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On the drive south, and again on the return journey, my family charted a course through the Shenandoah Valley to visit with my daughter, Rachel.

Originally, the plan had been to pick up Rachel on the way down and return her on the way back, as is our annual custom. We were particularly keen for her to join us this year, for she is at an age—seventeen—which may offer one of her last flexible summers before her life is wrapped up in boyfriends, jobs and college.

Alas, Rachel has always been precocious. She already had too much on her plate to manage a three-week excursion to the Deep South.

Last spring, she graduated high school a year early, leaving her with a few divergent options. Should she stay at home and work for a year, to save money? Should she fulfill our shared fantasy and join me in New York?

She wondered: should she pursue college admissions in her home state, and live near her mom and dad, or in New York, to live with her dad, or maybe in California, near her other dad? And if she did move, what would that mean to her ten younger siblings?

Rachel’s family ties are complex, perhaps a fact of life when a girl has three fathers.

Rachel’s mother Emily and I were never formally in a relationship. The conception of our daughter was due to a certain convergence of coincidences.

The winter of nineteen-eighty-seven was unusually snowy. Because of this, classes were canceled at my college, and I found myself one night drinking at the bar tended by my roommate, Jetboy.

I had long blonde hair. Because of this, Emily felt compelled to braid my hair as I sat at the bar. While I didn’t know Emily very well, I did like her physical resemblance to Molly Ringwald. I also liked that she was so fond of my hair. It felt nice to have her touch it.

When Jetboy returned to our apartment that night, he walked in on Emily and me having sex.

He would get accustomed to the sight. For the rest of that winter and into the spring, Emily and I fucked and fucked.

She would hang out with her friends at the dorm, smoking pot and listening to bootlegged cassettes of Grateful Dead concerts. When she was good and baked, she would call me and ask to come over.

I always said yes.

Emily and I each had a “real” relationship back home. Our nights together provided a salutary opportunity for sex while we were at school.

Jetboy didn’t mind at all. He thought it was cool that we went at it regardless of his presence, though he declined our occasional entreaties to join us.

As the academic year drew to a close, Emily and I prepared to return to our lives back home. I happened to be at the dorm when her boyfriend arrived to help her move. I shook his hand and helped Emily load her things into his pickup truck. She waved goodbye and smiled as they drove away. I waved and smiled in return.

In July, I heard through the grapevine that Emily was two months pregnant.

I counted backwards.

I called her.

Emily confirmed that yes, she was pregnant and yes, the child was mine. But her boyfriend assumed it was his, and she preferred to keep it that way.

She said she would not be back in school for the coming year.

Emily was nineteen. I was twenty-two.

I had made an erroneous assumption. My real girlfriend Pablo and I relied on her birth control pills. I assumed that any woman who didn’t insist on condoms was on the pill. Emily seemed unconcerned about birth control, so I figured she was all set.

Turns out she wasn’t on the Pill. Turns out she was opposed to birth control. Abortion too, for that matter. So she was going to have my baby and raise it with her boyfriend.

I might never meet my child.

Needless to say, I was a little distracted as I began my senior year. I had a very big secret to keep.

When I returned home for Christmas break, my family was poised for a great milestone: my brother Jesse and his wife Teri were expecting their first child. My parents, then in their mid-forties, were about to become grandparents.

Just before New Year’s Day, I was with my family in a hospital waiting room when Jesse came out, his eyes tearing, to announce the birth of my nephew Tracy.

I hugged him, crying.

A week later, in a hospital in rural Virginia, my daughter was born. Emily named her Rachel Ann.

No one in my family knew. Very few friends knew.

I called Emily every few days to check on her and to listen to our baby gurgle and cry.

A few months later, after graduation, I began to date Lucy.

One summer night, as we lay in bed nude, sweating under a fan, listening to Wire, I told Lucy I had some things to confess.

First, I’m bisexual.

Second, I have a daughter I’ve never met.

I knew that her mother and brother were gay, and that her father had left the family when Lucy was four. I tried to joke that by being a queer absent father, I was either perfect for her, or the worst possible match.

She held my hand.

“You are not bisexual if you are with me,” she said into the night. “And you have to meet your daughter.”

She convinced me. I went to Virginia to meet my six-month-old baby girl.

Rachel had blue eyes like her mother and me. She had wispy blonde hair. She had her mother’s soft open mouth. I held her, scared and nervous.

