FREE First 3 Chapters “Once Upon a Castle”
In honor of all the life that has been canceled thanks to the coronavirus, and the fact that Tony and I have been dealing with the “mild” version of coronavirus for over 2 weeks now, here are the first 3 chapters of my newest book, Once Upon a Castle. There are Amazon Links below.
When Shawn emerged from the subway, he glanced up at the dark sky and made a face. It was raining even heavier now and he’d been in such a hurry he hadn’t thought to bring along an umbrella. He should have known better because this had been the coldest, dampest, and rainiest winter he could remember in all the years he’d lived in New York City.
At least he was wearing a hoodie under his short navy blue pea coat, which he pulled up to cover his head. Then he shoved his hands into the pockets of his gray sweat pants, turned right, and jogged to the corner so he could cross the avenue.
The light took forever to turn green and he stood there jogging in place beside a shallow puddle waiting for his chance to cross. He noticed a homeless woman sitting on the curb not far from where a large black Bentley was dropping a well-dressed woman with a designer purse off at one of the most exclusive restaurants in that part of Manhattan. The homeless woman was talking to herself and looking down at her feet, and the woman with the designer purse was staring at her phone as she navigated her way to the sidewalk. There were a few teenage boys shoving each other around in a playful way in front of a clothing store, and two elderly women wearing beige raincoats were sharing the same umbrella.
When the light changed and it was safe to cross, he jogged even faster and found a man in his 50s on the other side of the street staring at him in a vulgar way. Shawn was used to that, especially when he wore tight gray sweatpants. As long as he didn’t make eye contact there wouldn’t be a problem. Besides, after he turned 30 he stopped being so critical about receiving that kind of attention. He knew there would be a day when they stopped looking at him that way completely and he wasn’t quite ready for that yet either.
He turned right on the next corner and jogged down a smaller street he knew very well. He’d been a member of this same gym since he’d moved to Manhattan and he wasn’t ready to give it up yet. Although he’d moved to the Upper East Side with his wife, Kayt, a few years earlier and there were plenty of gyms in his new neighborhood, he still didn’t feel comfortable there and he wasn’t sure he ever would. The trek downtown wasn’t really that bad either. On a good day, it was only a 20 minute subway ride and really not all that much walking. However, the rain made everything seem more tedious that winter and it didn’t seem to want to end any time soon.
By the time he approached the entrance to his gym and reached out for the door, his hands were so cold and wet his fingertips had gone numb. He pushed the door forward and headed toward the locker rooms in the back. It didn’t seem busy that day, which wasn’t unusual, and this was another reason why he continued going to this gym. They weren’t a large fitness corporation with paid ads on TV and social media. This was a family owned business called Sundownthat had been there for over 30 years that focused on jujitsu and several other forms of martial arts. There was even a separate section for boxing set up way in the back. Although Shawn wasn’t involved in any of the martial arts, he preferred the simple, toned-down gym environment there over the larger more commercial gyms in New York. But more than that, he didn’t mind paying extra to be in a more private environment. For Shawn, working out wasn’t just about obtaining physical benefits. He craved the mental and emotional benefits just as much.
As he crossed through the weight room, he saw a few guys doing bench presses near the water cooler and a few others were doing curls at the other end. There was nothing fancy or elaborate about this gym either, and it reminded him of working out in someone’s garage only on a much larger scale. The floors were concrete, the walls red brick with exposed beams, and the ceilings had exposed duct work. From what Shawn had been told, this space had once been a warehouse for a coffee company and they’d turned it into a gym in the most basic ways possible. The focus was not on comfort or luxury here. It was gritty and real and industrial. It was focused on learning skills, practicing mental exercises, and gaining physical results. There was actually a small pool filled with ice cold water to shock the body and produce white blood cell counts. And the people who went to this gym did get results. He never saw any of them eating pizza, donuts, or cake.
When he reached the men’s locker room he found his buddy, Barry, standing in front of his locker near a long wooden bench. Barry had a towel wrapped around his waist and he was drying his shoulders with another towel. It looked as if he’d just showered and was finished with his work out.
Barry took one look at Shawn and tossed him the towel. “Dude, where the fuck have you been? You look wetter than I do.”
Shawn grabbed the towel and wiped his face. He shrugged and said, “Don’t be a fucking dick, man, it’s raining out there. What the fuck did you expect?” He found it amusing that he used the word fuck so openly and freely in this locker room setting. They didn’t speak this way anywhere else. In the locker room it seemed so appropriate neither one of them could resist. It had become a tasteless, private running joke they shared.
“Well fuck me. Excuse me for asking,” Barry said. Then he pulled off the towel that had been wrapped around his waist and he started drying his legs.
Shawn sat down on the bench next to where Barry was standing and untied his sneakers. “I guess you decided not to wait for me. That was nice of you.” He kept clean work out gear in his locker just in case he needed it for times like this. He was too wet to work out in what he was wearing and he needed to put on something dry.
While Shawn reached down to pull off his wet socks, Barry stepped closer to him and practically shoved his penis up against his face. “Dude, I couldn’t wait. Mike would kill me if I missed this event tonight. I have to get home on time tonight.”
