in a Heartbeat

by Grasshopper

Part 1

" David made wrong choices and then have to live with them. He had let people arrange his life, from his job to his sexuality, and the frustration of it all was eating him alive."

Marcus slammed his laptop shut. What a bunch of whining drivel. He didn't want to write about himself. There was nothing to say. If he kept this up much longer, he'd never ever get his novel written. He was just putting his frustrations on the screen. No one wanted to read about his screwed up life.

All he'd ever wanted to do, since he was a kid, was to write. All through school, he'd written essays, poetry, short stories. Never on topics of his own choosing, but topics that teachers thought were 'appropriate'. What was appropriate anyway? Shouldn't it be what was in your heart, what made your blood speed up, what made you so angry you could spit, or so happy you felt a hot body rush?

His eighth grade English teacher, Miss Jenkins, a prim, weary, battle scarred old lady, who only graded for punctuation, spelling and form would give them assignments like "Why the Sun is Important to All Living Things" and Marcus had received a D. Her comments were:

*seventeen punctuation errors - review the use of !s - everything is not exciting.
*did not stay on topic

Marcus did have to admit that he had changed the topic to "How I Feel When the Sun Surrounds Me". When he had stayed after class to talk to her, Miss Jenkins had told him that he couldn't write in such a 'loose' way. He didn't understand then; now he knew she had wanted to say "provocative" and "erotic".

That had been sixteen years ago, but he'd never forgotten. It had cemented his understanding that he needed to write, not the way he had been 'taught', but the way his heart told him to......with every provocative, erotic, blood rushing word he could find. He had to write so the people who read his words would come away with a smile or tears, thinking "I know how that feels", "I've been there", "He's writing for me".

That's why he was so frustrated. Marcus couldn't get it right. Every time he started typing, the words were in his heart, but they read like so much crap when he reread them.

He knew he was 'David', his main character. At 29, Marcus Boudreaux was as trapped as David, his parents having controlled every part of his life from the time he had tried to tell them, at 13, how he felt about life and about boys. The look on his father's face; the disgust his mother didn't even attempt to hide.

"You will not speak of this again."
"But, Father, I...."
"You are a Boudreaux."
"Mother..."
"Go to your room."

He spent the next eight years becoming "a man". Four years at the Brookhurst Military Academy and four more graduating from the Citadel. Marcus had spent eight years of his life with his curly brown hair in a buzz cut, his shoulders ramrod straight, his mind focused on education and his heart dead and frozen inside his chest.

At Brookhurst, he had seen firsthand what other boys thought of anyone different. Terrified and alone, he had watched the few boys, who couldn't keep their feelings hidden, beaten and ridiculed. The supervision had been 24/7 and tight, but somehow, when these humiliations happened, no one seemed to notice. Marcus saw quickly that he had to become invisible.

The family vacations he had enjoyed before he had tried to talk to his parents, stopped. The beach he loved was forbidden and he cried at night for the sound of the waves. He had learned who he was in the sand one warm summer night when he was 13 and the memory stayed with him.

He had begged to go to the University of South Carolina when he turned 17 so he could study journalism, but he ended up at The Citadel, where he learned how to march and how to salute and how to hide more deeply the feelings he didn't understand.

With degrees in Business Administration and Law & Legal Studies, Marcus finally achieved his father's goal. He became a junior partner in The Boudreaux Investment Group, Charleston, South Carolina. Old money invested to make more. His life was set up for him, stretching out ahead like a tape measure, mile after lonely mile.

In the next six years, Marcus worked at a leisurely southern pace, bought an expensive pastel townhouse along Battery Street, and an equally expensive Cabriolet. He would make eye contact in a bar, an elevator, along the waterfront, have passionless, meaningless sex and come away unhappy. He would sit in front of his laptop late at night and wait for the words to flow. They didn't.


Charleston is an old city by United States standards, built at the estuary where the Ashley and Cooper Rivers meet the Atlantic. Full of gracious charm, the ghosts of long time gone and people caught between the past and the present. The plantations, the horse drawn carriages, the cobblestone streets all pointed backwards.

To live in the pastel townhouses that faced the ocean at the tip of the peninsula, you had to have either more money than God or direct family ties to General Robert E. Lee, the saint of the War Between the States. Marcus Boudreaux had both. His family dealt easily with old southern money and his Aunt Reenabelle swore that it was a Boudreaux who fired the first shot from Fort Sumter when those 'damn yankees' arrived back in 1861. How many times had she told Marcus that Boudreaux's had been sitting right on his very balcony, sipping Mint Juleps and offering salutes as the guns and cannons fired.

Many southern cities, Savannah, Biloxi, New Orleans, painted their homes in the soft pastels of the southern summer sunsets. In Charleston, the long rows of townhouses built on Battery Street were privately owned but were historical buildings. There were always teams of painters working on scaffolds, all around the city. It pleased something in Marcus to live in a part of the city that was referred to as 'gay' before that word meant anything except brightly colored and happy. He lived in a 'gay' blue townhouse and even his parents had to accept that historical fact.


Marcus stood at the bay window staring out at the choppy water. This was his favorite kind of day, blustery, the water choppy, sprays of rain firing against the window glass. His reading glasses shoved up on top of his head, nestled in his dark brown curls, he pinched the bridge of his nose and watched the few people still braving the weather struggle along with their umbrellas. The sidewalk and seawall were wet with rain and waves and he suddenly knew he wanted to be out there, not inside peering over facts and figures but, out in the weather, feeling the rain on his face. Maybe it would clear the cobwebs away.

Glancing down his 6'2 lanky body, he decided that the old Citadel sweatshirt he had on needed a good washing anyway and the baggy khakis would do, so he simply pulled on old sneakers and a ballcap on his head.

Over the years, Marcus had just quit looking at himself and become invisible. His expensive suits were for work, and he never realized that no matter what he wore, men looked at him with admiration, or desire....envy or lust. Marcus was invisible.

Stepping out, the rain spitting like needles against his skin, he locked the front door and turned into the wind. Crossing over to the seawall, he walked toward the small café on the corner. In a childlike move, he lifted his head, shut his eyes, stuck out his tongue and tasted the rain.

"You better hope Zeus didn't pee just now," a voice laughed.

Marcus jerked his mouth shut. Looking down, he saw a smaller figure enveloped in a bright yellow rain slicker, just a nose seeming to poke out of the tightly pulled drawstring. As he watched, the person hopped up to sit on the seawall, his feet kicking out over the water.

"I don't think the gods ummm.......urinate, do they?" he answered.

"He heard a throaty snicker. "Everybody's gotta pee. What goes in has gotta come out."

Marcus started to walk away, head for the brightly lit café, but the voice spoke again. "What are you doing out here in the rain?"

Marcus looked at the café, back at the rough water and sighed, "I love the rain and the wind. It's like it's trying to tell me something." He stared straight ahead, feeling embarrassed but saying it out loud was a little freeing.

"I know what you mean. The wind is stronger than the clouds and the rain, but you can't even see it. You can feel it, like a breeze on your cheek or like this today, tearing at your skin."

Marcus had to lean in closer to hear the words being ripped away from the stranger.

"What does the wind say to you?" he asked the stranger, suddenly wanting to know this answer very much.

"The wind is strong and wild and tries to tell us all to be like him, to be free."

"What if we can't be free?"

"It's just your mind telling you can't. What does your heart say?"

Marcus couldn't believe he was having this conversation with a total stranger. 'My heart? My heart doesn't work anymore."

"That's so not true. Anyone who comes out to walk in the rain has a romantic heart. Now, if you love Pina Coladas......," he broke off, laughing.

Marcus smiled. "Would you come have coffee with me at the café?"

"Can't, gotta run....but it's been good talking to you. Don't forget, be like the wind." Marcus watched as his slim body jumped down from the ledge, to stand for a moment. Then, waving a wet hand, the yellow slicker dashed off across the street to turn the corner out of sight.

Sitting in the café at a table by the window, watching the glass as the raindrops joined, then split apart to join again, he thought about the stranger in the yellow slicker. All he knew was it was a 'he' and he seemed to understand. Understand what exactly, Marcus wasn't sure, but a tiny crack appeared in the high stone wall around his heart.

The rain let up, the sun came out to drink up the puddles and Marcus walked home with the oddest sense of happy, something he rarely felt.

Work the next day was excruciatingly dull. In his office, Marcus propped his feet up on the windowsill and watched the pigeons peck at the corn he put out every morning, a slight smile on his lips.

"You put out all that corn and the little ingrates pay you back with piles of pigeon poop," Angie, his secretary, said from the doorway. "You want me to order you a sandwich, Boss?"

"Yes, a Reuben," he said, his smile still in place.

"You seem mighty happy today," she said, pleased to see Mr. Boudreaux smiling. He was such a quiet man, alone for no good reason that she could see.

"I am kind of," he answered, sounding amazed that he was happy.

"Care to tell me how this happened?" she laughed.

Marcus thought for a minute. "It's not something I can say exactly. It's just a feeling." He wanted to say that, for the first time in years, he thought maybe, just maybe he had a chance. Why a few words from a stranger in the rain would make him feel that way, he had no idea.

