“It’s a cruise!!” Jim and Paul squealed together as I opened the envelope they’d handed me as my Christmas gift. “We know we agreed that we wouldn’t go overboard, but we just couldn’t help it.” Jim gushed with excitement as he pulled me into a hug.
Paul held back – he was always the more reserved of the two, but even he was excited. “You’ve helped us so much this year; we just wanted to say thank you.”
I looked down at the ticket in my hand, unable to believe my eyes. “Thank you, but…” I had so many questions.
Jim started gushing again. “We already called your boss and arranged for the time off from work. So you’re all set – you leave in five days.” I was hugged to within an inch of my life … and it felt good. These two men were as close to a family as I had. Hell, they were the understanding parents I’d never had. I had met Jim and Paul years ago when I got my first job and my first apartment. They still lived in the same place, while I had moved to another part of the city, but I could never leave them behind. I spent holidays, birthdays – both theirs and mine – with them. We laughed together, joked together, and we loved each other.
“If you check the ticket, you’ll see that we got you your own cabin so you can have some fun.”
Their apartment was decorated to the max with a huge tree and lights galore. “Thank you so much.” I hugged both of them, unable to believe their generosity. “I haven’t gotten your gifts yet.” It was only the first week of December and I had just stopped over to see if they wanted to go shopping. Both Jim and Paul were approaching seventy years of age and neither of them drove, so I stopped by regularly to take them shopping and to help with things they couldn’t do anymore.
“Just bring us something from the cruise.” Paul hugged me again before sitting back on the sofa.
Jim quipped as he headed into the kitchen, “Yeah, preferably someone tall, handsome, and just your size.” They both laughed and I joined in as well. We all knew my dating history – unlucky at best. Jim returned with a tray of his infamous cocktails and treats, setting the tray on the coffee table. But instead of passing out the drinks, he went to the huge Christmas tree and started pulling out packages. “Before you say anything, we know we sprang the cruise on you, and with your work you won’t have time to shop, so we got you a few things,” he explained, plopping half a dozen wrapped boxes on my lap. “Open, open, open!” Jim was like a kid on Christmas morning while I did as he asked.
The boxes contained a nearly complete cruise wardrobe with shorts, fashionable t-shirts, tank tops, and even light dress pants and a shirt. They had great taste, and while I’d never spring for such fashionable clothes myself (my wardrobe consisting mainly of work clothes and jeans), I knew what they’d bought would look good on me.
“I don’t know what to say; this too much.”
It was Paul’s turn at the tree. “Nonsense; you do so much for us.” He handed me a small package. “This is just our way of saying thank you. And you know we love you – you’re the son neither of us ever had.” Paul started laughing. “Besides, we got to spend an evening with the International Male catalog.”
I opened this last small box to find two bathing suits. Small bathing suits. One was a blue square-cut with anchors on the buttons and the other was a very brief bikini. “We couldn’t send you on a cruise and let you wear those huge board shorts that go down to your knees. Yuck!” They both laughed. “Okay, go try one on, we want to see you.” I looked at both men, giving them my best “You’ve got to be kidding” stare, but they wouldn’t be put off, so I found myself in the bathroom, changing into the blue square-cut suit.
I came out of the bathroom, feeling a little shy, but as soon as they saw me, they started gushing again. “You’ll be beating them off with sticks!”
“Honey, they’re gonna love you.”
I twirled around for their enjoyment and then went back into the bathroom to get dressed again. When I came out, they passed around the drinks and Jim made a toast: “Here’s hoping you get harpooned on the high seas.” All three of us cracked up, particularly since that wouldn’t be surprising.
Up to this point, my love life had been one disaster after another. There was Julio, who was very sensual and a lot of fun, both in and out of bed, but he refused to move away from home. Stavros was gorgeous – tall, dark, handsome – and married. A fact he neglected to mention for two months. Irving was a delightful shy, quiet, and intellectual man whom I dated for almost six months. We had a great time until he told me his ultimate fantasy involved me naked on all fours, calling him Master and him calling me his puppy. Everyone has to draw the line somewhere, and mine is eating with my fingers out of a doggy dish. I’m sorry, but utensils are absolutely non-negotiable.
“Henry, you’re a wonderful man who deserves to be happy and maybe, just maybe, you’ll find that on the cruise.” It was Paul, the eternal romantic, who’d said he’d never given up on finding true love. He and Jim hadn’t met until both of them were in their fifties. They’d been happy together for twenty years now.
We spent the rest of the evening laughing together like we always did in their warm, homey, and utterly charming apartment. When I got up to leave, they both hugged the stuffing out of me and wished me bon voyage.
“I’ll call you before I leave,” I promised.
They both hugged me again, told me they loved me, and got me a bag for their gifts before seeing me to the door.