At three o’clock that afternoon David’s last appointment of the day had arrived in the front
office, an architect and a restaurateur. He was gazing out the window when Janie opened
his office door. He turned when she spoke his name the third time, his face weighted with
“Sorry, Janie. My mind’s on a million things today.”
“Mr. Brubaker and Mr. Dagady are here.”
He glanced at his watch before starting for the door. “Ask Betty to join us,” he said. “Tell
her we’re organizing a new project this afternoon. She’ll want to start a new file.”
The young lady looked at him with concern, her brow furrowed. “You okay, Mr. Westin?”
Despite her preoccupied youth, she had noticed his dire mood. She cared. He never
made an issue of her short skirts or tattoo, and he was funny. She told her friends just the
night before how cool it was to work in his office.
He looked over her shoulder at the men sitting in the front office, then his eyes dropped
back down and he smiled. “Yeah, I’m fine. Sorry I didn’t hear you when you first came in.”
“No problem,” she said, breaking into a grin when he comically reached up and twisted his
finger in his ear. “I’ll talk louder next time.”
“Good idea. You have to make allowances for the old guys.”
She returned to her desk and picked up the phone. David approached Mr. Brubaker, his
hand extended. After a brief greeting, they went into David’s office. Betty, his secretary,
walked in a moment later. They joined her at the conference table.
Though an unyielding melancholy had settled over him, David proceeded with all the
charade he could muster. “Mr. Brubaker, have you found time to look at any of those
projects I mentioned on the phone the other day?”
“Please call me John, and yes I have. Three. The restored house in High-land Park was
exquisite. If I had six million dollars to spend on a house, I’d have bought it on the spot. The
steak house on Greenville Avenue shows your understanding of the restaurant business.
But that country club dining room in Fort Worth. Unbelievable. I’ve never seen anything like
it. I spent two hours there, amazed by the incredible attention to detail.”
David smiled, though he felt more like walking out of the room. He continued, calling upon
his well-honed business acumen to proceed under adverse circumstances. “That was the
only project I ever worked on with an unlimited budget. The owner’s an eccentric fast food
millionaire. That clubhouse is his passion. He went over the original estimate by five
hundred a square foot, mostly due to his hair-trigger change orders. Money was virtually no
“Well, that’s not quite the case with Tri-State Development. We have a pretty liberal budget
but it does have limits. Nevertheless, I’m convinced you have a unique ability to bring
stone, wood and plaster together.”
David nodded at his colleague. “That’s why Don’s here. He was involved in both of those
restaurant projects. He brings the stone and wood together. We provide the means. Don’
s one of the most reputable architects in Dallas.”
Don Dagady leaned forward. “I wouldn’t know about that, but David does keep me busy
with these wonderful projects.”
“Well gentlemen,” said John Brubaker, “we have a budget of one point three million for this
restaurant, excluding the real estate of course. We believe it’s an exciting concept. If it
works, it’ll be the prototype for future locations.”
The meeting continued. David left the room just once to splash cold water on his face. Two
hours later, he concluded by saying: “Looks like we’ve covered the preliminary details
gentlemen.” Flipping through the papers before him, he had reached the point in the
meeting where he knew he had gotten through it. “The time table, the budget, the required
estimates for the bankers ...” He looked up. “That’s all we need to get started.” He looked
at Don Dagady. “You have a good idea of what John’s looking for?” Don nodded. David
paused, wondering if he had overlooked anything, wondering if anyone other than Janie
had noticed his distraction. He looked at John Brubaker. “Will you need time to look
around a little before we proceed?”
“Oh no,” Brubaker said, stuffing documents back into his briefcase. “I’m sold. I want you to
get started as quickly as possible.”
“Okay then. My attorney is out of town ... “ David nearly lost his composure. He’ll be gone a
week. David pictured his best friend, the man he had confided in, walking abruptly out of
the restaurant. What if he shuns me when he returns? How do I explain it to Linda? He
had a compelling urge to stand, to get away, but only a few seconds remained. Get this
over with. Scanning the faces watching him, he drew a calming breath and carried on. “My
attorney will be back in a week to draw up the contract. But that won’t cause a delay. Don
will start the design blueprints right away. We can fret over the contract later next week.”
