|Primary Characters:||Mike, Dick, Scott|
|Spoilers:||It’s a movie, ok?|
|Warning:||adult themes, language|
|Description:||What happens to Mike after the end of the movie? This is the story of how he learned to get along with Dick and comes to terms with his past.|
When Mike woke up, he didn’t know where he was. What first struck him was that he wasn’t wearing any clothes. He sighed. Apparently, he’d done it again. Passed out on a job. He was wondering where the trick was and if he’d be stuck paying the bill. If so, he’d be lucky if the manager accepted blowjobs as payment.
It was odd though. The bed he was lying in seemed to have been made up for one person and the linens weren’t in any disarray. He couldn’t imagine a trick would tuck him in like that. Momentarily, he recalled Scott, but determinedly put that thought out of his mind. Scott was gone. Most likely he wouldn’t see him again. He wasn’t even sure he wanted to. Sometimes, it was best just to take things as they came. Drift. Not fight back. It was when you did things started to get really rough.
The door opened a crack and Mike tensed up. This was it. Either the trick had come back for what he’d paid for – or was about to pay for – or – it would be someone demanding payment of one kind or another. A familiar voice made him reconsider his assumptions.
“You’re awake. I was beginning to think you’d never snap out of it. There’s breakfast in the kitchen, but first – do me a favor, ok – go to the bathroom and clean up.”
Dick. What had happened last night? Mike couldn’t recall anything, other than walking on one of those endless Idaho roads, like in his dreams. He must have passed out, but how Dick had happened to run into him, he couldn’t guess. It was hardly likely his brother/father spent his days searching for his wayward brother/son. Why should he?
It was less trouble just doing what he was told. Mike got up and noted that he was still wearing his grimy old shorts and nothing more. He could see Dick’s point about cleaning up. His feet were decidedly dirty and he probably stank of sweat and other body fluids he’d rather not dwell on. In fact, there was even a whiff of urine. How long had he been out? More importantly, what had happened to him while he was out? He came to the conclusion that at least whatever it was, didn’t still hurt. The only problem was he could use a fix, but other than that, he was doing as well as he ever did.
He dropped his shorts on the floor of Dick’s bathroom and got into the shower. It felt great finally being able to wash properly. When was the last time he’d done that? He couldn’t even recall. He scrubbed his skin thoroughly and borrowed some of Dick’s cheap cologne. Since Dick had told him to use the bathroom, he had naturally borrowed the shaver as well and used the likewise cheap aftershave.
Not until afterwards did it occur to him that he’d probably used up all Dick’s hot water for at least twenty-four hours. He felt guilty over that and his reaction to Dick’s cologne and aftershave. So what if his stuff was cheap? At least it didn’t come with a price tag, like everything else in this world.
He finally managed to gather up enough courage to venture into the kitchen, hoping Dick hadn’t gone to any trouble on his account. The thought of that made him feel distinctly uncomfortable. To his relief, there only seemed to be orange juice, coffee and some toast. If he was lucky, that was just Dick’s usual breakfast.
Dick turned around from the coffee machine and regarded him seriously.
“There you are. I was wondering what took you so long. Oh, you’re not dressed. I thought I put out an old track suit for you. Never mind. You can do that later.”
“Where’s my own stuff?”
Mike stared suspiciously at Dick. He didn’t suspect his brother of stealing his clothes, but what if someone else had?
“I burned it. It stank. Come on, you must have known that. I’ll buy you some new clothes and shoes.”
“You burned my shoes as well?”
“No. You weren’t wearing any when I found you.”
No shoes? What had happened to him? He wished he could remember, but his mind was a blank. Was it a bad trip? Had some trick beaten him so badly he’d suffered amnesia? Of course, it could just be his old narcolepsy, taken to new extremes. There was no telling, where that was concerned.
“Oh. Someone must have stolen them. What about my watch?”
“Gone too. You don’t think I’d steal from you, do you?”
“No, of course not. Sorry.”
“In case you’re wondering, I flushed that coke down the toilet.”
Mike didn’t even remember he’d had coke on him. Or maybe he’d sniffed some of it and it was cut with some rat poison or whatever and that was what had made him pass out for so long. Not that it mattered. Dick had no business taking his stuff and throwing it out.
“It was mine. Why did you have to -“
“Mike, as long as you’re under my roof, I can’t let you do drugs. Is that clear?”
“I didn’t ask you to take me in. Do I ever ask for anything? Besides, it’s a little late for that dad stuff now.”
The moment the last words were out of Mike’s mouth, he regretted them. He could see Dick’s face change expression and after a brief second of worry he’d goaded his brother/father too far, he felt sorry for Dick. That secret must have been eating him up. Maybe he should have told him he knew, years ago.
Dick looked away, then seemed to make an effort to try again. He sighed, and the look in his eyes was so sad, Mike wanted to apologize and tell him to forget about all of it.
“Well, since you know – Anyway, I’m not trying to be your father. I just thought you needed a place to crash.”
“Yes. I do. Thanks. I’m sorry, Dick. I didn’t mean to -“
“Never mind, ok? Let’s eat.”
They finished their breakfast in silence, and Mike left to find the track suit Dick had mentioned. He found it along with a pair of trainers, which looked so new, he suspected it was Dick’s own, but when he looked at his brother’s feet, he was wearing another pair, about the same, so he wasn’t sure.
Dick was still in the kitchen, putting stuff away. Mike was wondering if Dick was going out to work or what he had planned for the day. It seemed to be about nine or ten, judging by the light. Just like Dick had said, his watch was gone, so he couldn’t tell the exact time. It was stolen anyway. He’d lifted it from a trick a couple of months back. Maybe he’d be better off without it.
“Thanks, man. This is ok.”
“Good. I knew it would probably be a bit big for you, but until we can get to a store, I thought it would do.”
“Why are you doing this?”
“Taking me in. Giving me stuff. You don’t owe me anything.”
“I know. I just wanted to. You’re my – brother. Now that you know – that other stuff – I was hoping you could stick around.”
Despite himself, Mike was touched. It had never occurred to him that Dick had been so aggressive before, because the secret had been weighing on his mind. He really should have told him he knew a long time ago.
“So what happened to your friend?”
“Scott? He got married. Inherited his old man’s fortune and – as far as I know, he’s living it up in Portland.”
“I see. And he left you to manage on your own?”
“He doesn’t owe me anything.”
“Right. Mike – I just have to ask – how did you know?”
There was never any doubt in Mike’s mind what Dick was asking. The question was, how much would he tell him? Maybe now was the time for the whole truth.
“Well, there was talk, at that institution. I didn’t understand it at the time, but later, things fell into place.”
Dick’s face paled visibly.
“I had no idea they knew about that.”
Dick looked so stricken, Mike wished he hadn’t told him. On the other hand, there was more and all of it was just as bad as the rest of their family secrets so he’d better hope Dick could take it.
“If it’s any consolation, no one was blaming you.”
Judging by the expression on Dick’s face, it wasn’t.
“Of course, the narcolepsy was a dead giveaway too. I looked it up at a library and when I saw that one of the causes was – inbreeding – I just knew. Besides, I’ve been there too.”
Dick looked up and studied him sharply. He was frowning in concentration, but Mike thought he might as well help him out. The sooner they finished this conversation, the better. He was hoping they’d never have to get into any of it again.
