THE WALLS of the apartment closed in around Dr. Bryan Newcastle the moment his partner Del arrived. Bryan had negotiated the busy Boston streets between the hospital and the Beacon Hill Victorian-esque apartment house. He’d foregone the subway in the hope that the fresh air would clear his head.
With each step, he imagined this as the last time he’d go to their shared home. The last time he’d care to confront the problems that so blatantly existed between him and Del.
Sullen as always, Del put his briefcase down on the foyer table, poured himself a drink, and plodded into the living room. With a grunt, he flopped onto the sofa and put his feet up on the scarred surface of the antique mahogany coffee table. He rolled his head toward Bryan. “What are you so happy about?”
The hairs on the back of Bryan’s neck bristled at Del’s mockery. “Have you not heard anything I’ve said for the last six months?”
Del closed his eyes. “When I hear complaints that I’m not fulfilling some perverse sexual fantasy or horseshit like that, I zone out. We know each other too well to have to perform in bed like that.”
“Perform? Is that what you call it when I ask for a little consideration? You get off and tell me to fend for myself. Christ!”
Del waved a dismissive hand. “I’m happy with our arrangement. Once you started watching all that spanking shit on GayTube, you exhausted my patience. Why would I want to blister your ass? Only freaks submit themselves to that, and I’ve never thought you a freak.”
Bryan silently talked himself off a mental ledge. “Why is it you can’t see that a relationship goes two ways? I’ve given you all I’ve got, and I haven’t seen a return on that in a long time. There must have been something about me that attracted you. Have I changed that much?”
“To be honest, yes, you have. However, I’m content to overlook your penchant for sexual oddities if you will just forget about them so we can go back to the way we were. Without your head in perversion, I’m more than happy with our arrangement.”
Del hadn’t heard a word and obviously never would. “That’s just it. Because I want something more than missionary, you think me some kind of pervert. How do we recover from that?”
“For Christ’s sake, the conclusion is the same, isn’t it? We get off. Does it matter if we go through all sorts of machinations to get there? I think not. Neither of us are acrobats.”
Bryan clenched his fists. “All I’ve ever asked is that you indulge me once in a while.”
“I’m not into that shit. Period.” Del punctuated the air with his finger. “I’ve seen how you watch those guys online. Is that what you want? For someone to control you? I’ve handled everything at the office because you are more comfortable not knowing about the day-to-day running of the business. Around here, we share expenses and duties. I’m happy with our sexual arrangement and that won’t change. I suggest you consider my feelings in this. You are much too wrapped up in some fantasy to see that the life we have is good.”
Bryan paced, frustrated as ever with the repetitious conversation. “Our life is good because you deem it so? You haven’t a clue. I need more, things you are apparently unwilling to give. I’m in control all day, every day, and the responsibility is overwhelming. Sometimes I want to let go and give it up to someone else.”
Del huffed and drank deeply from his bourbon. “My answer is simply—no. I have no desire to control you sexually, nor do I wish you to control me. That’s a sick man’s fantasy.”
Bryan stepped before Del, angered that Del’s leisure so disturbed him. “I thank you for your assessment of my mental stability.” Then he went to the bedroom and dug out a suitcase from the back of the closet. After he emptied his dresser drawers, he snagged a couple of changes of clothes, then grabbed his toothbrush, before he returned to the living room. “I’m done. And this time, for good.”
He opened the door, then looked back at a smug Del.
“You’ll be back. We still have the practice, and I have no intention of buying you out.”
“We are done, Del. Finished in every way. I’m going to sell my share of the practice. Buy it or not, I don’t care. We’ve had offers and it really doesn’t matter who I sell it to.”
Del’s face went ashen. When he stood in haste, his drink sloshed onto his neatly pressed slacks. “I’m sorry, Bry. No need for such haste. We’ll work around the sex thing. Look, you can find someone who will do what you want. I won’t consider anything you do cheating and I won’t get jealous, I promise.” He extended his arms. “See, there’s always a way to work these kinds of things out.”
“Two years I wasted on you, on us. Not a minute more.” He took a step out the door.
Del stared, his eyes dead as agates.
“You’ll hear from my attorney about my half of the practice.”