The men stood and shook hands. All but David started toward the door. Clutching the files
in her arm, Betty glanced back from the doorframe.
“Something bothering you, David?” A middle-age, no nonsense kind of woman, her voice
David wished she had walked out with the others. Evidently he had not been as composed
as he thought. He was in no mood to explain.
“Nothing to worry about, Betty. Got a few things on my mind.”
She knew by his tone he didn’t want to talk, but she also knew he hadn’t been himself for a
while now. “Then you haven’t forgotten how to smile?”
He forced a smile, then said: “There’s nothing to worry about. Thanks for asking, though.”
She looked at him a moment longer. “Anything you need before I leave?”
“No. I’m out of here in a few minutes myself.” He knew why he was so preoccupied these
last few days—he had been seriously thinking about finding a companion, which usually
affected his ability to concentrate on anything else. It was a question of how to go about it.
Now this thing with James.
He drifted over to the window when she closed the door and looked down at the deserted
construction site. The crew had left for the day. He stood transfixed, wondering how the
day’s events were going to affect the rest of his life. Why didn't I keep my mouth shut?
Wish I could get in the car and drive, get away for a few days—like James.
♦ ♦ ♦
James entered his house through the kitchen door at five-thirty. It had been a long and
unnerving afternoon rearranging his schedule for the benefit of a secluded week in San
Diego. He nearly walked past his wife without noticing her. His mind was on packing a
light suitcase. He had paid full fare for the last flight out to San Diego and would be in the
air by ten PM. Shasha looked up when he opened the door and watched him cross the
kitchen. His expression suggested thoughts a million miles away.
“I’ve seen that look before,” she said just as he was about to walk out of the kitchen.
“Guess your nose will be glued to a contract until two o’clock again.”
He turned toward the sound of her voice. “Oh ... hi sexy,” he said wearily. He started
toward her, closing his arms around her waist as he neared. “No reading tonight. Got a
call from San Diego this afternoon. Hank Thompson. Thinks he has an emergency. Sorry
babe, I have to go out there.”
“When?” she asked warily.
“Now, tonight.” He shrugged with a hapless smile, as if to remind her of a lawyer’s
Disappointment washed over her face. She looked over at the counter, at the food set out
for dinner. “Do you have time to eat?”
“Afraid not. My flight leaves at ten. I need to pack.”
Shasha hated this. He already looked exhausted and instead of a moment’s rest, he had to
fly out to California. Sometimes she wished he had chosen a different career; but he loved
his work and never complained. “How long will you be gone?”
Dreading her reaction, he stated it quickly. “A week.”
“A week! What kind of an emergency takes that long for crying out loud? You’re not even
licensed in California.”
James had agonized over lying to his wife all afternoon, but he had not realized the full
impact of actually doing it. A wave of guilt came over him and he tasted it in his throat.
Now he had to build on the lie and it felt like an iron fist squeezing his heart. “I know, honey.
But ever since I caught that late-fee penalty that his own lawyers overlooked, he always calls
me on complicated deals. This one’s complicated. Negotiations included. It’ll take a
“It’s just that I hate not seeing you everyday, even if it’s no more than your shiny head behind
a contract.” She turned toward the counter to continue cutting lettuce for the salads. Their
three daughters would be down for dinner any minute. She looked at him over her shoulder,
apologetically, and said: “I know, I’m being selfish.”
“Look at it this way: When the girls are grown, you and I’ll be going on these trips together.”
She smiled and nodded, wondering if it was really in him to slow down enough to enjoy
having his wife along on a business trip.
His eyes swept over her. Ponytail, lips their usual red, she was wearing tight shorts and a
Spanish style blouse that tied in the middle and left her navel peeking out. With no effort at
all she was beautiful. Her only complaint—her hips, which had expanded a couple of
inches over the years; a subject that made James smile inwardly every time she couldn’t
resist sitting down in front of a bowl of chocolate ice cream.
“I’m going upstairs to pack.”
Ten minutes later Shasha entered the bedroom. She strolled toward the bed to look at the
small suitcase he had been packing: shaving kit, pair of sandals, blue jeans, casual shorts
and a few folded pullover shirts. She looked up when he walked out of the bathroom, his tie
off, his shirt unbuttoned.