Stopping by the market, Marcus picked up an artichoke, two small crookneck squash and a small rib eye steak planning on an early dinner with a strong urge to write. He waited while a team of three painters, their coveralls splattered with pink and blue and coral and yellow, carried a wooden plank across the sidewalk. The row of pastel colored townhouses always made him smile with pleasure. His was the third door on the row, a soft blue with coral shutters and a pale coral door. Beside the doorway, a huge clay pot stood, filled with a cluster of crimson and gold coleus.

The former owners had put a stylish basket on the front door, its handle hiding the peephole. There was never any mail in the basket because the mailman stuck it all through the mail slot lower down, so it surprised him to see a bright dash of red. Juggling his briefcase and the grocery bag, he reached out and pulled a single red rose tied with a crisp white ribbon from the basket. Stunned, he found himself looking first right, then left, wondering who had given him this flower. Seeing no one, he dropped his briefcase, kicked it into the foyer and carrying the groceries under his arm, he held the rose gently.

After dinner, he rearranged the furniture in the living room so that his desk faced the window and he could see out into the night sky, watch the lights on the harbor and listen to the wind. He put the rose with the crisp white ribbon in a vase and set it carefully on the window ledge. He wrote three pages of his story:

"My life changed that night on the beach because a boy talked to me. We talked about dirt bikes and music, nothing special, but I could feel this vibration in the air, as if something was going to change forever."

For the first time, Marcus felt he was going to be able to write again. He knew he had a story to tell, but he just hadn't ever been able to get the words out. Standing by the window, lifting the flower to his nose, he inhaled the perfume, his eyes staring out into the night.

The next day, he woke before the alarm, did his 100 pushups and ran his five miles on the treadmill, then showered and drank strong black coffee. He resisted the urge to go to the window, to lift the rose from the vase. Someone had just stuck it there. There was no one who would give him a rose. No one at all.

All day, he waited for something. He tried to push the expectation back, but it kept popping back up. He had to stop thinking that the rose was anything except a flower left in his mail basket for no rhyme or reason.

"What's up, Boss?" Angie asked, as he passed her desk, leaving early and telling her she could do the same.

"I just need to get out of here," he said quietly.

"I hear that," she laughed.

Marcus purposefully took his time, lingering over the Chinese takeout menu posted on the wall at Ming Po's. Maybe he'd try something new. Perhaps it was time for a change.

He watched two small boys trying to untangle a kite string from the low hanging branches of an old oak, finally lending them a hand.

Half of him wanted to go straight home, to see if it was a fluke. Half of him wanted to keep the tiny bit of happy going just a little while longer. Why would anyone give him a flower?

Turning the corner, trying not to look at his door, Marcus felt his eyes go directly to the small wicker basket. There was no rose. There was no splash of ruby red peeking out from the top. He smiled that smile you use when you wanted something foolish really bad and it just didn't happen. Letting out a long sigh, the smell of the Chinese no longer tempting him, he stuck the key in the lock.

That's when the breeze tugged at a slender piece of red ribbon trailing out from the top of the basket. It tickled his cheek. Opening the door and setting his briefcase and the takeout bag on the small table by the door, he lifted up on his toes and peered down into the basket. Grinning broadly, Marcus tugged the ribbon up, bringing a small bright blue rectangular plastic box with a Tweety Bird head sitting on top. He let out a loud chop of laughter as he recognized a Pez candy box. He'd collected them when he was a boy.

Who would put this in his basket? He felt his cheeks crease into happy laugh lines, changing his face from stern and serious to glowing and beautiful. He just didn't know it. Before he shut the door, he looked up and down the street. No one was watching to see his reaction. How could one tiny little plastic toy make his heart feel this full? Inside, another small crack split in his heart's strong wall.

He wrote ten more pages that night, full of Chinese chow mien and this strange feeling of hope. He set the little Tweety beside the rose on the window sill and told more of his story.

"What do you want to be when you grow up?" the boy asked me. He was rubbing my erection and I couldn't think. "Maybe a writer," I finally answered. When I came, hot and fast as only a thirteen year old can do, he said softly, Write about this."

There seemed to be more stars in the sky, more sky, more everything than Marcus had ever seen. For so long he had kept everything bottled up and now, for whatever reason, the rose, the silly Tweety, he couldn't keep it in.

He wrote a simple note and stuck it on the mail basket on his way out the door to work the next morning:

"Thank You!"

At the office, he couldn't get anything done. Transcribing notes to Angie, he just drifted off until she finally took his notes and finished herself, grinning at his total 360. She had never been able to understand why a man as gorgeous as her Mr. Boudreaux was single. There had to be lots of available gay men out there. She kept her thoughts about that to herself, but there couldn't be any other reason. She sure hoped whatever was making him so happy was a Mr. Right.

At the 1:30 meeting, Marcus kept feeling the Tweety in his pocket, clicking the little head up and down and grinning to himself. He set Tweety on his desk and every time he looked that direction, he laughed.

Telling himself that he needed to change his clothes before he ate out, Marcus went directly home, hoping to find a note or something to identify the mystery person. He saw a piece of green ribbon fluttering in the breeze as he turned the corner. Not caring how he looked, he rushed the last few yards and pulled on the sliver of green. Out came a sheet of eight Tigger stickers and the reply, "My Pleasure!"

Standing at his door, trying to fathom why anyone would give him stickers of a grinning tiger, he suddenly remembered the sound of his Aunt Reenabelle reading Winnie the Pooh to him when he was small. How Tigger was always bouncing and always happy. Maybe his stranger was telling him something. Everything was making him smile. Marcus Boudreaux, junior partner of Boudreaux Investment Groups, was smiling for the first time in his life, real smiles. Real happiness.

The next morning, a misty Friday, his note had a Tigger in each corner and the words, "Could we meet?"

The day went by in a blur and Marcus left early, hoping to catch sight of his friendly tormentor. No luck, but the note had been flipped over and the words written, "I thought you'd never ask. The café tonight? 7:30?" with a red arrow drawn in the direction of the small outdoor café on the corner.

Marcus looked around, hoping to catch someone looking at him, but he was all alone on the sidewalk. Suddenly, he had the strangest urge to run inside and lock the door just like he'd locked his heart.

At 7:00, Marcus Boudreaux was standing in his closet looking at all his clothes and had nothing to wear. Everything he owned was stuffy and formal and.........boring. He wanted to look 'with it' and put together. He wanted to impress this stranger. He wanted............Wait! That's what he'd always done. He'd impressed and bored and frozen people out of his life for fear he'd get hurt. His father had said he couldn't be gay, so he'd hidden it. His mother would be embarrassed, so he'd hidden it. Maybe it was time to stop hiding.

He looked at himself in the mirror, his pressed khakis trim against his tight legs, smooth and taut across his butt. He grinned as he turned and thought, for the first time in his life, "Yep, there's my butt". His crisp blue and white cotton dress shirt tucked in, but the sleeves rolled up to the elbow, the first three buttons undone. He had shaved carefully and used a bit of gel to ease the curls in his hair. He felt like a schoolboy going on his first date. God, it felt good! And scary at the same time.

This is nothing, he kept telling himself. Just meeting someone. It's nothing. He picked up Tweety, dropped him in his pocket and locked the door on the way out.

The café was full, laughing couples sipping wine and flirting. Marcus looked around looking for someone alone and not seeing anyone. He should just go home. What was he thinking?

"Hi," a soft, yet familiar voice said behind him. "Sorry I'm late."

Marcus turned and looked down into the widest blue eyes. "Hey." His brain turned to mush.

The younger man shoved out his arm, offering his hand, "I'm Quinton Mackey. My friends call me Quin." He reached down and took hold of Marcus' hand and squeezed it. "I know I kind of know you better than you know me, but I don't know your name either."

"Oh, God, I'm so sorry," Marcus babbled, "Marcus, Marcus Boudreaux. I live right down................."

"Of course you do," Quin laughed. "The coral door with the little basket, right?"

Marcus blushed, 'Right."

Quin pulled his other hand out from behind his back toward Marcus, offering him another perfect rose, this one the tangerine of a summer sunset. Marcus stared at the rose, and then back up wordlessly at Quin. He searched the blue eyes, his gaze taking in the brown hair streaked with gold, the impish grin and the dimples in both cheeks.

A table came empty and Quin grabbed it. Walking quickly to join him, Marcus blinked when Quin said, with a giggle in his voice, "Is that a Tweety in your pocket or are you just glad to meet me?"

Marcus looked down, saw the weird bulge in his khakis and laughed, "He's my new best friend." Taking Tweety out of his pocket, he set the little box on the table, smiling.

The waiter stopped at the table and laughed when he saw the little Pez toy. "God, I used to collect those," he said. "I had all the Star Wars ones. I wonder what happened to them?" He grinned, "What can I get for you tonight?"

Marcus ordered coffee, black and Quin asked for a huge glass of sweet tea.

"You don't drink coffee?" Marcus asked.

"I never have liked hot drinks, except for hot chocolate. I have this really sweet tooth, I guess," Quin answered.

Marcus was expecting a really awkward silence and his mind raced trying to come up with something intelligent to say, but Quin jumped right in. "I know you feel weird, and I really don't go around doing this, I promise, but I really just wanted to get to know you."

"I'm confused," Marcus said, "Have we met before? I'd definitely remember you."

