Chapter 1 - The Dance
Rushing wind and the roar of his Harley filled Eric’s ears. The open freedom of the four-lane suburban drive and the brilliant power between his sturdy thighs filled his heart.
He looked into his mirror and moved from the left lane to the right. Eric smiled when the car behind him fell back respectfully. The power of his bike and his broad, leather-clad shoulders called for respect.
Eric slowed and turned into a parking lot. He pulled into an empty space between two parked cars. When he turned off his Harley, the sudden quiet struck with the power of a loud shout.
He stepped from his bike and removed his helmet. Twenty yards away stood the single story brown brick building that was the West Michigan Community House. He slowly walked to the building and stopped.
It was a Sunday afternoon, and instead of being out on the open road with his bike, Eric stood looking at the double doors of the Community House. Inside, he knew there was a gathering of men. Young men. Young, gay men. The flier in his pocket said the afternoon dance was being held to raise money for the West Michigan Gay Alliance. The flier also said the dance was a chance to meet new people and form new friendships.
He was nervous and unsure, but he knew he had to take this step. He knew he had to discover the truth. Eric walked to the doors, opened one, and stepped into a large crowded hall bright with sunlight streaming in through the oversized floor-to-ceiling windows that lined opposite walls. Music and voices filled the room and his ears. He looked around at the crowd.
Neatly dressed young men were standing in groups, talking, smiling, and looking happy. In a large open area in the middle of the hall, men were dancing with each other.
Eric felt completely out of place. Crowds always made him uncomfortable. A crowd of young gay men was a new experience. Slowly making his way through the packed room toward the coat check, he was intensely aware of the eyes that discovered and explored him.
Eric stood tall, with red hair and bright green eyes. He wore his hair in a buzz cut. On his chin he had a small, handsome, red goatee. There was no mustache above his moist crimson lips. Below the outside corner of his left eye, an inch and a half long vertical scar marked his cheek. He wore a sleeveless black T-shirt that showed off his muscular arms and creamy milk-white skin dusted with golden-red hairs. In his left hand he carried a black leather jacket. Black jeans and biker boots completed his virile appearance.
After leaving the leather jacket at the coat check, Eric found a line at the bar. Patiently but nervously waiting his turn, he looked around the room. That was when he saw him. Standing in the crowd was a face he recognized—a tall, dark young man casually watching the people on the dance floor.
A week earlier, with his girlfriend tagging along, Eric had gone to a local nursery looking for two crabapple trees. The tall dark man Eric was watching worked in that nursery. He had helped Eric choose two healthy young trees.
Eric was nervous. He felt lost and out of place. Voices and bodies and faces crowded around the bar. He was shy and wanted to leave, but he knew he had to stay. The face near the dance floor was the only person he even vaguely knew.
The man was also stunningly beautiful—the beauty of a smooth-skinned young man of Mediterranean descent. His eyes were soft, brown, and lively. His hair was short and black. His lips were proud and wet and flushed with rosy-youth. He was wearing a dark green T-shirt and carpenter jeans that showed off his magnificent round butt.
Eric stepped out of the line at the bar. He looked at the brown-eyed beauty. He remembered the voice, the eyes, and the smile. The memory gave him the boldness to approach and to speak.
“Let’s find out if I belong here,” he said to himself. He took a deep breath and walked to the young man.With a voice touched with nervousness he said, “Hi.”
The young man turned. “Hey,” he said with a warm smile. “How are you?”
Eric answered with his own smile. “I’m good, man.”
He had forgotten about the man’s eyelashes. They were long and soft, and Eric quickly felt them tug at his lonely heart.
“I’m Eric,” he said as he extended his hand.
“Nick,” the young, brown-eyed man answered. He took Eric’s hand and shook it with warm friendliness.
“I haven’t killed the trees yet,” Eric said.
“Don’t worry, crabapples are hardy. They can put up with a lot.”
“I’m glad,” Eric answered. “I don’t have much of a green thumb.”
Nick smiled. “You’ll do all right.”
Eric looked around the room. “How’s the dance?”
“I don’t know,” Nick answered. “I came here because my friend Tony told me she thought I might meet someone new, but it’s just the same old bar crowd; only here, they’re out in the daylight.”
“I’m new,” Eric pointed out.
“Yeah, you are. I’ve never seen you at the bars before.”
“I’ve never gone,” Eric admitted.
A slow, romantic song began to play. With the reawakened courage that he had only reclaimed yesterday, Eric knew it was time he stepped in to see if this was indeed his truth. He felt shy, but he knew what he had to do.
