21-Year-Old Scotch: Chapters 7, 8, and 9

By Cris Kane published February 24, 2017
citizencriskane@yahoo.com
Summary
Scott deals with the aftermath of his breakup and eviction as his long weekend comes to a close.

CHAPTER SEVEN

“One…dollar…and…eighty…five…cents…please,” said the recorded female voice. “Please…deposit…one…dollar…and…eighty…five…cents… for…the…first…three…minutes.”

Scott hung up the phone, not having any coins on him. He picked up the receiver and dialed again, this time starting with his finger in the “zero” hole. He couldn’t even guess how long it had been since he had made a collect phone call, or used a rotary dial, or even been inside a phone booth. He knew for sure it had been ten years since he had called this particular number.

The operator asked Scott for his name, then resumed the call. After four rings, Scott heard the clunking of a phone being answered at the other end, and a male voice said, “Hello?”

The sound of that voice gave Scott gooseflesh. “Hey, Dad, it’s…”

But the operator interrupted Scott. “I have a collect call from a Scott. Will you accept the charges?” Scott had completely forgotten the protocol of this procedure. How did we ever live in such a primitive age?

His father’s tinny voice could be heard faintly, shouting away from the receiver, “Marion, it’s your son.”

Scott found it strange that his father wouldn’t simply say he would take the call. As he listened to the static of the silence at the other end of the line, Scott noticed his knee shuddering involuntarily. It wasn’t nervousness, exactly, but a stew of various intense emotions that he couldn’t easily define in a word or two. In all likelihood, there wasn’t a word for what he was feeling, since his current situation was uncommon to say the least. How often would people need to use a word meaning “anxiety caused by traveling back in time and speaking to your dead parents again”? Scott’s mother had lost her long battle with lung cancer eleven years ago, and his father died of congestive heart failure seven months later, so the prospect of having another conversation with either of them without the intervention of a psychic would have seemed impossible to Scott a day ago. Just the distant sound of his mother’s cough was making Scott choke up.

“Hellooo?”, his mother said with her typical tone of Midwestern politeness. Scott almost blurted out something again, but stopped when he heard the operator’s voice again, asking if Marion would accept the charges. “Of course,” Scott’s mother replied.

“Hey, mom,” Scott said, doing his best to stop from crying. “It’s Scott!”

“Yes, I know, dear,” she said patiently.

“It’s so great to hear your voice again!” His own voice cracked mid-sentence.

“We just talked yesterday morning when I called to wish you a happy birthday.” Concern crept into his mother’s voice. “Is there something the matter? You sound awful.”

“I’m fine,” he lied. “Just had kind of a hard day is all.”

“Aww, honey, what happened?”

Scott snuffled back the river of snot that was pooling like lava in his nose, clenching his teeth and pressing his feet against the walls of the phone booth to keep himself from dissolving into a blubbering mess. “Oh, Amanda and I broke up this morning,” he said, trying but failing to break the news casually.

“Ohhhhhh, sweetheart,” his mother said sympathetically. “What brought this about?”

“It’s been building up for…a while,” Scott said, mentally completing the thought with “going on thirty years.” “It just became obvious that we’re interested in…different things.”

“I’m so sorry you’re hurting. I always liked Amanda,” his mother said. “But I never thought you were right for each other.”

The receiver slid out of Scott’s grip, the coiled cord tangling in his fingers as he scrambled to retrieve the handset. He could hear his mother saying, “Hello? Scott, are you there?”, as he brought the phone back to his ear.

“Sorry, mom, I just…I’m not sure I heard what you said.”

“I said I thought you weren’t right for each other.”

Okay, so he did hear her right the first time. “But you always got along so great with her.”

“Of course I did, honey. She was your girlfriend. If she made you happy, then it made me happy. It wasn’t my place to say otherwise.”

See what being polite gets you? If Scott had heard those words from his mother a long time ago, perhaps he would have had the strength to walk away from his marriage. His parents had seemed so delighted when he finally started seeing a girl in college, after being dateless throughout high school, and he had never been able to imagine that he could find a woman he got along with better than Amanda.

“Don’t worry,” his mother said reassuringly. “I know it’s hard, but you’ll get over her. Probably faster than you expect. I just know you’ll find someone perfect for you.”

“Thanks, mom,” Scott said, gearing up to move on to his next topic. “I also might need you to send me some money.”

“Of course, dear,” she said, her voice falling to a whisper. “What do you need it for?”

“Well…I’ve gotta find a new place to live. I…I moved out of the apartment.”

This seemed to bother her more than his breakup with Amanda. “What in the world happened?”

“It’s complicated.” Scott realized that the only honest answer would require him to make a major announcement, one he had successfully dodged while his parents were alive. He bit his lip as he watched his knee bouncing more rapidly than before. “Listen, I’ve got something important I need to tell you. You might wanna get Dad to pick up the extension in the den.”

The silence at the other end was interminable. All he could hear was the faint play-by-play of a basketball game from several rooms away. “Mom, you there?”

Finally, she said, “Yes, I’m here. Can’t you just tell me what it is and I’ll pass it along?”

“Is there something wrong with Dad?”, Scott asked. “He wouldn’t even accept the charges before.”

Scott’s mother sounded slightly puzzled that she would need to explain this to him. “Honey, you know he swore that he won’t speak to you until you change your major back to business.”

Scott felt a major chunk of memory drop into place in his brain, like just the right Tetris piece falling perfectly into a gaping chasm and eliminating several lines at once. Up until now, he had remembered how he quit that play in high school because of his father’s objections, but that recollection crumbled to dust as a barrage of new facts rose to prominence in his mind, negating his previous memory. Instead of acceding to his father’s wishes, Scott now remembered defying his dad, rebelling for perhaps the first time in his life. He stayed in the play and found the experience utterly fulfilling, getting a standing ovation every night. He could clearly picture his mother attending every performance, beaming with pride, each time with an empty seat beside her.

Not everything about his past had changed so radically. Scott could still recall starting college as a business administration major to please his dad. But now Scott could also remember their fierce arguments when Scott finally made the decision to change his major to drama, even though it meant it would take him longer than four years to complete his studies. Scott’s dad had already arranged for one of his close buddies to hold a comfortable job open for Scott when he finished college, and he couldn’t believe his son would throw that away in favor of “a colossal waste of time” like acting. The raw emotions of events which Scott would have absorbed over a span of years in real time had arrived in his consciousness condensed into a single devastating instant, walloping Scott like a spiked wrecking ball to his heart.

“Scott,” his mother asked tenderly, “what’s your important news? If it’s about the money, I’ll send you whatever you need. I just can’t let your father find out I’m doing it. Or is there something else?”

Scott realized he couldn’t come out over the phone. If he decided it had to be done at all, that announcement would have to be handled delicately in person. All he could think to say was, “I just wanted you to know I love you. Tell dad that too, okay?”

“Don’t be silly, son. We know you love us. And we love you, too. Any idea when you’ll be coming home for a visit?”

“I don’t know. I’d sure like to see you again.” Scott was torn between ending the call right then before he burst into uncontrollable sobbing or staying on the line as long as possible to savor every millisecond of hearing his mother’s voice again. He could feel the sadness building inside of him and knew he would soon be reduced to incoherent babbling, so he opted to wrap up the conversation. “Listen, you take care of yourself, okay? Oh, and Mom?”

“Yes, dear?”

“Try to lay off the cigarettes? Please? For me?”

“Goodbye, my baby,” she said sweetly.

