"Got plans for the weekend?" Sammie asked Tyler. It was the end of Tyler's first week and he and Sammie were having lunch in the park again.
"Maybe I’ll go see the Arch," Tyler replied.
"Yeah, I've never been in it. Have you?"
"Actually, no, I haven't."
Tyler shook his head. "You've lived here all your life and never gone up in the Arch?"
"Or seen the Cardinals Hall of Fame or the International Bowling Museum or toured Busch Brewery."
"That's sad," Tyler said.
"I’ve been to Busch Stadium, even saw McGuire hit a home run. Not everyone can say that."
"I suppose not," Tyler chuckled.
"Yeah, well my only other bragging right would be going to some pretty hot circuit parties."
"What’s a circuit party?" Tyler asked.
Sammie shook his head. "I really am going to have to enroll you in gay life 101. Are you sure you're gay?"
"Yeah, I’m sure. So, what's a circuit party?"
"I'll tell you what, how about I take you to the Arch on Saturday afternoon, then afterwards I'll give you a lesson in gay studies?"
Tyler turned pale, "Um, well, I don't know."
"No, hey, I mean, we can go have coffee or something and talk. I have a couple of books I can loan you."
"Books? On being gay?"
"Yeah, on gay icons, gay culture, that sort of stuff."
"Oh, well, yeah, that sounds okay." Tyler still sounded hesitant.
"Do you want me to pick you up at your place?"
"Okay, I'll give you the address before we leave work tonight." ??????????????
Jarred and Matt were already back at their desks when Sammie and Tyler returned from lunch.
Jarred looked up as they came in. "Hey, Tyler, how about we take you out this weekend, get you drunk and initiate you into the group?"
Sammie saw the color drain from the kid's face and a sheen of sweat break out on his skin, then Tyler turned and bolted to the restroom.
"Way to go, Kramer," Sammie admonished.
"What? What did I say? Jeez, I just asked him to go partying with us." Jarred argued.
“Well it obviously upset him.”
Sammie went to check on Tyler and found him splashing cold water on his face after apparently throwing up his lunch.
"You okay?" Sammie asked.
"Yeah, sorry. I think it must have been something I ate," Tyler tried to shrug it off.
"Jarred didn’t mean anything, really."
"No, it wasn't that." Tyler wasn't a very good liar but Sammie let it slide. "I'm okay, honest. We better get back to work."
Sammie eyed him for a moment, wondering what his secret was.
"Really! It's okay," Tyler stated again.
"Yeah." Sammie reached for the door and held it open as Tyler walked through returning to his desk.
"Hey, sorry, man. I didn't mean to upset you," Jarred offered when Tyler sat back down.
"You didn't. I just ate something at lunch that didn't agree with me," Tyler insisted.
Jarred nodded and turned back to his work, not believing him but not going to argue. The rest of the afternoon was quiet, everyone involved in their own projects, trying to meet deadlines and get out of the office early to enjoy the weekend.
Sammie finished up the project he had been working on and looked up at the clock. It was five-thirty and Jarred and Matt had already left for the weekend but Tyler was still at his desk.
"You about ready to go home?" Sammie asked, noticing Tyler startled at the sound of his voice.
"Um, yeah, almost."
"What time should I come get you tomorrow? Would three be okay?"
"Um, yeah. Three. Let me write down my address." Tyler took a sticky note out of his drawer and jotted down the apartment numbers and street name, then handed it to Sammie, "Do you need directions?"
Sammie looked at the address, "No, I think I can find it." He recognized the street name. Tyler lived in one of the rougher neighborhoods. "So I'll be there at three."
Tyler grinned, "Okay, see you tomorrow." ??????????????
The next afternoon at a few minutes before three Sammie was driving up Tyler’s street, looking for the right apartment building. He noticed Tyler sitting by the curb as he pulled up to the right address "Am I late?" he asked through the passenger side window.
Tyler stood and opened the door to the car, climbing in. "No, just figured I would avoid my roommate this way."
