Castle Roland

Shifting Sands

by Jack Scribe, of Honored Memory


Chapter 11

Posted: N/A

As the newly appointed C.O.O. of the Gallant National Bank - stepping in for his dad when he'd permanently returned to New York - Lou Gallian, Junior, kept a crushing schedule as he nudged the institution back to solvency and respectability. Even the more vocal naysayers in financial journalism circles - who had reacted with negative charges of nepotism when 'Junior' was promoted - were impressed at his fiscal savvy.

The bank had paid back the TARP loan and was creating a positive 'buzz' on The Street. Not well known to the financial community was the flow of funds that swirled in and out of the Gallians' private accounts in Zurich, the Caymans, Luxembourg, and Shanghai, and into their bank. The 'family Maytag', as Lou's dad had once joked. A year earlier, Lou, Junior, had been fully briefed about their various businesses that avoided Dun and Bradstreet scrutiny. He, along with his older brother Richard and cousin, Al Bromley, Junior, had been anointed as the heirs to the family's highly visible businesses. However, they were now well aware of all of the other interests as well.

Today, after reviewing the bank's latest positive financial results in a lengthy executive meeting, Lou decided to play hooky for the rest of the day. 'Hell, I've earned a little down time,' he thought as he walked west on 53rd Street from their Third Avenue headquarters in the infamous Lipstick building. 'Infamous' because, until the previous winter, Bernie Madoff had leased two floors in the building for his trading operations and the epicenter of the notorious Ponzi scam. The close proximity to the Madoff mess had made the other tenants nervous and everyone was relieved when a law firm took over the vacated space.

This was his favorite walking route from the office to home. Just before reaching Fifth Avenue, he paused for a moment to appreciate the small but classy Paley Park. This 45 x 90 square foot pocket park on the property that had one time been the famed Stork Club was a popular gathering spot for Manhattanites on warm, sunny days. The most admired feature of this elegant landscaped oasis was the 20-foot high waterfall that spanned the back wall. Today, most of the marble tables were still filled with brown-bagging workers from the nearby office towers finishing their lunch.

Turning up 'Fifth', visual treats took on a different form. A more mobile crowd that swarmed around the numerous Sabrett hot dog carts always produced great eye candy on a summer day; Lou honed in on several doable guys along the way. One very hot bicycle messenger, probably an aspiring actor, winked and licked his lips when Lou passed the GM Building at 59th Street. Lou raised his finger, smiled and moved on. 'Tempting…but I don't need any complications right now.'

He arrived home at the venerable Pierre Hotel a little after one in the afternoon and stopped by the concierge desk for a casual chat with one of his favorite staff members who was about the same age. The five-star hostelry had recently completed a major renovation project and Lou was relieved that he no longer needed to run the gauntlet of scaffolding. He swapped a little gossip with the concierge, and confirmed that his theater tickets were on hold for the coming weekend. One interesting tidbit traded by the concierge was that he'd had an encouraging callback for an Off-Broadway revival of Boys in the Band. This production had been updated to include several nude scenes, and Lou joked that he'd get a front row seat to check out all of the aspiring actor's credentials.

The elevator was the first security gauntlet to reach the Gallian household. He pressed his thumb against a black glass square inside the elevator cab and immediately ascended up to the 41st floor. Lou then entered the vestibule and pressed another black glass square to open the apartment double door. A whish sounded as the door panels parted and slid into the wall.

On a side table sat two stacks of mail - sorted for Senior and Junior. He smiled at the thought of being roommates with his dad, although they didn't see each other that often because of Mr. Gallian's travels. However, when they were both in town, the 6,000 square feet of living space gave the men plenty of room for privacy. Dad had started dating again and Lou was always discrete about his entertaining. Lou grabbed his mail and walked inside. Whish. The doors automatically closed.

In the large stainless steel, cherry wood and granite kitchen - barely used because of Lou's preference for room service - he found some leftovers for lunch and poured iced tea into a tumbler. After shuffling through the mail, he settled at the kitchen table and picked at the food. On the counter plasma TV screen, one of the CNBC 'money honeys' was commenting on stock market action, and he occasionally half-focused on the bottom crawl of financial information updates.