Shawn laughed and said, “Get your big dick out of my face, asshole.” Even though Shawn was married to a woman and Barry was married to a man, they teased each other this way all the time.
Barry smiled and wiggled his hips. As his dick began to swing back and forth, he said, “You know you like it. Here you go.”
Shawn really didn’t mind. “Oh yeah, I just live for this.” Barry was one of the best looking men he’d ever known. He stood about 6 feet tall, he had a lean muscular body without an ounce of fat, and his dick was about seven inches long flaccid. All of this combined with steel blue eyes, dark wavy hair, and chiseled features created a look even more impressive than most professional male models. And Shawn was familiar with male models because he’d been a model at one time. When he’d first moved to New York he’d been offered a modeling contract to represent a famous line of men’s underwear and he became famous almost overnight. He’d also made enough money to make himself comfortable for the rest of his life if he was careful.
Barry took a step back and started drying his genitals with the same towel. He shook his head and said, “Dude, don’t be so serious. You’re too hot to be this serious.”
Shawn stood up and pulled off his sweat pants. “Well I don’t feel hot today. I feel wet and old.”
“That’s fucking ridiculous, man,” Barry said. “You’re the fucking dope. Look at that body, and that dick. You’re one of the hottest dudes in this gym.”
Shawn just laughed, shook his head, and continued undressing. Aging hadn’t been easy for Shawn. At one time he’d been the perfect fair-haired example of male excellence. His underwear ads in Times Square had stopped traffic. He also stood about 6 feet tall, but his hair was lighter, his eyes bluer, and his features were even more chiseled than Barry’s. He knew he hadn’t aged poorly and he was thankful for that. At 38 years old he could still turn heads and still get all the attention he wanted. It’s just that he wasn’t young anymore and he knew it, and he would never be young again. He was almost in the middle of his life and not totally sure about anything at that particular moment. It wasn’t just about superficial looks either. He hadn’t worked as a model in at least 7 years, he had no real career to speak of anymore, and he was married to one of the most aggressive successful women in real estate in Manhattan. And she had a way of letting him know this every day of his life.
When Shawn was naked, Barry reached around and patted his buttocks in a playful way. “And see. Those hot little cakes are just as firm and solid as they ever were.”
Shawn laughed even harder at that one and said, “You are such a douche. Sometimes I wonder why I’m friends with you.”
“Because I make you laugh,” Barry said. “And you know it’s true. No one makes you laugh more than I do.”
Shawn reached for a clean jock strap and said, “Well that’s true. But why are you friends with me?”
Barry glanced down and said, “I like your hairy legs.”
Shawn put on his jock strap and said, “I give up. You really are an asshole today.”
Barry turned toward his locker and pulled a pair of jeans out so he could start getting dressed. “Not totally,” he said. “I have something serious to talk to you about today. It’s very important. This is the most important thing I might ever talk about with you.”
Shawn put on the clean T-shirt and reached for a pair of clean white work out shorts. “The last time you said that you wanted to know if penguins have knees.”
Barry buttoned his jeans and put on a black polo shirt. “Oh Man, seriously. This time it’s for real. I’ve got an idea. I’ve got the best idea, ever. I’ve never had a better idea.”
Shawn sat down to put on dry socks and sneakers. He knew Barry tended to exaggerate and it didn’t bother him. “Oh, I can’t wait to hear this one.” He loved Barry dearly, and they’d been friends for years, but he’d learned never to take him too seriously.
Barry sat down on the bench next to him, so closely Shawn could see the small scar to the left of his nose. He pulled his phone out of his back pocket and opened it to a web site and said, “I really want to do this.” Then he handed his phone over so Shawn could look at it.
Shawn glanced down at the screen and saw a photo of a beautiful old white mansion, or at least that’s what it appeared to be. The caption read, “Magnolia Castle,” and it looked as if it were a southern plantation. He shrugged and said, “I don’t understand. What do you want to do? It’s a big old house.”
“It’s not just any old house,” Barry said. He pointed to the screen. “That’s one of the oldest homes in the south and I want to rent it for the month of May. I want us to rent it, together. I know it’s expensive, but I figure if we can get two other people to rent it with us we can afford to do this for one whole month. I’ve already checked and it’s available for the entire month of May. It’s in Louisiana.”
“Louisiana? Are you kidding me? You want to rent a mansion called Magnolia Castle that’s not even a real castle for one whole month in fucking Louisiana with two other people? First, I’ve never been a big fan of the way old southern plantations are romanticized for obvious reasons, and second, just who would these two other people be? I don’t know anyone other than us who’d be crazy enough to do something like that.”
“We’ll take out an ad online and find people,” Barry said. “I would prefer strangers anyway. I don’t want to go with people we know. I don’t really like anyone I know other than you enough to spend a whole month with them. And I’m sure the house is filled with history, and I’m not romanticizing the plantation aspects. I would never do that. You know how I feel about those things, too. And if you notice the house is not being advertised as an old plantation house. You don’t even find the word plantation anywhere. They seem to be making it very clear they are not romanticizing plantations. From what I can see, they are advertising a big old house called Magnolia Castle and they make no references at all to the old south.”
