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Jody was standing in front of the nurses' station, finishing up his report for the day. He was interrupted by the squawk of the ambulance and the sound of running feet, the usual precursor to a new arrival at the trauma center. A gurney was pushed into the holding area with a football player in full gear, holding his left arm at an awkward angle. He had streaks of mud down his left cheek, and his jersey hung heavy with encrusted dirt and bits of grass. He was accompanied by a man who was holding a helmet and duffel bag.
They ended up in cubicle six, Jody's section of the ER. He knew he was still on the clock even though he only had ten minutes left, so he forced his relaxed brain to switch back to doctor mode as he moved down the hall. He raked long fingers through the mahogany-colored hair that fell loosely over his forehead, trying to make himself presentable. He'd been here for almost twelve hours and was starting to feel like old laundry.
He paused for a split second, listening to the sound of a voice raised in anger, and he pushed the door open to reveal the injured player sitting on the bed. He was still in his football uniform, minus his jersey, which had apparently been cut off. His pads had not been removed yet, and they looked completely out of place in this setting.
The guy in the Cal T-shirt stopped talking the minute Jody walked into the room. Whatever he'd been saying had upset the blond, who had tears running down his cheeks. He wiped them away quickly, but the two spots of color high on his cheekbones were enough to cause Jody to question what was going on.
"Is everything okay?"
"Just trying to figure out how we ended up inthis place," the coach replied. "This should have never happened."
"Well, regardless of the whys and the wherefores, you're here, and I'm in charge now." Jody spoke quietly, but left little room for argument. "You need to step outside so that I can examine your player."
The coach muttered a protest, but Jody was firm as he watched him leave the room.
The football player stared at him. The color on his cheeks remained high, but the tears seemed to be dissipating. Jody walked over to the sink on the other side of the room, filled a small plastic cup with water, and brought it over to his patient. "Why don't you have a sip of water?"
"Thanks," the blond replied, taking the blue cup with a trembling hand and swallowing the liquid in one gulp. He handed the cup back gratefully, and Jody took it and tossed it in the wastebasket. The man was definitely easy on the eyes, and Jody felt a quickening of his pulse and a burst of energy surge through him.
"I'm Dr. Williams," he said gently.
"Clark Stevens," the blond countered, saying it as if he expected Jody to recognize the name immediately.
Jody glanced at the patient's chart. "So you are. Nice to meet you." He touched him on his good arm and continued, "Looks like you had a bad fall."
"Yeah, it was stupid. I got distracted and lost my footing," Clark replied in a normal voice, seemingly recovered from the earlier upset.
Jody started to move the player's arm but stopped when he saw him wince. "Does it hurt when I do that?"
"A little bit."
"It appears to be broken, but I'll need an X-ray to confirm the diagnosis. I'm going to give you a shot for the pain."
"No!" Clark was emphatic. "No shots."
Jody could tell that the guy was frightened and still agitated for reasons other than the obvious. He tried to take a gentler approach and said, "This is going to get very uncomfortable when you get to radiology. They'll be moving your arm around, so I really think you should reconsider the shot."
"No, I only do painkillers in extreme circumstances."
"Broken bones aren't extreme enough?" Jody asked, raising an eyebrow. The football player shook his head, and Jody wondered where this was coming from.
"It's your call, Clark. The orderly is going to take you up to the second floor, so you're going to have to lie down and just relax. Is there any way we can get these pads off without cutting? I know nothing about football."
Clark nodded and reached up to unclip the straps, but it was awkward going with one hand. Jody saw this and moved forward, placing his hand on Clark's, surprised by the sparks that flew between them. Clark made no attempt to help Jody, seeming to enjoy his fumbling with a slight grin on his face. Jody was not unaware of this little game, and he paused in his movements, looking at the football player with a dawning perspective.
"Tell me how to unfasten this?" he asked, staring at Clark's mouth. It was the kind of mouth that was made for kissing.
"It's the silver clip," Clark said, moving Jody's hand toward the center of the pads. The cubicle seemed smaller all of a sudden as the body heat and electricity between them surged. Jody found the opening and unsnapped it, freeing the pads from their tight harness. He removed them gently, unable to avoid touching the tight muscles of Clark's smooth shoulders and biceps. They were both holding their breath by the time Jody slipped the pads off.
