WYATT LOOKED out over the dining room table and thought, Holy shit, what have I done?
There was barely any room left, what with the pineapples and bananas and coconuts and oranges (the last of which he wasn’t sure really fit the theme, but they looked nice), the big ham and cheese tray (Oh! Is Asher even eating ham these days?), and of course the ridiculously huge cake—the centerpiece for the table. It was shaped like a volcano, and Wyatt had baked it and built it up and decorated it himself (mostly). There were little plastic palm trees up its slopes, red icing lava flowing down its sides, and he’d even placed a juice can down inside the top, half-filled with water, just waiting for the dry ice he’d bought so he could make his volcano smoke. Bright and colorful leis hung from the lighting fixture over the table (although he wasn’t sure if they were exactly a Samoan tradition or not), along with some silk marijuana versions he’d bought at It’s A Beautiful Day in the city.
Nothing too low-key for Wyatt Dolan!
Except he couldn’t help but think he’d forgotten something.
I’ll have leftovers for days.
What had he been thinking? After all, this was Porch Night, not a dinner party. Everybody would have eaten already.
I should have told them not to eat!
Howard would have been furious if he’d known, especially when Wyatt couldn’t really afford to do this these days.
But then, Howard didn’t have anything to say about what Wyatt did or didn’t do anymore, did he? His lover of nearly eleven years had dumped him two months previously—kicked him out of his life as well as the home they’d made together.
Wyatt shut his eyes tight and fought off the wave of grief that threatened to sweep over him. No! Not tonight. Tonight is fun. I am going to have fun! He stood up tall—or as tall as he could at five foot seven—and held his head high, shoulders back. He was Wyatt Dolan, the little bear of the Fabulous Four (so dubbed by himself), and he was a… superstar! Short he might be. Chubby too. But he could dazzle. And he was especially dazzling tonight in the gorgeous blue Samoan shirt that Peni had given him. One of Peni’s brothers had gotten too heavy for it and passed it on to Wyatt (which made Wyatt feel wonderfully svelte). Everyone would be expecting him to be down and sad, but he would show them! Show them how amazing he really was.
He was determined to, especially tonight, because this was the first Saturday of the month and his turn to host Porch Night; the one evening that he and his friends—the Fabulous Four—vowed never to miss. Barring flood (there hadn’t been a flood in Terra’s Gate since 1977, and it hadn’t been nearly as bad as what had hit Kansas City), earthquake (very unlikely, but not impossible in Missouri), contracts for a special with HBO (but even that had not stopped Asher—the resident soon-to-be-famous member of the FF), or even a zombie apocalypse. And Wyatt had long ago declared that last wasn’t an excuse for them to miss showing up either, because wouldn’t the four of them show Rick Grimes and crew how to deal with the walking dead with fearsome fabulosity?
Of course, it wouldn’t be just the four of them tonight, would it? Where once the rule had been that Porch Night was for only the four of them—no buddies, no visiting relatives, no boyfriends du jour, or even foreign dignitaries—that had somehow changed lately, hadn’t it?
And all because Wyatt’s three friends, who for years now had been single seemingly forever, had quite suddenly begun to find boyfriends. And not the du jour kind either. One after the other, his buddies, in the space of about nine months, had met and all but married the most perfect men (or at least perfect for them, to paraphrase Grace Jones) imaginable.
Now Wyatt understood how Sloan could get a boyfriend. Sloan was a hell of a catch for any man. Even though Sloan wasn’t Wyatt’s type (give him a big ol’ hairy bear any day), no doubt most men thought Sloan was gorgeous, what with his copper hair, honey-brown eyes, and alabaster skin (with its sprinkling of about a million freckles). Hell, the only reason he’d been single for so long was because he’d been hopelessly in love with Asher, the one gay man on Earth who wouldn’t—or couldn’t—love him back. At least not in a romantic way. Then—lo and behold—Sloan met Max (a real hunka-cola) and tout de suite and easy peasy, the two of them were as googly-eyed for each other as a couple of teenagers.
Well… it hadn’t been quite that simple.