I kissed them both goodbye at four that afternoon. I had to be out of the house when Rachel’s real father returned from work.

I told Lucy how amazing it had been to hold my daughter.

“I’m sure,” she said. “When will you see her again?” I hadn’t thought of that. Of course, I should see her again.

I invited Emily to bring the baby to visit me. She agreed, and I drove out to pick them up.

By this time, Rachel was walking.

I wasn’t ready for Lucy to meet Emily and Rachel. That was just too weird, I thought.

“I can wait,” Lucy said. “But will you be sleeping with Emily?”

“We haven’t had sex in over a year,” I said. “But what difference would it make if we did?”

“It will make a difference to me,” she said.

I agreed that my sexual relationship with Emily was over.

For a weekend, Emily and I took care of Rachel. Our baby toddled around my room, knocking down books and chewing on album covers. She slept between us at night. Rachel is blurry in every photograph from that weekend, unless she was sleeping.

In time, Lucy would meet Emily and Rachel. We traveled out to see them fairly often, always when her boyfriend was away. I took photographs of my beautiful baby, her beautiful mom, and my beautiful girlfriend, smiling, playing, enjoying one another.

This works, I thought. I can’t believe it, but it works.

One day Emily called to say she was leaving her boyfriend. She was in love with someone else, a guy I had never met named Phil. They were taking Rachel and driving to San Francisco the next day.

I tried to talk her out of doing anything rash. I realized I had absolutely no say in the matter. Emily could do whatever she wanted with our daughter.

Lucy convinced Emily to talk with a friend of ours, a family lawyer who would at least offer some advice. Emily agreed.

She took only one part of our friend’s advice. She left a note for her boyfriend saying she was gone for good, and she was taking the baby.

The baby, she added, is not yours. With that, she was gone.

A few months later, Lucy and I flew to San Francisco. We visited their tiny apartment in the shadow of a freeway overpass. We took Rachel to the Presidio and the zoo.

Emily was pregnant. She seemed very happy.

At Christmas, she received a summons. Her ex-boyfriend was suing for custody of Rachel.

Emily and the baby were to appear in court in Virginia, in a small town where the ex-boyfriend’s father was a leading figure. Of course, Lucy and I drove down for the hearings.

When the ex-boyfriend and his family arrived at court for the first hearing, they saw me with Emily. I was holding Rachel. His mother blanched. Rachel was a carbon copy of me.

The ex boyfriend had promised to be civil in these proceedings. He was a sweet guy, and he had my sympathy: his child had been taken away. But I also knew that if he had custody, my tenuous relationship with Rachel would be severed. He had no reason to keep me around as another father.

Emily had a court appointed lawyer who seemed unfamiliar with her case.

His lawyer stood to say that Emily was a pot dealer and devotee of the Grateful Dead. She represented a flight risk as she had already left for San Francisco; furthermore, she was obliged to follow the Grateful Dead to all concerts.

This was pure fabrication. Emily didn’t follow Dead shows. And while she and her ex boyfriend both smoked, it was he who was the dealer.

No matter. The judge concurred with his argument, and ruled that while the case was being decided, Rachel was better off with her father and his family, community members of good standing.

Rachel was taken from Emily’s arms and placed in those of her ex-boyfriend’s mother.

Emily screamed.

Lucy and I were shocked. Our friend the family lawyer had told us that babies generally remain with the mother during a custody battle unless there was a clear danger to the child.

Outside the courthouse, Lucy took Emily by the shoulders. Both were crying.

“Listen to me, Emily. Listen to me!” she said, looking to her eyes. “I am calling my family. We are paying for you to have a real lawyer. You are not losing Rachel. Do you hear me?”

Emily nodded, too stunned to do otherwise.

Lucy called her family. Lucy called lawyers. Lucy wrote checks.

I signed affidavits asserting my paternity. I offered myself for blood tests. I initiated my long relationship with the sovereign government of the State of Virginia.

When the judge issued a final ruling, Rachel stayed with Emily.

That summer, Lucy sat with me as I told my parents I had “important news.” I held Lucy’s hands in my lap.

I was with my girlfriend, but we looked somber. This was clearly not an announcement of our engagement.

My friend Donnie had already been diagnosed with AIDS. Mom looked as if she might cry.

“I’m sorry I have taken so long to tell you this,” I said, swallowing hard. “But you have another grandchild.”

Dad looked confused. Mom suddenly smiled. “You and Lucy are expecting?” she asked.

