Slowly Sammie began putting himself back together. He resisted the urge to call Steve on his cell phone or at work. The man said he needed time; Sammie would try to give it to him.
Steve had called once again, but the conversation had gone badly when Sammie started crying and begging Steve to come home. Steve had grown frustrated, hung up and since then Sammie had received a few cryptic e-mails, his reply to them always the same. Come home.
Steve had been gone less than a week when their friend, Joel, called.
“Troy and I were wondering if you and Steve wanted to come over for dinner this weekend,” Joel had asked.
Sammie was at a loss as to what to say. “Um, Steve’s not here,” he started.
“Oh, well, you want to ask him and call us back?”
“No, I mean, he left, Joel. It’s just me here now.”
“Oh, my God. You mean you two broke up?” Sammie could hear the shock in Joel’s voice.
“Well, I’m not sure what we are, really, but Steve moved out last week.”
“Shit, Sammie, I’m sorry. God, I didn’t know, I had no idea.” Joel started apologizing.
“I know, it’s okay,” Sammie’s voice was quiet.
“Are you all right?”
“No, but I’m doing better.”
“So, do you want to talk about what happened?”
Sammie sighed. “I wish I knew, he said he needed to go find himself.”
Joel was silent, what was there to say to that? Finally, “So do you want to come over this weekend?”
“Oh, Joel, I’m afraid I’m not very good company right now.”
“This isn’t about you being good company, this is about you needing to be around your friends. Now what time would be good on Friday?” Sammie knew Joel wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.
Friday night Sammie arrived at Joel and Troy's apartment at seven as promised.
Troy opened the door and pulled Sammie into the room, and into a big hug. "How are you doing baby?" he asked.
Sammie smiled, albeit weakly, "I'm surviving, I'll be okay." He hated everyone making a fuss.
"Of course you will," Troy grinned and patted Sammie's arms. "Oh, where are my manners? Here, let me take your jacket. Come on in here and have a seat. Can I get you something to drink?"
"Just a soda. Thanks, Troy." Sammie made his way over to the sofa and sat down as Troy hung up his jacket and took off to the kitchen to retrieve his drink.
Moments later he was back carrying a can of pop and a glass full of ice. "Here you go, dear," he said as he handed them to Sammie.
"What’s he cooking in there? It smells great." Joel was an excellent cook.
"Lasagna with fresh garlic bread," Troy answered just as Joel called out to them from the kitchen.
"Come on in to the dinning room you two. This is almost ready."
They spent the rest of the evening trying to pretend everything was fine and that it wasn’t awkward without Steve. Sammie thought the night would never end. Finally, he saw the clock read eleven and he felt he could excuse himself without seeming rude. There were many nights when he and Steve would sit up with Joel and Troy discussing the world's problems into the wee hours. Tonight they had run out of things to say.
Sammie left, promising to call if he needed anything, knowing that it was a promise he wouldn't keep; yet he was grateful for their friendship and did appreciate them reaching out to him.
The following Sunday Sammie was at home watching a rerun of Trading Spaces when someone knocked at his door.
“Who is it?” he asked.
“Lisa and Terri. Open up, we brought dinner,” Lisa answered from the hallway.
Sighing to himself, Sammie opened the door. “What are you two doing?” he smiled as he let them in.
“Coming over to have dinner with a friend,” Terri replied. “It’s not like we thought we could get you to go out.”
Sammie took the bags from them, peeking in to see what they had brought. “What is it?” he asked, carrying then over to the table.
“Nothing fancy, chicken and noodles. Oh, and some salad,” Terry answered while retrieving some plates and silverware from the kitchen.
“So, how’s work?” Lisa began making small talk.
“Augh, we are so busy. I’ve been swamped. They are talking of hiring someone to help me with the workload. I just hope they do it, you know, not just talk about it.”
The three friends sat down to the table and began filling their plates. “Have you heard from Steve lately?”
Terri shot her a look.
“What? He should talk about it, it’s healthy.” Lisa turned to Sammie, “So?”
“Not since last week. He e-mailed, telling me about some psychic he went to see. She told him he was about to embark on a great journey. Whatever that’s suppose to mean. Oh, and he’s studying yoga under some great master,” he paused, “It’s like I don’t even know him.”
“Oh, Sammie. Maybe he’ll come to his senses soon,” Terri said. Sammie knew she was hoping they’d get back together. She had always liked Steve.