"Can you move your arm toward me?" Jody inquired, watching Clark bite his lip and frown as he attempted to move. "I really wish you'd let me give you something for the pain."
"I'm doing just fine, Doc. How about you?" Clark asked, shaking Jody up even more with a mischievous smile.
The guy was now flirting openly, but Jody took a step back, needing to know if he was for real. "I'm not the patient here, Clark. You are."
I lay on the gurney, watching the ceiling lights whiz by on our way upstairs to radiology. I couldn't believe I was in this situation because of one moment of carelessness. Then again, I could. Most of the shit that happened in my life was because I didn't pay attention.
The big plus in all of this was the doctor, of course. How'd I luck out and get someone that looked like that? Most emergency room personnel looked like they'd seen better days. The last thing I expected to see was a hot young guy with shoulders that belonged on a swimmer, not a doctor. They made his blue scrubs look like they were painted on. His eyes seemed to see right through me, and that mouth of his was way too sensual to belong to a physician. He had no right to look like that and expect a guy not to react.
I was pretty shocked that I'd given in to the impulse. I usually kept a tight rein on my emotions, especially when I was at home. Berkeley was too small and the football world too tight-knit for me to risk anything. I just couldn't stop myself tonight. Watching the doc fumbling with my pads was enough to flip the switch.
He's probably in shock right now, wondering what the hell happened back there. He said he knew nothing about football, so he probably doesn't know who I am, but wait 'til he starts to ask questions. Then he'll think he's had an out-of-body experience and imagined it all. The idea that Clark Stevens actually flirted with him would be unbelievable.
I squeezed my eyes shut and let the dark thoughts take over, opening up the side of my personality that I kept locked up tighter than any jail cell on Alcatraz Island. It was a secret that I only let out when the pain became too much and the longing found me surfing the Net's many porn sites. This was the me who was completely and achingly aroused by the thought of a naked male pressing his rock-hard cock against mine or imagining myself on my knees sucking on another man until he spewed hot cum all over my face and chest. This was the Clark Stevens who only I knew. The one who had yet to make any of his man-on-man fantasies come true.
If I were out on the field I'd be tackling practice sleds until I dropped from exhaustion. It was the only thing that helped keep these thoughts out of my head, so I hit harder and ran faster, turning into a machine; an unstoppable one that had the world of college football sitting up and taking notice. I was voted MVP three years running. I was the one agents were checking out and the NFL was salivating over, the one who would be eligible for the draft next year. I was the guy who had the world in the palm of my hand if I didn't blow it and let this same world know that I was gay.
The elevator door opened, and Jody watched as the gurney was wheeled back down the hall. The orderly stopped pushing when he saw him, and Jody looked down at Clark and noted that there were beads of sweat on his forehead, the pain written all over his gorgeous face.
"It's getting worse, isn't it?" he asked.
"Yeah, it is. All the manipulation upstairs didn't help."
"Let me give you something."
"No codeine, okay? The stuff makes me puke."
"I didn't know that," Jody said, scribbling some notes in Clark's chart. He asked the nurse to prepare some Demerol, and she came back with the syringe. He rolled Clark over gently, moving his hospital gown up to expose the area.
"Hey, watch out for hidden paparazzi. They'll pay big money for a booty shot."
"Sorry," Jody said quietly. "I should have waited 'til we were back in the room, but I wanted you out of pain as soon as possible."
"Hey, Doc, I was just kidding."
"I know," he replied, ruffling Clark's hair gently.
"Well, is it broken?" Clark asked, as soon as they got in the room.
"There's a hairline fracture on the ulna, but it should heal in no time. We need to cast it from here to here," Jody said, drawing an imaginary line on Clark's arm, causing goose bumps to break out all over. Jody noticed but said nothing.
"This won't affect my career, will it?"
"Not at all," Jody replied.
"How long will I be in a cast?"
"Not very long; maybe four weeks."
Clark was starting to get groggy from the pain medication that had just kicked in, so he closed his eyes, which was just as well. Jody didn't think he could stand looking at those aqua-colored eyes for one more minute without bending down and kissing each eyelid gently.
