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THE STRAIGHT DOPE

Gay sex, straight sex, torrid romance and true love:

THE STRAIGHT DOPE                  

By Joe Reister © 2016

 

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Two Years, Eight Months And Nine Days Ago

Chapter 2: Yes, There Is A Gay Rodeo

Chapter 3: Back In The Real World

Chapter 4: Post Game Report

Chapter 5: The Plot Thickens

Chapter 6: The Next Call

Chapter 7: Behind The Closed Door

Chapter 8: First Date

Chapter 9: Not A Date

Chapter 10: Seeing The Ex

Chapter 11: Second Date

Chapter 12: Left Hanging

Chapter 13: Third Date

Chapter 14: The Next Morning

Chapter 15: Talk Of Shame

Chapter 16: The Talk

Chapter 17: Something Good

Chapter 18: A Few Complications

Chapter 19: Third Time

Chapter 20: A Good Night

Chapter 21: Eyes Opened Wide

Chapter 22: Finding A Shoulder

Chapter 23: Hail Mary

Chapter 24: The Beginning Of A Beautiful Friendship

Chapter 25: Onward and Upward

Chapter 26: Counterstrike

Chapter 27: Act of Contrition

Chapter 28: Another Hail Mary

Chapter 29: Something’s Starting

Chapter 30: Crossroads

Chapter 31: First Kiss

Chapter 32: Acceptance

Chapter 33: Amazing Grace

Epilogue: Slower Than Molasses


Chapter 1: Two Years, Eight Months And Nine Days Ago

The room was dark and the sheets were soft.  Everyone was breathing hard and life was good: well, maybe not that good.

“Yes,” a man said suddenly.  “Yes.  Right.  There.  Oh.”

A little laugh caught in another man’s throat.

“Oh, yes.  That’s it.  Yes.  More.  Right there.  More.  Yes, right there.”

“Yes.  Okay.  I got it,” the other man said and laughed again.  “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Yes, oh,” the man said through a long moan that echoed throughout the room.

The other man smiled and sat up as the first man trembled on the bed, grabbing hold of it.  “Happy?” the other man said with another laugh.

“I don’t know,” the man said, catching his breath.

“You don’t know.  That sounded too pretty happy to me.”

“Maybe too happy.”

“Too happy,” the other man said and lay down.  “What are you talking about?  It all felt pretty good to me.”

“I’ve got to go,” the man said and stood up.  He fumbled in the dark for his clothes, pulling some on.

“What?  We just got started.  I’ve got cherries and whip cream.”

“Cherries and whip cream?” the man said, fumbling with his pants.  “I can’t handle that.  That’s too much.”

“Too much?  Too much what?  Happiness?

“Bye.”

“Bye?  You’re not even dressed.  Let me turn on the lights and we can…”

The door opened and the man slipped through, shutting it behind him.

“What?” the other man said and turned on a light, seeing the man’s jacket and watch on the floor.  “What is going on?”


Chapter 2: Yes, There Is A Gay Rodeo

“Yee ha.  This is the greatest thing ever, John Paul.  Who knew you could have so much fun at a rodeo.”

“Not me, Puck” John Paul said, noting the looks around them and rolling his eyes.  “But Richard and I are so glad you could make it, right Richard?”

“What’s going on here?” Richard said, staring at a cowboy and cowgirl wrestle a cow into the dirt as a drag queen sauntered up and sat on it.  “John Paul, this isn’t a rodeo.  There weren’t any drag queens in the old west?”

“Well, not in the history books,” John Paul said.  “But it’s a gay rodeo.  What did you expect, the Marlboro Man and Clint Eastwood?”

“Clint Eastwood’s going to be here?”

“No, Puck.  I’m guessing Clint won’t be showing up.  Although you never know.”

“No kidding, John Paul?” Puck said.  “Really?”

“Why did we bring you along again?” John Paul said.

“Because you had an extra ticket, because I didn’t have anything else to do and because you wanted to spend time with your favorite brother.”

“And aren’t we all having a ball?” John Paul said, finishing his half glass of wine.

“Good thing you don’t have any other siblings, eh,” Puck said with a wink.

“Eh,” John Paul said and handed his brother the empty glass.

“If you’re done you want to tell me what’s going on?” Richard said as the drag queen sat on the now standing cow and the cowboy and girl pulled it slowly across a line in the dirt.  The crowd went wild, and Richard shook his head but couldn’t help smiling.

John Paul watched and smiled too.  “Told you we’d have fun.”

“Can we see what else is around?” Puck said, looking past the drag queen.  “This is kind of goofy.”

“Sure,” John Paul said and turned to Puck.  “You want that Coke now?”

“You’re the best older brother a guy could ever want,” Puck said with his own smile.

“Jesus,” John Paul said and closed his eyes.

“Mom wouldn’t like that.”

“What does a gay cowboy do if he’s really good?” Richard said, still watching the bull and the drag queen.  “Do they bother with this amateur stuff?”

“Some of these guys are pretty good, Richard.”

“Yes, but they’re just pretty good, Puck.  I’d imagine if they wanted to make it big they’d hit the real rodeo circuit.  There is a real rodeo circuit, right?”

“Sure, I guess,” John Paul said.

“There is,” Puck said.

John Paul and Richard both turned to him.

“I’ve seen it on ESPN,” Puck said and stood up.

“Rodeo’s a sport?” Richard said.

“Yes.  I mean, look at those guys,” Puck said, pointing to the cowboy and cowgirl struggling against the cow.  “That can’t be easy.  Cows are huge.  I’ve seen them up close and personal and dealing with them one to one is harder than any sport I’ve played.”

“Even hockey?” John Paul said.

“Let’s not go crazy,” Puck said with a look.  “But moving cows around and milking them is harder than the wimpy American baseball, basketball or football.  Those animals weigh a ton, and they’re not just going to follow orders.  Didn’t you watch what was going on today?”

“So, then if you’re really good then you’d go to the major leagues on ESPN?” Richard said.

“Or Fox Sports Network,” Puck said.

“Yes, I guess they would,” John Paul said and looked back at the corrals.  “But, none of these guys are kicking ass.”

“Not in the rodeo, but I’m betting a lot of people score here, huh.”

“I think that’s the whole point, hon,” John Paul said.

“I thought we were going to check out the rest of the rodeo now?” Puck said, pointing to the big tent beyond the corrals.

John Paul and Richard both looked at each other and then looked at Puck.

“Sure.  I’m good to go now that the drag queen stuff is over,” John Paul said and stood up.  “I don’t think you’ll be into the rest of the gay rodeo, Puck, but let’s take a look.”

Puck nodded and led them down and away from the grandstand.  He smiled at the many winks and numerous cowboy hats, not noticing the lingering stares or tight jeans as he headed to the music coming from the big tent with the Coke sign on it.

“I can’t believe people pay to see this stuff,” Richard said.

“I thought you’d be enjoying yourself?” John Paul said, grinning as he watched Richard check out below the belt buckles.  “Lexington has all of those horses.”

“Yes,” Richard said.  “But that’s horse racing farms, with Arabs, Brits and a last few Kentuckians prepping for the Derby.  I don’t think I’ve even seen anyone other than jockeys and rich folks ride a horse, and they weren’t cowboys or openly gay that’s for sure.”

“So you never saw horses or cows as a kid?”

“I grew up in the suburbs, John.  Lexington is a thriving metropolis, or at least a thriving pseudo metropolis.  The only time I saw any animals was at the petting zoo.”

“Not even dogs or cats?” John Paul said.

“I’m allergic remember?”

“Sorry,” John Paul said.  “But didn’t you even watch Westerns growing up?  Gunsmoke or Bonanza?  What about John Wayne?”

“No,” Richard said and starting humming an Isaac Hayes song.  “It was Shaft, Star Wars, and Star Trek.  You Canadians are the only folks who watched that corny western stuff in the 90s.”

“Yes, because the Lexington suburbs are so exciting?”

“Compared to Canada they are, baby.” Richard said and pointed to Puck.

“Right,” John Paul said and looked at his brother.

“Hey, they have dancing,” Puck said, stopping everything and running into the big tent where one hundred people began line dancing.

“What did I just say?” Richard said.

“I don’t think Puck’s a fair example,” John Paul said, but sighed as Puck ran to the dance line, got a nod of approval and jumped right in, immediately two stepping and sliding to the right with the crowd.

“You can take the kid out of Canada, but you can’t take Canada out of the kid,” Richard said.

“Thank you, Dr. Jones,” John Paul said, watching his brother and shaking his head.

“All I’m saying is that I never took dancing lessons as a kid,” Richard said, giving John Paul a nudge. 

“Too busy going to the mall?”

“Yes,” Richard said.  “Showing off and checking out everyone was what I did in my teen years.”

“Just like here,” John Paul said and nodded back to a cowboy.

“I’m glad to see Puck fits in,” Richard said, walking into the tent and noticing another cowboy checking out Puck.  “It’s that good old Canadian goodness at work.”

“That does look hard,” John Paul said, watching his brother match the cowboy’s two-step.

“You didn’t take dancing lessons?”

“No, our folks didn’t have any money when I was ten, and I think my dad was steering me in another direction.”

“Trying to keep you on the straight and narrow?”

“Trying,” John Paul said.  “I played hockey and lacrosse like everyone else, but he said no to rugby.”

“The second most homoerotic sport ever,” Richard said.  “Funny since your dad’s so cool about things now.” 

“I know,” John Paul said, his eyes still on Puck.  “That’s what fifteen years of adjustment will do.”

“I hear that,” Richard said and the music stopped.  He and John Paul watched the cowboy next to Puck. 

“You’re really good,” the cowboy said, offering Puck a hand. 

“Thanks,” Puck said, shaking.  “I just had to pick up on the pattern and then everything else fell in to place.”

“I saw that,” the cowboy said, letting go of Puck’s hand slowly.  “Name’s Ted.”

“Puck,” he said and gave a big smile.

“Puck huh?  That stands out.”

“Yeah, well, my real name is Calvin, but I’ve always gone by Puck,” he said and shrugged.  “It’s not something people forget.”

“I can see why,” Ted said with an even bigger smile.  “You look good, real good.”

“Well, thanks.  I run almost every day.  Trying to keep my girlish figure, you know.”

“Yes indeed,” Ted said, looking Puck up and down.  “Here with anyone?

“Just my brother and Richard,” Puck said and waved to John Paul, who tried to wave him away from Ted.

“And they’re together,” Ted said, noticing John Paul and Richard, but keeping his eyes on Puck.

“Going strong on two and a half years now,” Puck said, giving his brother a smile.

“So, you’re not here with anyone then?”

“Yeah, like I told you,” Puck said, now noticing John Paul’s beckoning wave.  “John Paul and Richard.”

“I don’t suppose you’re up for a ride are you,” Ted said.

“What?” Puck said and looked at Ted again.

“What do you say I give you a ride, at your place if you like?”

“I don’t get you,” Puck said, glancing at John Paul face palm.  “I’m heading back with John Paul and Richard.”

Ted’s eyes narrowed on Puck.  “Okay,” he said and his tongue grazed over his teeth.  “But maybe you’d be interested in dancing with me later, alone, in a horizontal position, at my place or yours?  Whichever works for you.”

Puck swallowed hard.  “Ahem.  I, uh, think you’ve got the wrong idea, mister.”

“It’s Ted.”

“I think you’ve got the wrong idea, Ted,” Puck said and looked right at John Paul, watching his brother mouth the words, ‘About time.’  “I’m here with John Paul and Richard.”

“And I’m here with friends, too,” Ted said, shrugging.  “But that doesn’t mean we can’t meet new people.”

“Right,” Puck said and looked away from his brother and back at Ted.  “Well, I’ve got to go, Ted.  Thanks for the dance, and have a nice day.”

“Right,” Ted said, frowning as Puck walked away.  “You have a nice day too.  Idiot.”

“And we have a winner,” John Paul said as Puck walked over.  “Yes, indeed, someone discovered that there are men on the prowl at the gay rodeo, and that dancing, like with women, is also foreplay for men.”

Puck threw his hands up in the air.  “How was I…?”

“How long have you lived in DuPont Circle, kid?” Richard said.

“A couple years, you know that.”

“And you’re still slow as molasses about gay men?”

“And twice as thick,” John Paul said.

“Hey, I was just being friendly,” Puck said.  “I didn’t think…”

“But four times as sweet,” John Paul and Richard said together.

“Great,” Puck said and forced a smiled.  “Thanks.”

“You know we love you,” Richard said.

“Do you know why women aren’t as forward as that?” Puck said.

“You’re not paying them,” Richard said.

“They don’t want to get pregnant,” John Paul said.

“They expect men to make the first move,” Richard said.

“Yeah, well, I’ve made the first move,” Puck said, walking away.  “But never like that.”

“Puck, you might not have picked up on this, but a lot of men in the gay community would be considered by the rest of the world to be …” John said and looked around at all the staring cowboys and then at Richard.  “How should I put this?”

“Slutty, easy and ready for action twenty-four seven,” Richard said

“Yes, I think you could say that,” John Paul said, catching up to Puck.

“You were never like that were you?” Puck said, looking back at his brother.

Richard laughed.  “Boy, if only you knew.”

“That’s a line I’d prefer not to cross with my younger brother,” John Paul said to Richard and led them out of the tent.  “Okay?”

“Yeah, and that’s fine with me too,” Puck said.  “I don’t want to lie to Mom.”

“I’m glad to hear that.”

“Why are you so surprised by all this anyway?”

“What are you talking about?” Puck said.

“You straights do the same thing to women?” Richard said as they made the way out of the rodeo.  “I remember back in college when I still had straight allusions I walked up to numerous cheerleaders, skipped the formalities and asked them to just get it on.”

“And they said?” John Paul said.

“They mostly they slapped me across the face and said, ‘no,’ but you’d be surprised how much school spirit some of them had.”

“I’m surprised it took you so long to come out.”

“What can I tell you?” Richard said.  “I was a popular guy.”

“You see I can’t do that,” Puck said.

“And that’s why you have the time to be the only straight guy at the gay rodeo,” John Paul said.

“Hey, I wanted to hang out with you guys.”

“And we’re glad you came,” Richard said.  “But I think I’ve experienced enough fake western culture to last a lifetime.”  He patted John Paul on the shoulder.  “Let’s go home, okay?”

“Sounds good,” John Paul said and headed to the exit.


Chapter 3: Back In The Real World

Puck, John Paul and Richard stepped into the parking lot. 

“Well, well, well,” John Paul said.  “Look what we have here.”

A man and a woman stood in front trying and failing to hand out brochures.

“Yeah,” Puck said, noticing the young, blonde woman and walking over.  “Look.”

“Are those protesters?” Richard said.

“That’s Washington, DC, for you,” John Paul said.  “We have a protest about everything.”

“I didn’t think the rodeo was big enough to register with animal rights activists.”

“I think it’s about the cocks, not the bulls.”

“Baby, do they really think they’re going to get converts?” Richard said.  “They’ve got some balls.”

“Yes, but they don’t know how to use them?”

‘What?”

“I know that guy,” John Paul said and looked right at the man.  “Jerry Robertson.  How the heck are you?”

Jerry looked back blankly at John Paul.  “Would you like a brochure, sir?”

“As I live and breathe, you don’t remember me do you?”

“Should I?”

“Three years ago,” John Paul said, taking and giving the brochure to Richard.  “We enjoyed the love that shan’t speak its name.”

“I am sorry,” Jerry said.  “But I think you have me confused with someone else.  I’m not…

“And I can see I didn’t quite have the effect I thought,” John Paul said, glancing at Richard who gave him a shrug.

“I’m not sure who you are…

“You don’t remember me at all?” John Paul said.

“So much for your sterling reputation,” Richard said.    

“I am from a group called the Straight Path,” Jerry said.  “I would be happy to talk to you about any problems you might have.  We have a program that…”

“You’re kidding me?” John Paul said.  “Three years ago we met at the Starbucks on Connecticut Avenue, just north of Mass Ave.  I had on a teal shirt and black jeans.  We had iced coffees and then went back to…”

“Where do you all get off advocating a cure for homosexuality outside of a gay rodeo?” Richard said, dropping the brochure on the ground.

“Our program of guidance is very successful,” Jerry said.  “We’ve turned around over one hund…”

“Do you think that the people here are going to buy what you’re selling?” Richard said, stepping on the brochure.  “Look at the crowd.  I’ve never seen a queerer group in my life, and that includes last year’s vacation in San Francisco.”

Jerry looked around but didn’t move.

“Is that how you got back into the closet?” John Paul said, plucking another brochure out of Jerry’s hand and opening it.

“We have a strong program that allows people to talk about their urges and convert them into something purer.”

“You definitely sang out your urges,” John Paul said.  I remember you asking for more… more…”

“We help people focus on their doubts and guide them toward the straight path.”

“Doesn’t genetics have something to do with being gay?” Richard said and looked at John Paul.  “Didn’t we read about that in the Economist like ten years ago?”

“It was People, but yes, it said we were out of luck,” John Paul said.  “You should check out the article, Jer.”

“The Straight Path has helped dozens of people overcome their baser urges and live productive lives,” Jerry said.

“Productive lives?” Richard said and took a step forward.  “I work for the FBI and volunteer twice a month at a homeless shelter.  How productive do you want me to be?” 

“Did I cross the line with the cherries, Jer?” 

“We’d be glad to help you,” Jerry said and pointed to the rodeo.  “Homosexuality doesn’t have to be a lifestyle…”

“This is one of your many conquests before you settled down?” Richard said and took another step forward, laughing loudly.  “Baby, I am not impressed.”

“That was a long time ago,” Jerry said and stepped back.  “And I only crossed the line once.”

John Paul watched Jerry’s face turn down.  “Well, I’m glad to see you at least remember me.”

“Would you like more information?” Jerry said, but now held the brochures close to his chest.  “Our program has a very high success rate.”

“Yes, I can see how you attract people,” Richard said, noticing Puck smile at the woman with brochures.

“Hi, how are you?” Puck said.

“I’m good, thank you,” the woman said and smiled back.  “I’m having a hard time handing out this material, but it’s a beautiful day out and there’s a lot of interesting stuff to see here.”

A large man in leather chaps, thong and vest with multiple piercings and a goatee walked past them.

“Yeah, I see what you mean,” Puck said, pointing to the man.

The woman kept staring.

“You’ve got to wonder where a guy like that works,” Puck said.  “I don’t see him as the 9-5 office type you know.  At least not in any office I’ve worked at.”

“Me either.” 

“There were a lot of guys and even a few women dressed like that inside,” Puck said.  “I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many tight jeans, cowboy hats and boots in my life, not even on TV.”

“The whole thing seems pretty goofy,” the woman said.  “A gay rodeo?  It sounds like a supermodel barbecue.”

“Yeah, I thought so too, but the guy selling Coke told me that somebody got killed last year by an angry bull.”

“You’re kidding me?”

“No, bulls are pretty big.  I wouldn’t want to be in the coral with one of them.”

“I can see why.”

Puck bit his lip. “So, what do you do for fun other than hang out at the county fairgrounds?”

“Fun?” the woman said and looked up at Puck.  “No one’s asked me what I do for fun since I moved to Washington.  All I ever talk about is work or politics.” 

“I bet,” Puck said and smiled.  “But what do you like to do?”

“I like softball,” the woman said and smiled too.  “I used to be on a team in college, second base.”

“Cool.  I’m on a team that plays down on the Mall.” 

“Really?”

“Yeah,” Puck said and smiled some more.  “You should stop by and throw the ball a little.”

“That’s sounds cool.”

Puck nodded.  “I’m heading out, but if it’s not too weird or uncomfortable let me get your number and I’ll call you he next time we play.  And just to be safe, you can have my card too.”

“Okay,” the woman said and reached into her purse. 

“I’m not always in the office, so let me give you my cell too,” Puck said, writing on the back of his card.  “If you’re interested that is.”