Scott hung up the receiver slowly, then dragged his forearm across his eyes to wipe away his tears. He sat quietly in the phone booth for several minutes, trying to regain his composure, only to be brought back to reality by the sound of knuckles pounding on the door of the phone booth. Mr. Galaga stood on the other side of the glass, holding a plate with a slice of pizza and half a cup of Coke. “Your food getting cold!” He placed them unceremoniously on a table and returned to his post behind the counter. Scott took some solace in the realization that some things in this world had not changed on him, at least not yet. He left the phone booth, took a seat and savored the pizza, allowing each bite to linger in his mouth as if he were attempting to memorize it.

When at last he finished, he walked to the counter to pay for his meal. Mrs. Galaga peered with concern from beneath her heavy eyebrows. In a thick voice that was lower than her husband’s, she asked softly, “You are okey-dokey?” They were the first words Scott had ever heard her utter.

Scott broke into a wide smile and regarded the older woman with affection. “Yeah, I am okey-dokey,” he assured her, even if he wasn’t sure about that. She looked pleased and handed him the change from his ten-spot. His thirteen bucks had now been whittled down to eight dollars and fifty cents. He stuck the bills in his wallet and realized just what to do with the two quarters.

He walked over to the jukebox, amazed that the ancient machine would give him five selections for twenty-five cents. He couldn’t pass up that kind of bargain. Although nearly all of the songs had been released before Scott was born, he recognized many of the titles, either from oldies radio or his parents’ record collection. He pondered his options carefully, then made his selections. The Four Seasons started to sing “Walk Like A Man” as Scott crossed the room to face his old nemesis, the Eight Ball Deluxe pinball machine.

His pulse quickened as he inserted his quarter and the machine bleeped and blooped to life. Scott pulled back the plunger and launched his first silver ball. For one sweet moment, all his worries faded into the background as he devoted laser-like attention to the game before him. Unfortunately, things went south quickly. The first ball ricocheted around the upper bumpers a few times before plummeting straight between the flippers, and the second ball survived only slightly longer. It was no surprise that his skills would be rusty, but he had hoped his young body still possessed the muscle memory and reflexes he had honed on the machine so many years ago. Then again, sucking at pinball was well down on the list of things he needed to be concerned about at the moment. By the time Frankie Valli screeched his final “wooo”, Scott had already squandered his fifth ball.

As Scott was lamenting his poor performance, the Galaga wizard beside him shouted victoriously, “High score!” He jumped up and down excitedly, grabbing his jeans by the belt loops to hitch them up before his entire ass was exposed. He raised a pudgy arm in the air, hoping for a high five from Scott, who smiled mildly and gave the other guy’s palm a weak slap.

As the player excitedly entered his initials on the game’s leader board, Scott said flatly, “Just remember, someday someone will beat that score, and then eventually you’ll get old and die.”

“Jeez, man, thanks for nothin’,” the videogame player said sourly, looking back at his initials on the screen, reveling in his accomplishment.

Scott decided he wasn’t in the mood to stick around for the rest of his songs. He waved goodnight to Mr. and Mrs. Galaga and left the restaurant just as the singer on the jukebox offered the advice, “If you wanna be happy for the rest of your life, never make a pretty woman your wife.”

The air was chilly and the wind had picked up as Scott stood outside Galaga’s, trying to decide where to go next. As he rubbed his hands on his upper arms to warm them, he noticed the entry stamp from the Rusty Nail on the back of his left hand, and Phillipe’s address and phone number written on the palm. Lost in thought as he contemplated his options, Scott didn’t notice the tall young man who walked past him, stopped in his tracks several steps later, and turned around. “Mitchell?”

Hearing his last name, Scott looked toward the speaker. The moment Scott caught sight of the man, memories related to him began to bubble to the surface of Scott’s consciousness. “Hey, Derek,” he said with a tone of familiarity.

“Whoa, man, I hardly recognized you,” said the six-foot-six, broad-shouldered swim captain, dressed in a gray sweatshirt and shiny track pants. The glow from the street lamps bounced off his gleaming shaved head, the harsh shadows making his broodingly handsome facial features seem menacing. “What are you wearing, anyway? You goin’ to a costume party or somethin’?”

Scott nodded. “Or somethin’.”

Derek took that as a “yes”, and bent down toward Scott’s ear to inform him confidentially, “Hate to be the one to break it to you, but your costume looks kinda…faggoty.”

“Uh-oh. Really? I’ll make a note of that,” Scott said with mock surprise, but the “mock” part sailed over Derek’s head, which in his case was a substantial leap.

“No problem. Figured you oughta know,” Derek said. “So, where were you at practice today? I called your place and the guy said you moved out.”

Until this moment, Scott had no idea there had been swim practice today, but Derek’s mention of it caused that memory to pop instantly into his brain like a text message. “Guess I must have forgot. This weekend has been…tumultuous.”

Derek could barely mask his exasperation. “What is your deal lately, Mitchell? When you said you wanted to do that play, we cut you some slack, but you gotta meet us halfway. Being one of the Swimming Eagles requires commitment. You can’t keep flakin’ out on us like this. It’s disrespectful to me and the rest of the guys. Remember,” he said, pointing to Scott, “there’s no ‘you’ in team.”

Normally, Scott would have corrected a blooper like that, but Derek’s words had faded to background noise. Scott was busy mentally undressing his towering teammate, his newly arrived memories filling in the gaps for the parts of his body that weren’t visible. Scott could clearly envision specific details like Derek’s succulent deltoids, his outie belly button that resembled a kernel of popcorn, the mole at the base of his sternum that looked like a third nipple. It wasn’t just visuals that Scott could now access. He could vividly recall the considerable effort it took to will himself not to get hard in Derek’s presence in the locker room and at meets, for fear that Derek and the rest of the team would notice him boning up in his swimsuit and think he was, to use Derek’s word, “faggoty”.

Yet Scott felt no such concern now as his eyes lingered on Derek’s sweatshirt and the way it clung tight to his body, emphasizing the immensity of his pecs and the wide “V” of his lats. Scott gave his cock full permission to plump inside his shorts, not caring whether Derek or any passerby on the street might spot his increasingly unmissable bulge. Scott was in no mood to listen to a lecture on the virtues of teamwork and the spiritual healing properties of chlorinated water. Right now, Scott was just horny as fuck.

“Yo! Mitchell! Are you listening to me?”, Derek barked, jolting Scott out of his reverie.

A sense of serenity swept over Scott as he allowed himself at last to surrender to the urges he had been fighting against for so long. It was as if ominous thunderclouds had been looming over his head his entire life, and he had spent fifty years (and a day) waiting for the bolt of lightning that would punish him for his thoughts, a punishment that never came. Now, at last, beams of sunlight had broken through the gloom, brightly illuminating his path forward. He clapped a hand on Derek’s massive arm and smiled. “Derek, I’ll see ya ’round.”

As Scott began to walk away, Derek shouted after him. “Wait, where are you goin’?”

Without looking back, Scott loudly declared, “I’ve finally committed to my team.”

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CHAPTER EIGHT

It began to sprinkle before Scott was a third of the way to his destination, but he didn’t pick up his pace. In his current frame of mind, the raindrops on his face and body felt refreshing, even cleansing. Even when it turned into a downpour, Scott continued his leisurely stroll, unconcerned with how wet he got. He didn’t fear the storm clouds any more.

When he finally reached the entrance of the Rusty Nail, Scott and his wallet were pleased to learn that there was no cover charge on Sundays. He did still need to flash his I.D. to the bouncer, who stamped a fresh pink symbol over the rain-smeared blue one that remained from last night. As he stepped inside the club, Scott felt at peace. Although he had never entered this place until twenty-four hours ago, it now felt like home. Inside these walls, he didn’t have to explain or apologize for who he was. He could just be.