The phone rang, and Jody picked it up immediately. "Dr. Williams." He listened to the voice on the other end and responded, "Yes, I'm your son's attending physician. He has a minor fracture on his forearm, and we're casting it right now." Jody remained silent as the voice on the other end of the line did all the talking. Finally, he said, "No, Clark cannot come to the phone, but I'll have him call you as soon as he's able. You're welcome." Jody put the phone down and looked over at Clark who was looking at him with glassy eyes.
"Who was that?" he slurred.
"Of course it was."
"He sounded really concerned and wants you to call him as soon as possible."
"I'm sure," Clark sighed and closed his eyes again. "And if I don't call him, he'll call me."
"Don't you two get along?"
"As long as we do things his way, we get along just fine."
"It's all good, Doc," Clark said, passing out completely.
When I woke up, the doc was staring at me with concern. His eyes were the color of warm caramel, and the shadows on his jawline made him look dangerously sexy for some reason. I was flying high on the drugs, and my guard was down, so I reached out for his hand, comforted when he gave my own a reassuring squeeze. I left my hand in his.
"How are you feeling?" he asked, in a voice that felt like a caress.
"Like I'm drunk."
"Are you in pain?"
"Good. We cast your arm while you were out of it."
I was surprised that it was all over. I lifted my left arm and saw the white cast. It seemed to belong to someone else; I was so physically removed from it. "Looks like you did a good job, Doc."
"You're good, Clark. I'll sign the discharge papers, and you can go as soon as your ride gets here."
"Will I see you again?" I asked, pulling him back beside me and holding onto his hand again. I couldn't seem to let him go for some reason or keep the eager tone out of my voice. It sounded pretty needy to my ear, and I hoped that he didn't hear it that way.
"Of course, you will."
"Keep it dry."
I spent that night dreaming about him. It was a recurring dream, only in the past the faces had been hazy and nondescript. This time the body that was making me toss and turn had the doc's face, and with that the dream became much more intense and I woke up to a raging boner, which I took care of in seconds as I imagined his mouth moving up and down my cock.
I lay in bed and wondered where the hell this was all coming from. It was one thing to act on the spur-of-the-moment, like I'd done earlier today, but to actually dream about the man was something else altogether. Being raised in a primarily all-male household left little room to indulge in these fucked-up thoughts. If anyone in my family found out I was harboring fantasies about my doctor, or any man for that matter, I'd be thrown out in a second. Even my mother wouldn't be able to save me.
I'd lost my virginity when I was thirteen, most probably because I was already almost six feet tall and looked like I was eighteen. It was hurried and over in about four minutes. After that there was an endless stream of women who passed through my life. I made it a point to sleep with as many of them as possible hoping this would keep the other feelings at bay.
Unfortunately, not one of them made me sit up and pay attention for longer than a few days. They didn't stir my blood or play any part in my ongoing fantasies. I developed a reputation as a player, the ultimate challenge, the one who refused to commit.
As I got older, the women continued to throw themselves at me, and I did my best to live up to everyone's expectations. However, no amount of dating seemed to keep the other feelings away. I still looked at certain men longer than I should have, still imagined what it would be like to have a man take me in his mouth. These thoughts continued to plague me on a daily basis, and now the doc seemed to be the main attraction in this ongoing slide show in my head. Imagining him naked and begging was enough to get me off in mere seconds.
My weekly visits as an outpatient did nothing to curtail this desire; in fact, I went out of my way to wear shirts that were difficult to remove so that he'd have to help me. I knew I was playing a stupid and dangerous game, one that would never see fruition. I was sucked in as swiftly as an animal in quicksand, unable to stop myself from sinking deeper and deeper. Every touch of his sent electrical shockwaves straight to my groin.
The worst part of it was that I sensed he wanted me as well. He and I had become quite adept at touching each other unnecessarily. I could tell by the way his hands trembled by the end of each visit and his breathing would shift and become a little ragged. The last time he all but threw me out, urging me away in a voice raspy with suppressed feeling.
It was at my final checkup that I decided to ask him out for dinner. I did it on the pretense of gratitude for a job well done. In actuality, I was throwing caution to the wind, giving in to the impulse once again.
"You don't need to take me to dinner, Clark. I didn't do anything special."
"Maybe not, but I'd like to anyway. Come on; let me buy you a meal."
"Clark, you don't have to." The doc seemed very reluctant, probably in light of all that was going on with us during my follow-up visits, but I persisted, and he finally agreed.
