It's a pretty good crowd for a Saturday
And the manager gives me a smile
'Cause he knows that it's me they've been comin' to see
To forget about life for a while
And the piano, it sounds like a carnival
And the microphone smells like a beer
And they sit at the bar and put bread in my jar
And say, "Man, what are you doin' here?"
- “Piano Man”, as sung by Billy Joel
Present Day – New York, U.S.A.
Jack Spencer, reluctant up and coming celebrity reporter for TMI Online, dashed to a table at Nathan’s for a meeting with the tabloid’s editor-in-chief, Mars Lancroft, and Jack’s photographer/camera operator, LaTonya “Toni” Hoffman. Jack was flustered and irritated he had to come in the first place. He hated the whole celebrity gossip thing – was disgusted by computer-enhanced, second rate talents who complained about reporters hiding in the bushes all the while having assistants plant slander about their fellows in social media. But he couldn’t avoid this assignment nor this job, at least for now. Jack needed money to free himself of the constraints that came with living with the wrong body parts. Female-to-male transitions weren’t cheap either, even with medical coverage. Therapy, psychiatry, medications – Jack was in the hole with the constant costs. His friends in the FTM trans support group said the hormones were “working” and he “passed” for a man as he developed a fairly full beard and moustache. Jack accepted that there wasn’t much to be done by his Hobbit body frame. Toni said he was cute, but he wanted more. Jack wanted a functional cock. Once things were right, he promised himself, all would be perfect. Since he was a teen, Jack dreamed of being that man in a tailored, double-breasted Savile Row suit confidently walking to his office at the New York Times.. So, he shook off his disgust with a mental reminder. “I’m playing for something more”, he whispered to himself as he put on his gratitude face and sat at the table.
“I was about to give up on you, Spencer!” bellowed Lancroft, who Jack’s mom used to say looked like B. T. Bauman’s at a 90s gay pride event. “Now Toni, you'll take your camera stuff, of course. And Spencer well . . . eh . . . you'll take your own special talents,” the latter oozing from the older man’s mouth like the remnants of explosive vomit.
Again, composing himself, Jack deescalated the initial tone of his question, “What’s the deal?”
“Lancroft wants us to cover the Reese wedding,” Toni replied. She was a mashup between Lisa Bonet’s complexion with a Jewfroo and 1970s Pam Grier’s, smiled slightly at Jack as he sat down. Although she had the well-deserved moniker of “Ice Princess”, anyone who was really paying attention would notice how her voice and gestures were just a little bit brighter when Jack was around.
“In Wales?” Jack exclaimed.
“Ah don’t complain, Spencer!” waved off Lancroft as he inhaled a bit of cheesecake. “After all, you’re Scots-Irish? So, it’s all England, isn’t it? What’s the difference?”
His mom was quite proud of their Westside Chicago, upper white trash heritage and taught him the same. But this wasn’t the time to argue with a man so ignorant as to believe Donald Trump should have a statue and library next to the Lincoln Memorial. “The family agreed? Royal types are notoriously camera-shy.”
“It seems our leadership has convinced them of the error of their ways,” Toni responded.
“Well if you can’t handle the scandal, don’t do the scandalous, I always say.” Lancroft showed that he could do two things at once – roll his eyes and gobble another slice of cheesecake. “Is it our fault that some horny, titled 16-year old with a well-heeled and slightly older gentleman boyfriend got . . . banged up, I think those English say? Can I help it that granny’s a strumpet? Try explaining that pregnancy during Christmas dinner at Buckingham Palace? And it’s not our fault said such information happened to arrive by snail mail to the office of this editor-n-chief. I am simply helping our brethren out, giving the oft-maligned upper classes a chance to give the world their side of the story – show everyone that they are just like us.” Altruism never smelled so bad. “Listen, the bottom line is those folks want to keep things quiet and we need the money this story will bring in. Ad sales are down with all this podcast shit. Don’t make me order you two over there!”
Toni shrugged and gave Jack a what-else-can-we-do grin. “When do we leave?” Jack asked.
Lancroft took out his phone and started tapping before his staff changed their minds. “You fly out in 3 hours. I’ll text you your tickets”. After a few clicks, he added, “Your seats are already confirmed, and your equipment will be pre-boarded. You just have to get yourselves to the airport.”
Jack picked up his phone to examine the e-ticket. “You know Mars, your psychic powers always amaze me. It’s like you can smell our acquiesce before we have even formulated an objection,” Jack replied.
Lancroft savoured his last piece of cake, letting it melt in his mouth before chewing. His eyes closed and his face looked like an addict’s after the first hit of the morning. When it was gone, Lancroft’s eyes locked with Jack. Older man growled, “Don’t you know what it is the have a secret no one should hear?” It wasn’t so much that Lancroft was transphobic. He hated everyone just for existing. But he offered quiet, casual torture with a splash of nosy to his underlings. It was a shame the company’s human resource executive was sleeping with him.
“Yes,” said Jack, as he nearly tripped over his own bile.
Though the enemy have trampled my country underfoot,
The old language of the Welsh knows no retreat,
The spirit is not hindered by the treacherous hand
Nor silenced the sweet harp of my land.
- From the Welsh national anthem, “Land Of My Fathers”
Present Day – Glamorgan Estate (near Cardiff), Wales, U.K.
Simms, the Glamorgan family’s 400-year old butler, opened the main entrance door to the Morganwg estate and welcomed two reporters who looked like French schoolgirls on a trip to the museum. “You are?” he asked.
“I am Jack Spencer from TMI and this is my camera operator, LaTonya Hoffman.”
Simms bowed slightly then said, “You are expected, sir. Please follow me.” Simms gestured with a hand that looked like a skeleton from a Halloween haunted house. The guests followed behind while discreetly eyeball rubbernecking through two hallways of art that should have been in the National Gallery. The stout, pale man walked surprisingly fast and it did not take long to get to the sitting room. He opened the mahogany doors and the smell of spring flowers floated past one. Before introductions, Simms did a head bow toward a handsome, well-dressed elderly woman. “Your grace. Mr. Spencer and Ms. Hoffman. The reporters you were anticipating.”
