He had packed a bag before leaving for the pharmaceutical plant out near Christiana Mall that morning. He had a fairly easy commute for Wilmington, Delaware. Whereas most faced heavy traffic coming into the center city, he, with his long-suffering wife, two nonresponsive daughters in college, one lazy dog, and two selfish cats, lived in the exclusive Wawaset community on the western edge of the city. This meant he drove against traffic to get to the plant. His corporate offices were downtown in a high-rise building on North Washington Street, but he had avoided going there for days.

A larger pharmaceutical corporation, Delmarva Pharmaceuticals, had been maneuvering for months to swallow the company that had been in his family for decades, and he just was no longer up to the wrangles his lawyers were putting him through to stem that takeover--at least for today and maybe tomorrow, as well.

Earl Hastings didn't know why he'd packed a bag while his wife was out for her bridge night the evening before and put it in the trunk of his Lexus RC F coup before Muriel had gotten home. Nor could he explain why he'd taken the checking account book and credit cards for the accounts no one else knew about out of the secret compartment in the desk in his study and put them in the glove compartment of the Lexus.

The pressures at the office were more than duplicated at home. His wife was bugging him about the plans for the far-too-ostentatious country home being built for them west of the city in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. He was having second and third thoughts about leaving the Wawaset house he grew up in but that his wife professed to hate. His daughters were competing with each other on who was going to flunk out of their ultra-expensive university first and not tell their parents in time to save them as well as who was going to get pregnant by a swimming coach first, and even the family dog had become incontinent. It was Muriel's dog, or he'd have a care about that.

He just knew he wanted options. If he couldn't have an hour's rest from the lawyers and company strategizers at his office out at the plant, he had an option.

Sometime before lunch that day, Earl Hasting walked out of his office at the plant, got into his Lexus coup, and started driving south. Three days later, after uncomfortable nights in cheap hotels en route, he drove into Charleston, South Carolina, and to a real estate office. By 6:00 p.m. that evening he had signed an immediate occupancy contract for a fully furnished three-story, three-bedroom, two-car garage townhouse in Simonton Mews in the center of Charleston, three blocks south of the King Street main drag.

He had no intention of staying six months. He didn't even know if he would be staying the week. All he knew for sure was that he had to get out of Wilmington and away from everything there, including his family. He didn't even consider a hotel. He wanted to disappear into the wall, to have a garage where he could hide his fancy coup, and he wanted to do foolish things. Renting a house for six months was a foolish thing.

There were other foolish things he'd always dreamed about doing, though--including ones he'd actually done before the staid life heading up a pharmaceuticals company, marrying and raising a family, and attending a church he didn't believe in every Sunday grabbed and emasculated him.

Until day two, when he took a walk around the neighborhood, he didn't even know why he had driven straight to Charleston from Wilmington, or why he had settled on a house in this neighborhood. Walking four blocks south from his house, though, he started seeing buildings he recognized, buildings that calmed him and that had fond memories for him. This is where he'd gone to graduate school--at the College of Pharmacy of the Medical University of South Carolina. This was where he had lived life--for two years--as he wanted to without all of the pretense and sacrifice that went with being destined to take over his family's business.

And why he'd leaped at the Simonton Mews house? It was because four blocks in the opposite direction, north, was the Ann Street district. This was where he met Sandy while he'd been in graduate school. It had been the happiest year of Earl's life. But it was a year he had had to bury and never speak of.

Once Earl had realized why he'd come to Charleston to hide out, it took him two more days to work up the courage to walk over to Ann Street in the evening. Nothing was there that had been there when he'd been a student, but the street was still where one went for what he'd gone for back then. The clubs there now were Club Pantheon and Dudley's. They were just a few doors away from each other. Earl could tell as he walked down the street that he was in the right place. Groups of young men were standing out on the sidewalks, conversing with each other, checking passersby out, smoking their cigarettes and joints, and, some, posing for possibilities when cars cruising down the street slowed down or paused.

Earl was gratified that he still received inviting looks, no doubt, now that he was in his late forties, helped out by the obviously expensive clothing he wore--and how well he wore them. But he had kept the rugged good looks he'd had in his twenties, and he'd kept his trim, but well-muscled physique as well. He'd actively played sports and attended the gym often enough to keep in shape. He was very competitive in both golf and tennis.