The club was less packed than it had been on Saturday, but a couple dozen guys were on the dance floor, embracing the current song’s directive that everybody should have fun tonight and, secondarily, Wang Chung tonight. Scott vigorously scrubbed his fingers through his hair to shake loose the excess moisture and bring back some volume to his mullet. He realized that his snug leather shorts were likely to grow even tighter as they dried, and merely the anticipation of that caused his erection to intensify. He walked toward the bar, noticing that his wet shoes were picking up sawdust from the floor with each step, leaving a trail of footprints behind him.

Scott climbed onto a stool and noticed Shemp, the flat-topped, tatted, cranky bartender from last night, facing away from him, outfitted tonight in a ribbed olive tank top and camo pants. “Hey, how come you guys put sawdust on the floor anyway?”

Shemp glanced into the mirror behind the bar and recognized Scott. “Sawdust’s absorbent, so it makes it a lot easier to clean up a spilled drink. Or puke. Or blood. Or piss. Or cum…”

“Okay, I get the idea!”, Scott said. “Sorry I asked.”

Shemp slung a bar rag over his shoulder and approached Scott. “So what can I get the birthday boy to drink tonight? Looks like you got caught in the rain, so I suppose you’d like a piña colada.”

Scott laughed, then thought about his financial situation. “Can I just get a water?”

Shemp gave him the stinkeye. “Oh, sure, now that nobody’s buying for you, you turn into a cheapskate. You want water, go back outside and aim your mouth upward.”

“Sorry,” Scott said. “I’m just light on cash right now.”

Behind him, Scott heard someone say, “I’ll buy you a drink.”

Scott recognized the voice instantly, but hearing it in this context was totally unexpected, even disorienting. A familiar pungent aroma confirmed the speaker’s idenity before Scott even looked up. He spun around on his stool and saw his roommate Todd, looking slightly damp but totally chill in a Mötley Crüe concert tee, ripped jeans and white Reeboks. “What are you doing here?”, Scott asked.

“Looking for you. I tried Galaga’s but they said you just left, so I took a shot that you might come here. I musta driven right past you. So, what can I get you?”

Scott gave it a moment’s thought, then turned to Shemp and asked, “Can I get a Fuzzy Navel?” Never having been an adventurous drinker, Scott was surprised how many different mixed drinks he could think of. He even knew the ingredients and how to prepare them. Noticing Shemp’s blank stare, he helpfully offered, “It’s got peach schnapps and…”

“I know what’s in it,” Shemp said, none too thrilled that Scott had come up with yet another frou-frou order. He pointed to Todd. “You?”

“Heineken,” Todd said confidently. Shemp was more tolerant of that order and walked off to get their drinks.

Scott was so staggered by the sight of Todd in a gay bar, he couldn’t think straight. So many questions were swirling in his head, but the first one to escape his mouth was “How’d you get in here?” Scott lowered his voice so Shemp wouldn’t hear. “You’re not twenty-one.”

Todd discreetly flashed Scott an authentic-looking Idaho driver’s license. The photo was definitely Todd, but it gave his name as Raoul Walsh. Scott chuckled when he noticed the birthdate. “This thing says you’re four years older than me. And six foot two? Who’s gonna believe that?”

“They let me in, didn’t they?”

Shemp returned, handing Todd his Heineken and placing Scott’s hurricane glass daintily on a napkin. Todd handed Shemp a ten, raised his green bottle, and clinked it against Scott’s drink. “Happy belated birthday, man. Better late than never.”

Scott sipped some of his peach-and-orange concoction as Todd took a swig of from his bottle. Still bursting with curiosity, Scott asked gingerly, “So…do…you…come here…often?”

“What? Me? No!”, Todd said, gagging on his beer. Todd noticed a slight frown on Scott’s face and realized he had come off away too defensive. Given that he was voluntarily standing in the middle of a gay disco, Todd knew he should have anticipated that Scott might make the obvious assumption. “Sorry, I didn’t mean anything by that. But, no, I’ve never been in one of these places before. I usually hang out at the bars around campus.” Ah, Scott thought, that explained where Todd disappeared for hours every night. Todd looked around to assess his surroundings. “This is a nice place, though. Not creepy at all.”

“Creepy? What exactly were you expecting?”, asked Scott, fully aware that he himself had been too spooked to enter this place until yesterday…or, to be more accurate, twenty-nine years from yesterday.

“I dunno. I guess I figured everything would be frilly and pink, and there’d be guys in leather chained to the wall gettin’ whipped and shit.”

Scott stifled a giggle. “No, you’re thinking of Malibu Barbie’s Dream Sex Dungeon. That’s another mile down the road.”

“Oh. Cool. Maybe I’ll hit that next.” Todd smirked.

“If you go, be sure to ask for Ken.”

“I bet you G.I. Joe is a regular,” Todd shot back. “He’s probably a pretty popular guy with that kung-fu grip of his!” They both chuckled, but Todd’s expression and tone quickly turned serious. “Hey, listen, man, I just wanted to apologize for Kevin. He’s got no right to throw you out.”

“He said there was a vote,” Scott said. “I take it you were the odd man out.”

“Ya gotta believe me, I tried my best to talk some sense into those guys. I think I almost got Lee on my side, but you know him, he’s totally Kevin’s butt boy.” Todd flinched at his choice of words. “Sorry. I didn’t mean anything by that.” Scott waved his hands to indicate that he took no offense. “So, finally, I told them if Scott goes, I go.”

“And what’d Kevin say to that?”

Todd pulled a folded newspaper from the back pocket of his jeans, open to the apartment listings. “Guess we’re lookin’ for a new place, roomie.”

And with that, a bit of Scott’s faith in humanity was restored. “Seriously? You wouldn’t be afraid to share a place with a ‘fag’?”

“Not if you don’t mind living with a ‘pothead’!” He jammed the paper back in his pocket and took another glug.

Scott propped an elbow on the bar and rested his chin in his hand. He was disappointed in himself that he hadn’t bothered to get to know Todd better the first time around. He’d been too shy and nervous to appreciate much beyond Todd’s appealing surface and the occasional second-hand high, but it took real balls for a straight guy in the Eighties to come into a gay bar and be so unfazed. Then again, Todd probably had enough THC in his system that a nuclear holocaust wouldn’t harsh his mellow.

Todd said, “Ya know, I always kinda had a fifth sense you might be gay, but I wasn’t sure until I saw you in that horse play.”

Scott was surprised and delighted to hear that Todd had gone to “Equus”. “You came?”

“Just about, when that chick got naked.” Todd’s poker-faced delivery was so dry, Scott wasn’t sure if Todd was joking or had genuinely misunderstood the question.

As the next song began, Scott burst out laughing, slapping a hand over his mouth.

“What’s so funny?”, Todd asked.

Scott pointed up to the speakers, then realized that Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” didn’t have the same universal kitsch value in this pre-“Rickrolling” era. It was a just a popular song by that white guy from England who looked like Howdy Doody.

“You don’t like this song?”, Todd asked. “I dunno, I think it’s kinda catchy. I mean, it’s no ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’, but…” Todd scratched his head, giving something serious thought, then asked casually, “So, do you ever dance?”

“I have been known to dance,” Scott answered. It slowly dawned on him that Todd was mulling a follow-up question, so he relieved Todd of the responsibility of asking it. “Are you wondering if I would dance…with you?”

Todd shrugged. “Sure, why not? It’s just dancin’. When in Rome and shit, right?” Todd drained the rest of his drink and placed the bottle on the bar beside Scott’s half-empty glass. “Course, you don’t hafta go around blabbin’ about it.”

