Brian and Lanny Go to Europe
by Nick Brady
The three Dutch boys came into the hostel at a late hour, but true to their word, tried to let the Americans sleep. Brian and Lanny roused a little at the sound of thumps and stifled giggles, but rolled over and quickly went back to sleep.
In the morning they woke up around eight to see that Peter, Henry and Sven were sleeping soundly and tried not to wake them. They dressed quietly as they could. Peter raised his head and coughed.
"You are leaving?" he asked.
"Right. Sorry to wake you," Brian said. "Did you find what you were looking for?"
Peter smiled, "Yes. I think so."
Sven stretched and rolled over. "I am cured," he said with a chuckle.
"That's good. Congratulations," Lanny laughed. "We'll let you get back to sleep. I hope we see you again."
"Yes. I hope so, but we will leave soon. We came only for one night," Peter told him. "We wish you a safe journey."
"Thanks. You too," Brian replied, and he and Lanny slipped quietly out of the room.
"Sven looked very happy," Brian observed. "That must have been a night he will remember."
"I think so," Lanny agreed. "Let's get some breakfast and figure out where to catch the Loving Tour."
There was a breakfast area in the lobby where there were rolls, butter, jam and a life-giving urn of coffee. They ate while Lanny determined where the closest point was to catch the boat. It was not far and while they waited, they made plans for their last day.
"The boat tour probably doesn't take that long," Brian guessed. "We should have time to go to the sea when we get back. How do we get to the coast from here?"
"I checked on that," Lanny said. "There are organized tours, but there's a regular bus that runs every thirty minutes and is really cheap. Why don't we use that?"
"Hey. Cheap is good. We can see stuff from the bus. That sounds good to me."
The Canal boat pulled up and they got on. "This is nice," Brian said. "It's all glass and very classy looking." They started out at a steady pace and followed a series of canals through the city. There was a pretty young attendant who came with a tray of Heineken beer in tall glass bottles. They each took one and were not asked to pay.
The boat was about half filled with people, all looking out the curved glass windows as the city floated by. The architecture of the buildings near the water was very traditional. Higher, more modern buildings rose up behind them. It was cool and the sun was shining through a soft mist near the water.
Lanny leaned against Brian and patted his knee. "This is nice. I'm glad we did this."
Brian put his arm around Lanny's shoulder and kissed him on top of his head. "Me too. I love you."
Lanny sighed, "I love you too. I'm ready to go home, but sorry to be leaving, you know what I mean?"
"It's been great," Brian agreed. "But lots of things are just beginning."
They looked at the old buildings, at people walking along the streets and sitting along the water looking back at them. The boat stopped at a number of places to take on and let off passengers. In about forty-five minutes it stopped again to let them off where they started.
"It's still pretty early," Lanny said. "There is something interesting only a short walk from here."
"What is it?"
"It's kind of dark. I'm surprised that Roth didn't suggest it. It's a memorial to all the gays who were sent to Nazi concentration camps."
"You got sent to a concentration camp for being a homosexual? I didn't realize that."
"That was due to Hitler's high moral standards, I suppose." Lanny said sarcastically. "Anyway, it's not that far. We could have a look before we catch our bus."
"Sure. Let's do it. It seems like we should."
The monument was in what looked like a little park. There were three large pink triangles set in the ground to form a larger triangle separated by grass and a walkway. The lower triangle stepped out over a canal and the lower level of it was festooned by flowers left there by others. They walked around and tried to imagine the horror of the holocaust. To one side was a kiosk selling gay memorabilia and literature.
"We have time to go back to the hostel," said as they started to walk away.
"Why would we want to do that?" Brian asked.
Lanny smiled and looked at Brian. "This is our last night before we go home. Home, where we will each live with our separate families in separate houses. This is our last night together and I would rather not spend it in bunk beds."
"I see what you mean," Brian laughed. "So what's the plan?"
"I hope you don't mind, but I made arrangements to leave our packs at the Clinknoord until we get back this afternoon, and booked us into another hotel for the night."
"Yeah? Where are we going?"
"The Hotel International. It's probably a dump because it's cheap, but they have a double room with a private bath. And it's fairly close," Lanny said. "It's on the other side of the river, but I thought we might take a taxi to save hauling our packs a mile or so. I mean, it is our last night."
Brian grinned. "Well, aren't you the romantic? I think that's a great idea."
"I thought you might like that. Actually, if we fetch our bags right now, we can take them to the hotel, then find the bus for Ijmuiden. We will have to cross the river to get to the bus station anyway. What do you think?"
"Let's go. I can't wait to see our little love nest" Brian laughed.
