I can’t remember the day I noticed the center of my loins had taken on the mature dimensions
of a man, or when that unnamed ghost passed through me to leave its secret imprint on my
fibers—I now believe it was in my mother’s womb. When it came into my consciousness in the
form of an inherent heat, I tried to ignore it, for there were other codes and laws that governed
me, laws of greater weight and codes that did not curl society’s stoic lips. Now at forty-three,
that phantom has taken hold of my soul.“Want some pizza for lunch, Mr. Westin?”
David Westin looked up from the words he had just written, preoccupied, suddenly aware his
young receptionist had stepped into his office without him hearing her, looking at him as if she
had interrupted something.
“Pizza?” he said, disoriented.
“Yeah. We’re ordering in,” Janie said, rubbing her pierced eyebrow.
“Uh, no thanks. I’m meeting James Cooper for lunch.”
Janie smiled and backed quietly out of the room.
David looked at the yellow pad, then tore off the top sheet and put it through the shredder. Writing
out his emotional thoughts brought little relief. He got up from behind the desk and walked over to
the plate glass window and stared out. The Dallas skyline loomed less than two miles away.
Sixteen floors below the eclectic uptown streets bustled with midday traffic. Oaklawn, Dallas’
liberal stronghold, his favorite part of the city. He felt comfortable here: old and new architecture
side-by-side, restaurants and shops, people of every persuasion. He and his wife had
remodeled a home on one of its tree-lined streets not five years ago.
Next door the girders and I-beams of yet another tower rose higher every day. His gaze shifted to
a certain construction worker a couple of floors below. Naked above the waist, sinewy shoulders
bronzed by sun, the young stud carried on with his work, his mind on God knows what.
Nightclubs. That’s what you’re thinking about. Beer and hot women. You’re like those hounds
in beer commercials on TV.
One among a dozen nurturing the skeletal frame, he sat astride an I-beam, riveting it into place. It
wasn’t the first time David had watched him work.
Do your women know how beautiful you are?
Nothing about the construction worker escaped David’s attention: the jeans damp and clinging,
the sweat streaking in dirty rivulets down his back, the thin streak of black hair trailing down his
belly. The image fired his imagination and a hair-trigger fantasy that had intensified in recent
months. He felt it in his hands, an awareness potent enough to have pulled him to the window to
see if the young buck was still there.
How did I get like this? Why does it haunt me every day?
It was different during the early years, when his fast paced life and the love he shared with his wife
displaced the haunting urges. But now, at times like this, it could become an all-consuming
hunger. Having it bottled inside for so long, David had come to wits end. He felt desperate,
desperate to talk to someone, and he planned to. Though the risk felt like acid in his belly, he in-
tended to confide in his best friend. Just get it out. Just talk. Have a supportive ear.
Who else would understand? James would never be judgmental.
David twisted his head to work out the tension.
Why after twenty years of marriage? Why would I love to bring that guy up here and devour
What caused his predisposition had never been clear, but as he came to realize he would not live
forever, a sense of urgency had incubated inside him. Most mornings, from the moment his eyes
first opened, he found himself thinking about the masculine form. He was older. His company in
recent years had taken on its own momentum—less demand on his time and energy. There was
time to think. His days, free of the endless tasks of days gone by, provided occasion to reflect, to
ponder the riddles of his soul.
Riddles, the only way it can be described. The vexing riddles of a man’s sexuality—those
nagging hints that issue from the damp hollows of his underarms, from the taut tendons of his
neck, from the fluctuating weight of his penis, from the subtle rise and fall of his testicles, from his
constantly diverted thoughts. The phantom demanded attention, and grew angrier each time it
was forced to retreat. This time, intensified by his decision to talk to James, the tension had set
in with irreversible momentum.
Staring at his reflection in the glass, he saw more than the sandy brown hair and blue-green eyes
and the scratchy jaw-line of a man he wasn’t sure he knew. He saw a man whose youth had
begun to fade, even though routine weight lifting in the gym kept his body firm—fine shape, he
thought, for forty-three. People often told him he looked younger, but that didn’t compensate for
all those years that had simply disappeared.
Now this. This ripening inside. These urges that distract him from every-day life, even from his
career in commercial real estate, which began with a decade of challenge and had finally evolved
to provide a comfortable life.
But then, how much of that really mattered, when over the years his mate-rial ambitions had
receded further and further behind the important things in life, those things that require space in
the heart and have nothing to do with expensive watches or private clubs or new cars.
His hands turned into fists. He felt anxious to talk to James, to get his reaction, to get it over with.
