This is Chapter 25 of the "Queer Identities" series.
The narrator is Emmett Honeycutt, with Morgan, Ted Schmidt, Michael Novotny, Hunter, Others.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Hung out to dry. Pittsburgh, June 2003.
Disclaimer: You know the drill. This is for fun, not profit. Enjoy.
"The torch I carry is handsome,
It's worth its heartache in ransom,
And when the twilight steals,
I know how the lady in the harbor feels.
When I want rain I get sunny weather,
I'm just as blue as the sky,
Since love is gone can't pull myself together,
Guess I'll hang my tears out to dry.
Friends ask me out,
I tell them I'm busy,
I must get a new alibi.
I stay at home and ask myself where is he?
Guess I'll hang my tears out to dry..."
"So," says Morgan. "It's a date, then?"
"Yes!" I exclaim, clapping my hands. "That sounds like so much fun!"
I had just popped in to the stationery store to order some more business cards. I love the stationery store! And I especially love Morgan, the dishy man behind the counter. I've been flirting with him forever and today it paid off! He mentioned a Peter Sellers film festival over at Carnegie Mellon next week, and, of course, I babbled on about how much I ADORE Peter Sellers, especially 'The Pink Panther' (hint! hint!). A few moments later -- BINGO! I had a date!
"Perhaps we can have a bite to eat before the film?" Morgan suggests in that fabulous English accent that makes me want to drop my pants right there in the store.
"Oh, I'd love that! Do you like Italian food? Or Thai?"
Morgan laughs. "I like anything! Anything but fish and chips -- I've had enough of that to last me a lifetime."
"You pick a place," I say. "Surprise me. I love being surprised."
"And I love a man who loves a surprise," he says slyly.
This is sounding better and better. I haven't had a real date in such a long time that I've almost forgotten what one is like. And this is a real date. That's so different from picking up a trick at Babylon or hooking up at Woody's. This seems so... solid. Solid, but exciting. Like Morgan.
Wait until I tell Vic and Tim about this! They'll be so pleased. They're always telling me that it's time for me to find someone really nice and settle down. Who would have thought that Brian Kinney, Mr. I-Don't-Believe-in-Love would be in a committed relationship before me, Mr. I-Believe-in-True-Love-and-Romance-Forever? It's one of those crazy things that makes the world go 'round, I guess!
Just the other day Vic warned me that my wayward youth will turn into my wayward middle age before too long and I better get cracking. And just this morning I noticed that my hairline seems a little farther back on my forehead than it did yesterday. Probably just a trick of the bad light in my bathroom, but you can't be too careful. I've been using some little tubes of gunk I bought at the Liberty Pharmacy. It's supposed to keep the hair you already have and also regrow the hair you used to have. So far I haven't noticed any change. I'll give it another month. Or six.
"I'll call you about dinner," says Morgan. "And about the business cards."
"Righto!" I reply.
"Righto," he says.
And I walk home in a happy haze.
What if Morgan is The One? But how do you know which one is THE One? How did Vic and Tim know? Or did they just kind of come together as friends and decide to give it a try? Frankly, I don't have a lot of role models for the perfect relationship. I could look at Michael and Dr. Dreamboat. Except the more I look at that Love Boat the more it looks like it's headed for an iceberg. Lindsay and Melanie? I don't know. Dykes are a different species altogether. And although they've been a couple forever, they never seem all that happy. Comfortable, maybe, but not happy. And I don't want to be just comfortable. I want to float on a cloud of Love! I want my life to be like Turner Classic Movies! I want to joke like Katharine Hepburn and cry like Lana Turner and fight like Bette Davis and make love like Elizabeth Taylor. I want to have 'Breakfast at Tiffany's,' 'Dinner at Eight,' 'A Roman Holiday,' and 'An Affair to Remember' -- without being run over by a taxicab!
Again, the irony is that I'd really like to have something like Brian and Justin have. Yes, they are a couple of drama queens and I, for one, would never put up with Brian's shit for two seconds, but you can't deny that whatever they have won't quit. They fuck and fight and fuck and laugh and fuck and break up and fuck and fly off to Hollywood! Who can beat that?
One day it'll happen to me.
I look up and see him standing there on the steps of my apartment building, looking wan and bedraggled. You could have knocked me over with a peacock feather.
"Teddy!" I cry, giving him a big hug. "When did you get out of rehab?"