“You’re packing this stuff for business meetings?” she said, bewildered.
He glanced at the suitcase, suddenly aware his packing did not match the lie. The dread
he felt in the kitchen turned to instant panic. He stared wide-eyed at the small case as his
mind grappled for a supplement to the ever-expanding lie. “Uh ... thought I’d use the
garment bag for my suits.”
She dumped the suitcase on the bed. “Why not put this stuff in the garment bag, too? I’ll
help.” She thought for a moment, then asked: “Think two suits will do?”
“Sure,” he said, hiding relief.
Mired in self-contempt, he turned away from her and reached up to rub his neck. Oh God! I’
m lying like a dog. She came up to help me pack. You’re no good at this, asshole.
She went into the closet and returned moments later with the garment bag in one hand and
two suits in the other.
“Looks like Janet might have a new boy friend,” she said, speaking casually of their middle
daughter as she organized his clothes inside the bag.
He looked at her for a moment to reorient his thoughts. “That’s supposed to be great
news?” he said sarcastically.
“I for one think it is great news. I don’t like the girls focusing on one boy too long.”
“I don’t like them focusing on one boy, ever.”
Shasha looked at him, incredulous. She had yet to get through his thick head that his
daughters were growing up. “Anyway, I listened to part of her phone conversation when she
“You picked up the extension!”
“James! Of course not! Now would you shut-up and listen?” She placed the casual clothes
he had gathered into the pockets of the garment bag as she continued. “I simply overheard
her talking to a friend. About a new boy who enrolled near the end of the semester. The
conversation included all the customary giggling. Didn’t hear much because she noticed
me and started talking in a lower tone.”
“So she knows you eavesdrop?”
“Of course she does. They all three know their mother.” She glanced him over. “Sure you
don’t have time for dinner?”
“You know airport security these days. Never can predict how long it’ll take. I better get on
over there.” In fact he did have a little extra time, but the day’s events had unnerved him.
Dealing with David’s emotional confession, then rearranging a complicated calendar at the
office, and now lying to Shasha, it took considerable effort to remain composed. It was
weighing on him; otherwise he would not have overlooked the need to pack a bag that
matched the lie.
He watched the loving care she used in packing the garment bag, thinking about how much
he loved her. They had shared life’s challenges longer than he could remember; but from
the beginning, though he considered doing so a thousand times, he never talked to her
about his bisexuality; he couldn’t. He remembered the phone call he received from his
roommate three years after graduation. Randal had taken a job in New York and his
company’s annual convention was being held in Dallas. He had called to find out if James
might be interested in getting together when he got to town. It wasn’t easy, but he declined,
including even a casual lunch. At the time, Shasha was pregnant with their second
daughter, which made her his only priority. James knew, by setting eyes on his old
roommate again, the likelihood of a ill-advised rendezvous.
His thoughts returned to matters at hand. Shasha was looking at him, her head tilted
“What are you thinking about?” she asked.
“Oh, nothing really. Just how tired I am tonight.”
“I can’t believe they expect you to fly all the way to California after working all day. Can’t it
wait ‘til morning?”
“Hank wants to get an early start. Sorry, honey.”
Shasha shook her head, exasperated. “So what do you want to wear on the plane?”
“Something comfortable. Khakis and a pull-over.”
She went into the closet and returned to a husband standing near the bed in a pair of white
cotton briefs. Her eyes took on that sensuous gleam that never failed to redirect his train of
thought. “I suddenly remember why I’m going to miss you this week, big guy.”
Tossing the khakis and shirt on the bed, she came up behind him when he leaned over to
zip the garment bag. He felt her hands slide down his back, the heat of her body against
his. Her hands rounded his waist and came up over his stomach and chest. The conflicts
in his brain collided like fighting rams. He closed his eyes, tempted with second thoughts
about leaving; but no, he had to go. He had to be alone for a while, to figure out how to deal
with the circumstances David had imposed.
“Trying to make me forget I have to leave?”
“Think I could?” she asked, sliding her hand under the waistband of his briefs.
“Resorting to those tactics, maybe.”
Twenty passionate minutes later he was on his way to the airport.
♦ ♦ ♦
David was home by six-thirty.