Lucy and I stumbled over one another to tell the story.

That night, the four of us were in a car driving toward Rachel.

As I made introductions, my parents shook hands with Phil. They rubbed Emily’s bulging belly.

And they fell in love with their granddaughter.

In time, Emily and her ex-boyfriend made peace. He remained a part of Rachel’s life. She refers to him as her “other dad.”

Emily and Phil got married. They traveled around for a while, then settled down in Virginia. They had seven children after Rachel, each pregnancy unplanned but welcome. Rachel helped to deliver each of her siblings.

Emily and I settled into a kind of fraternal relationship. I love her like a sister. We agree on very few things: my Deadhead hippy fuck buddy became a born-again fundamentalist who home schools her kids and insists that they attend rallies against gay marriage.

Whatever. We’re family.

My parents and children mingled with Rachel’s full family this summer. My kids played with Rachel’s other siblings, riding skateboards, chasing her dog, and holding the baby.

There were too few moments for Rachel and I to be alone, but we drank those moments in great gulps.

For now, Rachel has decided to wait about leaving her hometown. She loves New York, she told me, but this is home. She enrolled in a community college. She continues to work as a waitress at a cool café. And she got her own place. She lives in a cabin with a fireplace, a pool and a big Jacuzzi tub. Her Beatles memorabilia lines the walls.

She pays for school and her cabin with the money she earns. Her brothers and sisters take turns sleeping over, when she wants company.

My parents and I took her to Wal-Mart to help fix up her place. She asked me for a Bodum coffee carafe like mine.

Shortly after I returned to New York, I received a card from my daughter.

Hey Dad,

It was so great to see you and everybody last week. I am writing this on my patio with some great coffee—thanks!

I’m so sorry I couldn’t go south this year. When can I come up to New York? Maybe for my eighteenth birthday. Then we can smoke cigarettes and watch porn—you know, the usual, but now it will be legal.

I love you Dad. Call me!

Rachel

PS When is my boyfriend Marcus coming to New York? Maybe at my birthday? I know you think he is yours, but he is mine. Ha ha!

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“Hello?”

“Hello, Henry. It’s Lucy. Can I speak with the kids?”

“Sure, just a sec. Jason? Your mom is calling.”

Our typical exchange. A handful of words, the bare minimum necessary for Lucy to convey what she wants, and for me to meet her request.

Anyone else answering the phone would have received a more loquacious greeting, replete with “how are yous?” and “how’s the weathers?”

I don’t warrant such niceties. I am merely an obstacle, the thing that stands between my ex and a conversation with our children. Her tone made clear her regret I was the person closest to the phone when it rang.

She did not acknowledge the date. My parents had not mentioned it either, if they even noticed. I certainly wasn’t going to bring it up.

That day, one of the last of my visit back home, was our wedding anniversary. It was the fourteenth since the big day, and the second to pass since we separated.

For two years, we have been suspended in this limbo, no longer husband and wife, not yet divorced. And in each of those years, the calendar has thrust this date into our faces like a cruel insult.

Or into my face, at least. Lucy scarcely noted anniversaries when we were together. Perhaps they don’t haunt her now.

For me, it will be a while before this is a day like any other.

My wife was never one for sentiment. Indeed, her aversion to sentiment was a hallmark of our wedding ceremony.

We came to be engaged at her suggestion. We had been living together for about year when she allowed that if I proposed, she would not refuse.

I can take a hint. But, as she knew, I had a young anarchist’s distrust of the institution. Why should we seek state sanction for our love, I asked?

Because I prefer it, she answered.

But its just paper, a contract, I argued. Why not trust in one another? Why accept the rules of matrimony, the ideal of lifelong monogamy, when they seem so contrary to human nature?

Because I prefer it, she answered.

So it was that one evening, in a tavern, I proposed. I gave her a ring my mother had passed on to me. Lucy cried. She lost her breath. She threw the ring at me, saying she was “not worthy” of me. She ran to the street.

I picked up the ring. I followed her to the street. I put the ring on her finger. “I love you,” I said. “I am yours. Please, marry me.”

She nodded. She cried as she held me tight, as if I would evaporate if she let me go.

We set a date.

Marriage ceased to be abstract, something I supposed I would do some day, when I grew up. Now, at twenty-six, I was grown up. I was engaged to the woman I loved. We were entering into a sanctioned union.

We planned the wedding.