“If I tell you now, will you promise not to mention it again?”
He went on, not waiting for any reply. At least he could hope.
“We did it too.”
“You and mom?”
Dick’s eyes filled with tears and suddenly it occurred to Mike that telling his brother might have been a mistake.
“Why? You should have come to me. If you’d told me I would have – I would have put a stop to it somehow.”
“I wanted to. I wanted her to love me too.”
“It’s not right. Jeez, Mike, you should have told me.”
“I know that now. Dick, I never would have told you. I was jealous of you and what you and mom seemed to have. You were her favorite. The big brother.”
“Hell. Is that how it seemed to you?”
Dick made a sound Mike was pretty sure was intended as a laugh but came out more like a sob. Mike didn’t know why, but his own eyes suddenly misted over. He’d never guessed Dick cared so much about him. Damn. He didn’t need that on top of everything else. Deep down, however, he knew, though he never would have admitted it to himself before, that he felt the same way about his brother. As far as he was concerned, Dick was just his brother. His brother. That other stuff – they’d just forget about it. It would be as if it had never happened. They were one screwed up family, that was for sure.
“Let’s forget about it now, ok? Dick?”
“What? Oh, you won’t get any argument from me. You know, I’ve spent twenty years trying to forget and to build myself some kind of normal life. I wanted that for you too. If I hadn’t been such a chicken shit I could have asked you to stay a long time ago.”
“Maybe I wouldn’t have come. You know me. Too damned proud for my own good.”
“You’d let that rich guy take care of you and not me?”
“No. I took care of myself. Forget about Scott.”
“Right. Ok, we’ll need to get you some new clothes and – is there anything else you need?”
“No. I found everything I needed in the bathroom. Listen, Dick, are you sure you can afford to keep me?”
“Yes, I’m sure. I wouldn’t have asked if I couldn’t manage.”
Dick drove him into town and they picked up a couple of shirts, jeans and shorts and other odds and ends, Mike hadn’t even dared to hope for during his years on the street. Like socks. Usually, he’d go without, because he wouldn’t have any way of washing them anyway. The jacket had apparently been gone too, by the time Dick had found him. It occurred to him that he was probably really lucky Dick had found him when he had. The Idaho nights got cold, just like the ones in Oregon.
“How did you find me?”
“I was on my way home from a bar. Actually, it’s a motel. I’d been out for a couple of drinks and -“
“There are girls there and anyway -“
“Girls? You mean hos?”
Dick blushed intensely. Mike smiled wryly. What a family they were.
“Oh, please. Now isn’t that just typical? You’re buying and I’m -“
Again, Dick looked so sad, Mike almost regretted his words. After all Dick was doing for him, he’d better learn not to hurt his feelings all the time.
“Sorry. You do as you like. It’s none of my business what you do.”
“That’s not – Mike, I guess I knew what you were doing. I hated it. If – it hadn’t been for that – thing – I would have asked you to stay a long time ago.”
“Yeah, you told me. It’s ok. Really. I don’t mind.”
“No, it’s not ok. How can you say that you don’t mind? It’s – degrading.”
“No more than for those girls you – date.”
Dick flinched as if from a blow. Clearly, not the right thing to say.
“Ok. I guess I mind, but it’s not as bad as it sounds. You get used to it.”
“You can get sick and -“
“No. It’s ok. I’m fine. Apart from the narcolepsy. Nothing contagious. Honestly. I’m careful.”
“You don’t do it again, you hear me? Never again.”
“I guess. What else would I do though? What can I do?”
“If you like, I’ll try to find you a real job. Nothing fancy, you know, whatever. It won’t pay much, but I guess it would be enough for – music or whatever you like.”
Again, Mike was touched by Dick’s obvious concern for him. It bothered him, but somehow, it also felt good. What could he give Dick in return? All he could think of was simply staying with him and taking care of himself. Maybe he could help out around the house.
In the evening, they made dinner together and watched some tv. Mike couldn’t remember the last time he’d watched tv either. Sometimes, they’d watch at a hotel or at some trick’s house, but tv didn’t really interest him. Afterwards, Mike found out that Dick had been planning on letting him have the bedroom while he himself would be sleeping on the couch. Mike put a stop to that. He drew the line at turning his brother out of his own room. Living with him might be ok, he’d have to see about that, but he wouldn’t impose on him.
The job Dick managed to get for him really didn’t pay very well. Not compared to turning tricks. At times, he almost fell into the same old routines. The need for a fix made him glance inquringly at every customer who entered the store, where he unpacked stuff and disposed of empty boxes out back. He also swept the floors and did just about everything other than cashier’s work. No one seemed to pay any special attention to him, and when his mind began to analyze the town for potential tricks, he checked himself, recalling his promise to Dick. He wouldn’t go back on his word.
Besides, a part of him knew that Dick was right. It was degrading. While he was still living on the streets, he had kept telling himself there was nothing to it. Easiest thing in the world. What could be more natural than having sex? Except he’d never have chosen any of those people as his partners, with the possible exception of that rich chick he’d scared the bejeezus out of that time he’d blacked out while he was trying to kiss her. That would have been something. He couldn’t understand why the damned narcolepsy had kicked in again.
It occurred to him that maybe it had in some way reminded him of his mom. His wish to see his mom again didn’t in any way clash with his knowledge that what they’d done was wrong. He knew that now, but he would never blame her for it. For a while, he’d used it beat himself up, but in the end, he’d decided it was just one of those things that happened in his life, but not in other people’s. He’d never understood what had made Scott rebel against his dad. Sure, the old man had been a bore and a bossy old fool, but as far as Mike knew, he’d never raised a hand against Scott and definitely not abused him sexually.
It was funny. He could use that term when thinking about others, never about himself and what had happened between him and his mom. It hadn’t felt as abuse. That was the tricky thing about it all. What felt good, wasn’t necessarily good for you. Like coke. That had taken him a long time to get over. Even now, he sometimes had a craving for coke or smack or speed or anything stronger than the beers Dick would bring home. Not that he was complaining. He’d never in a million years imagined it would be ok to live with Dick. If someone had asked him a year back, he’d have said he hated his brother. Now he was hoping no one would want to know.
While he was out back, disposing of the old cardboard boxes, it started to rain. It wasn’t really cold, so he didn’t bother seeking shelter in the old shed or inside the store. Better get the work over with, so he could get home to Dick. Dick didn’t go to that bar anymore. Mike was hoping he hadn’t ruined it for him. He just didn’t see how a guy like Dick would have to pay for it. Surely there had to be someone who would be attracted to him? Mike even thought he might find a girl who would go out with him for nothing. Though why he’d want to do that, he didn’t know. Scott would have laughed at him. It was Scott who was into girls. Mike – wasn’t really into anything these days. He wasn’t even sure he loved Scott anymore. His life was ok as it was. Who needed love anyway?
The doorbell rang and Dick went to open it. It was odd though. Mike had a key so he shouldn’t have to ring. Maybe it was another customer. Someone who had taken longer than usual to pick up their paintings but who had finally remembered. He could use the money. Uneasily, he shied away from the thought that maybe it would be a cop, asking about Mike. They’d never discussed Mike’s life in Oregon in any detail, but Dick had an idea his brother might have been up to more than just turning tricks.
The face looked familiar but it was a while until he made the connection.
“Hi. Scott Favor.”
