"GAYLORD"; A SHORT PAUSE, AND then again, "Gay, darling, are you up?" A feminine voice called and rang up the stairs into the ears of the sleepy boy.
"Yes?" he answered drowsily but loud.
"Phone. Can you come down?"
Bob; he grinned with delight. 'Til be right down, mother," he yelled.
He jumped out of bed with a bounce, grabbed a robe from a chair and almost flew down the carpeted stairs.
"My goodness, it's not a matter of life and death," his mother said to him as he whizzed by.
"Morning, Mother," he cried running past her.
He was out of breath when he snatched up the phone. Said, "Good morning, Bob, I was still in bed."
"Bob? This isn't Bob," said the voice on the phone. "This is Glenn."
"Oh," he said as if someone had struck him. "I thought you were Bob, Glenn."
"No … I'm not Bob."
"Well how are you?"
"I'm fine. How are you?"
"I just called to see if you were sick. I missed you in school yesterday. Called you last night but no one answered."
"No, I'm not sick. Feel wonderful. Played hookey yesterday."
"I'm glad you're not sick."
"I'm all right."
Glenn repeated, "I called last night but no one answered."
"You must have called when I was up town. Mother and Dad were both gone too."
"Yeah, guess you were. Are you going to school today?"
"Well … I'll see you then … glad you're not sick … bye."
"Wait a minute, Glenn."
"I'll pick you up."
"Oh, I don't want you to go to any trouble. I can walk."
"Why should you … no trouble. I'll be there at a quarter of eight. How's that?"
"Sure it's not putting you out?"
"Course not, silly. You be ready."
"Okay, Gay. See you at a quarter of eight."
"See you … bye."
"Bye … glad you're not sick …"
Gaylord hung up the receiver. His eyes sparkled and last evening's feeling of guilt was gone from them. Instead, he lost himself in this achievement with pagan identifications, went to his room drunk with the good fatigue of a strong young man, his mind full of tranquil images.
And thus, in the early morning, the world was wonderful. It was wonderful to be alive. The nude figures under the red silk shades seemed to smile as he pranced around the room dressing. A soft humming, filled with a triumphant ring, came softly from his closed lips.
He ran his hand across the flat abdomen after he had stepped into a pair of tight blue shorts. "Damn, must be getting fat," he said to himself, glancing at his reflection in the door mirror. "These shorts sure are tight between the legs." He rubbed his groin and remembered the past evening … "Okay … you," he grinned, "get down and stay down … I'm not taking any chances with you this morning."
He drew out a fresh white shirt from one of the large drawers of the chest. It squeaked and seemed to say, you lucky dog, as he closed it. He almost lost his balance pulling the tan gabardine slacks up to his slender waist. He zipped the flap shut with one quick jerk.
"You're closed up now … so you just as well forget about sex … go on … relax …" he said to his image as he ran a tan belt through the loops of his trousers. He opened a leather box and put a handful of change in his pocket. Backing away, he looked at himself again.
The room became brighter; as bright as the thoughts that danced within him. No memories of sleepless nights, pointing fingers, cruel slaps and remarks entered his mind. The old feeling of wanting to be alone was gone. He was remembering last night. Those lost nights before there was any Robert Blake; nights of his boyhood and loneliness were gone. He carried the golden myth before him and it kept him warm and happy.
New Orleans; it was a word, romantic and full of legends. Tomorrow night he would be there with his parents … but his bronze God could not be with him.
"I've got to practice, Gay," Blake had said when he had asked him to accompany them to New Orleans. "I'd love to go. If I wasn't Captain, I'd go, but Gay … I just can't."
"I don't want to go either, then," Gaylord had sighed.
"Now don't be that way. You'll have a good time without me. There's so many things in New Orleans. I'll have to tell you about an experience I had there sometimes."
"I'll tell you sometimes … You're too young to hear it tonight … There are some places in that old city I'd love to take you … I'd just like to see your reaction …"
"What kind of places, Bob?"
"Places for fellows like you and I … places … oh you'll find out … Maybe you'd understand yourself more if you went to a couple … You'll find them …"
"I don't know what I'll be looking for … places … there are so many … places …"
"Just go down Bourbon Street … you'll find them … You'd better not like them too much and forget to come home … If you do … I'll come and get ya."
He treasured this statement … It lingered now and he wondered if Blake would come and get him if he stayed.
