Headphones was an experiment, a story written in "snapshots", a serial, a comic in word form-- call it what you will. It ran for one year plus one day-- January 1st of 2015 to January 1st of 2016. It was the story of a group of friends who took in a damaged girl and helped her find herself. But on the way, she helped them fill the holes in their own lives. I've pulled it now with the hopes of rewriting it into a book. Each day was matched with a music video and each month's mixes are still here. So if you've stumbled in, enjoy the music, and hopefully I'll be able to post updates occasionally!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Attention Interested Parties:

So, this is Chapter One of Like Cracks in the Sidewalk. That's still a working title, which may be changed at a later date. This the very first, very rough draft. 20 edits, or more, to follow I'm sure! The original premise was a bit dark, and maybe because I decided on first person and I've never written first, it's not starting so dark. Yet. Hopefully, it'll go the way I have it plotted. Things change so easily, the characters are always whispering in my ears, and things happen that I wasn't expecting. So, anyway, for anyone interested in Beta reading, I present Chapter 1! 

Chapter 1.1

I turned my head slowly to peer over my shoulder when someone pressed up against my back. My long torso was stooped sideways against the bar with my feet crossed and my upper half balanced on my elbow as I visited with Molly, but I straightened when I noticed who was nudging into my hip. Molly might have been my best friend since our UT of Austin years, but she was the nosiest person I knew and she craned her neck, almost falling from her perch on the stool in an attempt to spy who had stolen my attention away from her. A chuckle almost rose up in my throat as I imagined her sliding to the floor onto her butt, but experience told me that would only get me punched. Even leaning as she was, she couldn’t see much from her seat, probably only the back of a shaggy head of hair. And I was okay with that.
The lighting of the second-floor balcony bar was too dim for her to get a good look at the man’s face, anyway. He remained turned away from her, offering her only the barest glimpse of his profile. The guy gave the heavily varnished wood counter-top two solid taps with his fingers when the bartender looked his way to wordlessly order a whiskey on the rocks, indicating that he pour another for me, as well. His hands were big. Strong. This wasn’t the first time I’d noticed, and I had to tear my eyes away before Molly caught on to my fascination. I nodded my thanks and we clicked our glasses together in silent acknowledgment.
As one, we turned and leaned against the banister as we surveyed the energetic crowd spread out on the dance-floor below our balcony roost. Neither of us spoke. Indeed, to most everyone we would have appeared as two strangers. A half-grin lit his face as he tapped my elbow after he sat his empty glass down and without a word he headed back to the metal staircase.
Molly’s eyes were shining as she hung over the rail and watched the dirty blond disappear back into the crowd. “Oh, he’s pretty!” She had finally gotten a good look at him.
I did my best to appear indifferent. “I hadn’t noticed.”
Giving me a side look, she scoffed. “Ha! Don’t give me that, James Pierce! I know you better than anyone. Who is he?”
“Val.”  I turned back to lean against the edge of the bar and tried to change the focus of the conversation. “Did Dean call you about Monday’s shindig?” I truly hoped I could move Molly onto a different subject, but the red-head was as tenacious as any Irish Setter with a tossed stick and she brought it right back.
 “Wait! That’s Val?” she exclaimed, her voice pitching up into an almost squeal. She looked like she had just discovered a secret I had kept hidden.
Val wasn’t a secret, exactly. Maybe he was more of a guilty pleasure. I had noticed him soon after my editor, Sarah, assigned me to the “About Town” team. Each week we rated theaters and museums, restaurants and bars. I had started my career reviewing bands in the college newspaper and somehow she had translated that into dance clubs, even though I was a decade older than the mostly college-age cubs dancing below us.
The flashy guy was everywhere. He should have been just another bit of fluff mixed in with the masses with his longish Kurt Cobain hair and sleeveless band t-shirts. Really, he was no different from any of the other young studs that cruised the scene, but his angular face and the way he carried himself, self assured and confident, somehow imprinted itself onto my retinas, and I could always find him in the crowd.
“He’s the one you wrote the article about? The one that almost got you fired. That Val?” she asked.