He went into Club Pantheon. The music was loud, as was the decibel level of conversation, both blending so that neither was decipherable. And the room was smoky. But the crowd was comforting for Earl. He could move around, become accustomed to a scene he once had indulged in, and call up those sensations that had made him feel electrified and so on edge "back then."

He wondered what had happened to Sandy. He didn't expect to find him here anymore, but he had an image of the young men--still as young now as he was then--in his mind, and he kept looking into the face of every young man he encountered while roaming around the crowded room, where everywhere seemed to be either dance floor or conversation pit or proposition auction, depending on what suited the men interacting at the moment.

He had moved around the room twice before he saw him. Reddish-blond hair, maybe in his mid-twenties, more beautiful than handsome, smiling prettily for an older man who had just handed him a drink where he was perched on a barstool and had leaned in to him. The spitting image of Sandy.

A dark-haired youth, not much more than twenty--small of stature, olive skinned--had been following behind Earl on his second circuit of the room. He caught up with Earl at the moment.

"Hello. I haven't seen you in here before. Are you with anyone?"

Earl focused on the young man. He was quite good looking and a bit saucy. Earl felt himself go harder--he'd already worked up a half-hard just because of the musky odor of men in heat in hunting in the room. This lad would do--if the man pressing in on the younger man with the reddish-blond hair, who Earl was already thinking of as Sandy, was staking a claim in that department. Earl glanced back at the bar, where the deal between those two men seemed to have been set. With a sigh, he refocused on the dark-haired young man who had approached him.

"I'm new to town," Earl answered.

The dark-haired young man touched the sleeve of Earl's silk shirt, gave him a come-hither look, and asked in a throaty voice, "Buy a boy a drink? There are great possibilities if you do--and if you're interested."

While they were drinking their scotches--Earl had asked for a good brand so the young man would know he was well-heeled, if Tony, as that was what he'd said his name was, hadn't gathered that already before he had approached Earl--the older man asked if there were other gay-friendly establishments around.

"There's Dudley's up the street," Tony said. "It's not as lively as here, though. And not as much variety. A younger crowd, with more than a smattering of straights. I find it so much more copasetic and stimulating here."

Earl could tell that Tony was using sophisticated words--or trying to--and was striking Bette Davis poses because he was trying to make Earl. There wouldn't be any surprise or indignation or beating around the bush. Earl wanted to tell him he was trying too hard. But then Earl didn't want to start all over with someone else--not unless the red-headed guy became available.

"I meant I wondered if there were any places with rooms for short-term rent in the neighborhood."

"Is that what you're interested in, sugar?"

Tony had suddenly acquired a southern accent. Earl wanted him to shut up and just get on with it. The longer they talked, the less attractive Tony was. But the longer Earl was here the more needy he was.

"Is there a short-term fuck hotel nearby, and what do you charge?"

There was such a hotel, a bit startled Tony said, and for $100 he gave and received a blow job and let Earl furiously fuck him doggy style on a lumpy mattress with a rocking and squeaky brass bed frame.

After it was over, with Tony genuinely marveling at the size of Earl and his obvious need, Earl realized that this was exactly what he'd left Wilmington for--what he had needed to decompress from the tension and pressure both at work and at home. A week running of this, he decided, and he'd been renewed and ready to face the corporate challenge again. He already was beginning to formulate new strategies in his mind to staving off the grab for his company.

He'd go to Ann Street each night for a week, but he wouldn't take anyone to the Simonton Mews house, and he'd fuck a different young man each night. He'd only repeat if he saw the young he increasingly identified as Sandy in his mind again and could hook up with him. Than after a week, he'd go home to Wilmington, turn his back for a second time on this lifestyle choice, and give his enemies hell. He'd be invincible.

Earl paid for a room at the fleabag in advance for an hour and half a night for the next week. And he returned to Club Pantheon each night. He continually was on the lookout for Sandy, and he thought from time to time that he'd gotten a glimpse of the young man. But he never got close enough to him to proposition him.

He, in turn, was propositioned at every turn. Word had gotten out that there was a crazy mid-aged sugar daddy with a fat wallet and an equally fat cock who could fuck like a wild man. Each night for the next four nights, he took a different young man to the fleabag hotel and fucked the stuffing out of him. Each night Earl got less inhibited and more forceful with his sex drive. And each succeeding night he drew more attention from the young men at Club Pantheon.