Quin was smaller than Marcus, his hands were squared off, his fingers blunt with very close cut nails. His hair was longish, trailing down below his ears, one of which had a small gold hoop. Marcus noticed the hoop because Quin kept shoving his hair behind his ears only to have it fall back down onto his cheeks. He had the deepest tan, making his eyes seem to glow. Marcus wondered if he was that tan all over. He felt his body stir and shook his head to clear it.

Quin was smiling as he answered. "No, we've never met, at least not names and all. But, I do feel like I know you."

"This gets more and more confusing."

"Okay, will it help if I say I love the rain?"

"That was you? The other night over there," Marcus turned his head toward the seawall, "That was you?"

"Yeah, I was headed home and just stopped for a minute to watch the rain."

"I knew your voice sounded familiar. Can I ask one question? The rose, the Tweety," he touched the little yellow head and smiled, "Why me?"

Quin looked at Marcus, cocked his head and answered, "I wanted you to smile."

"I did. I have been for days."

"Good." Quin reached out his hand and touched the back of Marcus' hand with his fingertips. Without thinking, Marcus jerked his hand away, looking around to see if anyone was looking.

A frown flitted across Quin's face, but he lifted his glass of sweet tea and took a long drink.

"So, what do you do?" Marcus asked, to try to cover his embarrassment.

"I paint houses. I've been here all week."

Marcus remembered the painters and the wood scaffolding the other day. "That was you?"

"Yep."

They talked about this and that, Quin making jokes and keeping the conversation going. They didn't have much in common, their tastes seemed to have been created by the levels of their lives. Marcus loved classical music, Quin was jazz and Dave Matthews. Marcus preferred foreign subtitle films and Quin waited for the big blockbusters to get to the video rentals. But, there was something, just a vibe, something that whispered to Marcus that he couldn't let this go. That if he did, he'd regret it the rest of his life. Maybe it was the twinkle in Quin's beautiful eyes, maybe it was the laughter he felt was bubbling just below the surface. He wasn't sure if he had what it would take to interest Quin, but he wanted try.

"I've never really watched a foreign film all the way through reading the subtitles without going to sleep," Quin grinned sheepishly. "I'm always so busy watching the actors that I forget to read and then I lose the plot."

"We could go to my place and I'll play one for you," Marcus suggested, "I mean, if you want."

"I want."

Marcus lifted his rose from the glass of water and slipped Tweety back into his pocket. Dropping a twenty on the table, he waited for Quin to walk past him toward the sidewalk.

"You must love it here," Quin said, his voice always so soft and gentle. "Right by the water."

"Yes, I've been here five years and never wanted to live anywhere else. Where do you live?"

"In an apartment over on Kellogg with two roommates. It's a tight squeeze but I like the company and it makes the rent easy."

Marcus unlocked the front door, and held it open. This was the first time in five years that he'd brought a man home. It had been his sanctuary. There had always been other places to go to get his needs met. When it had been a stranger's apartment, he had left as soon as he could. This was all new, wanting Quin to love his home, to look around and see his personal treasures.

"Lord, all this space. I don't know how to act with all this room," Quin laughed. "I love the colors. What's this?" he bounced around the living room, touching each object carefully, peeking into the glass front cabinet and admiring the paintings. It pleased Marcus to have Quin there.

Quin poked in the fridge and opened a few cabinet doors in the kitchen. "This is great. It looks like a kitchen in a magazine. Let's go get some food. I'll cook. I just realized I'm starving." He looked expectantly at Marcus.

Marcus wasn't used to following an impulse. He let himself be led back out the door to the corner market where Quin handed him a red plastic carry basket and then proceeded to fill it with the oddest things: shredded broccoli, pine nuts, bacon, raisins, two pork chops and egg noodles. "You're gonna love this," he grinned as he headed for the coffee aisle to get a box of hot chocolate packets. "You got milk?"

"Um, yes, skim," Marcus said, watching the basket fill up.

Quin made a face. "Hmm, better get some whole milk for the chocolate."

They reached the counter and, as Quin put the items on the conveyor belt, Marcus pulled out his Platinum card.

"No, this was my idea."

"But, it's no big deal. I'm going to eat too."

"No."

Marcus slipped the card back in his wallet and waited patiently for the cashier to ring up the total.

"That will be $28.45," the girl said.

Quin pulled out his wallet and counted out the money, reaching in his pocket to look for change. Marcus didn't mean to look, but he saw that there were only a few ones left. He felt terrible. This could have so easily been his treat. What was $28? Nothing. Painters must not make much money.

They each carried a plastic bag and when they got back to the apartment, Quin went to work, singing under his breath:

"If you like Pina Coladas and getting caught in the rain....If you're not into yoga and you have half a brain...."

The dinner was delicious; broccoli salad, pork chops over buttered noodles and hot chocolate and coffee.

"You're a great cook," Marcus sighed. "I ate way too much. I'll have to run an extra mile tomorrow."

Quin looked at him from under long eyelashes. "You look kind of perfect to me."

Marcus blushed. Changing the subject to safer ground, he asked, "How did you learn to cook?"

"When there are seven kids in the family, someone has to cook," he smiled. "My mom needed all the help she could get and I was the only boy in the bunch who took to the kitchen."

"Seven kids? Wow, I would have loved that."

"You were an.......?"

"Yeah, an only child. I don't think they wanted even one," Marcus said sadly.

"But all that peace and quiet?" Quin said it, but his eyes were full of sympathy. He wouldn't have traded his growing up years in all that noise and bedlam for anything. That explained a lot about Marcus; all the reserve and shyness.

"We better get this mess cleaned up," Quin smiled as he started for the sink with his plate.

Marcus didn't want to say that the maid service would clean it all up in the morning. Somehow, that sounded wrong now. "I'll wash if you dry," he said, picking up his dishes.

The dishes washed, dried and put away, Marcus chose a DVD and they settled down on the couch to watch the huge plasma screen on the far wall.

Marcus wanted this to go perfectly. He found that he wanted Quin to be his friend if nothing else. He wasn't sure how to make that happen. He couldn't just make someone like him. He didn't even know if there was anything TO like. He was afraid if he looked at Quin with the feelings he had all laid out in his eyes, Quin would run screaming. It was all so easy when he picked someone up in a bar. No questions, no worries. This was very different.

Marcus had never had real friends. He had business associates and old school mates, but he'd never found someone to share his secrets with. He knew it was because he was different and he didn't know how to go about finding someone who would understand. All he had ever had was sex and a goodbye smile.

Quin made him laugh. Marcus wished he could tell him all the feelings he had

piled up in his heart. All these years of waiting. So, he sat carefully down on the sofa, not too near, not too far and held the remote out to push 'play'.

Quin reached over and put his hand over the remote. "Marcus, tell me why you're shaking."

'What? I'm not........"

Quin took the remote out of his hand and laid it on the coffee table. "Yes. You are. Is it me? Do you want me to go?" Those big cornflower eyes asked questions that Marcus wasn't sure he could answer.

"No! Oh, no! I don't want you to go," he said, his voice cracking.

"Then, what is it? The movie can't be that bad?" Quin said, trying to make Marcus smile.

Marcus tried to think of the right words. "You'll think I'm an idiot."

"Probably," Quin said, gently, "But only because it's something you don't need to be worrying about. Try me."

Marcus stood up and walked over to the window, standing by the vase with two roses, one red, one the color of the sunset. He reached down to touch the petals. "I don't do this."

"Don't do what?"

"I don't have dates with men. I don't have dinner and feel happy and go to the grocery store. Men don't give me roses and make me laugh." The words came out in a rush, and he gulped in air.

Quietly, Quin asked, "What do you do with men, Marcus?"

He pressed his forehead against the cool window glass to look out into the dark night sky. "Use them. Fuck them."

The room froze waiting for the next words.

Quin got up and walked over to the taller man standing so stiff at the window as if waiting for the pain to start. Someone had done a real number on him.

"Marcus," he said softly, gently touching his arm, "When I saw you out in the rain the other night, you looked lost. I thought then that I had something you needed. I wasn't sure what it was, but I still feel that way. That's why I gave you those little surprises. I thought you needed to be surprised."

"I haven't got anything to give you."

"Oh. Yes you do. I don't mean roses or presents; nothing your money can buy, but you do have something a lot more precious than that."

Marcus turned to look down into Quin's upturned face, his eyes asking what he could possibly have that this beautiful young man would ever need.

"I think you have so much inside you that wants out. I think you want to care about someone and cherish them. Someone took that away from you a long time ago, right? Your ability to care?"

"It's not there anymore, Quin. Wrong choices were made for me and even when I got older, I let those wrong choices stand. I don't even know where to begin to fix them."

Quin reached his hand up and pulled Marcus' head down to him. "Let's begin right here." He offered up his mouth, a slight smile curving his lips.

The kiss was soft and sweet, unlike the ones Marcus had given and taken before. Quin's lips were smooth and warm and his breath held the aroma of hot chocolate. There was the hint of more, the promise of passion as he tried to show Marcus that the touch of lips could be the beginning of something wonderful.

Up on his toes, holding Marcus' face in his strong hands, he said gently, "We could do what you always do. We could go in the bedroom and fuck, but you know what? I don't do that. I've only been with three people over my twenty-two years and each of them was because I cared. I learned from them and I hope they learned from me. I'd like to get to know you, see if we can find the key to each other."

