Chapter IX from The Other Man
(A novel written in the 1970s)
by Ronald Linder
Smiling in sleep, Jeff held Donald folded in his arms, pressing his softly breathing, young body everywhere…as Geraldine woke in Atherton Sunday morning to anticipate her husband’s coming home…and Daphne, already up an hour, rearranged the furniture again in her giant doll house, not knowing where to put the father-doll and finally sticking him in the basement. Geraldine allowed herself one minute as she was waking to worry that Jeff’s relationship with Ralph might have gone too strong. He’d never stayed away this long, and though she liked Ralph because he was funny and smart and brought so much life into a house that had become so dull since her father had died, she wondered if Jeff’s old problem had returned. It was five years since the blackmail letters. But lately he’d seem to need Ralph at least once or twice a week “because a man needs a man to talk to.” She knew those things were never cured, but Jeff had had so much to do since her father had died, so many responsibilities and a whole new future. He shouldn’t need any of those schoolboy attachments.
Daphne moved here furniture around angrily because her dad had already missed her birthday. “He’d better come home today!” Another year and she’d have that horse he promised her, but even twelve was an important age and Jeff had promised her a big surprise for now … but why did he stay in the City so long? When she had her horse, she dreamt she and her friends would take lessons and be champion riders in shows and open a stable together someday to raise horses and teach riding and have rodeos where she’d win the big prizes and mom and dad and she would move out of this big, spooky house and live on a ranch and she’d never get married because you can’t trust men to be home when they’re supposed to be—
“Daphne—where are you!” Geraldine called. “Hurry and come to breakfast … I want you to help me set the table for lunch so we’ll be done before your father comes home!”
Jeff suddenly jerked awake, cramped and stiff, on the floor next to Donald. His right arm felt numb and his lips dry and tingling from kissing all of Donald’s body. He pulled his arm from under the smoothly curved back and pushed up heavily from the floor, feeling dirty because he was covered in dust and dried sweat. Lazily, Donald opened his eyes, turned to contemplate Jeff, and smiled slowly and tenderly.
“That was fun,” he whispered. “I love you. We’re perfect together. Why don’t you think of moving in with me?”
Jeff stared shocked. “Don’t be ridiculous!”
“Why? What’s wrong? Didn’t you have fun?”
“Of course I did, but that doesn’t mean I’m moving in. I have other commitments.”
Donald rolled over on his stomach and Jeff glanced uncomfortably, but appreciatively, at the young man’s perfectly proportioned body—like a Greek, no, an Egyptian god. Soft like a woman, but the hips were too thin and muscular and there weren’t any breasts and the buttocks were flat and tight—but in his own way, Donald was something to lick and kiss and eat. Jeff felt he could start all over again, but he had to get home this morning.
“What kind of commitments?” Donald asked.
Jeff was sorry he’d said that, but the guy ought to know how things stood right from the start. He felt frightened at the way he’d let go completely during the night, not even counting how many times he’d come. How had he forgotten Ralph so completely—and forgotten how angry he’d been? It was a hell of a lot of fun and he knew if he didn’t stop now, he’d want to see Donald every time he came to the City. How could he handle two lovers, besides Geraldine and his mother and the family business? “I’m married and I have a daughter,” he said. “I guess I just had too much to drink last night.”
Donald’s head swerved up like a cobra’s, and a hurt, puzzled frown stamped his face. “You’re kidding!”
“No, I’m very serious. It was a lot of fun—but just for one night. I won’t be able to see you again.”
Donald pushed up from the floor, and without a word or looking back, walked to the bathroom. Soon Jeff heard water running and a flush and sat for a minute trying to clear his head. He knew he hadn’t drunk too much compared to what he and Ralph usually consumed, but he felt light-headed and drained. He looked down at his long, reddish legs and saw scratch marks—he’d have to tell Geraldine he’d got them in the garden. Donald had been like six people. He shivered just thinking of that young, blond body everywhere at once, making him charge and discharge through the night. Jeff didn’t think of himself as more than 20, even if he was 40, but he knew he couldn’t stand Donald every night. He’d been afraid and embarrassed to go to a bar or restaurant with Ralph—it would be a dozen times worse with someone as young and as girlish as Donald. And he knew they couldn’t just stay home and make love—that hadn’t worked even with Ralph, who acted sometimes as if he was ashamed to be seen with another man.