Lady Nora, the mistress of the Morganwg estate, took her role as family matriarch as a mission assigned to her by the Druid gods. Today, she sat on a chair that would have been a throne in the 15th century. The well-quaffed balcony garden and it’s various scents seemed to frame her, adding to her aristocratic air. The woman was a dead ringer for a Cate-Blanchett-as-an-older-Elizabeth-the-1st, despite her very modern, flawless haute couture. Her shape was thin but still muscled for someone her age. She had been a feminist pioneer at one time and served as the county Druid priestess. She nodded at her guests and motioned them with three fingers from one hand toward at an 18th-century love seat across from her. “Thank you for coming Mr. Spencer and Ms. Hoffman. Would you like some tea?”
“Tea? I thought that was just an English thing,” Jack asked.
Lady Nora took a sip from her cup – exacting each motion as taught at all the best elocution schools. She dapped her mouth and neatly replaced the napkin on her lap. “We taught the English how to drink tea. My ancestors have been travelling to Far East since the 16th century.”
“She is right,” Toni whispered to Jack. “Didn’t you read the background material they sent us?”
To Jack, long flights were for drinking and sleeping. “The rich are all the same!” Jack replied, louder than was polite. “The titles in front of their name changes nothing. They’re just another set of people who think they are better because they got money.” His westside Chicago accent slipped out, making his remarks sound harsher.
“Behind you is the 1st Earl of Glamorgan,” continued Lady Nora pointing to a painting. “He fought beside Henry the VIII against the French in 1544. For his work, he was granted this peerage. But titles mean little in Wales. This is difficult country and to survive, everyone had to work. Monthly, the first earl returned from Crown business in London to farm the land along with the local farmers.” She took a generous sip from her graciously decorated cup.
“Well, thanks for the history lesson but we’re here to give our audience a glimpse of this overblown extravaganza you’re about to put on.”
Another set of doors across the room opened unexpectedly. “Desmond Mac Innes, Your grace,” Simms’s said escorting the man inside before disappearing like a wisp in a video game.
“Deetz, darlin!” Lady Nora greeted by extending her hand. The man, in joggers, a torn red tee-shirt, and muddy trainers came in wiping sweat from his brow. He started to take her hand but she huffed and waved him off. “Oh, how you test me! Oof, where did you just come from, all dirty like that?”
“Hello!” he grinned and blew her a kiss instead. He normally sported a ‘resting-could-care-less’ face but upon seeing the grand woman, he immediately smiled, adding light to the room. But then again, he trusted and respected this woman who had been more of a parent to him than the ones he was born to. “Right, and how is my favourite former grandmother-in-law?” He patted his chest with his fingertips. “I was doing some last-minute fixes so I can sell that motorhome I remodelled. Ga i ... (Do you mind)?”
“Cewch (of course)!” she responded in Welsh as well. “How long do you plan on staying at your sister’s? What is going on with that graduate school application, hmm? I can’t have you lounging around here. This isn’t a resort!. Mae'r diafol yn mynd i'ch tynnu chi i uffern os na fyddwch chi'n sythu (The devil’s going to pull you into hell if you don’t straighten up)!” They both knew she was teasing. The teasing was a thin vale over the fact she needed him to stay. She was praying Deetz could save her grandson from the worst mistake of his life.
“Oi! Let me remind you, I’m Jewish, we don’t believe in the devil and there’s nothing about me that could ever be described as straight!” the man said. Deetz was slight, about average height with a military buzz cut. What he didn’t have in mass, he seemed to make up for in tight cut muscle. Not enough to be clownish or set for muscle man competition but enough to make you think twice if you met him in an alley at night. Complex, interwoven tattoos of Celtic and Far Eastern symbols from underneath the holes in his clothes. He turned his attention to the guests and flashed Toni a wink drawing attention to his is bright blue eyes. “Hello, I don’t believe we’ve met.” He wiped his hand on his pants then offered it.
“Jack, Jack Spencer. This is my partner, Toni Hoffman.”
“Right, the gossip reporters!” Deetz replied. He leaned into the seated man and added, “I would avoid the word partner unless you mean I can’t flirt with … Ms, ah, Hoffman was it? Around here that implies a certain kind of relations.” He took her hand and kissed it flirtatiously.
“Yes, that’s it,” Toni offered a good-girl’s giggle.
“My name is Desmond, but my very special friends call me Deetz,” he winked at her again. “You’re here for the wedding I believe.” He had purposefully touched them both – one can’t be too careful, was his motto in these situations... Deetz was a clairsentient meaning he could read people’s feelings and intentions through touching them or an object they just held. It was an inherited trait amongst the Mac Innes clan. His sister had a similar skill only hers worked with animals. Not something widely discussed, particularly in front of strangers.
“Wait!” exclaimed Toni. “You’re the Earl’s first, ah, . . . partner?”
“Husband, ma’am, husband. The UK had marriage equality before the States.”
Jack, a bit jealous of the other man’s apparent swagger. “You mean... .?”
Deetz let that thought settle in Jack’s mind but gave him no eye contact, then waited a bit before asking Toni, “You seem to know me somehow?”
Toni blushed although she shouldn’t have needed to. “The picture of Sugar . . .”
Deetz thought for a minute then recognized her name. “Ah! You’re that Hoffman.”
“I’m terribly sorry.”
Deetz laughed. “You were just doing your job, going after the story. Good work though as you got the shot,” he said referring to pictures of both men grilling outside of a rather stylish motor home. “Angus and I were the latest interest of a public that thinks celebrity and money resolve emptiness.”
“That’s odd coming from a member of the professionally idle,” cracked Jack.
“Touché, if only such was true in my case for, sorry to say, I am from humble beginnings. Just the son of a lowly valet struggling through rabbinical school.”
“And you’re coming to your ex’s wedding to someone else because... .?”
“He’s not invited.” In all the jockeying for information, seemingly the only person who knew Angus had entered the room was Lady Nora. She sat back in her chair, waiting to see how things played out.
Deetz returned to Jack, “To answer your question, Mr Spencer, I guess I’m not invited.”