“That sounds good.  My cell is on my card.”

“Cool.

“Puck, we’re heading home, cowboy,” John Paul said.   

“Yeah, giddy up, boy,” Richard said.  “Let’s ride.”

“I’ve got to go,” Puck said and turned around, waving to Jon Paul and Richard, but looking back at the woman.  “They’re my ride, but let’s get in touch.”

“I look forward to it,” the woman said and smiled, watching Puck catch up with John Paul and Richard. 

Jerry walked over to her. 

“Any luck?”

The woman held up Puck’s business card, still smiling.  “He gave me his number.”

“And you think you can straighten him out, right?”

“I think so,” the woman said, looking at Puck.  “That’s what we’re supposed to do, right?

Puck saw her look and smiled.

She smiled back.

“That guy’s going to get his butt kicked if he keeps spouting that kind of garbage,” Richard said.

“You find people like that wherever you go,” John Paul said. 

“Still.”

“Helen seemed really nice,” Puck said, holding up the business card.

“No duh,” Richard said, glancing back at Jerry and Helen.  “Even John and I see that.”

“No, really.  She was very friendly.”

“I’m sure,” Richard said and nudged Puck.  “So, did you ask her out?”

“No, but she gave me her number,” Puck said and smiled again.

“Excellent,” John Paul said and patted his brother on the back.  “There might be hope for you after all.”

“I thought there already was,” Puck said and elbowed his brother with a smile.

“There is,” John Paul said and both he and Richard laughed.


Chapter 4: Post Game Report  

Puck took a sip of beer and shook his head, looking back at a man with large eyes and a woman rolling hers.  “No, a gay rodeo doesn’t involve naked asses and riding crops; none that I saw at least.  It’s an actual rodeo, with horses, cows…”

“No sheep?” the man said.

“No sheep, Milo.  That’s bestiality.” 

“I bet there were a lot of cowboy hats and boots, though,” the woman said.

“Yeah, Grace, and tight jeans like you wouldn’t believe.”

“Jordache?” Milo said.

“Not that bad.  I stood out, though, in shorts and steel toes with my Oilers Cap.”

“How did JP and Richard look?" 

“I don’t know, Milo: like they always do; stylishly guppie.”

“What a stupid question,” Grace said and punched Milo in the arm.  “What did you think they’d do, dress up like, Clint Eastwood?”

“Hey, it’s legitimate,” Milo said, rubbing his arm.  “I still can’t believe there’s actually a gay rodeo.”

“You’d be surprised, Milo,” Puck said.  “It goes to all the big cities; Chicago, Cleveland, New York…”

“San Francisco?”

“Yeah, San Francisco.  I think that’s where it started.”

“I kind of figured,” Milo said and sipped his beer.

“It’s funny,” Grace said.  “I don’t think of rodeos being anywhere except Texas and the sticks, but I bet it just tours the big cities.”  

“Makes sense since Puck just said it,” Milo said and shook his head.  “I’d pay to see a cow.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen one.”

“You’re an idiot,” Grace said, sipping at her beer without even looking back at Milo.  “You’ve lived in the Washington area your whole life and you wouldn’t know a cow from a horse if they both bit you on the ass.”

“And you would, Brooklyn girl?”

“Hey, at least I know what hamburgers are made out of.” 

“I knew that.”

“Uh huh,” Grace said and sighed, looking at Puck.

“Glad to see you guys had so much fun when I was at the rodeo.”

“Don’t get me started,” Grace said and took another, larger sip of beer.

“How can this rodeo support itself?” Milo said, looking at Puck’s ticket stub.  “I’d never heard of it before you mentioned it yesterday.”

“A lot of people were there,” Puck said.

“Probably scouting booty.

“Yeah,” Puck said, taking another sip of his beer and swallowing slowly.  “There was definitely a lot of that.”

“Somebody give you the queer eye?” Grace said.

“I got more than that.  I think this guy wanted me to bend over and cough.”

Milo laughed.

Puck gave him a look.  “I didn’t realize guys were that forward.”

“Oh yeah, it’s charming,” Grace said and leaned back in her chair.  “I can’t get enough of it.”

“Yeah, I wasn’t too thrilled.”

“That’s great,” Milo said and handed back the ticket stub.  “But even if a lot of people show up, it seems like you’d need a huge crowd to support a traveling rodeo, and I doubt that the Montgomery Fair Grounds have enough room to bring in the dollars they’d need.”

“What can I tell you?” Puck said.  “It exists.”

“It’s not just the numbers attending either, Milo,” Grace said.  “It’s also the money they spend.  Most gay men have a butt load of cash.”

“Butt load?” Milo said with a smile.  “What exactly are trying to say there, Grace?”

She took her time swallowing another long sip of beer, put down the glass and looked at him.  “I’m saying you’re a moron, and that the gay community has a lot of disposable income to spend on frivolous stuff like doofy rodeos.”

“I had fun,” Puck said.

“It’s the whole double income no kids syndrome,” Grace said, her eyes still on Milo.  “They don’t have to worry about paying for little Johnny’s education so they get to live the high life their whole life.”

“That’s cute, but you might be right,” Milo said, leaning back.  “John Paul and Richard do have one nice house.”

“They’re both lawyers,” Puck said.

“Why don’t you guys have a nicer place?” Grace said and turned from Milo to Puck.  “You live like you’re still in college.”

“So you’ve said,” Milo said.  “But what do you expect, we’re not gay and Puck does public assistance work.”

“It’s a non-profit organization that focuses on education, Milo,” Puck said, keeping his eyes on Grace.  “And Grace has a point.”

“Yeah, big surprise that you’d side with her.”

“Shut up.”

“Great comeback,” Milo said and finished his beer. 

“Your apartment could look a lot better.”

“She’s right,” Puck said.

“Great, okay,” Milo said and put down his glass.  “So, who was this woman that you talked to?”

“Helen.”

“Yeah, Helen.  Was she gay too?  It doesn’t sound like a lot of heterosexuals would attend or even be welcome at something called the gay rodeo.  Or was she like you, another straight trying to get into the cool lifestyle?”

“Hey, I just wanted to hang out with my brother.

“Great, but was Helen gay?

“I don’t think so,” Puck said.  “She didn’t look it.”

“That means she wasn’t ugly?” Milo said.  “Because you know when I was younger…”

“Like last week?” Grace said.

“No, like last year,” Milo said and stuck his tongue out at Grace.  “I used to think that all lesbians were hot…”

“A la your lesbian porn collection?”

“Yeah, Grace, a la my lesbian porn collection.  You done now?”

“We’ll see.”

“Okay.  Thanks,” Milo said.  “Pipe in when you have something else to say.”

“I will.” 

“Anyway,” Milo said and turned back to Puck.  “I was under the impression that all lesbians are hot, and then I left home and found out they’re not.”

“Yeah, me too,” Puck said, finishing his beer.  “All of those teenage fantasies down the tubes.”

“It was disappointing,” Milo said.

“Poor babies,” Grace said

“But Helen is hot,” Puck said.  “She’s a real babe.” 

“Then she’s not gay,” Milo said and waved to the bartender.  “Or at least probably not.”

Grace rolled her eyes again.  “So, are you going to ask her out, Puck?”

“I don’t know.  I didn’t think of it then and John Paul and Richard gave me kind of a hard time on the way home.  We exchanged business cards, though.”

“You’re at a gay rodeo where everybody and their mother are scouting for a same sex encounter, you meet a beautiful and likely straight woman who talks to you out of the blue, and you don’t think to ask her out?”

“John Paul and Richard wanted to leave before I got the chance.”

“You can’t find a likable woman in girl-rich Washington, and then you meet one at the gay rodeo and you forget to ask her out, Puck,” Grace said and shook her head.  “I thought you could do better than that.”

“Hey.  Give him a break,” Milo said.  “When is the last time you went out with anybody?”

“I just got off of a four-month relationship.”

“Yeah, two months ago.”

“Yes, two months ago, and the guy was a huge jerk.”

“You’d think you’d want to go out with someone nice after that,” Puck said.

“I would, but I need a little more time.  Michael was…”

“… a lying, cheating, sleazebag who I told you to break up after you’d been with him for two days,” Milo said.  “He treated you like crap and then took one on you, figuratively at least.”

“Thanks for reminding me.”

“So much for nice guys working for liberal causes,” Puck said.

“Yeah, Grace.  He could care for the environment and the poor in Africa, but he couldn’t show you the time of day,” Milo said.  “And you said he was selfish in the sack.”

“I remember.” 

“You need to get back on the horse,” Milo said, turning to Puck.

“You need to find a cool guy,” Puck said, looking at Grace.

“Easier said than done,” Grace said, looking at both Puck and Milo.  “Washington isn’t teeming with crowds of straight, good-looking men who aren’t already married or willing to exploit interns.  And there’s no way I’m going for some fifty-year-old who is so secure with himself and his penis that he’s hitting on women who could be his daughters.”

“You might want to broaden you social circle then,” Milo said, taking his new beer from the bartender.  “Hanging with your grandmother isn’t exactly a turn on, at least not one I’d think most men are into.”

“You’re going to give me advice about dating?” 

“Wasn’t Michael like in his forties?” Puck said.

“He was in his early thirties.”

“Oh right,” Milo said.  “The thirtysomethings are some much cooler.

“You’re the last person who should be giving dating advice, Milo,” Grace said and picked up her new beer, holding onto it.  “You’ve got such a collection of dating neuroses that you should be somebody’s psychology thesis.”

“How is Mary, anyway,” Puck said and took a sip of his new beer.  “And when is she due?”

“Everything is fine,” Milo said and put down his beer.  “Mary got a sonogram this Friday, and the baby is healthy and looking good at seven months.”

“Did you go with her?” Grace said.

“Of course.”

“You don’t think it’s strange you’ve only dated pregnant women since college?” Grace said, taking a sip.

“Why?”

“They’re already knocked up when you meet them,” Grace said, putting the beer down and looking right at Milo. 

“So?”

“So, 99% of men avoid dating pregnant women and you’re the single guy who wants to,” Grace said.  “You’d think it would crimp your style if you had one.”

“Mary and I do everything else that every other couple does,” Milo said, a large smile spreading over his face.  “That’s one of the better parts of our relationship, actually.  She’s a freaking dynamo in the sack.”

“Thank you for that image.”

“Just like Ruth and Sara, huh?”

“What can I tell you?” Milo said, smiling.  “The thousands of mothers to be can’t seem to get enough action.”

“You’re a real charmer, Milo,” Grace said, staring at him.  “I can see how you can’t have a normal relationship.”  She picked up her beer and took a sip.  “Does Mary know about the other pregnant women you’ve dated?”

“Hey, I helped them through their pregnancies.”

“You haven’t told Mary about the others, have you?”

Milo looked at Puck and then looked away.

“Oh man,” Puck said.  “I thought you said you were going to last night.”

“No, not yet.” 

“So when?” Grace said.

“I’m building up to it,” Milo said and picked up his beer again.  “And you know I’m not actually doing anything wrong.”

“You’re being a jerk.”

“Hey, I’m just…”

“You think you guys can resolve this before I get back from the restroom?” Puck said and stood up all of the sudden, putting his beer down.

They both looked at him.

“Sorry,” Grace said.

“Me too,” Milo said. 

“Good,” Puck said and headed for the restroom.

Grace watched him and then turned to Milo.  “Real nice.”

“You’re the one who started the conversation.”

“Is Mary still in touch with the father?” Grace said, leaning closer to Milo.

“What business is it of yours?”

“You don’t know, do you?  You’re been dating her for the last three months and you haven’t even figured that out.”

“She’s says it was divine intervention,” Milo said and took a big swig from his beer.

“What?”

“Mary claims it was an immaculate conception?” Milo said.

“Yeah, I’m guessing that God has a lot to do with the failure of birth control.”

“Real nice, Grace,” Milo said and took another swig.  “But thanks for caring.”

Grace looked at Milo and shook her head, drinking some more beer.  “Just trying to keep you on the straight and narrow, Milo.

“Speaking of which, why don’t you ask out Puck?”

“Excuse me?” Grace said.

“You heard me.  He’d be good for you.  He has a thing for Latinas, he’s always saying nice things about you, and in case you haven’t noticed, he can’t take his eyes off of you.”

“I think you’re confusing me for my breasts,” Grace said, adjusting her bra.  “A lot of men have that problem, you included.”

“I’m serious,” Milo said and looked at her breasts. 

“It’s a nice idea, Milo, but no,” Grace said.  “Puck’s too much of a goof.  I mean, come on, he goes by Puck.”

“It beats Calvin,” Milo said.

“Look, he’s a good friend, and I love the guy, but that’s it.”

“He’s in good shape; he listens to you and treats you with respect, unlike that idiot, Michael.  Plus, he’s got a big tongue.”

“I agree he’s a nice guy,” Grace said, hiding behind a longer sip of beer.  “But I don’t think things would work out between us.

“Why not?” Milo said, looking right at her.

“I don’t know, Milo,” Grace said.  “We’ve been friends for too long, and all of the good stuff that you mentioned and I like about him as a friend would fade away once we slept together.”

“That’s a bunch of crap, Grace, and you know it.”

She looked back at him.

“You know he’s a great guy and that he’d treat you well,” Milo said.  “What is your probl…?”

“He’s cool, but I don’t think it’d work,” Grace said.

“What, because he’s got a boyish charm?”

“Yes, Milo.  I don’t think we’re on the same page maturity-wise.”

“You could say that about almost any guy.”

“Milo, I just got off an at least a semi-serious relationship, okay?  If anything, I’m looking for a rebound thing.  I’ll probably just get a few rolls in the hay with whomever I see next and dump the person on the curb like a wet sack of trash,” Grace said and took in a deep breath.  “I couldn’t do that to Puck.”

“Meaning you like him.”

“I like him enough not to risk that.”

“You don’t think you might be able to avoid that with him.”

“I don’t know,” Grace said and saw Puck coming out of the restroom.  “But I don’t want to have this conversation anymore.”

Milo sighed as Puck sat down and took a sip of beer.  “Did I miss anything?”

“We’ll see,” Milo said with a look at Grace.

“Huh?”

“You going to call Helen?” Milo said and clinked his beer against Puck’s.

“I don’t know,” he said with a look at Grace.

“Buddy,” Milo said and turned again to Grace.  “That card isn’t going to do you any good sitting in your wallet.”

“Yeah,” Grace said and swallowed.  “You should call her.

Puck looked at Helen’s card and then at Milo and Grace.  “You guys ever hear of the ‘Conservative Caucus’?”

“Yeah,” Grace said and took the card.  “But I’m not sure if they’re trying to get the government into or out of the bedroom.  Why?”

“That’s where Helen works.”

Grace handed back the card with a shrug.

“Whatever,” Milo said and looked at the card too.  “Maybe she just needed to get her foot in the door of the Washington political game.  Everybody’s got to start somewhere.

“Whatever,” Puck said and took back the card.  “I’ll give her a call when I get home.”

“Fair enough,” Milo said and dropped money on the bar.  “Let’s get out of here.”

“Okay,” Grace said and followed Puck and Milo out the door.


Chapter 5: The Plot Thickens

John Paul picked up the phone halfway through the third ring, but nobody was there.

“Who was it?” Richard said, looking up from his laptop.

“Nobody.  I thought it might be my Mom wanting to know about our trip back home, but…” John Paul said and then chuckled. 

“What?  What’s so funny?”

“I just had the idea that it could be Jerry Robertson, calling me back after three years, ready to pick up where we left off and wanting some action,” John Paul said and nodded to Richard.  “I still have the same number.”

“I don’t know about that, hon.  If anything, he seemed scared of you.”

“Yes, but three years ago he was moaning, groaning and tumbling his way toward ecstasy.  I think, no, I know, I scared him back into the closet with too good a time.”

“Uh huh,” Richard said and turned back to his laptop.

‘I think I inspired the term ‘rocked his world’ that night.”

“Yes,” Richard said with a smile.  “That’s why I’ve been with you for the last two years, seven months and… six days.”  He looked again at John Paul and winked.  “You do have some serious mojo.”

“And here I thought our common interests, deep affection, ability to work out our problems and tender, loving care was what kept us in a healthy partnership,” John Paul said, joining Richard on the couch.

“That probably helps too,” Richard said and put aside the laptop.

“You’re so sweet.”

“Like milk chocolate, baby, milk chocolate,” Richard said and kissed John Paul when the phone rang again.  He picked it up.  “Hello, Burns/Reilly residence.  How can I help you?”

“You’re so official.”

Richard looked at John Paul.  “I think it’s a telemarketer.  I thought they couldn’t call us anymore.”

“Let’s go to bed.”

“Rodeo wore you out.”

“That, I want to get some and I have to go to church early tomorrow,” John Paul said, pulling Richard off the couch.  “I’m helping plan next Sunday’s pancake breakfast.”

“Such a good guy,” Richard said, following John Paul to the bedroom.  “And so good looking too.”


Chapter 6: The Next Call

Jerry put down his phone.  “Tch, the phone service used to be so much better when it was just Ma Bell.  Back before you were born you never heard ‘service down due to heavy caller volume,’ unless you made an international call, and even that was rare.”

“You can’t get through?” Helen said.

“No, but this happens sometimes,” Jerry said.  “Do you want to call up Calvin Reilly now?”

“Yes, although he called himself Puck at the rodeo.  I think that’s what he goes by.”

“Gay men have strange habits,” Jerry said and shook his head.  “Don’t be surprised if this is hard to do.”

“I’m not worried about it,” Helen said.  “He seemed like a really nice guy.  He was very friendly.”

“Yes,” Jerry said, staring at Helen.  “A lot of women think that about gay men.  They don’t have that nasty macho edge like the rest of us.  It really marks them.”

“I guess that makes sense,” Helen said and shrugged as she pulled out her cell phone.  “Although a lot of straight men can be nice too.”

“Yes,” Jerry said, looking at the floor.  “That’s true too.”

Helen nodded and waited with her ear to the phone.  “Hey, I’m trying to get in touch with Calvin Reilly…  Puck…  Yes, the straight woman from today’s rodeo…  Yes, I think I was the only one there too…  Yes, I’m glad I called too.  I was wondering if you wanted to get together and finish our talk about softball.  I’d really like to start playing again and maybe you could give me some hints on where I could get started…  Tomorrow would be great.  I have it off and I’m free too.  We could go to a museum or get coffee or head out to this fair I heard about in Arlington…  Yes, I live in Virginia… No, I’ll pick you up.  It won’t be a problem, and I want to get more familiar with driving around Washington.” 

Helen pulled out Puck’s card and a pen.

“Okay, at 405 Laughlin near 23rd, in DuPont Circle, at 10:00.  I’ll see you then,” she said and hung up, looking at Jerry.  “How did I do?”

He smiled.  “That was perfect.  Did he sound surprised that you called him?”

“No.  He said he was about to call me.”

“Hmm,” Jerry said, his eyes narrowing.  “I guess you made quite an impression on him.”

“That’s good, right?”

“That’s great,” Jerry said, nodding to himself.

Chapter 7: Behind The Closed Door

Puck combed back his hair coming out of the bathroom as Milo flopped onto the couch in only boxer shorts.

“Ah, God bless Labor Day: a lame holiday where America celebrates the toil of hard work by kicking back, barbecuing and remembering the joys of summer.  Good times.”

“You’re going to a picnic?” Puck said.

“Not a chance,” Milo said and flicked on the TV.  “I’m meeting you and Grace for lunch, remember?”  He changed the channel and settled in.  “Maybe, we’ll eat outside.”

“I thought Labor Day was in May?” Puck said and went back into the bathroom.

“No, that’s Memorial Day: the thirty-first or so.”

“No, I know,” Puck said and returned to the living room.  “That’s at the end of the month.  I’m talking about May first, Labor Day, workers of the world unite and all that.”