We drove to Skates on the Bay in his black BMW. You could have eaten off the floor, which really said a lot about the man. I wondered if he was this anal about everything else in his life.
"Tell me something about you," I asked, after we got settled and the waiter brought our drinks. He was having a frozen margarita, and I had my usual Corona.
"There's nothing much to tell. I'm just a simple Midwesterner living out his dream in the Bay Area." His smile came easily, along with that small dimple that I noticed on the first night we met.
"Are you some kind of genius?"
"Why do you say that?"
"You went to Stanford, didn't you?"
"You don't have to be a genius to go there. I just got lucky."
"Oh, come on. You were probably on the fucking honor roll in your school."
He laughed out loud, but I was comfortable with it, knowing he was laughing with me and not at me. It was the end of the day, and the shadow on his face was thick, giving him that dangerous look that I found so appealing. His hair fell over his forehead, and he raked it back with his long fingers in an unconscious move. I tried to imagine what that hair would feel like fanned out all over my chest. I was embarrassed by my own thoughts, so I pulled a piece of bread out of the basket and started tearing it to shreds.
"I was a good student," he said, breaking through my train of thought. "Do you come from a big family?"
"Oh, yeah," I replied, "There's a bunch of us. I'm the runt of a five-son litter."
"Yup. I'm the baby of the family, subject to all the indignities of being the youngest."
"My brothers bullied me constantly, so I learned how to fight at an early age. I also got quite good at running away from them."
"Like Forrest Gump."
I laughed at his comment, a picture of Tom Hanks running across the football field vivid in my brain.
A waiter came over to take our order. "My name is Brad. What can I get you guys?"
I rattled off my usual: steak, medium rare, and a baked potato, loaded. Jody ordered some kind of fish.
"Hey," the waiter said, sticking the pencil behind his ear and getting really animated. "Aren't you Clark Stevens?"
"Dude, I'm a huge fan!"
"Thanks a lot."
"I've been watching you ever since you started at Cal. Your numbers are outstanding, man!"
I could feel my cheeks burning up, an embarrassing physical trait I couldn't seem to outgrow.
"I heard you broke your arm?"
"I'm all better; in fact, this is the guy that patched me up."
The waiter turned to look at Jody. "This kid's going places, Doc!"
"So I've heard."
"I'll be bringing your food as soon as I can." He gathered up the menus and left.
Jody took a sip of his drink and said, "I had no idea you were so famous."
"This is Berkeley, Doc. Anyone who likes football knows me. Outside of this area though, I'm nobody."
"I think you're just being modest."
"Let's not talk about me anymore."
"Okay ... what do you want to talk about?"
"How come your name is Jody? Isn't that a girl's name?"
He cracked a smile and said, "My real name is Jude. Jody's a nickname that stuck."
"Oh. Doesn't it bother you to have a girl's name?"
"Not at all. What about you, Clark? Were your parents big Superman fans?"
"What do you mean?"
"You know, Clark Kent, Superman's alter ego."
"I was named after Dwight Clark."
"San Francisco 49er. Best wide receiver ever. He was huge the year I was born."
"In case you haven't noticed," Jody said, leaning forward, "I'm not a big football fan."
"I'm beginning to figure that out. Let's change the subject then. Tell me about your girlfriend?"
"Oh.... "I was stunned to hear him say it out loud. Stunned, but a little jealous that he was so sure of himself.
"You don't look gay," I said quickly, immediately realizing how stupid that sounded.
Jody's surprise was evident in the shift of his body and his raised eyebrows. He looked confused by my last statement. Finally, he cocked his head to the right and said, "Do you think we all wear mascara and sequins?"
"No," I said quickly, backpedaling like mad. "I don't know much about your world."
"I didn't think so," he said, taking a sip of water and getting serious again. "Does it bother you? Being seen in public with a gay man?"
"Why should it? You don't look gay. Besides, you're my doctor; nothing else."
"Right," Jody said, never taking his eyes off mine. I could feel the blood rushing to my cheeks again. Could he tell about me? Did gay men just know about other men who were attracted to them, but too scared to do anything about it? Was I sending out some sort of signal I wasn't aware of? My mind was filled with a thousand questions, but all I could think of to ask was, "Have you always known you're gay?"
"I knew something wasn't right when I preferred watching Martha Stewart over Monday Night Football," he answered easily. "Then when I started salivating over Sean Connery's hairy chest, I knew I had issues."