Shawn glanced down at the screen and looked at the photo more closely. It was a beautiful white columned mansion and the perfectly manicured gardens surrounding it only made it even better. There were wisteria vines, boxwoods, and azaleas, with topiaries and urns filled with annuals mixed in between. He’d also been thinking about getting away from New York for a while. But he’d been thinking about a long weekend in Vermont, and this plan sounded so far-fetched. He looked up at Barry and asked, “How can you be sure we’ll find anyone to rent it with us? And even if we do, how do we know these people won’t kill us in our sleep?”
Barry waved his arm. “Oh, you worry too much. Leave it to me. I’ll find people, good honest people. I’ll make it my entire focus until I do.” Barry, much like Shawn, didn’t have a full time career. Barry’s husband, Mike, was a high end real estate developer in Manhattan and he supported them both. Barry had a degree in English and he worked as a freelance editor for online publications, receiving basically what amounted to a modest salary and excellent experience.
Shawn looked at the photo of the house again. The driveway leading to the house was lined with massive old oak trees. “What about Mike? Will he let you go away for an entire month alone?”
“Sure he will,” Barry said. “He’s been so busy working on that new property he’s developing he’ll probably encourage me to go. He doesn’t care what I do.”
Shawn didn’t reply because he knew Barry was correct. Mike had always been one of those husbands who’d been more focused on career and social standing than on his own husband and marriage. As far as Shawn knew, they also had an open marriage, which meant either Barry or Mike could have sex with people outside the marriage. Shawn had never asked for details about this, but he’d always wondered why they even bothered to remain married. There didn’t seem to be any passion or emotion. Mike was also much older than Barry and it always looked as though Mike just wanted Barry around as a trophy husband for when it was convenient to show him off at social and public functions, or perhaps because it was more financially prudent to remain married instead splitting their assets and getting a divorce.
“I’m not sure how Kayt will take this,” Shawn said. “May is usually the time we head up to the Cape every weekend. Kayt likes her long weekends in Provincetown.” Kayt also had a license to sell real estate in Massachusetts and she loved to sell expensive homes to wealthy gay clients in Provincetown. She was good at it, too, partly because the gay men loved her shoes.
“But you hate Provincetown,” Barry said. “You always say Provincetown is highly overrated. Every year you complain about going to Provincetown where there’s nothing to do but shop in little stores that are too expensive, and go to trendy over-priced restaurants that are too crowded, while Kayt shows real estate all weekend to people who have too much money and attitude. I’m sure she’ll get by without you for just one month. You can resume your normal weekends on the Cape in June.”
“Oh, you know how Kayt is, though,” Shawn said. “She doesn’t like it when I make decisions without her. And I don’t hate Provincetown. I like Provincetown. It has its good points. It’s the regular routine I don’t like anymore, not to mention those horrible rentals she books.”
Barry leaned forward and reached for Shawn’s hands. He looked into his eyes and said, “Look, we’ve both been stressed, frustrated, and very unhappy with our lives for a long time. Neither one of us can deny our situations. I think we need to rent Magnolia Castle for a month just for a change. It might help us gain a new perspective. And even if it doesn’t, we will have a fucking great time at a really great place.”
Shawn hesitated for a second, and then he looked into Barry’s eyes. “Do you really think so?”
Barry smiled and squeezed his hands. “Yes. We need this. We reallyneed this.”
Although Shawn could have found a million superficial reasons why they shouldn’t do this, he knew Barry was correct. They’d both been unhappy for a long time in their own specific ways. Barry was in an open marriage with a husband who barely even knew he was alive, and Shawn was married to a control freak who refused to allow him one simple decision on his own. She even told him what he should and shouldn’t wear. So he held Barry’s hands tighter and said, “Okay, let’s do this. I’m in. You start screening potential people to share this expense with us and I’ll figure out a way to tell Kayt. I’ll use my own money, of course, so that shouldn’t be a problem. I’ll break it to her gently and see how she reacts.”
Barry stood up and said, “Good, it’s settled. I’ll book the place and I’ll let you know when I place the ads. Oh, we’re going to have a blast this time. From what I read we don’t even have to rent a car. They have vintage cars right on the grounds for guests to use. All we have to do it pack and book a flight.”
“Well there’s not much time,” Shawn said. It was early March and he wasn’t sure how difficult it would be to find two people willing to share the house. “And I would like to find out more about the owner before you give them any money. You can’t be too careful nowadays. It could be a scam, and I’d also like to make sure this isn’t one of those things where they romanticize the old south with a plantation house. I can’t do that.”
Barry turned to head back toward the bathroom area and said, “I’ll take care of everything. I’ll contact the owner personally and speak to them on the phone before I give any money. I’ll even let you speak to them if you want, or we can go in person. In fact, going in person is probably the best idea. You won’t regret this.”
“Well on second thought nothing is definite yet, and I’m not even sure I want to tell Kayt, so don’t give anyone money until we think about this a little more and learn more about the owner of the property.”
Barry sent him a backhanded wave. “Then think about it. But just remember one thing: sometimes you have to create your own happiness or you’ll never be happy at all. I’ll text you later.”
