When the phone rang I was trying to figure out what to wear to the pre-semester faculty party at the house of the Chairman of the Media Studies Department. I picked it up in the bedroom. It was Lily, Aaron's mother, calling from Florida.
"Hi Ma," I replied, tucking the receiver between my ear and shoulder as I tried to balance talking and deciding at the same time.
"I just wanted to find out what you boys were up to on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. I'm assuming it's beautiful there, because it's beautiful here!"
"You're in Florida, Ma. It's always beautiful there."
"I guess you're right, my baby. I'm going over to the Jewish Senior Center this evening. Miriam Stein is picking me up."
"Is that lady you went on the cruise with?" I pulled out a red sport shirt and then discarded it. It made me look like a golf pro.
"Yes! Miriam and I had such a good time! But three days out to the Bahamas and back was enough already. Sam is talking about going on one of those around-the-world things, but I don't think I'd like it. The boat gets boring after a while. All they do is feed you the whole time!"
"That's what some people like -- a buffet on the water, 24/7."
"I know, but enough is enough! When we stopped at Key West there was another boat at the dock next to ours. Nothing but beautiful men. You know what I mean?"
"Yes, Ma. I've heard of all-gay cruise ships before."
"It looked like they were having a lot more fun on their boat than we were having on ours, let me tell you!"
"I'm sure they were." I could well imagine. And knowing Lily, she probably would have had a much better time with all the guys than hanging out with poor old Miriam Stein.
"You and Aaron should go on one of those, Shea. If you are having a problem with money, I'd be glad to pay for it."
"We're not having money problems, Ma, believe me. But I'm sure Aaron wouldn't have a good time stuck on a ship with a bunch of party queens!" I tried to picture my partner on a gay cruise. Aaron doesn't drink very much, he doesn't dance, and he hates loud music and loud people. Not to mention that from what I'd heard about those cruises, it was a wall-to-wall orgy from port to port; Aaron would never let me out of the cabin!
"Those boys were having a little harmless fun! When was the last time you two took a vacation? And I don't mean two days in Chicago! I mean a real vacation!"
"We went to Provincetown for a week two years ago."
Lily made a clicking noise. "All you boys do is work! That's not a good thing, sweetheart. I should shake that son of mine! He's a workaholic, just like his father." Sam retired after a heart scare three years ago. That's when they sold the house on Long Island and moved to Orange Grove. It was ironic that both Sam and my father ended up with bad hearts because they couldn't have been more different in personality or lifestyle. However, unlike my old man, Sam was taking care of himself, watching his diet, and playing nine holes of golf twice a week for exercise. The only exercise Jackie Desmond had ever done was lifting a shot glass or a TV remote. "I don't want to see Aaron have a heart attack before his time because he didn't know how to stop and smell the roses," she added.
I tried to picture Aaron actually stopping and smelling some roses, but it was too far-fetched. "You try telling him to slow down. The semester is about to begin, he's working on a half-dozen new projects, and he's totally obsessed with all of them. But what can I do? It's his career."
"There's more to life than those films, my baby. He'll be sorry one day when he realizes life has passed him by!"
"His films are his life, Ma. Everything else is secondary." And everyone else, too, I thought. "Like I said, he's very busy right now."
"You sound so down in the dumps. What's the matter? Is your dad much worse?"
"He's hanging in. They're monitoring him regularly. The Cleveland Clinic is an excellent hospital and his doctor is very good." I suddenly had a picture of Raj Kumar in bed, but I chased it out of my head. "I'll get Aaron now."
I put down the phone and went down the hall to Aaron's office. "It's your mother on the line."
Aaron grimaced and looked at his watch. We were supposed to be at the picnic in less than an hour. "Okay, I'll pick it up. Oh, by the way, can you call on Monday and cancel that dentist appointment I made last month? I've got another meeting the same day. I forgot to do it Friday. With classes starting Monday I'll never remember."
I made a mental note to cancel the appointment. It was ridiculous that Aaron couldn't remember such a mundane thing when he was so anal about everything else. But it was easier to just do it than have an argument about it.
I went back to the bedroom and trying to decide what to wear to this party. It was supposed to be casual, so I wanted to wear jeans and a tee shirt, which was what I felt the most comfortable in. But I also wanted to make a good impression on the people in Aar's new department.
I took a black tank top out of the bottom drawer. I put it on and gazed at myself in the mirror. A black wifebeater. I'd worn it to the gym a few times and also around the yard when I was mowing the lawn or washing the cars. I liked the way it showed off my arms. It made me feel cool and sexy. My worn 501 jeans rode low on my waist and I stuck one hip out, posing. I know it's shallow to be vain, but what's wrong with wanting to look hot? My hair was getting shaggy. I tossed my head and fingered it a little, playing with the part.
"What are you doing?" Aaron was in the doorway, watching and grinning.
"Nothing," I said, embarrassed to be caught.
"Nothing, huh? Looks like you're getting ready to go cruising -- and not the one my mother was thinking of." Aaron came over and began running his hands up and down my arms. Aaron liked the black wifebeater, too.
"So she told you she wants to send us on some all-queer boat ride to the Bahamas."
"Yes, she mentioned it. Over my dead body!" Aaron was smelling my hair.
"She mentioned that, too. She's afraid you're going to drop dead of a heart attack if you don't take a five minute break once in a while."
"I'm planning to take a five minute break right now," said Aaron, unhooking the buttons on my 501's and sliding them down. I wasn't wearing any underwear.
"I thought you said we couldn't be late for that picnic?" Aaron pulled off the top I'd just put on and explored my chest. "Because it was your chairman's big bash?"
"Fuck the picnic. And fuck the chairman. Because they'll all have to wait while I fuck you!"
As Aaron was taking off his clothes, I flashed on Lowell, with his short, blunt body and even blunter face. No, Aaron was right. Lowell was in Boston. Besides, Aaron was a lover of Beauty. It was an aesthetic thing with him: framing the perfect picture, getting the perfect shot, focusing on the perfect face. My face. He'd told me that so many times. My Beautiful Shea. My Perfect Shea. I love you. Only you. How could I look at anyone else?
"Aaron," I whispered, thinking of the box of condoms sitting unopened in the top drawer of the dresser. "Wait a sec."
"What for?" He moved me to the bed. He already had out the tube of lube. He guided my hand to his cock, showing me the hardness of it. His eagerness. And, I admit, I was also eager. Sex was better than Xanax. It was the ultimate cure. "Oh! Fuck! That's perfect, Baby! Yeah!"
I closed my eyes and prayed, like I always did, that I'd been wrong about Aaron and Lowell. After all, I'd gotten tested in Boston and everything was fine. And Aaron was obviously fine. We both were fine.