Of course, it would be a civil ceremony. My faith as an agnostic Methodist was no match for her firm convictions as an atheist. Her mother offered us the use of her home, a lovely Cape Cod situated on a bay in Long Island, for the wedding ceremony.

We accepted. Lucy and her mother began the time-honored tradition of mothers and daughters arguing over wedding details.

It was decided that the ceremony was to be performed by a local ferryboat captain.

“Do you want to say anything during the ceremony?” he asked us one afternoon as he guided his ferry across the bay.

“No,” Lucy said, looking at me. “We want the ceremony as short as you can make it.”

“We can do it in about, oh, five lines, if that’s what you want.”

“That’s what we want. Right, Henry?”

“Right,” I nodded, taking her newly expressed opinion as my own. “Four lines if you can manage it.”

My family was surprised that Lucy intended to keep her last name. “She’s the end of the line,” I explained. “I’m one of four boys. Our lineage is secure. She’s got one brother, and he’s gay. So she is keeping her name.”

They thought it odd that she rented her wedding gown. “Don’t be superstitious,” I chided. “Why buy a dress she will wear once?”

To me, these things made sense. Lucy’s decisions were consistent with her independence of mind, which I treasured. They also reflected her ambivalence about the ceremony, which I shared.

Still, there were some traditions we kept. I did not see Lucy in her gown until shortly before the ceremony.

“You are a stone cold fox,” I smiled, kissing her.

She looked so beautiful.

Lucy prefers her hair short, but knew that I liked it long. For her new husband, she grew her hair so that it flowed over her shoulders.

She had chosen an antique gown, in ivory white, with petticoats and layers of lace. Her smile radiated from her warm olive complexion. Her almond eyes sparkled.

“I’m so sorry about this,” she whispered, fingering the gash on my forehead.

“It’s okay,” I winced. “Looks much worse than it feels.”

“Has anyone noticed?” she asked, looking about.

“Everyone has noticed. But it’s okay.”

Following the reception on the previous evening, Lucy had stormed away from me, shouting obscenities as she hurled herself into the middle of a quiet street.

It was well after midnight. She was drunk. We both were.

She was scared to death. We both were.

“Shhh, shhh,” I shushed, running after her. “Please, don’t walk away.”

“I hate you! I hate you!” she screamed. “There is no way I am marrying you tomorrow, none!”

“Lucy, Lucy, please. Everyone is here. My family and friends are here. Your family is here. We love each other. We have to get married tomorrow. For us. For them!”

“What, I have to get married because your family got on a fucking plane? I don’t have to do anything!”

“Look,” I said, my anger rising over my dread of being overheard. “We are getting married tomorrow. That’s it. It’s settled.”

“I fucking HATE YOU!” she shouted, lashing at me. Her newly filed nails clawed into my face.

“Fuck!” I grabbed my head. I pulled back my hands and saw blood. “Oh, shit . . .”

“Oh my god,” Lucy gasped, shaking her hands like things she could no longer control. “I have to go. I have to go.” She ran down the street, away from her mother’s home, where we were to sleep that night.

“Don’t follow me!” she called back.

I looked at my bloody fingers, and wiped the mess coagulating on my eyebrow.

I had to take care of her.

I had to disguise this outburst. No one should know.

I was bleeding. How do I fix this?

I abandoned the reception party and headed to my future mother in law’s home. No one was there. I could sneak in and clean up the wound. Maybe it would look better in the morning.

I awoke alone. The pillow was streaked with blood. I washed my face and went downstairs to join in the wedding preparations. I had to be normal.

“Good morning,” Lucy’s brother Richard said as I approached him on the lawn. “Did you enjoy the . . . good Lord, what happened to your face?”

“Uh, nothing, just, you know. Say, have you seen Lucy?”

“You mean she’s not in your room?”

“No, and I’d like to find her quietly, okay?”

“I’ll find her,” he said. He understood. “You just try to, I don’t know, just avoid Mother until we find her.” That was good advice.

I visited my family. My mother expressed alarm at my scratched face. “Lucy did this to you, didn’t she?”

“Mom, please. She’s anxious. It’s a big deal. The wedding, I mean, not the scratch. It doesn’t hurt.”

“Sit on the bed,” she ordered, examining the wound. “Hmm. I don’t think you need stitches . . .”

“Mom, please,” I batted her hands. “I don’t need stitches. It’s a scratch. Anyway, I have to go. I have to help with the set up. I’ll see you at six, okay?”