But it had been awfully sweet.
Unfortunately, when Sloan and Max got together, it had been really rough on Scott. The torch that Sloan had borne for his hopeless infatuation with Asher had been put to final rest after three years when he met and fell in love with Max, but Scott had been hopelessly in love with Sloan for a much longer time (Wyatt suspected for ten years, since Scott first met Sloan in college).
It wasn’t that Scott was a bad guy, or even unattractive (although again, not Wyatt’s type—he was way too skinny). It was just that he lived in a fantasy world of Harlequin Romance love, which wasn’t the worst of it. Fantasies aside, Scott was the biggest curmudgeon and pessimist Wyatt had ever met in his whole life.
But then—slam! bang!—Scott found a man as well. A truly wonderful man. Scott (of all people) had gone to the Heartland Queer Men’s Festival (the last place Wyatt would have ever thought he’d go), and through several miracles he had learned to set his stodgy ways aside and met a very, very sexy man (but once again a little smooth for Wyatt’s taste) named Cedar. Before Sloan’s week-long camping trip was over, he’d found true love.
Then came the biggest surprise of all.
Asher! Gods! Who would have ever thought it? Asher had found love! Asher, who didn’t “do” boyfriends. In fact, he rarely did second-night stands. “I can’t have a lover, especially a man. I’m going to be famous. Do you think fans want to look up at their favorite hunk on that big silver screen and then picture him fucking a dude?”
So it was a hell of a surprise when Asher started dating a beautiful Samoan man named Peni (only about the sweetest guy Wyatt had ever met). And the cutie had even managed to have a profound effect on Asher’s drinking (as in, helping with its reduction).
So now the three of them all had boyfriends, and instead of Porch Night being just the four of them, boyfriends were now apparently invited.
Wyatt supposed he might have been okay with the new turn of events. Except for the fact that he used to be the only one of them who’d had a lover (for over a decade), and now he was the only single one.
It was like a soap opera come to life!
Like sands through the hourglass….
The wave of grief threatened again.
Oh, the irony.
“You don’t have to host right now,” Sloan had said a few days ago. “Max and I’ll be glad to switch with you.”
Wyatt rolled his eyes at the suggestion. “How are we going to do that? You hosted last month.”
“Then just skip a turn. No one will care.”
“What will that do? It won’t solve anything.”
“It’ll give you four more months to—” Sloan paused. “—get yourself to feeling right.”
Feeling right? Really? Feeling right? Whenever the hell would that be? Wyatt had only shaken his head at that. “No. I might as well take the bull by the balls. Besides, Peni will be coming. He’s finally back from Samoa. How can I miss giving him a big welcome-home celebration? It’s all planned. I’ve bought half the stuff already. No! I’m hosting.”
And then, one more irony.
Wyatt wasn’t even hosting Porch Night from his porch (not that it was warm enough this December night to use the porch). No, this wasn’t even his house. Sloan owned it. Sloan had inherited it from his mother when she died—was that a year ago now? Had that much time passed?
The man who Sloan happened to fall in love with was his next-door neighbor. When said neighbor’s wife elected to move to France—
…so are the Days of Our Lives….
—that left Sloan and Max with two houses. Sloan had been reluctant to sell his, even though it was smaller, for the simple fact that it had belonged to his mother. What if some buyer came along and did something like plow over her huge, gorgeous garden and replaced it with sod?
But then Howard kicked Wyatt out of their home—the house (a real fixer-upper) they had spent years repairing, remolding, reconstructing, and redecorating into a reflection of the two of them—leaving him no place to live. Kicked him out of their dream home. It had been devastating.
But being homeless had wound up solving a problem for Sloan. It not only gave Wyatt a place to live, but gave Sloan the knowledge that his mother’s home would be taken care of, at least for the time being.
Somehow living in Sloan’s house, living next door to his best friend, was what had made it all bearable. And it was a relief for Wyatt to have a roof over his head.
But it wasn’t his roof. It wasn’t the house that he had made his home.
Another wave threatened.
I’m alone. I’m going to be alone. Who’s going to want me?