"Yesterday," he sniffs. His voice sounds raw. "I went home last night, but I couldn't sleep. I was just walking around today and found myself here."
"Don't apologize!" I say, taking his hand and pulling him up the steps. "Tell me all about rehab! Did you see Liz and Liza and Boy George? I heard that Walker Talmadge just got out. I love him! His voice makes me hot!"
"No," Ted says wearily. "No celebrities. Just a bunch of addicts. Like me."
"Too bad." I unlock my door. Ted stands in the doorway, like he's never been here before and is afraid to come in. "Make yourself at home, honey. Do you want a drink? I mean like some tea? Or pop?"
"Anything cold. But water would be fine." Teddy seems so nervous. "Yes, water. Please."
"Take a load off while I get it."
He sits down on the sofa and I get him a bottle of water and a Dr. Pepper for myself. Nothing like the Good Doctor on a hot June day! A holdover from my Hazelhurst youth, I guess.
"Thanks." Ted sips at his water as he glances around. "Everything looks the same."
"Actually, I got new curtains. And a new rug. See?" I point to the floor. "I really want to redecorate. Now that Vic and I are starting to make more money with our catering business I can afford to re-do this whole place!"
"I'm glad you're doing so well."
"Well, as much as Fletch Dixon was so very, very popular, I wasn't exactly rolling in dough doing that job! No offense, Teddy."
"None taken," he says, looking away.
"When are you planning to reopen the website? Someone asks me every time I go into Woody's or Babylon. Everyone really misses their Jerk-at-Work fix!"
Ted swallows. "I'm not restarting it."
That surprises me. "Why ever not?"
Ted's mouth twitches. "Too many triggers. Most of the guys I hired were tweakers -- with the exception of you, of course, Em. The whole porn industry is just too... You know." He shrugs. "Full of temptations. Too many different temptations. I'm thinking of going back into accounting. I need something steady. Something... normal."
"Something boring?" I offer.
"Yes," says Ted. He blinks his red-rimmed eyes, like there's too much light in the room. "Something boring. I want a nice, quiet, boring life from now on."
Poor Teddy! He looks almost as miserable now that he's out of rehab as he did before he went in!
"Maybe you can go back to your old job?"
Ted shakes his head violently. "Never! I'll never work for that homophobic bastard Wertschafter again! I gave him nine years of my life and you know how he repaid me! I... I was thinking that maybe... maybe Brian could put in a good word for me at Ryder Associates. He got me an interview there once before."
I frown. "That's a problem. There is no more Ryder Associates. Some bigshot bought the place. Brian's old assistant Cynthia -- I'm doing her wedding, by the way! She's such a doll! Anyway, she has a new job in New York. Brian got her an interview."
"Oh." Ted's voice sounds all squeezed up. "I'm sure something will turn up."
"It will, Teddy! You're a great accountant!" At least I think he's a great accountant. Whatever it means to be a great accountant, I'm certain that Ted Schmidt is it!
"Thanks, Em. You've always believed in me."
I pat him on the shoulder. "That's what friends are for, honey. So -- who else have you seem? Have you talked to Michael?"
"No," Ted says. "I doubt he'd want to hear from me. He never wrote to me in rehab. I think he's disgusted by me. At least you didn't abandon me, Em. Like everyone else."
Now I feel guilty that I didn't do more than send Ted a few postcards while he was inside. But I'm not the world's greatest correspondent! What do you write to someone in rehab for crystal meth? 'Glad you're not tweaking anymore! See you when you're clean'?
"Don't you say that, Teddy! Michael's been busy, busy, busy lately. He and Dr. Dreamboat are planning a wedding. And he's always busy with the store. I know he'll be so happy to see you. Everyone will be!"
"Yeah. Sure," Ted sighs. "A wedding, huh? Michael and David. It figures."
"Technically, a commitment ceremony," I say. "But I treat it the same way I would a wedding. I feel that we queers deserve the same quality as any straight couple!"
"That's good to know. I'll keep that in mind for the future," Ted mumbles. "Whatever that means."
"Huh?" I have no idea what Ted is talking about! "Can I get you something to eat, honey? How about we go to the diner for dinner? Just like old times!"
"No thanks. I don't think I can handle the diner yet. I'm not ready to... to see a lot of people. Not yet."
"Okay, Teddy." He seems so skittish! "Want to order some take-out? What about some Chinese from the Slow Boat? You know they have the best pan-fried dumplings in town!"