He hoped for relief. If James would just listen, per-haps offer reassurance, it would mean more to
him than his best friend could possibly know. If it also meant risking a life long friendship and
sharing a secret that could destroy his life, so be it—the alternative seemed like insanity.
A crane lowered another I-beam. The construction worker guided it from below and held it steady
while the man above riveted it in place. Reaching over his head, his shoulder muscles flexed.
His unbelted jeans barely clung to his hips. David would leave his office thinking about those
muscles ... and dreading the very real possibility of losing his best friend.
He glanced at his watch.
’ll leave now. Get there early. Find a secluded table. Someplace I can talk without being
overheard. He paused at the door and looked at his hands, then closed his eyes with a hard
swallow. Oh God, please .,. please let me get through this.
♦ ♦ ♦
James Cooper entered the busy restaurant thinking about his best friend. They had played golf
Sunday. David’s mind had wandered all day. Almost like a personality in transition, David’s lack
of concentration had been a growing concern for several months. As his lawyer, James
represented his real estate transactions. As his friend, he had noticed him wandering from
matters at hand during closings and negotiations. James was glad David had invited him to
lunch. He planned to clear the air.
James paused just inside the front door to let his eyes adjust to the dim light in the room. Two or
three heads turned in his direction. An attorney of considerable success, at forty-one he easily
looked five years younger; at six-foot-two he towered over most. His dark eyes carried a gaze of
perpetual wonder, his broad nose flared slightly as he breathed, and his full lips were an
undeniable proclamation of his African heritage. Casting the demeanor of a dominant male, he
walked and conducted his affairs with an air of authority. Over the years his legal maneuvers had
intimidated more than a few, aided no doubt by his muscular stature, distinguished good looks
and sharp wit.
He circled the dining room, scanning faces, watching for David’s blond hair. He spotted him at a
corner table. Approaching, he slipped off his blazer and draped it across the back of the chair.
James knew him well. He had been involved in deals with David for fifteen years. They lifted
weights for an hour or so three times a week. They were partners in a couple of joint ventures and
routinely vacationed together with their wives. He knew something was wrong. With one quick
glance he recognized that familiar distance in David’s eyes.
“Been here long?”
David shook his head.
“I’m famished.” James scooted his chair under the table, noting his friend’s furtive glances.
“What’s good here?”
A silence passed.
“David, did you hear me?”
“Uh ... yeah, sorry. The shrimp salads are good.” David lifted the menu absently.
“Okay, that’s it. I’m tired of hanging out with a zombie. So what is it? What’s been on your mind
these past few weeks?”
Everyone’s asking me that. Can’t be that obvious.
“I’ve seen something like this before,” James said. “A guy in our office. Just turned forty when he
learned his wife was pregnant. He walked around in a daze, mumbling something about how he
was going to spend the rest of his life raising kids, then die.” James paused to study him for a
moment. “Is Linda pregnant?”
“You trying to ruin my lunch?”
“Okay then. What is it? We played golf Sunday. Your mind was somewhere else all day. Two
weeks ago you lost a big remodel contract. You forgot the most important meeting. Remember
that? The guy planned to give us his decision at that meeting. You simply forgot about it. So I’m
not backing off until you tell me what the hell’s bothering you.”
David’s face suddenly felt hot. He glanced around the dining room, his eyes unable to settle. His
stomach was churning. James was coming on in an impatient huff. How would he react to
something he couldn’t possibly be expecting?
The waiter appeared. David, staring at the table, didn’t notice. James shifted his eyes to the
waiter. “Two shrimp salads and two beers. Guinness.” The young man jotted down the order
and moved on to another table.
“I’m waiting for an answer, David.”
David drew a breath. “Can you keep something from your wife?”
Bewildered, James studied him for a moment. “Why would you ask that?”
James looked away in thought. “Well, right off hand I can’t think of anything. Certainly wouldn’t
hide anything that might have a negative impact on her.”
“I’m not talking about anything like that. It’s about me, something personal.”
James studied him a moment longer. Whatever was troubling David, he didn’t want it repeated,
not even to Shasha. “You haven’t been unfaithful?”
“You know me better than that! It’s just that I can’t ...”
“You can’t what?”
“I can’t talk to Linda about this.”
“Hmm ... sounds like any minute you’re gonna spit it out.”
“I can’t talk to you either, unless you swear to keep it between us. James ... I’m on the edge, but I
can’t tell you why if you don’t promise to keep your mouth shut.” He paused and exhaled a
frustrated breath through his nose. “All I want to know is if I can confide in you without Shasha
James realized David was more of an emotional wreck than he had assumed. Watching him,
concerned, he said: “Sure you can. Consider it attorney client privilege.”