Hopping down from his stool, Scott scoffed, “Who am I gonna tell? Kevin?” Although Scott did have to squelch the urge to run to a phone booth and tell Phillipe all about this right the fuck now.

Todd gestured for Scott to lead the way to the dance floor, where they joined the other customers already shaking their groove things. The roommates both looked bemused and awkward, finding themselves in a situation that neither had contemplated until a minute ago. As Scott gyrated his arms and shifted stiffly from foot to foot, he watched Todd ease into the beat, his body moving seductively with the music. “Holy shit, you’re a good dancer,” Scott declared.

“So the ladies tell me,” Todd said with a lopsided grin. Finally getting a good look at Scott from head to toe, Todd observed, “Galaga wasn’t kiddin’ when he said what you were wearin’. This how you’re gonna dress all the time now?”

Scott had become so comfortable, he had to look down to be reminded what he was wearing. “Only for formal occasions. Ya know, weddings and funerals and such. At home, I’ll probably just wear a g-string.”

Todd laughed uneasily, not used to Scott being the deadpan one. “You are joking, right?” Scott failed to conceal his grin. “Thank god. I do like the earring. I’ve actually been thinkin’ of gettin’ one myself.”

“Really?”, Scott asked, easily envisioning a simple gold hoop in Todd’s lobe.

“Yeah. In the right ear, though.”

Having gone through this himself last night, Scott asked for clarification. “You mean the right ear? Or the RIGHT ear?”

Todd winced, trying to remember the rules. “The whatever-ear-is-not-the-ear-that-you-got ear.”

Scott nodded. “I know a guy.”

Something caught Todd’s attention over Scott’s shoulder. He leaned toward Scott and mumbled, “Don’t look now, but there’s a guy scopin’ you out at two o’clock.”

To Todd’s mortification, Scott instantly turned his head over his left shoulder and saw Art across the dance floor, dancing with no one in particular and showing off his gymnastic moves in gray jeans and a paisley vest with no shirt. Although Art was definitely looking their direction, Scott could tell that he was not Art’s focus.

“Hate to tell you, buddy, but I’m pretty sure he’s scoping YOU out.”

Todd snorted a laugh and said, “No way.”

“Hey, you put yourself in the meat market, you gotta expect people are gonna check out your cutlets.”

“I s’pose it’s a compliment,” Todd conceded, then asked Scott, “So is that guy your ‘type’?”

Scott gave it some thought. While he still admired Art’s physique from an aesthetic standpoint, Scott realized that, after last night’s interaction, he had lost all interest in Art. Todd interpreted Scott’s silence as reluctance to be honest. “Hey, don’t be embarrassed to admit it. I mean, if you’re gonna be into guys, he is pretty jacked. He’s got a good butt.”

Scott gasped. “You’re checking out his butt?”

Todd was matter-of-fact. “What? That is scientifically a good butt. If that exact same butt was on a chick, I would be majorly into it. Isn’t that the kind of thing you guys talk about? How much you like each other’s butts?”

Scott had to admit the truth. “To be honest, I haven’t really talked to a lot of guys about butts or…any of this. I’m kinda new at it.”

Todd nodded sympathetically. “Okay, so if not that guy, what IS your type?”

Scott pondered that question, realizing that the subject had finally moved beyond the realm of the hypothetical. “Probably the same things you want in a girl. Someone who’s loyal. Honest. Friendly. Smart.”

“Isn’t that the Boy Scout oath?”, Todd asked. “So what you’re saying is you’re looking for a guy who’s really good at tying knots?”

Scott appreciated that the circumstances had not diluted Todd’s ball-busting sarcasm. “Or maybe I love a man in uniform.” Scott’s eyes drifted to the flashing mirror ball above them as he continued his list. “Let’s see, what else? Good sense of humor. Good-looking, naturally. Good taste in music.”

“Dude,” Todd said, “this all sounds like ME.”

Scott retorted, “I said, GOOD taste in music,” tugging playfully on the tail of Todd’s untucked Mötley Crüe shirt for emphasis. Still, there was more than a grain of truth in what Todd had said. Todd did check an awful lot of Scott’s boxes. Just to be certain he wasn’t missing any signals, Scott had to ask bluntly, “But you’re definitely not gay, right?”

Todd shook his head apologetically. “Nobody’s perfect.”

Scott allowed himself a melancholy moment as he watched that brief glimmer of possibility plummet and fade, but he snapped out of it quickly, “So, since we’re getting so personal tonight, what is YOUR type?”

Todd took the question so seriously, he stopped dancing and scratched the stubble on his chin. Scott could see something flash in Todd’s eyes, then get instantly dismissed. “Hey, I saw that! Don’t be shy. You can tell me. Is it some big bleach-blonde, fake-boobed, heavy-metal chick?”

Todd looked at Scott, uncharacteristically vulnerable. “Honestly, I always thought Amanda was pretty hot.”

Scott took a step back, not having expected that answer. On the surface, they seemed totally wrong for each other, but Scott had to admit that, even after being married to her for decades, he actually had no idea what Amanda’s type was. He just knew that he wasn’t it. “Well, she IS available now,” Scott said.

Todd scoffed. “Nah, it’d be too weird for me to ask her out.”

To his surprise, Scott realized it wouldn’t be weird for him at all. “I swear, it wouldn’t be a problem for me. I’d just like to finally see her happy after all these years.”

Todd laughed. “All these years? You make it sound like she’s some old lady in her thirties!”

As Rick Astley’s voice faded, Scott heard someone over his shoulder, asking, “Okay if I cut in?”

Again, Scott knew who it was instantly, not just from the voice, but from that unmistakable, intoxicating new-star smell. He turned around and said, “Jared?” Although he was attempting to go unrecognized in a backwards white baseball cap, reflectorized sunglasses, and a high-school letter jacket, Jared was drawing every eye in the place his direction like an electromagnet. In that moment, Scott learned the true meaning of charisma: automatically being the center of attention, even when you’re supposedly striving to be inconspicuous.

When he heard Todd say, “Hey, I’m Todd,” Scott was embarrassed to realize he’d briefly forgotten that Todd was even there. Scott blathered some introductions and the two guys shook hands. Todd could tell from the glazed look in Scott’s eyes that he had just become a third wheel, so he backed toward the edge of the dance floor, declaring, “I think I’m gonna take off.” Both Scott and Jared hurriedly insisted that he didn’t have to go, but Todd insisted. “I’m s’posed to be meeting some people at eight anyway, but, hey, Scott, let’s meet at Galaga’s tomorrow for lunch.” He waved the apartment want ads in the air, then turned to Jared. “Nice to meet you, dude.”

“You too, Todd,” said Jared, shifting his attention back to Scott. Behind Jared’s back, Todd caught Scott’s eye, pointed toward Jared’s butt and gave the “OK” sign with his fingers before heading toward the exit. Scott chuckled.

The next song began, and Bill Medley’s baritone voice crooned, “Now I’ve had the time of my life. No, I’ve never felt like this before…” Scott looked into Jared’s glasses, seeing his own distorted self reflected there. “I thought Phillipe said you never come to this place.”

“I don’t. If anyone asks you, I’m not here. But Phil had a hunch I might find you here.” Hearing that Jared had come here specifically looking for him, Scott felt the pace of his heart speed up. “I just need to know, do you have some kinda problem with me?”

Whatever he had expected Jared to say, it wasn’t that.

“I mean, do you hate me for some reason?”

Scott was baffled. “What? No!”

“Well, then, did I do something when I was drunk that I need to apologize for?”

