Aaron was pissed at me for outing him at the picnic, until I reminded him that you can't out someone who was never in in the first place. And that it gave him an excuse to leave the cookout, which was what he had wanted all along. And it kept Jeanette Sanford from showing up at our door at all hours with invitations to neighborhood get-togethers and unattached females for us to date.
So I was forgiven. But things weren't exactly blissful in Hastings' most infamous homo house.
I'd resolved that I was going to take the rest of the summer off. And I meant it -- except for working on my John Rechy book, I wasn't going to do more than the bare minimum around the Money Pit that was Aaron's so-called 'steal.'
"Shea, we need to look for someone to paint this place."
It was a boiling hot day and I was sitting on the back deck under the awning, drinking lemonade and playing my guitar. I was enjoying playing my guitar. I'd worked out an informal summer schedule for myself: get up around 10:00, have some juice and toast, work on my book until 2:00, go to the gym (I finally rambled over to campus and found it) for an hour, walk to the coffeehouse on the student strip and have something cold to drink and something sweet to eat, go home, sit on the back deck and practice my guitar until dinner time, make something simple to eat, wash the dishes, and spend the rest of the evening lying on the couch directly under the overhead fan, reading. Then around midnight I'd go up to bed, where Aaron was waiting impatiently to fuck my brains out, even on days when we were hardly speaking to each other.
"Is this all you're planning to do with your vacation?" Aaron had asked about a week into my new schedule.
"Yup," I replied, slowly and deliciously turning a page of my paperback. My object was to read nothing but high class trash all summer, so I ordered a few of the riper classics from Amazon.com. I'd already devoured 'Rebecca' and was now enjoying 'Peyton Place.' 'The Valley of the Dolls' was next in the queue. After that, 'Gone With the Wind.' Then maybe I'd read my way through Ian Fleming. Or Agatha Christie. Or both. It was still only June and I had a lot of summer left.
Aaron had walked away in disgust. He, of course, was juggling more serious projects than he could keep track of, but that wasn't my problem.
And now he was back, looming over me and my guitar.
"Did you hear me, Shea? Have you looked around for any painters? I thought we'd begin with getting the outside in shape before we started working on the interior."
"No, I haven't found anyone, because I haven't looked for anyone." I was trying to master bar chords. They're harder to do on an acoustic guitar. The Em and the Am positions weren't too bad, but the C was killing my hands.
"Why the hell not?"
"Because I think this house is your baby, Aar. You bought it and you knew what it needed -- or you should have known. I'm not Mr. Fix-it. I have no fucking clue how to renovate a house and I'm not about to learn now. Get one of those guys with a hammer and a toolbelt who has a show on the Home and Garden Network. Or look in the Yellow Pages and hire one yourself. But I'm not doing it. Because if they fuck up and don't do the work to your satisfaction, I don't want to be the one responsible."
Aaron's face was slightly sunburned from the unaccustomed Indiana sun, but he got even redder as he glared down at me. I'd warned him to be careful of his skin. We both burn like lobsters in melted butter, but I was at least using a lot of sunscreen and staying under my nice, cool awning during the worst part of the day.
"Passive-aggressive much, Baby?" he huffed.
"I'm only being honest," I said. I leafed through a songbook I'd picked up at a used bookstore just off campus. It was full of a bunch of old folk songs with simple chords that even I could play. 'Down in the Valley' didn't look too difficult.
"This is our house!" he fumed. "We're both living here!"
"I know. Which is why I think you should take care of hiring people and deciding what you want them to do to this place. I do the grocery shopping, cook dinner, clean up, cut the grass, take out the garbage, and do the laundry -- all the jobs Mommy is expected to accomplish. Anything else is Daddy's department. And that's you, Aar. It's all for Big Daddy."
"Your attitude stinks, you know that?"
"Maybe." I shrugged. "This place isn't exactly ready for a spread in 'House Beautiful' but it's liveable. The only thing I'd suggest is to make sure the heat works before winter comes or we're going to freeze our asses off in here. I doubt there's any insulation in these walls. I'm willing to bet you never asked about that before you bought the house, but you might want to get it checked."
Aaron didn't say anything for a long, cold minute. "I will. I'll get it checked." He paused. "What's happening, Shea? Tell me what's wrong?"
"What could be wrong?" I looked up at him. Then I strummed a G chord. It rang out loud and clear. "That sounds good. I'm getting better at this, don't you think?"
"Yes," Aaron said in a flattened voice. "You are."
And he went back into the house.
Aaron must have gotten out the Yellow Pages and made a few calls, because the next day, while I was working at my laptop in the living room,a truck pulled up and a man came to the door.