“I’m inviting you!” came a small person’s voice. Brandi, Deetz’s 7-year old niece, came in the room nearly immediately followed by Deetz’s younger sister, Ciara. “I want you to come to the wedding Uncle Deetz! I miss you so much!” She looked like a brown-skinned Shirley Temple – innocent, sassy-cute, independent-minded and all. She ran up and hugged Deetz tightly. Brandi was psychic as well, and quickly projected, “Is that good enough, Uncle Deetz?”
He peeled her hands off his waist and took her tiny chin and used it to lift her eyes to his. He had adored her two minutes after she was born. Deetz had always wanted a little girl of his own – he and Angus dreamed about it. “Thank you Sweetpea!” he said back to her aloud. “But you can’t force someone to love you.” Deetz picked her up and kissed her pouting bottom lip.
Ciara retrieved Brandi from Deetz. She looked back apologetically, “I’m sorry Angus.”
“Oh, I understand, Ciara. It’s the bad influences ghosting the area.” Angus gave Deetz a dirty look.
Lady Nora realized this fight wasn’t going anywhere. “Deetz is my guest,” she said as if it was being written in stone by her scribes. She pressed a button to call Simms. He appeared like something that fell from a black hole. “Please show Mr. Spencer and Ms. Hoffman to their rooms.” Jack stood up to protest. “No, no!” interrupted Lady Nora. “I won’t have you waste money and time staying at some hotel when we have room. I insist you stay here, get to know the family intimately. Young man, I think you’ll learn a lesson that Jane Austin tried to teach all of us 3 centuries ago.”
“Jack, she’s right,” Toni interrupted. “The stipend Lancroft left us with will hardly get us a 2-star hotel in town.” Also, she was jetlagged, and her feet hurt. She was saving Jack from himself. Sometimes he’d hold onto his righteousness so long he’d forget to piss. “It will give me time to get some shots of the preparations. Folks love those before and after wedding pics.”
Jack shrugged and gave in. As they left the room, Lady Nora called to them. “We are having our tea soon. Please join us if you’re not too tired.”
“Thank you, ma’am . . . Your grace, I mean,” Toni replied.
As the two reporters walked the halls again to an elevator and several steps to their rooms, Jack turned to Toni and whispered, “This may be juicier than Lancroft initially thought. And did you get a load of that Earl? Not that I want to be accused of being shallow, but he’s the kind that women want to marry, and men want to be like. Long, auburn hair, green eyes, and a body from off a rom-com. Geeze!”
“His money doesn’t hurt either,” Toni agreed. “I read about him in Forbes. Angus Reese’s so wealthy, if they included him on the list of their world’s richest people, the second richest would have a self-esteem crisis.”
They stopped when Simms announced Toni’s quarters, a space larger than most apartments. Before dropping off Toni’s bags, Jack asked, “How’s that? I thought all those titled folks lost everything after World War I.”
“Who’s the reporter and who’s the photographer here anyway? I swear, you really need to read the back-up information we get. Some of it is helpful.” Simms, with strength beyond his emaciated, ghoulish anatomy, moved Toni’s three bags from the valet cart onto the bed. “The landed gentry had started losing wealth well before that point because of laziness. Many of them were too busy spending their father’s and grandfather’s money to see the world was changing, the industrial revolution was coming. The Reese family watched trends and modernized at historically key times. They survived the Depression while others jumped out of windows. Their close connection with the Crown probably didn’t hurt either.”
“Yes and no,” Toni replied. “There are lots of rumours that Queen Victoria had something over on the family and used it against them. Nothing’s proven but it is all CIA/MI-6/Russian FSB type shit. I have a feeling knowing more is deadly.”
After getting her bags tended, Jack just stood in the middle of Toni’s room and looked around like a 13-year old boy at the first school dance. “Ah, this room’s nice.”
Toni was irritated with Jack’s failure to prepare and leaving all the research to her – another one of his annoying flaws. His questions were inane as most of that information she found on Wikipedia, The Financial Times, and BBC news. And more importantly, she could think of better things he could be doing with his mouth than talking. She sighed aloud. “Yeah, great. Ah listen, I’m not hungry so why don’t you start your interviews over tea while I get some shut-eye before tonight’s party?”
“Yeah, that makes sense. I’ll just get out your way.” Jack escaped to his room and wondered why Toni’s curt tone hurt his feelings.
Who avoids not the smoke will avoid not its harm.
- Welsh proverb
“You can leave anytime now, Deetz,” Angus grumbled while signing for the delivery of more wedding presents.
“My, my,” teased Deetz, “act as if folk didn’t know you were married before? Is that what I am Angus, your dirty little secret? Amazing how one can hide from the truth just by closing their eyes.”
“We weren’t really married!”
“Right? Funny it felt real to me.” He got close to Angus’s face and whispered, “Do you remember? Do you remember how the sound of my moans aroused you to no end? Wasn’t that real?” Deetz rolled a plain silver ring around his finger while walking to the table of gifts. “And it’s got to be more real than this shit!” Deetz picked up a silver-plated meat tenderizer. “What the fuck are you going to do with this? I mean you can’t cook anyway.”
“Feelings are everything. I have responsibilities to this family,“ Angus said angrily. “And I’m sorry but I do make a nice batch of chips.”
“Only if Cook heats the oil and fries them! Darlin’, you’re beautiful but I’ve seen you burn water in a microwave.”
“You know that’s true Uncle Angus! Mommy told me about the time you tried warming my baby food in the oven.”
“Come on little girl,” Ciara hurriedly interrupted, “Let’s leave them to their business.”
“How are they going to get back together if this is all they do?”
Ciara was avoding this question. She had tried multiple times to help Angus and Deetz reconcile. Yet, both were stubbornly holding on to reasons that did not make sense particularly when it was perfectly clear they loved one another. This crap between them was going too far, she thought to herself. She tried to present a nonjudgmental stance as a role model for her daughter, yet . . . ... “A fabulous question Sweetpea, a question fabulous indeed!” replied Ciara as she gave Deetz then Angus an exasperated look.