Scott took a second to think, but had to say emphatically, “No.”

“So why’d you throw a rock through my window?”

Scott gulped, knowing his guilt must be written on his face in letters twenty feet high. A torrent of explanation tumbled from his mouth, circuitously explaining how he had returned to Jared’s house in search of his wallet and key but became worried when no one answered. “I was scared you might be lying in there unconscious or, ya know…worse.” He stood motionless with a wan expression, hoping he didn’t seem too pathetic or too flighty or too stalkery.

Jared reached up and removed his glasses, hanging them from the collar of his black t-shirt. The dance floor spotlights made Jared’s icy blue eyes shine, and his delicate lips curled upward, bracketed by perfectly symmetrical parenthetical folds in his smooth cheeks. “You were that worried about me?”

Scott nodded slowly, and feeling started coming back to his extremities. “I should’ve left a note to explain, but I guess I kinda panicked. I promise I’ll cover the damage.”

Jared puffed his lips dismissively. “Don’t worry about that. I’m just glad you’re not mad at me.”

“Not at all.” He had no reason to be mad at Jared. Even having Jared pass out on him had been one of the high points of Scott’s weekend, if not his life as a whole. As far as he could remember, the only people who had ever lavished Scott with the level of attention that Jared had last night were Amanda and his mother.

Jared noticed that they were the only two people on the floor who weren’t moving to the music. “Should we go talk somewhere else or do you want to dance?”

“I want to dance!” Scott started to move his limbs in his usual free-form manner, but Jared took hold of Scott’s right hand and wrapped an arm around his left shoulder, smoothly starting to cha-cha like Patrick Swayze come back to life, even though Swayze was still alive at the moment. Scott feared that he would look like a stumbling moron trying to match Jared’s fluid motions, but he found it effortless to follow Jared’s lead.

Scott knew he should allow himself to enjoy the pure physicality of the moment, but a question nagged at him. “How’d you know it was me who threw the rock?”

“Neighbor came over and described who did it. The giveaway was the purple stain on the crotch. Before that, I was afraid it was some gay basher who was pissed off by our party. It’s a relief to hear I didn’t do anything stupid. I know I can get a little overbearing and self-centered when I have too much to drink. Okay, MORE overbearing and self-centered than usual.” Scott found it encouraging that Jared could be self-deprecating and self-aware, when someone that great-looking could easily skate through life being an egocentric prick.

“So, is it true what Phil…excuse me, Phil-LEAP…told me about you getting kicked out of your apartment? That’s terrible. You should sue them or something.”

“I suppose,” Scott said, “but, to tell the truth, I’m not all that interested in fighting for my right to keep living with assholes. Todd and I are gonna start looking for a new place tomorrow.”

“Oh. Todd.” Jared tilted his head in the direction Todd had left. “Is Todd your…boyfriend?”

Scott smirked. “Nope. He is, unfortunately, straight.”

“What a shame,” Jared said, although Scott could swear he detected a hint of relief in Jared’s tone. “Still, you never know for sure. I’ve been with a few guys who swore they’d weren’t into guys, but were making an exception for me.”

Scott could totally understand that. “So, that girl in the pictures in your bedroom. Is she your exception?”

Without falling out of step with the music, Jared stiffened noticeably. Scott had landed on what was clearly a touchy subject. “Teresa’s sweet,” Jared began, as if reciting a rationale he’d practiced repeatedly in his head. “We’ve been together since junior high. We’ve always been there for each other. And my parents fucking adore her. But…” Even with the song at full blast, Jared felt the need to lower his voice and lean in to Scott. “It doesn’t feel the same with girls, ya know? I mean, she and I still have sex, and she always seems pretty okay with it, but I feel like I’m faking it.”

“I didn’t realize it was possible for a guy to fake it.”

“Emotionally, I mean. Oh, no, we definitely screw. I get hard and cum, the whole ball of wax. But it doesn’t mean anything in here.” Jared tapped a finger against his chest. “Maybe I’m just too much of a ham. Give me an eager audience, even if it’s just one person, and, dammit, I am gonna perform my ass off!”

Scott laughed, wishing he had been able to summon more of that “let’s put on a show” spirit to his own lovemaking with Amanda. Then again, if he and Amanda had been happier together, Scott might not have found himself standing here tonight in Jared’s arms.

Art had now paired up with a twink who was fawning over Art’s body, but Art’s attention was squarely on Scott and Jared. Scott smiled at Art, then rotated the hand that was resting on Jared’s shoulder and raised its middle finger Art’s way. Art sneered and returned his focus to his doting dance partner.

Although Scott had been too lost in the moment to notice it, thoughts of Jared which predated last night’s party had begun filtering into his mind while they danced. He now had tangible memories of their first meeting at auditions, their initial awkwardness during rehearsals, and the generosity which Jared extended to help the much less experienced Scott become more comfortable with having to lug a naked stranger on his back. Scott could even recall how, one night after rehearsal, Jared had invited him back to the Out House, ostensibly with the goal of learning how to make unusual drinks in case either of them ever needed to get a bartending gig to support their “acting addiction,” as Jared referred to it. Drawing on the vast selection of bottles which had eventually been emptied into the trash can last night, Jared and Scott mixed their way step-by-step through the recipes for everything from a Harvey Wallbanger to a Singapore Sling. Of course, once each drink was finished, they couldn’t resist doing a taste test, and the two castmates rapidly got well and truly snockered. They passed out on the kitchen floor before any hanky-panky could ensue, but the evening had the desired effect of breaking down any tension between them, forging a bond between Jared and his “trusty steed” which was apparent to anyone who saw them onstage together.

By now, few gaps remained in Scott’s knowledge of the life that had led up to his birthday night at the Rusty Nail. Instead of growing up shy and hesitant to take risks, Scott now remembered an outgoing childhood in which he embraced challenges instead of avoiding them. Still on the quiet side, he had been drawn to pursue solo activities like distance running and swimming, but his excellence eventually got him noticed by those teams and he was pulled into their social orbit. Despite being less of a wallflower, Scott still had no memories of dating in high school, but he did recall going to senior prom, something he had dodged the first time around. His date had been Susan, a plain but kind brunette who ran the anchor leg of the 440 for the girls’ track team. She appeared to enjoy being with Scott, but seemed just as relieved as he was when the night came to an end with little more than a polite front-porch kiss.

His falling out with his father was now fully integrated into the life story Scott carried in his head, as was the growing desire he experienced upon arriving at college to explore the twin passions he had spent years stifling: acting and guys. He still remembered meeting Amanda during freshman year, and little about their relationship diverged from their pre-existing chronology, at least until a day ago. For over three years, he had remained devoted to his girlfriend and officially “in the closet”, but his increasing involvement in the drama department brought him into more direct contact with openly gay and lesbian students and instructors than Scott 1.0 had ever experienced as a business major. Being gay no longer felt like a terrible affliction that only he had been saddled with. Emboldened, he occasionally ventured to an out-of-the-way boutique which he had heard some of the other actors discussing, where he bought clothes that he thought better expressed who he was deep down. Still, he had never dared to wear any of it in public until yesterday, when his buddy Phil (who had recently rechristened himself the more cosmopolitan “Phillipe”) persuaded Scott to raid his secret wardrobe and celebrate turning twenty-one at the Rusty Nail.

The Scott Mitchell now being twirled across the dance floor to “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life” by his own personal Johnny Castle was very different from the one who had arrived in this same bar a day ago, with a much clearer sense of who he was and what he wanted. Yet one nagging doubt remained. As Jared pulled him in close, Scott spoke in a vulnerable tone. “Jared, if I ask you something, will you promise to be absolutely honest with me?”