He reflected upon the career that had been handed to him on a somewhat tarnished platter. Dad had promised him that all the shadowy businesses would be eliminated 'very soon' when he suggested that Lou move back East and assume his new position. "But that's only a different way of wording the same promises he made last year," he said to himself, disturbing the relative quietness: the always-present city static humming in the background was a 'white noise' for most New Yorkers.

Even with soundproofed windows, the cacophony of Fifth Avenue sounds - the usual sea of Yellow Cabs jockeying for faster southbound lanes, jerky stops and starts of MTA buses, doormen's whistles, delivery trucks and the 'bridge and tunnel crowd' commuting interlopers - filtered into the Gallian co-op. However, this was part of the city's urban fiber that Lou had missed when he'd lived in Vegas. And while his condo off the strip, which he'd shared with Spike, wasn't exactly camping out, moving back to the familiarity of his luxurious former home reinstated a missing comfort zone.

Around the periphery of this center point in midtown Manhattan, Lou thrived on attending theater, opera, and charity events that moved at a frantic pace. And because his dad was on the boards of MOMA and the Met, he was expected to do his fair share in fund-raising activities. He admitted that being an 'A' list member of the community's social and cultural mosaic was rewarding, although living that life bordered on insanity in the hectic social season. Even with the recent train wreck of Wall Street and post-Bernie Madoff, Gotham on the Hudson was still the place to be and be seen.

Aside from being a choice Central Park viewpoint, the co-op apartment was home and had been part of Lou's life forever. Growing up in a hotel had generated the obvious joke - about him being the boy version of The Plaza's Eloise - more times than he could count. But he always smiled and laughed at the comparison to be polite. The politeness came from his mother's side - a trait that he'd enhanced over the years. He suspected his sexual orientation could be traced to his mom's family tree as well: Uncle Nick had been and still was Lou's role model.

He tidied up the kitchen and slowly strolled through the apartment that his mom had designed with the legendary Mark Hampton back in the 80's. Except for periodic refreshing by the design firm now led by Hampton's daughter, the residence was maintained in a classic timelessness. Queen Anne and Chippendale fit comfortably with French abstracts and Asian porcelain. The red lacquered dining room walls were a great backdrop for dramatic Mark Rothko canvases.

Lou stopped and looked at his late mother's portrait that hung over the living room fireplace. It still troubled him that she'd been so senselessly murdered more than two years ago and there wasn't a day when he didn't think of her. While he and his dad were tight and worked well together, it was mom who had been the glue in their family. 'My brother and I are lucky,' he thought as he continued on his walk, 'that we didn't end up being trust baby jerks like some of our friends.' They both embodied the work ethic of their father and the social graces of their mother.

Back in his corner suite on the east side of the floor - his brother's adjoining bedroom had been converted into Lou's den and office a few years earlier - he changed into casual linen drawstring pants and a matching v-neck tee. 'Enough pinstripes for one day.' Lou stared into the bedroom mirror and liked his five o'clock shadow look from not shaving that morning. It contrasted well with the ivory colored ensemble. 'When Davey gets here tonight,' he thought, 'the pants and shirt will be gone in a nano-second…and voila.' When he was home, flopping around commando-style in loose garments was his preferred dress, or un-dress, of the day.

Since first meeting Davey the previous week at the St. Regis, he'd looked forward to this rendezvous. He was honest enough to admit that Davey was a blonder, slightly edgier and more muscled version of Spike. 'I'll probably always compare who I'm with…with Spike.' He was still in love with Spike Jensen but had decided that the split-up was best for both of them. In addition to being in New York more than Las Vegas over the past year - culminated by the final move - Lou still enjoyed the variety and frequency of primo sexual partners that his credit card could buy. He had also decided not to bring Spike further into the Gallian world. 'Vegas was one thing; New York would be too unmanageable.' It was better not to involve his buddy in the realities he'd masked so well while they were together.

