Carter Kingman, after a second more leisurely fuck, took a quick shower, dressed, and walked out the door at precisely 3:00. Keeping to his schedule was obviously part of his success as a businessman.
He also confirmed that he'd see me next week, same time, same place. So I'd passed the audition. I knew Russell Boyer would be thrilled.
After Kingman left, I took a long shower and then got out the cellphone to check in. There was a message in the voicemail.
"Hey, Shea. Nick Santini here. I know it's short notice, but I wonder if you could go to an Indians game with me tonight. Game starts at 7:00, but we're meeting at the main gate at 6:00. If you'd rather have me swing around and pick you up, give me a call back. If not, I'll see you at 6:00. Should be a great game -- the Tribe is playing the Red Sox."
I called in and left a message for Boyer with the time I was leaving Kingman's and also that I was meeting Nick Santini tonight.
Busy, busy, busy!
"Where have you been?" my mother asked. She was pounding a helpless piece of meat into submission at the kitchen table.
"Out," I said, shortly. "I'm going to a baseball game tonight, so I'll be home late. Or whenever."
She frowned. "A baseball game? Who are you going with?"
"You don't tell me anything anymore," she pouted.
"Did I ever?" And I went upstairs to get changed into a pair of jeans and a clean shirt.
I knew where the Jake, the place where the Indians played since they'd torn down the old Stadium, was, but I'd never actually been there. It turned out to be hard to miss, since it was right downtown, in the shadow of the Terminal Tower, Cleveland's main landmark.
I followed the signs and parked the car in a designated garage. Then I looked for the main entrance.
"Shea!" It was Nick, standing with another man who had to be his brother, they looked so much alike, and two boys. "Right on time!"
"Can we go in now?" asked the older boy, a sullen and suspicious Caravaggio angel. "I wanna watch them practice!"
"And I want a hot dog!" chimed in the younger kid, who was missing both front teeth. They were the kind of boys I used to run away from back at St. Clement's Elementary School.
"Hang on, you monsters!" said Nick. "This is my friend Shea, guys. Shea, this is my brother, Mitch, and his sons, Scott and Jimmy."
"Hi, guys." I waved, but in a very butch manner.
"Hi," said the brother, grudgingly. "How you doing?"
"Shea, you don't have a hat!" said Nick, as if he'd just noticed I wasn't wearing pants.
They were all wearing Indians caps. "No, I don't have a hat."
"Guys -- we gotta get Shea a hat!" Nick clapped his hands. "Come on!"
We went into the ballpark, with Nick's brother, Mitch, showing a pass to the ticket taker. Nick told me their company, Santini Brothers, had a box. "I'll go and wait for you at the seats," Mitch said, and Nick nodded.
The two boys burst through the turnstiles and ran directly to a store that sold an assortment of caps, tee shirts, uniform jerseys, pennants, and every kind of product you could stick an Indians logo on.
"Do I really need a hat?" I asked Nick. "I'm not much of a hat-wearing guy."
"Come on, Shea!" Nick urged. "You need a hat. And maybe a shirt, too. Hey! Knock it off, monsters!" The boys were laughing and running around the store, pushing each other. "Let's find Shea the perfect baseball cap."
For a gay man, I'm the world's worst shopper. Nick positioned me in front of a full length mirror and they took turns plopping hats on my head. I looked silly in every one of them. An extremely tanned blonde salesgirl watched in amusement.
"Are you Uncle Nick's new boyfriend?" asked the younger boy, Jimmy. The salesgirl almost choked trying not to laugh.
The older kid, Scott, looked mortified. "Jeez! Don't ask dumb, stupid questions like that! You're so gay!"
"Who's so gay?" Jimmy spat back.
"You are for asking dumb, stupid questions!" Scott retorted.
"Shut the hell up you two!" Nick shouted. "What did I tell you kids about that 'you're so gay' shit? Cut it out! And Shea's my friend. He's not my boyfriend."
The salesgirl caught my eye and raised her eyebrow questioningly.
"My mom says you need to find a boyfriend and settle down!" Jimmy stated, while his brother looked ready to sink into the floor in embarrassment.