"Don't get your hopes up. Like I said, it's probably a dump."
"All I need is a bed big enough for two and a working bathroom," Brian assured him. "Anything else is icing on the cake."
"You ready?" Lanny grinned.
"You know it!"
They walked to the Clinknoord, retrieved their packs, paid the bill and walked out on the street to hail a taxi. They piled in and told the driver 'Hotel International'. He knew the place and ten minutes later let them off in front of an old building. It was four stories tall, narrow with a peaked roof. The lobby was cluttered with old stuffed chairs but seemed clean. Lanny talked to the counterman and came back with a key.
"I hope you won't mind too much, but it's on the top floor. It's the room under that peaked roof," Lanny explained.
"That's OK. Where's the elevator," Brian asked.
"That's the thing. There isn't an elevator. We have to climb the stairs."
"Oh. Is that maybe why it's cheap?"
"Could be. But the guy on the phone said it was a nice room."
Brian started to laugh. "I hiked the Goldsteig Trail with you. I can climb some stairs. Come on, let's go."
Counting the garret room, they climbed five sets of narrow stairs. Up to the fourth floor, they were covered with worn carpeting. Those to the attic were bare wood, and did not look well-traveled. Lanny opened the door and they looked inside.
They saw a small room with a double bed covered in a white duvet. On each side was a small table with a lamp. The walls were maybe four foot high and had no windows. However the peaked ceiling rose steep above them and contained a large skylight on each side which flooded the room with light. A door on the right led to a small bathroom which appeared to have been built out onto the roof. It contained a sink, a stool, and a very small shower stall. On a low shelf was a pile of white towels and a spare roll of toilet paper. On the wall opposite the bathroom was a narrow wardrobe with a place to hang clothing on one side. The other side was a chest with three drawers on which was a large vase of white chrysanthemums.
Brian looked around and took it all in. "This is not bad at all," he said. "In fact, it's cool as shit. I like it."
Lanny looked relieved. "I wasn't sure what it would look like. I just talked to the hotel guy on the phone and he described it. It's kind of small."
"How big does it need to be? And what's with the flowers? We never got flowers before."
Lanny grinned slyly. "I kind of told him that it was our honeymoon."
"Really? Oh! I love it! You are the coolest guy in the world, Lanny. I love you so much!"
"So you like it?"
By way of an answer, Brian threw his arms around Lanny and gave him a bear hug, followed by a long kiss. "I love it, Lanny. And I love you. You're the greatest!"
"I love you too. I just want you to be happy. You are the best person I ever met, and I want you to be happy."
Brian kept his arms wrapped around his friend and did not want to let him go. He felt hot tears run down his cheeks and held Lanny tight.
Lanny could feel him shake and felt the wet tears on his shoulder. "What's the matter? Are you OK?"
"I have never really felt like I deserve to be happy. It's like I fake being a good person. Like if you really knew me, you would reject me."
"No. That's fucked up, Brian. How can you feel that way?"
Brian sat down on the side of the bed and put his face in his hands. "I don't know. I have tried so hard to be a good person, but deep inside myself, I feel like I'm really not. Like it's all an act."
Lanny sat beside him and held him. "Who really knows you? How about Marco and Marty? How about Ben and Sam? Do they think you are crap? How about Louisa and how about me? Do we really not know you at all?"
"No. I don't know. Maybe I just have you all fooled."
Lanny took Brian's face in his hands and forced him to look in his eyes. "They love you Brian. I love you too, and I'm not a fool."
Brian turned away, embarrassed by his flood of tears. "I'm sorry. This is stupid. I don't know why I get this way sometimes. You are so wonderful to me and I don't feel like I deserve you. I know that's stupid, but I still feel that way."
"Come on Brian. Don't get crazy on me. How can I love you if you can't accept it? How can I make you happy if that makes you feel guilty? How can I do this? I promise you that you make me very happy. I sure don't feel guilty about that. Lucky, yes. Guilty? Not for a minute."
Brian fell back across the bed and wiped his eyes on his shirt sleeves and let out a long sigh. "I can't be like this can I? I can't let my craziness come between us. If I do, then I'm going to hurt you."
Lanny nodded. "You have to let people love you. You have to love yourself. I don't know what else to say."
Brian stood up and stacked their packs in the corner, more for something to do than anything else. He stepped into the little bathroom, splashed some cold water on his face and picked up a towel to dry off and look at himself in the mirror. After a minute he came back in to rejoin Lanny on the side of the bed.
"Sorry. I didn't mean to spoil your surprise. This is great, really. Thanks." Brian kept his eyes on the floor.
