Since we had met in 1997 we had done everything together. When Freddie called us the year before we found the bonds to invite us to be in his wedding, we did it together. Same thing with Charlie a few months after that. Together. Everything was done together. That is until 2001. I didn’t know it but that would turn out to be a nightmare year. One of the worst in my life.
* * * * * * * * * *
“FIVE…FOUR….ThrEE…TWO…ONE…HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!”
The apple dropped, or in the case of the live broadcast from Underground Atlanta, the peach dropped. We were officially in the new millennium. I know, lots of people thought that 2000 was the first year but it wasn’t. In a few weeks our new president would be sworn into office. The liberals and democrats (same thing, right?) were kvetching themselves to death about the whole thing, but I was just glad to hear something in the news other than “dimpled chads.” Crime in Italy!
Scott and I were invited to a New Years’ party over at Charlie and Stacy’s new house near Piedmont Park. Over the years we had occasionally hung out with him and talked to him on the phone quite a bit. The three of us had all become friends and Stacy was really cool too. It didn’t bother her that her husband was really good friends with a gay couple. That wasn’t always the case, unfortunately. We’d met a couple of really nice married guys in our neighborhood but their wives weren’t exactly thrilled. I guess they’d imagined us with their husbands and it didn’t go over too well in their minds. Silly broads. Trix are for kids.
By now Scott and I had been together for three-and-a-half years and it was obvious to anyone with a pulse that we were exclusive to each other and in it for the rest of our lives. We kept working at our passion, which was restoring old homes and selling them. One great thing about having all of that money was that we were able to purchase more houses at once, and we added four crews to The Renovators. We were having a great time but I felt that something was missing in our relationship. We were still best friends and liked doing stuff together; just hanging out with him made me happy.
The one thing that we had done different recently is that we each found a hobby that was separate from the other. Once a week Scott and Charlie met to play handball. I always thought it was cool to watch the sport, but I was such a pussy and normally ran away from fast-moving projectiles heading my way. Scott was always into sports so it was nothing for him to pick it up. And no, the two of them didn’t go off and bump uglies. I know that’s what some of you are thinking eventually happened that brought the nightmare into our lives, but it wasn’t.
The hobby that I found that I really enjoyed was singing. Surprise! But I wasn’t a lounge lizard or anything like that. I decided to try singing in a barbershop chorus. Scott had been in one before we’d met and I thought I’d try it out. For the most part I could sing the lead parts in songs, but the range in many songs tended to be a bit higher than I could comfortably sing. I decided to try out the baritone part and loved it. For those of you unfamiliar with the male singing parts in barbershop, the bass is on the bottom, next up in the range are the baritones, then the leads and finally the tenors. The reason I loved singing baritone was because the part’s really kind of bizarre when you hear it alone. It’s one of the more difficult harmonies but it’s the one that gives barbershop it’s distinctive sound. My friend Nick was thrilled because it was almost the only type of music that he listened to, so that was a good boost to my ego. But I digress. I also helped form a quartet and pretty much met once a week with them as well as the chorus.
So Scott and I had a couple of hobbies apart from each other. I could gush and bullshit you with us spending every waking moment together because love is nirvana, and when the moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter lines with Mars....But let’s get real. We weren’t each others’ identity and I believe that it’s healthy to have some time to yourself.
But still, there was something that I wanted to give him.
After the apple/peach dropped we hugged and gave each other a quick kiss. Nothing gross or sloppy – we’d save that for home.
“Scott, can we talk?” I asked him.
He kind of squnched his eyebrows down a little bit. “Everything ok?”
“Yeah, everything’s cool. I just want to talk to you alone.”
He reached around and squeezed an ass cheek. “Hmmm.”
I laughed and headed out onto the back patio. Scott and Stacy had really decked it out nicely with a trellis, or arbor, little twinkle lights and an outdoor fireplace. There were people out here too but I was able to find a little secluded spot for us to sit on a plant ledge.
“So what’s up?” he asked, sitting down.
“Look man, we’ve been together for three-and-a-half years now-“
“Uh-oh, this isn’t a Dear John speech is it?” he grinned. Perfect fucking teeth.
