I'd come out here to the park to try to calm down. The slight wedge of a townhouse I'd rented on Savannah's Lafayette Square was hardly big enough to turn around in, let alone pace in. It was essentially one continuous shot-gun room downstairs, a twelve by eight-foot foyer with a spiral staircase - entered from the street, followed by the 'big' room, a twelve by fifteen-foot parlor, dominated by a period fireplace, followed by a twelve by twelve-foot dining room, and then the afterthought kitchen, added, probably a good 100 years after the house was first constructed. Overhead was just the one bedroom, a bath that had taken over another small room, and the glorious sun porch perched on top of the kitchen afterthought. This porch looked down into a small, but exuberantly lush garden encroaching on a brick patio with a wrought-iron table at which I could sit and compose what my overzealous agent told my publisher were literary masterpieces even while she was telling me to 'fix this garbage.'
The house's one modern convenience, a Wi-Fi connection, had been the selling point when I'd been dickering from New York over a down-south rental. But once down here, I fell in love with the house; with Lafayette Square, one of the original squares in the first truly intentional urban design in the New World; and with Savannah itself. And it's a good thing I loved the house, because I hid out in it for weeks at the beginning.
I didn't want to love it; I wanted to take one look and go back to New York and tell Todd that he was wrong, that I hated it. That he was wrong about everything. But once here in Savannah, I had to admit he'd been right about this. And then I had to start reconsidering everything else he had to say.
'How about Savannah, Georgia, Mike?' he'd said. 'I've always thought of you as the slow, easygoing Southern gentleman.'
It sounded nice, but I knew that, coming from the Jewish 'I can git it for ya wholesale' Todd, it wasn't really a compliment. And now that Todd was leaving me, I was dissecting everything he had to say since we'd driven out to the Hamptons - to see what the underlying dig was.
'You can live anywhere you want to,' he said. 'You can take your work anywhere, and you've already socked away enough for a cushy retirement.'
Was that a dig, I wondered. I hadn't been generous enough to him? That was why he could take all of this so calmly after thirteen years of living together? He hadn't told me there was a problem with his allowance. I'd just found out there was a problem the hard way.
'And I don't think you'll want to live here in New York - at least for a while,' he said.
And I supposed he was right about that. I did have to get away from New York - at least for a while - after what had happened. All of the mutual friends we had, standing around, not knowing quite what to say to me - whispering among themselves their 'poor Mike' comments. Most of them had never known either of us other than as a couple. No, Todd was right about that. I'd have to be out of New York until the memory of the two of us together had faded.
'Forget me,' Todd said. 'You'll find someone new in Savannah. I'm sure that will be a good place to get back into circulation.'
Yeah, right. As if I could ever forget Todd. And how could I get back into circulation. Thirty-five years old, over a decade of not even speculating about being with another man - which, when I'd tried that on Todd, he'd gone all amazed and speculated whether that even was possible. This only added to my frustration and sense of abandonment, because as closely as I could remember, it was utterly true. How could I just start up again - in Savannah or anywhere else?
In the end, I didn't say good-bye. I couldn't bear to say good-bye. I just got up off that uncomfortable chair beside Todd's bed and walked out of the hospital. We both were moving away from the old and toward something else, something unknown to either of us after all of the years we had shared a bed and a life. Somehow I was sure that it would be tougher on me than on Todd. Even Todd had acknowledged that. But he'd smiled when he said it. The bastard.
So, here I was, sitting on a bench in the Lafayette Square Park five months later, my front door at my back, and facing the scene of the coming assignation, the Café Marquis, across the square from me, the cornflower blue of its outdoor café umbrellas shimmering in the light beyond the shaded square with its flower beds stuffed with dark purple seasonal flowers whose name I never could remember.
The first place I'd ventured to after moving here and hiding on my garden patio for a month with the excuse - very real, actually - of a tight deadline for my new novel manuscript was under those blue umbrellas in front of the Café Marquis. One late morning I had been stuck for just the right word and lost my concentration long enough to realize that I had rushed to the computer with an idea I'd awakened to without eating any breakfast. Since I was at a temporary impasse anyway, I walked across the square.