"Oh," Sammie paused, "Don't want me to meet him or him to meet me?"
"Um, I'm not sure he knows I’m gay, I guess I'd rather avoid the hassle. I plan to move out in a few months when the lease is up and there’s no point getting into it." He looked around the interior of Sammie's Jetta. "Nice car."
Sammie pulled out from the curb and drove on, winding through the side streets to the main highway that would take them into the heart of the city and to the Gateway Arch, the tallest national monument. It was a perfect spring day, mild temperatures and a refreshing breeze. They rode with the windows down and the sunroof open, enjoying the fresh air. Even in the city the smells of spring were in the air.
"Oh, here, I brought you a book." Sammie said as he reached into the back seat, pulled out a thick book and handed it to Tyler.
"Oh, cool. What is it?"
"It's a gay almanac, it has pretty much everything since Stonewall. You read that and you'll know more about gay culture than I do."
"You'll let me borrow this?" Tyler seemed surprised at the gesture even though Sammie had told him the day before that he would bring it.
"I'll tell you what, that one you can have."
"You're giving it to me?" He looked like a kid at Christmas.
"It’s just a book," Sammie shrugged. "A used one at that."
"Wow. Thanks, Sammie," Tyler smiled, holding the book in his hands as if it were the most precious gift he had ever received. ??????????????
They spent the next couple of hours taking in the view from the top of the Arch, Sammie marveling that he had lived in the city all this time and never had taken the time to enjoy the spectacle. It truly was an amazing sight.
He watched Tyler as he stood gazing out over the Mississippi River, a mere stream below them, and on over the patchwork quilt of green and brown farmland laying out for miles. At that moment Tyler looked so young and innocent. "Wow," Tyler whispered, too awed to find his voice.
"Yeah," Sammie agreed not sure which view he enjoyed more, the countryside, or Tyler.
After they left the Arch, Sammie suggested they walk to a nearby coffee shop. They ordered a couple of lattes and took a seat in the corner.
Sammie sipped his coffee then asked, "Tyler, when did you first know you were gay?"
Tyler shrugged, "I think I've always known. How about you? When did you know?" Sammie smiled, "In seventh grade. I had a huge crush on the middle school track star, Hank Rogers. He was a year older than me and didn't even know I existed.”
Sammie decided to push a little further. "When did you tell your parents?"
The look on Tyler's face told him he had gone too far.
"I didn't tell them," his eyes darted away, looking out the window. "They just found out."
They were quiet for a while. Sammie wasn't sure where to go from there.
Tyler broke the silence. "Do you ever go out to clubs?"
"Dance clubs? Sure, sometimes. I used to go to a lot of circuit parties, when I was younger."
"You never told me what a circuit party is?" Tyler teased.
Sammie smiled, "Oh, it’s in that book I gave you."
Tyler grinned, "So are there any clubs here?"
"Sure. You’ve never been?"
Tyler shook his head.
"At all ever? Never been to a gay club?" Sammie found this impossible to believe.
"I've never been to any bar at all."
“How did you get through college without going to a bar?” Sammie smiled as he said it.
Tyler shrugged, obviously becoming uncomfortable with the way the conversation was going.
Sammie didn’t press the issue, "Well, we have to change that."
"Yeah?" Tyler’s face brightened.
"Yeah. How about tonight? I'll take you to Henry's. You'll love it"
Tyler suddenly looked apprehensive, "I don't know. I don't do well in crowds."
Sammie eyed him. "Tell you what, we'll go, and if you don't like it, if it’s too crowded, we'll leave, okay?"
Tyler chewed his lip," Yeah, okay."
"So what to do between now and then? Want to go hang out at my apartment?"
"I don't know." Tyler was wary again.
"Listen, Tyler. You can trust me. Okay? I promise I will never try to force you to do anything you don't want to do."
Tyler looked down at his lap. "You must think I'm a freak."
Sammie frowned, "No, I don't think you're a freak. Listen, we all have our demons and hangs ups, I'm just saying, you can trust me."