Marcus looked down into Quin's expectant eyes. He wanted to just fall into the blue......lose himself in what Quin seemed to be promising. Was there really a path he could choose that would take him to the happy place he'd always dreamed about?

He kissed Quin back, slowly, carefully, first on the cheek, rubbing the stubble on his cheek gently. Then, he took Quin's mouth, not in a kiss of control but more one of sharing hope. Finally, he landed a quick kiss on the tip of Quin's button nose and smiled a crooked smile. "Thank you," he whispered.

Quin smiled, laced his fingers through Marcus's and pulled him toward the sofa. "Let's watch this movie, but I gotta warn you, I fall asleep with subtitles."

They laughed and held hands. Marcus had a terrible time keeping his hands to himself. It seemed Quin had created a monster. Marcus watched the shiny brown hair fall into Quin's eyes and he wanted to brush it back with his fingers, feel it flow across his hand. He wanted to rub his thumbs across Quin's dimples and dip in gently. All the things he'd never done with any other man, he wanted to do with Quin. He was content to just sit and touch him gently, not watching the movie at all.

At the door, Quin kissed him goodnight, smiling. "I had a really great time with you. Thanks for having me over."

Marcus shut the door after watching Quin walk down the street to turn at the corner. He leaned against the wood and felt the tingling still vibrating where his lips had kissed him, where his hands had touched him. This was so different from anything he'd ever felt before. With strangers, he only felt the urge to get off, the feel of doing something forbidden, the emptiness when he walked home alone. Somehow, he had connected with Quin or maybe Quin had connected with him. Whatever had happened, his life changed.

The next morning, Saturday, Marcus woke, stretching in the beams of sun filtering across his bed. He had a friend, possibly more than a friend. They hadn't made any plans and he didn't know where Quin lived to call him. Doubt began to creep in as he realized that he had no way of finding Quin and then he had a rush of the 'what ifs'. What if Quin had decided in the light of day that Marcus was too much trouble, too broken, too unfixable? What if Quin didn't make any plans was because he didn't want to know him any better?

Pulling on loose gray flannel shorts and a faded blue t-shirt, Marcus decided to run along the seawall in the early morning cool, before the heat of the day took his breath away. He opened the front door and saw a sliver of pink ribbon dangling from the wicker basket. Grinning, he looked down the street and then up. He saw Quin sitting on the scaffolding, his jeans and white t-shirt covered in light blue paint speckles, his sneakered feet kicking in the air. Marcus tugged on the ribbon and little scroll of paper popped out. Unrolling it, he looked at Quin and then read:

Ten Things I Want:

1. I want a hot cup of chocolate.

2. I want to walk in the rain with you.

3. I want to sit on your sofa and hold your hand.

4. I want you to like me.

5. I want to make you laugh.

6. I want to find out if what I felt last night is real.

7. I want to eat popcorn with you at the movies.

8. I want to listen to you talk.

9. I want to help you be like the wind; strong and wild and free.

10. I want to be with you.

Marcus felt hot tears behind his eyes. His heart caught and all his 'what ifs' raced away in the early morning breeze. He walked back in the apartment, heated the milk in a saucepan, added the powdered chocolate, stirred it, and poured into a big coffee mug. Walking back out the door, he stared up at Quin, offering the mug in his outstretched hands.

Quin grinned, lowered the scaffolding and walked over to Marcus' front door. Marcus handed the mug to Quin, letting their fingers touch around the hot cup. He picked the little scroll of paper up and said, "I think we've got 1,3,4,5 and 8 already covered. If you'll go to the movies with me tonight, we'll fix 7 and 10."

Quin laughed, "I need to see what I wrote. I can't remember what was what." He took the paper from Marcus. "Hmmm, tell me again."

Marcus looked over Quin's shoulder, inhaling the smell of his skin, smelling the aroma of his shampoo. "You have the hot chocolate, we sat on the sofa and held hands last night, I like you, you make me laugh, and I talked your head off last night."

"So," Quin smiled, "You want to go to the movies tonight, I remember that one but what was the last one?"

Marcus sighed and moved closer to push Quin's hair behind his ear. "I want to be with you too."

Quin leaned back against Marcus' chest, his head resting in the hollow under his chin. "Excellent. What's left?"

Marcus read again, "Walking in the rain and me being strong and wild and free." He laughed, "The rain is doable, but the rest, I don't know."

"You have it in you, Marcus," Quin said softly, "It just takes the right person to let it out."

"And that might be you?"

"Maybe."


The movie line wasn't long, but Marcus wasn't used to waiting. He actually wasn't used to going to the movies. He had suggested that they find a movie on the satellite and be comfortable at his apartment. Quin had frowned and accused him of being antisocial. So, here they were, standing in a line.

There were teenagers, loud and rambunctious, going through the 'look at me' years, and lots of couples, holding hands and cuddling close. Quin leaned into Marcus' side and felt for his hand. Marcus shoved his hands in his pockets and pretended not to notice. He felt Quin step away but he didn't know what else to do.

The lights dimmed and the previews started. They shared the popcorn bucket, Quin eating most of it, and sipped their drinks, settling down as the movie started. Tom Cruise began to save the world again and Marcus reached over to take Quin's hand. Quin's fingers felt stiff and tight for a few seconds, but then Marcus heard a sigh and Quin softened his grip to lace his fingers with Marcus'.

The lights came on and people began to push their way out of the theatre. Quin and Marcus sat still, waiting for the rush to subside. Quin said quietly,

"You wouldn't hold my hand outside, but you will if the lights are off. Why, Marcus?"

"I'm sorry."

"That's not a very good answer."

Marcus knew it wasn't. It wasn't any answer at all. "People might get the wrong idea," he mumbled.

"What do you think people would think?"

"That we're, you know."

Quin sighed. "That we're what?"

"Gay." The word whispered out of his mouth with hardly a sound, as if just the saying of it would make people stare at him.

"But, Marcus," Quin said quietly, "If you feel anything of what I feel for you, if you want to be with me even half as much as I want to be with you, you are gay."

"I know, but..."

"But what? Why do you care what people think?"

"Because it's......it's......"

"Wrong?" Marcus could hear the hurt in Quin's voice. "You truly think being with me is wrong?"

"Nooo," Marcus shook his head and grabbed for Quin's hand. Quin raised up quickly and sat on his hands. Marcus knew this was all going wrong. He wanted more than anything in the world to be with Quin. He was amazed that his feelings had escalated so quickly.

"Can we get out of here? Please?"

They walked out of the theatre, not speaking until they reached the seawalk. A fine misty rain was falling and Marcus tried to joke, "Here's number 2."

Quin stopped and looked up into his eyes. "Don't go all avoidy on me, Marcus. Are you ashamed to feel what you feel for me?"

Marcus stood with his arms dangling at his sides, his hair plastering itself to his head, the rain beginning to run down his cheeks like teardrops.

"It's so easy for you," he sighed. "You're so happy with yourself, so content and centered. It's one of the reasons I'm attracted to you. You make me feel like there's a chance I might be able to feel that way too."

"Do you think you're the only man who's afraid to be gay?"

"I'm not afraid."

"Yes, you are. You're afraid that if you show the world who you really are, the world will chew you up and spit you out. But, you know what? Fuck them! You're not less of a person because you're gay. You can't cower down and let the world define you. If you do, they win."

"You don't understand."

"Shit, Marcus, I understand perfectly."

"But see, in public, people will just think we're two friends going to the movies or out for dinner until I hold your hand or we hug. Then, we change from friends to.....to fags. We change from acceptable to unacceptable. They............"

Quin rubbed the rain from his eyes. "Who is 'they', Marcus? No one out here in the streets or in that café or that movie really gives a rat's ass what we are or how we feel unless it affects them and I have no intention of affecting them. Who exactly is 'they'?"

"Can we get out of the rain? I can't think." He really could, but he needed time; time to try to organize his thoughts. He was so afraid he was losing Quin. Everything was going wrong.

"Sure." Quin crossed the street, then waited for Marcus to catch up. They walked the rest of the way to the coral door with the little wicker basket in silence, both lost in their own thoughts.

"We need to dry off," Marcus said, looking at Quin as they both kicked off their shoes and socks by the door.

"Yeah, the wet rat look is definitely not in this year."

"Come on, I'll get us towels and some dry clothes."

He led the way to his bedroom and grabbed big fluffy towels from the linen closet. Grabbing out a pair of sweats and a well washed blue t-shirt, Marcus nodded toward the bathroom. "You can change in there."

Quin let out a low laugh.

"What? What did I do now?"

"I gotta tell you, Marcus Boudreaux, our minds do NOT work on the same levels."

"Huh?"

Quin snorted, "I was all jazzed to finally see you naked and you're shoving me in the bathroom. Are you sure you're gay?"

"Oh." Marcus stood in the middle of the floor, dripping. "I just thought...."

"I know," Quin smiled, "I'm just messing with you. I'd like to strangle whoever made you feel this way, but I do understand." He turned to go in the bathroom, rubbing the water from his hair with the towel.

"Wait," Marcus said softly.

Quin turned back and began to smile as Marcus dropped his towel and pulled his wet shirt off over his head. Quin nodded and his shirt came off, making a wet puddle on the floor. Marcus wanted to look away, anywhere but at Quin , but he forced himself to lock his gaze on those blue eyes.