“Okay.” Another deep breath. “I’ve known about this since high school. Even before that really.
Back then I figured it would pass. Thought it was some kind of a phase. To some degree it did
pass. I was too busy in college to dwell on it. Working to pay tuition and all of that. After college
... well you know, you were there. Life was a whirlwind. Deals, deadlines, real estate crashes,
raising kids." David broke off with second thoughts.
The moment stretched as David labored for a place to begin. “James, I believe ... no, I’m worried
this might impact our relationship. I don’t wanna lose my best friend.”
“You make it sound like you’ve been exposing yourself in church parking lots,” he said lightly, then
took on an expression of sincerity. “Seriously, I’m a little put off you said that. Nothing will ever
change our friendship. That just won’t happen. You have a problem —I’m the one you talk to.”
He noticed David’s fidgeting hands.
“Oh God!” David moaned. He still couldn’t decide if telling James was a good idea. He couldn’t
find the courage to come out and say it.
“You all right?”
“Yeah, I suppose. I knew this would be hard. Just didn’t realize how hard.”
“Well, knowing about it since high school eliminates financial trouble.” Then it struck James. “Did
you get someone pregnant back then? That’s it … you have another kid running around.”
“Wish it was that simple.” David shook his head with frustration. “I was so sure I could talk to you
about this, but ...”
“You’re pissing me off. You asked me here to talk about something that’s bothering you, so
dammit, tell me!”
David closed his eyes and released a breath. “I’m ...I’m bisexual.” He said it. Now he was falling
James stared at him. The expression on his face wasn’t revulsion, more like disbelief, like he
had been jarred awake in the middle of a dream, unsettled.
“You heard right. I’m attracted to men. Sometimes it really gets to me.”
James’s heart was pounding harder. A small panic swelled in his chest. An urge to stand, to
move, to think, came over him. It was the last thing he expected to hear David admit to. A
problem with the IRS—maybe. Over lever-aged borrowing—wouldn’t be a big surprise.
Attracted to men—never. David was as hard driving and masculine as any man he had ever
James stood, his thoughts swirling like leaves on a windy day. He ran his hand down the back of
his head. Unaware of his own movements, he turned toward the potted plants near the table,
staring absently. A memory formed in his mind, from college, an undying ghost from the past.
Surrounded by the commotion of a busy restaurant, David felt abandoned and confused. He
couldn’t interpret James’s reaction. As he waited for him to sit back down, his morale sank lower
than he had expected. He already regretted the outcome.
When James returned to his chair, the waiter walked up with salads and beer, placed the food on
the table, then hurried away. Momentarily lost in his own thoughts, James stared at his friend,
aware of the angst that had drained his face of color. He thought of Linda, David’s wife, who was
also his own dear friend. Everyone who knew David knew he cherished her. Not only had their
marriage flourished for twenty years, David and Linda were buddies. They even enjoyed working
together. She had participated in many of his projects over the years. She would never be able
to deal with this. James could hardly think of anything to say.
“Uh ... I ...”
“So I said it.” David’s voice hinted defiance. “Should I be worried?”
“You and me. Our friendship.”
“No, no, I’m just ...”
“Well, yeah. Shocked. That’s a good word.”
As he sat in the heartfelt grip of David’s pleading eyes, James’s state-of-mind was like a handful
of marbles that had been thrown against a wall. It seemed their conversation had mired in tar.
James found himself at a complete loss, though his friend obviously needed reassurance. But
this issue affected him personally. It lived in his past and, by virtue of David’s confession, had
suddenly brought him to a state of anxiety, which wore the mask of a strange new kind of fear.
David closed his eyes. By declaring his bisexuality he had gotten through perhaps the most
difficult ordeal he had ever faced. It had been impossible to predict James’s reaction. He could
have been indignant or put-off, but what David saw on his face looked worse than that. David
glanced at a young couple getting up from their table and watched the man toss a few bills near
the check. Feeling defensive, he wasn’t sure what to do or say.
“I was afraid you wouldn’t understand.”
“No ... that’s not it, David. I’m not sure how to explain it. I can’t explain it. I wasn’t prepared for
anything like this.”
“If that’s not it, why do you look like you just found out your father is Jack the Ripper?”
James’s eyes darted around as if he were looking for words that couldn’t be found. He suddenly
reached for his cell phone. “Hold on a second,” he said, looking for a number on the speed dial.