“The very one.” I learned his name while reviewing a new nightclub and the posters on the door boasted of the appearance of “Val”. Instead of writing about the club, I wrote about the man who made the kids lose their minds, jumping and twisting to the beats he spun.  He went by a simple name but his music was anything but. Sarah wasn’t happy with me at first, but she let it pass after I promised to write a second article praising the venue. They were happy, she was happy, and Val apparently got some extra work out of it, so he was happy. And now I got free drinks when he spied me in the crowd.
 It had become a habit to attend gigs when I knew Val would be the featured DJ. I usually lurked in the darkest corners until a certain level of inebriation took over and I would find myself pulled into the middle of the throng to rub against some young woman in what could only loosely be labeled as dancing. I’m not objecting. I like girls. I just like to be sure that they’re legal. It seems the older I get, the younger they all look, and I’ve had a couple of close calls.
I don’t understand it, really. I know I can clean up nicely, but I rarely clean up. I’m tall; my driver’s license says I’m 6’ 2”, although I’m pretty sure I grew another inch or two after my 16th birthday, and I have a tendency to slouch. My clothes are always wrinkled because I hate to iron. I tend to forget to shave and I’m not good about getting a regular haircut. Quite frankly, I’m scruffy. Han Solo might have been insulted by the word, but I know what I am. You would think that would turn the women off, but it seems to work just the opposite. Most nights I have my choice, and I take advantage of that fact whenever I have the itch.
 Molly pulled me back from my ruminations. “Have you asked him out?”
My eyebrows furrowed in question as I did my best to look confused. “Why would I do that?”
And yes, I also have a taste for strong jaws and happy trails. And Molly knows it. I think she used to be a bit jealous. Not jealous of the idea of me with someone other than herself, because we’ve never been like that. No, it was more the kind of jealousy that had to do with me having more hook-ups than she did. Not bragging here, but I never had a problem finding a Saturday night date. I told her if she would expand her dating pool, she’d find there were more fish out there than what she had bait for. I don’t think she found me funny. But that was back in our college days. Now I was much more circumspect. The wild oats had been sown. These days, I was more worried about rent and insurance and my student loans. I was getting by, but barely. Sarah has hinted that there might be a regular featured column in my future if I played my cards right, and it came with a guarantee of more money.
She pulled me away from my ruminations and back to our previous conversation with, “Because he’s your type.” And she wasn’t wrong. We shared a taste for guys with nice hair and deep-set eyes.  Broad chests and toned arms didn’t hurt, either.
Mainly I saw Val with women, but occasional I saw him get sloppy with club-boys. Boys with spiky hair and shaved chests. Boys that were hip and thin and flexible looking. I confessed, “Well, I don’t think I’m his.”
“What? You’re tall, dark, and, well, yeah, maybe a bit pasty. You should spend some time outside. You’d look good with a tan.”
“So says the fair princess who gets a sunburn in the ten minutes it takes to walk to the grocery store. And if I want to live the life of a vampire, that’s my choice. Besides, it’s not my fault if Sarah keeps assigning me these middle of the night jobs. I have to sleep sometime!”
“See, you and him are both nocturnal! You should ask him out!”
“Really, Molly, just drop it. You know I don’t date guys. I just…spend time with them up once in awhile.”
She put her hands up in surrender. “Okay, okay. I was just trying to help. I hate seeing you all alone.”
I wrapped my arms around her waist and stuck my nose into her wavy hair. “I’m okay. I promise,” I whispered into her ear. “Just because you always need a boyfriend doesn’t mean I need someone. I’m perfectly happy with my life. Plus, I’ve got you. Now, are you ready to call it a night? Even us vampires have things to do tomorrow.”
She looked skeptical, but slid off her stool with my arm still around her waist and hugged me back. “Sure, sugar. You okay to drive, or should we call a cab?”
“I’m good.”


With Molly deposited safely at her apartment, I drove through the dark streets, my radio set low. For once, my ears weren’t ringing. Normally, the music was so loud that conversation was impossible, and my eardrums suffered for the first few hours after leaving. Somehow, the set-up of the submerged dance floor with the bar lining the overlook had rectified that problem. It was still loud, but not so loud that conversations had to be yelled into ears. Not that most people went to raves to talk. Still, I thought I would give it an A+ when I wrote it up for this week’s edition, for that reason alone. 
