FORTY-FIVE.

Forty didn’t bother me so much. I’m not sure why. Maybe because I had a lover back then. Getting older isn’t such a bad prospect when you’ve got someone to grow old with. But forty-five and single… you might as well hang it up. In the gay world, forty-five is ancient. Forty-five means you must have been around to see what happened to the dinosaurs. Forty-five and you could have been around to wave farewell to friends sailing on the Titanic. Forty-five and…. Well, you get the picture. It’s old.

Not that I felt old. Or looked it, in my humble opinion. Believe me, I took a close look in the bathroom mirror when I was getting ready for my birthday bash, and I wasn’t horribly concerned with what I saw. Okay, maybe there was the hint of crow’s feet around the eyes and a few—but not many—gray hairs nestled amongst the blondish-brown. Slight sagging of the cheeks. There were exercises you could do to help correct that, weren’t there? Or creams. Or plastic surgery. Hey, if it was good enough for the late, great Joan Rivers, comedienne extraordinaire, it was good enough for Frank Hunter, artist and waiter for a catering firm.

I was still in good shape. While I can’t say I often saw the inside of a gym, I did a fair amount of walking. Every morning, rain or shine, I took my dog for a walk around the neighborhood. If this doesn’t sound like much of a workout to you, you haven’t met Fantine. Fantine is a border terrier and a bit of a diva. She likes her walks and grumbles if I try to cut them short. She has a path that she likes to follow and doesn’t deviate from it much. When we get home, I feel like I’ve had a good workout and deserve a cup of tea. She’s ready to go again.

Thank goodness for Fantine. She gives me someone to talk to when I come home from work. I used to talk to Jason, but the silly bastard went and died. I wasn’t there. He was visiting relatives in Virginia and, as far as anyone can tell, got really drunk one night and fell off a pier and drowned. The drowning part is fact; the drunk part I’m assuming. His family won’t say. In fact they don’t like to talk about that night at all, especially with me. But I can see the whole thing in my mind. He probably got angry with his brother or with his mother or his father and started hitting the rum. Jason loved his rum. I can see him staggering out of the house late at night, clutching the bottle in his hand, as clearly as if I’d been there. I have no doubt he was muttering to himself as he walked down to the pier, cursing whoever had angered him. He liked to curse almost as much as he liked rum. And then—a slip, a splash, and….

And nothing. No more Jason.

I talked to him even after that. Had whole conversations. I’d come home from work and ask him how his day went and then I’d tell him about mine. This went on for months, until I decided to get a dog so that if someone overheard me talking to Jason, they wouldn’t think I was crazy for talking to a dead person. They’d just think I was crazy for talking to a dog and asking her how her day went.

Where was I? Oh, yes. Turning forty-five.

Turning forty-five sucked almost as much as the gin and tonic I was drinking, which I’m pretty sure they made with paint thinner instead of gin.

“You’re thinking about Jason, aren’t you?” Zach asked.

Zach was my best friend. Every now and then someone just fits a stereotype, either by accident or design. Maybe Zach was as butch as anyone when he’d been young. Somewhere along the line, though, he put on this act to become a flaming queen. Maybe after a while it was impossible to tell where the act left off and Zach began. Or maybe he’d always been effeminate. Maybe being a drag queen just brings out the diva in you. Who knows? All I knew was that I loved Zach Schubert as a brother. He was a big black man. Not obese. Just stocky. His drag name was Hetty Suxual. Yeah, I know.

I smiled. “How could you tell?”

“Honeychild, whenever I see you go all puppy dog eyes, I know you’re thinking about Jason. How long has it been?”

“Four years, seven months, and eight days.”

“Not that you’re keeping track or anything.”

I shook my head. “God forbid.”

“How long since you’ve been on a date?”

That was from Shawn Watson. Shawn’s an accountant, although he doesn’t look like one. He looks like a professional tennis player or something. You know, tall, with wavy blond hair and teeth that are just a little too white.

“Darling, Frank don’t date,” Zach answered for me. “You know that. He keeps thinking that Jason is gonna walk through that door and everything is going to be all hunky-dory again.”

We were celebrating at a bar called Dixon Street, so named because, well, it was located on Dixon Street. It was a pretty big place, with three bar areas. There was the main one, with a huge dance floor and even a stage. Then there was the upstairs bar, which was supposed to be a quiet place where you could go and actually hear what someone else was saying over the blaring music. Lastly there was the show bar, a room off to the side with loads of tables and another stage, a little smaller than the one in the main room. This was where they usually had the drag shows, where Zach performed. Tonight, though, was Tuesday. No drag shows on Tuesday, generally because the crowds weren’t big enough to warrant a show. We were practically the only ones in the show bar, the five of us. At another table two young studs held hands and gazed longingly into each other’s eyes. And then there was Benny, the bartender. Slow night.

“You should,” Gene Ross said. “You’re not getting any younger.”