As he trailed off toward the toilets, Shawn felt lighter and more hopeful than he had in a long time. For the first time in months he had something different and interesting to look forward to, and he needed that feeling as much as he needed to get away from New York. Of course the only obstacle would be telling Kayt he would be away from home for an entire month. She wouldn’t even let him pick out his own tooth brushes. However, in the same respect this was part of his problem and he knew it. He’d always been there for her, he’d always given her control to do whatever she wanted, including those endless boring real estate weekends on Cape Cod, and now he wanted a break from the routine with some time for himself.
After his workout, Shawn showered and dressed quickly so he could take the subway back to their town house on the Upper East Side and prepare dinner for Kayt. He couldn’t remember exactly when it had happened, but as the years passed they’d both slid into a pattern of sorts. It was a routine where Kayt was the spouse who went out to work every morning to sell high end Manhattan real estate, and he was the spouse who remained at home dealing with all domestic responsibilities. He didn’t mind this in the least, and he knew plenty of other married men nowadays who did the same thing. They saved a small fortune in repairs and construction because he’d learned how to do most things on his own. In fact, he was proud his wife had been so successful in such a highly competitive business, and he took pride in planning their lives at home and making things nice for Kayt. It wasn’t his broken ego that kept his eyes open at night. His ego was perfectly fine. It was Kayt who seemed to take everything for granted lately.
He only had about an hour before Kayt would return home for dinner so he stopped at the neighborhood market to pick up something simple to prepare, and at the same time elegant. He decided on a couple of filet mignon steaks, a head of cauliflower he could put in the food processor to mimic low carb mashed potatoes, and two gluten free nut cakes in fancy little brown wrappers for desert. They both watched their weight and ate very carefully and Shawn had become an expert on cooking low carb meals that actually tasted good. This meal would be fast and easy, too, because he knew Kayt liked to sit down at the dinner table at 8 o’clock sharp every evening so she’d still have enough time to work on her online exposure as a before going to bed.
About 45 minutes later while he was in the kitchen prepping to sear the filet steaks on the grill, he heard the front door open and close and Kayt called out from the front hall. “I’m home. I’ll go upstairs and freshen up for dinner. I’ll be right down.”
He set the filets on the grill and rolled his eyes. He could have mouthed the very same words exactly as she’d just said them, because they were the same words she said every night when she came home from work. Once in a while it varied if the weather was extreme, or something out of the ordinary had happened, but for the most part she always said, “I’m home. I’ll go upstairs and freshen up for dinner. I’ll be right down.” It would have been nice sometimes if she’d walked into the kitchen, kissed him on the cheek, and asked him about his day once in a while. Or if she’d walked into the kitchen and ripped her clothes off. He didn’t think that was too much to ask, but in the same respect he never actually asked her to do this either. She wasn’t a mind reader.
While the steaks cooked on the grill, he pulled two large square white plates down from a stainless steel shelf to the right of the high end stainless steel range and set them on the white marble counter so he could plate the food just right. Sometimes he found it hard to believe they had a stove that cost more than some cars. He’d already prepared the whipped cauliflower and it was warming in the oven.
He timed the steaks on the grill so they would be medium rare. Kayt despised well done meat, and she didn’t like to see any traces of blood on her plate either. He’d learned this was an exact science. Grill the steaks on each side for the exact same amount of time, and then let them stand for 10 minutes on a platter so all the juices would settle before he set them on the dinner plates. The secret to pleasing Kayt was consistency.
While he was waiting for the steaks to settle on the platter, he spooned the whipped cauliflower onto their plates and realized Kayt hadn’t helped him clean up after dinner since they’d moved to this town house. They’d been living there for 3 years now and he wasn’t even sure if she knew where the kitchen was located. Of course she’d never been domestic and he’d known this when he married her and it really didn’t make him frown in the least. It’s just that once in a while she could have offered to cook a meal, or clean a pot or pan. It certainly wouldn’t have killed her to put in some effort.
He glanced around and thought about how lucky he was to live such a charmed and privileged life. At a glance, he had a wonderful, large spacious town house in one of the best neighborhoods in Manhattan, the entire place had been painstakingly decorated in mid-century modern, and they’d been collecting some important works of abstract art since they’d been married. His favorite was a Neil Loeb abstract dated 1971, which hung over the white marble fireplace in the living room. He could sit and stare at the red, orange, and raspberry colors in that painting all day and never get bored. However, his problem wasn’t the town house or the art. He felt trapped, as if time was running out on him, and one day he’d wake up a 70 year old man and he’d still be in the kitchen grilling filet mignon while Kayt was upstairs in the black marble bathroom freshening up. Kayt always claimed realtors never retire, they only expire.
Even though there was a white marble counter at the kitchen island, with black leather and chrome bar stools that had cost them a small fortune, Kayt had always insisted on eating dinner in the formal dining room. When he heard her coming downstairs, he finished plating the food and headed toward the dining room. As she sat down in a white Eames chair at one end of the long glass table, he set her plate down on the red leather placemat in front of her and then walked back to the other end of the table where he always sat. She set a white cloth napkin on her lap and sent him a smile, and he replied the same way.
