Louie was, I swear, the hardest-working woman in show business. Not like James Brown was the hardest-working man in show business, although her splits did put his to shame. As I watched her hit the floor again, like a drafting compass with a broken hinge, I could almost feel my testicles parting company and landing like finials on either side of my pelvis. The other men at Oliver Duncan’s bachelor party must’ve felt the same; they all winced in unison, even as they cheered.
“Louie, Louie,” the dancer’s none-too-original signature song, grated out of a battered 8-track player. I amused myself by sipping a martini at the wet bar and watching Oliver’s reactions to the bumping, grinding, and boob jiggling going on just inches from his face. He seemed to be enjoying himself. Flushed to his hairline, he chortled and squirmed. Then he teasingly stuck out his tongue as Louie began undoing his necktie and unbuttoning his shirt.
That’s when I began to squirm. Suddenly, the scene wasn’t so amusing anymore. I was watching someone undress and fondle my best friend. I was watching Oliver behave in a sexually suggestive way, which was something I’d never before had to witness. Seeing his interaction with the dancer wasn’t the same as accepting the fact he was getting married. The most I’d seen him do with Naomi, his betrothed, was put an arm around her or give her a rather sanitized peck now and then. Louie, however, was coaxing out his inner beast. Coaxing out Oliver’s inner beast was something only I was allowed to do. In the privacy of my imagination.
I looked around the enormous, handsome hotel suite for some distraction. None was available. I couldn’t even engage in drunkenly senseless conversation, since every pair of eyes in the room was trained on the stripper.
“Excuse me,” I said to the bow-tied bartender. He was a little older than I, maybe in his mid twenties, and none too shabby. But he, too, was distracted. I leaned farther across the bar. “Excuse me.”
Yeah, the deaf SOB was straight, like everybody else at this godforsaken bash.
His gaze flickered reluctantly in my direction.
“Could I have another one, please?”
Why the hell not? I didn’t have to drive home. A limo was at the ready to shuttle around whichever party-goers weren’t staying at the hotel. Oliver’s father wasn’t only footing the bill for this suite at the Pfister, the drinks, and the dancers, he’d arranged for safe transportation.
Christ, what a night. I glanced through wreathing cigarette smoke in Oliver’s direction. Louie was sitting on his lap now, her legs on either side of his hips, and doing a slow hump as Smokey Robinson crooned, “Ooh, baby, baby.” I looked away. Nope, this wasn’t so much fun anymore.
My gaze wandered to the windows. Outside, city lights sparkled in the darkness of the August night. I would’ve rather been out on the Avenue, cruising for sailors. Not that I’d ever cruised for anybody, much less men in uniform, but I’d heard about such things. The sailors came to
and sauntered down the sidewalks in pairs and groups. They were as much a part
of the cityscape as the glowing Weather Flame atop the Wisconsin Gas building. Great
Lakes Naval Training Center
To me, anyway.
I’d often watched them—cute caps set at jaunty angles above their dress blue jumpers, Vs of white undershirts visible at their necklines, pants hugging their round asses—and thought they looked like fuckable dolls. I had no clue how to interpret each man’s swagger, no clue what it was that set the gay ones apart or how exactly to go about approaching them. So I simply watched and dreamed and, back at home, sometimes jerked off while I imagined a bold recruit smiling at me as he took off his hat. The hat removal was, in my fantasies, always an invitation, the prelude to an indescribably thrilling encounter.
Startled, I jerked to the right. A dazzling, gap-toothed grin and cloud of perfume hit me. At my side stood a woman in a neon-pink negligee. Her hand smoothed circles onto my back. She had straight, bluish black hair only slightly longer than her glued-on eyelashes.
“Uh…hello.” I had to be polite. It was Oliver’s bachelor party, and his father had put out beaucoup bread for it.
“I’m Krysti,” chirped my unwanted companion. “What’s your name?”
“Ned. Just…Ned.” Well, it wasn’t just Ned, but she didn’t need to know the Surwicki part.
As my attention funneled back to the party, I remembered that Louie wasn’t alone. Oliver’s older brother Darryl had hired a troupe of three dancers. Flame-haired Louie, vivacious as she was, couldn’t possibly cater to all nineteen men in attendance.
Krysti tucked some stray strands of hair behind my ear. I tried as inconspicuously as possible to inch backward.
“Wouldja like a little something special, Just Ned? Want me to boogaloo down your Broadway?” Her fingers danced down my shirtfront to the waistband of my trousers.
