground, we got it done. It was really barbaric eating burgers on bread with our greasy hands and no plates and drinking our pop. But it was great, too. Being alone in the darkness, with the smell of the smoke, listening to the sound of the falls and knowing how good it all had looked in the light. Pretty damned fine for clueless city kids."
"Wow, and I thought we farm boys led sheltered lives."
"You apparently do, but we city boys also need to get out more."
By now, Luca and Jerry had arrived at the Mount Morris entrance at the north end of the park. They wound slowly down the long park road. As they sat together in the car and when they got in and out to view the various overlooks for the river and gorge, they didn't touch or flirt. But when they looked each other in the eyes they increasingly wanted, and found, contact.
Luca continued, "I didn't grow up completely insular. The YMCA camp I went to was out in this area, and a lot of the Cub Scout and Boy Scout camps."
"You were in the scouts? We wouldn't be caught dead in them. Way too corny."
"I liked it. The Y taught me how to swim. I got to go to camp. We used to have fund drives where we sold candy to pay our camp fees and to buy our equipment. The camping was maybe only a few days at a time with the scouts--or a few weeks with the Y camp--but in memory it seems like I spent all my summers with some group of buddies exploring, scrambling along those creeks with the smooth, layered slabs of slate on the bottom."
"Yeah, I know those creeks."
"Later, when I was sixteen, my mother took a job for the summer as a camp nurse and I got to be a junior counselor so my kid sister could be a camper and ride horses. On our nights off, we counselors would want to go into the bars in the neighboring villages to eat dinner and have a few illegal beers, maybe do some bowling. It was easy to catch a ride to Java, or Strykersville, or Wales Center, but almost impossible to get a ride back at midnight, or maybe one, two, three in the morning--so we accepted that we'd be walking for several miles along the empty road, talking and looking at the night sky. I loved it, really miss it."
"Hmm. I know about real estate values in those towns. I've driven through them plenty, and walked on roads like the one you're talking about--NY 78. But only for some purpose on each occasion, to go someplace I had to. I've never given thought to being there for its own sake."
"It was great."
Jerry still didn't have any clear picture why he'd moved back to the house in Castile, or why he'd decided not to sell it. But he has happy that Luca was open to interest in the world that Jerry seemed involved in, the world that Matt saw no value to.
They arrived at the Lower Falls. When Luca took an old-fashioned picnic basket from the trunk, Jerry looked at him in surprise and they both laughed. Jerry said, "You sure do know how to give a guy the full treatment."
"We try to please." Luca closed the trunk and led off toward the picnic area. He pointed to one of the shelters. "There's probably where my buddy and I cooked the burgers. You and I don't need to cook, so we can take a table on the grass closer to the river."
At the edge of the picnic area there was a low stone wall separating them from the cliff face that fell down to the gorge. They selected a table near it, partly in sun and partly shaded by the cool pine trees of the picnic grove.
Luca opened the basket to spread a red-and-white checked cloth cover over the table. He took out the other items, starting with some cloth napkins that matched the tablecloth, and then some hand-painted Italian plates and some silverware.
"We start with an antipasto salad." It had olives, various kinds of beans, and vegetables. "With a bottle of Barolo. And this bread is called 'ciabatta.'"
The bread was a long, flat loaf. Luca broke off chunks of it with his hands and arranged them on a plate in the center. Jerry tried a piece and found the inside was chewy and tasty and the outside even chewier. Luca deftly used a corkscrew to open the bottle, which had a handwritten label, and then he poured wine into two crystal goblets. It complemented the ciabatta perfectly, and both contrasted nicely with the antipasto. There was also a bottle of San Pellegrino mineral water that Luca served in glasses and that they could drink to clear their taste buds and quench their thirst.
Jerry was surprised--at the food, which was of a kind far from what he was used to--but even more at the thoughtfulness that Luca had obviously put into this meal, and the flourish with which he served each item.
Luca looked at the mildly puzzled expression on Jerry's face. "Do you like Italian?"
Jerry nodded affirmatively. "Yes, apparently I do like Italian. Very much."
"Good. I'm relieved. In that case, two more items." After taking out a cutting board and a sharp knife, Luca produced a cheese and a kind of salami, very hard, pressed together from large chunks of dried meat and fat. "The cheese is imported provolone," he said, pronouncing the name with four syllables. He rolled the 'r' lightly on his tongue, as he had earlier when saying, "Barolo."