Before he even had a chance to say anything, she glanced at her plate and said, “Oh, you bought filet mignon again. That’s so extravagant and so unnecessary. Once in a while is fine, but this is the third time this month we’ve had filet and frankly I’m starting to worry about money.”
He sent her a smile and said, “I just thought it would be nice for a change this week. We’ve had salad 3 nights in a row.” Actually, he’d wanted something fast and he knew Kayt didn’t care for cheaper cuts of steak. If he’d prepared sirloin that night she would have groused about how difficult it was to chew. If he’d made another salad she would have frowned.
“Well it’s nice,” she said. “But we are not extravagantly wealthy people, Shawn. I’ve tried to tell you this time and again. We’re comfortable, and I’m doing well, and I know you have that substantial nest egg invested wisely from when you were a model, but we really have to watch our money for the future. There’s no telling what could happen in real estate these days. I could sell a 100 million dollar property tomorrow, or I might never sell anything again. If we continue to live this extravagant lifestyle there’s no telling where we’ll wind up.”
He took a bite of filet and said, “It’s really a very good cut of beef this time. I’ll be more careful, though, next time, dear.” He knew they didn’t have to worry about money, and he really wasn’t an extravagant person who believed in spending money frivolously.
She ate a piece of steak and smiled. “I know that, dear. And yes, it’s very good and you cooked it perfectly, however, I worry about your future more than mine sometimes. We don’t have family trust funds. And you certainly can’t go back to modeling. Those days are long over for you.”
“Thank you for reminding me of that, sweetheart.”
She shrugged. “I’m just being pragmatic, Shawn. I really do worry about you.”
“I would be fine,” Shawn said. “If I were to really cut back drastically I could probably live on the money I have invested for a very long time. Maybe I’ll get a second career. I’m not that old yet.”
She laughed, but not in a snarky way. She laughed as if she found him amusing. “Oh please, Shawn. What on earth would you do at this point? I find it hard to picture you going back to school to be a nurse, and you’re too impatient to be a teacher. I think that train left the station years ago. At the end of the day, the only smart thing to do right now is watch every penny we have and plan for the future.”
This was another thing that really made Shawn’s eyebrows twist sometimes. Kayt often spoke in clichés. She went through stages where she stuck to certain clichés and repeated them constantly. At this particular time her preferred clichés were, at the end of the day, that train left the station, and down to the studs. The down to the studs cliché was one of her real estate terms, for when one of her sellers had taken a property and completely renovated it. She’d throw her arms in the air and tell a potential buyer, “Oh, you’ll love what they’ve done. It’s stunning; just stunning. It’s completely renovated, down to the studs. I’m telling you, down to the studs.” He’d heard that cliché so many times he sometimes felt like taking himself down to the studs.
There was no point in arguing with Kayt, so he smiled and said, “I’ll remember that dear. Nothing but chicken and beans for the next few weeks.”
She swallowed another bite of filet and took a sip of sparkling water. “Don’t forget about the cocktail party tomorrow evening. I think we should plan to arrive late so I don’t look too eager. I’ll wear basic black and that cute little circle pin. Or do you think I should wear the white dress I just bought?”
Kayt was also in her late 30s and she looked about 10 years younger. She had long, thick dark hair she wore off her face and back, like Elizabeth Taylor used to wear hers when she was younger. Even though Kayt tended to use the spray tanner a little too much sometimes, she was careful with her make-up and didn’t look like most of the fake blond realtors she worked with. She wore a size 6, never left the house without stilettos, and she had a way of entering a room so everyone knew she had arrived. She wasn’t just verbally aggressive. She was visibly aggressive and people could sense she knew how to get what she wanted with just one glance. For some it was welcomed and they flocked around her, and for others it was a huge turn off and the moment they saw her they ran for the door. After all these years, Shawn still found her attractive, especially when she wasn’t talking so much.
He smiled and said, “You look good in both, dear. I’m wearing a gray suit.”
She rolled her eyes this time. “Well that’s no surprise. You always wear a gray suit. You never wear anything but the gray suits I pick out for you.”
She was right and he knew it, but he always thought she wanted to pick out his clothes, and that she wanted to control what he wore. And in his defense he’d always believed in keeping his wardrobe simple and repetitive. He felt comfortable with a certain look, which consisted of very tight pants or jeans, a white shirt, and black or brown Italian leather shoes. He preferred V-neck sweaters and T-shirts to crew necks. He knew he couldn’t go wrong with certain classic styles and he saw no need to change something that worked. He also wore a lot of black. Besides the fact that she picked out most of his clothes, she usually wore black or gray, too, so she was in no position to judge him or anyone else.
Before she could ask again about her dress, he said, “Maybe I could skip the cocktail party tomorrow. I hate those things. I have nothing in common with real estate people and I stand there smiling like a blithering idiot. You don’t need me for this.”