Uh-oh. A little something special from the Electric Eurydice didn’t appeal to me whatsoever. Not unless there was a sailor lurking beneath that lingerie.
“Woooo, go for it, man!”
I tilted past Krysti to look in the direction of the voice, although I already knew whose voice it was. Oliver, who’d either slid or been pulled from his chair, sat on the floor with his shirt open and zipper down, waving a beer bottle. His hold on the neck was precarious. I worried the bottle might slip from his curled fingers and thump him on the head. He was trying to point at me but couldn’t seem to get his forefinger fully straightened.
From all indications, he was rip-roaringly drunk.
I’d never seen him like this. He drank, yeah, but never to excess. Considering the occasion, I supposed overindulgence was understandable. He was only doing what a man was supposed to do.
Being vulnerable to the charms of scantily clad women fell vaguely into the same category. As did getting married.
“Whatcha waiting for, Schnickelfritz?” he called out with a sloppy grin I found disarming as hell. “Get that cherry popped!”
Oh God, why did he have to holler about my cherry, and when was he going to stop calling me Schnickelfritz? Each one of us was only half German. Besides, it sounded so fucking silly. But I supposed there were worse names.
Krysti fired him a look. “We don’t do that sort of thing,” she said with snippy indignation. “We’re entertainers.”
“That’s okay,” I mumbled. “My cherry’s already been popped.” Not by a female, granted…
Louie, now sitting in the chair above Oliver and gliding her hands inside his open shirt, leaned over and whispered in his ear.
Oliver lifted his eyebrows and pulled down his mouth. “Pardon, mademoiselle,” he said to Krysti in perfect, slurred French. He swung his raised arm to his midsection to affect a bow of apology, but he swung it too hard. Beer shot out of the bottle and splashed onto Louie’s inner thigh. She yelped and fell backward, Oliver toppled onto his side, and the room erupted into hoots and guffaws.
“Excuse me,” I said to Krysti.
I hustled over to the guest of honor to make sure he was all right. Kneeling beside him, I eased the bottle out of his hand.
“Hope you’re planning to replace that,” he said as I got him to sit up.
“Don’t worry about it.” I twisted around and set the bottle on a cluttered coffee table. “Just worry about one of these bozos tripping over your ass.”
More music cut a tinny swath through the raised voices in the room. Stevie Wonder, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.” To me, the song was like a bad portent.
All three entertainers were dancing now, slinking and shimmying from man to man, trying to tease some reaction from their alcohol-saturated libidos. The third woman, a blonde named Misty, let Curtis Orton pluck maraschino cherries from her cleavage. Two guys on a loveseat pulled Krysti down between them, and Darryl Duncan, Oliver’s older brother and the temporary holder of the family purse strings, swayed with his hands on Louie’s hips. The fact he was married didn’t seem to deter him.
“They’ll do it for enough money, you know,” Oliver said to me. His hand rested on my leg.
“Do what?” I felt a little foggy myself.
“Handjob, blowjob, maybe even fuck. What’s-her-name just told me.”
Handjob, blowjob, fuck. Those words alone, coming from Oliver’s mouth, made a barbed tingle clutch at my groin. I wanted to lower him back to the floor, carefully crawl on top of him, and kiss him for hours on end as I finished the undressing that Louie had begun. Even disheveled, he was a knockout. His sable hair was charmingly mussed, his heavy eyelids gave the rich darkness of his irises a sultry cast, and his lips bore a scrim of moisture.
“I’m not interested,” I said, trying hard not to focus on his mouth.
“Don’t be uptight about it. Money’s not an issue. And I’m pretty sure Darryl brought along a box of rubbers.”
“I wouldn’t be interested even if they were full-body rubbers.” It was the biggest hint I’d ever dropped, but it fell unnoticed.
Shit, I’d wanted to get cozy with Oliver since we were fourteen years old. After almost seven years of longing, the most touch I’d ever gotten from him were playful shakes and friendly hugs and an occasional clap on the back or shoulder. Buddy stuff.
Considering I’d had a deep, dark, smoldering crush on him since high school, buddy stuff was more tormenting than satisfying.
“Aw, c’mon, Ned, loosen up,” Oliver said, his hand moving aimlessly on my thigh, driving me crazy. “I want you to have a good time.”
“I’m having a good time just watching all you preppies get stupid.”