I laughed. “Actually quite the opposite.” His eyebrows raised a bit. “Look, I know that we’re crazy for each other. We’re each other’s best friend, lover, all that good stuff. I know we’ve talked about this before, and that we’re gonna spend the rest of our lives together. But I know that we can’t get married.”
“Ok?” he said, sort of confused.
“Scott, there’s nothing else I have to give you that you don’t already have. You’ve got my heart and you’ve somehow” (rolling my eyes, smiling) “wormed your way into my soul. I hope that doesn’t sound cheesy” I said chuckling. He just smiled back. “I can’t imagine, and don’t wanna imagine, anything happening to split us up. You made me open up and I allowed myself to love and be loved. It’s an incredible gift and I…” (here’s where I choked up a bit) “and I can’t imagine giving myself to anyone else. You’re a sweet, and an incredible man.”
He grinned at that too.
“Plus,” I continued, “you’re a fucking fantastic lay!” He burst out laughing at that. “We pretty much have enough money to buy anything that we want, but I wanted to give you….give us…these.” I reached into my pocket and pulled out two rings. He just stared at my palm, looking at them. I could see that he was blinking tears away. He’s not a weepy type of guy but I figured he’d get teary eyed at this. I was right. Hell, I teared up too. Just a little bit. “We both know what these rings symbolize to married couples, and I know we can’t get married, but I wanted us to have the same type of ring that other married men have.”
“Damn, Logan,” he said. Scott pulled my face to his and kissed me a lot more passionately than when the peach dropped. Damn what a kisser! We broke our kiss and sat back. “What are they?” he asked. The lighting outside was sort of dim and romantic so he was having a hard time seeing them.
“They’re both platinum.”
“Wow. I thought they may have been white gold in this light.” I handed him one ring.
“I had them engraved.” Holding the ring in his fingers he looked up at me. “Yours says ‘One Heartbeat,’ mine says ‘Different Names.’ It might sound kinda dopey but I thought that it described us,” I nervously smiled and said.
“Put it on,” he said. I went to put my ring on. “No. Put mine on me.”
Duh! I’m so slow sometimes. I took his ring from him and slipped it onto his left ring finger. “One heartbeat,” I said. With his other hand he wiped at his eyes.
Then he took my ring and slipped it on my finger. “Different names,” he said looking into my eyes. I leaned in and kissed him again. We leaned our foreheads together.
“I love you, Scott Dell,” I said.
“I love you too, Mike Logan.” Suddenly he jumped up and shouted: “I LOVE….THIS MAN!!!!” I had to die laughing as he mimicked a recent commercial that we’d seen on television. That sure got everyone’s attention.
“Um Scott, I think we already knew that,” Charlie said, leaning against the door frame going into his house.
“Just wanted to be sure,” Scott said. I just kept laughing.
“So what’s up with y’all now?” Charlie asked, coming over to us.
“Mike just gave me a ring.”
“Oh yeah? Cool.” Now there’s a man of many words. “Congrats, y’all! So I guess I’m not in the running anymore?” he joked.
“Sorry pal, he’s all mine,” I said pulling Scott to me.
“Damn!” he snapped his fingers in mock anger. We both laughed at him.
Scott and I stayed a little while longer but left around 1:00 to go back home. Luckily we were only about twenty minutes from home because Scott kept groping me and working me up the whole way home. We barely made it up the stairs and into the bedroom with our clothes still on. He was like a mad man. First he made love to me with as much, if not more, passion then he’d ever done before. Afterwards he kept rubbing me and feeling me up until I was ready to go again, but this time he wanted me to make love to him. Needless to say I obliged. Once I had finished cumming in his ass he pulled off of me and pushed me onto my stomach on the bed and then proceeded to tear me up. Goddamn that bastard was really pounding at me. I doubted if I’d be able to walk right the next day. Because he’d already cum once his duration was seemingly endless. I didn’t mind. Literally I just lay there while he fucked into me with all the gusto he had. My cock had hardened again and with all of the rubbing into the mattress I blew my second load about thirty minutes after he started givin’ it to me the second time. This got him to the point of no return and he blew his cum, or what was left of it, into me. Finally he collapsed on my back and held onto my shoulders, breathing heavily.