Lady Nora agreed with Ciara but with the wedding around the corner, time was running out. Angus’s fiancé, Bridget Pembroke, the Duchess of Shropshire, wasn’t going to withdraw her claws readily. Angus knew her from his prep days as she was the daughter of his school’s headmaster. Her family was broke but very well-connected. When she heard about Angus and Deetz’s separation, she rushed to Morganwg to offer a shoulder to cry on and pussy on standby for a pity shag. Soon she was over so often the servants were uncertain if they were supposed to respond to her ‘requests’. Bridget kept Angus sex drunk long enough until he convinced himself that she was his one, true love and that Deetz was an experiment in hipness.
Angus wasn’t a confirmed bisexual, after all. His exchange of juices with men had been kept to circle jerks and an annual anonymous blowjob during a coked-up Oscar’s after-party. It wasn’t as if he didn’t like the sex with men nor that he didn’t find some men fantastically attractive. But he always saw himself living a conventual, cis heterosexual life. Plus, any guys who came by a bit too much, Angus quickly learned, were not looking for love but an opportunity for extortion.
Three years ago, his childhood bestie came back from self-exile in Thailand. At seventeen, Deetz had escaped an emotionally abusive father who had graduated to the physical expression of his displeasure when he found Deetz in bed with a man. Never mind that the man was twice his son’s age and likely albeit not legally a paedophile. Never mind that this occurred within the context of a son who had been brutally raped just three years earlier. Angus didn’t see all of it because at 13-years-old his parents sent him to boarding school. All he knew was his friend was more and more withdrawn every summer ea Angus returned home.
Deetz’s father had been the 11th’s earl valet – a Mac Inness had served the Reese family since the mid-1800s. When their fathers’ died together under suspicious circumstances, Angus returned from jet setting around the planet and Deetz abandoned his sixth martial arts retreat back to a home full of complex memories. Deetz settled in his younger sister’s cottage on the Morganwg farming property, Redrow Cottage. She was chief vet and owner of a large animal medical clinic also located on the estate grounds within walking distance from the cottage. After the funerals, the boys found themselves at sea without their fathers, but for different reasons. Angus, who came from a happy family even with the untimely death of his mother, feared he could live up to his father’s reputation. Deetz wondered what to do with himself now that he no longer had a father to blame things on. While walking past an abandoned farm near the edges of the property, Deetz found a battered, broken-down motorhome. He got it towed to the back of the cottage near the stream that ran past his bedroom and, with the help of YouTube, started restoring it. It was fantastic therapy.
Angus couldn’t fathom what triggered it, but this memory was quite vivid.
Four and a half years ago…
Angus hadn’t seen Deetz in four days since Deetz snuck out of the funeral, avoiding sets of the elite from the Orthodox Jewish and Druid communities along with a smattering of titled folk, all with their phoney condolences. For Angus’s part, it was the relatives looking for a handout when previously his father had rejected their requests. The whole affair left them both disgusted and unsupported. What if this business with our fathers’ has triggered something, thought Angus. I should check on him. During the quarter-mile walk to Redrow Cottage Angus had to admit he missed Deetz’s company in ways that made him uncomfortable. The vision of a sweaty well-constructed man shirtless, cutting wood with an electric saw while wearing denim like a 90s New York rapper – yeah, slow motion and all, didn’t help.
They both sat and shared Deetz’s thermos full of cold coffee. Angus expressed his concern. Deetz reassured him, “I am hurt by the Earl’s death. He was always kind and generous. I also feel your loss. As for my father, it’s like he disappeared from my life years ago when my mother left him. So, I’ve been mourning his loss for ages, just now I have company during kaddish (mourner’s prayer).” For a person oftentimes drenched in other people’s emotions, Deetz typically said little about how he felt. But he was glad to see Angus too, more than he’d anticipated. “Hey Mate! What do you think? I’ve always wanted a fifth wheel to go camping. According to this website, I could have it done before the fall, sooner if I had help.”
Angus said eagerly, “I built a boat with Da. I can’t imagine it’s much different.” He was in jeans and a sweatshirt, so he didn’t need to change. But he did take off the shirt. He grabbed a tool belt, putting it on as if someone was going to provide a rating. Deetz recognized his friend’s peacocking as Angus had always been vain and worried about imaginary grey hairs like a model with a weight problem. Deetz just couldn’t grasp why Angus was doing it now or why it was irritating him. So, Deetz plastered his eyes to his tablet while updating Angus on the build thus far. For his part, Angus was slightly hurt at Deetz’s seeming rejection. But as the days and weeks went by, they settled and became more comfortable with one another. They caught up each other’s lives, exchanged random stories of falls into innocent foolishness and, when it got too dark to work, shared hopes and dreams over a cannabis vape pipe under the moonlight.
So, for the next two months, they both sublimated their attraction toward one another into turning a heap of disfigured metal and wood into a mobile man cave. When it was done, the boys were moved by the accomplishment. They took pictures and hugged like victorious footballers. In some ways, Sugar was their first child.
Don't wanna see you struggle when
You know I wanna help you out
The trouble that you know you're in
The leach between up and down
You came closen doors
So I can't help you no more
Your thought so confined
A maze of your own design
- “Trouble”, as performed by Robots Don’t Sleep
Angus snapped back from memory lane to reality and resumed feeling resentful that Deetz was still there. Angus walked around Deetz like someone avoiding an unpleasant smell. “I thought you were leaving,” he tossed back while walking toward the dining room. Once inside, he immediately went to the wet bar and poured himself rather large scotch.
Deetz followed Lady Nora into the dining room. Deetz then sat down to make himself comfortable at the table while Simms served him coffee. Deetz had quit drinking 2-years ago when his trips to Chicago’s leather bars got obsessive and so frequent that he was twice hospitalized for alcohol poisoning. The assertion by the ER doctor that his ‘next drink WILL BE the last thing you’ll do’ got him to make another attempt at therapy where he learned more productive ways to manage his PTSD, guilt and shame – and he smoked plenty of weed. “And shouldn’t you lay off the hooch so early in the day – you want to be fresh for your wedding party tonight!”
“I’ll do what I want. I am no longer married to you. You can’t tell me what to do!” Angus turned to Lady Nora who was already seated in her momma-bear chair, “Na, can’t you send him away. He’ll ruin everything.”