I made a sour face. “Thanks, Gene. I wasn’t aware of that. I thought all the birthday cards with tombstones on them were sent to me by mistake.”

I wasn’t really mad at Gene’s remark. Gene was the youngest of our little group, not even having hit thirty yet. Gene was short, and I mean really short. Maybe five foot two. God may have shorted him on stature, but he made up for it in looks. Gene was, quite frankly, fucking handsome. Thick black hair, a killer smile, and dark brown eyes that made your heart melt. If he wasn’t straight, I’d date him. If he wasn’t so young. And if I dated.

Sitting next to Gene was his best friend, Marril Leblanc. If you didn’t know Gene was happily married and had a bevy of kids, you might think he and Marril were lovers if you saw them together. Marril and Gene had grown up together, and if Gene had been bothered when his best friend started working as a drag queen at Dixon Street, he certainly never showed it. The two sat close together, actually touching shoulders and occasionally leaning into each other. They were a textbook bromance.

Marril sipped at his cosmopolitan and batted his long and very fake eyelashes at me. “I think we need to look to Frank’s future, not his past. Whether he wants to throw himself back into the dating pool or not is his business. Doesn’t matter. What matters is that he’s got us. Friends are what really matter. Lovers are just the icing on the cake.”

I lifted my glass. “Hear, hear,” I said.

We all clinked glasses. Well, Gene had a beer bottle, not a glass, but it clinked just as well. I drained the rest of my gin and tonic. It tasted better now that it had killed most of my taste buds.

Gene’s bottle was empty, and Zach’s screwdriver was nearly gone. “I think,” Gene said, “another round is called for.”

“I’m good,” Marril replied. His cosmo had barely been touched. Not one of your drinkers, our Marril.

I started to get up but was met with violent gestures and tutting sounds. “It’s your birthday,” Zach said. “You’re not allowed to buy.”

Eyebrows raised in mock admonishment, I said, “I was going to hit the restroom. Calm your ass down.”

“Huh,” Shawn muttered. “Generally it’s Gene who runs off to the john whenever it’s time to buy a round.”

That was mean of Shawn, although if it bothered Gene it didn’t show. Gene worked at a factory that made plumbing supplies, and he wasn’t doing badly. Well, he wouldn’t be if he didn’t have a wife and three kids to look after. It wasn’t that Gene lacked cash, more that nearly every cent he had went to his family, which was perfectly understandable. Unless you’re a snarky bastard like Shawn.

Everyone ignored Shawn’s comment, maybe hoping he’d take the hint and tone down his sarcasm. I don’t know why we expected this. It never worked.

I don’t really dislike Shawn. I’m just not sure I like him.

“Remember where it is?” Marril asked, the joke obviously referring to my inability to hold my liquor. Two drinks for me is plenty. Three and I’m tipsy, if not actually drunk. I’ve only made it to four a couple of times, and one time I wound up sprawled in the snow clutching a fire hydrant, telling the cold metal fixture I loved it. Pretty sure I thought it was Fantine.

“I can still walk and chew gum at the same time,” I said.

I made my way to the restroom, which was off the main bar. There weren’t many people there either. A few people were clustered around the bar itself, and a few were dancing. Whoopee! A Tuesday night at a gay bar in Indianapolis is definitely not party central. Still, I was glad my birthday had landed on a weekday. On a Friday or Saturday, Dixon Street was so packed you could hardly breathe. Not my idea of a fun time.

Another plus: since the place wasn’t busy, the restroom was relatively clean. No one had pissed all over the floor. No one had thrown up into the sinks. No one was fucking in one of the toilet stalls.

I stepped up to one of the urinals and unzipped. I’d thought I was alone, but someone must have come in right after me because he chose the urinal right next to mine. He was Hispanic, if I was any judge of ethnic types, and young. I guessed twenty-two, tops. Smallish and darkish and all black Muppet hair. As one does, I tried to ignore the fact that he chose to stand right next to me, when there were four other urinals he could have chosen, and went about my business. The stream had just started flowing when out of the corner of my eye I saw the guy lean over and check out my junk.

“Nice,” he said with a smile.

I blinked. Holding back my ire, I said, “Did you just look at my dick?”

“Sure. Did you think I was complimenting the urinal cake?”

Flustered, I stuttered a little. “You’re… you’re not supposed to do that! It’s just… not done!”

He shrugged. “Then why do they put them close together with no barriers in between? I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to scope out the other guy’s package.” There was just a hint of a Spanish accent when he spoke.

Part of me wanted to just walk away, which wasn’t possible as I was in midstream. And I knew I should be really angry, having someone blatantly checking me out like that, but the young man had such a disarming smile it was hard to be mad. He was just having some fun. Still, I tried to sound cross when I said, “It’s a tacky thing to do.”