Jared looked hesitant, but he knew what the correct answer to that question was always required to be. He responded with an upward inflected “Y-e-e-es?”

With a lump in his throat, Scott asked, “Am I good?”

Jared exhaled for a solid five seconds, blindsided by such a heavy philosophical…

“I mean, as an actor. Should I really give it a shot, or am I just wasting my time?”

Jared relaxed, feeling on much firmer ground when it came to discussing the theater than to debating deeper issues of morality. “I’m not sure I can say. All I’ve ever seen you play is a horse.” Noticing Scott visibly deflating, Jared hastened to add, “Don’t get me wrong, you were a fucking great horse! But acting’s a tough gig, and they tend to give most of the really top-notch horse roles to, ya know, horses.”

Coming down rapidly from the high he’d been on since walking away from Derek outside of Galaga’s, Scott nodded slowly and muttered, “Okay. Thanks for being honest.”

Jared grew annoyed, grabbing Scott by his strong shoulders and giving him a vigorous shake. “Dammit, man, that’s not supposed to be your reaction. You’re supposed to get pissed off and throw somebody else’s drink in my face and say, ‘Fuck you, Jared, I am a fuckin’ star and I’ll show you, you conceited little pretty-boy!’” Aware that his voice had risen and was attracting eavesdroppers, Jared pulled Scott closer and spoke so only the two of them could hear. “All I meant was I haven’t seen you act enough to make that kind of judgment. But I’ve seen YOU! And you’re smart and you’re funny and you’re cute. And you look ridiculously great without a shirt. People have won Oscars for less!”

Scott stifled a laugh for fear that unleashing it would break the dam holding back the tears welling up in his eyes.

Jared continued, maintaining his passion. “Take a chance. Bet on yourself. Give yourself a few years and see how it goes. You never get anything you want in life if you don’t take risks. What have you got to lose? You’re young.”

Scott absorbed this fusillade of a pep talk and grinned. “Yeah, I am, aren’t I?”

Breathing more easily, now that he’d navigated that mine field, Jared realized he had his own important question to ask. “So,” he said warily, “what do you think of MY acting?”

Scott sounded iffy. “Well, I don’t know, I’ve really only seen you play a guy who’s pretending to ride a horse.”

“Okay, Nugget, I deserved that.”

Scott broke into a wide grin. “You want to know the truth? You are going to be a movie star. A big goddamn movie star. I guarantee it one-hundred percent.”

Jared was touched. “You seem awful sure about that. Even I don’t have that much confidence, and if you haven’t noticed, I’m pretty full of myself.”

“Trust me,” Scott said, waggling his fingers and shifting into a spooky voice. “I…can see…the future!”

“Is that so? Okay, Kreskin, what do you prognosticate for the rest of tonight?”

Scott placed his fingers on his forehead and fluttered his eyelids as if falling into a trance. “I see us sticking around here for one more drink, after which we go back to your place to finish that Twister match.”

“I like the sound of that,” Jared said. “Ya know, I hear there’s a version that you can play in bed. There’s no spinner, and you can put your body parts anywhere you feel like.”

Scott raised his eyebrows enthusiastically at that idea. As the song reached its climax, Jared lowered Scott into a dip, then seemed to lose his grip on Scott’s arm, dropping him toward the floor. Scott’s eyes went wide with panic as Jared caught him in time, with a gleam in his eye that indicated the whole thing had been intentional. Jared bent his face down toward Scott’s, said, “Oops, sorry,” and planted his lips on Scott’s for an intense, lingering kiss. Scott felt like the air was being sucked out of his lungs, only to realize that he had simply forgotten how to breathe.

The song ended, and Jared slowly hoisted Scott back to his feet. As the two of them walked toward the bar, arms around each other’s waists, Jared reached over and slipped a ten dollar bill into the waistband of Scott’s leather shorts.

“Is that my tip?”, Scott asked.

“It’s for our drinks. I’ll take a gin and tonic, and get something nice for yourself.” He peeled off in the direction of the rest rooms. “Right now, I gotta piss like a racehorse. You know how that feels, don’t you, Nugget?”

Scott whinnied and pounded the sawdust-covered floor with his right “hoof”. Jared gave him a widescreen smile and strutted toward the men’s room, doing his best Swayze moves.

When Scott reached his barstool, he noticed that Shemp’s eyes were following Jared with intense interest. “Who was THAT?”, he asked.

“My future husband,” Scott said with a grin.

Shemp snorted dismissively. “Right, like they’ll ever let ‘our kind’ get married.”

Scott considered giving Shemp some inside scoop on that subject straight from the distant future, but he knew how much people hated spoilers. Instead, he slapped the tenner on the bar. “A gin and tonic for Twinkletoes there, and for me…” Scott pondered the drinks he remembered making in Jared’s kitchen. “I’d like a Slow Comfortable Screw.”

Shemp’s exasperation finally boiled over. “That’s it. I’ve had enough of these cockamamie concoctions. I’m giving you a MAN’S drink!”

Scott laughed as Shemp marched away, then studied his own reflection in the mirror behind the bar. He could hardly believe that happy guy was him. Was all of this really happening? Were he and Jared actually going to go back to the Out House and…?

His train of thought was derailed as he saw Art in the mirror, leading his “twinque du jour” down the hallway toward the emergency exit. Scott felt like he should let the kid know what he was in for, but he realized the kid probably wouldn’t listen to him anyway. Scott knew he wouldn’t have heeded anyone’s warnings last night. Besides, Scott thought, the only lessons that really stick are the ones that we learn first-hand.

He heard something slide onto the bar, and the air filled with an intriguing scent that suggested flowers, oak barrels, and a fine cigar. He turned to see a glass of liquid gold shining before him. He picked up and held it appreciatively under his nose. He raised a silent toast to Shemp, who was leaning against the backbar with his arms folded, watching for Scott’s reaction.

Scott lifted the glass to his lips and took a long sip, letting the liquor roll around his tongue. It was surprisingly sweet, with the same playful array of flavors as, but infinitely more maturity than, the drink he’d consumed here yesterday. Only now as the liquid slipped down his throat did it occur to Scott what had happened to him immediately after he took that fateful drink. With panic in his eyes, Scott looked to Shemp, who had a sly grin. “What is this stuff?”, Scott demanded to know.

“Scotch,” Shemp informed him. “Fifty-year-old scotch.”

The room began to spin around Scott. The music became cacophonous. His body grew warm all over. He recognized these sensations from yesterday, but instead of surrendering to them, he fought back. Goddammit, the moment he’d been avoiding for fifty years (and a day) was on the brink of happening, and he was not going to miss it! He sensed that he was losing his balance, and his actions seemed to slow to a crawl as he toppled backwards, flailing his arms, clutching at the air, desperately grasping for anything that would keep him in the past…or was this the present? He felt his descent slowing until he hung suspended in the air, frozen in place while the world around him accelerated as if someone’s thumb was on the fast-forward button. Soon, he was enveloped in a barrage of light, blurs of motion, and the sound of white noise, all intensifying to a tremendous crescendo until…

Nothing.

Nothing but blackness and silence.

=============================================================

CHAPTER NINE

Gradually, faint sounds reached Scott, as if a portable radio was playing a mile away and being flitered through a mixture of caramel and nougat that filled the space between his ears. What at first seemed like the yipping of a distant dog gradually resolved itself into distinguishable syllables, then grew louder and became actual words.

“Sir, are you okay?”, someone asked. “Scott, can you hear me?”