She hugged me as I stood.

“I have to go, Mom.”

“I know,” she stroked my hair. “Just . . . don’t let her hit you again.”

“She won’t, Mom. Geez.”

When Lucy left me standing on the street, she ran to the house a friend was renting for the wedding. I had invited dozens of friends, and most had accepted.

Lucy invited very few friends, but this one in particular. Of course, she took Lucy in. She sat up with Lucy, calming her down.

The next morning, she woke Lucy and called her sister. Together, they did Lucy’s hair and make up—she was clueless about these things—and helped her into her gown.

They made her into a bride. I think Lucy was as surprised as anyone to see how ravishing she looked.

How much I loved her.

I put on my suit. I pinned a boutonniere into my lapel, then into the lapels of my father, brothers and future brothers-in-law, Richard and his partner.

My former professor, Whitman, was on hand to serve as my best man. I reserved flowers for his lapel and that of his partner.

A bus pulled up in front of the house, discharging my past. My friends from high school, from college, from work.

I hugged Allan. He told me I looked great in my suit. I thanked him for not wearing shorts, and took a swig from his flask.

“Man, I got to tell you, Lucy is really, really pretty.”

“That’s kind,” I said, swallowing his bourbon. “I mean, considering she is the only girlfriend of mine you haven’t fucked.”

“Henry, I am shocked, shocked,” he began, his mouth dropping. “But, you know . . .”

“I know, its true.” I handed the flask to my brother and greeted more arrivals.

Marcus was there, with his new wife.

Debra sat with Donnie, who was, by this time, so thin he was swallowed by his suit.

Guini was there, in a skirt so short my mother felt compelled to tug down the hem. (Later that night, my little brother Lee would feel compelled to lift her hem with his face.)

Everyone mingled, all these parts of my life coming together.

And I realized that with the exception of people sharing my last name or that of my bride, I had pretty much slept with all the wedding guests. It was time for me to settle down.

The ceremony was over fast. Whitman clocked it at under two minutes. We exchanged rings, we signed a paper, and we kissed.

Just like that, we were married.

“I love you,” she said. “Thanks for marrying me.”

“Thank you for accepting my proposal. I’ll love you forever.”

The wind was coming strong from the bay, anticipating the arrival of Hurricane Bob a few days later. It whipped everyone’s hair and clothes; as the drinks settled in, it blew away inhibitions.

We had hired a stomping swing band. In photographs from that night, everyone is contorted, windswept, dancing, laughing.

Everyone agreed: there has never been a better party, before or since.

My friends paired off as they stumbled back to their hotel rooms, or boarded the bus back to the city. The driver covered the sounds of kissing with a Marvin Gaye soundtrack.

That night, everybody got laid.

Well, almost everybody.

With the departure of our guests, Lucy decided we would not sleep at her mom’s house as planned. We loaded the wedding gifts into a car and drove, drunk as can be, to her friend’s house.

Over my objection, Lucy opened all the gifts that night as I tried, hopelessly, to match names to items.

We fell asleep on a couch as the sun rose, my wife in my arms.

Four days into the honeymoon, we made love for the first time as a married couple. I videotaped her afterwards, laying on the bed, still flush from sex, her slip pulled up over her belly. She laughed into my camera, “Now you have evidence that we had sex on our honeymoon.”

I laughed, though the comment made me rather sad.

A month after returning from the honeymoon, we were in couple’s therapy.

We would see our therapist every week for two years, until the birth of our first child.

We’d return to therapy many times afterward.

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Hugs And Kisses

I had not heard from Anna since she dumped me—again—in early July.

She had made it clear in her final note to me. If I were unwilling to try a six-week period of monogamy with her, then we were unlikely to have much of a future together, so she was done.

I was unwilling to try this experiment. I was annoyed that she continued to disregard my current disinterest in monogamy—it’s no secret that it’s just not for me right now—and even more annoyed at the blackmail implicit in the experiment: love me, on my terms, or leave me.

I bid her well.

I wanted her in my life somehow, but I was relieved to take a break from our cyclical on again/off again relationship.

Weeks passed, with nothing passing between us. Then, one day, an instant message.

Anna: Good morning.

Henry: Good morning.

Anna: How are you?

Henry: Well, and yourself?

Anna: Very good. The kids?

Henry: They are fine.

Nice, banal. I didn’t initiate anything, just responded to her questions in a casual tone. But I caught the whiff of an agenda: the beginning of on again.