Davey's sexy accent was difficult to pinpoint: either Russian or one of the other Slavic regions, Lou decided. 'Maybe Czech, like those hot BelAmi models.' Davey Tompkins certainly wasn't his real name but he knew how to maneuver in the sophisticated surroundings of the King Cole Bar. Lou had been nursing an after-work martini when a shorter, young guy - okay, a gorgeous stud - sat next to him. After being served a Cosmo, the man turned to Lou and toasted, "To your health." He then glanced at the large, vintage mural behind the bar. "And to the art."

Not too original but a very smooth icebreaker. The twenty-something blond wore the 'tried and true' Manhattan gentleman's uniform consisting of a blue blazer, open collar shirt and tan slacks. Although Lou couldn't see to the floor, he was sure the guy was probably wearing tassel loafers.

Lou, who also admired the famous 30-foot Maxfield Parrish mural, hoisted his glass and replied, "To the king and you." He knew he was being sized up and that the first 60 seconds were important for a connection. 'But what sort of connection?' he wondered. He didn't have to wait long to find out.

"So what do you do?"

"Work in a bank." It was an opening variation of the time-honored 'you show me yours; I'll show you mine' routine. He hoped they wouldn't get into zodiac signs; that would be a deal-breaker. 'Too pedestrian.'

"Cool," Davey replied, using a drawn out 'kewl' pronunciation.

They traded first names. Then, the stud-puppy, now known as Davey, steered the conversation with casual innocuous tidbits of market-closing information. When he suddenly announced he was a NYU student with tuition due soon, Lou confirmed what he'd suspected; Davey was fishing for Lou to be a potential client. 'Works well for me,' Lou thought, 'No fuss, no muss, no obligation.'

"How much is the tuition?" Lou asked, playing the game.

"Five hundred." Davey grinned with a shrug, "per unit for night school."

"I thought NYU night school was more like three," Lou replied. 'Might as well play along.' He'd paid more…and much less. He thought Davey was priced right. One unit equated to one hour.

"Well, five includes the books." A wink was added to the grin.

"Oh, yeah, can't forget the books." Lou chuckled at the idea of getting his 'ashes hauled' by this rent boy and pulled out one of his personal cards. "How about seven-thirty next Tuesday evening at my apartment?"

"The Pierre? Cool. You live in a hotel?"

"In an apartment I share with my dad. But he'll be gone."

"Convenient. I can't wait to tell you about school." Davey turned on an impish grin, sipped his Cosmo and pushed his leg against Lou's. "I've got some interesting course material. Oh, here's my card, too."

"And I want to find out all about your books." Lou told him to call the apartment from the hotel lobby on Tuesday and give whoever answered his name for admittance.

Davey finished his drink, squeezed Lou's arm, and winked as he left. Lou studied the card and wondered who would answer if he called the telephone number printed in the right hand corner. 'Probably an exchange or a pager.' He thought it amusing that Davey referred to himself as The your service on the card.

The fantasy of playing with Davey intensified as Tuesday got closer, as well as the horny factor.

Now it was only a number of hours - six to be exact - and Lou was already planning on how to make the most of the contracted time. He was finishing some email correspondence when the head of household security - a prized post for anyone eager for a promotion within Gallant Security - knocked on the open door.

"Boss, we've got a situation," Max said. The six-foot ex-Navy Seal walked into the den and asked, "How well do you know tonight's…visitor? Davey Tompkins." That Lou engaged male escorts was never an issue. Security personnel close to the family were screened for possessing non-judgmental tolerance traits, in addition to being able to protect the Gallians' lives. In Max's case, his other-half was a studly associate lawyer at the Gallian firm.

"Davey? Met him last week…at the King Cole in the St. Regis."

"Not through normal channels?" Max asked. The normal channel was the escort service that operated under the same division as Mario Cirillo's Vegas business.

"Got a little adventurous this time." Lou gave Max - a man who'd been with the family for over two years and whom he considered more of a close friend - the CliffsNotes version of how they'd met, and finished with, "What's up?"

"Your adventure is guaranteed to be lethal. This dude…calls himself 'The Kid'…is a contract killer who's been hired by that Russian dickwad in London. Just got off the horn with headquarters. They picked up the info from an outside source who's helping us out."

An invisible fist pounded into Lou's stomach as he realized what Max had just said. "Holy shit. I could have…"

"Yes, Sir. And I like you too much to be going to your funeral."