Tyler looked back up, staring straight into Sammie's eyes, as if he were searching for the truth. "Promise?" He sounded so young and so alone that Sammie wanted to get up and give him a hug. Instead he locked his gaze with Tyler's. "I promise." ??????????????
As they left the coffee shop and drove to Sammie’s apartment, Tyler seemed lost in his own thoughts. As much as Sammie wanted to ask, he doubted Tyler would open up any more just yet.
They pulled up to Sammie’s building and parked the car. “Maybe there’ll be an episode of Seinfeld on TV,” Sammie said as they made their way in the building and up to Sammie’s floor.
Tyler stepped into an entryway that had a high ceiling with a skylight. He stood for a moment, taking it in. Then stepped through the doorway leading into the apartment, Tyler looked at the spacious living room. There was an overstuffed sofa and two matching chairs grouped around a fireplace. A large entertainment center stood off to one side of the room and a massive bookcase off to the other. There were family photos on the mantle. Tyler noticed one picture that was the same as the photo he had seen on Sammie's desk at work that first day along with pictures of someone's parents and some older black and white snapshots of two children playing on a swing set. The entertainment center held the usual television, VCR and DVD player. Also decorating the shelves were various ceramic frog of various sizes and colors. On the walls were two large prints of what appeared to be colored sketches of men. One showed two men facing away from the artist, looking out over a beach. The other print showed the back of a man sitting on the side of a bed, another man reclining on the bed offering comfort to the seated man.
Tyler walked in and looked around. “Cool place,” he said. “Thanks,” Sammie said. “Have a seat, want something to drink? A beer? Soda?”
“Just some water, thanks.”
When Sammie returned from the kitchen Tyler was standing in front of the massive bookcase, which was crammed full of books of every sort.
“See something there that interests you?” he asked as he handed Tyler a glass of water.
“Um, I don’t know. You have so many.”
Sammie shrugged, “I like to read.”
“Yeah? I do too,” Tyler smiled.
“Do you like novels? I have some great gay fiction.”
“I’ve never read any gay novels.”
“Oh, well then, here. Let’s start you out with a Christopher Rice.” Sammie pulled a book titled A Density of Souls from the shelf. “Start with this one and see what you think.”
“I can borrow this?” Tyler acted surprised.
“Sure, take your time and bring it back when you’re through.”
“I promise to take good care of it.”
Sammie shrugged, “It’s just a book.”
Tyler looked over at all the titles on the shelves. “You have so many,” he stated again.
“You can read any you want.”
Tyler sat on the floor in front of the bookcase and began pulling off first one book, then putting it back, and pulling another down, thumbing carefully through each one.
“Do you see another you want to borrow?” Sammie asked, as he took a seat on the sofa closest to where Tyler sat.
“No, not yet. I’ll read this one first. Is it your favorite?”
“Yeah, one of ‘em anyway.”
Sammie turned on the television as Tyler took a seat in one of the overstuffed chairs. "Oh, look. Seinfeld is on,” Sammie said.
"Yeah? Which one is Kramer?" Tyler asked.
"The tall one, with the funky hair."
"Really?" Tyler chuckled, "He doesn't look anything like Jarred."
"Lucky for Jarred."
They watched the rest of the episode in which Jerry can't remember the name of the girl he was dating. After it ended Sammie flipped through the channels until he found a movie Tyler hadn’t seem. It was some lame action adventure from the nineties, but Tyler was completely enthralled by it, so Sammie sat quietly and watched Tyler enjoy the show. When, finally, the credits were rolling across the screen Sammie asked, "You hungry? I could fix us something to eat, or we can go out and grab something on the way to the club."
"Um, which ever is fine with me. Do I need to change clothes before we go to the club?"
"What you have on is fine," Sammie replied with a shy grin.
"You sure? Won't people be all dressed up?"
"Some will, most won't. You'll be fine. Come on, I'll buy you a burger and then we'll head over to the club and let you check it out."
After stopping by a local Mom and Pop greasy spoon and filling up on burgers and fries Sammie pulled into the parking lot across from 'NV' the hottest gay dance club in St. Louis. "Ready?"