“Oh yes I do need you, and I’m sure Barry and Mike will be there,” she said. “Everyone knows you used to be that underwear model and they love to see you. You’re kind of famous, or at least you were at one time. People remember those things. You should be proud you did so well with one simple underwear ad. We look like a real power couple and that’s good for business. It commands respect and I haven’t had a settlement all month. I’m working on that deal with the loft downtown and that could be a wonderful commission. The buyers will be at this party and I’d like them to see us together. No. It’s settled. You’ll be there tomorrow with a great big smile. And wear the suit with those extra tight pants that show off your butt.”
While she spoke, he stopped listening and watched her mouth move. It reminded him of the way a hamster wheel goes round and round in constant circles nonstop, without ever actually going somewhere. She talked so much sometimes he never had to say a word.
When she finally finished talking about the downtown loft she was trying to sell, she sent him a look and said, “So what do you think? Should I wear the black or the white?”
“I like the white, dear,” he said.
“What’s wrong with the black? Does it make me look fat?”
“Oh, there’s nothing at all wrong with it. I like the black, too.”
“Well please make up your mind,” she said. “You’re no help at all.”
He knew how to end this fast. “Wear the white, because it’s new. If this is so important you wouldn’t want to take the chance of anyone remembering you in the black no matter how good you look in it.”
She looked up at the ceiling for a moment and tapped her chin. “That’s an excellent point. I’ll wear the white. I don’t want to take any chances. I want this deal to go through.”
Shawn cleared his throat and said, “I wanted to talk to you about something. I’ve been thinking about this and I wanted to run it by you.” He wanted to see how she’d react to him going away to Magnolia Castle in Louisiana for a whole month, without her.
She dabbed the white napkin to the corner of her mouth and nodded. “Well, what is it?”
His chest suddenly felt tight and the room grew warmer. He lost his nerve and said, “I bought these nice little gluten free low carb nut cakes for dessert. Would you like one?”
“Well that sounds lovely,” she said. “I would love one. You know, at the end of the day, when all is said and done, I just love the way everyone is preparing all this nice low carb gluten free food lately.”
While she continued to talk about low carb gluten free food, he stood up to clear the table and decided he’d bring up the topic of Magnolia Castle later that week. After all, there was no rush and nothing had been settled that night. He still wasn’t even sure if he wanted to go. He decided to wait a while and mention it in passing, in a more casual way, as if it meant nothing at all. She might even be in a better mood if she sold the loft and finalized the deal.
When Barry spotted Shawn at the other end of the room, he took a deep breath and sent him a smile. Although Shawn didn’t return the smile, he lifted his cocktail glass a little and nodded in his direction, which meant sarcasm and it wasn’t a good sign. A woman with a peculiar hat that had a big pink feather was talking to Shawn nonstop and he was standing there frowning as if he couldn’t get away from her fast enough. Barry knew how much Shawn despised these cocktail parties, especially at Manhattan art galleries where everyone was either too wealthy to care or not wealthy enough to relax. He hadn’t even been certain Shawn would show up that evening. Evidently, Kayt had forced him to go just like she forced him into almost everything else.
The only reason Barry was there was because his husband, Mike, was a real estate developer in New York and Mike never missed an event like this. In fact, Mike and Kayt were standing in another corner of the gallery with several other real estate people laughing and nodding in the most overly animated fake ways. Barry found it all highly amusing, and he was never forced to go to events like this. Mike didn’t care if Barry went these social events or not, so he figured it was better than just sitting home alone looking for gay porn on his laptop. The drinks were good and the food wasn’t bad either. He was particularly fond of the little pee elegant fingerling potatoes topped with sour cream and caviar, and there was always good shrimp.
He stood next to the food table for a few minutes and waited for the woman wearing the hat with a pink feather to stop talking and leave Shawn alone. He didn’t go over immediately because he didn’t want to get stuck listening to whatever she was saying either. He’d been to enough of these cocktail parties to know how to preserve himself from her kind, especially because he was gay and he was married to a successful gay real estate developer. The most liberal and patronizing allies in the room at these events would single him out, fawn all over him, and say the most ridiculous passive aggressive homophobic comments he’d ever heard. The worst of them referred to Barry and Mike as, “the boys,” and the best couldn’t stop praising how well they’d decorated their penthouse. As long as there was money involved Mike never seemed to mind and he never took them very seriously. However, that’s because Mike was the one everyone considered the boss in their marriage and Barry was nothing more than the handsome young trophy husband. Half the time Barry wasn’t sure if they were laughing with him or at him, but he’d learned how to handle them in his own good time, and when to drop them as quickly as they could insult him. In short: Barry knew when to leave.
When the woman with the pink feather finally turned and left Shawn alone, Barry crossed through the crowd and crept up behind him. “I never thought she would stop talking. I wanted to come over 15 minutes ago. You look nice tonight. Those pants make your butt look hot.” He was wearing one of usual his dark gray skinny suits with a white shirt and a light gray tie.
“Thank you,” Shawn said. “You look nice, too.”
Barry laughed and looked down at his own suit. “It’s nice to get dressed up like an adult sometimes.” He was wearing a black skinny suit with a pale blue shirt and a gray tie he’d worn several times to events just like this. As someone who worked as a freelance editor out of his home office, he rarely needed to wear anything more than jeans and a casual shirt. Most of the time he worked in his underwear, or naked.