"Max, are we okay to be talking about…"

"The place was swept for bugs, and I don't mean termites, this morning."

"Then tell me about this 'outside source'," Lou replied.

"AOI International and one of their head honchos."

"AOI…as in Oleg Petrov? The man Dad met in L.A.? I was told he's very sharp." After being given a complete briefing concerning the meeting at Uncle Al's residence two weeks earlier, Lou was now monitoring the bank's IT department on a daily basis for any deviations in money transfer patterns.

"Sharp's an understatement." Max relayed all the information he'd been given without interruption.

"I did pick up a very slight accent…but in this town, that and a couple of bucks will get you a ride on the subway. Oh, if it helps, I've got Davey's business card on the desk." He walked over, picked up the card and gave it to Max.

"Max glanced at the card and said with a frown, "The Kid…that's it. There's no doubt about the intel. Oleg picked up on that name in their surveillance."

"Wow, my dick could have really gotten me into a bad mess."

"You said it, Mr. Gallian, not me," Max replied with a nod.

"So, what's the plan?" Lou assumed he was going to be moved somewhere and that Davey would be dealt with 'accordingly'.

'There's a Gee-three waiting for you at Teterboro, bound for L.A. I need to get you outta Dodge…A.S.A.P…just to be on the safe side. We should be able to tidy things up in a couple of days. A week tops. So please dress in some casual clothes that may get grubby and I'll pack your carry-on."

"How am I getting grubby?" Lou got up from his chair, pulled off his shirt and motioned for Max to follow him to the bedroom. He decided not to comment about the extra expense of using a private jet. When it came to defensive security measures, Max didn't value-manage for cost savings.

"Just in case we're being watched, it's been arranged for you to leave the hotel through the back entrance in a linen cart and into a van. One of our guys is changing into a porter's uniform and he'll meet us at your service elevator foyer in ten minutes."

"Got it," Lou replied. He stepped out of his drawstring pants and went to his closet. While he put on briefs and a pair of jeans, he could hear Max opening and closing chest drawers. Quick packing was part of a drill that all personal security was trained to execute. "Where am I staying?" He grabbed a black polo and pulled it over his head as he exited the closet.

"Your cousin's condo was recommended because of our security setup. Probably for a week, just to be on the safe side."

"Excellent. I can work out of Al's home office if need be." Lou liked Al and his wife, Trish. 'And their kid is super-cute,' he thought. "Max, toss in my flip-flops and a few more pairs of shorts. I've got lots of dressy clothes in storage at Al's place, but that's about it."

"You got it." Max had already packed toiletry essentials and found the remaining items.

Lou sat down on his bed and completed his travel dress - low-cut socks and sneakers - and watched as his wallet and Rolex Sport were stowed in his TUMI laptop case. "Promise me you won't trash the place," Lou said with a rueful chuckle. "We just re-carpeted."

"Your friendly disposal service is always very tidy, Sir. I doubt that The Kid will have time to take the art collection tour." Max nodded and bowed slightly.

Tidy but lethal. Lou knew better than to ask further questions. This situation would be handled, followed by a verbal de-briefing report after the mission was considered a success. "When is this shit going to be over, Max?"

"From what I understand, the Russian and his associates soon won't be a problem. Bank on it."

"Speaking of 'bank', would you call my office and let them know I won't be in tomorrow? Also, there are two tickets to West Side Story for this weekend in my name, at the concierge desk. Can you use them?"

"Use them? It's the hottest show in town and my partner will be thrilled. Thanks, Sir."

"Just make sure that you take care of yourself." Lou walked over and pulled Max into a tight hug. "One favor."


"After this is over, how about dropping the 'Mister Gallian' formality and start calling me Lou."

"Yes, Sir, Mister…Lou."

The two men exchanged grins for a brief moment.

Lou's Gulfstream GIII was a hundred miles out from the Van Nuys, California, airport when an African American man warmly greeted Davey at the apartment door. Moses wore a loose white houseman's jacket to camouflage the muscle power he'd honed during Special Forces training four years earlier. Max was watching the operation from his position in the security monitoring room. Camera 1 covered the entire foyer area outside the Gallian apartment.