Anna: So I will be in your neighborhood tomorrow.

Henry: Oh?

Anna: Yes, I am being interviewed to volunteer at the medical center.

Henry: That’s noble of you. What will you be doing?

I followed up with questions about her volunteer work.

I let it go that she would be near my place the next day; I didn’t extend an invitation to stop over.

Anna: I’ve been in rehearsals all month for a new performance. It’s a very physical piece—I’ve dropped a dress size from all the activity.

Henry: Gosh!

Anna: I guess that’s good though, as I appear on stage nearly nude.

Henry: I’m sure you will knock ‘em dead.

Anna: A naked girl on stage. What’s not to love?

Henry: Good point.

Anna: The timing is good, as I will look great in a bikini on vacation in a couple of weeks.

Henry: Yes, that is good timing.

Anna hurled steak after steak—enough red meat to choke a lion—but I wasn’t biting.

In time, she got back to her job, and I returned to what I was doing.

The next morning, I received another instant message.

Anna: Good morning.

Henry: Good morning.

Anna: How are you?

Henry: Well, and yourself?

Anna: Very good. The kids?

Henry: Good. They are with their mother.

Anna: So a little private time for Dad. I will be in your neighborhood this afternoon. Mind if I stop by?

Henry: I’ve got a deadline, but maybe for a little bit. What time?

Anna: Around one?

Henry: Okay. I’ll put on some lunch.

Anna: That would be nice. See you then.

She signed out. I shaved and showered, then got dressed. I returned to my work.

A little after one, Anna arrived. She did look a little thinner, her hair a little longer. We kissed hello at the door—a very continental buss, nothing overheated—and she removed her shoes.

I offered her a glass of water. She accepted. I brought two chill glasses to the sofa.

We talked. I asked her about her decision to be a volunteer. She spoke about her rehearsals, and her upcoming vacation. She noted with disapproval that I had a book of nude photographs on my coffee table. “Don’t you have the kids later? You should put that away.”

“Oh, thanks, I will.” I remained seated.

“So,” she asked. “Meeting any interesting women, Mister Polyamory?”

“I meet all kinds of interesting people.”

“You know, I’ve been reading about polyamory. Did you know that full disclosure is a big part of it?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, if you were truly polyamorous, you would be very open about who you are seeing.”

“Perhaps I am not truly polyamorous. At any rate, I think that tenet would apply to those with whom one shared a polyamorous relationship, not necessarily to those outside of it. I don’t think anyone is required to detail his sex life.”

She frowned. “You are just as circumspect as ever.”

“And you are just as nosey.”

“Huh.” She sat back. “Aren’t you going to ask me if I am seeing anyone?”

“Is there anything you would like to tell me?” I sipped my cold water.

“Well, I’ve been to a couple of cuddle parties, and those were fun.”

“I don’t know what that is.”

“Oh really? And I thought you were Mister Sex. Well, really I take that back, because a cuddle party isn’t about sex. People meet to cuddle—you know, to hug and caress.”

“That sounds like a sweet way to meet people.”

“I’m just there to cuddle. I don’t want to meet people.”

“Ah. And this is all clothed, I assume?”

“Yes, all clothed. The rules are really clear about that.”

“I’m sure they must be. Like, what are the rules?”

“Well, first, the most important rule is that you have to ask permission before you touch. Like this.” She sat up on her knees. “May I hug you?”

“You may.” I opened my arms.

With deliberate care, Anna slowly moved her body to drape over mine, wrapping an arm around my waist. “See how it works?” she asked.

“I see.”

“Feels nice, right?”

“It does.”

“Now, may I put my hand on your face?”

“You may.” She did, moving her face close to mine. I instinctively leaned in to kiss.

“No!” she pulled back. “You forgot to ask permission!”

“Terribly sorry,” I replied. I was losing interest in this game.

She smiled. “Is there anything you want to ask me?”

“Yes. I wanted to know if there was anything you cared to ask me.”

She closed her eyes and pondered. “No, I don’t think so.”

“Very good.”

She stayed in my arms as we talked. She looked away for a moment, then back to me. “You know, I have reevaluated my earlier statement.”

“Yes?”

“Yes, and now, I do have a question. May I kiss you?”

“Yes, you may.”

She closed her eyes and gently touched her lips to mine. I received her kiss, parting my lips slightly. She could feel me growing hard against her ribs. Her kiss became more passionate. Then her kiss ended. She looked into my eyes. “Thank you.”