“Pshaw.  You and your Canadian ways: that’s not an American holiday.  We work then.”

“Yeah, but people around the world celebrate Labor Day on May first.”

“Right, and you guys have Thanksgiving on October twelfth,” Milo said, his eyes on the TV.  “Like you know anything.”

“That’s Columbus Day here.”

“A completely useless holiday since the Indians dumped Columbus in the toilet for beginning the genocide of the Americas and starting the joys of international slavery.  Worse, most people don’t even get the day off any more. 

“Kids get Columbus Day off.”

“Yeah, leaving parents scrounging for babysitters,” Milo said and looked again at Puck and his button shirt, khakis and loafers.  “You’re looking pretty.”

Puck smiled.  “Well, you know, I showered and shaved for my date.”

“Used a little extra gel I see too.”

“Uh huh.”

“Well, it works for you,” Milo said.  “What are you guys doing?”

“No idea,” Puck said and checked himself in the mirror.  “It sounds like Helen has some big plans, though.”

“We’re still getting lunch, right?”

“Yeah, absolutely,” Puck said, turning to Milo.  “Why wouldn’t we?”

‘When was the last time you were on a date there, molasses?”

“I don’t know,” Puck said and shrugged.  “August?”

“Try April.  I think it was the weekend of the 16th.” 

“Nice of you to remember.”

“One of us has to.”

“Why?”

Milo turned back to Puck.  “Because someone needs to take responsibility for your sorry excuse of a life,” he said.  “We’re in our prime to go out and get some action, and you can’t grasp the simple fa….”

Someone knocked on the door.

“I guess I better shut up and get presentable,” Milo said, looking at the door, glancing at Puck and then heading to his room. 

Puck shook his head and opened the front door.  “Hey.”

“Hey,” Helen said, her back to the door.  She turned around with a big smile.  “Good morning.  How are you?” 

“I’m good,” Puck said and smiled back.  “How are you?”

“Good.  I’m good.  It’s a nice day out,” Helen said and peeked around Puck.  “Sunny and warm, but not too hot.”

“Would you like to come in?” Puck said and tilted his head back to the apartment.  “You can meet my roommate and see chez Reilly. 

Helen stepped into Puck and Milo’s apartment.

“It’s a pretty extraordinary apartment,” Puck said, grinning and pointing quickly to the different sections all in one room.  “Right here is the foyer; there is the den, the living room, the dining room and kitchen.  Behind the door on the right is the master bedroom, mine, the one in the middle is the bathroom and one on the left…”

“… is my room,” Milo said, coming out in a robe and a nod to Puck.  “And yours isn’t the master bedroom.  It’s only a little bigger than mine.”

“That’s what makes it the master bedroom,” Puck said, not even looking at Milo.

Helen looked at both of them with half a smile.

“Hello, I’m Milo Ellison, Puck’s roommate and the brains of the operation,” he said and smiled.  “Puck’s got the looks, at least before I shower.”

“Uh, hi.  Helen Monroe, nice to meet you.”

“Right back at you,” Milo said and shook Helen’s hand.

She kept looking at Milo and Puck, and then nodded.

“Well, that was easy, eh,” Puck said.

“Yeah, I guess so,” Milo said.  “It’s nice of you to pick up Puck, Helen: pretty unusual.  Most of the time it’s the other way around.”

“Well, you know, it’s no big deal,” Helen said.  “I was in the neighborhood and it seemed like the easiest and smartest thing to do.”

“Okay,” Milo said.  “What do you do for a living, Helen?

“I’m, um, I work at the Conservative Caucus, a political think tank located on Capitol Hill.”

“What do you do there?”

“I’m a program assistant focused on membership issues,” Helen said.  “I help members who want to know what’s going on in Washington and address their concerns.”

“So you keep people happy,” Milo said and nodded to Puck.  “That’s great.  You must be living in high heaven with the current president.”

“Yes, I guess so.  I work a lot.  I haven’t met a lot of people since I moved here,” Helen said and turned to Puck.  “We’re going to have a good time today, though.”

Puck smiled at her.

“What do you do, Milo?”

“Me?  I’m a computer geek in Virginia.  It’s exciting and I get to wear what I want when I want.” 

“Oh,” Helen said, noticing a few holes in Milo’s robe

“Yeah,” Milo said and looked back at Puck.

“So, that covers the work stuff,” Puck said.  “You want to head out, Helen.”

“Sure.  Yes.  Let’s go,” Helen said and waved to Milo.  “Nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you too, Helen,” Milo said and noticed his robe, closing it.

Puck laughed and led Helen back through the front door.

Milo stared at the front door for a moment and turned back to his room.  “Who’d’ve thought there’d be something called the Conservative Caucus?”


Chapter 8: First Date

Puck and Helen stood in the National Gallery of Art admiring the painting, Madonna and Child With A Pomegranate. 

“This painting is by Leonardo da Vinci,” Helen said, clutching Puck’s arm.  “The.  Leonardo.  da Vinci.”

“Yeah, that guy could paint,” Puck said, smiling at Helen’s hand on his arm.  “Wasn’t too much of a family man, but he could sure draw.”

“This is so cool.”

“Yeah, he did some amazing things.  I saw his notebooks once and he was definitely ahead of his time, what with the pedal helicopter and parachute of sheets.  And that Mona Lisa: whoo, I never thought much of it before I went to Paris and saw it up close and in person: well behind glass at least, but I was awed.  I could see why people think it’s the greatest painting ever.”

“Yeah, it’s so cool that we’re here, in the National Art Gallery, seeing a five hundred-year-old painting that is supposedly painted by probably the greatest genius of all time.”

“Well, you can walk around here anytime you want,” Puck said and waved to the crowd around them.  “See.  People do it all the time.  It’s free.”

“And isn’t that great?”

“I guess,” Puck said.  “I’ve been here a bunch of times and never really thought much ab…”

“This is my first time here,” Helen said, looking at the painting and then the crowd with big eyes.

“You’re kidding me?  You’ve lived in Washington for three months and you’ve never been here.  It’s a national treasure,” Puck said and pointed out a window.  “Have you seen anything in DC: the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the White House?”

“I’ve driven by all of those places, but my job is so busy that I don’t have a lot of free time to actually see them.  We’re usually at the office six days a week and my boss doesn’t even take a lunch on Saturdays.  He says I should be happy to get Sundays off.”

“So, you don’t get a lunch?” Puck said, doing a double take.  “How do you survive the day?  Don’t you get hungry?”

“I eat at my desk.  My office has so much to get done every day that we can’t waste time with lunch or breaks.  Something is always going on or coming up.  I barely have time to go to church, shop and do my laundry on Sunday before I have to go back to work on Monday morning.”

“I’m glad it’s Labor Day then and you could get out and about.”

“Doesn’t everyone work that many hours in Washington?  There’s so much to do here.” 

Puck shrugged.  “Most folks probably work the occasional Saturday, but when I do that I get comp time.”

“Comp time?”

“My brother’s a labor lawyer.  I work a few extra hours one week and get them off the next.”

“Really?  But there are so many important things to get done for the rest of the country and the world.”

“Yeah, that’s what a lot of people in Washington think, and I suppose it makes them feel better since the money sucks and the perks are minimal, but at the end of the day the world keeps going even if everyone here isn’t working 24/7,” Puck said and moved onto the next painting.  “Don’t get me wrong, I think lots of people in the city are doing important work, but we aren’t any more special than folks in the rest of the world.  We probably just focus a lot more on the nitty gritty details in the place of a proper social life.”

“I’ve barely been out at all except to a couple of work-sponsored events,” Helen said, looking at the next piece of art.

“I bet those were cool, eh?”

“Well, we talked a lot about work.”

“That’s too bad because Washington can be a cool city.  There’s lots to do and a lot of it is free,” Puck said and pointed out the window again.  “Just look around.  We’re in the National Gallery of Art.  You go outside and you can see the Capital, the Washington Monument and across the way is the Air and Space Museum.  How many places can you go and do all that, eh?”

“Yes, I haven’t...”

“You’ve got to seize the bull by the horns, woman,” Puck said, doing a jig and twirling around as they started walking again.  “Get out there and party like there’s no tomorrow.  ‘Cause you know, there really isn’t.”

Helen blinked, watching Puck dance, and then laughed.

“You’ve got to live life and have some fun,” Puck said, grabbing her hand and pulling her close.  “Washington could definitely use a lot more of that and all of America could stand some decent beer and more hockey too.

“What?”

“Don’t get me wrong,” Puck said, letting go of Helen and smiling at a concerned looking security guard.  “I love living in Washington, but…”

“It’s better than home?”

“Hey, let’s not go crazy there,” Puck said, shaking his head.  “Suburban Edmonton’s the Garden of Eden with snow.”

“Edmonton?”

“Yeah,” Puck said with faraway eyes.  “It’s in Alberta, in western Canada.  I lived there all my life until I left home.”

“Was it a fun place to grow up?”

“The funnest,” Puck said and looked out the window again.  “Although we have a few more social options here in the big city.”  He turned to Helen.  “The way my brother tells it Washington is a social paradise compared to home.”

“I’ve been missing out then?”

“Sounds like you need to get out more and live in a cooler neighborhood too,” Puck said, leading Helen forward.  “It’s the whole, location, location, location thing.  Live in the right place like DuPont and you can have a lot of fun every day of the week.”  He frowned.  “If you have the money that is.”

“So, you like living in DuPont Circle then?”

“It’s all right.  You’ve got to watch some of the places you go, but it’s cool.”

“I suppose you want to make sure you’re with the right kind of crowd, right?”

“Um, sure, I guess,” Puck said and gave Helen a look.  “Never really thought about it like that.”

Helen stood still, watching Puck.

“Sorry, but is your watch right?” he said, noticing Helen’s wrist.  “Is that the correct time?”

“No, it’s five minutes fast.” 

“Cool,” Puck said and let out his breath.  “The morning flew by, but I still have a chance.  I hate to do this, but, um, I’m supposed to meet Milo and Grace for lunch in twenty minutes.” 

“Okay, but I thought you said we’d go to lunch,” Helen said.  “I picked out this place that’s supposed…”

“Yeah, yeah, I know, and we will,” Puck said, pulling Helen forward and walking faster.  “I just didn’t know we were going to lunch when you showed up this morning, and the time has flown by and I didn’t get a chance to call Milo.  He’s probably left the apartment.  I need to tell him that I can’t make lunch or he’ll go nuts on me when I do get home.  He can be a psycho.”

“He doesn’t have a phone?”

“Yeah, but he doesn’t answer it when I call,” Puck said, darting through the crowd.  “He says they’re anti-social and annoying as hell to the people who have to listen to all the mindless cell conversations.  I told him it was kind of stupid to have a cell but never answer it, and he said he only wanted it for emergencies, which doesn’t make any sense since he never answers.  It doesn’t matter, though.  I still have to tell him.” 

“Um, okay,” Helen said, keeping up.

“I’m sorry, but if we just stop by the restaurant real quick it would make my life so much easier.  It’ll only take a minute, and I can’t dis Milo.  Seriously, he can be a monster, and I’ll buy lunch.”

“Dis?  A monster?  What?”

“I need to stop by this diner quick and then we can go wherever you want.  I promise.”

“Okay,” Helen said and smiled.  “But you owe me lunch.”

“You bet,” Puck said, looking back and smiling.  “You’re the greatest.”


Chapter 9: Not A Date

Milo and Grace looked up from their menus to see Puck and Helen race into the diner. 

“Look at that, a man of his word: late, but still manages to show up like he said he would.”

“I’m not surprised,” Grace said and waved. 

“I knew you wouldn’t be,” Milo said and turned back to his menu.

“Hey, sorry,” Puck said, catching his breath.  “We got caught up at the National Gallery and lost track of time.

“I love that place,” Milo said.

“Me too,” Grace said.  “It’s a nice spot to go and just unwind.  They have that atrium with…”

“…those comfortable chairs where you can just kick back and relax.  It’s great and if you want you can mess with the tourists.  Remember scaring that Iowa family, Puck?

“I remember you embarrassing those folks and making me feel like a doofus.

“Just like he’s trying to do now,” Grace said.

“Hey, it was fun,” Milo said and looked up from the menu.

“Right,” Grace said and stood up, smiling at Helen and offering her hand.  “Hi, you must be Helen.  I’m Grace Rodriguez.  It’s nice to meet you even if Puck forgot how to do introductions.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Grace,” Helen said, smiling back.  “Puck was just telling me all about you, and that’s a great top.”

“Thanks,” Grace said and gave a thumbs up to Puck.  “You, uh, you look nice too.  Did you guys have a good time at the…”

“Yeah, how was the National Gallery?”

“Do you see me talking here?” Grace said with a look at Milo.

“I see you talking,” Milo said, looking back.  “That doesn’t mean I can’t be included in the conversation.”

“Yeah, but you might not want to interrupt me, okay?”

“Okay,” Milo said.  “Feel better?

“Glad to see you two are still getting along,” Puck said with a nod to Helen.

“Thanks for the concern, there, Puck,” Milo said.

“Shut up,” Grace said.

Puck shook his head.

“Hey, can I ask you guys a question?” Helen said and Puck and Grace turned to her.

“What’s up?” Milo said with a nod.

“Well, I don’t want to sound stupid, and maybe I’m putting my foot in my mouth here, but are Puck and Milo your real names?”

Puck and Milo looked at each other and then at Helen.

“Great question, Helen,” Grace said and laughed.  “Their real names are Calvin and Joe, but they’ve gone by Puck and Milo since I’ve known them.”

“Even my family calls me Puck.”

“And almost nobody calls me Joe,” Milo said.

“Nobody except Mary when you piss her off, your family and everyone you grew up with,” Grace said.

“Yeah, I thought you only started going by Milo in college,” Puck said.

“At least people remember names like Milo and Puck,” Milo said, ignoring Puck and Grace.  “Do you know how many Joes there are in the world?  They’re a dime a dozen.”

“Yeah, that’s rough,” Grace said.  “I’ve cried many a tear for you in the last six years.”

Milo frowned.

“I don’t see what the big deal is,” Puck said.

“Me either,” Helen said.  “I didn’t mean to start any problems.”

“No worries,” Puck said and smiled at her.  “They do this a lot.  It beats the alternative.”

“Which is?” Helen said.

“Me killing Milo,” Grace said and smiled at Helen.

“You wish,” Milo said.

“You’re right,” Grace said and Helen laughed.

“Look,” Puck said, sighing at Milo and Grace.  “We’d love to stay and watch your usual song and dance, but Helen made reservations up at Taverna.”

“No way,” Milo said.

“I just stopped by to tell you I wouldn’t be able to make it for lunch,” Puck said.

Helen bit her lip.

“That was nice of you,” Grace said and nodded to both of them.

“You would say that,” Milo said.

“Because it’s true,” Grace said.

“Thanks,” Puck said.

“Oh, shut up,” Milo said, shaking his head at Puck and Grace.

“You guys are funny,” Helen said.  “I’m sorry I made reservations somewhere else.”

“I’ll cook sometime soon, okay.” Puck said, leading Helen out the door and turning to Milo.  “I know I owe you for that lasagna you made on Friday.”

“Yeah, uh huh,” Milo said and rolled his eyes.  “I’ll be waiting.” 

Puck and Helen disappeared down the street.

Milo looked at Grace, smiling.  “So, what do you think of Helen?”

“I don’t know,” Grace said and picked up her menu again.  “She seemed all right.  It was nice of her to say that she liked my shirt.  Most people don’t notice that kind of stuff.”

Milo put down his menu.  “I’m guessing that she’s the eager to please type and that my boy Puck is not going to be making me dinner tonight.”

“He’s going to be making her breakfast tomorrow, huh?”

“You know it, sister, and I for one am happy that he’s finally getting some.  I was worried that he’d forget how to do it.”

“I don’t think that’s how it works,” Grace said and looked over her menu.  “You know, outside of your little fantasies, most women aren’t going to sleep with the pool cleaner, mailman or some guy they just met.  Plus, Puck isn’t exactly a player.” 

“He’s got a penis and he knows how to use it when he wants to.  And I can see him wanting to use it with her,” Milo said, pointing to the street and nodding.  “Helen was a hottie.” 

“Thanks for the image, Milo, but I don’t see it happening.”

“Jealous?” Milo said with a smirk.

“Shut up,” Grace said, looking Milo right in the eye.

“I’ve got a shoulder to cry on,” Milo said, holding his arms out for a hug.

“It’s a good thing you’re entertaining and buying me lunch,” Grace said.

“What?”

“It’ll help you redeem yourself after just being an ass.”

“Yeah, okay,” Milo said and put down the menu with a shrug.  “Whatever.”


Chapter 10: Seeing The Ex 

John Paul rounded the corner and almost bumped into Jerry, barely avoiding him as Jerry kept right on going.  ”Don’t worry, Jer, I won’t bite,” he said with a look.

Jerry stopped and turned right to John Paul.  “Yes, I am sure I would already know about it if you did.”

John Paul smiled.  “We’ve managed to avoid each other for the last three years, and now we see each other twice in two days.  Talk about the luck of the Irish, eh.”

“Worse, they say these things happen in threes.”

“Just like airplane crashes.”

Jerry stared back quietly.

“Don’t you have a barbecue or picnic with your Straight Path pals today, Jer?”

“No, I don’t,” Jerry said, holding back a frown.  “I have a stack of paper work to catch up on and it’s easier to do when no one is at the office.”

“Funny.  Me too,” John Paul said, not laughing.  “Although I am going to a barbecue this afternoon.”

“I didn’t think you boys at the Department of Labor worked on weekends or the holidays,” Jerry said.

“They usually don’t, but I opened my own office last year,” John Paul said.  “It means a lot more work, but I get to be my own boss.”

“And make all of your own mistakes,” Jerry said.

“The joys of the American dream, Jer.”

Jerry nodded and looked at John Paul for a moment.  “So, how is your brother?”

“What?” John Paul said, doing a double take.

“I heard he and a friend of mine, Helen Monroe, are spending the day together.”

“And?”

“And I was just wondering if they hit it off?” Jerry said and smiled.  “Do they have another date?”

John Paul stared at Jerry.  “This is the woman at the gay rodeo: your little prize to entice the wayward home?”

“She’s a friend of mine, John Paul,” Jerry said, staring back.  “And I would appreciate it if you talked about her with respect.”

“You’re right, Jer,” John Paul said and nodded. “I apologize.  And not that it’s any of your business, but I haven’t spoken to Puck today.”

“Maybe you should,” Jerry said and smiled wider.

“Well, now I will,” John Paul said, his eyes on Jerry.  “The question is why do you care so much, Jer.”

“Helen is a friend of mine, John Paul.  I just want to make sure that your brother has good intentions.”

“Yes, I’m sure you do,” John Paul said and looked away, laughing.  “I wouldn’t worry about it.  Puck is a swell…”

“What’s so funny?” Jerry said when his cell phone rang.

John Paul nodded to take it, but didn’t move.

“Jerry Robertson,” Jerry said, turning his back to John Paul.  “Oh, hello.  Yes, Lawrence, I’m well.  How are you…?  Good, good.  Yes, I think the Antarctic snow is the color to go with…  Yes, I know we talked about Siberian white and Artic breeze, but I’ve been thinking about it and I think Antarctic is the calmer shade…  Yes, I’m really trying to create a sanctuary from the outside world in that room, one where I can calm my thoughts and be one with myself.  I want to be…”

“Jer, Antarctic snow sounds a little sterile even for you,” John Paul said.  “You might to try something a little more colorful.”

Jerry turned to John Paul and frowned.  “No, it’s no one important, Lawrence.  Someone who I had an uncomfortable encounter with years ago.”

“I don’t remember you being uncomfortable,” John Paul said.  “I remember you having too good a tim…”

“Just give me the Antarctic white,” Jerry said into his phone.  “Yes, I’ll be available on my cell.  Good-bye.” 

He pocketed the phone and turned to John Paul who laughed.