Moses opened the door wider and gestured for Davey to enter. Camera 2, positioned in the gallery hallway, captured Davey speaking as he walked inside. Moses was quick: in two motions, he closed the door and karate-chopped Davey on his lower left neck area. The young assassin crumpled but was quickly caught by Moses. Another operative quickly came into the scene with a syringe and plunged a needle into Davey's arm.

Max could read Moses' lips saying, "Bu-bye."

Moses and the other associate lifted the dead weight and dropped it into a linen cart. It was the same cart that had been pulled into service earlier in the day. That night's departure would take a similar route out of the hotel. This time, however, the crumpled passenger would be transported to a Long Island City warehouse.

Camera 3 soon recorded a 'hotel porter' standing by a linen cart, heaped with dirty bedding, waiting for the elevator in the service foyer.

At Lake Las Vegas, the long holiday weekend had been exhausting, exhilarating and profitable. 72 hours during which all the training paid off to yield maximum guest satisfaction and overflowing coffers. The 4th of July - now history - had been a needed major shot of fiscal adrenalin for all the hotels and casinos in the Las Vegas area.

Jack Gamble shucked his suit and flopped in bed for a quick nap as soon as he arrived home - Monday's checkout had been fraught with an almost overwhelming workload of turning over most of the rooms at the Reflection Bay Resort; complicated by several room attendants who'd called in sick. 'Thank God arriving guests were light today,' he thought as he restlessly shifted around in bed and kicked his tangled sheets away, 'and the next group isn't due until Wednesday.' With the alarm set for 6:00 p.m., he figured he had enough time to 'grab a wink', clean up and get over to Phil's place for dinner by seven.

The window air conditioner droned on with an occasional sputter and the drawn shades had difficulty masking the late afternoon sun. Not a great setting for a snooze when someone was in serious thought. Jack replayed his last get-together with Phil Perez the Thursday before the holiday weekend. Phil had been upbeat and was in a very assertive mood by the time they adjourned to his bedroom. It was one of those caution-to-the-wind evenings that Jack enjoyed: playing a submissive bottom role to Phil's dominance. They both enjoyed inflicting and receiving playful touches of pain - tit nibbling, spanking, pinching - and that night was no exception.

Panting. Sweating. Growling. Talking dirty. What had been different and revealing was that Jack had yelled, "Love ya, babe…love ya…love ya," at the almost simultaneous climax of their physical union. Almost, because Phil had learned to release just before Jack went over the edge: Phil's sheathed erection, throbbing hard and parked inside, helped to intensify Jack's orgasm. When Phil finally withdrew - pulling out seconds after Jack's climax -Jack experienced second helpings of eruptions. They then ratcheted down the spasmodic moments. Phil gave Jack a hasty tongue bath to tidy up the mess and they exchanged kisses. Phil generously retrieved a warm, moist towel to finish up the housekeeping and then the two men lay side by side. Their breathing patterns returned to normal but for Jack the silence weighed heavily in the air.

He couldn't deny it any further: the utterance hadn't been just a verbal blathering in response to the sensual mental and physical short circuits they had just culminated. Putting aside the sexual pleasures, the idea of using the 'L' word seemed natural for the first time in many years. 'When I was a little boy with Mom,' he thought, 'and then always with Cray.' Jack had reached over and gently rubbed Phil's thigh as he remembered happier times with his young son. 'Until that bitch did her number on me.' As much as he wanted to forget it, his ex-wife still stirred hatred in his heart and awakened insecurities in his life.

Throughout the holiday weekend, even while working non-stop to maintain a high level of service for his guests, Jack had pondered what'd happened and what to do now. While walking out of his trailer door, he decided it was time to fess up and have 'that chat' with Phil. Ever since that time a few weeks earlier, when Phil made his feelings known, Jack had been treading in non-committal waters - knowing what he needed to do, but he was undecided about how to do it. 'It's shit or get off the pot time.' He drove a little faster so he could make a quick detour, stop by the supermarket and still make it to Phil's place on time.

Success. He found what he was looking for at Albertson's.

Although they had reached the stage where Jack would usually enter Phil's house and just give him a shout-out, tonight seemed important enough to officially announce his arrival by knocking. He stood at the entry, with his hands behind him, and felt a little chill when he heard the latch disengage and watched the door open.