“I love you. So. Fucking. Much,” he panted.
I smiled to myself. “I love you too, Scotty,” I mumbled before I drifted off to sleep.
* * * *
The phone was ringing. Goddamit why do people have to call me this early? It’s 8:30. Shit! 8:30! Okay, so that was a little later than I had been getting up. But I still hate mornings. Even Scott knows to leave me alone for about an hour before he’ll talk to me. I picked up the phone.
“Hello?” I said, trying to not sound like shit. It wasn’t easy. I definitely sounded like shit.
“Can I speak to Scott.” It was more said than asked. I tried to place the woman’s voice. It sounded vaguely familiar.
“Sure. Hold on please.” I looked over but Scott wasn’t in bed. “Scott?” I hollered towards the bathroom. No answer. “Just one sec. Lemme find him.” No response. I made my way downstairs and looked around for him. He was in the kitchen fixing breakfast. “Hey man, phone.”
He picked up the kitchen extension and I hung up. “Hello?….Well, hey, how’s it…say what?” his face fell and the spatula clattered to the floor. He walked slowly out of the kitchen towards the front of the house. I followed him, giving him a little bit of space. “No, I…I’m here.” I stopped at the doorway to the study and he leaned with his back against the wall across from the stairs. “I just. What happened?” he asked as his voice cracked. His eyes tightened and he slid slowly down to the floor. Scott’s other hand was on his forehead and I could see his mouth turning down as the tears rolled off of his face. “How?….Oh God!” his voice wavered. I’m on full alert now but I stayed where I was. “Do you know…did he know or was it sudden…Mom. Mom…did he KNOW what was happening?” His eyes tightened again and fresh tears streamed down. Suddenly his demeanor changed and his eyes snapped open. “It’s his fuckin’ fault. He did this. You’d better keep him away from John…then FIGURE OUT HOW!!!”
Shit! I’d never seen him this angry. Sure he’d gotten irritated at our trades from time to time, but I was the one who usually showed temper. With me it comes from having an Italian and Irish background. Scott, on the other hand, was one of the most level headed guys on the planet.
He clicked the phone off and tossed it across the foyer, then he sat there just staring into space.
I waited for him to speak. “John’s dead.”
“He was beaten and stabbed to death,” the tears were really cascading down his cheeks. “Bad trick. Mom said the police think it was a blitz attack. They don’t think he knew what hit him.”
I took a deep breath and blew it through my nose. “When did it hap—“
“Early this morning.” He shook his head slightly, raised his eyebrows a bit and said, “It’s his fault, you know.”
“Do what?” I asked, puzzled.
“It’s his fault. And he’s gotta pay.” He stood up and wiped the tears from his face.
“Scott! He’s dead…how can he possibly—“
“I’m talking about Frank, Mike. Goddamn, don’t you get anything without having it explained to you!”
I blinked and raised my head a bit, but I didn’t say anything. I knew that Scott hadn’t seen John in years. They had spoken on the telephone a few times and Scott tried to convince him to go into rehab but to no avail. Scott’s sister had never really been in touch with him either. Sadly, it looked like his life of drugs and prostitution had caught up with him.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to…”
I just nodded. I knew.
Then Scott got this crazy look on his face. “He’s gotta pay. He has to die,” he said matter-of-factly. That’s what scared me. He said it like he was saying he was going to go clean the oven. Reaching into his pocket for his keys he said, “It ends now.” Oh shit!
“Hey, Scott, you can’t go and do something like that,” I laughed nervously. “That’s…insane, hoss.”
“Oh, fuck that! What he did to us was insane! What happened to John was INSANE! What I’m gonna do, is enTIREly sane.” He headed towards the front door but I grabbed his arm and swung him back around.
“No you don’t. You’re not going anywhere. Gimme the keys.”
“I don’t need you to save me, Mike,” he growled. I knew that at that moment he very well could have killed Frank with his bare hands. The sheer hatred in his eyes was something I’d never seen before and it scared the shit out of me.