"That sounds like my sister-in-law," Nick confided. "She's always telling me it's time to settle down. But at least she's not trying to fix me up with her divorced sorority sisters anymore!" Nick picked up one of the caps. "This is the one. And throw in a few tees, too, honey," he told the salesgirl, pointing to some red and blue shirts. "These. A medium, and two smalls. Put this one on, Shea." He gave me the medium.
I hesitated, but this was no time to be shy. I took off my shirt and slipped on the Indians tee. Then I put on the hat to finish off the picture.
"Perfect!" said Nick. "You look great in that. And these are for you guys." He gave the boys a separate bag with their shirts.
"Thanks, Uncle Nick!" said Jimmy. "Can we get some food now?"
"Yeah, yeah. Let's get this gear down to the box. Mitch might want some food, too, you know?"
The Santini Brothers box was behind home plate, with the entire ballpark spread out in front of us. It was a pretty impressive sight. The two boys immediately ran down to get even closer to the field and watch the players practice.
"We had a box in the old Stadium, too," said Nick, settling back in his seat. "Pop's always been a big baseball fan. He doesn't get down here too much anymore, but he likes to watch the games on the tube."
"My old man always has a game on. He and the television are like this." I held up my hand and crossed my fingers.
"You go with him a lot when you were a kid?" Nick asked.
I shook my head. "Not really. I didn't do a lot of things with him growing up. But I went with a boy on my Little League team once. His father took us. I remember that clearly."
Nick grinned. "Oh, yeah? Who'd they play?"
I was ready for that. "Baltimore. And we sat way up high. I also went to a game when I lived in Boston. It was a faculty outing. They played the Blue Jays."
"I'm impressed," said Nick. He waved over a vendor selling beer. "Over here! Three cold ones!"
"I may be a fag, but I do have some masculine credibility." I took one of the beers and swigged it.
"Me too!" Nick laughed. "I had to -- or I never would have survived. Hey, Mitch!" He poked his brother, who was wearing headphones and frowning as he stared out at the field. "Here's your brew."
"Thanks," Mitch grunted. Then he went back to ignoring us.
"Don't mind him," said Nick. "He always listens to the radio play-by-play. Mitch likes to be in his own little world. Especially when he's with me."
I lowered my voice. "Because I'm here, too?"
"Nah!" said Nick. "It's not you. He's still in denial, even after knowing I was a queer for about twenty years. Actually, he knew it a lot longer than that, but it's always been an issue. You know how it is, right?"
"Yes, I know how it is. I didn't have any brothers, just the old man, but that was hard enough. Still, you don't exactly strike me as easy to spot. I mean, you're not..."
"A flamer?" Nick nudged me with his elbow. "Like Terry Boncoeur? Or Geoff Hamilton? Because I'm not a hairdresser or a fashionista? That's not my style, but I don't mind guys who roll that way. They don't bother me. Terry's a great guy if you can get beyond his aggressive swishing. He can turn it off when he wants to. But what the hell? That's him. And this is me. I play the butch card because I can. It works for me."
"I wish I knew what worked for me," I sighed.
Nick leaned closer. I could smell his clean, but musky sweat. "You're doing fine, kid. Just fine."
The boys came running back and Nick took them to get the food. Mitch continued to listen to the radio, occasionally glancing over, probably to see if I was doing anything embarrassing, like polishing my nails or blowdrying my hair.
Nick and the boys came back just as the game began.
"Hot dogs, nachos, fries! I think we cleaned out the place!" said Nick. "Here you go, Shea." He handed me a hot dog.
I looked at it. "I kind of like ketchup on mine."
Nick almost choked. "Ketchup! That's Official Stadium Mustard on that dog! The best in the world! Who the hell puts ketchup on a hot dog? Christ!"
I shrugged. "I'm sure it'll be fine." I took a bite. I still would have preferred the ketchup, but it was Nick Santini's dime. "Great!"
"That's the way to eat a hot dog," Nick pronounced. "Right, guys?"
"Right, Uncle Nick!" The boys chimed like a Greek chorus.
I ate the hot dog and some fries and sat back and enjoyed the game. And I really did enjoy it. It was a beautiful September evening and the Jake was filled with fans. The team was hitting like mad -- Kenny Lofton hit a home run in the Indians' first at bat and they took the lead and ran with it. The Red Sox fought back with four runs in the sixth inning, but the Tribe ended up beating them 11 to 7. See? Doesn't that prove I learned something in Little League besides a heartfelt appreciation for a man in a uniform?