He pushed the number and then stared at the table awaiting an answer. “Yes, Hank Thompson
please. ...Hank, James Cooper here. ...Fine, how are you? ...Good. Hank, I’d like a favor. It’ll
sound strange, but give me a hand with this and I’ll explain later. I need to get away for a while. ...
Yes, I want to come out to San Diego. Call my secretary and tell her you want me out there to
help you on a complicated partnership development. ...Yeah. Tell her it’ll take a week. ...Can
you call as soon as we hang up? ...Good. Thanks. Talk to you soon.”
He put the phone back into his pocket and glanced at David.
Bewildered, David deeply regretted the confession. He had anticipated the possibility of a
radical reaction, but he had not expected to be sitting across the table from someone he hardly
James looked at his salad. “Guess I just thought I was hungry.” He pushed the plate aside,
reached for the beer and took a long swallow.
“It was a mistake. I shouldn’t have talked to you about this. It’s obvious. Now I feel emptier than I
did before.” He wanted to get up and leave but held back. “I’m scared, James. I feel I’m losing
my best friend over something I can’t help.”
The words stabbed James’s heart. In spite of his own anxiety, he couldn’t allow his friend to dwell
in such sorrow. “David, I’m sorry. God forgive me. Everything I said before you told me you’re ...
well, everything I said earlier is true. I’ve always been your best friend. Always will.” A tear
formed in his eye as he looked at David. “You know how I feel about you. It’s just that I don’t ...”
James looked at the table, his words lost.
David stared at him a moment. Buried in colliding emotions, he felt anger more than anything
else. “If bringing it up wasn’t a mistake, why did you suddenly make plans to go to California?
For a week, for God’s sake!”
James couldn’t think of a way to explain his reaction without being drawn into something he
couldn’t talk about. He attempted to mask it. “It has nothing to do with you. Seems like things
have been piling up lately, and now this. I’ve got to sort it out, that’s all. There’s no peace around
my house with three daughters and Shasha’s energy, so I’m going out to San Diego for a few
“All of a sudden!” said David indignantly. “Just like that! Just after I bring up my situation?
Bullshit! It’s because of what I just told you.”
James’s shoulders dropped. “Does that matter?” he said, exasperated.
“As-a-matter-of-fact, it does. If you want to be alone to re-evaluate our friendship or how you feel
about me as a man, it matters a lot. Telling you about this was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
You can’t imagine how much it matters.”
James looked down at his uneaten salad. He could not escape the desperation in his friend's
eyes. “David, please. Don’t read in the wrong message.” He looked back up. “This has to do
with me, not how I feel about you as a man. I’m not being judgmental. Our friendship hasn’t
changed. It’s me. I just have to figure out how to deal with it.”
“Guess I wasn’t expecting it to have this kind of impact on you. I didn’t know what your position
would be. Still don’t. It sure looks negative. You’re gonna be gone for a week. I’ll be wondering
what’s going on.”
“Give me a break, David. You’ve known about this for a long time. I’m just now hearing it.”
James sat quietly for a moment, staring at nothing. “You don’t seem like the type. There’s never
been a clue. It’s like something you must have realized here recently.”
“A man doesn’t suddenly realize he’s attracted to other men. I told you, I knew before high
school. It affects you differently when you get older. I think about it more now. It’s like being who I
am on one hand, but then there’s an-other part of me demanding attention. It’s not that I’m
attracted to men—that feels normal to me—it’s the conflict it causes.” He studied James’s
troubled expression, then looked away in thought, rubbing his forehead with his fingertips. His
hand fell into his lap. “I shouldn’t have pushed this on you. It’s made me feel vulnerable.”
David’s confession had registered in James’s mind as a complicated and undeniable truth. He
felt a rush of adrenaline. He had always assumed a man would suffer any indignity before
admitting a fondness for men, especially a man like him. He himself would have never been able
to do it. Now everything seemed different. David had somehow altered his perspective.
Nevertheless, an old demon had once again taken its place on his shoulders. He needed time to
think, to come to an understanding how this revelation might affect their future; and most
important of all, to decide if this subject should ever come up again.
As his eyes sought refuge on the palms of his hands, his voice sounded like a thought spoken out
loud. “Perhaps I understand better than you think.” James looked up, then quietly came to his
feet. “I have to go.”
David, the ache in his heart unbearable, watched his best friend move deliberately through the
cramped tables as he made his way to the front of the dining room. His silhouette merged with
the glare of sun as he opened the door and disappeared from view.