“What?  What’s so funny?”

“Jer, I can’t imagine what’s inside your head.”

Jerry looked back at John Paul and then smiled again.  “You didn’t tell me how your brother’s love life was.”

“No, I didn’t, but you have a nice day, Jer,” John Paul said and walked away, not looking back.  “I’m going to my office.  And I think you need to get a clue.”  He shook his head.  “Good luck with that okay, and really try to have some fun, eh.  It’s a holiday, you know.”

Jerry watched John Paul go for a moment and then mouthed, “Get a clue,” and gave him the finger.


Chapter 11: Second Date  

Puck stared at the bottom row of bowling pins, cocked back his arm and sprang forward, hurling the baseball as hard as he could.  Five of the six bowling pins crashed down, with the sixth wobbling for a long moment and then tumbling to the ground.  “Yeah,” he said, raising his hands high.  “Score.”

“Okay,” Helen said, her big eyes on the last pin spinning on the ground.  “I knew you could do it.”

“We have a winner, knocking over six pins, and only on his tenth try,” the barker said with a half a laugh.   

“Beginner’s luck,” Puck said.

“Don’t put yourself down, sir,” the barker said.  “What’ll it be?  What do you want to give to this lovely lady?”

Puck turned to Helen. 

“How about the cat: the gray one with the big ears,” Helen said.  “He’s really cute.”

“Ah, the little lady knows a pretty thing when she sees it,” the barker said.  “That cat’s been waiting weeks for the right woman.”

“Well, I’m not sure about that,” Helen said.  “Still…”

“Still you like cats, and I guarantee that this cat will like you.”

“Thank you,” Helen said, taking the cat.  “I guess that sounds good.”

“Indeed it does.  Now you two have a wonderful day and come back again,” the barker said, pointing to the next attraction as his smile disappeared.

“Okay, we’ve gotten cotton candy, peanuts, popcorn and pops: done the slice and dice coaster and the twisty slide for an hour and I’ve won you a prize,” Puck said.  “What do you want to do now, the go-carts or the bumper cars?”  

“Either or is fine with me,” Helen said, smiling.

“Well, if you don’t mind, how about the go-carts?  I don’t drive much lately, and I miss it.”

“You don’t have a car?”

“I sold my old Dodge Dart when I moved here,” Puck said, heading to the go-carts.  “I got it on my 16th birthday and it got me through to Washington, but it was worth less than the insurance and not worth the parking tickets.” 

“I bet you did a lot of cruising when you were a kid?”

“Oh yeah,” Puck said.  “Up and down MacDonald Street until curfew.  It was the thing to do for a few years, the only thing really.”

“Yes, we cruised too, except it was Main instead of MacDonald Street.”

“Where did you grow up?”

“Northern California, in a town called Tracy, about an hour from San Francisco and in the middle of the desert.” 

“No hockey eh?”

“No, definitely no hockey.  We didn’t get much frost, much less snow or ice.” 

“How’d you live without hockey?” Puck said, stopping in his tracks.

“Um, I don’t know,” Helen said, stopping too.  “Is that where you got your nickname?”

“What?”

”From hockey puck, you know.  Hockey is Canada, right?”

“We do more than that, but yeah, I played a lot of hockey as a kid.  But that’s not where I got my nickname.”

“From Shakespeare’s The Tempest then?”

Puck looked at Helen.  “Uh, no, never read that play and my parents aren’t big into Shakespeare.”

“Why are you called Puck then?”

Puck shrugged.  “My brother started calling me Puck after our first cat got squashed by a car.”

“You’re named after a cat?” Helen said, almost laughing.

“John Paul really loved that cat,” Puck said. 

Helen gave Puck a look.  “Did you ever get hurt playing hockey?”

“Oh, sure, lots of times,” Puck said, rubbing the right side of his head.  “Before I got contacts I must’ve taken at least three or four pucks in the head, but it was no big deal.”  He turned to Helen.  “What did you do for fun growing up?”

“Not much,” Helen said.  “We went to a lot of carnivals when they were in town, cruised the street like you did and I suppose drank beers and fooled around like everyone else.”

“Yeah, we did that too,” Puck said with a nod.  “Fun times from what I remember.” 

“Yes, definitely fun times.”

Puck pointed forward.  “So, what about the go carts?”

“I don’t know,” Helen said and bit her lip.  “Why don’t we get out of here and see if we can think of anything else to do together.”

“Yeah, okay, sure,” Puck said and turned to the exit.  “Let’s go.”


Chapter 12: Left Hanging

Milo and Grace grabbed their untouched beers, barely looking at each other.

“Good beer,” Milo said.

“Yep,” Grace said, eyes on the door.

“He’s not here yet.”

“Nope.”

“Late again.”

“Just a few minutes.” 

“Or maybe he’s blown us off,” Milo said and took a sip of beer.

“Taking after you I guess,” Grace said and took her own sip.

“No, I think he’s hanging out with Helen.”

“Helen?”

“Yeah, you know, the hot blonde with the T and A who we met earlier today.”

“Yeah, a few hours ago in fact,” Grace said and turned to Milo.  “I remember.”

“You don’t like her?

“I don’t know her,” Grace said and took another sip. 

“Yeah, well, Puck’s never late, and I’m guessing he blew us off to get some action tonight.”

“Congratulations to Puck,” Grace said and shrugged.

“You’re not jealous,” Milo said.

“Should I be?” Grace said, putting down her beer and looking straight at Milo.

”I think so,” Milo said and smiled.  “I think you and Puck would make a great couple.”

“You’re kidding me?” Grace said.  “I’d’ve never known.”

“Hey, don’t get me wrong,” Milo said.  “I’m happy that Puck’s getting some, but I think he’d do better with you, and you’d definitely do better with him.

“Bugger off.”

“Stop trying to impress me with your vacation to London,” Milo said and drank more beer.

“You know dating and hooking up aren’t the only things in life?”

“I’m glad you feel that way since you’ve gotten exactly zero action and not even a cup of coffee with another man beside Puck and me in the last two months.”

“And I’m fine with that.”

“You shouldn’t be,” Milo said, putting his beer down again.  “You can do better than…”

“I haven’t seen anything out there but gay men and frat boy losers, okay?”

“Wasn’t Michael a frat boy loser?” 

“Yeah, and your point?” Grace said, finishing her beer.

“My point?” Milo said and leaned forward.  “Give me a break, Grace.  You’re smart.  You can do better on a holiday, particularly the last holiday of the summer than hanging out with me and then going out with your grandmother to dinner.  And don’t deny that’s what you’re doing tonight.”

“It’s called family, Milo.  You’re supposed to spend time with them.”

“You haven’t met my family.”

“Yeah, I have.  They’re fine, and you don’t have a tortured childhood to justify dating Mary.”

“True, but I can still not like my family.”

“That’s great, but what about the way you’re treating Mary?” Grace said and grabbed Milo’s beer.  “Why don’t you admit that you’re just getting laid and leading her on, and once her baby is born you’re going to get all freaked out just like you did with Sara and Ruth.”

“Hey, I never lied to Sara or Ruth,” Milo said, grabbing back his beer.

“I don’t want to hear that,” Grace said, looking right at Milo.  “We’re talking about pregnant women.  Not saying something is as bad as lying.”

“I never promised anything to Sara or Ruth, Grace,” Milo said.  “And I help them out if they need it.”

Grace took in a deep breath.  “You’ve got some serious issues going on, Milo, and that’s saying something since you lived an idyllic suburban childhood and grew up to be the poster boy for the American dream.”  She shook her head.  “I mean, really, what’s going on?  You need to cut the crap and get your act together.”

“Hey, I’ve done a lot more good than bad.”

“Buying presents doesn’t make you good,” Grace said, pointing to a car seat in the chair between them.  “It just helps you rationalize your behavior.”

“Thanks for the analysis there.  When did you become a psychologist?”

“You’re funny.  Might want to stop running from your issues, though, and…”

“And what?” a pregnant woman said from out of the blue, standing right in front of them.  She patted Grace on the shoulder and nodded to Milo, sitting down.

“Mary, how are you?” Grace said and smiled.

“I’m good, and what were you two talking about?”

“Just the usual advice I give to Milo so that he can stop being an ass,” Grace said.

“I hear that,” Mary said with a laugh and kissed Milo.

“Hey, baby, what’s up?”

“Don’t give me that baby stuff, and I’m fine, thank you,” Mary said, holding Milo’s hand.  “How are you?”

“I’m good and better to see you.”

“What’s that?” Mary said, frowning at the car seat.

“Just a little gift for the upcoming delight.”

“Little.  This is the deluxe Eddie Bauer baby seat that matches the inside of my car.”

“I thought you’d like it,” Milo said, taking a sip of beer.

“It’s nice, but don’t you think it’s a little much?”

Milo fidgeted, not saying anything.

“How’s the pregnancy going, Mary?” Grace said.

“It’s uncomfortable, makes me bloated and now I can’t sleep very well at night, but what can you do,” Mary said and put on a smile.  “My family’s been great about it and my mama told me that if tiny whiny white women can go through nine months of discomfort and push a watermelon out of their body, then I shouldn’t have a problem at all.”  She shrugged and patted her belly.  “Plus, the little one will be here soon, and that’s when everyone says the real work begins.” 

“And now you’ve got a car seat to bring the baby home in,” Milo said.

“Yes, but have you ever thought about getting me a present,” Mary said, turning to Milo.  “I swear you’ve gotten so many presents for the baby that I’d think you were the father.  And you know you’re not, right?”

“Yeah, I know that,” Milo said and took a long sip of beer.

“Good,” Mary said and turned back to Grace.  “Did you want to join us for dinner, Grace?”

“Thanks for the offer, Mary, but I’m afraid my grandma and I planned a big night on the town.”

“You sure?” Mary said with a nod to Milo.  “I thought your grandma drank Milo under the table last time.”

“Yeah, I know Alice wouldn’t mind a beer,” Milo said.  “And it’s better than hanging with just you.”

“You should call her Mrs. Rodriguez,” Mary said.

“Yeah, you should,” Grace said and stuck out her tongue at Milo.  “But I’m afraid we already have reservations at a place in Georgetown, and…”

“Hey, I’m glad you’re going out at least,” Milo said, sticking out his own tongue.

“You’re a charmer,” Grace said, taking a sip of his beer.

Mary laughed, looking at the two of them. 

“Thanks,” Milo said, laughing too.

Grace watched the smiles on Mary and Milo’s faces and stood up, smiling herself.  “If Puck shows up, give him hell for being late,” she said with a nod and pulled out her wallet.

“I’ve got it,” Milo said, waving her away.

“I still can’t believe he stood us up,” Grace said, heading to the exit, but looking back.  “I’m glad to hear you’re doing well, Mary.  See you.”

Mary waved to Grace, looking around.  “Where is Puck anyway?”


Chapter 13: Third Date

Puck and Helen walked into Helen’s studio apartment, and Puck stopped at the front door. 

“Oh, man,” he said.

“What?”

“I forgot I was supposed to meet Milo for a beer.”

Helen turned to Puck, her face sinking a little.

“But he’ll understand that I’m having such a good time with you,” Puck said and grabbed Helen’s hand, smiling.  He looked into her eyes.  “I don’t go on a lot of dates, and today was great.  I haven’t had this much fun in a while.”

Helen smiled back.  “I had a lot of fun too.”

“Excellent,” Puck said, looking around the apartment.  “What do you want to do now?”

“I don’t know,” Helen said, leading him further into the apartment and shutting the door.  “What would you like to do now?”

“Um, I don’t know.”

“You know what was probably the most popular thing to do back home?” Helen said.

“What?” Puck said, looking around and shrugging.  “Surf, talk like valley girls, do drugs?”

“Sex,” Helen said and pulled Puck close, kissing him.

He kissed her back.

“Did that make you feel uncomfortable?” Helen said, pulling back for a moment.

“No more than any other first kiss,” Puck said and kissed her again.

Helen leaned in and started unbuttoning his shirt.

“You don’t fool around do you?” Puck said as Helen got even closer. 

“No, but I hope we can,” Helen said and kissed him again.  “If that’s all right with you?”

“I’m willing to try anything once.”

“I’m not making you uncomfortable then?”

“Well, my pants are getting a little tight,” Puck said and kept kissing her.

“Maybe I can help with that,” Helen said and got on her knees, undoing Puck’s pants.

Puck pulled her up.  “I appreciate the thought,” he said and kissed Helen again.  “But I can live with tight pants for a little longer.”

They eased into each other and kept kissing as Puck slipped his hand under Helen’s shirt.

“You’ve done this before?”

“I watch a lot of movies,” Puck said, nuzzling Helen’s neck.

“Oh.”

“How are you feeling?”

“Nervous, but good,” Helen said and smiled again.

“Me too, but I don’t want to go too fast or do anything you’re uncomfortable with?”

“I don’t think that’ll be a problem,” Helen said and finished undoing Puck’s pants.  “I’ve had this on my mind since this morning.”

“Okay,” Puck said and swallowed.

Helen took off the rest of Puck’s clothes and he did the same to her while she pulled out a condom. 

“Let me do that,” Puck said and grabbed the condom, laying them both on the bed and putting it on. 

“Well, that was easy,” Helen said.

“What?”

“Nothing,” Helen said and started kissing Puck again.  “It’s all good.”


Chapter 14: The Next Morning

“Mission accomplished,” Helen said, watching Puck wake up and doing a little lay down jig.  “Yes, I am bad.”

Puck stirred beside her, his eyes fluttering as he turned to Helen and sat up.

Helen sat up with him.

“Thank you,” Puck said and smiled.  “That was a whole lot of fun.”

“It was?” Helen said and smiled back.

“It sure was,” Puck said and kissed her.  “I needed that.”

“Me too,” Helen said and kissed him back.  “And it was my pleasure.”

“Cool,” Puck said.  “Because you know, sometimes it’s hard to tell.  Or so I’ve heard.  But you said, ‘mission accomplished,’ so that’s got to be a good sign.”

“I don’t have a lot of experience with this kind of thing, but I guess any time you sleep with someone on the first date and have a good time it’s an accomplishment.”

“Yeah, I’m relieved that I was up to the task.”

“You were very attentive.”

“Yeah, I’ve been working on that, in my own mind at least.”

“That makes sense.”

“Huh?” Puck said and gave Helen a look.

“Well,” Helen said and looked away.  “You see…” 

“Oh crap,” Puck said, noticing the alarm clock.  Is it really ten after seven?  Crap, crap crap.”

“What?  What’s wrong?” 

“Not a thing,” Puck said and kissed Helen again.  “It’s just that lately I seem to be having a hard time being on time.  I was two minutes late for work every day last week because of the train and I think my boss is going to go through the roof if I’m late again.  She’s got a thing for punctuality.”  He looked around.  “Where are my clothes?”

Helen kissed him and pointed to the floor.

“Thanks,” Puck said and started dressing.  “I had a great time last night, and all of yesterday.” 

“I had a great time too,” Helen said, watching Puck fumble with his clothes and pulling a sheet around herself.

“I’d like to get together tonight,” Puck said, fiddling with his pants.  “If you want?”

“I’d like that,” Helen said and kissed Puck on the mouth.

“Sorry about the morning breath.”

“I’ve probably got it too,” Helen said and kissed him again.

“I hadn’t noticed.” Puck said, kissing her back.

“Call me, or I’ll call you,” Helen said, holding onto him.

“I’d like to stay.”

“I’d like that too.”

“But I have to go,” Puck said, disentangling himself slowly from Helen and slipping on his shoes.  “We’ll talk.”

“We will.”

Helen followed him to the door, shutting it behind him as he finished buttoning his shirt.  She smiled.  “Who would have thought homosexuals would be so good in bed?”

The phone rang and Helen looked at caller ID, her smile fading. 

“Hello…  Oh, hey, Jerry, good morning to you too…  We had a great time.  We went to the National Gallery, La Taverna up on Connecticut; a place called the Family Fun Fair, and then had dinner and drank a bottle of wine in my neighborhood: I don’t remember the name of the place…  Puck missed meeting his roommate for dinner, so, I think I did.  He certainly had an effect on me.”

She looked at the door again and turned to the bed, her eyes narrowing.

“I hope he had a good time…  At 7:12 in the morning it’s hard to tell if I’m having a good day or not, but I think so…   It’s not a big deal.  I’m just not much of a morning person…Yes, but are you sure Puck is gay?  He seemed to know a lot of things that he probably shouldn’t, and he was so at ease last night…  Okay.  If you say so…  Don’t worry about it…  So, you’ll give me a call later…  Me too.”

Helen hung up and looked around her now messy apartment, staring where Puck had slept.  “I don’t know about that."


Chapter 15: Talk Of Shame

“And the winner by a hair is Puck,” John Paul said as a huffing and puffing Puck sprinted up and stopped right next to him.  “How you doing?  Out late last night or should I say early this morning?”

“Hi, I’m good,” Puck said and caught his breath.  “How are you, and what are you doing here?”

“I’m fine,” John Paul said and fixed the top buttons on Puck’s shirt.  “You know, I thought you’d have finished the walks of shame after university.  I mean, I know the Reilly curse of attracting men and women is hard to live with, but I figured you were classier than that, or at least had the sense to bring the woman over to your place.”

“I live with Milo.”

“Oh, right, forgot about that.  Sorry.”

“And who are you to give me a hard time about spending the night at someone’s house?” Puck said, straightening up.  “From what Richard and you were talking about the other day it sounds like you’ve got a highway of shame.  How many times did you have to do an early return home or wonder whose underwear you were washing?”

“Okay, okay, okay,” John Paul said and looked away from Puck.  “I think we’ve said all we can about this.”

“Uh huh.”

“It’s been years since I’ve come home with the sun coming up.” 

“Thank God for Richard, eh.”

“You’ll get no argument from me on that,” John Paul said.  “Nonetheless, congratulations.”

“For what?”

“Shame or no I’m glad to see that you’re finally out and about again.  I was starting to worry that you were letting down the name of Reilly.”

“Hey, remember Jennifer,” Puck said.

“Yes, Jenny: she was cute, didn’t say much and you only dated for six weeks.”

“Twelve.”

“The last six were a break up period and that was over in the beginning of April.”

“It was kind of mutual,” Puck said.

“She called you three weeks after you ended it.”

“Things just didn’t work out.”

“She was boring, jealous, intrusive and not the brightest light in the lamp,” John Paul said.

“She was all right.”

“I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself with…  What’s her name?”

“Helen,” Puck said, turning to the entrance of his apartment building.

“Sorry, Helen,” John Paul said.  “Like I said I’m glad you like her, but you might not want to get too serious, eh.”

Puck looked back.

John Paul shrugged.  “She’s friends with this guy, Jerry Robertson, a sleazy lawyer with too much time on his hands and a desire to convert the world to his vision of right and wrong.”

“Yeah?” Puck said, walking back. 

“Yes.  Look, I’d just be careful as you get to know Helen, okay?”

“John Paul, what are you talking about?  It’s not like much is going on,” Puck said and looked at his brother.  “I’ve been out with Helen once, yesterday, and nothing bad happened.  She seemed swell, and it’s not like I’m really slow as molasses and twice as thick, you know.”

“No, but you can be four times as sweet and that’s what worries me.” 

Puck kept looking at John Paul.  “You’re not over here so early in the morning just to be the concerned older brother and tell me to watch out for the wrong woman, are you?” 

“I don’t mind doing that, but no, I didn’t even know you were out last night, and as long as you’re practicing safe sex I don’t care,” John Paul said, nodding to Puck’s hips.  “You are, right?”

“Practicing safe sex?” Puck said.  “Yes, dad.”

“Good.  And I’ve got our tickets home,” John Paul said, handing Puck an envelope.  “Have you gotten a present for Mom and Dad yet?”

“No, but I saw this velvet Elvis on E-Bay,” Puck said, pocketing the envelope.