He took a bottle of beer from the refrigerator and walked absently through the kitchen and
on to the bedroom. After pulling off his work clothes, he stepped into a favorite pair of
cotton shorts with a comfortable elastic waist-band and went out to the back yard through
the den. He crossed the deck and stretched out on a chase lounge near the pool, still lost
in a fog of gloom. His world had evolved into a state of change, now that James knew his
lifelong secret. His best friend’s alarming reaction troubled him. It felt like another weight to
bear. He had wanted someone to talk to, only it didn’t go as he had hoped. Instead of a
sense of relief, he faced a new dilemma which did nothing to ease the tension in his
Leaning forward to scratch the back of his neck, he watched Linda rearrange the deck for
their outdoor dinner. She looked up and smiled, a good sign his preoccupation hadn’t
drawn her attention, at least for the moment. His wife was among the growing number
Guess I ought to walk around smiling all the time.
It stood to reason those in his life would comment if his behavior had changed. It’s just that
he didn’t realize it had become that obvious. He resolved to be more conscious of the
mood swings and the way people observed him.
And then there was guilt. He felt its sinister effect every time he looked at her. Just
admitting his secret to James seemed like an act of infidelity.
Guilt; every time he noticed of a pair of broad shoulders, or forearms darkened with hair, or
sweat streaking down a construction worker’s back. It came in being a man his wife didn’t
know, in harboring a secret he could never share. What would become of his marriage if
she knew of his inclination for a man’s firmer contours and masculine smells? And now this
thing with James. He felt alone when the one man he thought he could confide in walked
out of the restaurant. He felt isolated, and possessed by a need to know why James
suddenly had to disappear for a week.
A whole week. An unbearable eternity that promised to be the longest seven days he ever
lived through, with questions haunting him every minute of every day. Nothing would keep
him from dwelling on it. The hours would drag into days. He had not expected James to
have that kind of reaction. There was no one else to turn to.
At least nothing had changed concerning his feelings for Linda. He watched her fire up the
grill, wearing those tight, faded blue-jeans that so delightfully accentuated the curve of her
hips. He felt a rush of affection, coupled with the confirmation that she stirred him as
always. Though it had never been a staggering concern, he had wondered if a sexual
experience with a man might somehow diminish his attraction for her. But along with her
sensual nuances and the suggestive clothes she often wore around the house, the blue
jeans effectively dispelled that particular concern.
Even after twenty years, David not only still loved her; he loved to look at her, to watch her
go about her routines. He considered her the perfect woman, as youthful and sexy at forty-
two as the day they married: lovely average sized breasts, waist narrow, hips appealingly
mature; a natural beauty with a ruddy complexion rarely enhanced by makeup. She wore
her straight, sandy brown hair short, without a lot of fuss. It matched her auburn eyes and
gave her a carefree, feisty look. Pregnant with their son, she had dropped out of college
and spent much of her time after that assisting with his early construction projects, never
bothered by the grit and noise and heat. He remembered being enchanted by her attention
to detail, her intensity in choosing colors and materials to finish out a job.
Watching her go back into the house, he could have easily followed her in for an hour in bed
that very moment. Given a choice, he would never carry a secret that couldn’t be shared
with the woman who had supported him, who had steeled herself and believed in him
through his years of risk-taking, who had loved him in spite of everything for two decades.
He reached for the beer and took a long swallow. Beyond the new circumstances with
James, the problem was to find a way to deal with the guilt. He leaned back and stared
past the glint of evening sun across the pool. They would be eighty years old one day. He
would tell her that he’s bisexual. She would laugh and say she never had a clue. They
would be too old to be concerned by such things. Until then, he’d have to live with his silent
demons and quit allowing it to be written on his face.
The door swung opened and Linda stepped back out. She walked over to join him.
“I’ll give the grill a few minutes to heat up,” she said, taking the chair next to his.
He looked at her feet. She had painted her toenails red.
“How was your day?” she asked.
“We got the contract on that restaurant construction.”
She looked up into the low limbs of the live oak that shaded the shallow end of the pool. “I’m
glad to hear you’re not forgetting all your business meetings these days,” she said, partly
teasing him, partly letting him know that she was concerned about his recent
He turned and looked at her a moment. “You know about that?”