Sammie nodded, “I hope so, but I’m starting to wonder.”
“I think you have given him enough time for all this nonsense. I say move on,” Lisa argued. Lisa had always been blunt and quick to dismiss, especially when it came to Sammie and his lovers.
He sighed, “I wish it were that easy, Lisa. I still love him.”
“I know you do, hon, but you deserve better than this.”
“I can’t just dismiss us that easily. We were together for six years, six really good years. I have so many memories. I mean, Steve use to be the sweetest, most thoughtful person. I don’t know what’s going on with him now, but I can’t give up. Not yet.”
A month after Steve moved out Sammie ran into him at a restaurant. He was out for a late lunch with Joel and Troy. The waiter had just brought over their entrée when Steve walked in with two women and Sammie noticed them right away. One woman had long blonde hair, the other was a redhead. All three were dressed casually in jeans and tees and Sammie noticed this simply because Steve never wore tee shirts, at least not out in public. He complained they were too sloppy. The other thing Sammie noticed was how thin and pale Steve looked.
Steve didn’t see Sammie until he walked by their table. His eyes grew wide and his face broke into a huge smile. “Sammie! Oh my God. How are you?”
The two women he had been following stopped and turned to see who Steve was talking to. The maitre de also stopped as he noticed his charges were no longer trailing.
Steve realized he was holding up the group. “You two go on, I’ll catch up,” he instructed. The blonde looked as if she wanted to argue but instead shrugged her shoulders and turned to follow their attendant to the table.
Sammie still hadn’t spoken.
“Troy, Joel, how are you guys?” Steve sounded so glad to see them, like they were long lost friends, not people he had turned his back on.
After an awkward moment, Joel was the first to speak. “We’re good, Steve. How are you?”
“I’m great, just great.”
“Who is that you’re with?” Sammie asked, finally finding his voice.
“Oh, they’re Melissa and Sara,” he offered no more explanation.
Sammie only nodded, then turned back to his meal, keeping his face blank, void of any emotion.
Steve got the hint, he was being dismissed, “Well, I better go find my table. It was good seeing you, Frog.”
Sammie visibly flinched at hearing his ‘pet’ name. He turned his gaze back to Steve, his eyes filled with anger. “You no longer get to call me that,” he spat out.
Steve froze, shocked by Sammie’s rage. “Oh, Sammie, you have so much anger. It’s not good for you, you need to release it.”
“Release it? You want me to release it? Here? Now?” Sammie’s voice grew louder, the frustration, uncertainty and betrayal of the last few weeks coming to the surface.
Steve began backing away, his mouth hanging open in surprise. “Here may not be the best place. Um, I’ll call you, okay?” He turned and quickly walked away.
Sammie watched him go, then turned back to his friends, who were staring, shocked by the scene they had just witnessed. Sammie was always the calm one, never one to raise his voice, definitely never one to make a scene. Sammie took one look at their stunned faces and began to giggle.
Troy and Joel watched as Sammie’s giggles grew into laughter over his outburst and the look on his ex-lover’s face, then they started laughing , too. The three men sat laughing until their sides hurt.
Later that night Sammie was relaxing at home, watching a movie on HBO, and sipping some wine when the phone rang.
"Sammie, I think we need to talk."
"Hello, Steve. What could we possibly need to discuss?" Sammie's voice dripped with sarcasm.
"Us, Sammie. We need to discuss us." Steve still sounded hurt and surprised at Sammie’s anger.
"There is no 'us'. Not since you walked out the door to go find whatever it is you’re looking for out there."
"Sammie don't be that way. I never meant to hurt you. You know that."
"I do?" his voice was flat, void of emotion.
"I would like for us to remain friends. Let's not close any doors just yet. I’ve never said I wanted to end our relationship, I only said I needed some time," Steve tried to explain and failed completely.
Sammie could feel his blood begin to boil. "And just what am I supposed to do while you are out there finding yourself? Am I to put my life on hold and sit here waiting for you? What the fuck, Steve? Where do you get off?"
"Sammie, I understand your anger, but I just think..."
Sammie interrupted, "You understand my anger? I'm sorry, Steve, you don't understand shit."
"Sammie, please, calm down. I only want to talk to you. Please, let’s not fight," Steve begged of him.
"You are un-fucking-believable," Sammie shouted.
"Please, try to understand."