The slam of the door resounded in the otherwise quiet hallway. As Bryan walked toward the elevator, his heart thudded. He’d done it. Only the formalities remained. When the elevator binged, Bryan stepped in and pushed the lobby button. He had no idea where to go, but thankfully, up was no longer an option.
PHIL SANDERSON manically pushed the galleys across his desk, while Larry, his more laid-back assistant, stood over him, waiting for the final approval on the afternoon edition.
“These look fine, but why did you bring them to me so late?”
“Trouble with advertising. They didn’t get their mocks to me until a few minutes before I came in here.”
Phil slid his glasses off his face, then rubbed his temples.
“You’re wound tighter than a thirty-day clock. Something wrong?”
Phil spared Larry a jaundiced glance. “What could possibly be wrong? I’m here no less than eighteen hours a day, which leaves me no life. No, Lar. Not a damn thing’s wrong.”
“What about that boyfriend of yours? Doesn’t seem he’s relieving your tension the way he should.”
“Ha! There is no boyfriend. You talking about Dewey? Hardly a boyfriend. We meet up a couple of times a week. That’s it. I haven’t had anyone in ages. No time. Who’d put up with my schedule?”
Larry laughed as he gathered the galleys. “True enough, dude. You should think about something other than this newspaper. I know how every department works and what I don’t know, the department heads do. Give me the reins once in a while. You don’t need to be here every minute.”
Phil walked to the window and looked out over the busy street. “You know I’m funny like that. This is all mine, which makes me responsible for a lot of people’s livelihoods. If it goes to shit, I don’t want anyone else at fault.”
“Yeah, sure, but you need a vacation. Think about it.”
Phil waved his hand. “I’ll think about it.”
Phil turned his back and breathed a sigh when the door closed behind Larry. Outside work, he’d spent a lot of time alone lately, save for the infrequent meetings with Dewey, who’d grown tired of his inadequate attentions and had found someone else willing to tie him down and take a flogger to him.
Restless, Phil flopped into his old wooden desk chair. Vacation sounded good, but when? He flipped the pages of his calendar, pleasantly surprised when he came across a memo he’d written to himself—June 20th, gay cruise.
“Already,” he murmured. Two and a half weeks and he hadn’t called Dalton to reserve his cabin.
Larry’s words, his own desperation, and memories of past cruises trumped any excuse. Before he changed his mind, Phil picked up the phone and called his old college buddy, who ran the cruise every year.
“Well, damn, it’s about time, you jackass. I’d all but written you off,” Dalton said.
“And hello and I’m fine to you too.”
“Glad to hear it, pal. So you’re coming this year?”
The chair creaked as Phil sat back. “Yeah. I’ve got to get out of here for a while. Two weeks on a cruise ship full of gay guys sounds like heaven right now.”
“All is not well in paradise, huh?”
Phil harrumphed. “Paradise? Where in hell do you think I live?”
“Well, Des Moines is nice by some standards, but you’re right. Paradise, no way.”
“So you have a cabin for me?”
“Yeah, of course. We’ve had a great response this year, but there are a few cabins left. A little different format this year. More privacy to play. I’ll have your cabin outfitted for your particular talents. If I know you, you’ll find a willing playmate within hours of boarding.”
Phil’s anxiety leveled at the thought. “Some anonymous play is just what the doctor ordered.”
“This year, we’ll have a reception just after we sail, so you can shop ’til you drop, my romantic friend.”
“No whimpering guys. I’m up for some rough play, then to bed. When the sun comes up, they leave with their asses sore, their bodies sated, and I can move on.”
“Dewey too demanding lately?”
“Clingy and he’s very unhappy with my work schedule. Doesn’t understand responsibility.”
The door opened, and Larry came in, waving a galley sheet.
“Look, Dalt, I have to go. See you on the 20th, huh?”
“Sure, dude. Bring your favorite toys. See you then.”
Phil put the phone on the cradle just as Larry slapped the paper onto his desk. “You didn’t proof this, did you?”
Phil widened his eyes as he read. “Fuckers?”
“Yeah. The title is Meet the Fockers. Like I said, you really need a vacation.”
FRUSTRATED, BRYAN studied the travel posters on the walls of Beacon Hill Travel, his sister Margie’s agency. He dismissed Greece, France, and London. Not places he wanted to go to alone.