Echoing far in the background, Scott could detect voices singing over a driving beat. He’d heard the words many times before: “I was dreamin’ when I wrote this, so sue me if I go 2 fast. But life is just a party, and parties weren’t meant 2 last.”

Scott slowly moved his eyelids, prompting a different voice to say, “I think he’s coming to.” He felt two hands on each of his forearms, lifting him off the cool, hard floor and planting him on a barstool.

When Scott finally opened his eyes, he stared blearily ahead and saw a middle-aged man staring at him. Things were fuzzy, but he didn’t look bad for an old guy, with lean features and a close-cropped cut clearly designed to deemphasize his dwindling gray hair. That he kept himself in decent shape for his age was emphasized by the tailored fit of his white Oxford shirt. The top two buttons were undone, offering a hint of a solid, tanned chest. An empty glass rested on the bar before him. He looked a little lost.

Flanking that customer were a muscular young blond without a shirt and a shorter man in a v-neck tee, heavy-set and cue-ball bald. As Scott regained his faculties, he realized that two men of exactly that same description were standing on either side of him, steadying him on his barstool. When Scott raised a hand to feel for bumps on the back of his head, his mirror-image did likewise. Scott looked down at the bar and noticed his own empty glass.

His confusion lifted as Scott realized he had been looking at his own reflection. He regained his bearings, and the murkiness in his brain dissipated quickly as memories came flooding in, as if a data dump of his entire life history was being downloaded into his mind in a single burst from an immense zip file.

“You all right, Scott?”, the golden-haired adonis asked, checking the dilation of his customer’s pupils. “You really took a header off that stool.” Scott recognized him as the bartender who moments ago had served him a birthday drink, the most amazing drink Scott had ever had.

“I’ll be fine,” Scott assured him, although he was still a bit loopy from the drink’s after-effects. “That stuff sure has one hell of a kick!”

The bartender nodded, with a sly grin. “We only bring it out on very rare occasions for customers we think will appreciate it.”

Scott turned toward the stocky man. “Thanks to you too for helping me up.”

The stocky fellow said, “My pleasure.” Despite his jowls and the Billy Joel bags under his bloodshot green eyes, there was something elfin and spry about the guy. He was examining Scott’s face carefully. “Do I know you from somewhere?”

Reluctantly, Scott admitted, “Maybe you’ve seen me on TV.”

“Nah, I don’t watch TV,” the bald guy growled dismissively.

Realizing they were roughly the same age, Scott suggested, “Well, I did go to college here. Maybe we had classes together?”

“Could be. Jew ever used ta come here?”, the man asked, indicating the bar.

“Yeah, once in a while. Once I was legal.”

The fireplug of a man leaned closer, giving Scott a full blast of beer breath. “Did you and I ever…hook up?”

Scott gave the man’s face a second look. Although there was indeed something familiar about him, Scott shook his head and said, “I don’t think so.”

“Aw. Too bad. I betchoo were pretty cute.”

Scott watched as the guy gimped toward the front door, taking one last wistful look at the patrons on the dance floor who were partying like it was 1999. Scott did the math and calculated that most of those dancers would likely have been in pre-school in 1999. Scott shook his head in disbelief and thought, “God, I’m old.”

The hunky young bartender jerked his chin in the direction of the exit and said, “Don’t mind that guy. He’s harmless. My uncle told me, back in the day, that guy was quite the stud. Almost went to the Olympics.”

Now it clicked. “That was Art?” He could now see the facial resemblance, but it was hard to grasp that those once perfectly-honed muscles were now buried somewhere inside that roly-poly body.

“Yeah, that’s Art. So you did know him?”

“I used to see him around. Why didn’t he go to the Olympics?”

“Really sad. Apparently, just before trials, he suffered a bad groin pull.”

Scott hated himself for finding this hilariously poetic. “The way I remember it, somebody new was pulling his groin every night.”

The bartender chuckled. “Yeah, I’ve heard the stories. People sure change over time, don’t they?”

Scott nodded. “You’re very wise for your age, Trey.” He was surprised he could still remember the bartender’s name after the tumble he had taken.

Trey returned behind the bar, and Scott once again admired the intricately filigreed tattooed wings that dominated the bartender’s back. Over the cash register hung a framed poorly-focused and off-kilter photo of a cranky man with a crew-cut, giving the camera the finger with both hands. Trey pointed to the picture and said, “If you used to come here, then you must have known my uncle.”

“Your uncle was Shemp? Wow. I haven’t thought about him in forever. He sure was a crusty old fart. Hey, this has always bugged me. Shemp wasn’t his real name, was it?”

Trey shook his head. “Shepard. When my dad was a baby, he couldn’t pronounce Shepard. Closest he could get was Shemp, and it stuck.”

“Huh. Interesting. So, is he still around?”

Trey hung his head solemnly. “Afraid not.” Scott was about to offer his condolences when Trey looked up and said, “He and his husband live on a boat in Key West.” Scott shook a fist in mock anger at Trey.

Scott always grew nostalgic whenever he was back in town. His thoughts naturally drifted to the people he knew during his college days, like his old roommate Lee, who had approached Scott on graduation day and apologized for voting to toss him out of the apartment. They hadn’t stayed in touch over the years, but had recently reconnected on Facebook. Seemed like a perfectly decent family man, but they shared little in common besides briefly living at the same address.

On the other hand, Scott had never spoken to Kevin again after the eviction. Lee informed Scott that Kevin had indeed gone on to be a cop and was already retired. The one detail that Lee felt compelled to share with Scott was that Kevin’s oldest son was gay…and that Kevin had recently walked him down the aisle. No news on whether this had made Kevin any more tolerant of people who weren’t related to him.

Following the great eviction, Scott and Todd had found a nice two-bedroom apartment close to campus, which they shared until Scott graduated. Todd did ask Amanda on a date once, shortly after she and Scott broke up, but, to no one’s surprise but Todd, he wasn’t her type. Scott and Todd had remained good friends, trying to get together for a weekend someplace every couple of years. Todd was very successful in real estate, and had become something of an international marijuana connoisseur, traveling to the remotest corners of the planet in his endless quest for the most righteous bud. Todd had never married, but each year his Christmas card showed him in some different exotic locale in the company of some different stunning young lady, each of whom Todd expressed certainty would turn out to finally be “the one”. Because of Todd’s globe-trotting adventures as an international man of mystery in search of primo weed and foxy ladies, Scott had taken to referring to his old friend as “James Bong”.

Phil (he dropped the whole “call me Phillipe” thing after a month) remained around town after graduation, getting a job as a hair stylist and staying involved in drama at the community theater, doing hair and costumes and occasionally performing. It was during a production of “Greater Tuna” that he met the love of his life, a visiting director from London named Rafe who was so flamboyant that Phil seemed downright pedestrian by comparison. They had four spectacular years together – and Phil remained constantly by his side, dutifully nursing Rafe through a long losing battle with AIDS.