"I had to do this, Sammie. I had to step back, to try to find me." Steve was trying to remain calm, to not take Sammie’s bait and engage in a fight.
"Why? What was wrong with being 'us'? Why couldn't you find yourself while being with me? Am I so overpowering, so all consuming that you couldn't function while living with me?" Sammie’s emotions were pushing him over the edge.
"I can see this isn't a good time to talk with you, Sammie. Maybe I should call back another time."
"Yeah, maybe you should." His voice was soft again, realizing this wasn’t getting them anywhere.
"I am sorry, Sammie. I know you don't believe me, but I am."
"Whatever." Sammie hung up the phone, feeling better than he had in weeks. He hadn’t realized how much anger he had been keeping bottled up. It felt good to let it out.
"Sammie, I want you to meet our newest software engineer." Sammie's boss, Tom Neely, stood at the opening of his cubicle with a nervous young man at his side. "Tyler, this is Sammie Raye. Sammie this is Tyler Williams. Tyler received his degree in software engineering a few months ago and has agreed to join our staff to help out with some of our new projects. I thought maybe I could pair him up with you for a while. I know you’re swamped and could use the help right now."
"Tyler," Sammie stood and extended his hand. "Nice to meet you, welcome aboard."
"Um, thanks." Tyler's eyes looked into Sammie's then darted away nervously. Sammie thought he looked like he was fresh out of high school, instead of college, yet there was something in his eyes. Something that made him seem hardened, as if life had given him a raw deal.
"Tyler, you can move into this cubical across from Sammie. For now, you'll work as his assistant, helping him get caught up on some of his projects." He turned back to Sammie, "I'm sure you can help him get his computer sat up and get logged into the company email and such. I'll let you two get to work then." With that, he exited back down the hallway.
'Shit,' Sammie thought to himself. He was swamped with projects and now he had to take time and baby-sit a new hire. This kid looked young too; did he have any experience? From what his boss had just said it would seem this was his first ‘real’ job. Oh brother, he really didn’t need this. On the other hand he was swamped. He had wanted them to hire someone with some experience, but this was better than nothing. Or so he hoped.
"Um, here let me help you get started on this computer. It's just your basic Microsoft Office, your e-mail is easy enough to set up ." He walked over to where the blond was sitting in his new cubicle and booted up the computer sitting on the desk.
"So, are you from around here?"
"Um, no. I'm not."
"How long have you been in St. Louis, then?"
"About four months."
Sammie noticed the guy wasn't much for conversation. "Where did you go to school?" he tried again.
"Um, Penn Valley?" He said it more like a question, as if he wasn’t sure of it.
"Yeah? Is that where you're from? Kansas City?"
"No, West Plains.”
“Oh, that’s down south, right?”
"Not much into small talk, are you?" Sammie smiled as he said it.
"I guess not." Tyler shrugged his shoulders.
"Okay, well, once I get you a project to work on, I won't care if you talk or not.
But before we get any further into this, let’s introduce you to the other train drivers."
Tyler looked confused, "Train drivers?"
Sammie smiled, "Yeah, you know, engineers?"
"Oh," Tyler said quietly, a blush coloring his cheeks.
"Hey, Milton," Sammie called out to the guy sitting in the cubicle on the other side of Sammie's.
"Yeah?" the older man looked up. He was in his forties, heavy set, with light brown hair and glasses.
"This is Tyler. Tyler this is Matt, but we call him Milton." He turned back to Matt. "Do your Milton for him."
Matt began mumbling, Tyler furrowed his brow as he listened to what Matt was saying. "I was told that I could listen to the radio at a reasonable volume from nine to eleven, I told Bill that if Sandra is going to listen to her headphones while she's filing, then I should be able to listen to the radio while I am collating...." Matt rattled on mumbling in a prefect mimic of his favorite character from his favorite movie.
Sammie was laughing as he turned to Tyler, who again looked confused. "Oh come on, don't tell me you've never seen Office Space."
"Is that a TV show?" Tyler asked.
"No, a movie. You've never seen it? Really?"
Tyler shook his head. "Sorry."
"We'll have to fix that,“ Sammie said then turned to the man sitting in the other cubicle, "and that is Jarred, but we call him Kramer."
Jarred nodded. "Tyler. Welcome to the nut house."
Tyler nodded at Jarred then asked Sammie, "Why do you call him Kramer?"
"You'll see. This guy is a Seinfeld freak."