He had been there three years ago; had loved the strange old buildings, drenched so deep in history. He had vivid memories of them, all drenched in rusting iron and bricks, decayed from age. How grand it would be to have Blake by his side, walking down the narrow streets, explaining things that would make him understand himself. What were those things? He was almost sure he would never find them alone. How could he. In a city convulsed with people, miles of winding streets; where could he find what Blake had meant. At least he would try, he told himself. He was older now. Yes, he was grown now and he could walk alone and try to find what Blake had meant. Alone … Always alone … How much better if Blake could be at his side … He didn't ever want to be alone again …
Glenn Rogers was standing on the front porch of his house when Gaylord drove up. He lunged toward the car, smiling, and the deep dimples formed in his cheeks. Gaylord sure was nice to come and pick him up … He must do something nice for him. He didn't know what it would be right now, but he was not going to forget it.
"Hi, Gay," Rogers beamed … "You're right on time."
"Always try to be on time," Gaylord said to him as he sat down.
They left the curb and headed for the middle of the.
Rogers turned to him. "I called you last night. Thought maybe you were sick, but no one answered."
"No, I wasn't sick. Didn't I tell you on the phone I wasn't," grinned Gaylord.
"That's right," blushed Rogers. "I'm repeating myself."
"I didn't mean to be nasty," Gaylord said noting the shy glance.
"What time did you call?"
"Oh, guess it must have been around seven." Rogers looked into the bright and mellow eyes. They seemed brighter than he had ever seen them. Even the way he sat behind the wheel was different. He seemed to have more confidence, or something.
"I must of been up town."
"You must have been … Sure don't look sick this morning."
"How do I look this morning?"
"Ya look full of piss and vinegar … What didja do last night; or should I ask?"
Gaylord gave out with a little giggle. "Nothing," he said, making his nose wiggle.
"Oh, yeah? Like hell you didn't. It's written all over your face." He shifted in his seat and placed a crooked elbow, over the back of it. He looked grinning at Gaylord. "You've got more darn girls in this town, I bet … Was it good?"
Gaylord laughed at the accusations. "I wasn't out with any girl last night … I just feel good this morning … Did I tell you we're going to New Orleans tomorrow, Glenn?" Unconsciously, he spread his legs and rubbed between them. "Darn these shorts," he said with disgust.
"What?" asked Glenn, looking at the hand pulling at the trousers.
"Oh, I've got on a pair of shorts that's tight as all get-out. I should have put on another pair … Did you ever wear a pair that cut?"
"I sure have."
"That's exactly what I've got on right now … Feels like I've got ants in my pants."
"Maybe they're not ants but something else."
"Maybe you caught some crabs last night. They're easy to get."
"Glenn Rogers," giggled Gaylord. "I told you I wasn't out with a girl last night."
"You don't have to be out with a girl to get crabs."
They both laughed heartily but Gaylord did not go into the subject any more … In fact he changed the subject.
Students strolled down the sidewalk that ran parallel with the street. Some carried stacks of books under their arms, a serious expression in their eyes; others seemed carefree, their empty arms swinging carelessly at their sides. A door opened and a girl with flaming red hair emerged. She stepped from the wooden steps onto the long slab of cement that continued down the street.
A pimply faced boy riding a red bicycle passed them. He waved and laughed with glee. Said, "Race ya."
Gaylord grinned back but said nothing.
"So you're going to New Orleans tomorrow," broke in Rogers. "Who with?"
"Mother and Dad."
There was the boy that had grabbed him in the gym. The one who had slapped him across his naked buttocks. He was walking with some girl, his hand in hers, and a cigarette dangled from his ugly mouth.
He saw the car and screamed, "Oh, hello, Gaylord." He waved his free hand.
"Hello, Shorty," Gaylord yelled back, hoping it would remind him of personal matters. There was no shyness in the way he said it. He wanted it to hurt … If it was possible to hurt a bully's pride … He thought of last night and firm warm throbbing flesh lingered in his palm. He clutched at the wheel and squeezed his hand around its hardness.
"Do they call him Shorty?" asked Rogers.
"What …? Who …?"
"That guy you just called Shorty. Is that his name? He doesn't look very short."
"You've never seen him naked."
"Why … what difference would that … oh, I know what you mean … I get it." He smiled his affectionate smile and the dimples deepened.
Gaylord grinned back at him. What would he think if he told him about Blake … The things they had done together? He wanted to tell someone about the feeling in his heart; he was so happy he wanted to tell someone, and who better than Glenn Rogers? Would he understand? Would he think it awful he loved a man? It had never happened before, but so many things that had never happened before were happening to him, had all his life. That was the differencehim and the others. He was the only boy in the whole world who had fallen in love with a man. He wondered at this now … Wondered what Rogers would think about him if he knew.
"New Orleans," dreamed Rogers. "God, I'd love to see New Orleans. I haven't been any place. Just around here all my life. New Orleans … It's on the Mississippi, isn't it?"