“I was wondering if Mike is here.”
Dick stared coldly at the young man standing on his doorstep. He’d known right away how Mike had felt about the creep. It couldn’t have come as a surprise to this Scott guy and despite that – or perhaps because of it – he’d dumped Mike alone on the roads of Idaho or in Italy or wherever it had been. Left him to fend for himself. No way was he going to let him see Mike again.
It occurred to him that he ought to ask the creep in, just so he wouldn’t get the idea he was hiding something.
“You’d better come in.”
Scott didn’t miss the chill with which Mike’s brother – or – if their argument was anything to go by – his father – greeted him. He didn’t have any reason to trust this guy. The last time they’d met, he’d seen the guy – Dick – or whatever his name was – shaking Mike, maybe slapping him too. Still, he couldn’t very well refuse when the guy was trying to be polite.
Scott sat down on the couch Mike had left only a couple of hours earlier to go to work. Every morning, Mike put away the linens and tidied up the place. Maybe he’d gotten into the habit while he was living rough, or maybe – Dick had a feeling that might be it – he was trying his best to show his gratitude for being allowed to stay.
Dick briefly considered offering that guy Scott a beer, but decided it would be going too far. Besides, any time now, Mike would be walking in and by that time, Scott had better be gone.
“He was here for a while, but he took off. You know how he is. Haven’t heard from him for ages. I thought he might have been with you.”
Scott recognized the tone. Unbelievable. This guy – who probably had slept with his own mother – was blaming him for abandoning Mike. The fact that he had a feeling he had run out on Mike, didn’t make Scott feel any better.
“No. I – had things to do. My father died and I needed to deal with that.”
There was no encouragement in Dick’s voice, and Scott didn’t feel like explaining himself. It hadn’t worked out anyway. None of it had turned out the way he’d hoped it would. Not inheriting his old man’s fortune, or – to be honest – living on the streets. Suddenly, his motivation for rebelling against his father, against society – against everything – was gone.
Scott couldn’t believe this guy – Dick – wasn’t more worried about Mike. His own brother – or son – for crying out loud.
Scott got up to leave. There was nothing for him here. Where could Mike have gone off to? With winter coming on, he’d be helpless wherever he was, unless he’d managed to get all the way to California, and Scott doubted that. He didn’t like to imagine Mike on his own, trying to pick up enough tricks to keep body and soul together. Any moment he was likely to pass out and leave himself vulnerable to any sort of attack.
“Thanks for letting me know. I’ll have to look for him somewhere else.”
“Yeah, you do that.”
The door being shut behind him, so fast it only just failed to snag his jacket, felt like a silent rebuke.
When Mike got back, there was no trace of the unwelcome visitor. Dick didn’t mention him either. Now that he’d finally been able to unburden himself of the secret which had been weighing on him for so long, he was at last free to care for his brother the way he’d always wanted. He didn’t want to remind Mike of the guy who had clearly broken his heart and dumped him in the middle of nowhere to be robbed and left lying on the road.
Scott drove off, not even giving the expensive car a second thought. Far too soon the expensive gadgets his new position had given him access to had ceased to thrill him. The money, the clothes, the comfortable beds, the warm cosy houses he slept in – none of it satisfied him. He’d have missed the street, if it hadn’t been for one thing – the tricks. There were always two sides of the coin. The friendship and the downside – the flip side.
Of course, he knew where to find the other guys and the girls too. Even after Bob had died, they’d still be sticking together, more or less. He could go and see them, but somehow, it wouldn’t be the same now. They wouldn’t see him the same way as before. He wasn’t one of them anymore.
It occurred to him that he’d always been an outsider. In his old life as well as on the street. Never more so than now. Sure, there was his entourage – the sponges, the beggars, the usual hangers-on. He could give a party for the city’s finest, but why would he want to? They weren’t his friends.
Stepping into the old man’s shoes was easy. After all, it was expected of him. In another way, it was the toughest thing he’d ever had to do. His heart wasn’t in it and frankly, he didn’t care if he failed.
Suddenly, he was disgusted with himself. Even a guy like Dick saw it and despised him for it. He’d bailed on his friends. They’d been all he had, and he’d traded them for a fat bank account.
That winter was the longest Scott had ever lived through. At least it felt that way. The weather men on tv didn’t seem to think it was any longer than usual, but in any case, the days went by so slowly. He didn’t have anyone he could talk to. Not really. The lawyers would hassle him with their legal crap but he could hardly force himself to pay attention. He paid them to handle all that stuff.
One night, he drove by one of the places he knew he’d see his old friends. He even thought he saw one of them, but he didn’t have the nerve to pick him up. At this point, he’d have been glad to pay any one of them whatever price they’d ask just so he could sit down and have a real conversation with someone. On the other hand, if he was seen, his newly found spotless reputation would tumble down like a house of cards. Of course, he also knew where the girls went. There were at least two he really liked. If he picked up one of them, regardless of what they actually did, he thought he could live with the tarnish on his good name. In the end, though, he just drove around for another half hour, then returned to his house.
It wasn’t really cold, it just felt that way. The lights were on all over the place, but it still felt dark and empty. He went into the kitchen and found the cook ready to pack it in for the night.
“Mr Favor. Can I get you anything?”
The old woman looked tired and Scott didn’t think he could force anything down anyway.
“No, thanks. I’m fine. Just taking a look around.”
“Is everything to your satisfaction, sir?”
“Yes, it’s fine. Thanks. You go on up to your room if you like. I don’t need anything.”
“Thank you, sir. I will.”
Hurriedly, Scott left, so he wouldn’t keep the old woman from her show or whatever it was she was looking forward to. He looked into the old man’s study, but it was somehow emptier than the rest of the house put together.
On the wall his mother’s portrait was hanging. He took it down and studied her face intently. His father had told him he was so much like his mother it was uncanny.
Coming from the old man, that wasn’t a compliment. It was understood that being too much like one’s mother, meant being too weak, too feminine. He’d never believed Scott when he was still trying to protest his heterosexuality. Once he gave that up and instead did all he could to make the old man belive he was gay, he never had any trouble believing him.
Now he was gone, just like his wife. There would never be any possibility of proving oneself to him. Scott sighed and put the portrait back. He had one just the same in his own room. It was the features from that particular portrait that he recalled, not the blurred oval from his own memories. He could also remember his mother’s voice, barely. That was it.
She’d died when he’d been too young to really know her. When he was older, he’d found she’d died in childbirth. The baby – a boy – had died with her. Scott had always wondered what having a brother would be like. Someone to watch out for and give advice to. Having someone you could count on all the time. Kind of like –
Scott slammed his fist down onto the desktop. The pain made him angry and the anger made it easier to focus his thoughts where he wanted them. He went back to the kitchen and found a couple of beers in the fridge. There was nothing on tv that he wanted to watch, but he’d turn it on anyway, for company. If the beer didn’t work, he knew where the stronger stuff was.
Mike sat down to dinner. He still couldn’t get over the fact that on most days when he got back from work, Dick had some kind of dinner ready. So what if it was just a can of beans and some bread, or something prepackaged? He’d actually gone to the trouble of fixing something in advance. Mike wasn’t used to it and for a long time, it made him uncomfortable. He’d been relying on himself for so long, it wasn’t easy to let someone else – someone other than Scott – care for him.
“Thanks, man. That was great.”