Jeff looked around the room. In daylight it was like a pastel mock-up of a room. The furniture was low-grade Los Angeles and he felt suddenly dirty and cheap, as if Geraldine might not take him back. He’d never felt that way when he’d left Ralph’s apartment. The two of them made one man who knew the answers to everything. Jeff didn’t even know Donald’s last name—but despite all the fear and guilt, he was terribly attracted to the young organist. Was he trying to fight the inkling of loneliness he felt even now for Ralph? Would it hit like a storm wave when he sat with Geraldine and Maddie and Paul talking about business—and when he lay in bed with Geraldine, trying to arouse himself when he knew she just wasn’t sexy anymore?
“You’re a son-of-a-bitch,” Donald said slowly, returning carry white briefs, his nipples especially red against the downy, yellow hair on his chest.
‘Probably from being bitten all night,’ Jeff thought. “I’m sorry,” he said.
“You should have told me before. I’ve never been to bed with a married man.”
“What difference does it make?”
“Plenty. It’s just not fair to have a guy open up the way I did when it’s just for one night.”
“Why? You had fun, didn’t you?”
Donald bent down graciously to pick up his clothes. “Sure I did, but I’d like to meet a man I can love for more than one night. I was attracted to you right away. You’re not like the average gay man. I was sure you were the one for me.” His eyes opened to a wide innocence and his lips pursed, as if he were waiting for a kiss.
Jeff felt annoyed and trapped, as if by an over-dramatic young woman. All the things he hated about gay men came to mind—the unmanly excess emotions and impulsiveness, the dramatic beckoning gestures. “I said I’m sorry. I didn’t know you would take it so seriously. Don’t you go out much?”
Donald glanced angrily. “No. I don’t!”
Jeff detected a note of hysteria in the young man’s voice. Donald was young enough to be his son … and Jeff felt grateful he had never had any boys. What if he had had a son who was gay? Jeff’s heart knocked in his chest, frantically urging him to leave. ‘Ralph,’ he cried inside, ‘See what you’re doing to me? I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you! I won’t let you leave. You can’t. I can’t handle this kind of life outside the Baths!’ It had been easy for a while before Jeff had met Ralph. When he had come to the City and had fun with a different one every week at the Baths and never saw or heard from any of them again—until that package came for Geraldine. And those letters. Someone must have opened his locker and looked in his wallet. But his whole way of looking at people changed because of Ralph. Before, he thought of queers—the ones who lived that life all the time—as freaks. He’d never known any for more than a few hours. And they never talked much. But now he saw there wasn’t much difference between them and him. How he could even feel sorry for them—not want to hurt their feelings. Goddamn! He suddenly realized he might be queerer than he thought. He didn’t like to dwell on it—and never let Ralph talk about it. They just loved each other in a way that couldn’t be explained. Only Ralph with only Jeff—that was all he knew. Maybe after Ralph spent a few days with that woman doctor, he’d realize there was no one else for him but his redheaded lover.
Jeff felt Donald’s small hand running through his hair and he looked up to see the young man’s shy, hesitant smile. “How about some breakfast? I’m not mad at you. I was just disappointed. Do you have time for a nap together—after?”
Jeff bent over to fumble in the pile of his clothes and stubbed a finger against his watch. After glancing at it, he yelled. “Jesus, it’s almost eight!” He saw his three women standing side-by-side, waiting, grim. His stomach fell, just as when he’d been late for finals.
“I don’t believe you can be married,” Donald said sadly. “How can you be married? How can you go to bed with a woman if you like men?”
“I don’t know. It just happens that way. I guess I just have an excess of sexual urges.”
Donald lowered his head to kiss Jeff’s lips, but the older man pinched the younger’s nearest nipple. He screeched and slapped Jeff’s leg, and the redhead laughed and sat cross-legged on the floor to sort out his clothes, wishing he had time to go back to see Ralph now that his anger was gone and ask him again if he really meant he wouldn’t see him anymore—but he had to drive home, or Geraldine would feel hurt in that silent way of hers and Daphne would pout and for some reasons he didn’t know and couldn’t catalogue, he needed them differently than he needed Ralph. Even Maddie was important. He didn’t want her to get angry. She might mess up the new family business and tie up his money or break one of her arms or legs and keep him busy running a million errands.
It was crazy and mysterious. In the City, on the loose, he could make choices. But as a socially acceptable husband, father and son he was stuck doing what others told him to do. Even his art had to be forced, because he was supposed to make money from his paintings.
Jeff hated all these grumbling thoughts. He should be happy! He was going home! He hummed a short stretch of a marching song from his Boy Scout days, but it sounded sour.