“Mom would love that.

“Yeah, but Dad would hate it, and it’s supposed to be for both of them.”

“I think Dad would laugh about it,” John Paul said.  “He’s calmed down a lot since his retirement.”

“We’ll see,” Puck said and nodded to his building.  “Why didn’t you go upstairs?”

“You’ll find out in a minute,” John Paul said, smiling.

“What?”

“I’ve got to go,” John Paul said and checked his watch.  “A client is coming over at eight and I want his business.  You’d better hurry up if you don’t want to be ninety seconds late to work again.”

“Oh, crap,” Puck said, noticing John Paul’s watch and taking off.  “I’ve got to go.”

“See you.  Wouldn’t want to be you.”

Puck glanced back, but kept going, through the building’s door, up two flights of stairs and down the hall and into his apartment where he started taking off his clothes.

“Hey, Puck,” Milo said, coming out of his bedroom and smiling broadly.  “Congratul…”

“Milo, hey.  Can’t talk,” Puck said, shutting the bathroom door behind him.  “I’ve got to get ready for work.”

“Hey,” Milo said and started pounding on the door.  “You don’t blow me off for dinner last night to hang out with a hottie and then just ignore me the next morning.  I tell you what happens on my dates.”

“I don’t want to know,” Puck said as the shower started running.  “Look, I’m going to be late for work and so are you.”

“Everyone’s late after a three-day weekend,” Milo said, opening the bathroom door and walking in.  “Remember Labor Day?  It’s the last burst of summer.  We’re all entitled to be late.”

“What are you doing?” Puck said, behind the curtain.  “I’m trying to shower.”

“We’re not establishing precedent here, Puck.  What were you doing last night?”

“I was with Helen,” Puck said, showering fast.

Milo stood up on the toilet seat and peered down over the shower curtain.  “And I can see since you’re not whacking the package that you got some action last night.”

“Do you mind?”

“No, I mean, this is a little inconvenient,” Milo said, bending his head to avoid the ceiling.  “But it’s big news, so I want to hear it.”

Puck hit him in the face with a washcloth.

“Hey,” Milo said and stepped down from the toilet.  “I deserved that, but I also deserve some news.”

“Yeah, I had a good time with Helen,” Puck said, shutting off the shower and grabbing his towel.  “And we’re probably getting together again tonight.”

“You are always so quick to get involved.” 

“I didn’t say we were getting involved,” Puck said, barely drying off and leaving Milo behind.

“You’ve seen each other naked in less than 24 hours,” Milo said, following him.  “So, with you it’s likely on its way to being involved.”

“I don’t know,” Puck said, dropping the towel and opening his dresser drawers.  “We’ll see.”

“Yeah, we will,” Milo said.  “You do this every time you hang out a woman.  How you’re able to just turn on that commitment so quickly stupefies me.  You kill me.”

“I wish.”

“No, that’s Grace.  You love me.  The question is will you love Helen.”

“You know you’re worse than my grandma,” Puck said, getting dressed.

“Pal, I was up all last night hoping that you were getting some.  It’s been too long for you, and if it were me I know I’d be out of my mind by now.”

“Did you talk to Mary?” Puck said.

“Yes, I talked to Mary.  We had dinner together last night and she wondered where you were.”

“Sorry, and that’s not what I meant,” Puck said, combing back his hair.  “Did you talk to her about dating other pregnant women, loving their kids but not loving the mothers once their stomachs shrank?”

“Who are you, Grace?” Milo said and handed Puck some gel.  “Mary and I are doing fine.  She liked the car seat, we had a pizza and I brought her a little desert, if you know what I mean.”

Puck closed his eyes and sighed.   “I’ve got to go,” he said, walking past Milo.  “I really don’t want to be late for work again.”

“Like you haven’t been doing that or just missing things for the last 24 hours,” Milo said with a smile and kept following Puck.  “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I love to watch the effect a new woman has on you.”

“Whatever,” Puck said and slipped on his shoes.

“You’re not going to miss breakfast, are you?” Milo said, pointing to the plates on the table.  “It’s the most important meal of the day.” 

“I’ll make up for it with an early lunch.”

“I made eggs, waffles, bacon and a fruit salad so we could talk over breakfast.” 

“I can see why my brother waited outside,” Puck said, but did a double take of the kitchen table.

“Yeah, he practically ran out the door when I asked him about the gay rodeo.”

“I’ve got to go, but I want to hear what you plan on telling Mary, eh,” Puck said.

“Okay, Grace, but I don’t think there’s much to say.”

“Right,” Puck said and opened the door to see Mary in front of him.

“Good morning, Puck,” Mary said and forced a smile.  “How are you?”

“Uh, I’m a little late, Mary,” Puck said, half smiling back.  “How are you?”

“Confused,” Mary said and stepped into the apartment.  “I want to talk to our friend, Joe, if you don’t mind.”

“No, talk to Joe all you want,” Puck said, not looking at Milo.  “That works for me.  I’m just trying to get to work on time.” 

“Then have a good day,” Mary said and turned to Milo.

“You too,” Puck said and closed the door behind him.


Chapter 16: The Talk

Milo looked at Mary, barely keeping his eyes on hers. 

“You want to tell me what’s going on, Joe?”

He swallowed.

“I know something is up.”

“What, that I can’t get enough of you, Mary?” Milo said and failed to smile.

“No, more like you get enough of my baby,” Mary said, eyeing him.  “I was putting that car seat away last night and I noticed that you’ve probably spent almost $2,000 on presents for my baby and ninety-nine cents on presents for me.”

“I’m a caring man, Mary.  I like children.

“Why did you get me a $500 car seat?”

“Because it matches your car,” Milo said and looked away.

“Why did you start dating me when I was four months pregnant and starting to show, Joe?  Most men wouldn’t give me the time of day, but you, you walked right up to me and asked me to dinner.” 

“I asked you out because you’re beautiful.”

“Don’t give me that,” Mary said and shook her head.  “You didn’t know a thing about me and I was having a bad hair day.”

“I don’t know.  I just…”

“You just have some weird thing about dating pregnant women, don’t you?” Mary said, pulling Milo’s chin up so she could look him right in the eye.

“That’s never been an issue with me, Mary,” Milo said and took in a breath.  “I told you that when we first started dat…”

“Yes, I remember,” Mary said, touching his cheek.  “And the gifts you keep giving my unborn child make me think you were as full of it then as you’re scared now.  I think you have some kind of kinky thing for pregnant woman or some creepy complex about seeing a woman’s stomach getting bigger and bigger as she approaches motherhood.  Now, I may be wrong, and if I am I apologize, but I want to know what your intentions are.  What is going on?”

Milo just looked back at her.

“Well?” Mary said.

“Don’t you have to be at work?”

“No, I don’t have to be at work,” Mary said and stepped back.  “I spoke to my boss about coming in late, and he says it’s about time you told me what’s going on.  He can’t believe you and I haven’t talked seriously about our relationship when the baby is less than two months away.  He said I could take the whole day off if I could find out what’s going on in your head.  And my sister says that if you don’t get off the fence today then she’s going to make you eat that car seat tomorrow.  So what’s it going to be, Joe?”

“Um, yeah,” Milo said and turned away. 

“Yes what?” Mary said, standing still.

“Yes, I have a kinky thing for pregnant women,” Milo said and looked back at Mary.  “I’ve dated a couple before and things didn’t work out once they had their babies.  I was in touch and everything, and I loved their kids, but the relationship with the women fell apart.  I know it’s kind of weird.”

“That is all kinds of weird,” Mary said, turning toward the door.

“But that was the past, Mary.  I like you and I think there’s something special between us.  And I’m really excited about the baby.”

“Uh huh, and you weren’t excited about the other women having their babies?”

Milo looked up slowly.  “Yeah, I was.”

“That’s strange, Joe, and not like in a funny or provocative way, but in a creepy, sick, twisted kind of way.  And forgive me for saying so, but it almost makes me wonder what your parents did to you as a child.”

“You’re right, but it’s not my family’s fault.  It’s just the way I am.  I don’t know.”

“That’s too bad.

“I think things are different this time, Mary,” Milo said and almost smiled.  “I think it’s more than just your pregnancy or your baby.  I think there’s something special between you and me.”

“People think lots of things, Joe, but thinking isn’t doing and it doesn’t put food on the table,” Mary said.  “You can think all you want, but if you’re not doing the right thing then all the thinking in the world isn’t going to make a difference.” 

Milo didn’t say anything.

“Good luck, Joe,” Mary said and opened the door.  “You were fun to hang out with and I appreciate you listening to me and making me feel better over the last three months.  Thanks.”

“Mary, how will you support the baby?”

“That won’t be a problem,” Mary said, looking again right at Milo.  “I have a great job, get great medical and maternity benefits and my family will help out if I need it, which I won’t.  I’ve never worried about how to raise the baby.  I’m more worried about you.” 

“You’re breaking up with me?”

“I’m afraid so, honey,” Mary said and took Milo’s hand for a second.  “It’s over.” 

She kissed him on the cheek and left.

Milo stared at the open door.  “Man, it’s going to be a bad day.”


Chapter 17: Something Good 

Helen leaned into her stance, cocked the bat back and waited for the pitching machine to release the ball.

“Man, I can’t believe you’re so good,” Puck said, admiring Helen’s ass.  “You’ve got one of the nicest stances I’ve ever seen.”

“Thanks.  Like I said I played a lot in college: although it’s been a while, and I’m completely out of shape.”

“I wouldn’t say that,” Puck said, admiring her more.

Helen hit the ball hard.  “You played softball long?” she said, turning and noticing Puck’s look.

“I’ve played for fun since I was a kid,” Puck said, blushing.  “And now I’m on at team with Milo and my brother that plays down by the Monument.”

“That’s great,” Helen said, hitting another ball.  “I’ve been trying to get on a team since I moved here, but the people in the Congressional softball leagues weren’t very friendly and said their rosters were all filled up.  They made me feel like I shouldn’t have even talked to them.”

“Yeah, unfortunately a lot of those Capitol Hill guys have their noses in the air and their fingers up their butts,” Puck said, eyeing her stance again.  “That’s why they’re so easy to beat.”

“Really?”

“Oh yeah, and the White House team is even worse.  Always saying, ‘Hey, we work for the White House, and guess what I saw the president do today.  He had a glass of milk with Nutter Butters,’ like anyone cares or that’s something special.  The only teams we ever lose to are the ones from the Pentagon.”

“The president eats Nutter Butters?” Helen said, missing the ball.

“Of course it’s not like I’m doing anything spectacular working for a pseudo think tank that doesn’t seem to be thinking most for the time, but at least I’m not sucking up to some politician or talking up or down to the voters.”

“Nutter butters,” Helen said, smacking the next ball into the pitching machine.

“Yeah, sorry about that.  Sometimes I just go off,” Puck said, eyebrows up at Helen’s line drive.  “Mind if I hit a few balls?”

“Sure, no problem.”

They switched places and Puck lined the first pitch hard to an imagined right field.

“You hit really well,” Helen said.

“You sound surprised,” Puck said and smiled.  “Can’t you tell I’m multi-talented?”

“No, it’s uh, just that I thought, well, you know, that Canadians play only hockey,” Helen said as Puck swung and missed.

“Yeah, but we have a month or two when the snow melts and we get out the bats and balls and have a little fun.  I’ve even been to a couple of games in Toronto and Montreal.”

“Do you like that the Expos moved to Washington.”

“Yeah, it’s good,” Puck said and hit the pitch hard to the left.  “Nobody in Montreal ever liked baseball.”

“But Washington does?”

“Oh yeah.  Definitely.  The Nationals have done great.  I’ve seen other softball teams at the games.”

“Does that include the Capital Hill and White House teams?”

“I don’t think so,” Puck said and the pitching machine shuttered off.  “But you need spoilsports to make you realize how good something is.”

“That’s true.”

“Hey, you want to get a late dinner?” Puck said and smiled at Helen, dropping the bat and stepping out of the cage.  “I told my friends we’d meet them at the Luna Diner, and after blowing them off yesterday I kind of feel like I need to make it up to them.”  He grabbed her hand.  “I know I didn’t ask you about it, but I was kind of hoping it wouldn’t be a problem.”

“Yes, that’s fine,” Helen said and squeezed his hand, smiling back.  “They seemed like nice people.”

“Cool,” Puck said and pulled her close.


Chapter 18: A Few Complications

“This is becoming a habit,” Milo said, nodding to Grace as he stopped in front of the diner.

“He’s not late,” Grace said, checking her phone.

“Yeah, but we’re waiting.”

“Just because you’re having a craptacular day doesn’t mean…”

“Thanks for reminding me.”

“It’s hard to forget with all your whining,” Grace said, checking for texts.

“You’re funny,” Milo said and sighed.  “At least Puck was having a good day this morning.  You should’ve seen the smile on his face and the glow in the cheeks.”

“As you were watching him shower?”

“I had to find out about last night.”

“You couldn’t wait?”

“The guy hasn’t gotten laid in…

“Yeah, yeah.  I know.  It’s become a mantra.”

“At least he was happy.”

“Yeah, about that,” Grace said and pocketed her phone.  “Doesn’t it seem strange that he meets Helen at the gay rodeo and that she works for the Conservative Caucus?”

“Worried about them are you?” Milo said and pulled out his own phone.

“No, I’m worried about Puck,” Grace said.  “I did a little research and…”

“And found out that the Conservative Caucus might make Ted Cruz and Pat Robertson look like hippies,” Milo said, flashing their website on his phone’s screen.

“Not quite that bad, but from what their website says I doubt anyone from the Caucus would be hanging out at the gay rodeo; at least not for fun.”

Milo nodded.  “So, you think Helen might have some devious plans for our pal Puck?”

“I’m not saying that, but why would a white bread, suburban chick working for the Conservative Caucus hang out with some guy who just came out of the gay rodeo?”

“I read that the Caucus didn’t have anything against homosexuals,” Milo said, waving his phone.

“But Helen might have her own wacky agenda,” Grace said.

“I doubt it.  She seems nice enough to me.”

“All that means is that she’s got great tits and a nice ass.”

“A pretty face too,” Milo said.  “But even if everything you’re talking about is true who cares.  It’s not like she’s doing anything bad to him.”

“Life is more than just sex, Milo.”

“You would say that, Grace.”

“After today you might be saying that too.”

Milo frowned, but then looked at Grace.  “Maybe we can help each other out then.”

“Not if the heavens rained fire and we were the last hope for humanity,” Grace said, laughing out loud.

“Hey, I’m in decent shape,” Milo said, lifting his shirt to show off almost tight abs.  “And we hang out all the time.”

“Yes, but that doesn’t mean that you and I would ever…”

“What about Puck?” Milo said with a grin.

“Hmm,” Grace said, almost blushing.  “Maybe if we had to help out the human race.”

“I knew it,” Milo said, pointing at her and laughing.  “I’ve planted the seed and now you love him.”

“Shut up.”

“I will now that Puck and Helen have arrived,” Milo said.

Puck and Helen waved and smiled as Milo and Grace nodded back.

“Hey, we’re on time, eh,” Puck said.

“And about time too,” Milo said.

“Funny,” Puck said, double checking the time with a look at Milo.  “You guys all know each other.  Milo and Grace, Helen: Helen, Milo and Grace.”

“Yes, we’ve all met,” Helen said.  “How are you, Grace?”

“I’m good, Helen,” Grace said and smiled.  “How are you?”

“It’s been a great day.”

“Hey, that’s great,” Milo said and shook his head.  “Look, Helen, I hope you’ll excuse me, but I need Puck’s help with something in the bathroom.”

“You do?”

Grace laughed. 

“Yeah,” Milo said, ignoring Grace’s smirk and pointing to the diner.  “Why don’t you two go get a table and talk about Puck until we get back?”

“Okay,” Helen said.

“You’re a freak,” Grace said to Milo and led Helen into the diner. 

Puck and Milo followed them, but then turned to the men’s room. 

“Milo, we’ve known each other a long time but I’m not checking on places you can’t see,” Puck said as the bathroom door closed behind them. 

“Shut up,” Milo said, checking the stall.

“Okay, Fonzie, what’s going on?” Puck said.  “Is Pinky Tescadaro sick or did Arnold’s burn down again.”

“Funny.  I’m glad to see you had cable when you were a kid.”

“You’re the one that brought me to the bathroom,” Puck said with a look.  “What’s up?”

“I’m having a crap day,” Milo said, frowning.  “Mary broke up with me.”

“I kind of figured that might happen,” Puck said.  “It’s not really a surprise is it?”

“I told Grace that I was going to beg Mary to take me back, and she thinks I’m crazy, that I should just let the whole thing go.” 

“That probably makes sense.”

“Do you think I’d be stooping too low and making a complete ass out of myself I tried to get back together with her?”

“Yeah,” Puck said.  “Yeah, I do.”

“Do you think I should do it anyway?”

“I don’t know, Milo.  I guess you’ve got to ask what would a grown up do?"

Milo shut his eyes and frowned.  “That’s what I’m trying to figure out, molasses,” he said and looked at Puck again.  “I think she might be the one and only.”

Puck shook his head.

“I’m serious.”

“Then go for it,” Puck said and threw his arms up in the air.  “I guess if that’s how you feel you’ve got to at least try.” 

“I knew you’d say that,” Milo said and gave Puck a bear hug.  “You’re the best, pal.”  He kissed him on the cheek.  “I hope you get some tonight.”

“I hope this was it,” Puck said, pulling himself away from Milo.

“That was it,” Milo said, letting go.

“Cool,” Puck said and took a step back.  “What do you think about letting Helen play softball with us?” 

“Sure,” Milo said, pushing Puck out the door.  “Whatever.  That’s fine.”

“So,” Grace said on the other side of the restaurant.  “Since we really don’t know each other, how do you like Puck?”

“He surprises me,” Helen said, smiling.  “I guess I didn’t know what to expect, but he seems like a great guy.”

“He is a great guy,” Grace said.  “Fun to be around, in good shape, pretty neat, dresses well, and he’s always got something to say: a real keeper.  I love him.”

Helen blinked.  “That’s good to hear.”

“He was my first friend in college,” Grace said.  “He let me sit with him on the first day and told me I had food on my face before I embarrassed myself.  Not many people will do that, right?”

“Right,” Helen said and swallowed.  “So, you said you worked at the ACLU?” 

“Yeah, I love it.  I write grants for them.”

Helen smiled.  “It must be easy to get money from them.”

“I wish,” Grace said and laughed. 

“Or not,” Helen said and laughed too.  “So, you and Puck never got more serious than friends?”

“No, never,” Grace said and shook her head.  “We’ve always been involved in other things.”

“I bet,” Helen said with a nod.  “He is a great guy, though.”

“He is,” Grace said and nodded too.

Puck and Milo walked up, smiling.  “We’re back,” Puck said.

“Get everything straightened out, Milo?” Grace said, eyeing him.  “Hear what you want to hear?”

Milo ignored her.  “Helen, it’s good to see you and I want to learn more about you and how much you want to play softball, but I’m starving.  I’ve been anxious all day and haven’t been able stomach more than milk until just now.  Do you mind if we just get straight down to ordering some dinner?”

“That’s fine with me,” Helen said and looked at her menu.

“I can see why you like this woman, Puck,” Milo said and stuck his tongue out at Grace.


Chapter 19: Third Time

“I guess accidents really do happen in threes,” John Paul said, seeing Jerry walk into the wine bar.

“Huh,” Richard said and turned around to see the hostess wave Jerry past the entrance.  “Oh, the gay who came out only to run back into the closet.”

“Looks like he left the door open, though, eh.”

“Or maybe he’s just here to recruit.”

“Let’s find out,” John Paul said and raised his hand, waving.  “Jer.”

Jerry stopped mid-step, catching John Paul and Richard out of the corner of his eye, mouthed, “Oh no,” and kept moving forward.