Aaron would shit if he could see me now, I thought. He hates sports. He thinks they're homophobic and mind-numbing. He grew up on Long Island surrounded by sports fanatics, but the whole Blumenthal family, including Aaron's father Sam, scorned the phenomenon.
I remember when I started living with them and going to Aaron's old high school, almost every single guy there asked me the same question: "Shea? Like the stadium?" The first time it happened it took me a minute to realize what he meant.
Then I got it. Shea Stadium. We were in the middle of Mets Territory. "No," I said. "It's a family name."
"Oh," the guy said -- they all said. And then they went back to ignoring me. Just like Mitch. They got it. They knew what I was. They didn't beat me up or harass me about it, they merely shunned me. And that was fine with me. It was better than my homophobic Catholic high school back in Cleveland, and better than the streets of the Lower East Side or the Combat Zone in Boston. I was perfectly happy to be ignored. I kept my head down, did my school work, and waited for the rare weekend when Lily allowed me to take the train into the city and stay with Aaron at his apartment. Then we'd go to a museum during the day and a film at night. Get some take out food. And then go to bed and fuck our heads off. I was happier than I'd ever been in my life. Really, really happy.
"I like that smile," Nick whispered.
"Was I smiling?" I hadn't even realized it.
"Enjoying the game or thinking about later?"
"Both," I said. And I smiled again -- for him this time.
"Good." Nick grinned. "Because the night is young yet. I hope you're up for it."
"Of course," I replied. "I'm up for anything."
The game ended around 10:00 and Mitch and his kids left immediately -- it was a school night, after all. I followed Nick's car back to his house -- a century home on the edge of Chagrin Falls.
"I did all this work myself," Nick said, showing me the porch. "See these shingles? They're from an old barn they were tearing down. These are the original window frames, but new glass." He unlocked the door and we went inside.
"This looks like it was a lot of work."
"It's how I relax," said Nick. "Or one way I relax. I like to take these old houses and fix them up and then flip 'em."
"Resell them. This place was falling down when I got it. When it's finished I'll get a mint for it. This is a way desirable area. You can walk to the square and the Popcorn Shop, no problem."
He showed me the antiques he'd selected to match the house. The posts on the staircase rail. The fireplace that had been rebuilt by Amish stonemasons. He was obviously very proud of this house. But it was hard for me to imagine spending all that time and energy on a home only to sell it just when you got it the way you wanted it.
"The last house I did was in Chardon. I'm always on the lookout for my next project."
"Is that why your sister-in-law says you need to settle down?"
"Maybe," Nick shrugged. "But I'm 38. My brother's only two years older and he's got four kids and been married seventeen years already."
"The other two are girls," he said, as if it was obvious they wouldn't be interested in going to a ball game.
"But enough of that. Let me show you the bedroom."
After the tentative, but earnest stylings of Mr. Dennis Marshall and the straightforward, businesslike exchange with Mr. Carter Kingman, Mr. Nick Santini was exactly as advertised -- butch, virile, and dominating. A real Italian Stallion. He was certainly the most aggressive guy I'd been with since my hustling days -- he held my arms over my head and hinted that next time he'd like to try out a few of his toys. And that was fine with me. It felt good to be taken over. I didn't have to think, all I had to do was react. And he got me off like a shot -- and then got me off again. That was his thing: seeing how many times he could make you come. He seemed to enjoy that more than getting off himself.
"Fantastic," he said, reaching for a cigarette. "You smoke?"
I shook my head. "No thanks." Then I waited. This was the awkward moment -- did he want me to stay or was I supposed to get dressed and hit the road before midnight kicked in another day?
"I gotta be up early in the morning for a job," he said. "I don't keep a lot of food in the house, but there's a cafe on the square, Dink's, where you can get a decent breakfast. Tell Francine you're a friend of Nick's. She'll take care of you."
"You don't mind me leaving the window open? I hate air conditioning. It's hell on my fucking sinuses."
"The window open is fine."
He rolled over and was snoring in another minute. I looked at the clock. Ten after midnight. I rolled over and went to sleep myself. No dreams at all that night.