Dick made an odd gesture with his head, as if he was trying to shake it and nod at the same time. In the end, he just shrugged. Dick wasn’t much better at accepting gratitude, than Mike was at dishing it out.
It was Friday night and Mike knew that before his arrival, this would have been the time for Dick to get dressed up to go out for a few beers and – some sex. Mike didn’t like to think that he’d ruined it for him.
“Listen, Dick. Why don’t you go to that bar you were telling me about? I’ll be fine on my own. There’s gotta be some movie on tv or whatever. You don’t have to babysit me anymore. Go on.”
“Nah. I don’t feel like it.”
“Why not? Is it because of what I said?”
Dick began to pick at the dirty dishes, clearly uncomfortable. Usually, Mike would let whatever it was he’d been trying to discuss go and let Dick off the hook. For some reason, tonight, he just couldn’t.
“Dick. Come on. Talk to me.”
“I just don’t feel like it.”
“You did until I came along. Don’t let me stop you. It’s not like I have a right to judge.”
“That’s not -“
“Then what it is?”
“I don’t feel comfortable doing it, that’s all. Especially when I know that you -“
“Yeah, that’s me. Not anything to do with you.”
Dick cast him a reproachful glance which told Mike he might as well have saved his breath. His brother clearly felt that it had everything to do with him. Again, he was struck by a feeling of – unease. Dick shouldn’t care so much. It was no use. You always ended up hurt.
“Ok. Then why don’t you go anyway? Have a couple of beers and – who knows? There might actually be some other girl, who’s not expecting to get paid. I mean, unless you have some pretty weird -“
He broke off, shamed by Dick’s embarrassed stare. It wasn’t as if he was asking. If Dick really had some – exotic tastes – that was his business. Except Mike couldn’t imagine his brother wanting anything but the usual. Missionary position. In and out and nothing more. There had to be some girl who’d be interested.
“It’s been ages since I went out for a beer. How about if I came with you? We could just sit there like two normal guys and talk or watch tv.”
“You should have said something. Of course, if you want to I’ll take you.”
“Ok. So – let’s go.”
Dick didn’t argue anymore, but Mike knew he would have had plenty of objections, if he’d known what Mike had in mind. After he’d noticed Dick’s unease connected with dating and girls, he’d had an idea that if he could just spot some likely looking girl, around Dick’s age, he’d be able to get her to join them and then – Dick would have to be a real moron if he didn’t see where things were going.
Mike didn’t have a license, but he knew how to drive. He could easily drive himself back – except that would mean leaving Dick to walk or hitchhike back afterwards. No, he’d have to make his own way back to Dick’s place or just wait in the car. The girl would probably find him a total weirdo, but he could take it. As long as Dick got laid, that was all that mattered.
He’d forgotten this bar, or in any case, others just like it, was his mom’s old haunt. It bothered him for a while, until he managed to push the thought away. He’d come to face the truth. Neither he, nor Dick would ever see her again. Even if she was still alive, she didn’t care. She’d dropped out of their lives as if they didn’t count. In fact, even if he found out where she was, he didn’t want to see her again. He was through with her now. Since he’d come to live with Dick he hadn’t had one single episode. It was almost as if the narcolepsy was gone. Of course, he knew better than that. It was still lurking in his flawed genes, just like who knew what else.
Again, he managed to push the thought away. He wasn’t here for his own sake. Time to pay Dick back for all the times he’d been there for him in the past, not to mention how he’d been there when he most needed him. After Scott had left, or rather, after he’d left Scott.
Dick was getting them their beers and Mike took a good long look around the room. It didn’t look promising, he had to admit that. Most of the customers were male. Guys like himself and Dick out for a couple of beers and a good time. He could easily spot the pros. Just girls here, at a place like this, or rather women. Neither one of them was younger than thirty, he guessed. Not that that would be a problem for Dick. Just as long as they weren’t as old as mom.
They had their beers and ordered another round. There were pool tables in the back and after a while, when Dick had asked about half a dozen times if it was ok that he left, he went in there and played a game or two.
Mike kept looking around, until finally, he thought he’d spotted the one. She was about thirty, maybe a little more and she looked nice. Not very smart, but kind and Mike imagined she was Dick’s type. Not sophisticated or elegant, but sexy in a simple, natural sort of way. Mike was still debating with himself whether he should offer her a drink first or wait for Dick to return. It would probably be wiser if he waited. If Dick hit a winning streak, he might end up having to flirt with her himself and he wasn’t good at that kind of thing. He’d never been interested. It seemed like such a waste of time.
To his relief, Dick returned and judging by his relaxed and almost happy smile, he had won a bit. Mike knew his brother didn’t make much on his painting and every little bit helped.
“Hey. You got lucky?”
“You could say that. I won – fifty bucks.”
Mike sighed regretfully. He could have made fifty bucks easily, if he’d still been on the street. But he’d promised Dick and besides – it was kind of a relief not to have to do it anymore. You never knew who you’d run into.
“That’s great. Sit down. Have another beer.”
He waited until the beers had arrived before he made his next move. All the while, he kept worrying that some other guy would pick the woman up before Dick had time to at least try. Finally, as Dick was sipping his beer, Mike couldn’t keep quiet anymore.
“Look. Over there. See that woman on the bar stool?”
“Where? Oh, her. Yeah. I recognize her. She’s here almost every Friday and Saturday night.”
“Did you ever – you know -“
“Why not? Not your type?”
“Just answer me. Is she your type?”
Dick took another look, clearly humoring his little brother, then nodded reluctantly.
“Ok. She’s hot. I could go for that – but -“
“Why would she be interested in me?”
“Why not? You never know until you try. Listen, Dick, you just catch her eye and smile and – the rest will follow. Trust me.”
Dick shook his head, smiling in an amused way.
“What? You’re giving me advice about women?”
Stung by his brother’s obvious assumption about him, Mike forgot about his original intention and spat out a sharp reply.
“Why not? I bet I’ve slept with more women than you have.”
Women who paid for it? Dick hadn’t expected that. Besides, he hadn’t meant to hurt Mike’s feelings. He was totally ok about his brother’s – sexual orientation, unlike most of his neighbors would be. The kid was his brother. Why should it bother him?
“Mike, I didn’t mean -“
“Never mind. Just offer her a drink. Smile at her. Look at her like – you want to undress her. Come on. Don’t tell me you don’t want to.”
“Ok. I want to. Are you happy now? It’s not going to work, but fine.”
“If she doesn’t get it, I’ll pick her up for you. Ok? Then I’ll pretend to get sick or something and you’ll have to be a gentleman and offer her a ride home or – whatever. Use your imagination. One way or another, you’re going to – get a date tonight.”
Unenthusiastically Dick considered his brother’s words. It had been ages since the last time. Not that he’d really felt up to it, with Mike living in the house. He’d felt more eager to make sure his brother was doing ok and well, frankly, enjoying the company. Still, if he could break free of his paralyzing shyness he’d like to be with a woman he didn’t have to pay for her companionship. In any case, he’d better make an effort, if only so he wouldn’t have to suffer the humiliation of having his little brother picking up a date for him.
Somehow, he managed to produce a smile and he fastened his eyes on the woman Mike had pointed out to him. She smiled back, apparently not finding anything odd in his interest. He raised his glass to her and she smiled again. So far so good. Slowly, he got up and tried to look casual as he wandered idly over to the bar. He ordered another beer then cast a look at her.