"Hey, bud." Phil smiled and motioned with his head for Jack to come in. "Why didn't you use your key?"

A sheepish grin was returned.

They leaned in, pecked out a quick kiss and Jack was tingly - more so than usual. He stepped back and revealed the bouquet of a dozen roses wrapped in green florist paper.

"Um…hope you like these." Tingly and nervous…like Jack was picking up a prom date. 'Crap…get a grip.'

"They're gorgeous." Phil took the roses and flipped on a broad grin. "What's the occasion?"

"How about a beer and I'll explain."

"Two beers coming up," Phil replied, "and I'll put these posies in a vase with some water. Come on out to the kitchen and help me."

Jack followed behind and said, "I'll get the beer while you do the flowers."

"I've got this great vase that'll do just fine." Phil retrieved a large, tall square glass vase and ran some water into it.

With each rose placed in the vase, Jack knew he'd made the right decision.

Phil seemed satisfied that the long stemmed roses were properly arranged and said, "Thanks, babe, for the flowers. Now, let's go back to the living room and enjoy these beers."

The roses looked great on the coffee table and the two men sat on the sofa - their thighs glued together. Jack put his arm around Phil, took a long pull from the bottle of Corona and swallowed. The point of no return had been reached.


"So, whazzup?" Phil snuggled closer.

"Um…you." Jack swallowed hard, fidgeted slightly and continued, "Remember last Thursday night when we were…"

"Fucking our brains out?" Phil laughed.

"Something like that. And what I said as you drilled me?"

"Remind me."

Jack snuggled closer, set down his bottle and turned his head. He kissed Phil's cheek and said, "That I love you. Although I think I was barking, howling and yelling at the same time."

"I musta pushed the right buttons." Phil snickered and then looked at Jack with a puzzled but expectant expression. "To answer your question…yep, I remember. But we say a lot of things when we're…"

"Making love, Phil. Aside from having some pretty terrific sex from your pile-driving, I really meant what I said." Jack placed his hand under Phil's jaw and looked into his dark brown eyes. He thought he would melt. "I love you, Mr. Perez, and I want to figure out where this might lead…if you still feel the same way." He hoped he hadn't been too late to make his feelings known.

"Feel the same way?" Phil placed his bottle next to Jack's and repeated the question as he pulled Jack into his arms. "You know I do."

There was a blur as each man rushed into a series of kisses. Tongues probing, touching, embracing, crotches tenting, tears trickling from their eyes. Breathing far from relaxed, but not like when in the state of arousal. Different. Holding each other…tightly. Sniffling.

"Guess that answers my question," Jack whispered. Being in each other's arms without going to the next step seemed to be the most natural thing in the world. It was a moment he didn't want to spoil.

"And opens up a whole new area of discussion," Phil replied in the same husky whisper. "What were you thinking in the love department? It comes in so many different flavors."

"Definitely not the flavor of the day. I want to be with you as your partner…if you're up for that." He didn't want to overplay this moment and smother Phil by declaring his wish for a commitment. For once in his life, Jack wanted to get a relationship right. "Us, as a couple, and all that it stands for."

"Exclusive…monogamous…the two of us handling the good stuff and whatever shit that comes up on a daily basis?"

"All that and maybe a dog." Jack moved to the carpet, rested on his knees, and took Phil's hand. "Babe, would you be my mate, my hero, my best friend…forever?" He felt his hand tremble a little. His voice cracked.

Phil reached out and took Jack's face in his hands. "As they said in the Godfather, you've made me an offer I can't refuse. The answer is…yeeees. Now get up here, you hunk, and into my arms before I change my mind."

The picture of a golden retriever came into Jack's mind. He limped his hands to resemble paws, draped out his tongue and panted heavily. "Ruff, ruff," he barked while jumping up and into Phil's open arms.

The newly anointed lovers enveloped each other with a crush of their bodies while each fluttered the other with a volley of kisses. Tongues. Lips. Saliva. Heavy breathing. Passion of the moment…but what a moment it was. Jack felt renewal - the first for a very long time. That he could find his mate on the long-toothed side of middle age was incredible, if not almost downright impossible. He trembled, heaved and started sobbing again. 'I'm so lucky,' he thought while holding tight and burying his face in Phil's chest, 'to have found him.'