The fifth night, a Friday night, he was approached by Clifford. Clifford Evans wasn't like any of the young men Earl had gone with. He was nearly Earl's own age. And, if anything, he was more expensively and elegantly dressed than Earl was. He approached Earl with confidence and the other men buzzing around Earl backed off as if Clifford was visiting royalty.

It was Clifford who bought the scotches, not Earl--and it was better quality scotch than Earl had ordered.

And it was Clifford who asked what Earl's stud fee would be. Bemused and caught off guard by this entirely different encounter and half thinking this was a joke, Earl named a high price. Clifford accepted it without a blink of his eye. There would be no fleabag hotel room with a creaking bed, though.

Earl fucked Clifford in the back of his limousine as it was driven out into the countryside beyond Charleston. Earl had never been with a mature man before, and he found the greater experience of a man of Clifford's age and sophistication to be exhilarating.

They fucked twice as the limousine glided through the countryside. Between fuckings, while they both smoked cigarettes and regained their breath and erections, Clifford complemented Earl on not only his sexual prowess but also his conditioning. When Earl told him that he played tennis regularly, Clifford said that he did too, and he invited Earl to play a couple of sets with him at his country club the next afternoon.

"I know of a couple of luscious young men who will be there who will be happy to play doubles, if you like. And you can take your pick of them to fuck afterward."

Intrigued, Earl accepted the invitation, and gave his Simonton Mews address for a limousine pickup the next day.

* * * *

Earl's first surprise when Clifford's limousine delivered him to the entrance of the Charleston Country Club was that Clifford wasn't a full member. Earl saw when he checked in as Clifford's guest that Clifford was a temporary member. Earl assumed that membership in this club would cost a pretty penny, but he had also assumed that Clifford was a permanent local resident. He had intimated that to Earl, and he certainly knew his way around the city and adjacent countryside--or at least his chauffeur did.

So, Earl thought, Clifford was also here from somewhere else. Of course Earl hadn't given Clifford any reason to think he was hiding out in Charleston from anywhere else. Maybe we both are, Earl thought.

The second surprise came when Clifford guided Earl through the club's bar and out onto the patio overlooking the golf course's 18th hole, with its umbrella-covered patio tables and gaggle of bored rich bitch housewives in golf togs or skimpy tennis dresses. There were two young men sitting at the table Earl was guided to--both young men were known to Earl in differing shades of "known." Tony, the first young man Earl had met at Club Pantheon and bedded at a fleabag hotel nearby was there. But also sitting there on the club's terrace was "Sandy," the young man who had dredged up Earl's misbegotten graduate school days in his mind and who had been elusive on Earl's visits to Club Pantheon.

Clifford brought Earl to a temporary halt when he first caught sight of the young men--and before they saw the two older men had arrived--laid a hand on Earl's forearm and whispered in his ear. "Afterward, you can have either one--either in my limousine or as a takeaway. I've paid for both. Do you know which one you fancy the best?"

Of course Earl did. "The one with the reddish-blond hair."

"Ah, Andy then."

Earl nearly snorted. Andy was so close to Sandy that it must be the devil who was setting this up for him. Earl took a hard look at Clifford, but he was smiling blandly and Earl saw no evidence of horns at his temples.

"In that case, you will partner in tennis with Tony--so that Andy will be across the net from you for you to ogle at your heart's content. If making you inattentive will be an advantage for me in the play, your contemplation of the play afterward will more than compensate, I presume."

Watching Andy across the net was, indeed, distracting for Earl, not the least because when the four men were sitting on the patio, becoming acquainted, Andy made no bones about knowing what came afterward--or showed any displeasure at the prospect. Earl was an expert tennis player, though, and he and Tony won handily anyway.

The men played shirtless, and Earl wouldn't have thrown any of the other three out of bed.

In the men's room afterward, when Clifford asked Earl where he wanted to fuck Andy and Earl asked that Clifford's chauffeur drive Andy and him back to the Simonton Mews house--having completely forgotten all intentions of keeping his home in Charleston separate from his sexual activities--Earl asked Clifford why he was doing this for him.

"It's so hard to find good tennis competition," he said, at first, and then when he saw that it had been a serious question, he said, "You have made me happy, and will, I hope, continue to make me happy. I have seen you ogling those two young men at Club Pantheon. I can afford to cover the happiness of us both."