“Can I get you something?”
She hesitated and Dick felt as if he shrinking inside. Naturally she was just being polite and this very minute she was thinking of something to say to turn him down. Instead, her face lit up and she nodded.
“Ok. I’ll have another one of these.”
She pointed to some girly drink with a little umbrella. Dick gestured for the bartender to fill her order, then sat down on the recently vacated bar stool beside her.
Twenty minutes later, he was standing with his arm around her, outside, in the shadowed area over by the restrooms. She was leaning into him, her face tilted slightly backwards, lips slightly parted. He pulled her closer and bent down to close the distance between their faces. Her perfume filled his nostrils and he felt more excited than in a long time. Their lips met and she moved closer.
Her mouth felt slack somehow and now that their bodies were pressed close, he suddenly lost his resolve. The excitement which had been mounting since he’d first seen her, began to fade. She still looked desirable, but something about the situation had changed and all he wanted was to let go of her and turn and go.
If she knew – people were still talking, he knew that – and if – she wouldn’t want to be near him. He was filled with a sense of letdown. It would never be any different. Just like Mike, he’d never be able to outrun his past. He might as well accept it and deal with it.
She noticed something was wrong and her eyes anxiously scanned his face.
He tried to think of an excuse which wouldn’t be too unlikely or too brusque, but failed to come up with anything.
“I’m sorry. I have to go.”
“What’s the matter?”
“I – I’m not feeling well. Some other time, ok?”
She sounded puzzled, as if she couldn’t figure out what had gone wrong. Dick fled, blindly. The parking lot was well lit, but it took him almost ten minutes to find his car. Mike was stretched out in the backseat, dozing, but came awake when Dick opened the door.
“So – did you do it?”
“No. Let’s just go.”
“What happened? Didn’t she want to?”
“Yes. Never mind.”
“I thought she was your type. Ok, never mind. Next time -“
“Mike, there’s not going to be a next time. It just won’t work. Let’s just leave it at that.”
“No. What’s the problem? Can’t you get it up?”
“Mike. I don’t want to discuss it.”
Dick turned the key in the ignition and backed out onto the road. He was hoping Mike would finally take the hint and shut up. The whole thing was mortifying enough as it was.
Mike thought about it for a while. It was perfectly possible that Dick was suffering from some kind of physical problem. He dismissed the idea that Dick was gay. As if he couldn’t tell. Maybe the woman had simply been the wrong type. There had to be others.
“Come on, man. You and I don’t have any secrets from each other. Tell me what’s wrong and I’ll see what I can do to fix it. There’s always a solution. You just have to be willing to find it.”
“Ok. We don’t have any secrets. Fine. What about that guy Scott?”
“What about him?”
“What about you and him?”
“There’s no me and him. We were friends for a while, then he decided he liked being the heir to a fortune better than slumming it with me and our other friends. End of story.”
“Except that’s not all there is to it, right? You’re not just friends.”
Mike couldn’t believe it. Dick, who didn’t seem like the most intuitive person in the world had seen it. He knew how he felt about Scott. It felt humiliating and he was about to tell Dick to mind his own business, then he recalled how he’d said only thirty seconds or so ago that they had no secrets from each other. Fine. Let uptight Dick deal with a gay younger brother. If he was gay. He’d never been in love with anyone before. Scott was the only one. Love wasn’t an emotion he could afford.
“Ok. Fine. What would you like to know? Nothing happened, you know. We just kissed once. That’s all.”
“Why did we kiss or what?”
“Why was that all you did?”
This was the worst part. It might have been what made Scott want to take off and break off all ties to his old life. Still, if he and Dick couldn’t tell each other everything, who could?
“Because he didn’t want that. He’s not gay, or so he says anyway.”
“That’s what I thought. I’m sorry. Ok? I shouldn’t have said anything. It was just that you wouldn’t leave me alone.”
“That’s different – unless you’re gay too -“
“No. That’s not it.”
“I knew that. So what is it?”
“I don’t know. Maybe I’m no good at dating.”
“You can learn. There’s nothing to it.”
“Ok. You’re right. I might not know everything about dating, but I do know that you should be able to get laid without paying for it. I can do that. Anyone can, pretty much.”
“There are women who pay for it?”
“Yeah, not that many, but a few. It depends. Most of them are – weird. You know, they like freaky stuff. Then again, there are some who just like more than one guy. There was this one lady – but I freaked her out. Passed out on her just when I was going to -“
“It just happens like that. Usually when I’m about to -“
“So you don’t like to have sex?”
Mike considered Dick’s question. Six months ago he would have said sure he did. Now he wasn’t so sure. He’d come to realize that he really didn’t like sex at all. Not any kind.
Living like this was perfect. He didn’t have to do anything he didn’t want to. Just work – easy light work, which didn’t pay very well, but at least it was work. Then after work, he could hang out with Dick or just watch tv or listen to music. It was everything he’d always wanted. Except mom was missing, but he didn’t really want to see her again.
“No. I guess I don’t. I mean, I can do it, if I have to. It’s no big deal. I just don’t want to.”
“So why couldn’t you do it with her?”
“I don’t know. I wanted to. It would have been kind of cool. She was – clean. Smelled nice. Scott had just told me she was ok. Nothing kinky, just ordinary sex. It should have been easy. I just don’t know.”
“That was exactly how it was tonight. I wanted to, a whole lot. She wanted to. We were standing there, so close I could just reach out and hold her. Kiss her. Suddenly, I didn’t want to. Maybe I am gay.”
“No, you’re not. Believe me, I’d know.”
“Ok, you’re the expert.”
“I should be. After spending all that time with guys who think they’re straight, who live with their wives and children and just need a little – Yeah. Like they ever can explain why it has to be a guy. There are plenty of girls, but they just have to pick up a guy. They have all these excuses, but in the end, there’s just one explanation.”
Then it just hit him. He knew why Dick couldn’t go out and have sex with an ordinary woman. It was because of mom and what they’d done. He sighed. There was no way he could fix that. He was twenty years too late.
“I know what it is. She’s too much like mom, isn’t she?”
Dick was dumbstruck. He hadn’t seen that coming. Of course. By the time Mike was on the way and he’d known he was the father, he’d had time to regret everything that had happened. At first, it had been so cool. Such a thrill. Of course, he’d known all along that it was wrong. He just hadn’t wanted to pay attention to that knowledge. No one else cared about them. Why should they live by everyone else’s rules? At least he’d felt that way until the day mom had told him, eyes filled with that stoned joy, he’d come to expect of her, that he was going to have a little brother. Not a son. Even mom would probably stumble over that word. That was when it fully hit him how wrong it was and why.
A jackrabbit ran in front of the car and Dick almost didn’t see it on time. At the last possible moment, he hit the brakes and swerved over to the side of the road. He missed the jackrabbit by a few inches, and he saw it vanish into the field on the side of the road. They sat in silence for a while as their breathing and heart rate returned to normal.
Dick’s eyes met Mike’s in the rearview mirror and he resigned himself to the truth. Mike would know. Who knew if Mike hadn’t become gay just because of what mom had done to him?