He shook himself. No. He couldn’t go there. Couldn’t be depressed. He had to be on.
Goddess, maybe I really shouldn’t have hosted this tonight….
But it was too late now, wasn’t it? Everybody would be arriving soon.
At least with all the extra people, they might make a dent in the food.
Into the breach!
Wyatt went into the living room and started the CDs he’d burned for tonight. He’d found a bunch of Samoan and Hawaiian music online and then, for fun, thrown in everything from Blondie’s “The Tide is High” to Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World” medley.
He surveyed the table one more time. The only thing not there was the cooler of tropical rum punch and the pitcher of the alcohol-free version. Those were in the kitchen where there was a linoleum floor instead of the hardwood of the dining room. Those coolers tended to drip from their little faucets and make quite a mess.
But he still couldn’t help but think he’d forgotten something.
Then it hit him.
Oh no! A joke!
He didn’t have a new joke for tonight! He had to have a joke! He always had a joke for Porch Night. At least one. Problem was, the only gay ones he’d been able to find lately had been derogatory and homophobic—endless punch lines about fudge packing, AIDS, and rainbow Skittles. He’d hated them. He’d hated the fact that gay men had posted a lot of them.
He needed a joke. How could they have a Porch Night without one of his jokes? Wyatt ran for his laptop and was just booting it up so he could google one when…
The doorbell rang.
He stopped, sighed, touched his short spiky hair (hoped it looked okay), and opened the door.
It was Sloan and Max, looking all happy and flush-cheeked and eyes flashing. Frak! It didn’t take a genius to realize what they’d been up to before they got here. They were still boinking like rabbits after all these months.
Well…. Well…. Well, good for them! Lucky them. It was good. Someone needed to have sex. It’s not like I’m ever going to have sex again. Because who would want a fat little bear when they could have someone who looked like these two?
Stop feeling sorry for yourself.
“Tah-low-fa,” he said, practicing the Samoan word Peni had taught him. Talofa—a greeting, like “hello.”
“Talofa,” Sloan said with a laugh, because he was in on this. And Max? Max gave one of his single macho nods.
Max was such a mystery. Quiet and masculine one minute and all animated the next. Like a friendlier version of bipolar.
“Well, don’t just stand there,” Wyatt said, opening the screen door and motioning them in. “I mean, it is your place.”
A car horn honked, and a cream-colored Lexus pulled up in front of the house. That would be Scott and Cedar. They would have been riding their motorcycles if it hadn’t been so cold today. It was like they had it timed, getting here at exactly the same time as Sloan and Max. At least Wyatt could count on Asher being late. He did live in the city after all, and…
Except lookee there. Asher’s old, battered pickup was pulling over across the street.
Asher and Peni.
Hail, hail, the gang’s all here….
“Come on in, guys,” he said. “We’re letting the cold in.”
IT MADE Wyatt extraordinarily happy that everyone was impressed with the layout. “Don’t forget to get a lei,” he announced, pointing to where they hung over the dining room table.
“Oh!” Cedar pumped his fist. “I want one of the ganja ones!”
“Me too,” said Scott.
Would wonders never cease? Scott? Wanted one of the marijuana leis? Was it one of the final signs of the apocalypse (that Wyatt didn’t believe in)? Wyatt almost giggled.
“I can’t believe you did all this,” said Asher, and then he answered Wyatt’s wonderings by popping a roll of the thinly sliced ham into his mouth before it even reached his plate. He might have been getting curious about his Jewish heritage for the first time since he was a kid, but it didn’t look like Asher was converting back to the religion of his grandfather anytime soon. Still, it was sweet to see the way he was watching over Peni. Sweet, lovely Peni with his caramel skin and Superman blue-black hair and the tattoos that Wyatt was dying to see.
Asher turned to his lover. “You know, Peni, you can just sit and rest. I’ll load your plate for you.”
Peni laughed. “I’m fine and you know it,” he declared and then blushed furiously when Asher told him he was far more than fine. He was delicious.
“If I was going to have a problem, wouldn’t it be with sitting?” Peni asked.
