When Sammie came back from lunch, Tyler was still at his desk. "Please tell me you haven't been sitting here the whole time. You did take a lunch break, right?"
"Yeah, I mean, I brought a sandwich, I just ate it here."
Sammie shook his head. "Next time at least walk over to the park. Get some fresh air and a change of scenery."
Tyler looked down, "Yeah, okay."
"How are you coming on that project? Am I giving you too much too soon?"
"Um, no. I don't think so. I think I understand where you want it to go."
Sammie nodded, "So what brought you to St. Louis? I mean other than to get out of West Plains.”
Tyler shrugged, "I don't know, just ended up here I guess."
Sammie frowned; this kid was great at vague answers. "This your first job since college?"
"Um, yeah. I was working as a waiter until last week when my pa... I mean when I got the job here."
Sammie noticed the apparent slip, or almost slip, but didn't question it. "Do you have friends here? Relatives?"
"Um, no. Why?"
"No reason, just thought maybe you moved here with some friends from college or to be near a relative or something."
"Oh, no, just moved here, that’s all."
“Do you live alone?” Sammie asked.
“No, I have a roommate but he’s not really a friend, I mean we don’t hang out or anything. We just share the rent.”
Sammie nodded. This conversation wasn't going anywhere. Whatever secrets this kid had, he wasn't giving them up that easily. ??????????????
"So Tyler, what do you do for fun?" It was later that afternoon and Jarred was stretching in his chair, taking a break from his project.
"I don't know," Tyler shrugged.
"The three of us get together every once in awhile and take in a move or go drink a few beers. Maybe you'll come with us next time, or maybe we can take in a Cardinal’s game."
"Yeah, maybe." He continued to work at his computer, obviously not wanting to engage in the conversation.
"Do you have a girlfriend?" Jarred asked.
"A boyfriend?" Sammie heard himself ask.
"You think he's gay?" Jarred shot out before Tyler could even respond.
"You think he's straight?" Sammie challenged.
They both looked at Tyler, who only shrugged and turned back to his work. Damn, this kid wasn't giving anything up. ??????????????
Tyler wasn’t completely anti-social. He occasionally did try to make conversation with his coworkers.
"So Sammie, everyone in here has a nickname. What’s yours?" Tyler asked as he sat back down at his desk after going to the vending machine for a soda.
"His is Mary," Jarred offered.
"Mary? As in Mary Tyler Moore?"
"Oh, hey, he gets one," Jarred turned to high five Sammie.
"Okay, but why Mary? Are you a big fan of the show?" Tyler asked Sammie.
"No, because he’s a big poof," Jarred answered for him.
"Mary is a nickname for a lot of gay men," Sammie explained with a shrug. "It’s usually something we call each other, but I let these breeders slide."
Tyler nodded his head. "I see," then smiling, "Mary." He turned back to his computer screen and started back to work.
“We need to come up with one for you,” Sammie offered. “Any suggestions?”
Tyler blushed and shook his head.
“I know, Farm Boy,” Jarred threw out.
Tyler shook his head, “I never lived on a farm.”
“How about Haystack?” Matt asked.
“Haystack? What the hell, Milton?” Sammie chucked.
Sammie glanced over at Tyler. “It may take a few days but we’ll come up with a nickname for you.”
“I know, Rhoda!” Jarred exclaimed. “You know, Mary’s sidekick.”
Sammie rolled his eyes. “You can do better than that.”
“Giddy up,” Matt said as he turned back to his computer. ??????????????
"So did you get anymore info on the new guy?" Lisa was on the phone with Sammie later that evening.
"Not really. He clams up any time the conversation turns personal."
"You still think he’s gay?"
"I don't know. He’s a mystery. He seems so innocent and naive. He’d never heard of Seinfeld, how can anyone not have heard of Seinfeld?" he chuckled. "It's almost like he has been kept out on the farm, except he said he never lived on a farm. Or maybe he's Mormon or something. He said he went to college at Penn Valley; that’s in Kansas City isn't it? That’s as big as St. Louis. But there’s something in his eyes that makes me think he’s not all that naive. Sheltered maybe, but something has happened to him that has made him hard. He doesn’t trust people, he seems closed off."