“You could be right. I guess – usually I’m just too chicken to find out if one of them is interested. You were the one who told me there was talk about me – about us – at that institution. What if one of those women knows? It would feel as if – I don’t know. I just couldn’t take that, so -“
“I know, Dick. I’m sorry. Bad idea, I guess. I just thought, you know, that you might want to get laid.”
“You’re not wrong about that. Do you mind if I pay for it?”
“Why should I? I mean, how could I judge you?”
“Why not? You’d know.”
“Maybe. On the other hand, they’ll need the money. You could look at it that way.”
“No. It’s not the same anymore. I’ll be ok. Let’s forget about women for a while.”
“Are you still – you know – hung up – on that guy Scott?”
“I don’t know. It’s no big deal.”
Sensing that Mike didn’t want to discuss that topic further, Dick took the hint. It wasn’t as if he really wanted to get into that anyway. He just felt that it was rotten luck for Mike to fall for someone who didn’t return his feelings.
In the end, Scott couldn’t take it anymore. He decided to try again. The thought of the long drive actually made him feel better, even if he wouldn’t find Mike this time either. It was relaxing to just follow those long roads, mile after mile. He remembered Mike telling him he knew all those roads like the back of his hand. It didn’t seem possible, but if Mike had said so, maybe it was true. To Scott, they all looked the same. Empty. Bleak. Of course, they were roads. They weren’t places so much as a means to get between places.
He ended up sleeping in the car twice, before he found himself outside that guy Dick’s door again. The thought of running into him again wasn’t appealing, but it was the only chance he had of finding out any news about Mike.
So he rang the doorbell and waited. The cloud which had been hiding the sun suddenly blew away and the sharp light got into his eyes.
“Scott Favor again. Sorry to disturb you like this on a Sunday, but I was wondering if you’d had any news about Mike.”
“No. Nothing new. What do you want with him anyway?”
“I – just wanted to know that he was ok.”
“As if you’d care.”
Scott stared at the guy. What was he saying? What had Mike told him?
Mike came out from the bathroom, to find that Dick was standing in the doorway talking to someone. The silence was somehow awkward which made him wonder if it wasn’t just some travellling salesman or a Jehova’s witness.
“Of course I care. We’re friends.”
That voice. Scott. What was he doing out here?
“I think you’d better get back to your fancy house and your fancy friends and forget about Mike. You won’t find him here.”
Scott was torn between wanting to tell the guy to go to hell and his impulse to turn and run, before he embarrassed himself. He could feel the tears just waiting to fill his eyes and he didn’t want that guy Dick to see that.
In the end, he said nothing, and merely turned and walked quietly away. Maybe the guy was right. He didn’t belong here or anywhere. It was time he accepted that.
Mike finally managed to get his legs to obey him.
He knew Scott couldn’t hear him, but the word came out anyway.
“I’ll – I just want to talk to him. Why did you say I wasn’t here?”
“I just thought -“
Dick wanted to protect him. Spare his feelings. That was – kind of him, but right now, Mike didn’t have time to focus on that. Any second now, Scott would be gone and who knew if he’d ever come back.
“It’s ok. I can handle it.”
Mike fumbled with the lock. Finally, he managed to get the door to open and he ran down the steps and stared into the sharp sunlight. He heard an engine start up and he ran wildly towards the car. The engine died again and the door to the driver’s seat opened.
They stood awkwardly staring at each other, not knowing what to say. In the end, Mike was the one who found the words.
“Come on. We can go out back and talk.”
Scott kept staring at Mike as if in disbelief. His friend had changed drastically in the months since he last saw him. He looked a lot healthier if not much bulkier. The sniffing sounds were gone and for once, Mike looked completely clean. His hair was different and there wasn’t a smell of old sweat hovering in the air between them. Even if Mike’s clothes weren’t expensive like Scott’s own, they were just as clean.
“Well. What did you want?”
Mike had recovered a little of his poise and now he was recalling how Scott had rejected him. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that Scott had wanted to ‘take a break’ from living in the street, not only so he could enjoy his father’s money, but so he could get away from his best friend, who had suddenly revealed his true feelings for him. Mike might not have much pride, but what little he had, he clung to.
“I – was wondering if you needed anything.”
“Like what? Money? You’re the one who loves money, not me. And anyway – what do you expect in return?”
“Nothing. I just -“
“No. You don’t want anything from me. Why should I want anything from you?”
Except it was all wrong. He shouldn’t be saying stuff like that to Scott. It would be almost as bad as what Scott did to – them all.
“Ok. It was just a pretext. I missed you, ok?”
The desperation in Scott’s voice made Mike take a second look. His friend didn’t look too happy. He’d have expected him to – prosper – now that he’d finally come into all the money he’d been dreaming of for so long. Instead, Scott looked pallid and he’d even lost weight. Mike was hoping he wasn’t sick. They always took such care not to be infected with anything, after the first awkward times.
“Really? I would have thought you’d be surrounded by friends and – speaking of which – where’s your wife?”
“She – left me. Returned to Italy. She wasn’t happy here.”
“What do you mean, you know?”
“I knew she wouldn’t be happy here. She was just a pawn in your game. Did you love her?”
Scott was taken aback by Mike’s insights. It was true. He had been using her. She’d appeared in his life at the exact moment when he’d been the most eager to leave his old lifestyle behind. It had seemed almost like fate. Only it hadn’t worked out. Sex wasn’t everything. Once the first novelty of sleeping with a girl had worn off, he’d soon realized they had nothing in common. In fact, they didn’t even have the language in common. He hadn’t been aware of how little English she knew. Alone, isolated, far away from her own country, she’d become sadder and more quiet with every day that passed.
He might not have loved her, but in the end, he’d felt sorry for her. Not until he’d contacted his attorneys to handle the divorce had it dawned on him that while he was free to marry again some day, if he ever met someone he could love, she was bound to him forever, by the laws of the Catholic church. Following his attorney’s advice, they’d requested an anullment, but so far, he hadn’t had any word from the Vatican that their request would be granted. In the meantime, she was back in Italy, and for all he knew, disgraced and shamed.
“I knew that. That’s why I felt sorry for her, even though I never feel sorry for anyone. You know that. I never feel sorry for myself either. What’s the use?”
“I know. And she loved me. I hurt her. I’m sorry. What do you expect me to say?”
“Nothing. It’s your business.”
“Mike, are you ok? Are you happy here with your – with Dick?”
“Happy? I don’t know. It’s ok. Dick’s fine.”
“That’s not the impression I got the last time. I don’t know if you remember, but I walked in on you when he was – shaking you and I don’t know – maybe slapping you too.”
“Oh, that. It doesn’t mean anything. We worked things out. There was something – he – didn’t know I knew.”
Scott couldn’t bring himself to ask. How was that even possible? The only way would be if – Ugh. Poor Mike. Come to think of it, poor Dick. Maybe he had reason to be so grouchy.
“Personal stuff. If you heard us talking, you’ll know – if not – then I’m not going to tell you.”
“I – think I heard.”
“Well, then. What do you want to know? If it’s true? You should ask Dick. I’m sure he’d love to discuss it with you.”
“I didn’t mean to -“
“Yes, it’s true. What did you expect? Did you think I ended up this way for nothing?”
“You mean the narcolepsy?”
“I sure as hell didn’t mean being gay.”
“What for? You don’t owe me anything.”
“I – just want to be your friend. That’s all. Don’t you want that, Mike? Isn’t that enough?”