"I'll bet," I replied, unable to keep the smile off my face. "Were your parents pretty cool?"
"They were, after they got over the initial shock. My father had me when he was in his forties. He was a widower when he met my mother, so by the time I was born, he was old enough to be my grandfather, and he spoiled me rotten. He's never been able to stay angry at me for longer than a day, so when I announced that I was gay, he took it in stride and launched on this quest to make me the best-educated gay man in Illinois."
"By keeping me disease free. He was rabid about safe sex, and I had videos hurled at me left and right. At the time, I thought it was all a little over the top, but as I got older and learned more, I realized what a loving thing he did. Mind you, this was all coming from a straight man with two grown sons. He could have just ignored me, hoping it was a phase that would pass, but he chose to be honest and open, which made an incredible difference in my state of mind."
"You're lucky they accept you for who you are."
"I am.... My parents were way ahead of their time. They acted like PFLAG parents long before they ever heard of it."
"It's a support group for parents of gay kids."
"What about your mom? Do you two get along?"
"She's a sweetheart, but I was always closer to my father."
"That's great," I said.
He must have heard the envy in my voice because he asked, "I know we talked about this before, but you never really gave me an answer. Don't you and your dad get along? He seemed very interested in you and your career."
"That would be an understatement."
"Let's not talk about him. I want to enjoy my dinner," I said with a slight frown. The idea of discussing my father and his obsession with my career wasn't exactly appealing.
"Do you always shy away from carbs?" I asked, noting the lack of rice or potatoes on Jody's plate.
He shook his head and swallowed before answering. "Not really. I just watch what I eat. I can't afford to get love handles at my age. Once they creep up they're hard to get rid of."
"What are you, twenty-six?"
"I knew that French cream was a good investment," he joked. "I'm thirty-three."
"Big deal ... you're not that old."
"That's easy for you to say. You're still in your twenties. Once you pass thirty, it's downhill all the way."
"Aww, come on ... you look great." Our eyes met and held, the unspoken words thick as syrup between us. My cheeks felt like they were on fire, so I quickly looked down at my food, attacking my baked potato with my fork.
Jody reached across the table and laid his hand on mine. "Is there something you want to tell me?"
I pulled my hand back instantly, looking around to see if anyone was watching. Jody was taken aback by my reaction, his facial expression mirroring his surprise as it changed from warm to icy cold. I was ashamed of what I had just done, but it was too late. I wanted to say "I'm sorry." Instead I remained silent.
The evening was ruined after that. Conversation became stilted, and I could tell that Jody wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. We finished our meal, declined dessert, and when I asked for the check, he reached for his wallet.
"Don't, please," I insisted. "I told you this was my treat."
"Thanks a lot."
Those were the last words he spoke that night. I wanted to say so much, yet I ended up saying nothing, an omission that would haunt me for days.
We drove to the hospital parking lot in silence. I pointed out my car, a beat-up Volvo I'd inherited from my mother, and he pulled up beside it and waited silently as I got out. He nodded when I thanked him, but took off without saying a word.
I stood there and watched him drive away, the custom license plate mocking me with the letters PROUD2B framed with a thin strip of rainbow colors.
The inside of my car was a disaster; a rolling locker room filled with clothes, books, and fast-food wrappers. I made a mental note to get the shit cleaned up, even though I knew the likelihood of that happening was pretty slim.
The drive from the hospital up Telegraph Avenue toward the Cal campus was slow this evening. It was Saturday night after all, and the streets were clogged with bikers and pedestrians. I tried to rein in my impatience, but I was fidgety and angry; probably because the last hour of an otherwise pleasant evening had turned sour due to my fucking homophobic behavior.
He must think I'm the biggest ass....
I got to my building and ran up the stairs, taking them two at a time, trying to blow off some steam. The look on Jody's face when I pulled my hand away was stuck in my head. I got to my apartment and fumbled with the door, finally pushing it open and then slamming it shut behind me.
The light on my answering machine was blinking so I hit the button and listened to the message while I wandered over to the fridge to pull out a beer.
"Hey, Clark ... it's me." Nikki's perky voice reverberated. "Call me when you get in. I'd love to hook up."
