“Darling, did you hear?” Helen asked me over her eggs Benedict and my newspaper.
“Hear what?” I asked, trying to find the few comics I still found amusing.
“The place next door sold.”
I lowered the paper, Non Sequitur forgotten. “Really?”
The house was a lovely little Craftsman bungalow, but the previous tenants hadn’t kept it up, and in my opinion, its asking price had been a little too high, especially in this economy. It had been empty for at least a year
Helen nodded. She loved good gossip, and after twenty years of marriage, I could tell she wasn’t done yet. “And guess what?”
“Tell me, honey.”
“Two men bought it!”
I am not a morning person, and for some reason, I had missed her implication. “Two men?”
Helen’s eyes were wild. “Daisy told me at the beauty parlor yesterday. Can you believe it? A gay couple! In this neighborhood!”
Gay couple? Oh! I was surprised. Sherman Oaks wasn’t exactly conservative, but it wasn’t liberal, either. A gay couple? Next door? Holy shit… visions of swishy men in pink boas filled my head.
“Daisy said they’re ‘sweet’.”
Would the Village People and the Bee Gees be filling the air all day and night?
“What’s the world coming to?” Helen said. “Daisy says the gays will be allowed to get married before we know it.”
I shook my head and tried not to laugh. The gays? This had to be a nightmare for her. She hated Will and Grace; said she couldn’t get the vision of Will having sex with a man out of her head. Now, Jack, I could have understood, all swishy and loud. But Will? He was almost one of the guys.
A week later, and I had forgotten all about new neighbors. Helen was out of town on one of her endless urban missionary retreats, helping poor underprivileged children. I was so grateful she did all that on her own. As long as I went to church with her on Sundays and wore a nice suit, she was happy.
I woke that Saturday morning to the noise. I peeked out our bedroom window at the driveway of the house next door. There was a big moving truck in front of the house with the ramp down and men moving furniture up the drive.
I dressed quickly and joined the Treachers, the couple from across the street, in watching the spectacle. I couldn’t tell whether the new homeowners were around; all the men I saw were manly. Not a flashy outfit or feather anywhere. After a moment it occurred to me that there were only two men who weren’t wearing overalls. But could they…? The two men who were helping the movers were certainly not what I was expecting.
Both wore tank tops and shorts and were lifting and carrying like pros. They looked to be in their forties, like me, and were sweating up a storm. It didn’t seem possible. Neither was like the guy I knew back in college. They were, well, just guys.
When one stopped for a moment and popped open a beer, I realized how I must look. I abandoned the Treachers, took up my courage, and walked up to introduced myself. “Good morning,” I said, stomach jumping, “I’m Grant. Are you one of the….” I stopped, suddenly embarrassed and unsure. What had I been about to say? One of the new fags?
He grinned. “Not exactly morning,” he said in a deep voice. “I wait till noon to have a drink and it is exactly 12:01.” He held out his hand. “I’m Tony. Mark was here a minute ago. Probably making sure they don’t break the china.”
Ah, I thought. Mark must be the woman of their relationship. That made sense. They might both look like men, but one had to be the girl, right?
I shook Tony’s hand and was surprised at the grip. He was a bit taller than me, with large hands that almost swallowed mine. His arms were covered in brown hair and more flowed from over the low neckline of his tank top. That led me to see that he had quite the chest, even if he had a bit of middle-aged spread. He had a full but trimmed beard under brown eyes and a slightly receding hairline. A man. Just one of the guys.
Helen would be so pissed that I met the new neighbors first. I could hear her now: “Did you at least offer them lemonade?”
“No, dear, they were drinking beer.”
That’s when Tony offered me one.
I shrugged. I hadn’t had so much as a piece of toast yet, but the sun was hot and it sounded like a good idea. And it was a local brewery instead of one of the big brands that had always tasted like piss to me. “Sure,” I said, “why not?”
He got me one and let the movers know where the cooler was. I liked him already.
I followed him through the garage and into the house and was immediately impressed. They had painted and it looked great. The living room was a golden color, and with the big bay window curtains open, the room practically glowed. To the rear, the serving hatch was open, and I could see that the kitchen was now a bright green and white. The pocket doors of the pass-through between the living room and the kitchen looked new, and I could see they had even replaced the kitchen counters. I reached out and touched the doors.
“We just replaced them,” came a new voice. I turned and recognized the other man I had seen outside. “I know it isn’t original, but there were so many layers of paint it would have taken the patience of a saint to remove it all. And it isn’t like the house is a historical landmark.” He was a bit shorter than Tony, but his chest was just as big, yet smooth. His hair was shorter and graying, which made his blue eyes stand out like gemstones.
“This is Grant,” said Tony. “Grant, this is Mark.”
Mark reached out a hand, and I was surprised to find his shake even stronger than Tony’s. The girl?
“Nice to meet you,” he said, and I was startled to see him check me out with a quick sweep of those piercing eyes. I didn’t know what to think. Part of me was outraged but another part…. My stomach fluttered. Not going there!
“China okay?” I asked weakly.
Tony laughed. “I was just telling Grant you were worried about them breaking it.”
“Well, it was your grandmother’s! If it has survived this many years, the least we can do is make sure it gets into the hutch. You drinking already?”
He was the girl, all right!
Mark checked his watch. “What time is it? Oh! Okay!” He laughed. “Six after. And fuck, it’s after twelve somewhere in the world, right? Get me a beer and I’ll show Grant around.” He motioned for me to follow. I felt a flash of fear. What for? What was he going to do? I took a swallow of beer and went after him.
The rest of the house looked good too. The dirty walls were all painted anew, baseboards and floors stripped and refinished. When the hell had they done all this? All the rooms looked bigger somehow. I tried not to look too closely at the master bedroom, but I couldn’t help myself. It was done in all dark colors and the bed was a huge wooden king-size thing. All very masculine. This is where they—but no! I wasn’t going there.
The nasty orange shag carpeting in the back room had been replaced, and there was a bar being set up. Through the sliding glass doors, I could even see that the pool had been drained and a new lining put in. These guys were kicking ass.
“Sit down,” Mark said, and I picked a recliner so as not to take the chance he’d sit next to me. He sat on the couch and kicked his feet up on a sturdy coffee table. His feet were big. I don’t know why I noticed that. Big and clad in tan work boots, and I wondered what size he wore. That led to something else I didn’t want to think about, and as I pulled my eyes away from his feet, I saw his well-muscled and fairly smooth legs, so different from Tony’s. I tried not to notice the bulge in the front of his shorts, but when I looked up, I saw he’d caught me. I blushed so hard I could feel it. I expected him to say something, but he just asked me about myself and how long I’d lived in the neighborhood.
I was surprised at how quickly he made me feel at ease, the both of them, really, especially after a few more beers. We were soon laughing, and I was quite buzzed and realized that I really needed to eat something. I knew I should go, but I didn’t want to. These guys were, well, just guys. They even smelled like guys. Tony said they hardly ever wore deodorant, hated the stuff and all the fake smells men put on. I was surprised at how inoffensive their scent was, even after the morning’s exertions. It just added to their guy-ness.
“I should go get something to eat. I could make you guys sandwiches,” I offered.
“Don’t bother,” said Tony. “I’ve already ordered pizzas. Stay and have some.”
I did. I even helped carry stuff in and move it around too. We got pretty relaxed with each other that first day. To my surprise, I wasn’t even disgusted the first time I saw them kiss.