“How old are you again?” Lady Nora was not going to be chased out of her own space because these two knuckleheads were having a difficult time. She sat comfortably across from Deetz in her 18th century Sheraton mahogany high back to sip Glengettie tea and eat a bara brith bread. “First of all, he’s right. Second of all, I didn’t divorce my dear friend, you did, and he is my plus one for the prenuptial party and the wedding.”
“Why do you need a plus one?” Angus sneered. “Is granddad bringing Trixi?”
“That’s why the reporters are here - to protect the family’s reputation.”
“A little late for that, don’t you think?” Angus looked at Deetz and pleaded, “Don’t ruin this for me, Deetz! If you care at all about me, don’t fuck this up.”
“Mate, I couldn’t do that even if I wanted to.”
“So, why are you here?”
Deetz took a sip of the hot coffee, wiped his mouth with the napkin, and waved off the plate Simm’s was about to serve him. “I wanted to watch you do it.” He started to leave.
“Ruin it, ruin it all.”
I never realized the passing hours
Of evening showers
A slip noose hanging in my darkest dreams
I'm strangled by your haunted social scene
Just a pawn out-played by a dominating queen
It's four o'clock in the morning
Damn it listen to me good
I'm sleeping with myself tonight
Saved in time, thank God my music's still alive
- “Somebody Saved My Life (Tonight)”, as sung by Elton John
Bridget hid in the gardens and was relieved when she saw Deetz leave. She hated their encounters and planned to ban him from the estate once she was married to Angus. Lady Nora would just have to step aside now that she was in the picture. It was the natural place of the earl’s wife to run the house. She was a day away from getting everything she ever wanted. She had big plans too. She was going to be the wife of the next Prime Minister. And she had convinced Angus that he wanted it too.
She found Angus back in the sitting room opening more gifts. “Hello, honey!” She gave him a chaste kiss on the cheek. Since they had announced their nuptials three months back, Bridget was hesitant and sometimes downright hostile to having sex. She told him that she wanted to come to him “pure”. Who was she kidding? The real reason is that she didn’t love Angus Reese. He was handsome and a considerate lover but the only thing that stirred her about him was his wealth and what that would do for her family as well as any child she birthed, preferably only one.
He returned her kiss, matching her intentions. Angus felt that even if he didn’t love her nor she love him, plenty of marriages existed and worked perfectly without reliance on a hormone booster shot. As for her moratorium on fucking, if he was honest, she wasn’t that engaging although she did give decent blowjobs and would disengage afterwards without hesitation. If he kept his indiscretions discreet and prevent bastards, the marriage would contribute to his success. It all sounds so . . . 1867, he thought to himself. She was sensible, charming, and would be a perfect helpmate should he go into politics. “And the Majesties are coming to our wedding!” she reminded him. It was an honour that would go a long way toward greasing the palms of the political power. Another reason what started as a simple backyard wedding had become an opening at the Palladium.
Nodding in the right places to Bridget’s wedding babble and mindlessly unwrapping the 17th plate setting, Angus nearly missed the gift from Deetz. It was the size of a boot box, wrapped tightly in silver foil and a single, unassuming white bow. He knew it was from Deetz because Angus helped him pick out that particular wrapping paper for a gift on Brandi’s birthday. There was no note. Ripping off the paper and opening the box, Angus was shocked to see a motorhome in a bottle. “What the fuck is that?” Bridget asked, distracted from her tirade.
“He finished it,” he whispered just a little too loud.
“What did you say?” She grabbed the artistry and looked at it harshly. “I’ve heard of a ship in a bottle, but this is just silly. Who gives something like this as a wedding gift? Must be from one of those cousins from your mother’s side. Didn’t you tell me many of them were alcoholics or something?” She unceremoniously grabbed the piece and put it aside to look around for a more worthy gift. A moment later, her mobile rang. “Ah, it’s the new caterers! I’ll just be a minute.” She chatted off to another room.
Angus looked over at the abandoned artwork. He picked it up and looked inside the tiny windows of the model caravan. Everything was there, every detail from the faux fireplace to the small weed plant in the window. There was a gold plate in the side of the base that said, Sugar, may she ride the roads again, soon. Moving it around he found the figurine’s false bottom, held closed by a small latch. In it was a folded piece of parchment. He knew what it was – their wedding ketubah, a contract Jewish newlyweds sign just before the wedding pledging fidelity to the new family. It included a statement in large, bold print “I am my beloved and my beloved is mine”. If Deetz was trying to manipulate him, it was working because, for a moment, Angus was fell back into those memories again.
Sometimes I'm sexy, move like a stud
Like kicking the stall all night
Sometimes I'm so shy, got to be worked on
Don't have no bark or bite, alright
Yeah when you call my name
I salivate like a Pavlov dog
Yeah when you lay me out
My heart is bumpin' louder than a big bass drum, alright
- “Bitch”, as sung by The Rolling Stones
Four and a half years ago…
Sugar was done and the boys were ready to take her on a maiden voyage. They decided on a visit to Angus’s Aunt Scarlett’s home on Ynys Môn (Isle of Anglesey). Deetz said he was going to clean up while Angus sat outside on his mobile haggling over supplies. A few minutes later, Angus was done and quite pleased at the deal he’d made – the Ford F-250 would be in front of the cottage tomorrow at 9 am. Then Deetz’s mobile rang. Must have left it here by accident, Angus thought as he picked it up. During the long days working on the motorhome, Deetz mentioned that he was applying for graduate studies – he had always wanted to be a rabbi. So, when Angus saw “Reconstructing Judaism College” on the caller ID, he dashed into the cottage to get Deetz. He couldn’t find Deetz at first, so he answered the call. They said they were from the admissions department.
Angus moved quickly and without thinking such that he barged into Deetz’s bedroom without knocking. “Hey, Mate!” was all he got out before he was gobsmacked. He wasn’t sure what stopped him. It’s not like he hadn’t seen men naked. Deetz and he swam without clothes many times as boys. And the pride parades, particularly in Brighton – well that was nothing but a sociologist’s anatomy lesson. But this was different. This naked body had been flooding Angus’s imagination for the last six weeks and he had the carpal tunnel to prove it.