Scott felt the cell phone buzzing in his pocket. He pulled it out and saw a birthday text from Amanda, accompanied by a photo of her family. After their breakup, Amanda had done a lot of soul searching about her own conflicted feelings. Long story short, she and her sorority sister Patty (who now preferred “Pat”) had been together since college and now had three extraordinary kids: Yana, who was adopted from Syria; Olivier, who was adopted from Rwanda; and Patrick. When Amanda and Pat decided to try in-vitro fertilization, they asked if Scott would be the sperm donor, the greatest honor of Scott’s life. Unfortunately, after two failed attempts, it was determined that Amanda could never carry a baby to term, which is how Pat ended up being the one who gave birth to Patrick from Amanda’s egg and Scott’s sperm. Growing up, the family nicknamed the boy “Scooter”, as a nod to Scott and to avoid confusion with Pat, but he abandoned his nickname when he entered school and encountered children who had seen “The Muppet Show”. Inside the family, he still answered to “Scoot”. Scoot got Amanda’s breathtaking looks and Scott’s blond curls, which the now college-age boy wore in a bountiful afro. Scott would always point to his own thinning hair and warn Scoot not to get too attached to it. Interestingly, in the family snapshot, Pat’s hair was roughly as short as Scott’s. Scott and Amanda chatted frequently, far better friends now than they ever had been as a couple in college, and the whole family, including Scott, vacationed together as often as their busy schedules allowed. When the women finally tied the knot two years ago, Scott stood beside Amanda at the altar…as her best man. He was delighted to see both women smiling in the photo and so obviously still in love. He would have hated to see Amanda get tied down in an unhappy marriage to some loser.

Scott and Jared had flirted with a relationship on and off in college, but Jared’s reluctance to become a couple openly caused a rift which only intensified when they moved to opposite coasts after graduation. Jared headed to Hollywood as he planned, intuitively knowing that his was a face born to be on the big screen, while Scott tried his luck in New York City. The fiercely competitive environment forced Scott to work hard to improve his craft, while he scraped by bartending at a dive in the Village. He gradually made his way from off-Broadway to supporting roles on Broadway to the occasional guest spot on one “Law And Order” or another. He eventually landed a role on a soap opera as one of the first openly gay characters on daytime, unsuccessfully lobbying the writers and producers to give him the first male-on-male kiss in soap history. The material wasn’t exactly Mamet, but he was making a more-than-good living as a professional actor, something his father had sworn would never happen.

From three thousand miles away, Scott watched as Jared’s stardom grew, getting increasingly bigger roles in increasingly bigger movies, but becoming typecast as the prototypical handsome lout who tended to end up covered in frosting or manure by the end credits. Scott envied Jared’s mainstream success, while Jared was jealous of Scott’s greater ability to keep his private life private. Glancing at the tabloids in the supermarket, Scott frequently saw Jared’s name awkwardly portmanteau-ed Brangelina-style with that of some rising starlet or another. Jared played along with the game publicly, assured by his “people” that it was good for his image, but the dishonesty and secrecy ate away at him. He turned to booze more and more, sometimes drunk-dialing Scott in the middle of the night, L.A. time. During those marathon calls which often lasted until dawn rose over Manhattan, Jared on more than one occasion told Scott, “You’re the only person I can tell the truth to.”

The two of them had gone without seeing each other in person for several years when they were asked to serve as pallbearers at Phil’s funeral. Despite everyone’s initial assumption upon hearing the news of his death, Phil did not meet the same fate as his longtime companion. Phillip had been crossing the street, on his way to opening night of a one-man show he wrote and starred in about his years with Rafe, when he was was struck by a hit-and-run drunk driver. He died instantly and, everyone hoped, painlessly. Scott was heartbroken, having traveled to town specifically to be there for the premiere. When Jared arrived from Hollywood, he was devastated and blotto, barely able to keep it together during the service and finally losing all composure at the cemetery (where Scott was pleased to note that the headstone read “PHILLIPE”). After the funeral, Scott and Jared went to the Rusty Nail to get good and shitfaced, and Jared couldn’t stop asking out loud, “What if I had been the drunken asshole who hit Phil?” That night, they returned to Jared’s lavish hotel suite for some sloppy foreplay before, in what had become a time-honored tradition in their friendship, both of them passed out. In the morning, Scott helped Jared make arrangements to enter rehab – and took an extended leave from the soap opera to go to Los Angeles to be there for him. After five weeks, he pulled up stakes permanently and moved in with Jared.

They attempted to keep their relationship low key, but avoiding paparazzi became more and more difficult. One morning five years ago, Jared woke up, told Scott he was tired of pretending, booked an appearance on “Ellen”, and just happened to casually mention his boyfriend during the interview. Jared’s agent and manager objected fiercely. Jared promptly fired them both. Six months later, Scott and Jared got married in Paris on the Eiffel Tower. Scott dearly wished that his mom had lived to see that day. He was glad that his dad hadn’t.

“Sorry, Nugget. Did I miss anything important?”

Scott turned around on his stool to face Jared, who had only grown more handsome as he got older. His slicked-back hair and matching goatee were currently dyed jet black for his latest movie role, but even without the dye, Jared only had a few stray gray hairs. DNA had been exceptionally generous to Jared. “Let’s see, while you were in the men’s room, I took a drink of scotch and I passed out on the floor.”

Jared tsk-tsked. “Liquor is a dangerous thing.” Jared’s sobriety bracelet was barely visible inside the cuff of his black Versace suit.

As the sounds of Prince segued into the opening strains of “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life”, Scott pointed up toward the speakers. “Your request?”

“You know me too well,” Jared said.

“Hey, you’ll never guess who was just here,” Scott said. “Remember Art Concrete, that big gymnast from school?”

“Oh, yeah!”, Jared said, lighting up at the memory. “He used to be smokin’ hot. How is he now?”

“Room temperature,” Scott informed him. “Oh, I almost forgot. When I came to, I had this crazy idea stuck in my head for a movie. A guy gets magically transported back to his college days and has the chance to alter the way his life turns out. Huh? What do you think?”

Jared wrinkled his nose. “Been done. I prefer stories that are a little more grounded in reality.”

“Says the man playing Kraven the Hunter in the next Spider-man movie.”

“Touché.”

Scott loved to tease Jared about his latest part, but in fact, Scott was immensely proud that Jared had emerged from his dark years, his stint in rehab and the hubbub over coming out of the closet, and now had the biggest role of his career as the main bad guy in a Marvel movie. Scott certainly couldn’t gripe about the studio requiring Jared to get in the best shape of his life for the part, in which he would display his impressively jacked torso beneath a vest made from a lion’s mane. Scott had stayed admirably fit, mostly through swimming after he wrecked his knees running, but he finally had to concede that Jared had outstripped him in the body department. Seeing how much grueling effort at the gym it had taken for Jared to develop python-sized arms and an eight-pack at the age of fifty, Scott promised Jared that he would be willing to do the same, but only under the condition that Marvel paid him millions of dollars to do it.

Jared noticed the time and said, “Hey, we better start heading to campus for the ceremony.” Scott nodded, pulling on a gray Armani jacket. The two of them had returned to town not just to mark Scott’s fiftieth, but because the stage where they had first acted together in “Equus” was officially being renamed the Jared Taylor/Scott Mitchell Theater tonight. Scott couldn’t help but think of the line from that old movie: “Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.” Apparently you could now add Jared and Scott to that list.

As Scott rose to his feet, Jared noticed something strange in Scott’s hair and attempted to brush it away with his hand.

“Watch it with the hair, Kraven,” Scott said. “I need to protect my vanishing natural resources.”

“Sorry. I just saw a little dandruff.”

“Dandruff? I don’t get dandruff.” Scott reached back and could definitely feel something odd clinging to the hair on the back of his head. He grabbed a few granules and examined them. “That’s not dandruff. It’s sawdust. Must be from when I hit my head on the…” He looked down at the smooth black floor, and didn’t see a speck of sawdust. “Hey, Trey, when did you guys stop putting sawdust on the floor?”

Trey shrugged his impressive shoulders. “No idea. Before my time.”

Scott looked flummoxed. He sensed that something was askew here, but he couldn’t for the life of him think what it could be.

Jared studied Scott with genuine concern.“You sure you’re okay, Nugget?”

Scott shook off his confusion and smiled adoringly at his husband, squeezing his hand. “Never felt better in my life.”

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