No surprise there. She was my self-proclaimed stalker, following me around since I was in the eighth grade. Nikki had developed a thing for me years ago, and it continued to this day even though I told her it was going nowhere.
She was persistent and also very convenient. Somehow she always ended up in my bed, which had everyone thinking we were a couple when nothing could be further from the truth. The reality was that it meant nothing to me. She was a means of release, someone I was comfortable with who was always available.
Tonight I was in the mood to forget the hurt in Jody's eyes so I hit speed dial, and she picked up after a second. "What are you doing?" I asked.
She was at my place in no time since she lived about five blocks away. I heard the knock, pulled the door open, and yanked her up against my body, practically ripping off her clothes and carrying her to the bed. Foreplay was unnecessary because she seemed just as eager to get on with the main event, pulling me roughly toward her and rutting against me, grabbing my cock and moving it back and forth across her wetness, hissing at me, begging for it. The condom was on before I knew it, and I closed my eyes and pushed into her, feeling her stretch to accommodate my size, listening to her groans as she thrashed about.
I was on automatic, pumping in and out of her, waiting for the release I badly needed. My mind kept wandering though, the fantasy easily taking over, and the blond cheerleader with the angelic face wasn't beneath me anymore. It was Jody looking up at me with his chocolate-colored eyes, his mouth stretched in a seductive smile, his tongue licking my lips, murmuring "fuck me" over and over. I exploded into Nikki, our bodies shuddering at the same time and, when I was spent, I rolled off her and moved to the other side of the bed, hoping she wouldn't do the cuddle thing because I didn't think I could stand it tonight. Not when the only arms I wanted around me were lean and muscular and male.
I got out of bed and padded off to the kitchen, threw the condom in the trash, and pulled a Corona out of the fridge. "You want anything to drink?"
"I'll have whatever you're having," she called out. Of course you will, I thought. Whatever you want, dear....
I watched her as she stretched out on my bed looking like something out of Playboy magazine. There was no denying the fact that she was a knockout. Her hair was the blond that bordered on platinum, and her eyes were as blue as a summer sky. She sat up, and the sheet fell away from her breasts. She did nothing to cover up, exposing them proudly, the pink nipples made pinker by her recent orgasm. They were as beautiful as the rest of her, and I should have been madly in love. But I wasn't. My heart felt dead.
I reached for the pile of mail that was sitting on the table. I'd left it to accumulate and there was a few days' worth. It was the usual stuff, but one letter caught my attention. It had the Cal logo on the upper left-hand side. I ripped it open and saw that it was from the registrar's office, with a list of my grades, class standing, and units completed to date. The English class was listed as incomplete with a note saying that I needed to take it and pass before I could graduate, let alone play football.
"What is it?" Nikki asked.
"The English class again. It's ruining my life."
"Oh, come on, Clark. It's not that bad."
"Drop it, Nik. I'm not in the mood for a pep talk."
She got off the bed and sashayed over to where I stood, rubbing up against me like a Persian cat in heat. I was starting to get hard again, so I let her lead me back to bed for another session before we both passed out.
The next morning I found that my mood hadn't improved at all. Seeing her tousled head in my bed should have made me feel better, but it didn't. I got up quietly, threw on a pair of sweatpants and a T-shirt, grabbed a bottle of water and my car keys, and left for my usual morning run. Hopefully Nikki would be gone by the time I got back.
It would have been so simple if I could just fall in love with her. None of these nagging doubts would exist, and both our families would be ecstatic. Instead, I always felt guilty after we'd been together, knowing I'd used her to get off.
Her parents and mine were good friends, part of the tight-knit community in Folsom that had known each other for years. Our fathers worked together at the prison, and when they noticed Nikki's interest in me, they practically set a wedding date, not even bothering to see how I felt about it. They just assumed the feelings were mutual, and after a certain point I didn't think to set them straight.
The only one who really knew how I felt was Nikki. She knew that I didn't love her that way. I cared for her as much as I cared for my brothers. It was a familial love, only with benefits.
The guilt weighed heavily this morning, thinking about all we'd done last night. The worst part was the fact that I'd been fucking someone else in my head. Someone who would probably never want to see or talk to me again after the little stunt I pulled at the restaurant.
It was a beautiful Sunday morning, and I headed for the track, doing my usual five miles until the sweat poured off my body. It felt good to be doing something physical, banishing the demons that had resided in my head for more years than I could remember. Exercise had always been the best sedative for me, the endorphins coating me with a sense of calm.