"I'm not really hungry." Suddenly Ted stands up. "It was nice seeing you Em."
"Ted! Don't go yet!" I follow him to the door. "Don't you want to hear about Brian and Justin? I can read you some of Justin's e-mails! He's having a great time out in the Old West!"
"Maybe another time." Ted opens the door to go, but then he pauses. "Listen... have you heard anything about... about..."
"About Wade?" I never understood what Ted saw in that empty-headed little twink! "I see him on Liberty Avenue occasionally. He mainly hangs out at Boy Toy with the other twinks."
"No, not Wade." Ted looks at me sadly. "Blake. Have you seen him? Or heard anything about him?"
Ugh! Blake! I thought that little box of trouble was out of Ted's life for good! And good riddance!
I take a deep breath. "Nothing, honey. Not a word."
"Oh." Ted closes his eyes.
"Why do you ask?"
"Blake went into rehab a couple of days after I got there. I... I thought we could go through it together. That it would be good for both of us. We could help each other. And we did. For three days."
"Yes." Ted looks so sad. "After that he took off. Again. I haven't heard from him since."
Typical! That goddamn Blake! If I had him here I'd shake him like a bulldog with a hambone!
"I'm sorry, honey. But I haven't seen him on Liberty Avenue or at Woody's or Babylon. He might not even be in Pittsburgh anymore."
"Probably not," says Ted. "He could be anywhere, I guess. Anywhere."
"Please stay!" I plead. "Just to pass the time. You don't want to go back to your condo all by yourself, do you?"
"I'll be fine, Em," says Ted as he leaves. "Just fine."
Just fine, my Aunt Fanny!
I need to call Michael and tell him that Ted is home and that we have to do something!
But what, I have no idea.
I try calling Michael at home, but all I get is the answering machine. He's also not responding to his cell. So on Saturday afternoon I decide that a trip down to Red Cape Comics is just the ticket. I put on my new tangerine crop-top -- my midriff is still fabulous, if I do say so myself! -- fluff up my hair, spritz on a little Calvin Klein, and head out to conquer the world!
Red Cape is not on my usual shopping agenda, so I haven't been by in a while. Looks like Michael has been doing some spring cleaning in June. Better late than never, I always say. There's a new sign outside and the door has been painted a bright, superhero red. Looks pretty snazzy!
As I walk in the door I see a new cardboard stand-up that screams: "Coming Soon! Rage The Gay Crusader!" That's the comic book Michael has been working on forever. He keeps claiming it's going to get published any minute, but ever since Justin stopped doing the drawings, that minute has been getting longer and longer. Michael must have found a new illustrator. Or not. Maybe he just likes to dream. I certainly can understand that desire!
"Em!" Michael cries. He comes around the counter and gives me a big hug. "What the heck are you doing down here?"
"Oh, I thought I'd sashay by and give you a big surprise! How about we get a little lunch? I have a taste for some baby-back ribs. That's the special at the diner today."
Michael throws up his hands. "I'd love to, Em, but I can't. Edwin called in sick today and I'm in the middle of inventory! The place is a mess!"
I glance around. The store is always a tad cluttered, but today it actually seems tidier than usual. "Things look pretty spiffy to me. I love the new sign, by the way. And it feels more roomy in here, too. Did you move things around?"
"I got new bins," Michael says, puffing up proudly. "And I changed this wall. I can display more toys and collectibles that way."
"Very impressive. Soon you'll be Pittsburgh's King of Comics -- if you aren't already! Did David kick in some of his spine-cracking cash or did you discover a secret stash of million-dollar comics buried in your basement?"
Michael stares at me, startled. "I... um, no! No million-dollar comics. Not at all. I... I've been saving my money, that's all. I thought it was about time I fixed the place up. Buzzy never did shit, so it sure needed it. I'm planning to do a lot more, too!" Michael points to the stand-up. "And when I get 'Rage' off the ground, things are really going to take off!"
"Hey!" A kid comes out of the basement carrying some empty cardboard boxes. "Where do you want this crap?"
Michael points to the rear of the store. "Take it to the back alley and put it in the dumpster. When we get all that junk cleared out, we'll have more room down there for stock."
"Whatever, dude." The kid shrugs and slouches out the back door.
"I don't remember Hank being quite that surly," I comment.
"That's not Hank." Michael goes back around the counter and begins opening some envelopes.
"Well, duh!" I say. "I'm not that dense, Michael! So, if he's your new employee, let him hold down the fort while we trot off and have a little lunch. My tummy is absolutely screaming for those baby-back ribs!"