“I’m not saving anyone—“
“Except Frank!” Now I knew he was talking without any sense.
“I hope he rots in hell! It’s you I’m trying to save from jail, stupid ass! I’m sure you’d have no problem—“
He shook his head and smiled kinda crazy. “I’m going, Mikey,” he sneered, “and you’re not gonna STOP ME!” he roared.
“NO!” I grabbed his arm again. This time he shoved me back towards the stairs. My head snapped on my neck a bit and I was in shock. He’d never done anything like that, nor had he ever talked to me that way.
Scott got right up in my face and jabbed his finger into the air in front of it. “I told you YEARS ago,” he seethed, spit hitting me in the face, “that you always ran away from your FUCKING problems like a PUSSY! And now you want me to be like a PUSSY too! Well FUCK THAT!” and he shoved me with each loud word to emphasize his point, sort of smacking my chest with his open palms.
Now, let me ask you this. Have you ever pissed off an Italian? I mean, ever really pissed one off? One from New York, to boot? I knew that he was crazy with anger and grief, but all of this was bullshit. I slowly dropped my head and looked at him from just beneath my eyebrows. I could feel the muscles between my lips and my nose twitching as I snarled back, “I told you never, ever, call me a PUSSY. You got THAT?!” and I did the unexpected. I jacked his jaw at ‘pussy’ and ‘that.’ My hand hurt like a mother fucker! I was angrier than I’d ever been but I still loved him and didn’t want him to go to jail. I honest to God knew he was going to find Frank and kill him. It was that simple. I had to get his attention and cleaning his clock was just the way to do it at that moment.
Scott looked back at me. I didn’t know what to think and I backed up, tripping on the lower step and then falling onto my ass and elbows. As he stepped towards me I started crawling backwards up the staircase. I was history. I knew it. I’d gotten physical and no matter the reason…well fuck that! But I was also determined not to lose this guy to jail because of his rage.
All of a sudden his face changed and all of the pain he was feeling showed at one moment. He put his face in his hands and dropped to his knees. “Oh God, Mike…” he sobbed. His body was racked with sobs. I leaned forward and caught him before he fell forward onto the stairs and held him. “I’m so sorry..” he cried. I pulled him to me and let him cry. I shed a few tears myself but I knew he needed me to be strong for him. “God, I’m so sorry,” he kept saying.
“Hey,” I softly said, “you didn’t do anything. I’m the one who hit you. I’m sorry—“
“No! You did exactly what I needed.” Looking up he smiled through his tears. “If it wasn’t for you I’d probably be on my way over there right now. It’s just not fair,” he said with a bit of a whimper.
I held his face to my shoulder and stroked his hair. “I know. It’s not.” While John’s death was an absolute tragedy I couldn’t help but thank God that Scott had not made the same bad choices that John had. John walked the streets for a long time and it wasn’t surprising what had happened to him. But I kept those thoughts to myself. My role as Scott’s friend at that moment was to keep my mouth shut. “Sorry about clocking you.”
“Aww fuck! No shit. Who taught you to hit like that?” he laughed a bit.
I smiled. “Self preservation, baby.” Scott had a questioning look on his face. “I love you, Scott. And I’m not going to lose you. Call me selfish but I need you. And I ain’t. Letting. Go. For any reason.”
He smiled and I held him close again.
“Logan, you’re full of surprises, pal.” I smiled at that.
Then the enormity of the loss hit my man like a ton of bricks and he started bawling. At that point I started crying too. I didn’t know John, but Scott’s loss was my loss. We stayed there on the stairs, me sitting and him on his knees in my arms on the steps. As I held him I rocked him back and forth. Sometimes even grown men need coddling.
* * * *
It was a shitty day for a funeral. Not that there’s ever a lovely day for one, mind you. But it was exceptionally shitty that day. We actually had a lot of freezing rain and even some sleet.. Januarys in Atlanta were no picnic. Scott and Jackie had made the all of the funeral arrangements, but he and I had picked the cemetery and location. Scott wanted a cemetery plot way out in the country where John would be as far as possible from the problems that had plagued him so horribly in life, and we picked a really nice one north of the city near Buford.