"You like him don't you?" she asked.
"I don't know, I just met him, I mean, he's cute and all, but I think he intrigues me. I want to understand him," he replied.
"It's more than that."
"Yeah, there is something about him that makes me want to take care of him. Fucked up, isn't it?"
"Maybe. No harm in being his friend," she said.
"So how do I find out if he’s gay?"
"Duh, ask if he has a girlfriend."
"Jarred already did that. Then I asked if he had a boyfriend. He didn't really answer, but he didn't freak out that I insinuated he was gay."
Lisa was quiet for a moment, thinking. "Ask him what his favorite movie is?"
"You can tell a lot about a person by what movies they like."
Sammie rolled his eyes. "Really."
"I'm serious, ask him and see."
"Maybe I will."
“Heard from Steve lately?” It had become a common question.
“Not since the argument at the restaurant.”
“Still don’t know where he’s staying?”
“Maybe you should call…” she started.
“NO,” he interrupted, “No, I’m not calling him. He left, he needs to call me.”
Lisa sighed. “Yeah, okay. I just thought…”
“I know, you’re only worried about me. I’m okay, really.” He was getting so tired of telling everyone that. If he said it often enough, one of these days maybe it would be true. ??????????????
The next morning Sammie came in to work a little early, hoping to get a chance to talk with Tyler before Jarred and Matt arrived. As he walked by his boss's office, Tom called out to him. "Sammie? A minute?"
"Sure, Tom. What's up?" Sammie stepped into the office and stood leaning against the doorframe.
"How's Tyler working out?"
"Too soon to tell for sure, but he seems pretty sharp."
Tom nodded, "I hired him as a favor to a close friend. I hope this works out."
"I hope it does too. We can use another good engineer." Sammie pushed off the doorframe and started to leave Tom's office.
"Oh, by the way, he’ll be coming in a few hours late today. Actually he’ll be late every Tuesday, but it’s already been cleared with management, so don't sweat it."
Sammie eyed his boss. "I see." He wanted to ask, but could tell Tom wasn't going to say anymore. "Okay, well, I better get to work."
"Yeah, thanks Sammie." ??????????????
Tyler came in that morning at ten. He said hello to his coworkers and sat down at his desk, busying himself with getting started on the project he had been working on the day before.
Jarred was the first to speak up. "So, where have you been?" He smiled as he said it, Sammie already having told them what Tom had said.
Tyler looked up, his eyes big and his face flushed. "Um, I had an appointment. Tom said it was okay." He seemed defensive.
"Hey, hey. It's okay. I was just giving you a hard time," Jarred put up his hand in a gesture of surrender.
Tyler looked at his three co-workers and frowned. "Listen, I have a prior obligation every Tuesday morning. I cleared it with Tom when he hired me, so I'll be late on Tuesdays."
"It's okay Tyler. He doesn’t care. Really, Jarred was just giving you a hard time," Sammie said.
Tyler nodded and turned back to his computer.
Sammie watched him for a while; the kid was so defensive and wary of people. What happened to him to make him so distrustful? Sammie decided to try to lighten the mood.
"So Tyler, what's your favorite movie?" he asked.
"Um, I don't know."
Jarred jumped in, "Do you watch many movies?
"Oh yeah, I love them. Movie night was always my favorite night of the week."
Tyler seemed to hesitate. "Um, yeah, in college. We had one night a week that we would all watch a movie."
"Oh, oh, don't tell me, let me guess," Jarred interrupted. "You guys probably watched American Pie, right?"
Tyler shook his head, obviously not knowing once again what Jarred was talking about.
"Oh come on, ‘warm apple pie’? ‘Double click your mouse’?"
“’They call me Nova, as in Casanova’.” Milton rang in.
"Would you guys shut up and let the guy talk?" Sammie said. Turning back to Tyler, "So what kind of movies do you like? Drama? Comedy? Horror?"
"Hmm, probably musicals, but I like dramas too."
"Musicals? Really?" Jarred sounded surprised.
"Name some films you like," Sammie urged.
"Well… I liked In Cold Blood. Oh, and The Birds,” he paused, thinking, “but I think my favorite was Paint Your Wagon."