It had been fun. Molly normally didn’t accompany me on my assignments, but she was between boyfriends at the moment, and I guess she thought hanging with me was better than a Saturday night alone in front of her television. Truthfully, it was the only reason I drove. Parking was expensive. And free drinks meant to bribe me into a positive review were too common to make it safe to drive home most nights. Easier to trust my life to the city public transit.
Which was another reason I loved my apartment. It was worth the extra expense to be close to uptown with a Metro station only a block away. I could get just about anywhere without much bother, plus the rent included a parking space in the small lot between it and the next building, so I was able to bring my old Ford truck when I moved to the city.
The apartment wasn’t large. That was an understatement. It was one room but I had taken two bookcases and put them to use as a room divider to create at least the illusion of a tiny corner faux bedroom. I used them for storage more than their intended purpose. In other words, I don’t own many books. I read a lot, don’t get me wrong. But that’s what libraries are for. The books I owned were my favorites from my teen years, the kind of books I can lose myself into when life gets me down; The Hobbit, Watership Down, the Dragonrider series. Anyway, back to the apartment. It had a kitchenette and a surprisingly large bathroom. Mom called it an “economizer”. The reality company called it a studio. I called it comfortable.  
I kicked my boots off as I locked the door and grabbed a beer out of the fridge before sprawling out across the slightly broken-down couch to jot down a few notes while the night was still fresh. There hadn’t been any letup in the dancing, which in my mind implied a gifted DJ. I’d have to call the manager tomorrow and find out if they had a house DJ, or if they varied their bookings. And it looked like they were set up to host bands. I made a note to ask about that, too. I have a soft spot for live music. There’s just something different about the sound. Recorded music has a beat that can be manipulated and twisted that thumps in my chest when it’s really loud. But music that’s being played only feet and yards away has a force of it’s own that hammers and pulsates until it settles into my gut and my balls. I looked up at my old acoustic hanging on the wall. I hadn’t played it for awhile and it surely needed tuned.
My hands twitched with imagined strings vibrating under the tips of my fingers and I half rose with the intention of doing just that when I noticed the time. I was stunned to find it was 3 in the morning. My guitar would have to wait because I needed to get some sleep. Mom expected me for brunch. Mom, and whatever girl she would bring along, that was. She knows I’m bisexual, but she ignores that fact. Hell, she won’t even talk about it. She caught me giving a blowjob once. Jeremy and I were supposedly studying, and she brought us up a snack. She never said a word, just turned and closed the door behind her. The one time I tried to talk to her about it, she called it a “phase” and she has made a point ever since to introduce me to every single girl she knows. She wants grandkids. Lots of them. Between my two brothers, they’ve produced four grandsons and three granddaughters. She wants another girl to complete the set and expects me to give it to her. My reluctance to do so has nothing to do with my attraction to men and everything to do with my aversion to relationships.
I’ve had exactly three romances that lasted more than four weeks since high school. Two were with women, one with a man. They all ended badly. I think I’m just not mentally capable of sharing my life with another person. Molly says I’m being silly, that I just haven’t found the right one. Oh, and she says I’m too stubborn. I think it’s because I’m the youngest child. Responsibility is for other people. I do dishes and laundry when I feel like it. Same goes with cleaning the toilet. Who needs a schedule for all of those things? And why does everyone give me strange looks when I eat sausage gravy on my tomatoes? It’s tasty. I like it. Get over it.  
The morning went just as I expected. I overslept and then had to hurry to be in time. Which translated into me wearing my faded Appetite for Destruction tee untucked over my wrinkled Dockers and with the shoestrings of my Chuck’s hanging loose when I stumbled into the restaurant. I couldn’t even remember if I had combed my hair before I left my apartment, but it was too late to think about that as I spied Mom, and oh look, I was right, an eligible young bachelorette, and they were already sipping on mimosas and engaged in lively conversation.  She spied me and waved me over. With an up and down movement that only involved her eyes, she took in my ensemble with a little sigh and a shake of her head. “You thought we were going to have a picnic in the park?” Just the thinnest sliver of mockery shaded her voice. Oh, good. She must really hope this girl is the one, if she’s trying to tone down her usual dry sarcasm.