“What are you humming? Something that I know?” Donald asked.
“I doubt it.”
Donald lay sideways on the rug, his head poised on the back of one hand, staring hungrily at Jeff. “Are you sure you can’t stay a while longer?”
“No. I have to get home to my family!”
Donald ran his tongue over his lower lip, as if he wanted to say something nasty, but held back.
Jeff had the impression that the young man’s angelic face was just a mask in the front of a sneering, porcelain figurine.
“How do you like living in Atherton?” Donald asked, sitting up.
“How do you know I live there?” Jeff demanded.
“While you rocked in Morpheus’ arms, I had to go to the bathroom and peeked in your wallet. I’m so tired of seeing beautiful people only for one night. I just can’t stand all the uncertainty and surprises. You live at 5 – 3 – 1 Rosemary Drive, Atherton. That’s a perfect major chord … 5 – 3 – 1.”
Jeff scowled as his finished separating his clothes, but inside he felt suddenly very frightened. He stood to pull on his pants. His neck and back felt tight and sore. “What plans do you have for my address?” he asked.
“None now … but I do want to see you again …. I love you! I never loved anyone so much the first time. You do things to me … even just watching you dress.”
Jeff pulled on his shirt, cursing himself for having succumbed to the blond, cherubic devil. No wonder the old painters always made cherubs mischievous! The Baths were so much easier. There were never any problems—except with those letters, and Ralph. If this blond, young man ever called or came to his house and talked to Geraldine, she’d know he’d never gotten over being queer—and she’d figure out in a hurry how and why Ralph was sick. Jeff sat in judgment on himself. Of course he knew Ralph was right—no one with any self-respect would stay on the short side of an arrangement like theirs forever. But what could he do? He needed and loved Ralph—and Geraldine and Daphne—and Maddie and the family money. They couldn’t all go to bed together! But it was a problem Jeff had to solve alone. He wouldn’t let Donald blow away everything!
He squatted so his face came opposite the blond man’s. “You don’t fall in love with someone in one night! I’m twenty years older than you. You must have dozens of friends and lovers!”
“I like older men.”
“There must be thousands of them in San Francisco who would be crazy about you.”
“Not who look like you,” Donald sighed noisily, unfolded from the floor and stood with his hands straight on his hips. Jeff admired the youthful lustre and smoothness of his skin that would never be recaptured after another few years. Donald plunged into the corner of his black sofa, looking like a fair-haired kitten. “Oh, don’t worry, Daddy. I won’t blackmail you. I’m not that lonely, or that poor—and there is a fellow with the Danish Ballet who’s emigrating here to live for a while with some old male nurse who is crazy about me—the dancer, not the nurse—and most of the fellows I know would give up their Baryshnikov pictures just to kiss him! But I do want to see you again…. And if I don’t in a couple or three weeks, I’ll just call or write you a little reminder.”
‘Not more than 20, and all the sophistication of an old whore!’ Jeff thought. Ralph said gay people usually begin having sex three or four years earlier than straight people. But Jeff didn’t want this young sex maniac bothering him. “Donald, I don’t want you to call or write me at home! Do you understand? My wife doesn’t know anything about all this … and don’t forget I have a daughter. Knowing about me certainly wouldn’t do her any good.”
“Just a little reminder. I’ll use code, if you want.”
“Don’t call me,” Jeff shouted. “I promise I’ll call you in two or three weeks.” He wanted to hurt this young man, but he knew if he began, they’d probably end up in bed together. He had to go home, but hated to leave this loose end dangling. What could he do now? He’d been angry many times with Ralph for sitting home night after night, alone, waiting for Tuesdays. ‘Get a friend for in-between,’ Jeff had told him. But now he saw Ralph was right. In this gay world, or probably in any world, you just can’t turn friends or bed mates on and off to fit a schedule—especially gay people, because they are so lonely and hungry for attention and love. Maybe there was no way to keep Ralph. Maybe this was the end, and he would have to choose between the straight and the gay worlds. But he didn’t want to choose!
Jeff finished dressing but couldn’t find his tie, and then remembered he’d thrown it away before he met Donald. It had been a beautiful night and he didn’t want it spoiled. “Look Donald, I have to leave. Honestly! I told you the truth.”
“Just a cup of coffee?”
“No!” Jeff had to look away from the bulge in Donald’s briefs. Donald wrote his full name, address and phone number on a piece of paper and gave it to Jeff.
“Don’t forget—in two or three weeks or I’ll remind you.”
Jeff barely nodded goodbye.