"Hey, babe. It's all right." Phil stroked Jack's head. "Let it all out. This as a new beginning for both of us. There's only one problem."

"If you're talking about my hard-on, it seems you're in the same boat," Jack replied with a snicker.

"They are not the problem, believe me." Phil sat up and guided Jack to the same position. "It's just that I've got a small roast in the oven that'll turn to shoe leather if I don't take it out. You wanna eat or make love?"

"Can we do both?"

"Advisedly not at the same time," Phil said with a laugh. "I prepared a nice meal for us that needs to be eaten…or stored in the fridge."

"First things first." Jack stood up and offered his hand to Phil. "Let's enjoy dinner and talk about whatever needs to be discussed. We've got plenty of time to get real friendly later in your boudoir."

"Boudoir is way too fancy for me. Why don't we settle for our bedroom? The way I see it, it's an area we'll be sharing…hopefully on a permanent basis."

"No fucking way," Jack replied. "You mean you're…"

"Yep. This house is big enough for the two of us, if you want to move in and call it our home."

"Do I get to be carried over the threshold?" Jack wiggled his eyebrows and added, "Just think, I can toss out that polyester bride's dress I've hauled around all these years."

"Hon, the only thing I want to see you in later on is your birthday suit with that big ole dick of yours searching for a port." Phil licked his lips and pulled Jack towards the kitchen. "In the meantime, you can help me by making salad while I pull the rest of dinner together."

The small roast, complimented by au gratin potatoes and string beans, was perfect in Jack's eyes. While sipping the remainder of the Australian Shiraz after Phil excused himself for a pit stop, he reviewed their table conversation and the plan to move in. 'Yikes, this is really it. He had said 'yes' after assuring himself that Phil wanted company on a fulltime basis. Being comfortable as partners was one thing; living together, another.

Both agreed that each needed to work on being more flexible and talk things out if one or the other stepped on set-in-your-way toes. "At least I won't have to bitch about you leaving up the toilet seat," Phil had joked due to Jack's habit of straightening restrooms - a carryover from working in hotels. Jack finally accepted the invitation to move in at the end of August. He'd give the landlord his notice tomorrow and take some vacation time for the move. Except for a few personal possessions and pictures, Jack was ready to start this relationship by wiping the slate clean.

"Oh, I forgot to mention something earlier,' Phil said, as he returned to the dining room. "We're invited to a party next weekend hosted by one of my fellow teachers, Billy Jean Metcalf."

"Like the tennis player?"

"Actually, she's the tennis coach at our school. Billy Jean and her partner, Mary, are celebrating ten years together. Mary's at another school as a student counselor."

"So it'll be mostly teachers?' Jack asked. He wasn't sure he'd fit in with such an academic group.

"Naw, a broad mix…and I mean no pun about lesbians." Phil laughed with a shrug. "Men and women, although it'll be mostly a gay group. You'll like the crew and we can make our own announcement at that time. You okay doing that?"

"More than okay…and I think it's neat to see couples staying together. It's a good goal for us." Jack smiled at the thought of still being with Phil when he was 50.

"I'll second that." Phil moved behind Jack and firmly massaged his shoulders. "In the meantime, we've got two immediate options to consider. A, help me get this place cleaned up. Or B, we go back to the bedroom and try to make babies."

"Ha," Jack chortled as he got up from the table. "While I'm not going to get into a debate concerning human reproduction, I do think B is something I can get into."

"Getting into me…in more ways than one." Phil wrapped his arms around Jack and said, "You've made me a very happy man, Mr. Gamble."

"And I plan on making you even happier, Mr. Perez." He pulled Phil into a big bear hug and whispered, "Forever." Jack momentarily thought about mentioning his joy of getting a second chance after experiencing such a fucked up marriage…but they had discussed that situation ad infinitum when they first met. 'No reason to bring up that marriage from hell again,' he thought, 'although I'd love to see Cray, wherever he is, and have him meet Phil.'

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