"This must be the kind of Italian food you have in the city. In the country here, 'Italian' just means spaghetti."
"I don't serve food like this a lot. In the city, it would be too typical among people trying to pretend upscale sophistication."
"See. I'm not even aware enough to see it as sophisticated. I just know I'm enjoying it--and I'm touched by the trouble you obviously went to."
"I'm glad you like it. I figured that you would. It wasn't really any trouble, but I only serve these things to friends. I'm not upscale pretentious; this is the kind of food I grew up with."
"That's probably why your name is 'Luca.'"
"My family still has relatives in Italy. When my mother, Costanza, left the south of Italy to come to America, her brother Paolo moved north instead. He married a redheaded Milanese lady--unlike my mother who had to come here in order to find her redhead, an Irishman, so that I could have a mixed-up Italian-Irish name like 'Luca Fallon.' Actually, according to ancient history, it's probably the same distant redheaded Celtic ancestors both for my aunt and for my father. Uncle Paolo has an apartment in the city but he also bought a farmhouse with a vineyard about 100 kilometers away in the Piemonte so he could take his family away from the city heat to enjoy summer in the country. Unfortunately, my cousins grew into teenagers and they like to spend their summers with their friends in the excitement of big-city Milan. So Uncle Paolo waits for my visits from America because I beg him to take me to the farm. This bottle of Barolo comes from his vineyard and the salami is the kind he would serve me."
"Thank you, Luca. Thanks for sharing yourself."
Together they rinsed off the dishes under the outdoor faucets that the park provided, they packed everything into the basket, and they put the basket into the trunk. As they started back toward the picnic table and the path to the falls, they spontaneously took each other's hands. This was the first time they had touched and they stopped to enjoy the gesture and look at each other.
Their faces were close. Jerry had recognized in a general way that Luca was considered handsome; now he paid attention in detail, in particular, to how beautiful Luca was. He looked at the blue, clear eyes that Luca must have gotten from his Irish father's family--and the contrasting dark, deep brown, hair he inherited from the Italian family of his mother and his uncle. The hair looked marvelously soft. Where it was short, just above the ears and at the neck, it was like fur, and Jerry wanted to brush his fingers through it. The dark hair went with a 5 o'clock shadow that now, in the late afternoon, was visible. Its stubble seemed masculine and it emphasized the softness and the lovely, varied coloration of the skin beneath.
Jerry stopped his survey of Luca's face. Looking at the cheek, he bent forward. He gently kissed it, abraded his lips a little on the stubble, and tasted the skin.
Luca smiled. "Thank you, Jerry."
They walked to the falls, and Jerry wondered about this man.
"I'm embarrassed, Luca."
"I've been so self-centered that I haven't even asked what subject you teach in high school."
"We've talked much more about me than about you, so you can't call it 'self-centered.'"
"I suppose. But I do need to stop being touchy about high school. Someday I've either got to go back and graduate or else just get over it and forget about it."
"Well, if you like, there are open places in my school. I even have some empty seats. Your fellow students might be a bit younger, but . . . "
They laughed and Jerry answered. "I suppose adjusting to my existing hangups would be a better alternative than going back to school. I mean, no matter what has happened previously, I've eventually got to admit I'm grown up."
"The subject I teach is mathematics."
Jerry gave a cry of pain. "Oh, no. Math? My very worst, all-time paranoia-inducing subject. Stab my cold, dead carcass directly in the heart."
They laughed again.
Luca said, "Hey, the world needs math teachers. How else would we keep kids miserable?"
"You really love it, don't you? Math?"
"Funny thing. My math teachers always claimed that too. I never believed them for a minute. But you're serious. I can tell from the look in your eyes, even joking about it. Maybe sometimes you can try to explain what it means to you."
"I'd like that a lot. If you're really sure it would be okay."
"From you, it would be."
They had walked to the Lower Falls and then back to Luca's car. By now, in their progress down the park road, they had passed the Castile entrance. They still continued south, though, and in a short distance they came to the Upper Falls. They got out of the car and found a relatively secluded place along the overlook path to stand close to each other in the gathering darkness and look down at the falls and also up the sides of the gorge to the long railroad bridge that spanned the wide strip of open twilight sky above them.