“Hey, I said it was nice. And that’s not even seeing it at its best.” He reached out his right hand for me to shake. “I’m Donny.”

I glared at the hand as if it had been a venomous snake. “Um….”

“It’s okay,” he said. “I didn’t pee on it.”

I finished urinating and tucked everything away after giving it the old obligatory tap-tap. “Maybe we should wait until we’ve washed our hands.”

Donny shrugged again. “Up to you.”

Moments later he joined me at the sinks. I was rinsing the soap off my hands when he turned on his taps and squirted a lavish amount of soap out of his dispenser. “Gotta get all the nasty germies off my hands,” he said, flashing me a cheeky grin.

I couldn’t figure out if he was just having fun or actually flirting with me. Surely not. I was ancient, and he was just a fledgling. I have to admit, though, that my heart wasn’t disliking the possibility of some youngster finding me attractive.

The restrooms at Dixon Street didn’t have towelettes to dry your hands off. They had those awful air dryers. I was standing before one, letting the hot air do its thing, when Donny stepped up to the one next to me. He smacked his elbow against the button to start his up, then rubbed his hands under the nozzle. “Nearly ready for that handshake now?” he asked.

I chuckled. He really was cute. “If you insist.” I stuck out my hand.

Suddenly Donny thrust himself at me, throwing his arms around my neck and planting his lips firmly against mine. Shocked, I stumbled backward until my backside hit the sink counter. I tried to pull my lips away, but the kid had a good grip on my neck. I finally put my hands on his shoulders and pushed him away. His eyes were sparkling and his grin went nearly from ear to ear.

“Much better than a handshake, wouldn’t you say?”

I didn’t know what to say. No one had kissed me on the lips since Jason. I’d forgotten that the simple act of someone pressing their mouth against yours could send jolts of electricity down your spine. Eventually I found my voice. “I’m nearly twice your age, kid.”

Another shrug. “So? You’re cute. It’s not like I turned you around, bent you over that counter, and pulled your pants down so that I could fuck your—”

“Whoa!” Brazen little bastard! Still, he said I was cute. I hadn’t been called cute in decades. Hell, Donny might not have even been born the last time someone called me cute. Other than Jason, that is.

Donny slipped his arms around my waist and pulled close to me, grinding his groin against me a little. “We can, if you like. I don’t think anyone will disturb us.”

Again I pushed him away. “I’m flattered,” I said. “Really, I am. And I understand that there are slim pickings tonight. But you’re much too young for me.”

“You got a guy?” he asked. He was giving me his best sexy face. At least I hoped it was his best. If he had one better I doubt I could have resisted. My God, he had the most gorgeous eyes. And he knew how to use them.

“No, I… I don’t.”

“Then what’s to stop us having some fun? You might find that you like having a younger guy in bed with you.” His eyebrows twitched bewitchingly. “You know, young guys have tons of energy. I bet I could make you really, really happy.”

He got closer again. I would have backpedaled, but I was already against the counter. “Look, kid, I—”

“Donny. Donny Rodriquez.”

“Donny. You’re really cute, and as I say, I’m flattered. Especially as today’s my birthday and I was feeling—”

His eyes lit up. “Your birthday? We should celebrate! I could be your present!”

I put a hand on his chest to stop any further encroachment on my personal space. “Nice as that sounds, I’ve got friends waiting for me.”

“So do I,” he said dismissively.

It didn’t sound like he cared much for the people he was with. Now that I had a good look at him, I recognized him as one of the few who had been out on the dance floor, flailing about to the beat. He was wearing a white T-shirt with some design on it in black and tight, tight jeans. I couldn’t help but notice that there was a prominent bulge in the crotch. The kid was horny, but I really didn’t need to see the bulge to figure that out.

“I can ditch them, though.”

Okay, it had been four years and seven months since I’d had sex with another person, and I’d kind of gotten used to the idea that it would never happen again. And I thought I was okay with that. I’d have the memories of Jason. But now there was this hot little number standing in front of me actually wanting to hook up with me. Part of me really wanted to say yes. Yeah, he was young, but we weren’t talking commitment. And if it didn’t bother him….

But it bothered me. A little. Enough. “Sorry,” I said, gently pushing him farther away. “I’d better get back to my friends.”

He looked disappointed. “You haven’t told me your name.”

I almost didn’t tell him. After all, what did it matter? We’d never see each other again. But I couldn’t resist those eyes. “Frank,” I said. “Frank Hunter.”

Donny pushed my hand aside—I hadn’t even realized I’d left it placed against his chest—and stood on his tiptoes and kissed me again. This time the kiss was sweet and gentle, not the desperate, horny first kiss. I found myself closing my eyes and wishing—despite my better nature—that the kiss would go on and on. Maybe forever.

He broke it off much too quickly for my liking. Beaming, he said, “Happy birthday, Frank Hunter.”

And then he turned and left the restroom, leaving me still leaning against the sink counter.