“Thank you,” I said. “And you’re welcome. Now, are you hungry for lunch?”

“No, I’m not hungry.” She sat up. “In fact, I think I should be going.”

“If you like. Want something for the road?”

“What do you have in mind?”

“A sandwich or something? Maybe a bottle of water?”

“Um, sure. Water would be nice.”

“Easily done.” I stood and retrieved a bottle. I remained standing as I gave it to her.

“Thanks.” She took the bottle, then stood and passed me without touching. She walked to her shoes, slipping them on. “Okay. Thanks again for having me.”

“It was a pleasure.” I opened the door. She walked quickly out. I closed and locked the door. I ate lunch.

A few weeks later, I received a postcard from Anna. She was enjoying her vacation. “See you soon,” it concluded. “Hugs and kisses, Anna.”

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Straight Boys In Love

Love at first sight is real.

September nineteen-eighty, early morning, still life drawing class. I was sixteen.

Allan was standing with some other jock sophomores, leaning against the flat files used to store our drawings. He had his fingers shoved into the pants of his tight jeans. He wore a clinging baseball jersey with red sleeves.

He was smiling.

His smile was broad, stretching between his full cheeks.

His dirty blond hair was wavy and long on top.

I could draw you a picture of how he looked in that moment, so imprinted is it in my memory.

We didn’t have many opportunities to talk initially, as we were in different classes. He already had a circle of friends, and I was just beginning to meet people at this new school.

One day he mentioned that he needed a ride home. I volunteered to drive him. Soon we were commuting together. I would pick him up in the mornings, and take him home in the afternoons.

During that drive, for about an hour every day, we were alone together. And during those drives, talking and singing along to the early Beatles, we fell in love.

I was sixteen, he was fifteen.

We didn’t talk much at first. I was a little nervous about his beauty and my attraction to him. He was shy, he would later tell me, because he thought I was one of the smart kids—what if I thought he was dumb?

This was before Allan came to realize how smart he was. He developed into a philosopher of sorts; there was nothing he couldn’t talk about until sunrise, thinking through every angle, every permutation, of the most abstract ideas.

But at fifteen, he was still unaware of his uniqueness.

He lived alone with his mom and her mother. To pick him up for school, I would pull up outside his building, honk my horn, and wait for him. If he took too long, I would get out to hurry him along.

One morning, I went to fetch him. He opened the door nude.

His mother and grandmother were gone.

He apologized for being late, saying he just woke up. He needed to iron a shirt and he’d be ready to go. Come sit in my room while I get ready.

I sat on his bed as he ironed. I tried to avert my eyes. The room was a mess, scattered with clothes and junk. He had a smooth body, naturally muscular, still growing out of his baby fat. His small patch of pubic hair was blondish, kind of salt and pepper. His cock was . . .

I couldn’t get over the fact that he was nude, right there, in front of me. My heart was racing.

He sat on the bed next to me.

He kissed me. He kissed me!

He asked me to take off my clothes.

I had never touched a boy. Neither had he.

I undressed and we kissed. I held him close. I didn’t know what to do with my hands. I didn’t know what to do with my desire. I only knew I wanted all of him, now, before this moment was taken away.

This might never happen again. How was it happening now? No one had done what we were doing.

I’m not sure if either of us came. Afterward, we lay in his bed. He said that would have been very hot if a girl had been there. I agreed. We dressed and went to school.

I was in a daze as the school day unfolded around me. The world was normal. I wasn’t. I was full of feelings about Allan and what we had done. We weren’t gay now, were we?

Things settled over time. Allan and I were very close. We loved each other, and said so, along the lines of saying “Ah love yew, man.”

We had sex now and then, always at his initiation, never as often as I wanted.

We were at a party a year later and had to do a beer run. He and I collected bills and change and headed out in my car.

He drove. He wanted to drive. I swallowed my father’s admonishment that under no circumstances was anyone other than me to drive my car.

A few beers often turned him sentimental. He grabbed my leg and proclaimed his love for me, his best friend.

I kiss his cheek and told him I loved him.

He changed course and drove to Jamye’s house. We knew the door was unlocked, and no one was home—Jamye and her sister were at the party we just left.

We went upstairs to her room. We undressed and kissed, making love in Jamye’s bed.