After checking the glove compartment to see that my wallet was in its usual place, I decided to make a coffee stop on my way home, choosing to go to Andronico's instead of Starbucks. My refrigerator was completely empty, so I headed toward my favorite store, mentally going over the things I needed to buy. I glanced up at the mirror and saw that I looked halfway decent, even though my hair was still wet and plastered to my skull. I ran my fingers through the bone-straight hair and fluffed it up a little so I didn't look like I just got out of the shower. My eyes were more green than blue today, a phenomenon that I lived with. The ever-changing kaleidoscope of my eye color was always a good topic of conversation.
I grabbed a cart and headed up the aisles, picking cans and boxes off the shelves and tossing them in without thinking. I was hoping not to forget anything, but I knew better. I'd probably forget the most important thing.
I turned the corner, heading up to the food court, and almost ran into Jody Williams and a companion. The shock of seeing him up close after dreaming about him all night threw me for a moment, and I stammered out a greeting.
"Hi, Jody. How's it going?"
"It's all good," he replied, barely cracking a smile. "This is my friend, Lil Lampert." His lanky companion was Jody's direct opposite in appearance, towering over him by at least five inches. While one looked completely straight and professional, the other could have been a poster boy for Castro Street and all it stood for. He was wearing a lime-green T-shirt and orange cut-offs with the requisite matching orange Crocs. His spiked brown hair had red, gold, and silver streaks, and, of course, the gold hoop in his left ear completed the picture.
"I'm a big fan," he said, sticking his hand out for me to shake it. It was surprisingly firm, not what I expected.
"You know football?" I asked stupidly, wanting to kick myself again. I seemed to be digging my hole deeper and deeper with regards to Jody.
"Don't look so surprised! Some of us Nelly queens actually enjoy sports," he replied, looking at me in amusement. He probably thought I was an idiot as well. God only knew what Jody had told him about last night's dinner conversation.
"You guys live around here?" I asked. "I don't recall seeing you at this store before."
"I do," Jody replied. "I live up the hill near the Claremont Hotel."
"I live in San Francisco, but then I'm sure you already figured that out," Lil said pointedly.
"What brings you our way?" Berkeley and San Francisco were worlds apart even though we were neighbors.
"Oh, I come out every other weekend to spend Sundays with Jody. If I didn't do that, he'd shrivel up and die without ever seeing sunlight. All he does is work."
"Shut up, Lil." Jody smiled at him, the accompanying dimple finally showing up as well. "Lil and I were roommates in college," Jody continued. "But now he's decided he's my mother."
"Well, someone has to take care of this boy, since he won't do it himself," Lil said, lowering his voice to a whisper, as if Jody weren't there. "He's all about taking care of others, you know. The great healer who ignores his own need."
"Got it. Well, I'll let you guys get back to your shopping," I said, trying to move my cart around them.
"It was nice meeting you, Clark," Lil threw out as I passed him by.
I walked away from them, feeling their eyes boring into my backside. I turned back for a minute and saw them walking off, Lil's arm draped loosely across Jody's shoulders, which were broader and more muscular than I ever remembered them to be. If fact, everything about his body was quite a surprise, once he removed his scrubs and other work attire. His legs were lean and well-formed, tanned a golden brown, despite Lil's remarks about Jody not seeing any sunlight. He was wearing Spandex biker shorts and a skin tight T-shirt that left little to the imagination. I couldn't stop staring.
Jody was at the checkout stand unloading his cart while Lil flipped through the pages of the National Enquirer. "He's better-looking in person," Lil said out loud.
"I know! It's criminal that anyone should look like that," Jody answered, stacking his groceries on the moving belt.
"You know he's bent, don't you?"
"Get the fuck out of here."
"I saw him checking out your ass."
"No, Jodes, you are."
Jody looked at his best friend and frowned. "Do you really think so, because I was picking up a signal too, but I thought I might be imagining it?"
"Honey, you're not imagining anything."
"Well, if he's gay, he's got some major issues he needs to deal with."
"I'm not wasting any energy on this."
"Methinks thou doth protest too much," Lil said pointedly.
Jody stuck his tongue out at his best friend, and Lil cracked up, his raucous laughter heard throughout the store.