The comparative lack of other people again made it possible for Luca to place his hand on Jerry's as it rested on the low stone wall edging the path. Jerry responded to the warmth of holding hands together in this way; and as he enjoyed the evening air and the pervading sense of quiet he thought how much he liked Luca and trusted him. Jerry knew he'd already begun to feel this on the earlier night, several months ago now, when they'd first met. Still, despite this, he wouldn't of his own will have sought Luca out for a day like today. He wondered why he made himself so difficult to reach, and he felt grateful that Luca, at least, had taken the initiative to get them together.
Still not taking his hand from under Luca's, Jerry turned part way toward him. "Want to head back to Castile?"
"Yeah. I know a farmhouse there where we could get a quick bite. And perhaps accommodations for the night." Jerry turned still more, pushing Luca back from the wall they'd been leaning over so that now Jerry faced Luca and could press his body in close.
Luca responded. "Watch it, Mac. Doing stuff like this could get you laid." They laughed together, but it was a minute before Luca followed up his words by pulling away. "Seriously, Jerry, I hoped we'd go slow."
"You don't want me?"
Luca kissed Jerry's lips. "Did my cock feel unready just now when yours was against it? I do want sex with you. But I want something else too. I'm trying to send you a clear message. I didn't drive here today because I heard you were single and thought you'd be an easy lay. I like you for yourself. I like you a lot, and I want to get to know you better."
Jerry was busy coping with the warm tingle that Luca left persisting on his lips and along the whole front of his body. He lacked excess thinking capacity for simultaneous analysis of Luca's words. "Meaning that I'll have to wait for the second date to get laid?"
"Maybe even later than that. I can get laid easy enough. But you've got something way more important to me, and I want it. I'm willing to wait for it."
"Wow! You mean I'm lusting for a star student at Miss Prim's Finishing School? How many dates does she say are required?" Jerry leaned in for another kiss.
"I don't know. I'll have to check personally with Miss Prim on that one and get back to you later."
After another kiss, this one with significant tongue, Jerry stepped back and sighed. "You're right. I want more than sex from you too. A lot more."
Jerry looked into Luca's eyes with appreciation of the point that Luca was trying to make, and he saw Luca look back at him with recognition.
Jerry said, "So, we should have more dates?"
"As nice as today's? All the time."
Instead of speaking his agreement, Jerry smiled warmly to Luca.
Finally, Jerry said, "Well, as a practical matter, when would we like the next date to be? And where? We unfortunately live pretty far apart."
Luca took Jerry's hand and started them walking back toward the car. "At your house."
"You drove all the way out here today. I should be the one to drive to you."
"It'd be nice to see the house you're so stubborn about. Talk about you this time instead of me."
Jerry thought it was funny that the house--which he still didn't even know how long he wanted--had taken on an independent, demanding life, not only in his own mind but for the people who knew him."The house isn't much to see. Hated it when I was growing up, and now it's fallen into really bad shape. My mother neglected it for years. I'd have to work like crazy to get the dining room okay to eat in. We don't want to eat in the kitchen like I do, staring at the rust in the linoleum. The dining room probably hasn't been used since before my father died."
They got into Luca's car and he started driving back to Jerry's office in Batavia.
Luca said, "I don't want you to go to a lot of trouble."
It occurred to Jerry that the house could be a reason to make a gesture that he wanted to be serious--like the gesture that Luca had just made to him by planning today's picnic. "It's great to have a date with you as a reason to fix the house up."
"Good! So, do you want me to come out on Saturday?"
"Sunday. Give me an extra day to work on it. Or, wait--summer's over. You probably need to start being at school early on Monday mornings?"
'Er, uh . . . "
"Oh, no. I get it. This is going to be another one of these sex-free, get-acquainted dates. You'll be going back the same evening instead of staying overnight."
"Jerry, let's just keep learning to enjoy each other. I like you so amazingly much."
Jerry leaned across the front seat of the car and kissed Luca's cheek. "This is going to require mental readjustment. It doesn't fit the usual categories."
"I've done the usual several times, with guys like Matt; and now they've vanished out of my life."
Another kiss on Luca's cheek. "I didn't say you were wrong."
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