Mike’s anger died as suddenly as it had flared. Yes. He wanted to be Scott’s friend. In fact, he wasn’t even sure he wanted anything more than that. Loving Scott didn’t mean he wanted to have sex with him.
“Yes. That’s enough. I just don’t see what difference it makes. My life is here. Your life is in Portland.”
“It’s what you wanted.”
How could he tell Mike that he was lonely? That he missed having someone to look after. Someone who was always there for him. A friend. A brother.
Mike studied Scott’s face. Some of what was going on in his friend’s mind was plain to see on his face. He was lonely. If it had been anyone else, Mike would have told Scott not to feel sorry for himself. He would have told him to snap out of it. But this was Scott, so he didn’t say anything. Scott would have to work it out for himself. It was great while it lasted, but now their lives took different courses. That was how life worked. For a while, you were together, then you drifted apart. All you needed to do was accept that and it wasn’t so hard to take.
After a while, Scott gave up and changed the subject.
“You’re looking good.”
“Thanks. I guess that means I was looking bad before.”
“You know what I mean.”
Scott stared at Mike’s hair and if it had been a year ago, he would have reached out and ruffled his it, playfully and possessively. No one was a closer friend than Mike. But that was then. Not now, when he knew that Mike would only be hurt by his gesture. Maybe it had always been a little – condescending. Patronizing. Little Mikey. As if he didn’t know how much Mike hated being called Mikey. Scott wondered if maybe his sex fiend of a mom had called him that. That led Scott to wondering if maybe – the thought chilled him. That would explain a thing or two. Now he was glad they’d never found her, in all the time he’d helped Mike search for her. He was hoping Mike would never find her.
“I mean it. You look healthy.”
“I know. I’m totally cleaned up. In every way. Dick made me promise not to do drugs anymore and I haven’t. I guess that makes a difference.”
“Could be. I – haven’t used anything myself since – Of course, it might be sleeping in a house and having three meals a day. So Dick’s looking after you ok?”
“I look after myself. I’m not a baby. Dick got me a job. A real job at a store.”
“And the narcolepsy?”
“I haven’t had any episodes since I got here, but that doesn’t mean it’s gone. Nothing like that ever clears up. It’s not as if you can be cured.”
Mike was wondering if Scott was hoping he could be cured of his love for him as well, but decided not to ask. It would have been unnecessarily harsh. Then he changed his mind again. Scott might as well know how he felt.
“There’s nothing to worry about, you know. I don’t – want to have sex with you.”
“You mean now -“
“Or ever. It’s ok. Just because I love you doesn’t mean I want to -“
“Ok. I love you too, Mike. I guess – we’ll just leave it at that.”
“Yeah. Sex is overrated. I don’t care if I never do it again.”
“Never, huh? That’s as soon as I’ll get to do it, I guess.”
“Oh, don’t be silly. You and Dick are just the same. There’s always some problem. You’re straight. You look at some hot woman, then you don’t want to have sex with her. What’s with you?”
“I don’t know. Maybe I had enough too. Uh – on my honeymoon I kind of -“
“Oh, please. Spare me. At least you liked something about her.”
“It was just – that she was a girl. They’re kind of nice. Haven’t you noticed? Soft and clean and smell nice and -“
“I know that. Like I haven’t slept with as many women as you have. More probably.”
“And you don’t like it?”
“I don’t like it with anyone. Get over it. Everyone doesn’t have to like it.”
“Ok. Are you and your brother Dick going to ask me in? Or do you think I should go back to Portland, just like Dick thinks?”
“He’s just looking out for me. It’s kind of nice of him. He’s so uptight, but he’s been very understanding about me and – my being gay – or whatever it is I am.”
“What do you mean? You’re not gay?”
“What do I know? I’ve never loved anyone but you.”
Scott suddenly felt so tired. Mike’s love was weighing on him, even though he knew that in a way, he loved Mike too. Just not exactly the same way. He felt guilty about not being able to return those feelings. Though come to think of it, when had he last been in love? When he was fifteen or sixteen. Before he’d finally given up trying to please the old man and instead chosen to do the exact opposite. What did he know about love back then?
If he didn’t think it would be cruel, he’d hug Mike. In fact, he felt like doing just that, but he restrained himself. Their affection for each other had better be expressed in words, not physical acts.
Sensing Scott’s reaction, Mike decided to change the subject.
“Come on then. It won’t be what you’re used to but we can always offer you dinner.”
It occurred to Mike that if Scott intended to spend the night, one of them was going to have to share Dick’s bed. All things considered, it had better be him, if Dick wouldn’t be too embarrassed for that. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time they’d slept together. There had been a time when he’d loved sleeping in Dick’s bed. With his big brother there, the scary monsters who lived under the bed couldn’t get him. It had made him feel safe. Maybe it still would.
The evening was quite a success. At the end of it, Scott had to admit that Mike was right. Dick was a good guy. Scott found that he actually liked him. He’d always felt that he’d had a deprived childhood, but at least no one in his family had taken advantage of him sexually. That had come later. On the street. In retrospect, he realized that Bob had taken at least as much as he’d given, if not more. Scott couldn’t even remember what he’d found so great about the old pervert.
At the end of the evening, Scott was embarrassed to realize that there was only one bed and one couch, so his staying meant the two – brothers – would have to share a bed. He tried unsucessfully to protest. It would be just as easy to get in his car and begin his long drive back. After the years he’d spent on the street, sleeping in a car wouldn’t be such a big deal.
To his surprise, even Dick didn’t seem to mind the inconvenience. Scott felt he’d really underestimated the guy.
So he found himself sleeping on the couch where Mike normally slept. It was comfortable enough, so he could see how Mike liked it there, even if it was a miserable little dump. Scott could easily have bought them something much bigger and better, and he would have loved to do it, but he knew his offer wouldn’t be accepted and he had the dencency not to try.
Inside Dick’s room, Mike stopped and studied his brother’s face seriously.
“Are you sure it’s ok? I could crash anywhere. Out back or wherever. You know I’m used to it. It’s no big deal.”
“Mike, relax. It’s not as if it’s the first time. I don’t mind. Why should I?”
“I just thought -“
“Well, you thought wrong. Of course, I realize you’d much rather sleep with that guy Scott, but -“
“That’s where you are wrong. I don’t want to.”
“I don’t want to sleep with anyone, ok. I mean, have sex with anyone. Sleeping in your bed is ok. I don’t mind.”
“Ok. Good. Let’s sleep then. Because I’ve actually got a customer coming over to sit for a portrait in the morning.”
“Yeah, I remember. Sorry.”
It really was ok, sharing Dicks’ bed again, after all those years. He didn’t have any dreams at all and he wasn’t sure, but he thought it made him feel safe, knowing his big brother was there, somewhere in the darkness. Listening to his calm breathing made Mike feel comfortable. He hardly spared a second thought for Scott, who was sleeping in the outer room. The only time his mind touched on Scott was when he recalled how sad his friend had looked. It hurt Mike to know that Scott still wasn’t happy. A guy like that had every reason to be, so it was hard to understand why he wasn’t. Mike didn’t think Scott’s dad had abused him, but anything was possible. Or maybe it was just that he still missed his wife.
In the morning, Scott couldn’t think of any excuse to delay his departure, so he got back into his car and began the long drive back to Portland.
They didn’t hear from him again for nearly six months.