I tried to convey my own derision silently, mind to mind, but she only smiled. She’s the master and she knows it. Why would I even try and compete? “Sorry Mom, I didn’t get to bed until almost 4. You know my job requires late nights on the weekends.”
“Hm, well, yes, I do know. You should look into an editor’s job, maybe obituaries or classifieds. Then you could work regular hours, like a normal person.”
To her credit, Mom’s guest tried to defuse our contentious banter. “Oh, Shannon mentioned you work for the newspaper. You’re a journalist?”
I relaxed as I turned my attention away from my mother to give it fully to the other woman. “Yeah. I write columns for the Thursday Entertainment section, and sometimes the Sunday Life.” I stuck my hand out across the table. “I’m James by the way, since Mom’s too distracted by my haute couture to introduce us.” 
“Paige,” she said back as she took my hand in a lingering handshake, tickling her fingers across my palm as she withdrew. She tilted her head down and looked up at me with deep brown eyes through her reddish-blonde bangs and the day was suddenly much more interesting than I expected. I tried to ignore the look of self-satisfaction that spread across Mom’s face as she caught on to my interest.
To Mom’s credit, she let us do most of the talking. Usually she tries to direct the conversation. But it’s her own fault if she keeps introducing me to women who are only interested in fashion and who Brad Pitt is dating. Now, I admit, Brad’s pretty hot in that vampire movie, and I’ve got all kinds of ideas about what Louis and Lestat were getting up to, but I don’t think their minds were picturing the same thing as mine. To say I have nothing in common with most of the women she tries to push on me is an understatement.
At least this time she found someone that wasn’t only attractive, but intelligent, as well. We discussed sports, politics, and yes, even the weather. But it wasn’t that ‘anything to fill the silence’ weather talk. It was educated discourse about how the levels of nitrogen in the soil, as well as the crop prices, were affected by the rain patterns. It came as no surprise when she mentioned her father owned a large cattle ranch northwest of Austin and that she was a student at Texas State in San Marcos, working on her Masters in environmental sustainability.
I will forever blame the next sequence of events to the higher-than-usual alcoholic composition of the mimosas we were quaffing with our Eggs Benedict and sweet-potato hash. The taps against my foot went mostly unnoticed at first, but they caught my attention when they graduated into slow slides against my instep. Unconsciously, I pulled my foot back as the conversation continued without a pause, but the pressure continued and my sleep-deprived molasses-brain came to realize it was intentional.
I wish I could say I was suave, but my talents are in written words, not subtle seduction. My breath hitched and my body jerked after her foot escaped its patent-leather pump and traveled up my leg to find its way through the slight opening between my knees. I choked when the arch of her foot cupped my crotch and my cock instantly responded to her open invitation, doing its own version of the happy dance. Under other circumstances, I would have enjoyed Paige’s ministrations, but with my mother naively blathering on about a benefit she was chairing, I found my growing erection disconcerting.
“If you ladies will excuse me, I need to use the Gent’s,” I said, interrupting Mom in the middle of a sentence. I was never more thankful for my bad taste in clothes as I was as I pulled the t-shirt down as far as the material would stretch. Thankfully she didn’t look up from her plate as she offered an ‘of course, dear’ or she would have caught the smirk on Paige’s face. Our eyes met briefly and I answered her evil gleam with my own blush and half smile.
‘Escaped’ can be such an abject word, but that’s exactly what I was doing. The stall door clanging as I pulled it closed, the rattle of the slide lock echoing in the tile-lined room. I didn’t sit down, just leaned against the metal partition, willing the itch to go away. A snicker started to rise in my throat in response to the absurdity of it, but I cut it off when the outer door opened and I heard footsteps cross the room to come to rest two feet from where I stood. I glanced down to the space below the door and was not surprised at all when I recognized the shoes.
I opened the door and we stood facing each other. The laughter finally escaped me as I grabbed Paige’s arm and pulled her into the stall. “This is ludicrous. What if someone comes in?” I asked as I wrapped my arms around her.
She lifted her arms to wrap them around my neck. “We’ll just have to be quick,” she whispered against my mouth before she slid her lips against mine. The kiss wasn’t gentle. The dueling of our tongues was full of heat and promise.