“Jer.  Over here.  Come join us,” John Paul said and waved more.

Jerry bit his lip, and the hostess saw the wave, leading him toward John Paul and Richard. 

“How’s it going, Jer?” Richard said, shaking Jerry’s hand.  “I’m Richard.  We almost met at the rodeo.”

“How could I forget?” Jerry said, pulling his hand away.

“You’re not following me around are you, Jer?” John Paul said.

“No, I am not.  I am meeting someone here for the Straight Path.”

“Ah, your little club that likes to screw around with people’s feelings, emotions and psychological makeup,” Richard said.

“Cute,” Jerry said and looked right at Richard.  “No, we’re just trying to get people on the strai…

“…straight and narrow.  I get it.  It’s almost as obvious as is it revolting that you’re messing with people’s lives like that, Jer.”

“We are not messing with people’s lives.  We are giving them a reason to improve their lives and be accepted back again into mainstream society.”

“Really?” John Paul said.  “I thought gays and lesbians were part of mainstream society.”

“They’re not and never will be,” Jerry said.  “But I’m happy to say that your brother has seen the error of his ways.”

“What?  You mean Helen?

“Yes, Helen.  She showed Puck the light and now he…”

“He’s in love with women again, Jer?” John Paul said and held back a laugh.  “He’s discovered the right way to live?”

“Yes, that’s exactly it,” Jerry said, smiling at John Paul.  “That’s what the Straight Path does.”

John Paul and Richard turned to each other and laughed.

“What?” Jerry said.

“Jer,” John Paul said.  “I’m sorry I shook your foundations with that intense, passionate encounter...”

“You are good,” Richard said.

“I didn’t mean to give you such a thrill that you needed to run back into the closet,” John Paul said, nudging Richard and giving Jerry a wink.

“Usually, it’s the other way around, Jer,” Richard said.

“I’m glad you enjoy reliving my greatest embarrassment.”

“Well, then you’re going to love this then,” Richard said.

“What?”

“Puck’s not gay, Jer,” John Paul said.  “He’s about as straight as they come.  Hell, Richard can smell the breeder on him from forty feet away.”

“What?” Jerry said and looked back at them with widening eyes.  “What was he doing at the rodeo then?”

“He was having fun and catching up with us,” Richard said and sipped his wine.  “It’s where we finalized plans to go to Canada for their Thanksgiving and celebrate John Paul’s parents’ 35th anniversary.”

“You’re going to his parents’ house for Thanksgiving?” Jerry said.

“Well, it’s Columbus Day here, but that’s when we have Thanksgiving back home,” John Paul said.

Jerry stared straight into space, not blinking.

“Jer, I took only Psych 101 in college, but did your parents make you watch those Sunday morning religious shows where they mess with everyone’s mind?” Richard said.

Jerry looked at Richard and then John Paul.  “Screw you,” he said and headed for the exit.

“Language, Jer,” Richard said.  “If you preach a better way of life you should live it on all levels.”

Jerry kept walking, nearly pushing the hostess out of his way.

“Crap, Richard,” John Paul said, frowning as Jerry rushed out of the bar.  “I think we went too far.”

“What?  What are you talking about?  The guy’s an ass.”

“I think he’s mostly just a confused jerk, but I have a feeling he’s now going to try to mess with Puck,” John Paul said and pulled out his phone.

“Well, if last night was any indication, Puck isn’t going to be answering his cell.”

John Paul hit Puck’s number anyway.


Chapter 20: A Good Night 

Puck and Helen shut the door to her apartment and fell back into each other, not letting go.

“I like your friends,” Helen said through a deep breath, and loosened his shirt. 

“And they like you,” Puck said, loosening hers and kissing her neck.

“How can you tell?” Helen said, rubbing his chest.

“I don’t know,” Puck said, kissing lower.  “Milo actually said he liked you…”

“He seems to like everybody,” Helen said, pulling Puck toward the bed.

“Oh no,” Puck said.  “No, Milo definitely doesn’t like some people, and he won’t hesitate to let them know about it, believe me.”

“And Grace?” Helen said, loosening his belt.

“Yeah, sure,” Puck said, kissing lower, and pulling down her jeans.  “Same way as Milo.  Why do you ask?”

“I’m just trying to make a good impression,” Helen said, looking into his eyes and dropping his belt.  “How am I doing?”

“Great with me,” Puck said, and lowered her onto the bed.

“That’s good to hear,” Helen said.  “I really like you.”

“I really like you too,” Puck said, getting on his knees.

“That’s great,” Helen said and swallowed hard.  “But I think I might have gotten the wrong…” 

“How’s that?” Puck said with a muffled voice.

“That's…” Helen said and closed her eyes, tilting her head back.  “A pleasant surprise.”

“Good,” Puck said and stopped talking.

Chapter 21: Eyes Opened Wide

The alarm clock went off.

“Good morning,” Helen said and smiled.

“Yes, it is,” Puck said, eyes already open and smiling back.

“I set the alarm a half-hour early so we wouldn’t have to rush,” Helen said and snuggled into Puck’s shoulder.

“I might need to borrow your toothbrush first?” 

“After the last two nights I’m not that worried.”

“Cool.  I don’t want you to suffer with my morning breath,” Puck said and breathed into his hand.  “Milo says mine can stink up our whole apartment.”

“I didn’t notice.”

“Well, Milo’s not as patient with me since we’re not sleeping together.”

“You can bring your own toothbrush over if you want,” Helen said with a look at Puck.  “I wouldn’t mind.”

“So, you had a good time last night?” Puck said.

“Of course, it was great.  Right?”

“I had no complaints,” Puck said, smiling more.

“And you really seem to know your way around down there,” Helen said, peeking under the sheets.

“Hey, you helped me out the night before so it was the least I could do,” Puck said with a grin.  “I didn’t want to let you go to sleep unsatisfied.”

“I was pretty satisfied,” Helen said.  “Couldn’t you tell from all the noise?”

“I thought so.  I just wanted to make sure.”

Helen nodded, staring at Puck for a moment.

“What’s up?” he said.

“You’re not uh…”

“I’m not what?”

“Look, this is a stupid question, but I’ve got to know,” Helen said.

“Okay,” Puck said, still smiling.

Helen took in a breath.  “You’re not gay are you?”

Puck blinked.  “Excuse me?”

“Look, I know I’m an idiot, and I don’t want to be more of a jerk than I already am, but Jerry said you were, and I just figured that since we met at the gay rodeo that…”

“That I was gay?” Puck said, his smile fading.  “We’ve slept together twice in the last two days and I went down on y…”

“Yes, that was the clincher,” Helen said and sat up.  “Most guys don’t even like to do that, and you were enthusiastic and even better than good at it.  I doubt any first timer could do what you did even if they have watched a lot of movies.”

“Thanks.  I try hard.”

“You do and…”

“What’s going on?” Puck said, frowning.  “How could you think I’m gay?”

“I don’t anymore,” Helen said and grabbed his hand.

“You thought I was gay, and you still went out with me?” Puck said, pulling away.

“Yes, you see…” Helen said and took in a breath.  “Puck, when I first moved here I didn’t know anybody.  I mean, I knew the people I worked with, but they were very… focused.  I wanted to meet new people and this guy Jerry invited me to join the Straight Path.”

”The Straight Path?”

“Yes, they’re sort of a social group and they try to cure people of homosexuality.”

“Cure homosexuality?  It’s genetic.”

“You were my first ‘assignment,’” Helen said and stood up with him.

“Assignment?”

“I was supposed to get you interested in me, go on a few dates and have you forget about men.”

“Okay.  Well, you succeeded,” Puck said and got out of bed.  “Congratulations.  I haven’t looked at a man in the last two days or really ever in my life.”

"I thought you were too easy from the beginning.”

“Why?” Puck said, looking for his clothes.  “Because I slept with you on the first date?”

“No, because you smiled so much when we talked,” Helen said, taking the top sheet with her.  “And that overwhelmed the fact that you dress well, are in good shape and live with a man."

Puck’s eyes narrowed on her.  “Am I supposed to be an ugly, mean jerk to women and kick Milo out of my apartment because he’s in love with a pregnant woman?”

“A pregnant woman?”

“It’s a long story,” Puck said and spotted his clothes.  “You know that my brother, John Paul, is gay and living the American dream with his own business, a home in Georgetown and a wonderful husband?”

“Okay,” Helen said and took a step closer to Puck, reaching for his hand again.  “I’m really sorry.  I’ve been an ass, and that’s why I’m telling you about this.  I really like you.”

“I like you too,” Puck said, getting dressed.  “But I can’t believe this.” 

“I hoped you knew that I was from the Straight Path and you were just playing along,” Helen said.  “You’re so laid back about everything, and didn’t I give you a brochure? “

“No,” Puck said, shaking his head.  “No, you gave me your number, and I gave you mine.”

Helen picked up Puck’s shirt from the floor.

“I can’t believe this,” Puck said, zipping up his pants.  “I’m so stupid.  I should’ve known when you gave me your card at the rodeo that things were off.  Everyone else there was gay, and then you slept with me on the first date.   What else could it have been?”  

“Puck, I’m sorry,” Helen said, handing him his shirt.  “Everything happened so fast and got out of control before I realized what was going on or had a chance to explain to you where I was coming from.”

“Yeah but why wouldn’t you be honest with me from the beginning?  I thought we might’ve had something,” Puck said and put on his shirt.  “Man, maybe I am as slow as molasses.”

“What?”

“Never mind,” Puck said.

“I had a great time,” Helen said.  “The last two days were wonderful and we got along so well.  I like you and you like me.  What does it matter if I screwed up?  I was as slow as molasses.”

“I wish people would just say what they mean,” Puck said, putting on his shoes.

“I just did,” Helen said and grabbed his hand.

“Yeah,” Puck said, holding it.

“Can we talk about this?  Please.”

“I don’t know,” Puck said, letting go of her hand and heading for the front door.  “Maybe later.  I’m going home.”

Helen watched the door shut behind him and frowned, not saying anything.


Chapter 22: Finding A Shoulder

Puck knocked a second time on John Paul and Richard’s front door when it opened.

“Hey, what’s up?” Richard said.

“It’s more like what’s down, Richard.”

He noticed Puck’s expression.  “Bad day already?”

“Yeah, I just found out that Helen thought I was gay and trying to straighten me out.”

“Damn,” Richard said, giving Puck a half hug and pulling him into the brownstone.  “John Paul and I suspected something like after we talked to Jerry last night.”

“Who is this Jerry guy anyway?” Puck said, swallowing hard.  “And what the heck is wrong with him?”

“Jerry’s the idiot at the rodeo that your brother and I talked to while you introduced yourself to Helen.  I don’t think you met him.  John knew him a few years ago and helped him come out of the closet one night before he ran back in even more scared of his sexuality.  It sounds like he uses Helen to convert people back to heterosexuality.  John tried to warn you last night, but the best he could do was text you.”

“I didn’t get it,” Puck said and looked at his phone.  “I haven’t checked my phone since yesterday.”

“So, last night…?”

“I was with Helen,” Puck said.

“Then maybe she isn’t just into you just because she thought you were gay,” Richard said.  “I mean why would she spend the night with you a second time unless she really liked you.”

“I don’t know,” Puck said and looked up.

Richard nodded.  “I hope you had a good time at least.”

“I did,” Puck said.  “And after everything you just said maybe she didn’t know what she was getting herself into with this guy Jerry.” 

“Maybe not, but it sounds like she still did you wrong.” 

Puck frowned.  “Helen is a pretty nice person, Richard.”

“I guess you didn’t get my message,” John Paul said, walking into the front hall.

“No, but thanks for trying,” Puck said.

“I’m sorry,” John Paul said, patting Puck on the back.  “I didn’t put it together until last night.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah,” Puck said.  “I mean, Helen didn’t mean any harm, and you know it was only a couple of days.” 

John Paul stared at Puck.  “You liked her, though.”

“I don’t know,” Puck said.   “We had fun, but life goes on.  She didn’t mean to be a jerk.  She was just trying to find a friend and Jerry was the first one she found.” 

“Jerry needs a good whooping,” Richard said with a look at John Paul.

“I think he’d like that too much,” John Paul said.  “But we do need to talk to him.”

“Whatever,” Puck said.  “It sounds like this guy’s got enough of his own hang-ups.”

“Indeed he does,” John Paul said.

“Hey, at least he helped you break out of your dry spell,” Richard said, slapping Puck on the shoulder.

“Yeah,” Puck said and looked at John Paul.  “I guess so.”  

John Paul gave Puck a hug.  “Want some breakfast?”

“No thanks,” Puck said and opened the front door.  “I have to go to work.”

“And you’ll be on time for once,” John Paul said, flashing his watch.

“Yeah,” Puck said and nodded at both John Paul and Richard.  “And I guess I don’t have much to complain about.  I did get to sleep with a beautiful woman a couple of times.”

“Maybe life isn’t so bad after all,” Richard said with half a smile.

“Maybe,” Puck said and headed out.


Chapter 23: Hail Mary

Milo looked up with big eyes at Mary in her immaculate business suit.  “Please, please, please give me another chance, Mary.  Please.  My life’s a mess since we broke up.  I can’t…”

“I broke up with you less than twenty-four hours ago, Joe.”

“Don’t make me cry, Mary,” Milo said, shifting on his knees.  “Please, not in public.  I’m begging you.  I don’t want to cry.”

“I can see that.”

“I feel tears coming on, Mary, big, giant wet ones.  Please, please, at least let me talk to you.  Please, I don’t want to cry, not in front of you and the whole world to see.  Please.”

“Fine,” Mary said and sighed.

“Fine?” Milo said, his eyes getting bigger.

“What do you have to say, Joe?”

“I got you flowers and chocolates, dark, the kind you like and are good for you,” Milo said and took in a deep breath. 

Mary took the chocolates, not looking at them or the other gifts at his feet.

“You’re beautiful, independent, intelligent, interesting, charming, pretty, generous and a hard worker,” Milo said, looking at the writing on his hand.  “You have great legs and a wonderful figure…”

“I’m nearly seven months pregnant, Joe”

“And you have an honest, no-nonsense approach that will make you a great mother.”

“You’ve said all that before.”

Milo looked up.  “And you’re patient and caring, and forgiving of others, and I so want to be with you, Mary.  Please, please take me back.  Please.  I got you daisies, your favorite flowers.”

“Are you done?”

“No, I wrote a poem for you last night,” Milo said, reaching into his pocket.  “Just give me a minute to…”

“That’s nice, Joe, but I need to go to work,” Mary said, pointing to her watch.  “That’s what the business suit is for.”

“You look great in it.”

“I should.  It’s tailored,” Mary said and looked at the gifts at Milo’s feet, smelling the flowers.  She smiled, but walked around Milo.  “Maybe we’ll talk later.  I have to go to work.” 

“Okay,” Milo said, wiping off tears and watching Mary walk away.  “Maybe, we’ll talk later."


Chapter 24: The Beginning Of A Beautiful Friendship

Helen raised her hand, scowled for a moment and then knocked.  She shifted on her feet as she heard someone behind the door and put on almost half a smile.

Grace opened it and her eyes opened wide.  “Uh, hey, Helen,” she said, finding a smile.  “What’s going on?”

“Yes, I know.   I’m not somebody you expected to see, particularly after Puck walked out on me this morning.  To be honest, I’m a little surprised to be here at all, but I just needed to talk to you.”

“Okay,” Grace said and opened the door wider.  “That’s all right.  Do you want to come in?”

“If you don’t mind?” Helen said, taking in a breath.

“Not if you don’t mind my small, messy apartment.” Grace said and pointed Helen inside.

“You live in a studio too?”

“Yeah, can’t afford anything else,” Grace said.  “The ACLU does good, but doesn’t pay well.”

“I know what you mean,” Helen said and looked around the very clean apartment. 

“Can I get you something to drink: beer, soda or water?”

“No, I’m all right, Grace,” Helen said and smiled, her face relaxing.  “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” Grace said and got a beer, opening it and looking back at Helen.  She pointed to a chair.  “So what’s going on?”

Helen sat down.  “Look, I’m sorry, but I’ve been thinking all day about what happened to Puck and me, and I just want to apologize for everything that’s happened in the last couple of days.  I didn’t think that I was doing anything wrong or that things would backfire so badly.  Puck was supposed to be gay and I was just supposed to offer him the option of what he could have with a woman.  Jerry just told me I took up the assignment a little too enthusiastically, and …”

“Who’s Jerry?” Grace said, sitting down across from Helen at a small kitchen table.

“He’s this guy from the Straight Path who turns out to be a big jerk.”

“The guy who John Paul scared back into the closet?”

“What?”

“Jerry’s a jerk,” Grace said and pulled back on the beer.  “I’ve heard about him.  He needs to relax a bit, maybe get a few hobbies.”

“Yes, he can get a little too serious.” 

“I can see how you thought Puck might be gay, though.  He is single, neat, in shape and is a good listener. But he’s definitely straight.  Trust me.” 

“I know.  Last night he went down…”

“Yeah, I imagine things became really obvious last night,” Grace said and smiled.  “He has a big tongue, doesn’t he?”

“He does,” Helen said, her cheeks reddening.  “Can you believe…?”

“I saw him touch his nose with it all the time in college,” Grace said and took another sip of beer.

“I’d believe it,” Helen said, laughing.

“I bet you would,” Grace said and slid the beer across the kitchen table.

“I know I made a huge mistake treating him the way I did, and it just wasn’t him.  It was everything that the Straight Path talks about with trying to cure homosexuals.” 

“Have a sip,” Grace said, nodding to the beer.  “And I’m guessing the membership could keep a couple dozen therapists in business.”

“Yes, I think they could too,” Helen said and took a sip of beer.  “Do you think I should apologize to him?”

“Puck?”

“Yes.  I feel like I treated him badly, and you and Milo too,” Helen said, taking a second sip.  “You all seem like such nice people, and my parents didn’t raise me to…”

“I wouldn’t worry about it, Helen,” Grace said and took back the beer.  “Puck’s not thrilled about what happened, but he’s a pretty laid back guy and he knows that things just don’t work out sometimes.  I don’t think he’s mad at you or holds a grudge or anything.  He was just thrown a bit, but he’ll certainly get over the last forty-eight hours, and if he gets over it so will I.  And I wouldn’t even worry about Milo.” 

“Puck’s pretty angry?”

“No, I spoke to him this afternoon and he just sounded confused.  It’s nice of you to care enough to apologize, though.  It’s pretty damn cool, in fact.  But I doubt Puck thinks you’re evil or anything.  I think he just thinks that you were confused and mixed up, and he forgives people pretty quickly.  He’d have to with Milo as a roommate: so, don’t worry.  I mean, you can definitely apologize to him if you want, but I don’t think you need to.  Puck’s probably already over it.”

“He is a good guy,” Helen said, looking down at the table.

“Yeah, one of the best,” Grace said, giving her beer back to Helen and getting another from the refrigerator.

“Do you like him?” Helen said.

“Sure, I like him,” Grace said, smiling.  “We’ve been nearly best friends since college.”

“I don’t mean that.”

“Oh,” Grace said and took a sip of beer.  “Um...”

“You two seem like you’d make a good couple, Grace, and Puck obviously thinks the world of you.  He talked about how cool you are on our first date.

“And he wonders why he can’t get a second,” Grace said, sitting back down.

“I’m serious.”

“You know women who just break up with somebody don’t usually play matchmaker for the guys they just broke up with,” Grace said and clinked her bottle against Helen’s.  “I would actually expect just the opposite.”

“Yes, but I don’t usually go around trying to convert gay guys who are already straight,” Helen said, smiling.  “I’ve got to make that right.”

“That’s good of you, Helen, and I appreciate that, and I’m sure Puck would too, l but I don’t see how that involves getting Puck and me together.”

“Maybe it doesn’t, but you and Puck seem to fit as a couple,” Helen said and finished the beer.  “That’s all.”