Marcus knew his body was okay, it was just that he'd never cared before what someone special might think or that anyone would want to look at him the way Quin was doing right now. For a minute, he panicked, but Quin said softly, "I want to be with you," and it all felt right.

He opened the button on his slacks and unzipped, letting them fall around his feet. Quin's jeans followed and they both stood in their briefs, both excited, both hard, both feeling their skin tingling and the burn flowing.

Quin walked over to the bed and sighed, "Come here, Marcus." Quin eased his briefs off and then slid Marcus's down. He tumbled him onto the quilts and began to teach him what it was to make love.

He kissed Marcus slowly, but then the fire began to glow and their tongues danced. "I want to show you what it is for someone to make love to you. I want to learn your body; taste you, feel you, smell you. You have so much to give. Let me show you how."

Marcus lay still as Quin explored with his hands and his mouth. He lay still until the rush of his body tore at him and he pulled Quin up for a long kiss until Quin broke it to move down his body, touching and licking a path. As he felt Quin take him into his mouth, Marcus understood the difference between what he had been doing, furtively with guilt, and what he now knew was true intimacy. His body was pulsing with energy and he wanted to share it with Quin.

Laying cuddled in the warmth of the quilts, Marcus brushed Quin's bangs out of his eyes and kissed his forehead. He had never stayed in a bed after the sex was over, but suddenly, he found that he never wanted to get up.

"You smell good," he said, sniffing the crook in Quin's elbow.

"Like what?" Quin asked sleepily.

"Umm, like chocolate and soap and me, but most of all, you smell like you."

"And that's a good thing?"

Marcus licked his arm, "Yes, it's a very good thing."

They fell asleep spooned together. Marcus bent his long legs and pulled Quin up against his chest. It felt right.


Sunday beamed bright and shiny, the rain whished away and the sidewalks washed clean. Quin woke up to the smells of food cooking in the kitchen. Straggling out in his borrowed sweats rolled at the ankles, he grinned to see Marcus frying bacon and sausage, a small bed table all set with orange juice and toast, waiting for the bacon.

"Morning," he said, after watching Marcus for a few minutes.

"Oh, hey," he stuttered, "I didn't now if you liked bacon or sausage or eggs or grits what, so I bought some of everything and......"

"All of the above," Quin laughed. "I'm starving."

"Well, go back to bed. I'm bringing it," Marcus said, shooing him away.

"God, you're adorable in the morning. I'm so glad I'm the first one to ever see it."

Marcus looked up and grinned, "I just feel so happy."

Quin jumped back in the bed and waited, all the while humming to himself. Marcus came in carrying the loaded tray and placed it across Quin's lap.

"Breakfast in bed," he announced, proud of himself. Quin looked at the runny eggs and the slightly burned bacon. He'd never seen anything so beautiful, unless you wanted to count Marcus' face last night the third time he came yelling Quin's name.

He gobbled up every scrap, wiped his mouth, moved the little table to the floor and dove under the cover, searching for Marcus.

Two hours later, Marcus rolled over and flopped his hands on his chest. "No more. I can't move."

"Come on, old man," Quin teased, "I think I love Sunday in bed."

"Because you don't have to paint today?"

Quin laughed, "Well, that, but mostly cause I found Marcus Boudreaux in this bed and it is Sunday....hence, I love Sunday in bed.'

"Is that what you'll do all your life, Quin?"

"What? Crawl in this bed with you?"

"No, paint houses."

Quin frowned, "Why, does it bother you?"

"No, oh no," Marcus answered, "I just wondered if you um, if you went to college."

"I started. I had a baseball scholarship at USC, but when I broke my arm, that went out the window. My parents tried to help me, but I had to drop out after two years."

"Will you go back?" Marcus couldn't keep the unspoken question out of his voice. [Is this all you'll do with your life?]

"When I can."

Quin could explain, but somehow he didn't want to. He knew he was falling in love with Marcus Boudreaux, and for Quin, that meant forever. If Marcus was going to be ashamed of him for any reason, it was better to know it now, than further down the road when he wouldn't be able to leave him.

"I was lucky to get that scholarship. It covered tuition and books, so I don't owe any money. My parents were really proud of me. Were your parents proud when you graduated?"

"My parents have never been proud of me," Marcus said, letting his feelings slip out before he could catch them.

"That can't be true. You're their only child and you've done so well."

"I've just done what my father told me to," Marcus said, his voice taking on a petulant tone. "When I was thirteen, I tried to tell them."

"Tell them what?"

"That I was gay; that I liked looking at boys. I knew it was wrong and I guess I thought they'd be able to fix it for me. Instead, they sent me to military school for eight long years."

"Do you still think it's wrong?"

Marcus pulled Quin into his arms, pushing his hair back. "I want not to. I want to be proud like you are. I want to feel like I'm special."

"But?"

"But, I spent a lot of years feeling invisible and very unspecial. You can't just turn those feelings off."

Quin began rubbing tender circles on Marcus' back. He could feel the tension knotting up between his shoulders. His hand slid down under the covers. "You may be invisible but I can feel part of you that is very very special."


Noon came and went. Marcus dragged Quin up and they finally, with a lot of rubbing and purring, got dressed to face the outside world. Quin wore one of Marcus' dress shirts, sleeves rolled up and knotted in the front with his rumpled jeans.

"You look so cute in my shirt."

"I can't help if you're taller than God," Quin groused. "No elf or midget comments please."

"Can I just say that shirt never looked that sexy on me?"

"You may."


Walking along the seawalk, Marcus thought about all the words Quin had said last night. About how if you let people dictate your life to you, they win. He knew he had let his parents push him, a square peg, into a round hole. How his life had never fit him, like a cheap pair of jeans.

He reached over and took Quin's hand as they walked. "I think," he said quietly, his eyes on the water, "I want to win this time."

"You hungry?" Marcus asked after they'd followed East Bay and could smell the seafood at Boyce's Wharf.

"Starved."

They picked a small but interesting restaurant with tables out over the water and a view of the boats in the harbor. Sitting down, Marcus reached in his pocket and pulled out the Tweety Bird to set on the table between them. Quin laughed and put his hand over Marcus'. They sat smiling, fingers entwined, staring out over the river.

"Marcus," a deep voice broke their happy silence and Marcus stood up so suddenly, jerking his hand away from Quins, that his chair fell over backwards. Quin looked up to see an older version of Marcus, but without the soft eyes or tender lips.

"Father."

Mr. Boudreaux looked from Marcus, to Quin, to the silly Tweety Bird and back up to his son's face. "Your mother and I are having a late lunch. You will join us?" It wasn't an invitation, more like a command.

Marcus looked at Quin and Quin saw the panic in his eyes. Standing up, drawing himself to his full five foot eight, dressed in Marcus' long shirt and rumpled jeans, Quin wanted to punch the senior Boudreaux in the face for what he as doing to his son. What he had done. Quin could almost see all the excitement and joy drain away. Putting his hand out, he said, "Hello, Mr. Boudreaux, I'm Quinton Mackey, a friend of Marcus.'

The senior Boudreaux looked Quin up and down and seemed to dismiss him from further thought. He took his hand and shook it slightly before letting it drop.

"Quin and I are just ordering, Father. Maybe another time?"

"Your mother will be too disappointed, Marcus. We're right over here." He turned and walked away, leaving Marcus and Quin both standing staring after him.

"I'm so sorry," Marcus sighed.

"I'm not," Quin said, "I understand a lot now."

"Surely you don't want to eat with them?"

"Why not? We're just friends, remember?"

Marcus knew this was going to end badly. He led Quin over to the table where his parents sat, introducing Quin to his mother, who ignored his outstretched hand. They sat beside each other, across from his parents, at the big table. No longer hungry, Marcus waited for his father to begin the interrogation. He didn't wait long.

"So, Quinton, what do you do?"

"I'm a house painter. I work for the city painting the old historical buildings."

"During the summer?"

"What? Oh, no. For the last year and a half. It's a fun job and I get to meet lots of interesting people."

"How do you know our son?"

Quin looked over at Marcus, who seemed about to go ballistic and bounce off the ceiling. "I'm painting the houses in his block right now. I met him the other night."

Mrs. Boudreaux asked, "Where does your family live? Perhaps I know them."

The question was innocent enough, but the tone was more "how could I possibly know the parents of a house painter"?

"I wouldn't think so. My mom is a homemaker with seven kids to raise and my dad works for the city."

"Ahh," she replied.

"Marcus," his father turned to him. "Do you have that Scofield report ready for the meeting on Monday? You will have to fly to London to work with him on the deal."

"Yes, I do. I'll be ready tomorrow."

The rest of the meal was spent not choking on food, fielding rather irritating questions and Quin trying hard not to look at Marcus. He could feel the frustration wafting off the man sitting next to him but he had no way of reassuring him that this made no difference in who he was or what he wanted.

"We'll see you at the country club next Sunday for the opening of the new garden, won't we?" his mother asked.

"I have no idea. I'll see."

Quin thought about his own parents and how much fun it was to eat with them. They had had a hard time dealing with the news that he was gay, but had loved him no matter what and now they would even ask him if he had a boyfriend. His mom worried that he'd be lonely. He decided he'd go by there tonight.