Jarred, Matt, and Sammie, all sat blinking their eyes at Tyler, wondering where this kid had come from.
“Those are really old,” Jarred finally said.
Tyler shrugged and turned back to his computer. ??????????????
Wednesday at noon Sammie walked down to the corner diner and placed an order for two burgers, fries and a couple cans of soda to go. He then walked around the corner in hopes that Tyler would be at the park. Sure enough he saw him sitting on a bench reading a book. He walked over and sat down next to him on the bench. "Here," Sammie said, handing him a can of pop.
"Oh. Thanks." Tyler looked up from his book in surprise.
"Have you eaten yet? I bought you a burger and fries." Sammie opened the bag and began pulling out the food.
"Wow, thanks. You didn't have to do that." Tyler took the hamburger being offered and took a big bite.
Sammie shrugged, "Thought maybe you would like some company."
They ate in silence watching the people walk by. The Arch stretching up to the sky in the background. Tyler looked down at his lap. "I'm not fitting in too well, am I?"
Sammie turned to him. "No, you’re doing fine. Really Tyler. Don't let Jarred get to you. He doesn't know when to shut his mouth."
"I'm not too up on pop culture and I’m not very comfortable around people. I was hoping since this was a smaller office that it might be easier," he sighed, "I don't think it's working out too well."
"Tyler, you’re doing fine. Really."
"I’m gay, you know."
"Yeah, I know you’ve been fishing, trying to get me to say."
"It’s no big deal. Jarred and Matt are both cool with it,” he paused, “so do you have a boyfriend?"
"No. Not anymore."
Sammie nodded, "Are you out?"
"Yeah, do your friends and family know you're gay?"
"Oh. Yeah, my parents know. They don't approve, but they know." Sammie noticed he didn’t mention any friends.
"Is that why you’re in St. Louis, because of your parents?"
"That and other things."
“Want to talk about it?”
“No. It’s nothing, really. We should probably get back to work.” ??????????????
Friday night Sammie had just walked in the door from work when the phone rang. "Hello?"
"Hi Sammie. How are you?"
"Steve? I'm good, how are you?" It had been three weeks since their last conversation, the one about Sammie dealing with his anger.
"I'm good. Missing you."
"Yeah? Why?" Sammie challenged.
"Why?" Steve was confused.
"Why are you missing me? Why aren't you here with me?"
"I don't know," Steve said quietly. "Have dinner with me?"
"That Italian restaurant you like."
"You mean Antonio's?"
"Give me half an hour." ??????????????
Sammie saw him when he walked in. Steve was sitting at a table off in the corner. The first thing Sammie noticed was how thin he had become. The second was how pale he was. The third was how good it was to see him.
"Steve," he said warmly as he approached the table and took a seat.
Sammie sat down at the table and looked across at his ex-lover. He wanted to reach out and touch his arm, but refrained. "Was there particular reason that you wanted to see me?" he finally asked.
"No, I just want us to be friends. I miss you so much, Sammie."
"Then come home," Sammie reasoned.
Steve shook his head. "I wish it were that simple."
"Why isn't it? I don't understand Steve."
"I know you don't, but let’s not rehash it all again. Let’s just enjoy each other's company. Okay?"
Sammie sighed, "Okay."
The waiter walked up to their table and took their order of salad and fettuccini. Sammie waited until he walked away, then asked Steve, "Will you at least tell me where you’re staying?"
Steve smiled, "With a friend from work. Her name is Teresa. Her roommate moved out and she needed help with rent," he shrugged. "You met her last year at the Christmas party."
"I remember her. She seemed nice."
"You've lost weight."
"Yeah. Too much. Are you eating?"
"Yeah, I'm fine, really. Only my head is fucked up."
"You look so pale. Your color isn't good either, Steve, you look yellow, are you sure you’re eating?"
"I'm fine, it's just stress. Now quit the mother hen act." Steve reached across and touched Sammie's arm.
"I still love you, you know," Sammie whispered.
"And I still love you."
"Come home, Steve."
"Maybe I will, just give me some more time."
© Melina Catts 2005