"Aaron!" I shouted up the stairs. "A guy is here to give you an estimate on painting the house!"
Aaron and the man, who was in his fifties and wore a faded checked sportcoat and blue polyester slacks, walked around the house and then talked in the front yard. After he left, Aaron came back inside. He went upstairs without speaking to me.
I knew this was fucked up. I didn't want to be in Indiana, but the reality was that I was here and I was going to stay here, at least until Aaron bolted for greener pastures and I followed him. Either we were partners or we weren't. There was no in between.
I tried to focus on what I was writing, but it wasn't working. Instead I went online, looking up information on gay groups in Indiana, particularly Hastings and environs. There wasn't much. Eastern Indiana University had a GLBT student group and they offered partner benefits, but I already knew that. As to a gay presence among the faculty or in town, there was nothing specific, not even the hint of a gay bar or club or support group closer than Indianapolis or Columbus, which was about two hours away.
"So what do queers do in this town?" I mused. "Besides renovate broken-down houses and dodge horny straight women?"
"Is that a rhetorical question?"
I looked up to see Aaron standing there, his arms crossed. "I didn't know you'd come downstairs."
"I'm waiting for another guy to give me an estimate." Aaron sat down on the couch. "Listen, Shea, I know this isn't your favorite place to be -- and maybe I'm not your favorite person in the world right now. But if we don't at least try getting along, then what's the alternative?"
"I don't know." And that was the raw truth. I didn't know any real alternative.
"I hate that you're mad at me. I know I've made a lot of mistakes, but can't we put that in the past? This is a chance for us to make a fresh start. I know this house isn't perfect, but we can work on it -- together. I don't expect you to do everything. I really don't. I don't know anything about fixing up a house, but I'm willing to learn if you are. I'm willing to... to do anything it takes. But we can't be working at cross purposes. It's just the two of us here, Shea. Why make it any harder than it is?"
Before I could say anything, there was a knock at the door. It was the second estimate guy. This one also had a truck, but he was much younger and much less fashion-challenged. In fact, he was quite the hottie by Hastings standards. He was tall and blond and his shirtsleeves were rolled up to show off a pair of buff, tanned biceps.
Yes, I could see myself kicking back on the deck while I watched Mr. Indiana paint the house in a tight tee shirt. I decided to tag along for the tour.
Aaron was very business-like as we circled the property. He'd obviously done a little homework or else picked up a few tidbits from the first painter. Aaron is a master at taking a tiny bit of information and making it sound like he's an expert on the subject. He talked about indoor/outdoor paint and the number of coats needed, and about shingles and gutters and eaves and siding. I was impressed.
But the hottie never cracked a smile. He glowered as he examined the peeling paint and checked out the foundation. He also rattled a loose drainpipe.
Aaron began asking him another question, but suddenly the guy cut him off. "This isn't happening," he stated. And he stalked back to his truck.
"Hey! Wait a minute!" Aaron followed him. "Is there a problem?"
"I can't work for you." The guy opened the door of his truck. "I have to go. Now."
Aaron glanced at me, but I shook my head. "Can't work for us? Why not?" he demanded.
"I'm a Christian man," he said, as if that explained everything.
"I don't give a shit about your religion," Aaron countered. "What the hell does that have to do with painting my house?"
The guy looked at me and then back at Aaron. I felt a shudder go through me. I don't think I'd ever had a total stranger direct such naked malice at me before in my life. "It's bad enough that people like you exist, but I don't have to deal with you if I don't want to. This is a nice town. Why don't you go back to San Francisco where you belong?" He got into the truck and gunned it out of our driveway and down the street as if the Devil himself was riding his sorry ass.
"Jesus!" Aaron said in disbelief. "Do you believe that?"
"Welcome to Redneck World," I replied. "Nothing like a friendly Christian greeting to make your fucking day!"
But Aaron just kept staring down the street as if he expected the guy to come back and say, "April Fools!"
"Come on, Aar," I said, putting my arm around him and rubbing his shoulder. "He's an asshole. And assholes are everywhere. Not just here."
"I know, but... shit!" He touched my hand on his shoulder. "Shea, I'm sorry. I'll make this up to you. I will."
"There's nothing to make up for. Like you said -- it's the just two of us here. We need to stick together. Fuck the assholes!"
"Yeah, fuck the assholes." But his voice was subdued, as if he couldn't process what had just happened.
"And that includes Hottie the Homophobe!" I joked, trying to defuse the situation. "I bet he has a tiny dick to match his tiny brain!"
"Probably," said Aaron. "A microscopic dick. That would explain it."
But we both knew it would take a lot more than jokes to make things right.
We went inside and Aaron called the other painter. The man said they could start work first thing on Monday.