“I don’t know,” Asher said. “I think it should be me who would have trouble sitting after last night.”
Peni blushed all the more, and there were a few hoots around the table.
“I meant my pe’a,” Peni said, referring to his new tattoos.
“I know what you meant,” Asher said and gave him a sweet kiss. It really was amazing. A side of Asher that Wyatt had never expected to see. Sweet. Kind. Romantic.
“I just can’t get over the cake,” Peni said, pointing. “I mean, it’s even smoking!”
That was because Wyatt had run for the kitchen freezer, taken one of the small chunks he’d chipped off the block of dry ice, and carefully dropped it down into the juice can concealed within the cake.
“It’s gorgeous, isn’t it?” Sloan said as it smoked away.
“It really is something,” said Max. Broad shouldered, a shadow of a beard on his strong jaw, flashing blue eyes, and a hint of chest hair showing at his open collar, he was the one man here tonight Wyatt was attracted to. Wyatt had had more than one fantasy about seeing Max naked, like trying to dodge into the locker room at the local gym where they all worked out. Sloan had forbidden it. And that was even before the two of them hooked up. Now that they were practically married, Wyatt knew he would probably never get a look. And wasn’t that one of the first things Howard had taught him? To look?
“Hey, we’re men!” Howard had declared on many an occasion. “We like to look. You look all you want, baby.”
“That volcano must have taken you all day,” Max continued.
“It really wasn’t all that much trouble,” Wyatt said, blushing. “I started with an angel food cake pan and then when it was done, did some carving and some sculpting and threw in lots of icing and—voilà!”
“Don’t let Wyatt fool you,” Sloan said. “He’s spent like two or three evenings working on it.”
“I had to do something in honor of you coming home,” Wyatt said, turning to Peni.
“How did you make it smoke like that?” Peni asked.
“Why, magic,” Wyatt said. “After all, I am a witch.”
“You really did outdo yourself,” Scott said when he’d circled around the table to Wyatt. He dropped his chin on Wyatt’s shoulder. “Asher is going to have to work his ass off to ever top this.”
“I heard that!” Asher cried, laughing.
Wyatt grinned again. He couldn’t help it. He hadn’t realized how much he’d needed all the fuss. He was only doing what he loved to do, but it had been a while since he’d been able to show off.
They all filled their plates, and Wyatt reminded them that the cocktails were in the kitchen. “I’ve got them leaded and lead-free,” he said.
“Leaded and lead-free?” Peni asked.
“With and without booze,” Wyatt explained.
“You have an alcohol-free version?” Peni asked. “I thought you once told me that gay men are required to drink.”
Wyatt smiled wistfully. “I’m changing my mind. Plus—” He glanced at Asher. “—you know….”
“Well, I’m certainly imbibing,” Cedar said and went right to the cooler in the kitchen. “I love how you decorated it.”
It hadn’t been a lot of trouble. He’d simply taken a straw mat, wrapped it around the cooler, and tied it on. He would have used a glue gun, but then, the cooler wasn’t his.
“Where did you get the tiki goblets?” Scott asked.
“It was an incredible find,” Wyatt crowed. “I got them at Michaels, in the city. I was lucky. They were on clearance. No one is having luaus this time of year. And they had exactly enough of them.” Seven, not eight, he thought with a sigh.
“Now you’re shocking me,” Asher said. “You’ve always told us we should never admit we got something cheap, on sale, or at a garage sale.”
Wyatt gave a little shrug. He was looking at all kinds of things differently these days. Watching his money was a big one. With as much as Howard had made, Wyatt had been able to get away with a lot. Without Howard he was wondering how he was going to make ends meet. He was manager of Treasures of Terra, the New Age store where he worked, but it was a small business, and he wasn’t paid a fortune. With businesses failing so much these days, it was wonderful that the store was doing as well as it was. He was really thankful that Sloan had refused to take any rent money the last two months.
“I HOPE you don’t think I’m taking advantage,” Wyatt had said while Sloan watched him make the cake, even lent a hand with the icing.
“What are you talking about?” Sloan had asked as he slathered chocolate icing where directed.