“Hey man,” he asked nervously, “you want to… uh… you want to dance?”
“Sure,” Nick answered.
Nick smiled. “Come on, man,” he said gently. He took Eric’s hand and led the way onto the crowded dance floor. He turned to face Eric. There was another momentary hesitation. Eric was not quite sure what to do. Nick smiled again and stepped closer. Eric cautiously put his right arm around Nick’s waist. Nick took hold of Eric’s left hand.
They stood almost the same height. Eric, at six feet, three inches, was just an inch taller than Nick.
Slowly, they began to move with the music.
“You’re a good dancer,” Nick said after a few moments. “A real good dancer.”
“I use to play football in high school and college,” Eric said. “Maybe weaving my way down the field taught me something I could use here.”
“Maybe,” Nick answered. “Whatever it is, you move great.”
Eric smiled and felt himself blush. “To tell the truth, I’ve never danced with a man before.”
“No!” Nick answered with mock surprise.
They shared their first laugh. The laughter helped Eric relax. He felt Nick’s strong body pressing against his own, comfortably and effortlessly following his lead.
Nick slowly moved his left hand from Eric’s shoulder to the back of his solid neck. The warm, strong hand on Eric’s skin was unexpected and pleasing. He quietly admitted to himself that he liked the hand on his neck. His mind became filled with the hand’s warmth. He was nervous and mystified, but he wanted the hand to remain on his skin.
“I’ve never seen such bright green eyes before,” Nick said. “Do all redheads have beautiful eyes like yours?”
Eric was taken by surprise. He was unaccustomed to compliments about his appearance and did not know how to respond. He looked past Nick’s face to the anonymous crowd around them.
“Well?” Nick asked.
“I don’t know,” Eric answered without looking at Nick.
Although still nervous, Eric felt safe and comfortable with Nick on that crowded dance floor. He could feel Nick’s strong back under his hand. He experienced a new and unanticipated satisfaction at the way Nick followed his every move. The hand on his neck continued sending waves of unfamiliar pleasure down his back. Together, he and Nick moved with a smooth, fluid grace.
He slowly returned his gaze to Nick’s face and looked into his warm brown eyes. They were beautiful eyes. Eric felt those brown eyes search deep into his own. They smiled at each other. Eric knew he was taking the first steps in the ancient art of discovery. He knew he was being quietly attracted to Nick and wondered what Nick was feeling and thinking.
Although Eric found an unexpected pleasure dancing with Nick, he was still uncomfortable in the crowded room. He wanted to get away. He wanted to get out into the open, into the fresh air. He also wanted to get to know Nick better. Maybe it was Nick’s smile, maybe it was his warm brown eyes—Eric was not sure, but whatever the reason, he felt relaxed with Nick. With Nick, he was comfortable. With Nick, he felt at ease. With Nick, he felt clean.
The music stopped and their dance ended. They returned to the spot where they had met.
“That was fun,” Nick said. “Thanks.”
Eric smiled. “You want a drink?” he asked.
“Yeah man, an ice-cold beer would be awesome,” Nick answered.
“Wait here,” Eric said. “I’ll be right back.”
He returned to the bar as another dance started. He came back to Nick as that dance was ending and a new one was beginning. “Here you go,” he said as he handed Nick a cold bottle of beer.
“Thanks,” Nick said. He took a long drink. “Ah, I needed this. It’s getting warm in here with all these bodies.” They had to speak loudly because of the music.
“Have you been to these daytime dances before?” Eric asked.
“No,” Nick answered. “Have you?”
Eric shook his head no. The music stopped and another slow romantic dance began playing. “You want to go again?” He pointed to the dance floor.
In answer, Nick smiled, put his bottle on a nearby table, and took Eric’s hand. Again, he led the tall redhead into the crowd of dancers.
After their second dance had finished, Eric hesitantly asked Nick, “Hey man, do you want to go for a walk or something? You know, to get some cool, fresh air?”
Nick looked at Eric for a moment before smiling and answering, “Sure. Where?”
“How about Riverside Park? It’s just down the road.”
“Let’s go,” Nick said.
Nick was happy and light-hearted. Eric enjoyed his smile, his freshness, and his openness. On their way out, Eric stopped at the coatroom and retrieved his leather jacket.
The two men walked together into the parking lot. Eric led Nick to his Harley.
“Whoa! A biker!” Nick exclaimed.
“I’m not in a club or anything like that, but I like to ride. I’ve got an extra helmet here. You want to ride on my bike with me to the park?”