Allan never really had a girlfriend. As our circle of friends developed in common, and as he gained in confidence about his brains and his beauty, he tended to sleep with whichever girl was into him at the moment.

I always had a girlfriend. Allan slept with pretty much all of them.

Years later, at my wedding reception, Allan congratulated me on finding such a pretty bride. I thanked him, noting that she was the only girlfriend I had that he had not bedded.

He pushed me, laughing. We then realized this was only a slight exaggeration.

Allan finally found pretty bride of his own.

We grew up to be married men, but kissing and loving one another remained a part of our friendship. Everyone knew we loved each other. His mother used to wonder if he would have been happier with me.

In the summer of two-thousand-and-one, I was back home. He drove over from Atlanta to see me. We met for beer in a garden, and talked for hours.

He dropped me off at my parents afterward. We kissed. I pressed into it, taking his tongue in my mouth.

He laughed. “Ah love yew, man,” he said.

“I love you, baby. Always will.”

That was the last time I saw him. Allan died of a sudden heart attack a year later.

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Donnie Says

It is very hard to summarize a relationship into a single posting in a blog. But I did want you to know Donnie.

The thing hardest to get into a summary is his voice. I didn’t even try. Instead, I will let him speak for himself, by sharing one of the letters he sent me soon after he moved to New York.

At the time, we had a rule: We had to write back the day we received a letter.

Sweetest Dear,

It’s July third, nineteen-eighty-three at five fifteen am, and I’m on a sixth floor fire escape in the big Greenwich Village.

The apartment actually belongs to my cherished friend Cheryl, but my cherished friend Stevie is living here in Cheryl’s absence. Cheryl, you see, is at the present living in Dublin (Ireland, y’know) attending the (sniff) Joan White Theatre School. She’s studying the classics and all that shit (oh that word!).

Stevie and I just finished the latest installment of one of our favorite pastimes, which we call “closing the Duplex.”

Insty-Explanation

The Duplex: one of my (and my friends’—i.e., the aforementioned broads) favorite nightspots. Try almost the only nightspot I’ve ever been to here. No joke. No matter, it’s all (almost all) I need.

It’s a mostly gay club in the Village with two floors: the upstairs where I’ve never been which houses various specialty acts (transvestites, torch singers, etc.); and the downstairs where I’ve always been—a piano bar (sing-along style) with light bulbs (one row) along the walls (a la dressing room chic) and framed theatre posters. It’s kind of in a basement, and we are talking MAJOR small. There’s a jukebox, a cigarette machine, and some video/pinball machines in the back. Nothing lavish here.

Everyone screams Broadway tunes for hours. There’s also a little spotlight and microphone if anyone has the urge to wing it one their own. Usually it’s barmaids and bartenders (who are mostly preciously cute) who sing alone. I think you would like it except for the fact that one can’t help but feel a little left out if one doesn’t know any of the words. (Chide, tease.) (Not really.)

It’s very low pressure (none of that Belle’s shit (!) where you get groped by about twenty people while trying to buy a drink) and usually very warm. In a way. I mean, for all the warmth being passed around the place, there’s still the knowledge that in about an hour or so, you’ll be asked to leave, and everyone with go home. Alone. Unless, of course . . .

END

Dawn has broken during the course of this narration.

This is beautiful. This time and space, I mean. I wish you could see and feel it. It’s very warm, but not disgusting yet.

The West Village is this tumbledown motley of multi-colored, flaking brownstones and little ancient churches. I can see a clock tower and an old tall building topped with what looks like a Greek temple, and I can see a tiny square of the Hudson River.

I went on the roof first (Cheryl’s on the top floor), and got views of the Empire State and World Trade that not only ought to be postcards, but were postcards in the first light of dawn. (However, there was nowhere to sit.)

This neighborhood is wonderful. Everywhere is Off-Broadway theatres, boutiques (clever to offensive), clubs, restaurants, and everywhere, EVERYWHERE is every handsome man that God ever made.

And they’re ALL GAY!!!

This pen will burn in hell.

Henry. Uh, I am so sleepy. I am so sleepy I just dozed off and almost fell off the fire escape.

So . . . could I bend the . . . uh, rules just a tiny bit? I mean, I promise I’ll finish the letter tomorrow, and the mail doesn’t run until Tuesday. And . . . and . . . ohshutup. I’m going to sleep.

(Ouy fo maerd dna.)

Figure it out, You don’t get anything for free.

P.S. Thank you for the letter. Honestly. How I love you.

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