“What?” Deetz asked casually, seemingly unmoved by the situation. “Is someone on the phone?” Angus released it. “Thanks! Hello?” Deetz turned his back to him and walked off to sit at the edge of the bed. He read those residual feelings Angus left behind on Deetz’s mobile. Deetz didn’t know what was exciting him more – that his application had been accepted or that Angus thought he was stunning. While the admission’s lady was congratulating him, all Deetz could think of was This shit was too much like some of 00’s XXX videos where the gay or bi guy turns a nominally straight man.
Deetz finished his call and put on pants to find his friend. Angus, who dashed out of the doorway knowing his face was red, stood at the kitchen island trying to make tea, averted his eyes while asking, “Good news?”
Deetz, the high potential for disaster, immediately took the pot and tea away from him, and started over. “It was admissions. They were confirming that my fellowship application is being considered in the top 10 candidates.”
“That means you’re in, right?”
“Oh, shit no! I wish! The application process is more like a beat-in into a street gang than a school enrollment, only with theologians and magical characters. I have a phone interview in a few weeks.”
Then came the awkward silence, both of them watching Deetz make tea like a servant from Downton Abby. Angus struggled to put something out there, some explanation for his boorish behaviour. “Hey, Mate, I . . . I wanted to apologize for walking in on you like that. I should have knocked.”
Deetz finally spoke while he was serving the tea, “Right, so what’s going on her, Mate? I’ve haven’t been cruised like this since I was fresh meat in London! Are you walking on the wild side now?”
“Nothing! Nothing’s going on. What do you mean cruising?” Angus stuttered.
“So if I . . . ,” Deetz presented him with the honey and milk containers, “. . . kissed you, no big deal, eh?”
“Why would you kiss me?”
“So, you’ll kiss me back.”
Angus bashfully grinned. “What happens after that?”
“What do you want to happen?”
“I don’t know.”
Deetz stood up. “That’s a good place to start, I guess.” He paused and considered the possibilities. “Mate, I mean, are you sure? I don’t want to be someone’s sexual experiment – you should have caught me five years ago. I’m not really into fucking around much anymore, not since I quit drinking.” Deetz took a good sip of his tea and finally looked directly at him.
“I understand,” Angus said, feeling foolish. “Na thinks it is time I got married, have a family of my own too.”
“Ciara says you’re really good with Brandi.”
“Yeah, except with feeding, I guess!” he laughed. “She’s a smart little girl, just like her mum and da.”
More awkward silence, their sips echoing around the kitchen as they studied the insides of their cups. Angus finally said, “I am feeling something compelling here.”
Deetz replied honestly, “I know what you mean. But you do realize that gay sex can be . . . messy?”
Angus decided not to tell him about his Google searches last night. “We’re a smart couple of blokes,” he smiled. “I’m sure we can figure something out.”
“You’ll need a lesson plan and a syllabus! It’s not the same as with girls, trust me. And the difference is much more than body parts.”
“Okay, never mind! Sorry I brought it up then.” Angus got up and angrily started out of the cabin. “I thought we were negotiating here, not coming up with more reasons why not to do it,” he pouted.
“Oh, Angus! Don’t be like that! I wasn’t trying to insult you!” When he grabbed Angus’s shoulder to stop him from leaving Deetz sensed that Angus genuinely was interested and not just playing around. When Angus turned around, irritated and ready to fight, Deetz kissed him, at first just above the neck by the ear. Angus wasn’t prepared for that and stiffened a bit. “Angus, can you feel the difference, the difference between my lips and that of some random slapper?”
“Ah, huh,” Angus managed in a hushed tone, traces of a quiver in his voice.
Then, Angus shivered, just a little as Deetz kissed the nape of his neck. “Does it feel good? Huh, Mate, do my lips feel good against your sensitive spots?”
“Ah, huh,” Angus repeated, closing his eyes to soak up more of this hormonal rush. As arousing as this was, it was equally as soothing as if things just fit together – like a set of Legos.
Deetz stopped abruptly. He pulled back a bit, catching the bliss in his friend’s face. “Angus, Angus I can’t,” he pleaded, “we’ve been friends since we were lads. I don’t want to lose that.”
Angus opened his eyes to rejection and felt that something very precious was slipping away. He panicked, trying to find a way to keep him there and get that sense of contentment back. Angus noticed that despite what he had just said, Deetz hadn’t moved away. So, Angus just moved in and kissed him on the lips. He waited for a heartbeat to see if Deetz would push him off. He didn’t so Angus continued. Angus put his hand under Deetz’s shirt to caress his lower back. Deetz moaned then kissed Angus back, all eyes closed, open-mouthed and lustful. That sound drove him wild. He wanted… no, needed to hear it again and again and again.
Deetz had a choice to make for Angus was very keen, all in, and unlikely to stop. That eight-year-old boy inside him was elated alongside the inner teenager, eager to suck his friend’s dick and be loved readily afterwards. A silly fantasy where I get swept up by the prince, Deetz berated himself. But Angus’s lips were wet and the slight smacking sound when their tongues lapped against one another was the arousing the sound for him. What was wrong in a slight indulgence in a fantasy?
No, this wasn’t right, and he wasn’t ready. Deetz was always diligently suspicious of such emotion arousal, good or bad, up or down - something abuse teaches. He managed to push Angus of him, just as the eager Romeo started caressing the dip just above Deetz’s ass. “Angus! Hold on!” Deetz had to catch his breath. “Please, wait.” Angus’s arousal took a nosedive as he opened his eyes. “Don’t pout. I’m not saying no, just hold on.” Angus gave him a quizzical look. “Right, Ciara is due back soon. This is still her home and I don’t know how comfortable she would be finding us rolling naked on the floor.” He sensed Angus acquiesing so Deetz threw out, “We’re going out in Sugar tomorrow. Can we postpone things until then?” He purred, “I’ve never had sex in a motorhome.”
Tomorrow his fantasies were coming true. This perked up Angus. “I like the idea of having you all to myself.”