Tyler let out a breath, "Yeah, I think."
"Hey, it's early so it shouldn't be too crowded yet, but whenever you’re ready to leave, you just tell me, okay?"
Tyler nodded, "You must think I'm a freak."
Sammie frowned. "No. I don't. I told you, whatever it is, it’s okay. We all have our demons."
Tyler nodded again. "Okay, let’s go."
As they entered the club Tyler was mesmerized by the colored lights and the thump-a-thump-a-thump-a of the bass. Sammie lead him over to the bar. "What's your poison?" he shouted over the music.
Tyler shook his head. "How about just a club soda or something?"
Sammie nodded and turned to the barkeep and shouted his order of a vodka martini, extra dirty and a club soda with a lime twist.
They took a seat at a table just off the dance floor. The place was huge and mostly empty this early in the evening. There were a few men sitting at the bar, and a few more at various tables. On the dance floor were a handful of men moving to the beat.
"Wow," Tyler said as he looked around, taking it all in.
"I still can't believe you’ve never been to a club before," Sammie chuckled, shaking his head.
Tyler only shrugged.
"What is that you're drinking?" Tyler asked, changing the subject.
"A martini. What do you usually drink?"
"I don't. I use to drink beer, but that was ages ago."
Sammie rolled his eyes. "Honey, gay men don't drink beer."
"Oh, then I guess I'll have to try a martini."
Sammie smiled. "If you don't normally drink, I wouldn't suggest you start with one of these," he said holding up his drink. "Maybe we should order you a Smirnoff Ice, or something like that."
"Okay," Tyler smiled.
Sammie motioned to the bartender and gave him their order of another martini and an Ice for Tyler.
When the bottle was brought over to him, Tyler sipped it tentatively.
"Well?" Sammie asked.
"I like it,” Tyler announced and then took a bigger drink.
"You want to dance?" Sammie motioned to the dancers on the floor.
Tyler shook his head. "Not yet."
Sammie nodded, he was content to watch the kid, marveling at his innocence over something Sammie still could not believe he hadn't experienced in college. How did one get through four years of higher education without going out to a club?
Sammie sipped on his drink as they watched the men swaying out on the dance floor. He didn't notice how fast Tyler was drinking until he sat the bottle down empty on the table.
"That tasted good. Can I order another?" Tyler was smiling, obviously already feeling the effects of the alcohol.
"Knock yourself out."
"Do you want another?"
"No, I'm good."
Sammie watched as Tyler walked over to the bar. He had to admit he liked the view. The kid had a nice ass, that was for sure. It then hit Sammie that for once he wasn't thinking about Steve. In fact, he hadn't thought of Steve all day. He supposed that should make him happy, he was moving on, but he wasn't sure how he felt to be letting go of Steve so soon. He really had thought he had found the person he would grow old with, now he was back out in the dating scene.
Tyler came back with his drink. "You look a million miles away," he stated.
Sammie grinned, "Just thinking how much things have changed in the last week, since I met you."
"Yeah? Changed in a good way?"
"Yeah, in a good way."
Sammie offered again, to take Tyler out on the dance floor, but again, Tyler shied away. He was about half way through his second bottle of the Ice when he asked Sammie to point out the bathroom.
"Are you okay?" Sammie asked.
"Yeah, I may have drank those too fast, but I'll be fine." Tyler stood to go off in the direction Sammie had pointed, he was more than a little unsteady on his feet. Sammie stood and grabbed Tyler's arm to steady him.
"Whoa, maybe I should help you there,” Sammie said as he slipped his arm around Tyler's waist and started to lead him to the bathroom.
"I think I need to go home,” Tyler said.
"Okay, you want to go to the restroom first?" Sammie asked.
"No, I think I need some fresh air."
"Fresh air it is."
Sammie lead him out the door and across the street to where they had left the car. "Feeling better now?"
"Yeah, the air is helping."
Sammie opened the car door for him. "Still want to go home?"