One day, Dick ran into a neighbor and the guy seemed to have something on his mind. Usually, Dick didn’t like to talk to anyone who knew him from before, and this guy was no exception. He kept imagining that the guy knew all about them and that the impassive, wrinkly old face hid laughter at his expense.
“Hey. Did you hear about the city guy who bought the old Pearson place?”
“No. I didn’t know it was for sale.”
“Oh, it’s been empty since – at least -73. When Pearson’s son died in the war.”
“Right. So someone’s bought it?”
“I told you so, didn’t I? You deaf or something? I was telling you some rich guy bought the place and is going to fix it up. If you don’t believe me go over there and take a look. There are workers all over the place fixing it up. Who would have thought that old place was worth anything? I’m going to ask around and see if my place would fetch something. If I can get something for it, I’ll be moving into an apartment in town. I’m not getting any younger.These winters will be the death of me.”
The old man squinted suspiciously at his younger neighbor. The boy had had a beautiful mother. She’d been the talk of the town. Not that he had been one of the lucky ones. He’d been too old for her even back then. Then it dawned on him that the youngster was probably talking about his house and his attempt to get a good price for it.
“Oh. Thanks. I heard your brother came back from the city.”
Uneasily, Dick began to glance around, seeking an excuse to get going. He really didn’t ‘want to discuss Mike with this old geezer if he could help it.
“Good. The city’s no place for a country boy. Heard you got him a job at Russell’s. Best thing for him. Now all you boys need are two nice girls to settle down with. I heard you and Gina Wendell were – seeing each other.”
Dick gulped. Wasn’t anything a secret in this damned little dustbowl? Gina Wendell. He knew he’d known her from somewhere. They’d been in high school together, even though he’d never had the nerve to ask her out. Funny. He’d come closer than at any time during his entire school years. And he had to blow it just before the finish line.
Maybe Mike was right. It was something to do with mom. Knowing that, maybe he could work something out. It was over twenty years ago. He was a different person now. Just like Mike. And just like Mike he’d turned his life around. If they didn’t let the past get in their way, there was no reason why they shouldn’t have a good life.
“It was nice to meet you, mr Kincaid. I’d better get going.”
He could have sworn the old guy winked at him. Maybe there was no harm in the old gossips and maybe they didn’t know everything either.
He almost forgot about the guy who had bought Pearson’s old farm. For as long as Dick could remember it had been empty. They hadn’t lived as close to it in the past, but it was the local boys’ favorite hangout and Dick had been there a couple of times, smoking, drinking beer, setting fire to some old newspapers, even once making out with Josie Fisher.
The thought of Josie made him think of Gina. She was really hot and she’d looked – nice – even when he was walking away from her. Plenty of girls would have smirked when they realized he wasn’t up to it, but not her. Maybe he could try again. If Mike could do it, so could he. At least he was into women.
That led him to think about Mike’s comment the night when Scott Favor had slept on the couch. He didn’t like sex. Dick wasn’t a psychologist, but if his problem with women had something to do with – mom – then maybe Mike’s problems did too.
But it wasn’t anything he liked to dwell on and anyway, he realized that as far as Mike was concerned, he didn’t know any cure for his problem. He might as well focus on getting dinner ready and making sure Mike was ok. Then maybe he’d go back to the bar on Friday night. Alone this time. He couldn’t have his little brother waiting in the back of the car for him to make out with his girlfriend.
There was a car outside his house. Dick squinted in the fading sunlight but the car didn’t look familiar. Again, he was seized with concern about Mike. What if it was the cops? Mike had never said anything about what else he might have been doing on the coast, but anything was possible.
The front door was unlocked, so Dick walked in. He thought there was something familiar about the guy standing with his back to him in the kitchen, talking to Mike.
When they heard him, they both turned to face him.
It was Scott Favor again. Somehow, Dick wasn’t surprised. The guy probably wasn’t gay, but it did seem as if he cared about Mike. Fair enough. As long as he didn’t hurt him.
“Hi. It’s me again, as you see.”
“Hi. I guess you’re not that keen on the city after all.”
“No. Actually, I bought a farm here. Right next door to you guys.”
“The Pearson place?”
“I think that’s what the real estate agent said. Do you know it?”
“You could say that. It used to be a popular hangout for all the local boys. I’ve been there. It was a place where we could get away from the grownups and – smoke and drink and make out.”
“Sounds like a good place for me then. I’m going to have it fixed up and I’m hoping I can live there maybe five or six months a year. It will be great to have a place like that to – retreat to.”
“Sounds like a good idea.”
“Dick – Scott’s got a job for you, if you like.”
Instantly suspicious again, Dick glanced warily at the city guy.
“I’ll need someone to look after the place when I’m not there.”
“I can do that – no need to pay me.”
“It would be more than keeping an eye on it. If there’s repair work to be done -“
“What makes you think I’m any good at that kind of thing? I’m a goddamn artist, even if I’m not a very good one.”
“Well, if you reconsider, please call. You have my number, Mike -“
“Yeah, but if Dick doesn’t want to, you’ll just have to look for someone else. We don’t need the money.”
“I know you don’t. I was just hoping I could get someone I can trust. Like you two. Never mind. At least we’ll be neighbors.”
Feeling a little sheepish, Dick shuffled his feet. Maybe he’d been a little rude to the guy. After all, it was someone Mike cared about and in fact, he liked him too.
“Yeah, that’s nice. The place has been empty for so long.”
He suspected Mike would like having his – friend around, so he wasn’t going to complain. Maybe this was the ideal solution. Scott had seemed really wretched. In fact, Dick was wondering if Mike might have had something to do with it. Of course, that was probably nonsense. Dick didn’t think Scott was gay and besides Mike had told him that. Mike, who ought to know. Maybe the guy just missed his old friends. If he’d been used to having them around all the time and suddenly he was alone with his money, that could be reason enough to look miserable.
At least now Mike would have company on Friday nights. If – that was a big if – he was going to have another go with Gina. It couldn’t hurt. She’d be too young to remember his mom and even if she’d heard talk, he was betting she’d be too nice to mention it. In fact, he didn’t think she’d believe the gossip. It was hardly the kind of thing people would expect. At least he hoped so. In any case, he thought he could get used to having that guy Scott around. After a while, he kind of grew on you.
They had a couple of beers and sat out back to watch the sunset and discussed the renovation plans. Despite his earlier protests of ignorance, Dick did have a suggestion or two and to his astonishment, so did Mike. It would be fun to have that kind of place to work on. Maybe he would reconsider the job offer. Not because he needed the money. Just because it would be something interesting to do. Besides, there was something Scott had said which made Dick feel just a little bit flattered. He’d said he wanted someone he could trust. Obviously he counted the Waters brothers in that category. If so, it would be a shame to disappoint him.
Dick glanced surreptitiously at Mike. His brother did look almost happy as he was reminiscing about another old house where he and Scott had been spending the winters some years. It was such a relief to know that Mike wasn’t out there somewhere, freezing, starving, getting hurt one way or another. Even if the word usually only gave rise to negative thoughts, Dick couldn’t help thinking that they were family, despite everything. They belonged together. Maybe that guy Scott belonged too now.
As he was about to go to bed, Dick took a good long look around his living room. He didn’t need those portraits anymore. With Mike around, he wasn’t lonely anymore.