“This might tickle your fancy, Bry. A two-week gay cruise.” Margie leafed through the colorful brochure. “I meant to send this to you but I got busy. Lucky you came in when you did.”
“Are you serious? A gay cruise?”
“Yeah, this group does it every year. I always send you the info, but you never respond.”
“Can you imagine Del on one of these?”
“The only place I can imagine Del is out of your life.”
“Me too.” Bryan smiled at Margie, but didn’t go into the gory details. “You know, this might be what I need. I can’t think of anything I want more than two weeks away from Boston.”
“They only have a few cabins left. From all reports, this cruise is quite the thing each year. Fun, sun, Speedos, even a night of BDSM fun.”
Bryan leafed through the brochure. “Where does it say that?”
Margie grabbed the glossy leaflet from his hand and found the paragraph. “Here.”
She pointed to a photograph of a large room outfitted with equipment similar to what Bryan had seen online. His interest piqued.
“Come on. Give me your card and I’ll get you booked.”
Without hesitation, Bryan slid his wallet out of his back pocket. “I don’t want to share a cabin, you hear? I know how you are with the matchmaking.”
Margie laughed. “I keep telling you that Del isn’t good enough for you. You deserve someone who appreciates you.”
“So you keep saying. Just be sure to make it a single.”
“So-o glad to know he isn’t going with you.”
Her skilled hinting made Bryan more determined not to tell her what had happened, not until he wrapped up all the details. He shook his head. “He’s the reason I have to get away. Some heavy shit has happened and I need distance.”
Margie pounded away at the computer as she inputted Bryan’s information. “I don’t know why you’ve put up with him this long. He is so self-involved and, if you don’t mind me saying, he’s sucked the life right out of you, and not in a good way.”
Bryan glanced over at the other desk in the office. Margie’s employee, Susan, looked up and smiled. “Ah, sis. Maybe not so loud with the comments, huh?”
She smiled as she shook her head. “Suze knows you’re gay.” Margie leaned in. “I had to tell her when she asked me to hook her up with you.”
Bryan’s face grew hotter as common sense lost out to the impulse to look Susan’s way. He smiled, then cleared his throat before he again concentrated on Margie. “Still. No need to make a production of it.”
“Whatever. So how long are you going to put up with him? I’d have tossed him out on his ass long before now.”
“And that, my dear sister, is the reason no guy sticks around longer than a couple of weeks. You’re so bossy.”
“Pfft. I don’t put up with their shit—and neither should you. You’re too good for him.”
“I’m working on it. We’ve stayed together longer than we should, but we’ve comingled our lives—money and the medical practice. I need time to sort it all out. Splitting is like a divorce without the alimony.”
Margie slid his credit card back across the desk. “But that’s no excuse for staying. Breaking up won’t get easier. Make the move and I’ll find you a cutie to soothe your broken heart.”
To take Margie seriously, he’d have to forget the spikey red hair, her purple lipstick and nails, and the fact that she’d dramatically rested her hand over her heart and batted her eyes.
“Believe me. When I get out for good, a broken heart will be the least of my worries.”
Margie chuckled and continued keystroking. “Got you a good flight to Fort Lauderdale, and I’ll arrange to have a car pick you up and take you to the docks.”
“My ever-efficient little sis.”
“Someone has to look after you. Okay. You’re all set. Here are your plane tickets to and from Fort Lauderdale, and the tickets for the cruise. Single cabin. You got the last one. I’ll text you with the name of the car service and where they’ll meet you at the airport. Just go and have a good time, and I want a full report when you get back.”
Bryan skimmed the confirmations, then looked back at Margie. “Thanks, hon. You don’t know how badly I need this.”
Margie stood, came around her desk, and drew Bryan into her arms. “Love you, you know. I hate to see you unhappy.”
“I’m working my way out of it. I just need time.”
“I want the full scoop on how the cruise turns out and if you meet some hottie that makes you drool.”
Bryan walked to the door. “A plethora of piña coladas and lots of sun will fill the bill nicely, but I won’t turn down a hottie.” He winked at her as Susan blushed. “Yeah, I’ll give you the lowdown when I get back. Thanks, hon. Have a good one.”
“You too. Love you.”