Earl was too besotted with the prospect of fucking Andy at this point that he didn't pursue the issue further. Clifford had never asked how much Earl was worth--but surely he could see from what Earl wore, the money he had dropped at Club Pantheon before Clifford had entered the scene, and by where he lived that Earl most also be well heeled himself. Clifford made Earl feel like a prostitute--but Earl was still trying to think of reasons why that should bother him. Maybe feeling cheap and used was what he needed.

Such was Earl's exhilaration at having Andy--the symbol of his long-lost lover, Sandy--in his grasp that the two did make it to a proper place for fucking the first time. Just inside the door to the Simonton Mews house, Earl drew the smaller, younger man to him into a close embrace, and they kissed deeply. Andy was fully yielding to Earl and even reached between them and rubbed Earl's crotch to inflame the man further.

Pulling away from the kiss, Earl murmured, "We'll get out of these sweaty tennis clothes and shower first. Upstairs."

"Yes," Andy answered, but he pulled Earl for another kiss, and when he turned to mount the stairs, he wiggled his buttocks as he climbed. It was his buttocks that got mounted right then and there, as Earl rose up the staircase behind Andy, bent him over so that he was standing, spreading his legs on one stair, his cheek was firmly pushed into the carpeted tread five stairs farther up, and he reached up the stairs and clawed at the carpeting on the tread. Earl crouched over him, pulled his tennis shorts down his thighs, pushed a thick, erect phallus around the butt strap of the jock strap, and forced himself inside the younger man.

Andy made all of the sounds of taking a thick cock in a tight channel--and wanting to do so--that inflamed Earl to continue with the assault. Earl thrust again and again, each time managing more depth, each time triggering a call of "Yes, fuck me, hard," from the young man trapped underneath him.

The fuck was frenzied and had not taken time for the niceties of a condom. Neither man mentioned that subsequently, though, and after that first animalistic assault, their sex became more regularized and followed a pattern of showering thoroughly, after which Andy sucked Earl's cock until Earl was worked up to do the same for Andy. This was followed by the ritual of Andy crowning Earl's cock in affirmation and acceptance of what was to come, and then a brief wrestling match on the bed or floor or sofa or table for control, with Earl asserting himself, and then fucking the stuffing out of Andy--in every position they could imagine.

Earl was so besotted with Andy that he fucked him for three days straight, with just brief toilet, meal, and sleep breaks, without either leaving the Simonton Mews house. It wasn't until the morning of the fourth day, over breakfast at the table in the bow window overlooking the treed green space that ran between the fronts of the house in the mews, that they began to get acquainted on a personal level.

Andy was sitting there, just in a robe, sitting sideways to the table, a bare foot propped up on the rung of the chair beside his and sipping on his coffee, reddish-blond hair ruffled, and looking slightly sleepy. The robe was open to show a shapely calf and thigh and the bulb of his cock peeking out over the curve of his thigh. At no time before this did he remind Earl of Sandy more than this--a Sandy who had not aged; a Sandy who accepted Earl's cock even though time hadn't stood still for Earl, a Sandy who knew just how to pose when he wanted to be fucked by Earl.

The young man spoke of being a student--in music--at the College of Charleston, the campus of which started just three blocks to the east, toward the tip of the historical district projecting into where the Ashley and Cooper rivers merged, separated by the Atlantic Ocean only by Charleston Harbor.

Earl slowly ran a hand up the line of Andy's leg until, reaching the cock head, cupping the young man's dick and pressing a thumb into the piss slit of the bulb. Andy sighed and moved his calf over Earl's knee to give Earl all the access he wanted.

"It's the summer break," Andy continued. "I stayed on to continue my piano studies--although the oboe is my favorite instrument. I was playing pickup at Club Pantheon to make ends meet. And then Mr. Evans said he'd pay me to be your companion."

"And that's worth being only with me?"