“Okay.”

“He said nice things about you, Grace, and you say nice things to say about him.  What more do you need?”

Grace shrugged and gave her nearly full beer to Helen.

“Look, I’m going to apologize to Puck for being such a jerk over the last couple of days, and unless he miraculously wants to go out with me again I think you should ask him out.”

“What?” Grace said and went back to the refrigerator again.

“Or if you prefer, I can ask him to ask you out.”

“I don’t know,” Grace said, opening a third beer.

“That’s all right, I just sprung it on you,” Helen said and started on the second beer.  “I’m sorry and I want to thank you for talking to me.  I haven’t met many nice women here, and I was hoping that we could hang out again.  You can say, ‘no’, if you like, but I think we’d have a good time, and I’m looking for a friend.”

“Uh, sure,” Grace said, pointing to the bottle of beer in front of Helen.

“Great.  How about coffee this Tuesday at 7 pm at the Starbucks on M and 20th?”

“You know, Helen, sure, let’s have coffee this Tuesday.  That’d be cool.” 

“Really?”

“Yeah, really.  I think you’re the only person outside of Milo and Puck who’ve thrown me for a loop in a good way since I’ve been in DC, and you can’t get enough of that.”

“Sorry.”

“No, it’s a good thing.  Believe me I’ve been looking for it in a woman for two years.  Why else do you think my best friends in Washington are Puck and Milo?”

“Uh, okay, then,” Helen said and stood up.  “I’ll see you on Tuesday.”

“Yeah, that’ll work,” Grace said and pointed to the seat again.  “But why don’t we finish these beers and get to know each other a little first, okay?”

“Okay,” Helen said and looked at her second beer.  “Great.” 

“Great,” Grace said and clinked her bottle against Helen’s again.  “Where you from?”

Helen took a sip and sat back down, smiling.


Chapter 25: Onward and Upward

Puck watched the scantily clad woman on his couch.

Milo gave him a beer.  “Drink this.”

“Thanks,” Puck said, holding up his own bottle.  “I already have one.”

“Have another.”

“It’s not that big a deal,” Puck said, taking the second bottle.

“I can’t believe you turned down that,” Milo said, pointing to the now naked woman.  “Free sex with Helen: man, she was a hottie.”

“It wasn’t cool.” 

“It’s only been less than twenty-four hours, pal,” Milo said, watching the TV.  “I know she’d take you back.”

“Dude, she was trying to convert me into being straight.”

“And she succeeded.  What’s the problem?”

“It’s no good.”

Milo sighed.  “You’re turning down sex from a very hot and very tempting blond who you say was free spirited in the sack, and it’s no good?” he said and drank some of Puck’s second beer.  “Pal, people live and die for opportunities like that.” 

“I didn’t say she was free spirited in the sack,” Puck said, muting the TV.

“No, but I imagined she was,” Milo said and looked at Puck with a big smile.

Puck looked back at him.  “Aren’t you the guy who just begged a six-month pregnant woman to take you back?”

“It’s seven months,” Milo said, losing his smile.

“And you’re not even the father of the baby.”

“There’s just something special about Mary,” Milo said, shrugging. 

“And how is this different than Sara or Ruth?” Puck said, sipping his beer.  “Doesn’t this go against your dating pregnant women because you can have easy sex and use a get out of jail free card once they have the baby?”

“It’s more than sex this time.”

“Third time’s the charm?”

“Yeah, third time’s the charm,” Milo said.  “What can I say?”

“Grace says you should get some therapy.”

“Yeah, it probably wouldn’t hurt,” Milo said, taking a long sip and smiling again.  “But I got a feeling that…”

A knock came from their front door.

Puck didn’t move.

“You ever getting up or what?” Milo said and opened the front door.

“Hey now, thanks for the beer,” Grace said, walking right in and taking Milo’s beer.  She sat on the couch, scooting in and looking right at Puck.  “How you doing?”

Puck gave a shrug, but smiled. 

“I’m sorry about what happened with you and Helen,” Grace said and took a sip of Milo’s beer.  “Sounds like she really mucked things up with you, and that sucks.”

“Hey, you did see that beer in my hand, right?” Milo said.

“I did, and it’s tasty,” Grace said, taking another sip and looking back at Milo.  “Can you get me some chips?  I didn’t have much to eat for dinner.”

Milo stared at Grace for a moment then went into the kitchen.

“So, how are you doing?” Grace said, punching Puck in the arm.  “I see you got the soft porn going.”

“I’m all right,” Puck said and rubbed his arm.  “I don’t see why everyone is making such a big deal about it.”

“Well, you sounded less than thrilled when you called me this afternoon.”

“Yeah, but I’m coming to my senses now, and it was only two days.”

“I know that, and I’m glad that you know that, but you didn’t seem to realize that earlier today.”

“I think I’m good now,” Puck said and forced a smile.

“Good,” Grace said with a nod.  “Because Helen stopped by my place and told me she wants to apologize.”

“I told you it wasn’t too late,” Milo said, returning with another beer and a bag of pretzels.

“She sounded pretty sincere about how bad she feels,” Grace said.  “Actually, she seems like a really nice person now that she’s gotten over this wacky Straight Dope thing.”

“It’s called the Straight Path,” Puck said and took a pretzel.  “I was talking about it with John Paul today.”

“Whatever,” Grace said and took two pretzels.  “She seems pretty sincere about feeling sorry for what she did.”

“Yeah, Helen’s pretty nice,” Puck said and sat up.  “She was just doing some wacky stuff that was wrong, but she was just kind of in the dark, and it’s cool.  I don’t have any bad feelings about her.  It was only…”

“…two days.  Yeah, you said that.”

“It’s true.  I admit I was still unhappy earlier today, but I can’t worry too much about things I can’t change, so whatever, I’ll get over it.”

“Mighty Canadian of you,” Milo said.

“Hey, things happen.  Life isn’t a movie,” Puck said, staring at the TV.  “Sure, Helen looked that good, but there’s a reason fairy tales are in books and not real life.”

“Tell me about it,” Grace said and frowned, taking a sip of beer.  “I got a call today from Mike…”

“I knew he’d call you,” Milo said.

“Like usual he just wanted some action.”

“The booty call,” Milo said.

“I told him I couldn’t understand what he was saying with all of that cock in his mouth,” Grace said and clinked her bottle with Puck’s.

They drank.

“Nice one,” Milo said.

Puck laughed and got off the couch.  “I’ll be back in a minute.  Got to get rid of some of this beer.”

Milo looked at Grace with a giant smile and clinked her bottle.

“What?” she said and they drank.

“You walk into the room and Puck got out of his funk in a hurry.”

“That happens a lot when I walk into a room,” Grace said, looking past Milo and drinking more beer.

“Not in that outfit it doesn’t,” Milo said, pointing to her t-shirt and sweats.

“Funny,” Grace said with a look.  “I came here at the last second.”

“He’s always had a thing for you, Grace,” Milo said.

“How’s Mary?”

“Oh,” Milo said and looked right at her.  “Nice change of subject?”

“So, how is she?”

Milo lost his smile.  “She’s talking to me.”

“But?”

“I begged her to take me back this morning on my knees with candy and flowers in hand.”

“Yeah?”

“She took the presents, and said we might talk later.”

“But she didn’t say she’d take you back.”

“No.”

“And now she knows about Sara and Ruth?”

“Yeah.  I told her.”

“It could be worse.”

“Thanks,” Milo said and shook his head.  “That’s real helpful.”

“Milo, what do you want?” Grace said.  “You’ve been playing with these women, these expectant mothers’ emotions for the last couple of years just to relieve your neuroses, and now that Mary finds out the truth you’ve got bucket loads of pain coming to you, and you deserve it.  And you know you deserve it.”

“Yeah.  Anyway, now that Puck’s rebound material, do you think he’s dateable?”

“I thought we were talking about you,” Grace said.

“You like him, Grace.  Admit it.  And you should at least sleep with one of us.”

“Screw you,” Grace said and punched Milo in the shoulder.

“That’s what I’m saying,” Milo said, rubbing his arm.

“Shut up.”

“He is slow as molasses but four times as sweet,” Milo said.

“Yeah, he usually is,” Grace said and looked away with a smile.

“Ha.  I knew it,” Milo said.  “I knew it.  I should be a matchmaker.”

“Shut up.”

Puck returned to see Milo doing a little dance, shook his head and smiled at Grace.

She smiled back.

“Hey, what’s going on?” Puck said and looked at Milo again.  “You been talking about me behind my back?”

“Um,” Grace said.

“What’s going on, genius, and what you should have realized with your church going ways is that Mary’s got to take me back,” Milo said, still dancing.  “It’s fate.”

“What?” Puck said.

“Think about it,” Milo said and did a final twirl.  “If, I mean, when, she and I get back together, then her kid will have a mom and step dad named Mary and Joseph.  It’s got to happen.”

“Well, you can’t argue against that,” Grace said and laughed.

“I don’t get it,” Puck said and picked up his beer.

“You will, molasses,” Milo said and started dancing again with a long look at Grace.  “Just wait and see.  You will.”


Chapter 26: Counterstrike

Fifteen mostly well dressed and well-groomed, athletic men stood in Jerry’s house when the doorbell rang. 

“Look, I can imagine the temptations that gay people feel,” Jerry said, not hearing the bell.  “Today’s media: from the Internet to movies, TV and newspapers makes the homosexual lifestyle sound cool and hip, almost glamorous, and it looks good, but it’s not.  Homosexuality is wrong, and it has been since time immemorial.  The Bible…”

“Jer, you there,” John Paul said, opening the door and poking his head in.  “I was wondering if this was your fortress of solitude.”  He looked around.  “It didn’t look right from the outside and you still need that coat of Canadian snow or whatever, but then I heard someone spouting hypocrisy and I knew I smelled your stink.”  He smiled.  “You should really keep the door locked, even when you have these meetings.”

Jerry’s eyes went wide.  “Get out of my house,” he said, facing John Paul head on.  “You have no right…”

“I don’t want to hear about what you think is right and wrong, Jer,” John Paul said, stepping inside and walking straight toward Jerry.  “You send a very nice woman…

“Helen,” Richard said, behind John Paul.

“…to date and mate with my brother, Puck, who isn’t even gay,” John Paul said.

“He’s as straight as you are bent,” Richard said.

“And even if Puck was gay, what the hell business is it of yours to mess around with people’s lives and emotions and try to force them to think and behave in a way that isn’t natural just because the Bible may say it is?” John Paul said.  “This is America, right, Jer, land of the free and home of the brave, where you’re supposed to let people do what they want when they want as long as they aren’t messing with anyone else.”

“Are you done?” Jerry said, stepping forward.

“I’m not,” Richard said, looking at and pointing to several people.  “You’re gay, you’re gay, you’re gay and you need a decent stylist.”  He shook his head.  “Get over it and move on.  Life’s too short to waste time worrying about something you can’t change.”

“I want you out of my house right now or I’m calling the police,” Jerry said.

“The worst part of your idiocy, Jer, is that you manipulated a decent, young woman who just wanted to meet people and play softball into trying to get a guy who isn’t even gay back into the closet,” John Paul said, holding his ground.

“Real nice, Jer,” Richard said, sticking his finger in Jerry’s face.  “The morality police would really smile at that, particularly the premarital, slutty sex part.”

“The killer of course is that three years ago I rocked your world with such manly love that you woke up my whole neighborhood and broke my bed,” John Paul said, nodding to the fifteen men and pointing to Jerry.  “Do your buddies here know that you’re just a hypocritical, dry old fruit who can’t think outside of the box or play well with others because he can’t accept himself for who he is?”

Jerry’s face tightened and John Paul smiled.

“That just about does it, Jer,” John Paul said, noticing the whole room fidget.  “And good luck.  You’re going to need it.”

Jerry frowned.  “You can’t…”

“You know, I would expect better décor than this from even a closeted homosexual, Jer,” Richard said, cutting off Jerry and following John Paul out the door.  “You need to fire your decorator, because either he stinks or he’s letting you make too many of the decisions.”

Jerry turned to fifteen angry and confused expressions.

They all headed for the door.


Chapter 27: Act of Contrition

“Thanks for coming,” Helen said and sat up straight as Puck approached her table.  “I’m sure I’m not high on your must see list. 

“No worries, Helen,” Puck said and sat down, smiling.  “I was in the neighborhood anyway.”

“That’s right.  You live right around the corner.”

“More or less.  How are you?”

“I’m all right, except for feeling like I might throw up because I’m so nervous.”

“Please don’t,” Puck said.  “I’m not going to bite your head off or anything and I don’t mind having a chat.  Things ended abruptly.”

“They did,” Helen said and swallowed, pushing one of two coffees toward Puck.  “It’s got skim milk.”

“Just how I like it,” Puck said and took a sip.  “Thanks for remembering.”

“Well, it was only last week that we first had coffee.”

“I suppose.  How much do I owe you?”

“Nothing,” Helen said, picking up her own cup.  “Consider it part of an apology.”

“Okay.”

Helen looked at Puck.  “I’m really sorry about everything that happened last weekend,” she said and took in a deep breath.  ”I really like you, and I blew that and made an ass of myself by working with Jerry and the Straight Path and trying to cure people of their homosexuality.”  She took in another breath.  “It was really stupid, and I just did it because I hadn’t met anyone in Washington.  Jerry seemed like a nice guy when I first met him, and I wasn’t really supposed to go as far as I did on our date, and I didn’t think I’d like you so much, and…”

“It’s all right, Helen,” Puck said and put the coffee down.  “I wasn’t exactly suffering.”

“I know, but you must still think I’m a jerk, and I deserve that, and I apologize,” Helen said, her eyes right on Puck’s.

“Apology accepted,” Puck said, looking right back.

“Really?”

“Sure,” Puck said, still smiling.

“Well, that was easy,” Helen said.

“I wouldn’t want to make it hard,” Puck said and drank some more.  “Good coffee.” 

“I’m glad to hear that.”

“Yeah.   You know it would’ve been pretty hard for me to meet new people in DC if I didn’t know Milo and Grace and my brother didn’t already live here,” Puck said.  “Washington is a pretty weird place to adjust to, and not just for the crappy beer.  Everybody is always talking about politics and politics only.”

“Yes, well, that’s why I came here.”

“Me too I guess.  I just like to do other stuff once in a while.”

“I just started down the wrong path.”

“You know that Jerry is probably the gayest straight guy in the world, right?”

“I heard your brother really let him have it a few days ago.”

“Yeah, John Paul used to be a bully, and he lets it out if he thinks someone is screwing with me.”

Helen nodded.  “Like I said, I’m really sorry about everythi…”

“Helen, you can stop apologizing,” Puck said.  “I’m okay.  We hung out for only two days, we enjoyed it and now we’ll move on.”

“So, I guess that’s that.”

“Not necessarily,” Puck said and smiled.  “I talked to Milo and John Paul and we hoped that you could overcome our forty-eight hour craziness and join our softball team.”

“What?”

“Softball, you remember?  You wanted to join a team and I’m offering you a position.  We’re usually a few women short in our fall league and we can always use good players.  We usually get a few beers after the practices and games, but nobody’s going to force you to if you don’t want to, and…”

“I don’t mind beer.”

“Right.  Plus, you’d meet a bunch of new people and most of them are cool, although I’d guess some losers might hit on you.”

“I can live with that.”

“Yeah, we also bowl once in while too, and I think some of us might even join a new hockey league in the winter.”

“That sounds great,” Helen said, smiling.

“Now, you should know that John Paul and his husband, Richard, are both on the team,” Puck said.  “So, if gay people freak you out you might wan…”

“No.  No, I realized what idiots the Straight Path were, Puck, and I’m sorry.  I hope John Paul and Richard won’t mind if I join the team.”

“No, if John Paul and Richard had issues with straight women they couldn’t leave the house.” 

“So, I can join then?”

“That’s what I’m saying.”

“That’s so nice of you.”

“We have practice every Monday on the Mall near the National Gallery.  We’re called the Northern Babes.”

“That’s right near the Canadian Embassy?”

“Yeah, it is,” Puck said with a grin.

“That’s great.  Thank you.”

“I’m glad you want to play.”

“Me too.”

Puck sat up.  “Look, I don’t want to be a jerk, but I have to meet…”

“Milo and Grace for breakfast?” Helen said.

“An early lunch actually.”

“Like brunch?”

“I guess,” Puck said and put down his coffee.

“Can I walk you out?”

“Sure.”

They left the café, Puck holding the door.

“Do you mind if I ask you a question?” Helen said.

“Fire away,” Puck said as they started walking north.

“Do you always spend this much time with Milo and Grace?”

“I probably see Milo more than I want to, but he’s my roommate.”

“What about Grace?  Do you always hang out with her too?”

“Yeah, all the time.  Not as much as I do with Milo obviously, but we don’t live together.”

“But you spend a lot of time with her?”

”I guess so,” Puck said and gave Helen a look.  “Why do you ask?”

“I don’t know,” Helen said and stopped, looking at Puck.  “I thought I saw a spark between you two, like you have a thing for each other.”

Puck stopped too.  “What?”

“I know we’ve only known each other for a stormy week, but you smile more around her and you look at her differently than you do other people,” Helen said.  “Like you have a glow about you or something.”

“We’ve always been friends, but I don’t know about anything more than that,” Puck said, looking away, and started walking again.

“That’s what she basically said too.”

“You talked to her about this?” Puck said, turning back to Helen.

“Yes,” Helen said, her eyes right on Puck’s.  “It came up the last time I saw her, after you and I ended things. “

“What did she say?” Puck said, his mouth half open.

“She said what you said, but she had a look.”

“A look?”

“The same look you have right now,” Helen said.  “Your eyes are a little wider and your mouth is half open, like you’re excited about the possibility and have always had the idea in the back of your head but never thought that it could happen. “

“Um…” Puck said.

“Look, if it’s a problem I’m sorry I said anything to either of you.”

“No,” Puck said and breathed again.  “No, it’s pretty cool that you’re so open after what happened between us.  It’s just the last thing I would expect to hear from you.”

“That’s kind of what Grace said.”

“Really?” Puck said, staring at Helen.

“Yes.  I just feel bad about what happened between us.  I figured I needed to do something to make it up to you and coffee wasn’t enough.  I hope that’s all right.”

“Uh, I guess so.”

“I didn’t open up a big can of worms did I?”

“Uh, no, probably not,” Puck said, but nodded a ‘yes’, and looked away.”

Helen’s face turned down.  “Can I still play softball with you?”

“Absolutely,” Puck said and looked back at her.  “Of course you can.”

“Great.  I’m going to take off then,” Helen said and smiled again as they came to a corner.  “I want to get a new glove for Monday.”

Puck nodded.  “Yeah, see you,” he said, watching her walk away.  He turned north for a second but then looked at Helen again.  “That was a surprise.”

Chapter 28: Another Hail Mary

Milo kneeled again at Mary’s doorstep, bent down with flowers, candy, coffee and bagels as Mary and a few other people stared at him.

Mary shook her head.  “Do you even know what the words, ‘Maybe we’ll talk later,’ mean?”

“Mary, I’ve been dying with heartache since you said you didn’t want to see me anymore,” Milo said, looking up.  “My mind’s been racing on what life will be like without you, and what I can do to make you want to see me again.  I can’t think about anything else and it’s killing me.  My boss yelled at me twice this week.”

“And?”

“And it’s terrible.  Everything is upside down.  I can’t stop whining.  Even Puck told me he thinks I need therapy.”

“You do.”

“I absolutely, positively can’t live without you,” Milo said, holding out the flowers.

“But here you are still talking to me?”

“Mary, please,” Milo said and picked up the bagels and coffee.  “I got you your favorite breakfast.” 

“This is decaffeinated, right?” Mary said, taking the coffee and smelling it.  “I’m pregnant you know.”

“Of course.  Caffeine is bad for the baby.”