“That I spent all this money and haven’t given you a cent for rent.”
“You tried to give us money, Wyatt,” Sloan said. “And I said no. We can think about that in the future. The house is paid for. We wanted you to have a chance to get some money in the bank. A cushion.”
“I’ll make it work,” he said. “And Katherine is letting me do readings on my days off for extra money.” Katherine was his boss and the owner of Treasures of Terra.
“Readings?” Sloan glanced up. There was some icing on his nose, and Wyatt had to laugh.
“Tarot readings,” he answered.
“Did I know you did that?” Sloan looked crossed-eyed down at the end of his nose and then wiped the chocolate away and stuck his finger in his mouth.
“It’s been a long time. I did a reading for you one drunken night about five years ago.”
“Five years,” Sloan said and whistled. “Have we really known each other that long?”
“Ever since my short stint in the call center.” Wyatt winced. “That didn’t last long, did it?”
“Well you did tell a customer to kiss your ass,” Sloan said.
“My rosy red ass.” Wyatt crossed his arms. “Because she called me a fag! And I told her that I was more man than she was ever going to have and more woman than she would ever be.”
“WELL, I don’t care where you got the goblets,” Peni said, drawing Wyatt from his musings. “I love them.”
That’s when Sebastian the crab began to croon to them from the stereo, letting them know they should take it from him, there was no place better than under the sea. That was the perfect time for them to find a place to settle in the living room. Wyatt had brought in a few dining room chairs to make sure everyone had a place to sit, and as he joined them, he looked around the room. Gods…. Lovers paired up all around him. And he was alone.
Yet… was he? Could he really look at all these people and think he was alone?
Wyatt looked from face to face to face, listened to them as they chatted, and the warmth surged into almost overwhelming love. He really was lucky. As hard as things had been these past months—how lonely he’d been lying in that bed by himself night after night and week after week—how much worse would it have been without these friends?
“Asher,” said Max. “Any word on Drunks?”
Which was the movie Asher was doing for HBO. Imagine. HBO. Asher had gone from a small stage in Kansas City to a movie for HBO. Wyatt had always insisted they would all be famous one day, and Asher, at least, was on his way.
“I think it’s scheduled for November,” Asher said.
“November?” cried Wyatt. “Next November?”
“Well, this November did pass last month,” Asher replied.
“But that’s a year away! We have to wait that long?”
“Wyatt, we’ve barely begun shooting.”
But… “But the play wasn’t even two hours long! How long does it take to make a movie?”
Asher chuckled. “We’ve got about two weeks under our belts and another three more weeks to go, and that’s because they’ve added a couple of flashback scenes that take place outside of the hotel where the play took place.”
“They’ve added scenes?” asked Sloan.
Asher nodded. “Yes. That’s pretty normal for a movie. Did you know the play version of Steel Magnolias is set strictly in the beauty shop?”
Wyatt nodded. “I saw it at the Pegasus Theatre. It was pretty cool. Half the women were played by men in drag!”
“Movies are able to add all kinds of stuff. They almost always do since they don’t have the constraints of what can be done onstage. And then there’ll probably be pickups. After that there is a host of stuff that happens. Editing. Music. Promotion. I’m excited we’re only having to wait that long.”
“But a year!” Wyatt whined. He couldn’t help it. Somehow he thought it all went so much faster. Then a new thought. “How did you manage to get home this weekend if you’re still shooting?”
“I told Spencer I wanted the weekend off, and he didn’t even blink.”
“Oh,” Wyatt said. “You’re on a first name basis with him now?”
Spencer—Spencer Morrison, the actor—was the big name who was making Drunks into a movie and possibly only one of the biggest stars in Hollywood these days.
“I wanted to be here for Peni.” Asher hugged his lover close. “I didn’t tell Spencer that—he thinks it’s something else.”
Something else? Did they not know Asher was gay? Wyatt thought Asher was out of the closet. He’d slept with about a million men—it wasn’t like he’d been discreet. People would find out.
“I wanted to fly from Samoa right to Los Angeles,” Peni said. “But my family wouldn’t hear of it.”