I was in a bit of a funk because I was in a bit of a corner with my writing as well as stuck for a word - and also because I'd been in Savannah, where I was supposed to 'get on with it,' for a month, and I hadn't 'gotten on with it.'
The first face I saw upon approaching the blue umbrellas was a smiling one, though, and that started to change my mood. The waiter was young and small of stature and delicate of facial features, a coffee and cream mulatto, as seemed so prevalent in this inexplicably French-flavored genteel southern coastal city that had somehow been tucked away out of sight during the industrial revolution. He introduced himself as Vallois, to be called Val, names that stuck with me even though I was pretty much a dunce at remembering names. And he introduced me to rich, dark-roast coffee and reintroduced me to flakey beignets that I hadn't tasted since my last visit to New Orleans.
By the time I emerged from under the umbrella, I was content for the first time since I'd come to Savannah - and, perhaps more to the point, I'd surfaced the elusive word I'd been looking for and had devised how I was going to get out of the plot corner I'd painted myself into.
After that, the question of where I was going to breakfast every morning was settled - under the blue umbrellas of the Café Marquis and the attentive smile and service of the small mulatto, Vallois, 'call me Val.'
After three months in Savannah, I couldn't avoid the assignment Todd had set forth for me any longer. I was running out of excuses. I had finished and delivered the manuscript, and my agent had, unexpectedly, been delighted with it and suggested no changes. She sent it directly on to the publisher, and where I thought I'd be able to hide behind the need to rewrite for the agent, I suddenly had time on my hands.
I turned to the Wi-Fi capability and tried the Internet connection route. It was a stupid, naïve thing to do. I got several responses to my listing at the Internet gay male dating service, with at least four from the Savannah region.
I picked out the one most like Todd. I didn't do this on purpose - although maybe at least subconsciously I did.
I was extremely nervous with this whole 'scene,' so I insisted that we'd meet on my turf. I picked the Café Marquis - for breakfast. It couldn't get any more in my comfort zone than this. If we hit it off, my house was just across the square. I hadn't done any 'on the first date' connecting for thirteen years. But then, I hadn't had a date, hadn't gone with anyone but Todd, for the same thirteen years. I had no idea what was expected these days. A whole generation of the gay 'scene' had come and gone in the space of Todd's and my exclusive relationship. I didn't want to call it a marriage, but that was what it had been in every sense other than the legal one.
Of course the man who showed up, insisting that he indeed was Phil from the on-line gay male dating service, was nothing at all like either his picture or his profile. Couldn't have been any farther away from Todd if he'd flown in from outer space. He was heavyset and loud and opinionated, and he talked a mile a minute. Poor Vallois. He fluttered around us, giving me the evil eye, signaling that it was ludicrous for me to be having breakfast with someone like this, let alone at the sedate and understated Café Marquis. I wasn't sure whether he was protecting me or the café.
I appreciated Vallois's concern, but it was wasted. I knew the minute Phil convinced me he was 'the Phil,' but a different Phil than advertised, that we wouldn't be walking across the square to my house together.
In the end, I excused myself from the table to go to the men's room inside the restaurant, and with Vallois's help, I escaped through the service door on Albercorn Street and doubled around to where I could slip back into my house on the square without being seen from under the blue umbrellas. Vallois later told me that Phil had rattled on for another twenty minutes, talking to himself, before realizing I wasn't coming back to the table.
That put me in a panic, and, although I shouldn't have, I made a date with another man from the dating service almost immediately. He'd been pretty far down the list as my second choice. He'd been less than forthcoming on his profile, and although he looked squared away enough in his photo, there was something just a little off, a little dangerous looking about him even in the photo. Maybe it was the tattooing around his neck, peeking out above his shirt collar in the photo, something I didn't really notice until I checked back in the files after the debacle that was that date.
Once again we met at the Café Marquis. Once again Vallois was signaling me that this wasn't right from the moment Clarence was riding up on his motorcycle, filling the quiet, genteel square with smoke and the rumble of an illegal muffler.
Gone were the ivy league shirt and khakis of his photograph, replaced with something in shinier black leather. Now it was quite clear that he was tattooed from his neck down and his wrists up.