Quin put his napkin back in his lap and moved his hand over to rest on Marcus' thigh. He raised his eyebrow when Marcus pushed his hand off as if it burned him. These people do not have x-ray vision.

"So, when you get tired of house painting, what will you do?" Mrs. Boudreaux asked, not yet tired of the subject.

He could tell them the truth. It would make this meal go so much smoother. They still wouldn't like him because he was rocking their son's boat. He could tell them how he was working two jobs, saving every penny so that he could finish school. He could tell them lots of things, but he didn't.

"I have no idea, maybe go down to Florida and work in a bar in Key West." His eyes danced as he saw the look of horror cross her face. She was quick. Key West + Quin = Gay. Her eyes darted to Marcus and then back to Quin.

"We need to be going. Nice meeting you, Mr. um..Maxwell," she said. "Marcus, will you walk me out?"

Mr. Boudreaux signed for the lunch and nodded to Quin before he left. Quin sat quietly, waiting for Marcus. Maybe he shouldn't have said that, but damn that woman was irritating.

He felt Marcus walking back towards him before he saw him. He sat down heavily in the chair and rolled his eyes. "I can't believe you said that. Mother is all bent out of shape now that I know a gay man. I think she thinks I'm going to run off to Key West with you."

"And that would be bad why exactly?"

"I've worked very hard over the years to not give them any ammunition to hurt me with. I play the game and everything runs smoothly."

Quin looked at him with sadness in his eyes. "The only one fooled by the game is you. They know who you are. You told them years ago. If you keep on like this, you'll waste your whole life being the good little son. The son they want and the son you loathe. You didn't even stop them from trying to make me feel insignificant."

"I didn't know what to say. To my father, what you do is not very important," Marcus said quietly.

"I could tell. I may paint houses for a living but it's honest work and I'm proud of the job."

"Let's walk. I can't think in here."

Marcus didn't take Quin's hand and Quin didn't reach for his. "You have so much baggage, Marcus. I don't know if I can climb over it all to reach your heart."

"Please, Quin."

"I need to go see my parents. I sat there thinking how much they love me and that I hadn't seen them in a couple of weeks." He didn't ask Marcus to go. He really needed to be away to think this all through. Maybe it was just a one night stand, something Quin hated. Maybe Marcus needed to hide more than he needed Quin.

"Will I see you tomorrow?"

"I have to finish the painting job, so if you look up, you probably will."

"What do you want me to do?" Marcus sounded like a small child.

"It isn't what I want that matters. It's what you want."

"I want you," Marcus said softly, reaching for Quin, putting his arms around him. "I've never wanted anything more. I just don't know what you want me to do. Tell my parents? What?"

"Listen to me, Marcus. I'm not asking you for anything you can't give. The only reason you keep asking me is because you won't answer your own heart. I'm not running away. I'm actually running toward you, but I don't know if you're going to catch me when I get there." Raising up on tiptoes, Quin kissed him softly. "Take care, my friend."


Marcus spent a sleepless night, wrapped around the pillows that held Quin's unmistakable scent. He wanted Quin with him. He wanted to be strong and wild and free like the wind, but he didn't now how to get there. He sat at his computer, tried to write, but the words had disappeared.

The next morning, he dressed slowly, the Scofield report thrown haphazardly in his briefcase. He had no desire to go to London. He had no desire to do this work. He wanted to write. He wanted to live simply, like Quin. He wanted Quin.

Opening the front door, he looked for a ribbon but the basket was empty. He looked up but the two men on the scaffolding were strangers and the third standing on the sidewalk was too. Walking over, Marcus asked after Quin.

"Mackey? He asked to work on another job over on Rutledge Avenue. Gonna miss him around here. He's a funny guy."

The day went by in a fog. The meeting over, the London ticket, a redeye flight to Heathrow tonight, in his briefcase, Marcus twisted the Tweety Bird around and around in his hand.

"You okay?" Angie asked.

"Not really."

"Can I help?"

"I wish you could. I wish someone could, but this is all up to me."

By three o'clock, Marcus was so frustrated and confused. Finally, he stood up, his desk chair flung against the back wall, and walked quickly to his father's office. "Send Dave Billings to London, Father. He knows the transaction as well, or better than I do. I need some time off."

"I need you to take care of this Scofield business."

"Well, I'm not going. I have some thinking to do and I can't do it here or in London." He set the reports and the ticket down on his father's desk and walked out of the room.

Throwing some clothes into a duffle, he grabbed the keys, locked his house up and started his Mercedes, heading for the family beach house on Sullivan Island. Driving down HW17, he came to the turnoff for the Island and decided to keep going. Following HW17 up the coast, he passed Georgetown and Myrtle Beach, Little River and Long Beach. Just as night was falling, his headlights flashed on the city limit sign for Wrightsville, North Carolina.

Memories of times long past flashed through his mind, of warm sand and surfboards, of beautiful boys and salty air. He had been so happy on their summers here. Making a decision, he turned toward the beach and looked for a motel.

Part 2

Marcus woke up from one of those dreams where you are running and running and searching and searching, but the thing you're looking for stays just out of reach. He woke up sweating, hugging the t-shirt that Quin had left after they had gotten drenched in the rain. Marcus hadn't washed it, just let it dry and he could smell Quin and rain, two smells he knew he couldn't live without.

Pulling on cargo shorts, a tank top and sandals, he hooked sunglasses on the front of his shirt, shoved his wallet in his back pocket and let himself out into the warm early morning sunshine.

The motel he'd found was on the beach, a big place with a restaurant and indoor and outdoor swimming pools. Marcus always laughed that people stayed at the beach and then only went into the chlorinated water of the pool. He loved the feel of salt drying on his skin and couldn't wait to get in the ocean water.

Grabbing a croissant in the lobby, he walked out onto the sand and looked up and down the sand, trying to get his bearings. It had been sixteen years since he had been here. His parents had brought him every summer until that fateful time when he was thirteen. After that, their summers were spent on Sullivan Island in the big stately family beach house. Somehow, his father had decided that Marcus trying to tell them he was gay had something to do with Wrightsville. Thing was, he was right. The last night of their stay, he had met a boy. That boy had just known what he was. There hadn't even been any question. Marcus could still remember their words and the way the boy had made him feel.....as if he had a right to be happy, as if he could tell his parents and stop hiding. Boy, had he been wrong. His life had gone straight to hell as soon as he opened his mouth. He wondered so often what had happened to that boy; if he was happier than Marcus. He hoped so.

Trying to get his bearings, he walked toward the long pier in the distance. The sun beat down, easing the knots in his shoulders. The breeze off the Atlantic ruffled his hair and the calls of the gulls soothed his mind. Here, he was calm and peaceful; here he was that little boy again. Quin stayed on his mind, but that all seemed to belong to another place and another time. Here, he was just Marcus, the thirteen year old with all the questions and no one to answer them.

The surfers were collecting in a bunch further up the beach, their boards stuck in the sand, standing like sentinels waiting for waves. Marcus remembered watching them in awe all those years ago, their golden gleaming bodies as they rode the waves and how he wanted to be one of them. He had been skinny and gangly then, with just the promise of the man he would become written lightly across his body. Now, as he watched the boys, younger than him by a good ten years or more, he smiled. How he had dreamed of being as old as they were, to be as free, as strong. The words pulled him back to Quin. Maybe the surfers were like the wind; strong and wild and free.

He saw a building in the distance, and as he closed in on it, he had this feeling of déjà vu, as if he'd been there before. He remembered his father renting him a surf board that year, and if he wasn't mistaken, it was from this very shop. Crossing the sand, he stood looking at the sandy steps, the brightly painted building, gray with happy yellow trim. He saw the freshly painted sign above the door, "Goofy Foot". He heard the voices of the boys of summer as they talked the talk: "Hey Brah, you see that monster yesterday? It 'bout drilled me." "Yah, we got here for the morning' glass", "Move it before the kooks get here to spoil the richters". It all took him back to the years when he wanted, more than anything, to be part of them.

Climbing the sun bleached steps, he walked into the shop and looked around. It was an extremely orderly mess. Just the kind of store Marcus loved where you could touch everything and browse to your heart's content. There were boards propped against every wall, and every surf and beach gadget imaginable from neon Croakies to t-shirts that said, "surfers always have a woody".

Marcus wondered if he'd forgotten everything he'd taught himself. He hadn't surfed since, well, for the last ten years. He had been too busy being perfect. It didn't leave time for fun. He realized now how much he had missed fun.

"Hey Dude! Can I help you out?"

Marcus turned toward the friendly voice to ask if he could rent a surfboard and nearly knocked over a display of Bull Frog neon sun blocker. The guy standing in front of him was flat out gorgeous. Brown curly hair streaked by the sun; he was lanky and tall with skin tanned the color of autumn leaves. His cutoffs were ragged, the little strings curling on muscled thighs. His chopped off t-shirt showed tight muscles and wide friendly chocolate eyes smiled at him as if he was a most important person. Around his left ankle, hung an anklet of white puka shells and a small tattoo lived on the right side of his neck just below his ear lobe. But it was the aura he just glowed with that nearly knocked Marcus over.

Breathing in, Marcus returned the smile and asked if he could rent a surfboard.

"Sure, Man. It's what we do here."