Mary sipped the coffee with a little laugh.  “Didn’t we date for only three months?”

“Those were the greatest three months of my life, Mary.”

She rolled her eyes.  “And it was less than a week ago that I ended things?”

“It’s been the longest five days of my life, Mary?”

“And didn’t you come to my house four days ago begging for me to take you back, and I said, ‘Maybe we’ll talk later.’”

“And we’re talking later right now, Mary.”

She turned to her neighbor who shook his head.

“I’ll always be there for you, Mary, and the baby, but not just the baby, but for both of you,” Milo said.

“Is he the father?” the neighbor said.

“Shut up,” Mary said.

“Every baby could use a father, Mary, even if he’s an idiot,” the neighbor said.

“I don’t know about that,” another neighbor said.  “My mother did a great job with my four brothers and me after our daddy died, and I turned out all right.”

“Would you both give me some peace?” Mary said, frowning.  “I’m trying to have a conversation here.”

The neighbors exchanged a look, but shut up.

“We’re not getting back together, Milo,” Mary said.  “But maybe we can hang out and see where things might go.”

“Aren’t hanging out and dating the same thing?” Milo said, his eye twitching.

“No, they’re not,” Mary said.  “Hanging out means we can try to be friends, and dating means we’re more than friends.”

“But,” Milo said, staring straight ahead with his eye twitching more.

“And you’re going to have to impress me with hanging out if you ever want to date again,” Mary said.

“Okay, okay,” Milo said and nodded.  “That’s great Mary.  I’ll do it.  You’ll see.  We’ll be dating again before…”

“Don’t get chubby,” Mary said.  “I’m not guaranteeing anything, and it’s over if you keep grandstanding like this or if you ever keep secrets from me again.”

“I won’t, Mary, I won’t.  You’ll see.”

“You better,” the neighbor said.

“We all know where you live, buddy, and we’ll bring a world of hurt down on you if you break your word to Mary,” the other neighbor said.

“I wouldn’t,” Milo said, looking at the neighbors.

“We’re not kidding,” the neighbor said.

“Okay,” Milo said and turned to Mary.

“Why don’t you bring all of those presents into my apartment and we can talk some more, okay?” Mary said.

“If that’s all right with you?”

“Yes, that’s all right with me,” Mary said with half a frown.

Milo picked up the flowers, candy, bagels and coffee and went into Mary’s building. 

“Good call, Mary,” the neighbor said. 

“He might work out,” the other neighbor said.

“We’ll see,” Mary said and followed Milo into her building.  “I’m not so sure.”


Chapter 29: Something’s Starting

Grace turned away from the door and looked at Puck.  “Where is he?”

“I don’t know,” Puck said, playing with his silverware.  “He was out of the apartment before I even got up this morning.”

“I bet he’s back on his knees begging Mary to take him back right now.”

“That whole thing is weird, eh.”

“What, that his real name is Joseph and he’s trying to stay together with a supposedly pregnant virgin, or his general craziness about dating expecting mothers?”

“What?  Joseph? No,” Puck said.  “No, it’s the whole obsession with pregnant women.  I just don’t get it sometimes.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty weird,” Grace said and took a sip of coffee.  “He told me he loved the expectant glow.”

“He told me he liked the low expectations that pregnant women have of him.”

Grace put down her cup.  “That’s messed up.”

“He does seem serious with Mary, though.  He’s been crying about her all week.”

“Literally crying?”

“Tears and sobs, both, mostly at night,” Puck said and sighed.  “We’ve gone through eight boxes of Kleenex.”

“That’s strange even for him,” Grace said and drank more coffee.

“Yeah, almost as strange as talking with Helen this morning and managing to end things on a high note,” Puck said, playing with his silverware again.  “I’ve never broken up with anyone and managed to be friends.”

“You’re going to stay friends?”

“I think so,” Puck said, watching Grace.  “She’s going to join the softball team.”

“Won’t that be weird?”

“Probably more for her than for me,” Puck said.  “But I think we’re both over what happened.”

“You’re pretty forgiving, Puck.  I like Helen, but I don’t know anybody who’s managed to keep things going after seeing the other person naked and then breaking up.”

“It was only for a couple of days and we didn’t get that emotionally invested.”

“The sex probably made up for a lot, huh?”

“Yeah, but I’m a guy.”

“I don’t think that’s just a guy thing,” Grace said and smiled.  “Helen turned red when I mentioned you could lick your nose.” 

“You noticed that, eh?”

“Every woman notices that, Puck.”

“Yeah?”

“I do think Helen felt pretty bad about how things worked out between you two.”

“Yeah, she told me that,” Puck said, still watching Grace.  “She even tried to find me another woman to date.”

“Really?” Grace said, her eyes a little bigger.  Who’s the lucky girl?

“You.”

“Me?”

“Yeah,” Puck said and took in a breath.  “Helen said we’d make a good couple since we’re already friends and we get along so well.  She also said I glow when you’re in the room.”

“Helen got all of that in two days?” Grace said, her cheeks turning red.

“I think she’s right,” Puck said and smiled.  “I’ve always had a thing for you, Grace.  You’re a real hottie.”

“Well, yeah, that’s true,” Grace said, blinking.  “I am pretty hot.”

“And modest too,” Puck said with a grin and nodded.  “What do you say?”

“You’re kidding me,” Grace said, looking right at Puck.  “When did you become so forward?”

“Since the last woman I dated thought I was gay,” Puck said and leaned in.  “I’m straight and you’re pretty.  I like you.  Would you like to go out with me?”

Grace laughed and leaned in herself.  “You’re smooth,” she said, raising an eyebrow.  “How about tonight?”

Puck swallowed, but smiled.  “You’re kidding?”

“No, I’m not,” Grace said with a grin.  “Helen suggested the same thing to me and I think she’s right.” 

“What?”

“We’ve been good friends for a long time, we know our good and bad habits, I’ve always thought you were pretty good looking and I’ve noticed your googly eyes too.”

“Googly eyes?”

“You started checking me out the first time you met me.”

“I did not,” Puck said, holding her stare.

“You did,” Grace said.  “Every straight guy does it to every woman, and you’ve never stopped with the longing looks.  Milo tells me about them all the time.”

“Milo does what?” Puck said.

Grace nodded.  “Plus, he would freak out if you and I went out, or worse give me a hard time for not dating you since we’re both now rebounding from relationships.”

Puck just stared at her.

“Anyway, what do you think about tonight?” Grace said, staring back.

“I think that’s a great idea,” Puck said.

“You do?” Grace said and leaned back in her chair.

“Yes,” Puck said and leaned back too.  “We could go out somewhere fun and then get some dinner.  It’ll be great.”

“Okay,” Grace said and nodded some more.  “That sounds all right.  We could do that.”

“Are you sure?” Puck said, letting go of his silverware.  “I don’t want to force anything.” 

“You’re not, and I guess we should do it sooner than later if we’re going to try it at all.”

“Well, that’s encouraging.”

“No, seriously, we’ll have a good time,” Grace said and stood up.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m going home to get ready for our date.”

“You’re bailing on brunch with me?” Puck said, his face turning down.

“Yep,” Grace said with a big nod.  “I think avoiding you for the rest of the day will build up the anticipation for tonight.”  She leaned in right next to Puck’s ear.  “We might kiss you know.”

He looked into her eyes.  “But we were supposed to hang out today.”

Grace smiled.  “Pick me up at about seven,” she said and kissed him on the cheek.  “I’ll drive if we need to go anywhere.”

Puck watched her go, his mouth half open.

“What happened to Grace, hon?” a waitress said, walking up to the table.

Puck turned to her, his mouth still half-open.  “We’re going on a date tonight, and she decided to go get ready for it.”

The waitress laughed.  “It’s about time you two got together.”

“You think so?” Puck said and closed his mouth.

“Yeah, way past time,” the waitress said and pointed to Puck’s menu.  “Now, what do you want to eat?”


Chapter 30: Crossroads

Puck opened his door and heard Milo say, “You’re back.”

“Hey?” Puck said and looked for Milo who surprised him with a bear hug.

“Mary said that we could hang out,” Milo said, lifting up Puck.  “I’ll get to see her again and prove myself worthy of her love.”

“Good news then?” Puck said, trying to squirm away.

“Well, not exactly,” Milo said, dropping Puck.  “We’re not dating; we’re just friends, sort of.” 

“That’s cool,” Puck said and took in a breath.

“I hope so,” Milo said, looking at Puck.  “Now I’m not so sure.”

“It’ll work out.”

“Will it?”

“I don’t know,” Puck said and shrugged.  “Yes?”

“Crap.  That’s not what I want to hear.”

“How about that Grace and I are going on a date tonight?”

Milo’s eyes bugged out.  “What?”

“Yeah, I think I’m going to…”

“You’re kidding me?” Milo said, grabbing Puck by the shoulders.  “You and Grace are going to make the beast with two backs while I’m lost in a storm of romantic turmoil.  What are you doing to me?  I’m already…”

“I’m not sure that we’re going to…”

“I can’t believe that Grace finally saw the light,” Milo said and found a smile.  “But now that you’re on the rebound from Helen, even if from only two dates, you’re on par with Grace.”

“On par?” Puck said, twisting free of Milo’s hands.  “What are you…?”

“I never thought you guys would find the right time and place to get it on, but then I never thought you’d be foolish enough to give up on action with a woman like Helen either,” Milo said, squeezing Puck’s shoulders.

“Hey, I…”

“This might be good, though,” Milo said and let go of Puck.  “You two together will inspire Mary to see that friends can become lovers and live happily ever after.”

“I think that’s going a little farther than Grace and I are…”

“Of course if you break up that shoots that hope in the head,” Milo said, staring into space and then turning back to Puck.  “But you won’t break up.  You’ve been in love with Grace for like six years and you’ve got that big tongue.”

“Hey, let’s not…”

“I’m happy for you,” Milo said, smiling.

“Me too,” Puck said and smiled too.

“Maybe I deserve it if Mary ends up blowing me off.”

“Maybe.”

“Maybe?” Milo said, looking at Puck.

“I don’t know,” Puck said and started for his room.  “Helen said she wants to play softball with us starting next week.”

“You’re joking?”

“No,” Puck said.

“You’re dating Grace and you’re still going to be friends with Helen,” Milo said and shook his head, his eyes still on Puck.  “How do you do it?”

“I guess I’m not as slow as molasses,” Puck said, giving Milo a wink.

“I guess not,” Milo said and looked past Puck.  “Do you think that a crate of diapers would be pushing it?”

“Yeah, I think so,” Puck said.  “Maybe you should just try hanging out with Mary.”

“What do you mean?”

"You know, I think I’m going to figure out what Grace and I’ll do on our date tonight,” Puck said, disappearing into his room.

Milo stared at the closed door.  “It’s damn cool that you two got together,” he said and picked up his tablet.  “I wonder how you order a case of diapers.”


Chapter 31: First Kiss

Puck and Grace sat on a display couch, smiling and not saying a word.

“Do you need help finding anything?” a Crate and Barrel clerk said.

“Nope,” Grace said and shook her head.  “All good.”

“I think we’re all right.” Puck said and saw Grace nod.  “Thanks.”

The clerk stared at them for a second and then turned away.

They watched him go.

“So, Milo’s a real basket case, huh?” Grace said.

“Yeah, he’s up and down and driving me crazy about what’ll happen with him and Mary.”

“He deserves it if you ask me,” Grace said.  “It’s about time he got a little payback for taking advantage of women who are already emotionally shaky so he can have worry-free sex.”

“I guess so,” Puck said as he waved away another clerk.

“We’re all right, really,” Grace said to the clerk.

“You know we could still get a private tour of the Library of Congress,” Puck said, noticing a glance from the first clerk.  “I know the guy who runs the visitor program there and he said we could have the Jefferson Building to ourselves.  People say it’s the most beautiful building in America.”

“Yeah, I know,” Grace said, sipping an ice coffee.  “It’s pretty and has a lot of romantic potential, but I’m happy just sitting here with you watching the people go by.  I don’t hang out in stores very much.”

“Okay.”

“I also like sitting in furniture that I won’t own while I’m at the ACLU.” 

“I’m glad you’re having a good time.”

“How about you?” Grace said.

“I’m all right,” Puck said.  “I don’t like this couch much, though.  It’s kind of bright, you know.”

“Yeah, I agree,” Grace said and made sure her ice coffee was sealed shut.

”So, how’s work?”

“Fine,” Grace said and laughed, giving him a look.  “You always ask such lame questions on a first date?”

“That’s a pretty standard first date question in Washington.”

“I was expecting better since we’ve known each other since college,” Grace said and looked right at him.  “What did you and Helen do on the first date?”

“Pretty much everything.”

“That’s not what I meant, slick.”

“It’s not what I meant either,” Puck said and looked back at her, sticking out his tongue.  “We went for coffee, took in a museum, had lunch, enjoyed a carnival and then went back to her place.”

“So much for the good deeds of the Straight Path.”

“Trying to ungay me was pretty over the line,” Puck said, shaking his head.

“You didn’t complain the next day.”

Puck smiled again, and turned to Grace.  “This is a pretty weird first date, eh?”

“It’s up there, but I’ve got to say that dinner without Milo was a welcome change.”

“Yeah,” Puck said and leaned in, kissing Grace.

She kissed him back, touching his cheek as two customers stopped right in front of them.  ”That was unexpected,” she said as they leaned back and she opened her eyes.

Puck looked back with a bigger smile.  “I figured we should find out if all this awkwardness is worth it.”

“Well, I liked it if that’s what you’re asking,” Grace said and smiled too.

“Cool.”

“I don’t think we should be making out in public, though,” Grace said, noticing the first clerk returning. 

“I don’t think he noticed.”

“That’s because you’re a dope,” Grace said, standing up and waving to the clerk.

“You think so?”

“No,” Grace said and took in a deep breath.  “But I think we should go shopping.”

“I don’t have any money.”

“Neither do I,” Grace said and took Puck’s hand.  “But let’s just see what happens, okay?”

“Okay,” Puck said and went walking with her.


Chapter 32: Acceptance

“Cheers,” John Paul and Richard said and clinked their glasses together before they saw Jerry walk into the bar.

“Uck.  Look who came out of the closet,” Richard said. 

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I can’t get away from this guy,” John Paul said with a face palm.

“To be fair you went to his house earlier this week.”

“Yes, but that was a one-time event,” John Paul said.  “I’ve seen this bozo four times now in the last week.”

Jerry noticed them.  “Oh God, not you two again.”

“We were here first, Jer,” John Paul said.  “And isn’t this someplace you should be avoiding anyway?”

“You’re not going to pick up anybody in that outfit, Jer,” Richard said.

“Very funny,” Jerry said with a frown.  “You know you guys are a bunch of jerks.  I’m not saying I’m perfect…”

“You’re not,” John Paul and took a sip of wine.

“But coming over to my house and throwing everything into my face made you a real ass,” Jerry said.  “From what Helen said it’s worse than setting up your brother.  It sounds like he doesn’t even care.”

“And that makes what you did all right?” Richard said.

Jerry stared right back at him.

“Looking on coming back out, Jer,” John Paul said.  “Because you know Richard and I are already taken.”

“Can you just stop it?” Jerry said, turning to John Paul, his face turning down.   “Please? “

“You’re not really dropping all of this Straight Path nonsense and seeing the real light, are you?” John Paul said.  “Come on, Jer, then we might actually have to be nice to you.”

Jerry shook his head and sighed.

“Crap,” Richard said, noting Jerry’s still sinking expression, and turned to John Paul.  “This is such a cliché.  You’re not serious, are you?”

John Paul shook his head at Jerry, but smiled.  He turned to Richard.  “We are the bigger men here, Richard,” he said and waved to the bartender.  “Didn’t you drink Amstel Light, Jer?”

Jerry half nodded.  “Thanks.”

“Oh man,” Richard said.  “You want him to sit down too.”

Jerry stared at John Paul and Richard.

“Have a seat, Jer,” John Paul said.

Richard rolled his eyes.  “So,” he said with a sigh.  “Do you have any travel plans this fall, Jerry?”

“No,” Jerry said.  “Is traveling something homosexuals do a lot?”

Richard closed his eyes and shook his head. 

“No more than the straights do, Jer,” John Paul said.

“Hmm.  And your parents don’t mind that you’re bringing your gay lover home in October?”

John Paul stared at Jerry for a moment.  “That’s right I told you about that,” he said and found a smile.  “No, now that Richard does all the cooking they don’t seem to mind anymore.”

“You’re kidding?”

“I’m not kidding,” John Paul said, still staring.

Jerry half frowned. 

“So,” John Paul said with a large sip of wine.  “How’s your house coming along?”

“Well,” Jerry said and smiled.  “I thought about what you said, and I think my apartment is a little too stale.  I need to brighten up the place.  I was thinking of something like a rainbow.”

John Paul and Richard both laughed. 

“What’s so funny?” Jerry said, taking his beer.

“Nothing.  It’s nothing,” John Paul said and clinked his glass against Jerry’s beer.  “Welcome to the team, Jerry.” 

He looked back at John Paul and Richard for a long moment, and then nodded and smiled, taking a sip of his beer. 


Chapter 33: Amazing Grace

“Do you usually bring women home on the first date?” Grace said as they tiptoed into Puck’s apartment.

“No, but most women didn’t puke up in my bathroom during our last Super Bowl party,” Puck said, looking around.  

“Good point,” Grace said and walked up to the front windows, looking through the shades. 

“You want a beer?”

“Yes.  The first one calmed me down through dinner…”

“And the second one should calm us down now that we’re at my place,” Puck said, reaching into the refrigerator.

“Where’s Milo?” Grace said, peeking into Milo’s bedroom.  “He’s not huddled under his covers crying his eyes out is he?”

“I hope not,” Puck said, returning with two open beers.  “I’d guess he’s either at Mary’s trying to get on her good side, or…”

“Or he’s crying his eyes out at a bar?” Grace said, taking a large sip.

“It’s a toss-up,” Puck said and pointed to the couch.  “Want to sit down?”

“In a sec,” Grace said and chained the front door.

“So, I guess the date’s going all right then,” Puck said with a smile.

“Considering we’ve known each other for six years?” Grace said and joined him on the couch, smiling.  “Yeah, it’s all right.”

“Good.”

“Yeah, that is good,” Grace said and put her bottle down.

“It’s funny how we talked about all the usual stuff, but this time it was different.”

“No duh,” Grace said, shifting closer to Puck.  “It’s a date.”

“Is that what you usually say on a first date?”

“Maybe if I didn’t like the person,” Grace said, looking into Puck’s eyes.

“Great.”

“You’re all right, though,” Grace said with a wink.  “I don’t care what everyone else says.”

“Thanks,” Puck said and smiled.  “Where does that leave us now then?”

Grace smiled back.  “I don’t like to go to a guy’s place until we’ve been on a few dates and that usually takes a couple of weeks.  And even then I like to watch him squirm a little.”

Puck squirmed a little.

“Just like that,” Grace said.

“Funny.”

“It is to me,” Grace said and laughed.

“Does our long-term and emotionally intimate friendship change things?”

“’Emotionally intimate friendship,’” Grace said.  “Where did you get that?”

“John Paul gave me that one,” Puck said.  “Richard says he used to be quite the stud.”

“I’m not surprised,” Grace said.  “Your brother’s a babe.”

“I guess so.”

“That kiss tonight was pretty ballsy,” Grace said, leaning in and taking Puck’s hand.  “I liked it.”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

Grace kissed Puck hard on the mouth and he kissed her back.  “Have you figured out what’s going on yet?”

“Yeah I think so,” Puck said and kissed her again.

They both leaned in closer and Grace turned out the lights.


Epilogue: Slower Than Molasses

Two months later Milo’s entire face glowed as he stared down at the newborn baby boy and then turned to Mary, biting his lip.

“What?” Mary said with half a smile and groggy eyes. 

“I think we need to talk.”

 

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