"It's a pile. It's enough to cover my first semester tuition next year too." But Andy faltered here, suddenly realizing what this meant in terms of his budding relationship to Earl. His ready yielding to Earl wasn't an act. "But I didn't know then how it would be with you," he said, speaking shyly and looking into his cup rather than up into Earl's eyes. Earl was close beside him, also only in a robe, arms of the two around each other's shoulders, and one of Andy's legs hooked on Earl's knee. Earl was cupping Andy's balls with his free hand and absentmindedly pulling down on them and stroking the young man's stiffening cock with his forefinger. Andy slid down a bit in his chair and moved his leg higher on Earl's thigh, giving Earl access to more than the dick and balls. Earl's forefinger moved below the balls, between the buttocks, searching for and finding the warm depths of the channel. Finding it and entering. Andy groaned and leaned his face into Earl's for a deep kiss. Andy had been open to Earl like this from the start, no inhibitions, no pulling back--whatever Earl wanted to do, wherever he wanted to do it.

Earl was sitting straight on to the large bow window with a view of the leafy green branches beyond. The extended kitchen was on the second floor of the three-story townhouse. An entrance, study and laundry room and a double garage, opening to the rear of the house, was under them.

When they came out of the kiss and Earl's middle finger joined his forefinger in the depths of Andy's ass cleavage and, to sighs from Andy, he began moving them in and out, Earl looked around the kitchen extending into this dining area and then across the stair landing into the living room, seeing the place for the first time, and admiring the furnishings. They were both stylish and comfortable. This was a place he could live--with Andy.

He took his hand from Andy's channel, but only long enough to untie the sash of Andy's robe, to let his chest be exposed, to run his hand up the hard-muscled torso of the young man, stopping briefly at the taut nipples, before returning to playing with his balls and hard dick and moving to his rim.

"No, keep the money. And I'll be happy to provide more for your second semester." He didn't want to say at that moment what that meant to him in terms of their ongoing arrangement, but he assumed Andy would get the gist of it. He had no idea why Clifford would give Andy so much money to do this, but he didn't want to think about that now. He wanted to think back to when he was a graduate student here and living with Sandy--and aching for that arrangement never to end. But it had. He'd come from an entirely different world and he'd gone back to it. It had been his decision, not Sandy's.

Had it been a good decision? If he had it to do all over again, would he have stayed? Could he just stay here now--with Andy? He certainly had enough money set aside that no one in his other world knew about that he could do that now. Would he let this second chance pass him by?

"Fuck me, please fuck me," Andy murmured. He untied Earl's sash, and reached for his cock, which was in full erection.

"Now, later, tomorrow, always," Earl whispered.

"Are you saying I could stay here with you?" Andy asked. Earl turned his face to him. There were tears in his eyes. He didn't really have to say anything for Andy to understand. Thus far Andy hadn't asked anything about Earl's life. But now he did.

"You're not married or anything, are you? No children. I wouldn't be breaking up a family or anything, would I?"

"No, I'm not married--and I don't have any children." The deceit readily came out of Earl's mouth, but of course this changed everything. This shattered his new world. He could continue with Andy, but now it would be a relationship built on deception. Would that eat away at him? Would it make him constantly think about the responsibilities and obligations he'd walked away from in Delaware? He had been telling himself that it was only a breather, a way to regroup so that he could come back even stronger in fighting Delmarva Pharmaceuticals for control of his company and for arming him better to face his problems with his family objectively and without bitterness.

Would the deception he had just levied change everything? He didn't want to think about it now.

"I think I'd like to go upstairs, now," he said huskily.

There were many things Andy could have done at that point. He could have said he wasn't finished with his breakfast. Indeed, his plate wasn't clean and his coffee cup wasn't empty. Or he could have used the occasion to wheedle more privilege or leverage from the middle-aged man across the table from him. Or he could have whined about just being Earl's sex toy. But what he did--which made him so much like Sandy and which mentally transported Earl back to the days he remembered as so much happier than any time since--was to give Earl a radiant smile.

"Why not right here?"

"Why indeed not?" Earl answered with a throaty laugh "Both here and upstairs. Sit on it."

Andy rose from his chair, straddled Earl's thighs, and reached back to how Earl's cock steady and upright so that he could descend on it. Earl reached over to the tabletop to retrieve one of the many condom packets he kept around the house.

Later, Andy was lying on his back at the foot of the bed, his legs spread and bent, his heels pressed into the edge of the mattress when Earl came out of the master bath. "Shit, it's big. God, I want it deep inside me," he murmured at Earl advanced, naked toward him, the young man's words making Earl's erection harden even more.