Shawn took a sip of his drink and shook his head. “Frankly, I wouldn’t have minded missing this. You know how I loathe these things, but Kayt insisted and I hate to let her down. She seems to depend on me coming to these things.”
“I know,” Barry said. “But I’m glad you’re here. I don’t feel so out of place when you’re around, and I wanted to talk to you about that other thing tonight.”
“What other thing?”
Barry pulled his phone out of his pocket and asked, “Have you thought about it? Have you talked to Kayt about it?”
Shawn tilted his head a little and said, “About what? Stop talking in riddles.”
“Magnolia Castle, in Louisiana? You said you would think about it and talk to Kayt.”
“Have you talked to Mike about it yet?” Shawn asked.
Barry shook his head. “No, not yet. I was waiting for you to talk to Kayt first.”
“I almost brought it up the other night at dinner,” Shawn said. “But I decided to wait for a better time.”
Barry opened his phone to the photo of Magnolia Castle in the advertisement he’d found online and said, “Look at this place again, Shawn. It’s magnificent. It’s a dream and a chance to just get away for a short time and relax completely. I think we both need that. You haven’t seemed happy in a long time, and frankly I’m tired of pretending to be happy all the time.”
Shawn glanced down at the photo and rubbed his chin. “It’s just not that simple with Kayt. She expects certain things from me and I’ve never let her down.”
“Maybe that’s the problem,” Barry said. “In my case, Mike doesn’t expect anything from me, and I’ve never let him down. We really are two very boring people right now.”
“It’s different with you and Mike, though. You know Mike won’t mind if you go, but Kayt will be stunned and probably disappointed. And I’m not trying to hurt her by doing this.”
Barry reached for Shawn’s arm and held it tightly. “I really need this. Sometimes I find myself walking down the street wondering why I’m here, how I got here, and where I’m going to wind up. Time seems to be going by even faster and sometimes I feel as if I’m missing out on something I can’t quite figure out. You can’t tell me you don’t feel the same way sometimes. I see it all over your face.”
Shawn glanced at the photo on the phone again and sighed. “I suppose it can’t hurt to just ask Kayt about it. In all the years we’ve been married I haven’t asked her for anything at all.”
“It looks like such a wonderful place, and we’ll never get a chance to do anything like this again.”
Shawn patted his hand and smiled at him. “Are you okay now? I never see you this emotional.”
Barry nodded and said, “Yes, I’m okay. Thank you for asking.” No one else ever asked if he was okay. Mike would simply pat him on the back and say something like, “Soldier on, buddy.”
“Good,” Shawn said. “I’ll talk to Kayt and you talk to Mike and we’ll see how they react. It certainly can’t hurt to ask. And I actually would like to do this.”
* * * * *
When they climbed out of the black SUV in front of their building later that night, Mike told their driver he would need the car very early the next morning and then he set his palm on the small of Barry’s back and escorted him into the lobby. Mike held their private elevator door open so Barry could enter first, and when the elevator arrived at their penthouse a few minutes later, Mike waited for Barry to exit first, too. This had always been their routine and Barry was used to Mike taking charge. When they went out to dinner, Mike always paid. When they entered a building, Mike always opened the door for Barry. And there was nothing at all wrong with this, except there was so little emotion involved in these robotic gestures Barry often wondered if Mike just did all this because he felt as if he was expected to do it.
Before Mike headed to his bedroom, Barry said, “I’d like to talk you about something for a moment if that’s okay.” He used his most stable, casual tone, as if this wasn’t a big deal. They’d taken separate bedrooms years ago because Mike preferred sleeping alone in a twin bed and Barry wanted to get this out of the way as quickly as possible.
Mike followed him into his bedroom and smiled. “Of course. What would you like to talk about, sweetheart? I’ll have trouble sleeping tonight anyway. I think I’m going to make a fortune on that new renovation downtown. From what I gathered at the cocktail party from several potential buyers, they can’t wait to hand over their millions to live in a place that’s no bigger than any ordinary suburban condominium. It’s amazing how some people aren’t happy unless they are spending more money than they should be spending. If it were too cheap they wouldn’t be interested.”
Barry frowned and looked toward the window. It had always bothered Barry that Mike took such pleasure in taking people’s money this way. It was as if he knew he was taking advantage of them to a certain extent and he gained pleasure from doing this. “I wish you wouldn’t smile so much about taking their money that way. It sounds so untoward.”
Mike laughed. “Nonsense. I’m not doing anything illegal or dishonest. Everything we do is top of the line and solid. I can’t help it if there are people in this world with too much money who can’t wait to spend it. That’s the whole point. If it’s not expensive enough these people don’t want it. I’ve told you this before, Barry, that there are people out there who aren’t happy unless they are spending more money than everyone else. They want to give me their money and I’m certainly not going to turn them away.”
Barry sighed aloud. “I suppose so. It just sounds so backhanded sometimes.” He didn’t want Mike to think he was criticizing him so he glanced up and smiled. It was a forced smile, but at least it was a gesture.
“Well the real world can be a very ugly place sometimes,” Mike said. “That’s why I like to shelter you from all that, and that’s why you never have to worry about a thing.”