“No, I don’t suppose they would,” Max said. “You can’t blame them. That’s the way it should be.”
That’s the way it should be, Wyatt thought. But it wasn’t like that for everybody.
Which made it all the more painful that Howard was out of his life. Howard was—had been—his entire life. His family. Howard had rescued him when his blood family had rejected him.
Only to abandon me.
He bit down on his lower lip. No. No pain tonight.
“But the advance buzz for Drunks is already good,” Asher was saying. “People are talking. They might pick it up for a series.”
“Really?” asked Scott. “This is the play you did a few months ago at the Pegasus?”
“How can they make it into a series? Wasn’t the story pretty much told?”
“Yeah. But they like the characters a lot. They want to explore the idea of what happens next.”
“Whoa.” Scott grinned. “It only proves that anything can happen.”
Wyatt grinned back. Amazing. Scott. The pessimist. Talking like anything could happen. Then, mind bouncing as usual and unable to resist—he was Wyatt Dolan after all—he asked, “So tell me, Asher. Have you seen Spencer Morrison naked?”
“Wyatt!” said Max. “How was he supposed to do that?”
Asher shook his head and then, bless his heart, blushed. Had Wyatt ever seen Asher blush? “No. But I could have. He sure offered.”
Wyatt’s mouth fell open.
“He tried to get me in bed.”
Wait. What? What had Asher just said? “Spencer Morrison?” Wyatt exclaimed. “Spencer-fucking-Morrison?”
“You know, they say he’s going to get nominated for an Oscar this year,” Scott interjected, apparently unaffected by Asher’s bombshell. “For Crosshairs.”
Wyatt shook his head, held up a hand. “You know I was mostly kidding, right? About the naked part?”
Asher grinned. “No, you weren’t. You were hoping I got a look at him in a dressing room or something….”
Wyatt bit his lip. Well. It was true.
“Well, I was standing next to him, taking a piss if you must know, and I could have looked—”
“And you didn’t?” Wyatt said, his voice a squeak. “You didn’t even peek? You could have seen Spencer-fucking-Morrison’s dick and you didn’t look? Oh—My—Gods! Sacrilege. Hand over your gay card! Now.”
Asher looked over at Peni and placed a hand on his knee. “There is only one penis I want to see these days, Wyatt.”
Peni smiled like a high-school girl. “Oh, Asher.” They kissed.
I don’t believe this! I have fallen asleep and woken back up in the twilight zone.
“You know I wouldn’t have minded,” Peni said. “I mean, if you’d peeked? After all, I certainly don’t want you to have to give up your gay card.”
Asher laughed. “Well… I might have caught a glimpse….”
Wyatt jumped to his feet, nearly spilling his plate of food. “And? And?”
“I honestly didn’t get a good look. But he was sure trying to show it to me.”
Wyatt shook his head violently, held his hands up high, and then clasped them to his chest. “Okay. Wait. I am trying to picture this.” And he could. He could! Standing next to Spencer-fucking-Morrison—only the next Matthew McConaughey or Bradley Cooper. “You are telling me that Spencer Morrison was wagging his cock at you—”
Asher laughed and gave a shrug.
“—and you didn’t look?”
“It was kind of pathetic, really.”
“His cock?” The world was coming to an end. “Spencer Morrison’s cock is pathetic?” It couldn’t be. It—could—not—be!
“No,” said Asher. “Not his cock. Him. So full of himself. Thinking all he had to do was show me his cock and I’d be on my knees. Trying to seduce me that way. As if I couldn’t resist him.”
Wyatt shook his head. If Spencer Morrison had waved his cock at him, he would have been on his knees in a flash. Of course, it had been a long time since he’d been on his knees. Sometimes he wondered if he ever would again. Then sometimes he wasn’t sure he wanted to.
“I don’t even know why you care,” Asher said. “He’s not your type. Way too skinny, isn’t he?”
Wyatt opened his eyes wide. “Doesn’t matter. That was celebrity dick, Asher. You never miss a chance to look at celebrity dick.”