“Please don’t use that word. Ever since that stinko movie came out, I’ve been given enough shit just because of my name.”
He meant Love Story, of course. Ryan O’Neal’s character was named Oliver, and Ali McGraw as his snotty bitch of a girlfriend called him “Preppie.” The reference made me grin.
“I’ll lay off the word,” I said, “if you lay off trying to hook me up with some Salome.”
“Deal. So, you got a new secret love or what?” Oliver’s accompanying wink was so spazzy, I thought for moment he had something in his eye.
“Yeah?” Smiling, Oliver lifted his shirttail and daubed at a corner of my mouth.
Heat shot through me.
“Piece of pimiento from your olive,” he murmured.
He kept looking at me. His besotted, beguiling smile had shrunk and taken on a different quality. It made me feel way more than I wanted or needed to feel, especially on the eve of the eve of his wedding.
A young man I didn’t know brought deliverance. He stumbled into us, grabbed Oliver by the shoulders, shook him, and bellowed, “Olé Ol-lie!”
I squinted up at the numbskull. His cheeks puffed out as a belch apparently rumbled up from his stomach -- at least I hoped it was a belch -- and his head wobbled a little. The guy was one of Oliver’s friends from
I was out of their loop. I had a ponytail and went to Milwaukee School of
Engineering and had always called Oliver, Oliver. Dartmouth
As Numbskull toddled away, Oliver suddenly clamped my face between his hands and gave me both the worst and best kiss of my life. Impishly, his smile widened for second. Then he bumbled off the floor like a sack of flour with feet, gave my head an affectionate rub, and wove through the room to receive more olés.
My lips prickled. I touched my fingers to them, trying to relive the feel of his mouth on mine, that startling silky softness and humid heat, the subtle poke of his whiskers. Of course there’d been no tongue. The kiss hadn’t been that kind of kiss. But it still had sucked the air right out of my lungs. And the room. And the entire atmosphere. If he did it again, I vowed, I would kiss him back and make it last. Fuck what people thought.
A hand appeared in front of my face, prompting me to look up. Smiling down at me was a clean-cut blond guy whose name I couldn’t remember.
“Need some help getting it up?”
I blinked at him. No, no, you moron. Not getting “it” up, just getting up. From the floor.
“No, thanks. I can manage.”
I bounced to my feet. The guy grabbed my shoulders to steady me.
“You look as out of place here as I feel,” he said affably. “No offense.”
I tried to gather my wits, but the effort wasn’t going well. “Yeah, well, I don’t go to
“I’m not a college guy either. My name’s Russ. Who’re you?”
“Ned. A friend of Oliver. From high school.” My attention finally found its way to Russ. He was broad-shouldered and very well built, and his neatly combed hair was shiny as a polished helmet.
We shook hands. His grip was so firm it made me reel a little. More and more he reminded me of…of…
One of those sailors.
“I don’t know anybody here,” Russ said. “I just work for Blumenthal’s. You know, the caterer.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “All I did was deliver the hors d’oeuvres. Then Darryl invited me to hang out.”
“Won’t you get in trouble with your employer?” Damn, my throat felt dry.
“Nah. I called him hours ago. Long as I get the van back in one piece, Felix don’t care how I spend the rest of the evening.” Russ looked toward the bar and the nearby hors d’oeuvre table. “Can I, uh…get you a drink or some food or something?”
“Thanks, but I’m set.” He was such a nice, simple guy and seemed so utterly guileless, I had trouble entertaining the notion he might be hitting on me. So maybe he wasn’t. Maybe he just felt obligated to earn his invitation to the party by doubling as a waiter. “I’m leaving soon, anyway.”
Russ’s smile collapsed. “You are?”
“Yeah. Oliver’s father hired a limo…”
“Oh. So you live in the city?”
“I have an apartment near MSOE.”
Nodding, Russ licked his lips. “I think I’ve seen you around.”
“Really? Where?” More to the point, why would he even remember me? I didn’t exactly look like Robert Redford.
Russ’s voice lowered. “Castaways. The Rooster.” His sky-blue eyes fixed on my face.
My lips parted; shock and germinal excitement had instantly made my breath go shallow. Castaways and the Rooster were queer bars. “What’re you saying?” I asked in a strained monotone.
“Just wondering if you’d like some company on that limo ride.”
“Just wondering if you’d like some company on that limo ride.”
[Chapter One continues from this point.]