I ran my hands down her curves until they came to rest on her ass and she shifted closer to grind her thigh against my groin, eliciting a chest-deep groan from me. At that point, every man in the restaurant could have come in to wash their hands and I wouldn’t have noticed or cared. But there was one thing that could stop me dead. “Condom. Do you have any condoms?” I asked. I normally carried one in my wallet, but the last one had never replaced, although there had been plenty of time. I really needed to get more organized. Yup, starting this afternoon, James Robert Pierce was going to become the most organized man ever.
She dropped one of her hands to cup me through my jeans. I wasn’t particularly long, but women seemed impressed with my girth, and she was no exception as her hand tightened and one eyebrow rose in appreciation. “Don’t need one,” she purred. “I’m on the pill.”
The words worked as quickly as a bucket of cold water and I loosened my hold on her with a pained oohhh. “Sorry. Nothing personal.” I stepped back and pushed her palm away from me. “It’s got nothing to do with sperm and eggs and more to do with the case of raging gonorrhea that my brother picked up once.” He was 17, I was 15, and it was his humiliation when he told Mom and asked her to make him a doctor’s appointment that had stuck with me. I’ve never once had sex without a latex virus-shield and I wasn’t about to start, no matter how sexy and intelligent she was.
Her eyes widened in amazement. “You mean that. This isn’t happening without a condom.” I could barely shake my head, but she widened the gap between us even further as she stepped back. “Wow. That’s a first.”
The pathetic must have been plain on my face because she smiled and then laughed. She stepped forward again and kissed me. “Tell you what. Shannon has my phone number. Why don’t you call some time. I mean, after you make a trip to the drug store!”
Have I mentioned I’m not always quick with spoken words? Give me a few hours and I could have written her a poem or at least a decent haiku. But instead, the only thing that came out of my mouth was “really?”
“Yes. Really. Now, wait a minute or two before you come back out. No need for tongues to wag.” I thought if anyone saw her slip into the men’s room it was probably too late for that, but she needn’t have worried about me. It was going to take a minute or two for me to regain my composure and I decided right then and there I wasn’t telling Molly about any of this. She was a big fan of spontaneous liaisons and she’d never let me hear the end of what she would consider a failure on my part. For someone who considers herself to be my best friend, tales of my recent uneventful sex life were comic fodder to her, and she had taken it upon herself to get me back on track again. She was as bad as Mom, in her own way. Why were the women in my life always trying to get me laid?


Ah, Dean’s shindig. Actually, it was a celebratory dinner party. Dean’s a school counselor who looks more like a petite blond tennis pro. Several years ago he helped start a shelter for homeless LGBT kids. It’s great because the local Board of Education works with the shelter and they’ve successfully kept many of these young people in school and off the streets. Tonight’s party was in celebration of another of Dean’s goals. He had worked for over a year to fund scholarships to local community colleges and tech schools for those that worked hard to beat the odds and actually graduate. The program offers both hope and a future for kids who have lost everything after their families had abused or disowned them, simply for being who they are.
 I’ve known Dean since I was 18. We were assigned dorms on the same floor my Freshman year and even though he was a year older than me, he recognized my nervousness and uncertainty and instantly took me under his wing. Back then, he was something new to me. He was the most open person I had ever met; extremely gay, extremely camp, and he didn’t care what people thought of him. With a twinkle in his eye, Dean would flamboyantly inform you of his fabulousness, which, by the way, he was and is, and we had hooked up more than a few times over the next three years. I think I might have been in love with him for awhile. I’m not exaggerating when I say I learned how to accept myself from him. He is the embodiment of compassion and caring, energy that was enfolded in a colorfully manicured package.
For the last five years he’s been in a steady relationship with Troy, who looks like the biggest, scariest mother fucking biker you could ever meet, with a shaved head and tats that cover him from the neck down. But to those who know him, he’s nothing more than a big, bad teddy bear. And he’s absolutely devoted to Dean. Somehow, the two compliment each other in a way that isn’t at first obvious. They actually met at a soup kitchen. Troy is a gourmet chef, but he left his position working at a five star restaurant to manage a kitchen for the homeless, spending a good part of his days helping out Veterans who’ve gotten lost in the system. I never turn down a dinner party invitation from the two.