He told me in no uncertain terms that he liked what he saw in me - unfortunately. And I made the mistake of letting him know my house was just across the square.
In my anxiety to 'get on with it,' I ignored my instincts - and Vallois's frantic signaling, and I let Clarence hustle me across the square - where we made it no farther than the foyer, where he efficiently stripped me down and fucked me on the spiral staircase.
He apparently hadn't read the part in my profile that stated that I preferred the top.
Needy slut that I was, though, I went with the fuck. I actually found his full-body, full-color tattooing arousing. And I hadn't had sex in months. After being fucked was a foregone conclusion, with him bending me over the stair banister and fucking me from behind with a stubby, but thick cock, I sank down to the stair treads, and he turned his belly to me and worked up his cock with my mouth and hands until he had recharged, and then I spread my thighs and raised my pelvis to him and ran my hands and tongue along the curves of the tattooing on his chest as he fucked me hard to a mutual release.
He left me exhausted and panting - and strangely relieved and satisfied - in a heap on the stairs. I would have had no regrets, really, about that encounter, if he hadn't taken my laptop as a souvenir.
That had cured me of the on-line dating service approach - even if I didn't have to take some time and hassle in replacing my laptop - including a declaration for the dating service that they'd never had such a man in their files. But it had given me impetus to be a little bolder in my seeking of a new life. Clarence's fuck may have been run-of-the-mill for him, but it had been exotic for me and had aroused me in ways I never would have suspected I could be aroused. I was amazed to find that I even loved having a man's cock up my channel. That had never happened with Todd.
Looking back on my 'marriage' to Todd, I could see that we had fallen into a very vanilla relationship. I began to feel a little less betrayed by the circumstances that had split us apart. Todd was probably right. It was our time to part anyway.
It was Val - I started calling him Val now, as I finally owned up about my preferences to him, so we were 'no secrets' friends now, or so I thought - who came to my rescue at that point. It took me a couple of more weeks after the Clarence incident to build up the courage to go back to the Café Marquis for breakfast. I could see now that my behavior had been far too obvious. And I was embarrassed.
But the Café Marquis made the best dark, strong coffee and beignets I'd had, and there came a morning when I was starting my new novel that I got stuck for just the right word and realized I was painting myself into a plot corner - and woke up to the fact that it was late morning and I hadn't had breakfast yet. And, without thinking, I strolled across Lafayette square, drawn by the blue umbrellas in front of the Café Marquis.
Vallois was there, as always. Smiling his welcome smile, as always. Greeting me in hushed tones, not a hint of smirk on his face.
But this morning, unlike any other, after he had served me my coffee and beignets, he sat down in the chair beside mine at the table under the blue umbrella.
'I'm sorry,' he said.
'What?' I asked in surprise. 'Sorry? Sorry for what?'
'That you can't find what you're looking for. You are looking for a man, aren't you? A man to love. A man to be a lover to.'
I was flustered and I couldn't answer, but it was in not answering, not standing up indignantly and walking away right there and then, that Val knew everything he needed to know about me.
'That Phil guy told me how you connected. I looked you up on that Web site. It's OK. You aren't the only man doing this. I'm looking for a man too,' Val whispered. 'A man to love me. We're all looking for something.'
'But I'm so . . . so ashamed,' I said. Not knowing until now that this was why I had shied away from the Café Marquis.
I might as well say it, I thought, now that I realized it. 'You saw that guy, that last guy I met here. The biker. I'm ashamed because I let him take me home - and I enjoyed it.'
Val laughed. Then he looked stricken and apologized profusely.
'I'm . . . I'm not really like that,' I said. 'I'm not.' I was trying a bit too hard - to convince myself, not just the waiter.
'You know what I think,' Val then said. 'I think maybe you've been a bit too much 'not like that.' This is Savannah, honey. Live a little.'
I felt sheepish, and I knew I looked the part too.
'Say, I think I know what you need,' Val said. And then he stood up and fished around in his shirt pocket and took out a business card and laid it down on the table in front of me.
'Club One?' I said, looking at the card dumbly.