They looked the rental boards over and Marcus chose a Fish Tail, liking the unique shape. $13 dollars for 4 hours seemed reasonable and he could always rent it for longer if he wanted. He chuckled over the names of the board waxes; Sex Wax and Quick Humps.

"You staying around here?" the gorgeous hunk asked as Marcus handed over his credit card.

"Yeah, down the beach at the Holiday Inn Sunspree."

"Hey, great place. You alone?"

A flash of hurt brushed across Marcus' face as he thought, 'I'm always alone'. "Yeah, just relaxing for a few days."

"Well, we're open til late if you want company. There's always someone here to shoot the bull with." He handed Marcus his card back, an intricately carved silver ring on his left hand. "You've got the board til 2:00, Marcus, and I don't wear a watch, so if you're late, who cares," he grinned.

"Thanks a lot. I'll take good care of it. I have a lot of thinking to do."

"I know about that. Life can just sure play a number on you if you don't watch out."

"See ya," Marcus smiled, thinking maybe he would come back later.

"Later, Dude! Just ask for Deacon. I'm usually around somewhere."


Marcus spent the afternoon reteaching his body how to ride the board. He laughed as his 'old' bones argued strenuously every time he fell off to smack into the surf. The old saying, 'Use it or lose it' kept running through his head.

He paddled out beyond the breakers and floated, watching the clouds and seeing Quin's face. Was he in love with Quin Mackey? Marcus wasn't sure because he'd never seen love when he was growing up and he didn't have anything to base his feelings on. If love was wanting to be with Quin so bad it hurt; if love was wanting to change so that Quin would love him back; if love was this huge hole in his chest where his heart had been ripped out when he knew he was losing Quin, then he must be in love.

What did Quin want from him? He worked at a job he hated, lived a life full of lies, didn't do the one thing he loved. Quin, Marcus realized, only wanted him to be true to himself. But, how was he supposed to do that? It was fine to say "I'm going to chuck it all and write", but it terrified him.

Did it matter to him that Quin was poor? No, because, in spite of his lack of money, Quin was happy, something Marcus had never been with all the expensive houses and cars. Marcus pictured himself painting houses, going home at night tired, but worry free, to write his novel. Most of all, going home to Quin. Did he have the strength to give up all that he had been to try for the gold ring?

He knew that if Quin came looking for him, the apartment was locked and his car was gone. Quin would think that he had gone to London. Gone to do his daddy's bidding. He remembered the look on his father's face when he was doing his damnedest to make Quin feel unimportant and how he had failed so miserably. He wished he could do that too, stand up to his father and finally start to live.

The sun was moving down in the west as Marcus stuck the board in the sand and plopped down in the sand, so tired he thought he might just sleep right here tonight.

"Hey, Dude! I was watchin' you. I bet you're wasted, but you still have the moves." Marcus sat up, rolling his shoulders as Deacon sat down in the sand by his feet.

"Thanks, it's been a few years."

"It's like skating and riding a bike. It comes back."

They sat in companionable silence for a few minutes watching the gulls circle and the sandpipers chase the waves.

"Deacon, can I ask you a question?"

"Sure, I hope I have the right answer."

Marcus tried to use the right words. "What do you do when you realize your life is all wrong? That the things you thought were important aren't and the most important thing in your life might be slipping away."

"We talking love problems?"

Marcus ducked his head, "Yeah."

"Your guy shaking you up?"

Marcus jerked his head around, his eyes wide, "Huh? My guy?"

Deacon smiled, "Its cool. I could tell you were hurting in the shop this morning. Want to talk about it?"

"You don't mind talking to me about.....about a guy?"

Deacon let out a laugh, "You need to take your gaydar in for a 100 mile check, Marcus. There's nobody better suited than me."

"You.....you're gay?" Marcus resisted the pull to look around to see if anyone was listening.

Deacon grinned, "Ha! Yep, last time I checked."

Marcus sat still. "I need help. Do you go out on dates in public with guys?"

"I go out yeah, but my OTL is the only guy I go with."

"OTL?"

Deacon chuckled, "My One True Love. I don't like the other choices; partner, boyfriend, significant other. They're too PC, politically correct now, so I made up my own."

"How long have you been with him?"

"Josh and I have been together for 2 years. We run the surf shop together and live here on the beach near his family."

"Is he here? Can I meet him?"

"No, he left this morning. He's in Alabama at his kid sister's college graduation. He'll be back in two days, eleven hours and about nineteen minutes," Deacon grinned.

"How did you know he was the one? I mean, how did you know you could let down your walls and let him in?"

Deacon thought for a minute. "I didn't have any walls where Josh was concerned. He just appeared in my life and that was it. I loved him the minute I saw him and I always will. Can you tell me what's wrong? Maybe I can help."

Marcus found himself telling Deacon about meeting the boy on the beach when he was thirteen, working up the courage to tell his parents and how he had spent the last sixteen years paying for it.

"Sixteen years. Damn, Marcus, no wonder you're busting open. So, who's the guy and what's the deal?

He told Deacon about meeting Quin, how Quin had been so open and then so hurt when Marcus tried to deny what they felt. He told him about the job he hated and how confused he was because his mind was telling him to straighten up and his heart was telling him to grab Quin and to hell with the consequences.

"Let's walk. I do my best thinking at a certain place." Deacon shoved the board up onto the shop porch and they walked down the beach. "That's our house", Deacon smiled, pointing over the dunes to a gray house with bright yellow trim. "Hold on a sec." Marcus watched as deacon jogged up the steps and flicked on a light at the end of the porch. It glowed brightly in the waning light.

They walked until they reached a big sprawled house, set in the dunes, the sea grass seeming to frame the beautiful sand washed paint. It was cut in two parts and had a long ramp the ended in the sand. To the left of the ramp was an old weathered driftwood log and the ashes of many old fires. Clustered around the log were a bench swing and several Adirondack chairs.

"This is where Josh's family, my family now, lives. I wish my two dads were here. They always know the right words to say."

Sitting down on the log, Deacon asked, "What do you think Quin wants from you?"

"I think he wants me to be honest with myself and be proud of who I am."

"But you're not."

Marcus sighed. "I've always had everything I wanted, everything but love and acceptance. I realized, with Quin, that those are probably the two most important things in the world."

"May I say something?"

"Of course."

"If Quin was here now and was listening to you, I think he'd say that you have to do this for you, not for him. It's not what Quin wants from you, it's what you need for yourself, with or without him."

"I know."

"You want to write? Are you writing?"

"Yes I do and no, I can't settle into it. My mind is scattered."

"Are you ashamed that you're gay?"

The question hung in the air. Marcus finally replied, "I always was. My parents made me feel dirty and I never reached out to anyone. Suddenly, with Quin, it feels right. Like this is what I was made to feel. Is that how you feel about Josh?"

"Oh lordy, what I feel for Josh can't even be put in words. He's my world. You know, he told me something that my father used to say and I think it works for you: "You love who you love, you want who you want". Your heart doesn't see the walls."

"Did you really know you loved Josh from the very start?"

"It's like he always tells me....I loved him in a heartbeat."

"Are you happy just living here running the shop?"

"Just?" Deacon asked, cocking his head.

"I know, it's an awful question and I'm sorry. It's just that Quin paints houses and he doesn't seem to want more than that. He almost has a college degree but he paints houses."

"Now, that disappoints me, Marcus. Is that you talking or your father?"

Marcus thought that over. "My father," he admitted.

"Do you actually give a damn what Quin does, as long as he's happy? Josh has a college degree, but he chooses to live here with me and the sun and the sand, with no complications, no hassles. It's kinda all about what makes you happy."

They walked back down the beach. Deacon asked Marcus in for some supper, but Marcus needed to think.

"Thank you so much for listening," Marcus said quietly. "I've got a lot of things to do."

"Sounds like you've made some decisions. I hope they're the right ones and you and Quin can make it. You have it in you, Marcus. You just didn't know it til now."

"Give your OTL a hug from me," Marcus laughed, "And tell him he's one very lucky guy. I've got some unfinished business to clean up."

Walking away, he turned back to see Deacon standing under the glowing light on the porch, his hand raised in a wave.

Back at his motel room, he flipped open his cell phone and connected with the Charleston operator, asking for the number of Quinton Mackey.

"There is no listing for a Quinton Mackey," she replied.

He turned the phone off and sat staring at the wall. Why was he here, all alone in this room when the man he loved was somewhere waiting for him to grow up? How was he going to find him?

Throwing his duffle together, he knew what he needed to do. Heading the car south, his tires ate the miles until he saw the lights of Charleston Harbor in the glow of the morning sun.


Opening the door to the townhouse, he felt like he'd been gone a month instead of just one day. His mind working overtime, he wanted nothing except to find Quin. It was too early to bang on doors, so he stood at his window, planning all the things he needed to do today. He was going to burn bridges and, no matter how it played out, with or without Quin, he was going to make a life that fit him, not his father or his mother or the world.

Showering off the salt and sunshine from the previous day, he didn't put on one of his expensive work suits. He didn't think he ever would again. He tugged on khakis, a blue chambray shirt with the sleeved rolled and sandals.

First stop, he grabbed a doughnut and coffee at Starbucks, thinking how he had skipped his 100 pushups and 5 miles on the treadmill. Just because, he grabbed another doughnut.