Tonight was no exception. Instead of a sit down, Troy had set up a buffet, endless trays covered with crudités and finger-foods. There was everything from cucumber sandwiches to pickled okra to something that looked like mini pigs-in-a-blanket, but definitely weren’t the hotdogs wrapped in Pillsbury crescent rolls that Grandma made when I was little. The rumors are that he’s looking into buying a catering business and I have the feeling we were guinea pigs, but if that’s true, I wasn’t about to object. I was loading my plate when Molly sidled up next to me.
“Hey, sugar, save some for me!” She tried to hug me as I balanced my overflowing plate in one hand and hug her back with my other.
“I thought maybe you had gotten lost,” I said as I popped a meatball into my mouth.
“Hm, parent-teacher meetings today. I didn’t think it was ever going to end. I understand why some of those kids are such handfuls after meeting the parents,” she said with a sigh as she picked up a plate and started loading it. “Did you have your meeting with Sarah today?” she asked as she surveyed the mounds of food piled in front of us. “Wow, Troy has outdone himself.”
She made her selections and we both grabbed a glass of wine before we found a corner seat. My answer was a little distracted as I tried to figure out how to hold my plate and my glass and eat at the same time. Finally, I balanced the plate on my knees and hoped for the best. “Yeah, she wants me to start doing interviews. Make it into a regular column.”
“Interviews? That’s not really your thing. You’re better at observing than conversing,” she said around a mouthful of grilled fig.
I should have been insulted, but she wasn’t wrong. I had developed a stutter after my parents divorced when I was eleven. Two years of therapy had corrected my speech impediment, but that was when I started writing. I wasn’t the most quick-witted kid, anyway, and I had found it so much easier to develop my thoughts on paper than to try and push them past my frozen throat. It was also when I had learned how to play guitar. Part of my therapy had included singing, so Mom signed me up for lessons. My speech teacher, Ms. Thompson, was cool and let me pick the songs. She didn’t care if I was singing Glen Campbell’s Rhinestone Cowboy or David Bowie’s Fame, just as long as I worked at it daily. The stutter went away, but I remained reticent, still preferring to communicate through written words. Hence Molly’s surprise when she asked if I was taking the column and I said yes.
“I can’t turn it down,” I said with a shrug. “It’s more money.”
Molly still looked unconvinced. “Who are you going to interview?”
“People in the music industry, mostly. Musicians, studio techs, club owners.” She nodded her head with ‘okay, I can see that’ practically written across her forehead. With my head down, I toyed with my food. “She wants me to interview Val first.”
Molly’s laugh barked out, attracting attention from the nearest of our fellow guests. “That’s why you’re doing it! I should have known!”
I could almost feel my stutter rising back up but I pushed back at it. “That’s not why I’m doing it. Money. Remember? More money!”
“Yeah, keep telling yourself that. You like that guy, I can tell.”
“I do not. Hell, I’ve barely even spoken to him. How can I like someone I don’t know?”
“Yeah, well, I like Kiefer Sutherland and I’ve never spoken to him. But I sure as hell wouldn’t kick him out of my bed, should I ever find him there!”
I growled. “Oh, God, Molly! Why do you always make it about sex? I told you, I don’t like the guy. Not like that. Can you please just drop it?”
“Fine. You don’t like the guy. Like that.” The smug look stayed on her face, even as she yielded. “So, when do you interview him?”
“Tomorrow afternoon. I called the last club he played at and they gave me his number.”
“Wow, that was quick. Where are you meeting him? Somewhere over drinks? Like, maybe lots of drinks!” She was getting entirely too excited about the prospect.
I tilted my head at her with my eyebrows raised in warning and she whispered ‘fine, fine’ but her grin told me she wasn’t about to drop the subject any time soon. “A little coffee shop on St. Marcos Street. Nothing fancy. Hopefully quiet enough we can talk.”
I was saved from her further interrogation when Dean handed me a glass and I looked up questioningly. “Whiskey. I know you aren’t very keen on wine.” He was right and I grinned up at him in grateful thanks. He winked at me, ghosts of parties past still vivid between us. “Remember that night we ended up at Denny’s at two in the morning and they almost kicked us out?” He laughed. “What had we drunk that night, two bottles of Jack?”