A strange madness akin to joy ran through Gaylord Le Claire. He gave Rogers a tremendous slap on the thigh. "That's it; why don't you come along; we've plenty of room and we could have so much fun together."
Rogers' eyes beamed with excitement. "Gosh," he said, "if I only could. But your mother and dad …"
"Dad asked me if I had a friend I'd like to take, and you're it. Oh, Glenn … we can have such a good time."
"I know we could, Gay, but my dad would never let me go."
"We're supposed to go out to the farm tomorrow and vaccinate."
"Hell, what difference would a couple of days make? He'll let you go."
"The hell he will. You don't know my dad," Rogers said seriously.
"He can sure be a mean old bastard at times … Hardheaded as hell too. I get so mad sometimes at him …"
"It won't hurt to ask him."
"It won't do any good. You don't know how bullheaded he is at times. I can just hear him … ‘No, Glenn. You know we're vaccinating tomorrow. You can't go running all over the country. Cost money to travel …' Money; damn him; old tightwad."
Glenn Rogers remembered how his dad had raved when his mother received a magazine through the mail. She had subscribed for the cheap little magazine from a neighbor's child. God, how his father had shouted about her spending money foolishly when he had found it in the mail-box. It was all right for him to subscribe to the Country Journal and the numerous cattle magazines that crowded the mailbox the first of every month. Yes, that was all right, but for his mother … that was different. His mother had cried after he had left, mumbling curse words to himself, and at that moment he had hated his father. Any thing that wasn't used in farming was useless. He had even raised hell the time Glenn had ordered himself a fountain pen. ‘Didn't need a new one. What's wrong with the old one?' The old one … leaky old thing he had carried so long. And his mother had to wash their clothes by hand … couldn't afford one of those washing machines … cost too much … Still, he could afford to go out and pay several hundred dollars for a damned old bull. No, he could never ask his father for money to go to New Orleans and he didn't have any unless he did.
"Won't cost you a cent," said Gaylord. "I've got enough for both of us. The trip's on me."
"Damn swell of ya, Gay. You don't know how much I appreciate it … We can ask him … Maybe he'll be in a good mood … but I couldn't go unless I paid my way."
"I just wouldn't."
"I don't know why not … I won't have any fun by myself and I've got plenty … I'd just love to have you come along … you can pay me back."
"I don't know how."
"I was just saying that … please come."
"Well … I'll," Rogers sputtered … New Orleans mingled with the words. Pictures he had seen of the city became a reality. Old buildings … Napoleon … pirates … iron verandas with beautiful girls looking down from them … the Mississippi River … he could see the mighty father of all waters … the old St. Louis Cathedral his mother had told him about … the Cabildo … with Jackson Square in front of it … Andrew Jackson on his horse all in bronze … that's what the post cards showed.
He thought of where he had actually been. Cotton and a few surrounding towns and that was it. He had been to San Antonio once. His uncle had died and they had gone to the funeral but they had not even gone to town. He had seen the high buildings and had longed to walk past them.
Gaylord wouldn't admit defeat. Said, "We'll ask him and he'll let you go. I just know he will. You don't even have to ask him for any money. And it won't cost any more than if I went by myself … We can share a room at the hotel. I always get one … That is if you don't mind sleeping with someone … me for instance."
"Mind? I'd love it."
Gaylord wondered just how he meant it. "There's some nice hotels in New Orleans."
"You don't snore, do you?"
"I don't think I do," Gaylord grinned back. "But who knows what one does when he's asleep."
"I wouldn't care … I'd sure like to go … I've never stayed in a hotel."
Gaylord watched the dimples grow in the smooth tan cheeks; the clutched fist go under the sturdy chin; and now, he indulged in the exquisite dream of repeating with Rogers what he had done with Blake. He thought of lying next to Rogers in bed. It would be the first time he had ever slept with anyone. He wished it could have been Blake; Blake with the golden skin and the strong bronze arms. He was not at all sure he could force himself to touch Rogers. The feeling for Blake which had taken the first young giving of his love had a powerful enduring claim upon him. He didn't object to this claim for it had been a mutual seduction; one that he felt he had enjoyed more than his seducer.
"Well," Gaylord began, "you're going to stay in a hotel tomorrow night if I have my way about it." His boyish face took on a peculiar inner smile, a mere glow around the eyes; he held his head bashfully sidewise, looking at his fingernails and back at the other youth. "It's time we do something together and this is a perfect trip for the both of us."
"Do hotels have showers?"
"Sure … why?"
"I was just wondering … That's the only thing I like about that gym … I just love showers."
And I'd like to see you under one, Gaylord silently thought, but he only grinned back at the dimpled cheeks.