Deetz’s concern about Angus’s motives continued despite the evidence of the man’s sincerity. “Come back and let’s sit in the kitchen. I think we both could benefit from a cup of tea.” He filled the pot and saw just how much Angus’s kisses unnerved him when he nearly dropped it while he tried to set it back on the stand. He peeked back to see if Angus noticed. He hadn’t as he was too busy looking doe-eyed. He turned his back and asked, “Why the sudden passion, Angus? Don’t get me wrong but it seems to come out of nowhere.”
“Well, that’s kinda hard as I’m not that sure myself.” Angus rubbed the back of his neck. “You know I’ve stayed away from grandmother’s Druid hocus pocus. But this legend, curse thing may have something to it.”
“What do you mean?”
“When I got the news of dad’s death, I was very distraught but the only thing I could think of was to make sure you came home with me. That’s why I picked you up in Thailand.”
“Yeah, in a family jet that creates envy in the hearts of Emirates and Qatar airlines. That’s not a plane, it’s a flying hotel!” They both laughed, which mellowed the tension. “But seriously, that could be due to grief. Ciara and I had similar fond memories of your father. Getting me meant our little gang was together again.”
Angus shook his head. “No that’s not it. Right, well, you remember how I was when you got onboard?”
“Hell yeah, you were completely bladdered!”
“No, I figured the news gutted you.”
Angus sucked in a breath loudly. He exhaled then said, “Don’t get me wrong, I’m grieving. I miss him terribly. But for some reason, getting to you was just as important. It was driving me nuts.” He blushed a bit. “It didn’t get…well, it didn’t get erotic until after the funeral. You disappeared and I found myself thinking about you… ah, you know, like that.”
Deetz, with settled nerves now, handed Angus a fresh cup. “Do you believe in the legend – that every third generation of Mac Innes male servant and the current earl fall in love?”
“Well, you are already open to it – no magic there. But me? My history does not point in that direction if you know what I mean.” Angus shrugged.
Deetz pointed out, “But you are open to it, that may be enough.”
Angus looked at him for several moments. “You still overthink things,” he said smiling.
Deetz shrugged. What the hell? Maybe just one more kiss and I’ll send him on his way, he thought. He walked up to Angus and stood between his man-spread, just inches away from his crotch. Deetz reached behind Angus and pulled out his hair tie. Angus’s auburn mane fell like a Clairol model across his shoulder. “Oh yeah, that’s better.” Deetz slowly ran the fingers of his right hand through the hair several times, releasing hints of sandalwood oil from his leave-in conditioner. “I like it like this. It feels… damn.” The last word a whisper across Angus’s lips as Deetz kissed him lightly and he let his fingers play in the other man’s mane.
Angus pressed his head lightly against Deetz’s hand. “If you don’t mean it mate, don’t tease me. Please.”
“Tomorrow once we’re on the road,” Deetz said kissing Angus’s nose.
A short while and few more kisses later, Angus reluctantly returned to the main house. He said he had some business to resolve so to free up the upcoming week. Deetz collapsed on the couch wondering if he should call his therapist. She had told him several months back that he’d know true love when the touch of someone is frightening. In good marriages, partners share and love all parts of one another, she said. For an abuse survivor, this is a huge risk. He was still concerned that Angus hadn’t thought this through. Men like him have expectations attached to them that common folk don’t. It may be the 21st century but that’s elsewhere. There were gay royals but coming out came at a cost. They were never seated in the same spot at Christmas dinner as they might have in previous years. Deetz was comfortable with his dalliances across gender identities, but Angus had no experience with the kind of rejection that one can experience as a member of this club. Should I protect him from himself? Deetz asked himself. He was sitting on the couch still fretting when Ciara got home. “Hey!” Deetz asked.
Ciara deposited a brown bag full of fresh vegetables and another bag of cleaning products on the island’s counter. “Hey, what are you sitting around for? Is something wrong?”
“Nothing.” Deetz got off the couch and came in the kitchen. He loved his sister but he wasn’t in the mood for the ‘just tell him how you feel’ lecture. “Where’s Tom and Brandi?”
“Tom took Brandi to the carnival that set up near the town.” Tom was Ciara’s husband and Deetz’s former lover from a long time ago in another book. Tom was dashing in that Denzel Washington sort of way. He was a good egg and followed his sister around like a bomb dog in Iraq. It was all quite sweet and Deetz was genuinely happy for them both. But Ciara wasn’t one easily misdirected. “Again, Deetz what’s wrong?”
Didn’t mean he wasn’t a bit envious. Deetz wasn’t feeling lonely but unfulfilled. “It seems I don’t have a date for tonight.”
Ciara eyed him before putting on the kettle. “I see that you and Angus finished the fifth wheel. It looks great. Any chance of a tour?”
“Later, I want more time for that last set of touch-ups to dry. You can see it before we leave tomorrow”, he added. “We are going to drive it up to see Aunt Scarlett.”
Ciara shook a teaspoon of tea into a strainer then came around the island. “What’s going on, eh? I thought Angus was helping.”
“He has been.”
“Aren’t you two getting along?”
“He kissed me.” Deetz looked at the floor as if busted by a pissed mom who found condoms in the dresser drawer. “He wants to sleep with me.”
“What’s wrong with that? You’ve been crushing on him since forever.”
“I know but what if... .,” Deetz started saying.
“Cau i fyny, please! Good g-d man! What do you want?”
“A sign from Hashem, (G-d) that this is the right one?”
Ciara came up to her brother and kissed the top of his head. “Pe bai cariad yn gallu gweld ei wendid, byddai'n marw o ddychryn (If love could see its weakness it would die of fright). In other words, fretting is part of the fun of it!” She put some tea into a thermos then started upstairs to the second-floor bedrooms.
“Not too much tea, sis,” Deetz interjected, “caffeine isn’t good for the baby.”
She gave him a dirty look. “How did you know?”
He smiled and said in Hebrew, “’Beshaah Tovah - all should proceed at the right time: the pregnancy should be smooth, the baby should be healthy and the birth should be without complication.’” He went up and hugged her, “If you hadn’t been so affectionate and kissed my head and all, I wouldn’t have known for another couple of weeks – six weeks, right? Been to the doctor? I already know Tom’s over the moon and Brandi can’t wait to have someone to boss around.”