Her eyes met his. “You didn’t want me to know?”
“Well, I wasn’t keeping it from you, but I am curious how you heard about it.”
“I had lunch with Shasha today.”
David’s gaze fell back over the water. Shasha knew! James told her. Why? Why did I
talk to him today? I should have known.
“David? Did you hear me?”
“Uh, yeah. You and Shasha had lunch.”
She studied him for a moment. “Honey, why have you been so preoccupied lately? You
weren’t watching that movie last night; you were staring at the wall. I had to throw a pillow to
get your attention. And I’m not the only one who’s noticed it. Betty mentioned it the other
day. Shasha brought it up today during lunch.”
“Betty mentioned it?”
“The other day when I called you at the office. She answered the phone. Not that she
sounded worried—she just mentioned you seem to have a lot on your mind these days.”
“Shasha knew I missed that meeting?”
“James talked to her about it. I think he’s concerned about you. He couldn’t believe you
forgot an important meeting.” She brought her knee up, leaned forward and brushed
something off the top of her bare foot. “It’s like something’s bothering you. People have to
repeat themselves two or three times before it registers. You always blow it off. Now even
James is talking about it.”
“I saw him today. He brought it up.” He looked across the pool, reminded again of James’
s quick decision to go to California. The anxiety began creeping back in. He didn’t want to
talk about any of this just now, then remembered something he had been thinking about that
would divert the conversation.
“It’s nothing. Maybe it’s time we spend a couple of days on a beach somewhere. Actually, I’
ve been a little burned out at work lately. Been thinking about slowing down some. Maybe
buy one of those new Thunderbirds you like so much. You and me hit the road now and
Her eyes brightened. “Well David, if you’re asking my opinion, I’m all for it.” Her head tilted
with curiosity. “What do you mean by slowing down?”
“Take more time off. I’m getting tired of the same old routine. Now that Jeff’s in college, it
seems like you and I should have more time to spend together.” He watched the concern
fade from her eyes. The diversion had brightened her mood as well as his.
She smiled and leaned forward to kiss him, as if the two of them spending more time
together was exactly what she had been waiting for. “This is downright exciting.” She
thought for a moment. “Couldn’t you phase out some of those mundane projects? Store-
fronts, things like that. It would free up your time and it might keep you from feeling burned-
“I thought about that. It’s a good idea, but those routine projects usually bring in the best
income. You know, less fickle clients, fewer change orders, and it’s always easier to line
out subcontractors on those jobs. If we’re going to start buying convertibles and living a
carefree lifestyle, I’d rather not give up the bigger margins.”
“Then maybe its time to let Johnny handle those jobs. He’s been with us long enough. He
can handle it, especially with Betty to fall back on. She knows how you think and she knows
how to make a decision.”
As if the same idea had been waiting in his subconscious, he liked the sound of it
immediately. He reached out and ran his hand over her leg and smiled. “That’s a perfect
approach.” His gaze shifted thoughtfully. “He’s been hinting for a raise lately. This would
give me an opportunity to give him one, along with some additional responsibilities.” He
pondered the idea for a moment, then added: “I could hire a new site supervisor to take
over what he’s doing now. If all I have to worry about is closing deals and special projects, I
could plan around what you and I want to do.”
She swooshed her hand at a honeybee buzzing her hair.
“Don’t swat at it and it won’t sting you,” he suggested.
When the bee flew away, she looked at him with a gleam in her eyes. “I’m excited about
this, David. I had no idea you were thinking about taking more time off. Shasha’s been
talking about Destin beach. We could all go together.”
This brought his mind back to James. After their disastrous lunch together, would James
be willing to go on a vacation together? Unlikely, considering that abrupt departure and the
sudden need to be alone for a week. Why? Was it that disturbing to learn his best friend is
bisexual? More than anything, he feared James would come home at odds with his
When Linda stood up, David’s eyes dropped to her ass. Twenty years and he still enjoyed
looking at it. “Those jeans shrink when you washed ‘um last time?”
“What?” She quickly looked down and lifted the lower seam of her blouse.
David realized immediately he had asked a question no man should ask a forty-two year
“Does it look like I’ve gained weight?” Alarmed, she sucked in her belly, the tight waistband
imbedded in soft flesh.