'Yes, hon, I think you need to let your hair down a little. You go to that club one night and see if you don't get a whole new perspective on your life and on having fun. It's at the corner of Jefferson and West Bay Streets. Just start walking toward the waterfront and listen for the beat of the drums.'
I took the card, but I didn't do anything about it. I was scared to. That bout with Clarence the biker had frightened the spit out of me. Especially because I'd enjoyed it. Who knows what I'd unleash if I didn't keep myself reigned in?
Each morning when I went to the Café Marquis, Val met me at the edge of the blue umbrellas with a smile on his face and an urn of steaming coffee in one hand and a basket of beignets in the other. And each time I sat down, he placed one of those Club One cards on my breakfast plate.
And I took each one, and as soon as I returned home, I dropped it in a brass plate on the bureau beside the front door like it was a hot poker. I was building up quite a collection of those cards on the bureau inside the front door.
That was until the day I got the letter from Paris. Nothing in writing, just a photograph in the envelope. Todd and Edward standing in front of the Eiffel Tower, all smiles, arm in arm. Todd had a walking cast on his calf. The break from his spill off the horse when we'd both been invited out to the Hamptons by Edward and Todd had tried to bluff himself into being an expert horseman had been really bad, I thought, for him to still have to wear a walking cast. Of course the date on the postcard was almost two months old. It had been redirected from New York.
Edward had been mortified about Todd's accident, and Todd had simpered as only Todd can. Edward had found Todd's simpering precious - and, I would suppose, arousing. I had found Edward fucking Todd in the bed in that private hospital Edward had insisted he go to for convalescence. And everything had gone downhill from there. Edward was richer than I was, which, I guess was the bottom line for Todd.
I turned the picture over to what the exuberant underlining and exclamation point told me was the breathy written comment, 'He proposed at the top of the Eiffel Tower.'
And one of them - it must have been Todd, as it would have been Edward's place to propose - had seen fit to send me the photograph. Me. Good old stuffy, dull Mike.
That night I dressed carefully and closed the door to my house on Lafayette Square behind me with a solid click and turned to the right on East Harris and walked slowly west, crossing Madison Square and half way across Pulaski Square. And then I turned north, walking through Orleans Square and Telfair Square and what would have been Ellis Square if they hadn't leveled that, back when historical preservation was an unknown term, and made a parking garage there. It was being made back into something like a square now, but I bypassed the construction there, and moved on toward where Bay met Jefferson. I didn't have a Club One card with me. I didn't need it. The location had been burned into my brain - and, besides, by the time I reached where Ellis Square once was, I could hear the rhythmic beat of the drums.
Club One was a real eye-opener. I had my choice of sins. Val had specifically mentioned the Cabaret one morning, though, so that's where I set my sights.
It was a transvestite extravaganza. I'd seen nothing like it before. I'd had to give my name to the host at the door, and there were several couples - mostly men - waiting ahead of me, but the host took me ahead of all of them and led me to a table right down near the dance floor. The other tables climbed in rows of occupied banquettes behind me - all in a red leather - or, more likely vinyl.
I didn't have to ask for a drink. The host had snapped his fingers, and a topless male waiter - all muscle and hunk - met us at the table with a bottle of good, chilled champagne and two flouts at precisely the moment we got there.
As soon as the lights went down and the music started up and the beautiful women started sliding out onto the stage, I was lost in the show. They were fantastic. Some were celebrities and some were in a class all of their own. All of them were dressed to the nines and prancing on stiletto heels and mouthing the words of the songs in perfect synchronization to the original songstresses - and all, I knew - but only because I'd read the billboards outside - were men.
Several of the performers were particularly good and alluring. One in particular, a small, cream-in-coffee colored Ertha Kitt look alike, showed particular interest in me whenever she wafted by in her routine and with the periodic parade of beauties - and I, in turn, thereby paid particular interest in her.
As the lights came up in the room at the end of what was a mesmerizing show, the performers fanned out into the audience, to the appreciation of the clientele.
The Ertha Kitt look alike folded 'herself' into the booth where I was sitting and scooted over to me close. The topless waiter hunk materialized instantaneously and filled her flout with champagne.