“Eight weeks and only Tom knows. Dr. Randolph says all looks well.” Using her mobile, she showed him the 3D ultrasound short film of something that looked half-human, half-peanut.
He hugged her again. “I’ll keep your secret.”
“And I will keep yours as well.”
“You know! Lady Nora told us.”
“Oh, that stupid family legend? please! Yes, I know magic and psychic powers are real but I also know the Loch Ness is not and curses don’t last 150 years. Who’s heard of such a thing!”
“I don’t know,” replied Ciara, “we’ll see. I’m going upstairs to nap. This pregnancy is already wearing me out.”
She left Deetz on the couch to ponder the possibilities.
You could have been with me
Instead of alone with nothing.
- “You Could Have (Been with Me)”, as sung by Sheena Easton
Jack knocked on the door of the cottage before the evening’s festivities began. “Why hello Jack! What brings you this way?” He ushered him into the kitchen patio. “Coffee or tea?”
“Coffee, thank you,” Jack answered. He looked around like a tourist. “Must be nice to get the benefits of what they throw away.”
Deetz decided to ignore Jack’s broody ignorance. “How can I help you, Mr. Spencer?”
Jack took the hint – slow not stupid - and promptly sat on the white wicker chair. “I just kinda wanted to get your side of the story”. Deetz’s poured and handed the guest the cup then pointed to the sugar and milk. Jack took it black. “You know, insider information.”
“I can offer no insights into Angus and Bridgett’s relationship.”
“Okay . . . Well, what about you and the Earl’s? Are there roadblocks the lady should avoid?”
Deetz chuckled, “Really Mr. Spencer, I’m not much for revealing what is said between the sheets.”
Jack was determined to leave with a headline. “Are you planning on stopping this wedding, Mr. Mac Innes? Don’t you want to save Lady Whatever-Her-Name-is from marrying a gay man?”
“Let me address the last question first.” Deetz took the slightest cleansing breath, noting that the brand on is back was sizzling. “I don’t and neither should anyone put a label on another human being without prior consent.” He took in another breath and let it out while Jack took notes for a direct quote. “And as for the second, I was too busying letting him plough my ass to ask for a copy of his gay passport.”
“Nevermind!” interrupted Jack. He looked back on what he wrote then crossed it out. He came at it from another angle, “There are rumours of some curse that Queen Victoria put on the Reese and Mac Innes families. Something that makes every other generation gay for one another.”
Deetz rolled his eyes. “It hasn’t exactly been every other generation.”
“Whatever!” Jack pulled out a pad where he had written other notes. “Well, what about it? What're the repercussions if the spell isn’t followed? I mean I also read your families are high up in Druid circles.”
This was actually true. Lady Nora, like generations of Reese women before her, was the local high priestess. Unfortunately, Angus was an only child and the position could only go to a female. Lady Nora could appoint any female she saw fit and she had already chosen Ciara. But these reporters have enough of our dirty laundry already, thought Deetz. “If you’ve done your homework Mr. Spencer, you would know that I am Jewish, from a very observant family and looking to study for the rabbinate.”
Jack ruffled through note pages. “Yes, I seem to have read that somewhere. Odd how someone can have two faiths.”
Deetz wasn’t going to get into a discussion of theology with this fellow. “Can I refresh your cup?”
Jack handed Deetz the cup.
Deetz immediately picked up on what was flavouring Jack’s irritability. “Would you like something stronger than coffee. My sister has wonderful liqueurs or there is some stronger stuff around I believe.”
“That would be great!”
“Not if you think I’ll spill the beans after a few shots,” chuckled Deetz as he pulled bottles from the wet bar. “Sorry, but your research should have also indicated that I am a recovering alcoholic. I haven’t had a drink in years.”
“But you smoke cannabis, a lot.”
“Touche!” They both laughed. “Okay,” Deetz acquiesced, “how about a trade – you talk about your secret then I’ll talk about mine.”
They toasted on it, Jack with his 15-year old scotch and Deetz with his vape pen.
“So, what’s your secret?” asked Jack after knocking back a shot.
Deetz replied, “I’m leaving for Israel tomorrow afternoon.”
“You make it sound so final.”
Deetz took a drag then answered, “I have an uncle in there, he is my father’s second cousin. Moshe’s always liked me, one of the few in the family that does. Anyway, he’s with a small, liberal a lay-led congregation in Tel Aviv, and they are almost big enough to hire a full-time rabbi. I can do my last year internship there and the position would be mine after graduation.”
“You’d leave this, leave all this behind? Even Angus?”
“Was the marriage that horrible? Was Angus such a problem?”
“The marriage was idyllic, and Angus is wonderful,” Deetz admitted. “My husband … my former husband is a kind, dedicated, and noble man.”
“Interesting choice of words.” Jack poured himself another shot. “So why are you here, of all days?”
Deetz looked at him and shrugged, “To remind him that he loves me. To offer space for us to reunite. And to give him a chance to come back.”
“Off the record, honest, how did …,” Jack began gesturing to hide his nervousness at asking, “you get a straight guy to turn gay? Or is the gay-only-for-you thing real?”
“My queer activist friends would be offended!” Deetz chuckled. “My sociology professor would point out that strictures of ‘gay’ or ‘straight’ are human constructs and thus are scientifically meaningless. Lady Nora would point to the family curse.” He took another hit then finished with, “My conclusion is that it doesn’t matter. It was Angus making love to me, not some identity.”
“I mean no offence,” Jack responded, “alright, heterosexism aside, you have to admit folks didn’t see that coming.”
Deetz shrugged again, “Correct. And you are going to want a clue from how it all happened, with all it sorted details, eh?”
“I am a reporter after all. Being nosy is part of the job description.” He downed another shot.
Deetz had kept his own counsel throughout the separation and the divorce proceedings. He didn’t get his own lawyer and never showed for court. He signed paperwork as it arrived. But some part of him still held off hope. The stress of it all was finally hitting me, thought Deetz because he wanted to tell someone, anyone about what made it all seem so magical. “Well, sit back my friend for a tale of ecstasy and woe!”
Deetz told him the whole story.