He and I bought three cemetery plots together; one for him, one for myself and one for John. Scott wanted to be with his brother in death since in life he was unable to take care of him as he’d wanted. We had a magnolia tree planted near our plots. For those of you unfamiliar with that tree, it’s indigenous to the south and it’s low, sheltering branches can extend twenty to thirty feet from the trunk. I understood the symbolism that Scott felt it displayed.
Jackie and her family were there as well as Scott and myself, and their mother. Charlie and Stacy came for support, as did Freddie and his wife Alaina. It was good to see them again but I hated that it was for this reason, a funeral. John and Jackie’s minister officiated the graveside service. Scott’s mother stood there crying. According to Jackie, her mom had quit drinking a couple of years ago and left Frank. I guess the confrontation at the studio several years previous had some effect on her. Scott and Jackie asked if I would sing a song and I hesitantly agreed. I wasn’t really sure what song would be appropriate at first, since I didn’t know John at all. After thinking about it for a while (during the planning of the funeral) I decided upon “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.”
Precious Lord, take my hand,
Lead me on, let me stand.
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn.
Through the storm, through the night,
Lead me on to the light.
Take my hand, precious Lord and lead me home.
When my way grows drear,
Precious Lord linger near.
When my live is almost gone,
At the river I will stand.
Guide my feet, hold my hand.
Take my hand, precious Lord and lead me home.
Once the funeral was over we all turned to go back to our cars when something caught Scott’s attention. I looked across the sloping hills of the cemetery and saw someone standing near the woods. Oh crap! Frank.
“Charlie, Freddie, John,” I said and nodded in Frank’s direction. Then I stepped in front of Scott, whose eyes were wide with anger. “Scott.” He didn’t look at me. “Scott,” I said more urgently. Slowly he faced me. “Wait right here. I’ll handle it. Guys, don’t let Scott move.” My eyes never left his.
Then I turned away from them and with my hands in my pockets strode over the couple hundred yards towards where Frank was standing. I could feel questioning eyes on my back and Frank’s hostile glare to my front. Finally I reached him. We stood there, staring at each other for a moment.
Finally I said calmly, “I cannot believe you have the audacity to show up here, now. Scott can hardly contain himself. He’d like to kill you with his bare hands. You’ll notice that there are three men there making sure he won’t head over here to do just that.” Stepping closer I continued. “Several of the guys on our crews are rehabilitated criminals, all from prison. What’s the one thing that all guys in prison hate?” I waited a moment. “Baby rapers. Guys in prison hate baby rapers. Guys in prison kill baby rapers.” His eyes widened a bit at this. “I never want to see you near me, or Scott, or any of the others, because if I do I’m gonna make a phone call to my former-prisoner emplyees and I’m gonna say just two words to them: baby. Raper. And may God help you at that point, because there’ll be nobody on earth who can.” I stepped in even closer. “And if you ever come near me or Scott, I’m warning you, I keep a gun. Stay away from us. Got it?” Frank just stared. I glared at him for one last moment then turned and walked away.
When I got back to the group the guys were still standing in front of Scott. “Let’s go,” I said.
We got to our cars and I turned to look back. Frank was gone. Scott asked, “What did you say to him.”
“Just get in the car, okay?” I said. “I’ll tell you later.”
We headed home.
* * * *
In February of 2001 the quartet that I sang with had won the right to perform in a competition with four other quartets from our region. There were a total of six regions in the country that competed and they’d send their five best to another level of competition. The best quartet from each of the six regions faced off, or competed against each other for the grand prize, which is a gold medal. Sounds dopey but barber shoppers are really quite an organized group.
In May our quartet came in first place for our region. We were ecstatic! It takes a lot of hard work and we were on our way to the final competition which was to be held in the fall. It was doubly awesome because it was to be held in New York City. I hadn’t been there since I was four and I wanted to take Scott to all of the sites: Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, World Trade Center, Radio City, Central Park.
We were going to make a vacation out of it, and I booked our tickets. September 7th through September 14th. The competition was only for two days and we’d have the rest of the week to go sight-seeing.
It promised to be an awesome trip.
It turned into a nightmare.