She cooed at me and asked me how I had enjoyed the show. I told her I had enjoyed it very much, thank you. And it was the truth. I hadn't felt as loose and alive in years. It was like I could feel every muscle and bone in my body, down to my fingertips in a tingling sensation that was highly sensual.
The performance had given me a raging hard on.
She asked me how I had enjoyed her performance, in particular. I told her I had enjoyed her performance in particular. And as I said it, I knew it was true. And I equally knew that my hard on was for her.
She told me that she was Miss Savannah, and that she liked me and that she thought I might be more comfortable in her dressing room. And then she tossed off her champagne and reached her gloved hand around my neck and pulled my face slowly into hers and we kissed.
I didn't feel squeamish at all in kissing her. She tasted of champagne, which was sort of a 'duh' realization, even though it had taken me by surprise. And her kiss made my nipples go hard and ache.
She rose and took my hand and led me back through a door beside the stage, one of the doors that she and her sisters had come through before my life had started - back before I felt alive and sensual again.
We fucked on the red satin-covered chaise lounge in her small, sweet-smelling dressing room. She insisted that I be naked. And she slowly undressed me and made love to me with her tongue and her gliding gloved fingers while she did so. She remained dressed in her shimmering silver gown, with its plunging neckline, and her long white gloves. Merely standing after rising from kneeling in front of me and giving me the most divine blow job I'd ever had and pushing me down on my back on the chaise lounge and reaching up under her billowy gown and pulling off her red G-string. Then she straddled my hips with her knees, her silky dress caressing my body in folds, and positioned her entrance on my erect phallus. And fucked me to paradise.
She sighed and moaned as I unzipped her bodice and let it fall down to her waist and played the best set of pert globular breasts a surgeon can give with my hands and my lips and my teeth. All the time she was rising and falling and rocking back and forth on my deeply buried cock. I moved one hand under the folds of her silver gown and found her own erect cock and slowly hand pumped that to the rhythm of her moving pelvis on my tool.
We came nearly simultaneously, and then she lowered her breasts on mine without dislodging my quivering cock, and we kissed and nuzzled and whispered sweet nothings to each other.
I whispered - in halting hesitancy - a burning question: would she come home to live with me on Lafayette Square?
I surprised and shocked myself. It wasn't a preplanned question. It came directly from the heart and the dick. I was suddenly mortified at my boldness and at my behavior. I never in a million years would do this when I was being my rational self. And yet, here I was, flat on a chaise lounge in Savannah, being fucked by a transvestite named Savannah. And I felt like a million dollars.
But then I shouldn't have been surprised. I knew. I think I knew as soon as the host started ushering me to my table.
She brought her lips to my ears and said the word I was yearning to hear. 'Yes.' Just that. 'Yes.' But with that 'yes,' that new world that Todd said I would find if I came to Savannah had begun. And I decided that Todd - and Edward - could go to hell.
Exhilarated, walking on the clouds, I took control. I rolled on the chaise lounge until she was under me, moaning and sighing, the heels of her stiletto-clad feet rubbing on my calves, and I fucked her into the dawn. I came in Savannah. Again and again.
The next morning, I rose early, not hungry - or at least not hungry for dark-roast coffee and beignets - and could barely dress myself, my hands were trembling so hard. I couldn't believe that it would happen. I kept telling myself it hadn't all been a dream, but the practical side of Mike kept whispering, 'Yeah, it was,' in my brain. I was a novelist. I was used to living in a fantasy world. Most people could tell the difference between fantasy and their real life. I couldn't. My career depended on not being able to do so.
So, it was a not-fully-convinced me who walked out of my door and down my front steps and across East Harris Street and into Lafayette Square, where I sat on a bench momentarily, my eyes glued to the blue umbrellas in front of the Café Marquis across the square rising above the purple flowers I couldn't name in the square's flowerbeds.
When I could breathe somewhat steadily and decided it was now or never, I stood up and continued my walk toward the blue umbrellas. As I drew closer, there he was. The waiter, Vallois. My waiter; my Val. Standing there, a suitcase on the curb of the road at the edge of the line of blue umbrellas. The sun was shining on this side of the square, and Val's eyes were glittering - there at the corners, where Savannah hadn't managed to cream off all of the silver Ertha Kitt glitter from the previous night.