Tyler raised his eyebrow, "Another movie?"
"Oh, no way, you’ve never seen Seinfeld? Seriously? You have to have seen Seinfeld. I mean Office Space I can forgive, but you've never seen Seinfeld? It was on for like eleven years and has reruns showing on a gazillion channels," Jarred protested. "There is no way you can miss it."
Tyler's face turned red again. "Sorry, I guess I don't watch much TV."
"Maybe you can loan him some of your DVDs," Sammie suggested.
"Giddy up," Jarred said as he sat back down at his desk.
Sammie turned back to Tyler. "We have a good group here. You'll do fine."
Tyler chewed his lip. "I hope so. Mr. Neely said you guys had a lot of projects that were past their deadline. I hope it doesn't take me too long to catch on."
"Don't let Tom scare you," Jarrod offered.
Sammie smiled, “I’m sure you’ll do fine. Come on, let’s get your email set up."
They spent the next hour getting Tyler set up on the office system and going over one of the simpler projects that Sammie was working on. He had to admit the kid was sharp. Tyler caught on to what Sammie was trying to do with the software and made a few suggestions to improve on his idea. Finally, Sammie felt the kid had a handle on things enough to leave him on his own for a while.
"Okay, I'll be right over there if you have any questions," Sammie said as he stood up and made his way across the narrow hall to his own cubicle.
"Thanks," Tyler replied.
Sammie was so involved in his work that he was startled when he heard Tyler speak his name.
"Um, sorry. I just have a question on something." The kid seemed embarrassed and almost wary.
"No problem." Sammie waited for Tyler to proceed.
He seemed to have lost his train of thought as he noticed the picture sitting on Sammie's desk.
"Is he your brother or something?" Tyler finally asked.
"No, he’s my lover, or ex-lover I guess. He and I are separated right now, I guess I should put the picture away..." Sammie trailed off.
"You mean you're gay?" Tyler didn't even try to hide his shock.
"Is that a problem?"
"No. I mean, I guess, I’ve just never known anyone who was gay before."
Sammie noticed Jarred and Matt both listening from their desks. He had been out to them for years.
"Really. Now that’s hard to believe. No gays in West Plains?" Sammie chuckled. “I’m sure they were there, you just didn’t know.”
Tyler shrugged, "So you lived with him?"
"And everyone knows?" This seemed to intrigue Tyler for some reason.
Surely he wasn’t that sheltered, but Sammie supposed if he had been kept out in the Ozarks maybe he really was innocent. Sammie chuckled, "Yeah."
"Do your parents know?"
"You know, for someone that doesn't like small talk, you sure ask a lot of personal questions." He was still smiling, not really minding all the questions, but yet, wondering where it was going.
Tyler blushed, "I'm sorry."
Sammie chuckled again. "It's okay, and yes, my parents know. I have been out to them for years."
"How did they handle it?"
Sammie shrugged, "They’re okay. I guess it was tough on them at first, but that was a long time ago. They’re okay with it now."
"Wow, that's cool." Tyler actually smiled for the first time that morning.
"So, what was your question?" Sammie nodded toward the folder Tyler held in his hand.
"Tyler? I'm going to go down to the café on the corner to get some lunch. Want to come along?" Matt and Jarred had left for lunch a few minutes earlier.
"Um, no, that's okay. I'm not hungry."
"Okay, well, you should still take a break for awhile. I'll be back in about a half an hour."
Sammie exited the building and pulled out his cell phone as he walked down the street. "Lisa? Hey, lady. How are you?"
"I'm good. How about you?"
"I'm doing okay. Listen, they finally hired another engineer for the office."
"Yeah, a cute little boy fresh off the truck."
"It that good or bad?" Lisa laughed.
"It's good. He seems pretty smart, and he is definitely easy on the eyes. My gaydar is pinging too, but I can't figure him out. He is either not out at all, or so far in denial that he hasn’t realized he’s gay yet."
"Or he’s straight,” Lisa stated the obvious. “Sammie, what are you saying? Are you interested in this guy?"
"I don't know. He is young, but so, so pretty. I guess I’m just curious. He’s already a mystery and I just met him."
"Well, then we need to get together and discuss this one," she paused, "It's good to hear from you. You sound better. How are you doing?”
“I’m doing okay. I still miss him, but I’m doing okay. In fact, I think I’m starting to do better.”
© Melina Catts 2005