“I’ve only had these three years.” She looked at him, distraught. “Do they look too tight?”
After twenty years of marriage, he had finally learned the art of fast thinking. “They’re too
sexy. You know better than to turn-on a middle-aged man before dinner. Bad for the heart.”
A doubtful smile formed on her lips. “Bullshit.”
“What’re we having?”
“Rib-eyes and salad.”
He remembered the lunch he didn’t eat and his stomach growled. “Sounds perfect,” he
said, eyeing the jeans. “I’ll be looking forward to dessert, too.”
She shook her head and turned to go check the grill.
Watching her, torn by conflict, he sighed. Confiding in James had been tougher than he
had imagined. It had only made things worse. What could he do but wait, get through the
week and hope their relationship would balance in time. Maybe James would find a way to
accept his gay side and let their lives eventually get back to normal.
♦ ♦ ♦
James was awake by seven o’clock the next morning. He had taken a suite on the beach
across the bay from downtown San Diego. The second floor balcony overlooked a popular
jogging trail, beyond which a crowded beach stretched as far as the eye could see. The
balcony provided a perfect view of the Pacific Ocean.
He crawled out of bed and slipped on a pair of shorts, then went out to sit on the balcony
with his first cup of coffee. He sat staring down at the path, at the endless flow of people
jogging, biking and strolling among the reckless antics of young boys on skate boards—
oblivious to it all. Tunes from an oldies radio station wafted up from an open window
across the way, mingling with the soothing sound of nearby waves. The ocean breeze that
settled on his skin was pleasantly unlike the sticky heat in Dallas.
A relentless battle of two images raged in his mind: that of the past, a male lover with whom
he had shared an apartment in college; and that of the future, his best friend, taking center
stage in every thought his brain produced. The meeting at the restaurant had played out in
his mind over and over again, like a reoccurring daydream; or was it a nightmare that
threatened to disrupt everything he had so carefully arranged in his life these many years?
Thinking about the anxiety etched on David’s face caused an ache to form in his heart,
which in turn caused a silent groan. He leaned back in the chair and stretched his muscular
legs toward the railing, and he gazed out over the sea, trying in vain to sort out this
unanticipated turn of events. His thoughts carried him back to his final semester in
The college lover had not been an overly emotional affair, but it confirmed what he had
known all along. Though he and Shasha had fallen in love years before, he had always
been haunted by a vague knowledge of something unsettled inside, something that made
him different. Then he met Randal, and there were a thousand miles separating him from
Shasha during his final year in college. When Randal eventually came on to him, he let it
happen. It went on from there, at first an occasional night in bed together which ultimately
led to sleeping together every night. Though all through college he never considered the
company of another woman, the roommate, he told himself, was a good way to get that
inclination out of his system before he and Shasha married.
From the moment David uttered the word bisexual, James had not had a coherent thought.
He faced dealing with the fact that he and David shared the same weakness for men. What
would come of it? How could he continue to suppress the hunger he bore all these years,
almost from the day he left college. How could he sit across from David to discuss a
contract while trying to ignore the unspoken? How could he shower with him after a
workout, when he was already turning his back to that magnificent body to avoid revealing
his secret thoughts? How could he deal with any of this, now that he was aware of what
David might be thinking; when it was already so difficult to endure in the form of his own
private fantasy? Could he continue to deny what he felt for the man he would forever face
on a daily basis? And what about the many occasions they spent time together with their
wives? The chemistry would always be there, threatening to charge the air when they were
together with Shasha and Linda.
His hand tense, he took a sip of coffee, the smooth flavor finding its way down to churn with
the acids in his stomach. The answers seemed as elusive as the origins of mankind, the
complications more formidable than any legal challenge he ever faced.
He stood and leaned against the railing. A hundred yards past the churning foam, surfers
bobbed on their boards awaiting the next wave. Pairs lay on towels in the sand as far as
the eye could see. Below, an endless stream of people passed along the path, their
expressions reflecting the thoughts of their own private worlds. It was just his first morning
in San Diego, his first moment to sit and contemplate in this fine California weather. He still
had the rest of the week to reflect, to find a way to adjust to the new circumstances at home,
to think of a response for David. So why, he wondered, did a whole week seem like such
an impossibly short time?