Eric unlocked his helmets, handing the spare to Nick. Nick put it on and fumbled with the straps as he tried to tighten them.
Eric smiled, reached over, and helped him. “Here,” he said. “Like this.” As he tightened the straps, the back of his fingers brushed against the warm, soft skin of Nick’s jaw.
“Thanks,” Nick said when Eric finished.
Eric put on his own helmet and mounted his bike. “Get on,” he told his new friend.
Nick climbed onto the bike. “Man, I love that smell.”
“Your leather jacket.”
Eric didn’t know what to say to that, so he just said, “Hang on.”
The bike exploded to life with that unmistakable Harley roar. Nick’s hands quickly grabbed Eric’s waist and held firm.
Eric did not tell Nick most men did not hold the waist of another man when two of them were riding on the same bike. He allowed Nick to hold him. He liked Nick’s hands on him. He wanted Nick’s hands on him. There was almost a pride in him, a pride that this beautiful, dark man with strong hands was holding him.
Eric pulled out of the parking lot onto the four-lane avenue. In a surge of power, they merged into the traffic and sped down the road. The fresh wind swept past them in a riot of sound.
Riding down the road toward the park, Eric was intimately aware of the hands on his waist. He did not care about the looks from the cars they passed; he wanted Nick’s hands to stay on him.
Eric felt Nick’s helmet gently touch his back between his strong, broad shoulders. The touch lasted no more than a few seconds, and then it was gone. He felt the hand on his left side move slowly forward under his leather jacket to his T-shirt-covered stomach. For the shortest of moments, the hand rested there, and the fingers lightly caressed his belly. Then the hand returned to his waist.
In his mind, Eric imagined Nick lifting his leather jacket and black T-shirt. He imagined Nick leaning on his back, resting his face there, breathing in the aroma of Eric’s skin, and kissing his back.
Eric’s daydreaming stopped when they neared the park. They rode through the north gate. Eric pulled up under some old cottonwood trees, turned off the bike, and looked back toward Nick.
“You first,” he said.
Nick dismounted the bike. Eric followed.
“How was the ride?” Eric asked.
“Man, that was sweet as hell,” Nick answered with boyish excitement. “I love the speed, the wind, and the openness. All the free space around me. And the power. Man, all that power between my legs. That’s fucking awesome.”
Eric removed his helmet and laughed at Nick’s excitement. “I’m glad you liked it. Do you ever ride?”
“No, man,” Nick answered. “I’ve never, ever been on a motorcycle before.”
With Eric’s help, Nick took off his helmet. Eric locked both helmets onto the bike. After making sure everything was secure, the two men walked down near the river.
For a few minutes, they watched a flock of ducks sunning themselves on the grass. When the ducks took notice and started looking for a handout, the young men walked away under the ancient cottonwoods along the river’s edge.
The riverbank was grassy and shaded by the old trees. Stones had been placed along the bank to help stop erosion. The air was warm, filled with the sounds of birds chirping and children playing on nearby swings. The aromas of water, wild mint, and charcoal were in the air.
“You know, Nick,” Eric said, “I’ve never been to a gay dance before. I’ve never been around so many gay men before.” He looked at the river as he walked and spoke.
“Yeah, I kind of got that feeling,” Nick answered.
“I have a girlfriend,” Eric confessed quietly.
“Was she the one with you when you bought the trees?”
“Yeah, but I think I’ve kind of been using her.”
“What do you mean?”
“You know, as a cover.”
“A cover?” Nick asked.
“Yeah. You know, I mean… I think I’ve been hiding behind her. Using her to prove to everyone, including me, that I’m not….” He paused.
Finally, Eric said in a low voice, “You know, not gay.”
Nick walked quietly beside Eric.
“Wow,” Eric said. “That’s the first time I’ve said that out loud to anyone.”
Nick stopped and looked at Eric. “Are you gay?” he asked.
Eric stopped walking. He looked across the river to the trees on the opposite bank. A great blue heron was fishing in the shade of the tall old trees. Watching the large bird, he answered in a quiet voice. “Yeah.” Slowly, he turned and looked at Nick. “Yes. I think so.”
Nick smiled. “You think so. What do you mean, you think so?”
Eric looked into Nick’s dark, warm eyes. Those beautiful eyes looking back into his own both calmed and stirred him. Those eyes quietly called to him and warmed him.
“Yesterday,” Eric answered, “I finally started being honest with myself. After twenty-four years I finally started being honest with me. Yes. Yes, Nick, I’m gay.”