"Yeah, if you don't mind. I'm sorry, I guess I should have stuck with the club soda."
"It's okay, don't sweat it." Sammie fastened the seatbelt around Tyler. He walked around, getting into the car and starting up the engine. "Just let me know if you are going to get sick so I can pull over."
"I don't think I'll be sick,” Tyler said, closing his eyes as he laid his head back on the headrest.
"You need me to help you up to the house?" The sound of Sammie's voice caused Tyler's eyes to flutter open. He looked out the window to see his apartment building.
"No, I'll be okay. Um, thanks for today. Really, I had fun,” he fumbled with the door handle.
"Here, don't forget these,” Sammie said, pulling the books from the back seat.
"Oh, thanks." Tyler hesitated for a moment, then turned and pressed his lips to Sammie's.
It was over almost before Sammie even realized it had happened, then Tyler was out the door and on his way to the apartment building. Sammie waited until Tyler was safely inside, before he pulled out away from the curb and made his way home. ??????????????
Sunday afternoon Sammie decided to drop in on Lisa and Terri.
“Sammie!” Terri exclaimed as she opened the door and pulled Sammie into the apartment. “How are you?”
“Good, just stopped by to see my two favorite lesbians.”
“Sammie?” Lisa came walking into the room from the kitchen. “I thought I heard your voice. How are you? Come on in. have a seat.”
The three sat down in the living room. “So how is that cutie from work?” Lisa asked.
Sammie smiled. “He’s good I think, maybe a little hung over today. I spent most of yesterday with him.”
Lisa looked surprised. “You did? Wow, you don’t waste any time. That’s great Sammie.”
“Is it? I’m not so sure.”
“Why? What happened?” Lisa asked.
“Nothing, it’s just that, I don’t know, he’s hiding something. There is something going on there, and I can’t figure it out.”
“Have you tried asking him?” Terri tried.
“No, it’s not that simple.”
“Oh, Sammie, maybe it’s nothing. You are always so dramatic,” Lisa said.
“He asked me to take him to a dance club last night because he had never been to one. He had never seen most of the shows we watched yesterday on television. He says he loves to read, but had never heard of Christopher Rice or William Mann.”
“Maybe he’s not gay,” Terri suggested.
“But that’s just it, he is. And he’s not closeted either. He knows who he is and is totally comfortable with it.”
“And you are afraid of getting hurt,” Lisa stated the obvious.
Sammie looked at her, then rolled his eyes.
“So walk away,” she said.
“I can’t, the kids needs a friend. He doesn’t know anyone here. He has no contact with his parents. It’s like he is totally alone in the world. I can’t just run away because I’m scared.”
“Oh Sammie, you ol’ softie. Then do what you do best,” Lisa smiled at her friend.
“Be his friend and wait for him to open up to you.”
“Yeah. I suppose so.”
Lisa eyed him for a moment, making sure he was in agreement. “Not to change the subject, but have you seen Steve lately?”
“We had dinner last Friday.”
“Oh?” she raised her eyebrows. “How did that go?”
Sammie frowned, “Okay I guess. I asked him to come home, he said no, but he did tell me where he is staying.”
“Where’s that?” she asked.
“With a girl he works with. I met her at the last Christmas party. She seemed nice enough.”
“Why did he want to see you?”
“He wants us to be friends I guess. Or maybe he felt guilty, or wanted to check up on me. I don’t know. I’ll tell you one thing, he didn’t look good.”
“No? How so?” Lisa asked.
“He’s lost weight and his color didn’t look right. I tried to talk to him about it, but he would dismiss anything I said.” He paused for a moment as if gathering his thoughts. “Terri, I was wondering, you two always hit it off. Would you contact him and see if he’d agree to have lunch with you or something? Just check on him for me, to see how he’s doing.”
“Of course I will Sammie. Give me his cell number, I’ll call him later tonight,” Terri replied.
“Thanks, I’d appreciate it.”
“Aw, Sammie, that’s what friends are for,” Terri said.
© Melina Catts 2005