The young man lifted and spread his legs. He also spread his arms in total welcome for the mature man's body moving between his thighs. Andy had the condom ready and reached down and used both hand to roll it on Earl's cock, as Earl grasped Andy's ankles and wishboned his legs. Andy rolled up his hips and, still grasping the long, thick shaft in both hands, pulled Earl into him--deep inside him. Andy's hips began to move and so did Earl's. Until now it had been all Andy's instigation, leaving no uncertainty what he wanted from Earl, that he was willing to yield all to Earl.

Earl began a long, deep pump, his mind moving back thirty years to his time with Sandy. Tomorrow he would think about where he was and where he should be going from here. For now he was content to live his past with Sandy.

"Oh shit, oh fuck, I'm gonna come," Andy cried out as he did just that.

So did Earl.

* * * *

Earl continued for another week, but he couldn't get his deceit out of his mind. Andy's only expressed concern with living with him was an unselfish one for others they might hurt. Earl tried to rationalize that neither his wife nor his children cared where he was and what he was doing--he was unaware of any effort to find him. But he knew that wasn't fair. The women in his family were just spoiled--and he had spoiled them. And he'd done everything he could to keep them from finding him. The secret bank account in itself was proof of his deceitfulness.

His untruthfulness with Andy festered. There wasn't anything in what Andy was doing--he was as yielding and vocally grateful for their relationship as ever. And there was never a hint that he didn't want Earl when Earl wanted him.

After a few days, Earl was increasingly aware that he was letting not just his family but also his workers down by not fighting for his company. As far as he knew Delmarva Pharmaceuticals only wanted it to gut it and do away with the competition--and its workers. He found he was giving himself the same pep talk of his responsibilities and that he was the one to save the day that his father had given him more than thirty years ago when he hinted that perhaps he would stay in Charleston and not come home to Wilmington to work in the family business.

He had left Sandy then. Toward the end of the week, Earl realized he would leave Andy too--just like he left Sandy. Not because he wanted to but because of his sense of obligation. The inevitability of it festered and then he was gone.

Andy was going to the college in the afternoons now for piano lessons and to practice on his oboe. He seemed quite happy, and the two of them were settling into a routine. They still had sex, but not as often as at first and certainly not with any atmosphere of frenzy, as if it were fleeting.

One of those afternoons Earl took his suitcase to the Lexus and drove out of town, without a look back. He wanted to think it wasn't leaving Andy just as he had left Sandy--without an explanation that he didn't have the fortitude to give face to face. It wasn't like that, he rationalized, because there were five months left on the lease and he had arranged for Andy to be able to stay on in the house, and because he had left a hefty sum of money--enough to see Andy through to the next summer--on the mantel in the living room, with a note assuring one and all that it was Andy's to use as he saw fit.

But, really, it was just like how he had left Sandy. He had been given a second chance at the lifestyle that made him feel alive. And he had given it up.

He made it nearly as far as Georgetown, south of Myrtle Beach, on highway 17 when it hit him how stupid he was. He turned the car around and sped back toward Charleston. He turned the corner of Radcliffe Street, ready to enter the alley behind his row of Simonton Mews townhouses, when he saw Andy get into the back of a limousine parked on the side of Radcliffe. It was Clifford Evans' limousine.

When he entered the house, Earl found his note to Andy crumpled and laying on the floor in front of the fireplace and the money he had left intact on the mantel. Nothing had been taken from the house other than what Andy had brought there with him--including none of the gifts Earl had given him over the past week and a half.

Earl remained in the house for two nights thereafter before getting in his car and driving north. But Andy didn't return. Neither could Earl find him at Club Pantheon in the evenings.

* * * *

"No, I certainly won't sign it," Earl yelled. He was standing behind his desk at his Washington Street company administrative offices in Wilmington, Delaware, and facing down his bank of lawyers who were telling him that the takeover had been finalized in his absence.

"You weren't here, Earl," his chief lawyer said. "They had all of the cards. Your wife said to go ahead."

"I'm here now."

"It's too late, Earl. Perhaps if you'd been here last week--"

"They will have to take it without my signature," Earl declared.

"Gentlemen. If you give Mr. Hastings and me the room for a few minutes, I think this can be resolved."

All turned to the door, where a member of the Delmarva Pharmaceuticals team Earl's lawyers had been negotiating unsuccessfully with over the past week stood in the doorway to Earl's office.