Michael frowns. "He's just helping me clean up around here. He can't run the cash register and... I don't trust him to watch the store. He's just a kid."
"It's not rocket science, Michael!" I say in frustration. "We'll be gone a half-hour! Come on! I have oodles of things to tell you!"
"No can do, Emmett," Michael sniffs.
The kid comes back in and leans against the counter. "I dumped that shit. So, who the fuck are you?" He looks me up and down. "That shirt is the pits. It looks like somebody pissed on it."
I raise my eyebrows at this child who is wearing baggy faded jeans, a ragged 'V-Men' tee shirt, and hair that hasn't been blessed by shampoo since the Clinton Administration. "I wouldn't talk if I were you, sonny!"
"My name's not 'Sonny,'" he drawls. "It's Hunter."
"Pleased to meet you, Hunter -- I think!"
"Emmett's my friend, so leave him alone," Michael breaks in. "Are you finished with those boxes? All of them?"
"I'm going!" he groans. "Keep your shirt on!" And Hunter slinks back into the basement from whence he emerged.
"Cute tyke. Where did you find him? Reform school?"
"He's just some kid," says Michael. "I needed some help around here." Michael runs his fingers through his already rumpled hair. "Listen, Em. I can't go to lunch with you. I... I'd love to, but... I have things to do here."
"I just thought we could hang out," I say. "Talk. Like old times."
"I'm sorry." Michael turns away, trying to look busy.
"Don't you want to know my big news?" I ask.
Michael turns back around. "Sure. What's the big news?"
I take a deep breath. "Teddy's back!" I wait for him to react, but Michael just looks at me blankly. "Ted Schmidt! You know? One of your best friends? He's out of rehab! He stopped by my apartment the other day. I thought it might be nice if I had him over for dinner next week. You could come, too. The Three Musketeers! One for all and all for one! We could order Chinese from theSlow Boat and watch Turner Classic Movies, just like we used to. It'll be fun!"
"I can't, Em," Michael says flatly. "I'm busy."
What the fuck is wrong with him? "You don't even know what day, so how can know if you're busy?"
"I can't," he repeats.
"Why can't you?" I press.
"I just can't," Michael replies. "So leave it."
"I thought you'd want to support Ted, now that he's out of rehab. He's so down in the dumps, I thought we could cheer him up!"
"Ted's problems are just that -- his problem!" Michael won't meet my eyes. "I've got my own problems to deal with."
"Oh," I say. "Your problems? Like your store improvements. And your upcoming wedding to a hunky and wealthy doctor?"
"Chiropractor," Michael corrects. "David is a chiropractor, not an M.D."
"All right -- chiropractor. What the fuck is the difference? Ted doesn't have a job -- he's shut down the website for good. And Blake took off again. He bugged out of rehab and Ted has no idea where he is. Oh, and Ted's a drug addict and he knows it and is very depressed about it. I call those real problems!"
Michael looks at me, his arms crossed and his mouth set in the petulant way he gets when he doesn't even want to listen. "It's like David says -- Ted made his bed and now he has to lie in it."
Now I'm really pissed. "Oh, is that what David says? Great. Just great! I don't truly know why you would want to blow Ted off, or why you want to blow me off, Michael -- so why don't you just blow me?"
Hunter, coming up from the basement, snickers. "Leave that to a professional, dude!"
"Shut up!" Michael snaps at the kid. "Get back to work! And I need to do the same. I think we're finished here. I'll see you around, Emmett."
Well, that's clear enough. I've been dismissed! "I don't know what bug is up your ass, Michael, but I wish you'd get rid of it -- soon."
"Yeah," he mumbles. His eyes are on the stack of comic books in front of him. "Whatever."
I leave, the door slamming behind me. The bell clanging.
I start marching towards Liberty Avenue. Those baby-back ribs are waiting. Yummy baby-back ribs! So very, very yummy!
But by the time I get to the diner I'm not hungry anymore.
"Dry little teardrops,
Hanging on a string of dreams,
Fly little memories,
My little memories
Remind him of our crazy schemes.
Somebody said just forget about him,
So I gave that treatment a try.
Strangely enough I got along without him
Then one day he passed me right by --
Oh well, I guess I'll hang my tears out to dry."
(Sammy Cahn and Jules Styne)
©Gaedhal, September 2008.
Posted September 17, 2008.