“I know that, dear,” Barry said. He smiled again and took a longer look at Mike. He was standing near the bedroom door as if he couldn’t wait to leave and get back to his own bedroom to sleep alone. For a 60 year old man, he still had a strong sexual appeal, with slightly graying temples, a lean sold body, and broad shoulders. He was wearing a light cream suit that night and it gave him a brighter more carefree appeal. Even though he was more than 20 years older than Barry it didn’t seem like that because Mike looked so much younger than most men his age. He could have passed for a guy in his 40s without an issue.
“What was it you wanted to talk to me about?” Mike asked. “It’s getting late.”
Barry looked Mike up and down and realized he wanted to sleep with him that night. He took a step forward, removed his suit jacket, and then he removed his pants. He wasn’t wearing underwear. “Would you like to sleep in here tonight? I could do those things you like me to do for you,” he said. This was their usual code for having sex. Barry knew Mike liked a few unusual, kinky things in bed, like having his wrists tied and his mouth gagged shut. This was one of the reasons why they’d stopped sleeping together a long time ago. Mike had many kinks. Barry would do almost anything in bed, however, he could never understand people who enjoyed peeing on each other.
Mike smiled. “Maybe another night, dear. I’m awfully tired and tomorrow is an early day for me.”
Barry returned the smile and looked down at the floor. “I see. No problem.”
“Was that what you wanted to talk about?”
Barry looked up fast. “Oh, no. There’s something else. I’ve been thinking about taking a month off this May with Shawn and a couple of other people. We’d like to rent an old mansion down south called Magnolia Castle. Of course if you don’t want me to go I won’t. I wanted to know what you think about it before I finalize everything.”
Mike crossed the room and walked right up to him. He smiled so wide Barry could see his back teeth. “Well I think that’s the most wonderful idea I’ve heard in ages. And it’s perfect timing, too, because I’ll be in Europe for a few weeks in May buying marble for the new downtown renovation. This will do you good. There’s nothing better than getting away for a short time. You’ll be a new man.”
Barry forced a smile. “I knew you would approve. I just wanted to ask first.” What he really wanted to hear was that Mike didn’t want him to go. He wanted to see Mike clench his fists and tell him going away alone for a whole month was out of the question. And then he wanted Mike to take him by the neck and throw him down on the bed so he could climb on top of him and do rough, sexual things that made his legs go up in the air. However, he knew that wasn’t going to happen so he simply smiled and said, “Thank you.”
“How much money do you need?” Mike asked. “Whatever you want, just let me know.”
“I can pay for it from my freelance money,” Barry said. “That won’t be a problem.”
“Nonsense,” Mike said. “I insist on paying. You can charge everything to that one account and I’ll take care of it all. Your freelance money is just for you.”
Barry wanted to see if he could spark any emotion at all in Mike, so he removed the rest of his clothes and stood there naked. “That’s very generous of you, Mike. I’m very lucky.” He spoke with a low, even voice that didn’t sound very lucky.
Even when he was totally naked, Mike made no advances toward him. He knew he had a good body and other men and women found him desirable. They flirted with him and gaped at him all the time in very lewd ways. Shawn actually joked about how many people would have loved to sleep with him at the gym. If he’d been a promiscuous gay man he could have had a different lover every night of the week. But the man he wanted the most didn’t even seem slightly interested in him.
“Well now that that’s settled I’ll head off to my room. I think I’m going to sleep very well tonight after all, knowing you have something to look forward to while I’m in Europe in May.” Then he leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.
As Mike headed back toward the door, Barry asked, “Will you be going to Europe alone?”
Mike stopped and hesitated for a moment, as if he resented the question and didn’t want to answer. He turned to face him and said, “Not this time. I’ll be taking along that new assistant I hired a few months ago. You’ve met him. His name is Jaron.”
“Oh, yes,” Barry said. “I remember him well.” Jaron was about 21 years old, had the skinny little body of a twink, and he giggled and fawned all over Mike. In fact, Barry had been Jaron at one time when he’d first met Mike. The only difference was Barry had been 21 and Mike had still been young in many ways and they’d grown up together as a couple. Mike was too old now to ever do that again with a man of any age.
After a moment of awkward silence, as if Mike was trying to read Barry’s mind, Mike squared his shoulders and smiled even wider than before. “Well, I’ll head off to bed now. Have a good night and if I don’t see you in the morning I’ll reach out to you during the day at some point.”
Barry smiled at that expression, reach out. He despised it when people said they would reach out. “You have a good night, too, dear. I’ll be here working. I have a new client with one of my publishers.”
Then Mike turned to leave before either of them could say another word, and Barry took his laptop from a desk and carried it over to his bed. He pulled the covers back, climbed into bed naked, and went to his favorite web site where he could have cybersex with other men. It wasn’t what he’d planned that night, and he really didn’t mind the lack of sex with Mike. His problem had nothing at all to do with sex. He just wanted his husband to show more emotion and affection and concern in other areas of their lives. He wanted to do things with Mike and spend more time with him. He wanted to share the same bed with him even if they didn’t have sex. But most of all he wanted that closeness they’d once shared.