The lawyers looked displeased and apprehensive. For his part, Earl looked apoplectic. The man standing in his doorway was Clifford Evans.

"It's all over, Earl," Clifford said after the lawyers filed out. "You might as well sign. The opposition is fruitless and, if you don't put an accepting face on it, your employees will start deserting before we can merge the work. If they do, there won't be compensation packages for them."

"You set this up. You and Andy."

"Not Andy. He didn't know anything of what was happening. But, yes, I set it up. Did you think I was giving you a free ride down in Charleston? Surely you knew there would be a piper to pay."

"You devil."

"No, just a good businessman, Earl. Now, I think it would be in your interest to sign the documents. You wouldn't want your family and colleagues to know what you were doing down in Charleston, would you? Do you really want to face that on top of everything else?"

"How did you find me?"

"We do very good research on the companies we acquire, Earl. Our psychologists told us you would likely retreat to where you had been happy in a gay lifestyle. And that's where we found you. Charleston. The research also revealed what sort of man attracted you. Both Tony and Andy were selected on that basis. But I repeat that neither of them knew why we were buying their time to service you. And we made it very worth their while to do so."

"You bastard!"

"Just sign the documents, Earl. I'm sorry it had to be done this way. I liked you. After you've signed, go home. I think you'll want to go home."

After he signed, Earl didn't feel like staying around in the office any longer--this despite the arrangement being that he would stay on as vice president of the division of Delmarva Pharmaceuticals that his company was becoming. Evans told him he would be needed for the transition, and Earl knew that that was the truth--that it would be very difficult for Delmarva to figure out his company's processes and functions without him. But he had news for them. He fight for his employees compensation packages and all of his energies would go into finding work for any of them who Delmarva wouldn't take.

But he wouldn't stay in Wilmington. He didn't know where he'd go, but he could fight for his employees from anywhere in the States.

He got in his car and drove home to the house in Wawaset. His wife wouldn't be there. She obviously hated the house so much that she had already gone to one of her family's homes. And the girls were on summer holiday skiing in Switzerland. His absence had not exactly broken the family out of their normal routines.

As he drove down his street, ready to turn into his driveway, he abruptly stopped and then slowly pulled the Lexus over to the curb. He got out and turned to look toward the sidewalk over the hood of the car, not quite believing what he saw or coming closer for few that the specter of Andy would vanish before his eyes.

"Hi," Andy said in a low voice.

"God, I'm so sorry, Andy. I never meant to . . ."

"I know. Mr. Evans told me that my job had been to keep you from going back to Delaware before some sort of business deal went through. I swear I didn't have anything to do with that."

"I know you didn't, but how did you find me?"

"Back in Charleston. When I came to care--not just for the fucking, but to care for you--I found your wallet and looked in it and saw who you really were, where you came from, what your address here was, and . . ."

"And that I lied to you. I deceived you. You found that I had a family. Photographs in my wallet."

"Yes," Andy said in a small voice. He was looking at the ground. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have looked in your wallet. I just wanted it to be . . ."

"But it wasn't, was it, Andy? I told you I was free--because that was what you wanted to hear and because I didn't want to lose you--and I lied. But you stayed then."

"Yes, by then it didn't matter. By then I would do anything you wanted, no matter who else might get hurt. And I lied too--Mr. Evans told me to. My name's Erick, not Andy."

"How did you get here from Charleston?"

"Mr. Evans brought me. He said something about regretting what he had to do and at least giving you an option. He brought me right here and told me to stand here until you came home. If you didn't come, or if I have to go now, he'll take me to the airport. He's parked down the street."

Earl looked down the street, and, sure enough, Clifford's limousine was parked at the curb.

"And you did that? Even though I deceived you and abandoned you?"

"Yes. None of that matters."

Earl came around the hood of the car and embraced Erick, who no longer was Andy, not caring whether his neighbors saw him embrace another man or not. When they pulled away from a kiss, he put his mouth beside Erick's ear and said, "Can I give you a lift back to Charleston? I have a six-month lease on the townhouse but an option to buy."

"Yes, please," Erick answered. Both men were crying.

Earl heard the engine start up in Clifford's limousine, and his heart raced as the car pulled away from the curb, happily closing out on his options.



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