I raised my eyebrow as I remembered that night. “And a pint. I think we topped those fifths off with their little brother!’
“Oh, yeah, the little brother! All I really remember is how sick I was the next morning. I still can’t drink whiskey. Wait, wasn’t that the night you disappeared into the bathroom with our waitress?” I smirked and shook my head. I couldn’t see the girl’s face anymore and found Paige’s replacing it in my mind’s eye. “You naughty boy, you were such a slut back then.” We both chuckled at the memory of past escapades and with a shake of his head, he turned back to Molly. “What about you, my dear? Can I get you something else?”
“Nope!” she said cheerfully as she reached over and took my half empty wine glass and lifted it to her lips. “This is fine with me. It’s quite good.”
“I’ll tell Troy you said so. It’s his pick. I know jack-shit about wine.”
“Well, it’s very tasty and I would gladly finish the bottle, but it’s a school night, so I better call it quits. Kindergarteners don’t mix well with a hangover!” She looked sideways at me and added, “And you better head home soon, too, and get some beauty rest. After all, you don’t want raccoon eyes when you see Val!” Dean took in my scowling face and looked back at Molly with the questions written in the lift of an eyebrow. “Oh, our boy here has a hot date tomorrow,” she supplied to our host.
“As if. Don’t listen to her, Dean. I’m doing an interview with a deejay tomorrow and she wants to make more of it then it is.”
Dean looked scandalized. “What, you have a thing for one of those rapper wanna-bes with the waistband of their jeans hanging under their asses? Oh, really, honey, I thought you had better taste.”
            I heard Molly snicker, even though I wasn’t looking at her. This wasn’t the time or the place to make a scene, otherwise I would have snapped at her and told her to shut up. Instead, I lowered my voice and wound one arm around Dean’s waist. “Now, you know better.”  I let my voice get husky as I whispered, “I’ve had the best, after all. So you know my taste is for Dom Perignon, not Old Milwaukee.” My breath lifted the fine hairs next to his ear and I felt him shiver under my hand. “Or have you forgotten that weekend at the lake?”
            Dean’s breath hitched and his eyes glazed over. It was just a few seconds, and then he was back and he turned his head just enough to whisper back. “I’ll never forget that weekend.” And then he gave me a quick kiss on the lips and pulled away, but with a quirk of one of those finally manicured eyebrows of his, he whispered, “but neither will you!”
It had been two weeks before the end of term. I still had one more year to go, but Dean was about to graduate. We spent the weekend at a friend’s lake house with the group, drinking and boating and eating. And fucking. We both thought it was goodbye; that we would go our separate ways and never meet again. At school, we both had roommates, so our times together were occasional hookups in the back seat of his car or quickies in some dark corner at a party. But for that weekend, for those two glorious nights, we had kissed ourselves to sleep and slept wrapped around each other in the middle of that big bed.
The smile between us at the memory was almost shy, but right then Troy came around with another tray, this time with mini shrimp kabobs. He looked back and forth between Dean and I. “Should I leave you two alone? Do I need to be worried?” But the comment was softened by his chuckle.
“No, my dear. You know I’m all yours,” Dean assured him before leaning up to give him a kiss on his cheek. I could have laughed at the small flush that bloomed across the big man’s face. Not because it was funny, but because it was sweet. They really were crazy about each other. I wished I had someone like that in my life. Maybe I’d give Paige a call, after all.
Molly broke into my musings when she rose. “Well, that’s it for me, guys. Time to book. What about you, James? Walk me to my car?”

We made our goodbyes and once she was safely off, I meandered my way to my truck and the thought flooded my mind again, except it was more than a thought, it was a longing. Love. It seemed like such a simple concept, but constantly slipped through my fingers. I’ve spent half of my life looking for it, and yet here I was, once again going home to an empty bed. I thought about the string of women Mom has introduced me to over the years, and I couldn’t even picture most of them. Instead, Val’s face swam around in my thoughts. I tried to organize the questions I wanted to ask him tomorrow, but even that was elusive. I wondered if talking about his personal life was acceptable. Maybe I should wait and ask Sarah what she wants before I make any decisions. And then I merged onto the highway and turned my mind towards traffic and away from my pathetic love-life.  

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