Next, he pulled into the Jeep dealership and surprised a half awake salesman by trading in his Mercedes for a dark green Jeep rollbar. Driving away from the showroom, he laughed, feeling the opening world all around him.

His next stop scared him a little, because he wasn't sure how she would react. He asked the maid if his Aunt Reenabelle was awake and the maid showed him into the sunroom to wait.

"What can I do for you so early on this bright morning?" his aunt asked as she walked into the room.

"Aunt Reena, I need to talk to you."

"Oh, this sounds serious."

"It really is. I'm going to do something today and I need to ask you for some truths before I do."

She settled on the sofa and waited, her face expectant.

"My father has always told me that the money Grandfather Witt left for me was invested in the company. Is that true?"

"That old fart. You should know better than to trust anything he says about money, boy. That money is yours. He may have invested it somehow, but it belongs to you. Your Grandfather wanted you to have that money in case you needed it."

"What does that mean?"

Reenabelle sighed. "Am I right in guessing you're getting ready to be who you really are?"

"Ma'am?"

"Marcus Boudreaux, you've been hiding for a lot of years; from yourself and the world, but people who know you, who love you," she reached over and patted his arm, "Have always known."

"Known what?"

"Oh, don't be a dunce. Your Grandfather Witt was a queer as a seven dollar bill. Why do you think he left you that money?"

Marcus gulped. "But.............he was married and had four kids."

"I know you're smarter than you're showing right now. Of course he was and of course he did. What else could he do back then?"

Marcus was silent, thinking hard. No wonder Father stopped letting him go to the Sullivan Island house when Grandfather Witt was visiting. He never wanted Marcus to find out.

"That money is yours. I'll have words with your father if he tries to say its not. My brother can be such a jackass."

"All these years," Marcus whispered to himself, "All these years, I hid from myself when I could have been finding myself instead."

"I always wanted to talk to you, to let you know I was here for you if you wanted to talk, but you seemed so in control," she said. "I see now that I was wrong. I'm sorry, Marcus."

Hugging his aunt tightly, he left having one last stop to make. He parked his new jeep in the space marked 'Marcus Boudreaux, Jr. Partner' and snorted, thinking, "Not for much longer'. He pulled the sign out of the grass and carried it up in the elevator with him to the top floor of the Boudreaux building.

"Father," he said as he burst into the older man's office. "I think this belongs to you now." He plunked the sign down on the huge mahogany desk. His eyes swept the credenza behind his father and, for the first time, was glad there was no picture of him in a gold frame. He didn't want his picture in this office.

"I quit. I have better things to do with my time. I expect a check for the total amount of my inheritance from Grandfather Witt to be deposited in my personal account by the end of the day. I wish you well and hope you and mother will be very happy, though how you'll manage that, I have no idea. I know I'm happy for the first time in my life."

He left his father gulping like a grounded fish and headed for his office. "Angie," he said realizing that he was losing her friendship today too, "I'm leaving. There's not one single personal thing in that office. There never was. I'll miss you. Take care."

"Hey, wait, Boss," she called. Hopping up, she flung her arms around his neck and hugged him tight. "You be happy. Whoever opened your eyes, God bless him."

"You too?" Marcus shook his head. "Did everyone know?"

Angie smiled, "Know what? That you needed to fall in love? Oh, yeah."

The townhouse was next, but he could leave that for a few days because he owned it. He just didn't want to live there anymore. It represented everything he hated about himself. He would find a smaller place, a better place soon. Marcus had one last thing to do now. One very important thing.


He knocked on the door. This was the seventh Mackey listed in the telephone book. He would try them all until he found Quin's parents. He'd driven up and down Rutledge Avenue looking for painters but saw no one.

The door opened and a small face peered out. "Hello."

"Hello. I'm looking for Quinton Mackey's house." He knew he was in the right place because he was looking into a smaller set of wide cornflower eyes hiding under a mop of unruly brown hair falling into the little boy's face.

The boy turned and yelled, "Mama, some guy at the door wants Quin."

Marcus couldn't have said it better. He truly wanted Quin. He saw a tiny woman walk to the doorway, wiping her hands on a dish towel tucked in the waistband of her jeans.

"Mrs. Mackey, I'm Marcus Boudreaux, Ma'am. I'm looking for Quin."

He saw several emotions flit across her face. "Quin isn't here. He lives across town."

"I know that, Ma'am. I..." he faltered, "I don't know where that is and I truly need to talk to him."

He could see her mind processing. "I can't give you that address unless I know Quin wants you to have it."

"I understand. Could you tell him I'm trying to find him? I won't do anything else if he doesn't want to see me." He turned to walk down the steps, stopped by her voice as she stepped out onto the stoop.

"Marcus, Quin was here night before last. He told us about you. I don't know how you feel about him, but you need to be careful with him. Hear me?"

"Yes, Ma'am. I wouldn't hurt Quin for anything. I just want to talk to him."

Mrs. Mackey smiled, "I'll tell him you came by. What he does is up to him."

"Thank you, Ma'am."


Marcus waited that night. The phone didn't ring. The doorbell didn't buzz. He tried to write but all he could see were the petals dropping from the two roses in the vase on the window ledge. He set the Tweety beside his laptop and talked to it as his mind refused to create even the smallest group of coherent words.

"You think he cares at all?"
"He wanted to be with me. I blew it."
"I want him to be my OTL."

Slowly he began to type, gathering the thoughts, emotions and feelings he had stored in that spiderwebby place in your brain where you shove the nasty hurtful bits and pieces. He told about the boy on the beach, how he had come home full of expectations and found them all crushed because his parents didn't love him enough to listen. He told about his lonely years locked inside a scared child, marching and drilling, his uniform stiff and his dreams cloudy.

He told about the bad times, the sex in dark corners, in strange rooms, how it made him feel, how it made him stop feeling. How slowly, he began to not just be ashamed of who he was but to hate it. To hate himself. To be so lonely, he stopped breathing, stopped hoping, stopped caring.

Then, a stranger in a yellow slicker told him that the wind was strong and wild and free and in that defining moment, Marcus came alive again. He had felt that love that comes in a heartbeat.

He typed until he couldn't see the screen anymore, until his eyes burned and his hands were cramping. It flowed out like lava spewing from the volcano that was his heart. Dormant for so many years, it now ached to be free.

Maybe no one would ever read this story. It didn't matter except for one person. He would hand it to Quin along with his heart. What Quin did with either one was up to him.


Marcus drove to Quin's parent's house and left the story in a manila envelope with just 'Quin' written on the front. Asking Mrs. Mackey to give it to Quin, he knew he had done all he could, He had written what was in his heart, told the truth about himself and it had to be enough.

He waited all day for the phone to ring or the doorbell to chime. Finally, as the sky darkened and the stars hid behind dark clouds, he heard the splattering of rain drops on his window. Walking to the window, he watched the storm clouds scud across the sky and the people running to get under shelter before the bottom fell out. His eyes dropped to the seawalk and the high ledge that ran along side. He felt his heart lurch and a smile began to blossom across his face. A yellow rain slicker shone out through the gray mist, two bare feet dangled over the ledge and two hands held tropical drink glasses.

Marcus nearly fell over himself running to the front door. He ran across the street and skidded to a stop.

"Hey," his eyes searching for what he hoped he'd see.

"Hey yourself, I brought you a Pina Colada, but only if you like getting caught in the rain."

"Oh, God, Quin, I've been waiting so hard."

Quin laughed, the rain tickling his cheeks. "Now, that's what I like to hear."

"You know what I mean. The waiting was killing me. Did you..........?"

"Did I read it? Yes, Sweetie. I read every word. I felt the words all over me. Did you really quit your job?"

"Yes. I needed to show you............No, I needed to show myself that I'm strong."

The rain was falling in earnest and the glasses filled up, overflowed and tipped over as the two men pulled together in a hug. "Can we go in? I love the rain but this is ridiculous," Quin laughed.

Taking Quin's hand, Marcus felt this surge of love and excitement flood through him. Was it really this easy? Can you fall in love this fast? Can you trust what you feel?

The door locked, the lights turned low, the storm raging outside, Quin and Marcus made love. Their bodies moved together in a dance that would only get better, as they learned all the pleasure secrets, all the ways to make each other squeal and sigh. That's what making love is, not groping and thrusting to empty into someone, but a sharing of feelings and emotion, a trust that you are loved, a reverence, a grace.

The shadows on the wall flickered as the lightning flashed across the sky.

They had a lot of problems to work out, so many small barriers to climb over, ones that perhaps some people wouldn't have, but anything worth having is worth working for.

Marcus lay back on the pillows, pulling Quin into his arms, brushing his damp bangs off his forehead just as he would for a million times to come and sighed, "That was incredible. You are incredible."

"Well, yeah," Quin grinned.

"It's not really because we did anything new or original, but because it was you and me, because we fit, because this is the right time and the right place for us."

Quin sighed, "And you know the best part? Right now, after the body rush, when I'm fighting falling asleep because I don't want to leave you for a minute, laying here, just breathing; this is the best part."

"You will be here when I wake up?" Marcus asked.

"I'm afraid, Marcus Boudreaux, you're stuck with me."

The story is incomplete unless you read both epilogues. Please return to the menu and read both of those.
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