Lanny took his hand. "It's OK, Brian. You feel how you feel. Have you ever talked to anybody about this stuff? About feeling this way about not deserving to be happy?"
"Not really. Well, that's not true. Marco and I have talked about it. I guess we've talked about everything."
"What did he think about it? Did he have any advice for you?"
Brian snorted, "Yeah. He wanted me to see a shrink."
"How did you feel about that?" Lanny rubbed Brian's hand.
"I didn't want to. I told him it was too hard to talk about stuff like that with somebody I didn't trust." Brian sighed again. "Actually, he has suggested that several times."
"I don't know, Brian. If you're sick, you go to a doctor. They have skills, you know? You want to be a doctor yourself. Why would somebody come to see you?"
Brian nodded, "Because I might be able to help them."
"Right. You might think about that."
Brian turned to look at Lanny's open caring face. "Do you really think you can put up with me? I'm not usually like this."
Lanny smiled. "I think so. You have redeeming qualities." He stood and held out his hand. "You about ready to go? We have a bus to catch."
Brian stood and started to say something else, then decided he had said enough. "Yeah. I'm ready."
They clomped down five sets of stairs then out to the street carrying only their trusty rucksacks, and started walking to a point on the bus route. Guided by Lanny's cellphone, they found a corner a few blocks away and waited for bus 85 to Ijmuiden.
It was a nice ride. They found an empty bench near the back of the bus and looked out the window as they drove through the city and then out into more open country. The broad river Amstel appeared to their right. Most of it was heavily built up with shipping docks, and it grew wider as they got closer to the coast. Sure enough, they saw windmills as they looked across the flat open country. The bus was a local, and stopped at many smaller places to load and unload passengers. It took about an hour to arrive at their destination and they got off when the bus turned around for the return trip.
"I thought we would be at the sea," Lanny said. "This is still in the middle of town. I wonder where that restaurant is that the Dutch guy told us about."
"Look at the map on your phone," Brian suggested.
Lanny thought a moment then clicked in the Zilt ann Zee restaurant and saw that it was out near the beach. "Here it is. It would be a long walk. Want to spring for another taxi?"
"Sure. We might as well spend the rest of our money before we go home. I still have some Euros."
They found a cab and gave the driver the name of the restaurant. In about ten minutes they were there. It seemed like a nice place and looked out across the sand to the North Sea. It was the middle of the afternoon and the place was not at all crowded, so they were able to get a table next to a window.
"Gee. This is nice. We couldn't ask for a better view," Brian said.
Lanny smiled. "This is supposed to be a special evening. We got engaged and tomorrow we leave for home."
Brian hung his head. "You're right. We see that holocaust monument to persecuted gays, then I act like a real baby. I'm sorry."
"Don't be sorry. I think you had an overdose of happiness and it triggered one of your old demons."
Brian took Lanny's hands across the table. "You do make me happy. I hope I don't screw this up for both of us."
"You won't," Lanny assured him. "Just don't panic and bail out on me. I think we can get through this. In fact, I'm sure of it. I will be hard to shake at this point."
The waiter came up with a menu, greeted them in Dutch and left it behind. "What did that guy tell us was so good here?" Lanny tried to remember.
"It was the prawns. Those are big shrimp I think," Brian recalled.
"Right. Here they are. Hmm, I can't read the Dutch, but there's a picture of it. Looks like it comes with french fries and a salad. What do you think?"
"Sure. I bet the waiter speaks English, so we can ask him. What do you want to drink?" Brian asked.
"Not beer and Schnapps," Lanny laughed.
"Not that I want to become a boozer when we get back, but we might go for a little wine to go with this. Since this is a special occasion."
"Sure. It's not every day that I get engaged. I could drink a toast to that."
"That was yesterday, actually," Brian reminded him. "But this is close enough.
The waiter returned to check on them and Brian pointed to the menu and asked, "Can you tell us about this?"
"Yes of course," he replied in the flawless English that all the Dutch seemed to speak. "They are very large prawns, either battered and fried or sautéed in butter and served with french fries and a nice mixed salad. It is our specialty."
Brian said, "Please bring us the sautéed prawns." Then he leaned towards him and lowered his voice. "My friend and I have just gotten engaged and are celebrating. We'd like to have a nice bottle of wine to go with this but don't know what to order. And...," he lowered his voice even more and confided, "We don't have much money and can't afford the good stuff. Can you recommend something decent for us?"
The young man flashed a smile, nodded and winked. "I think I can help you. I will have that right out for you." He gave them a nod and turned away quickly.
"No telling what will come from that," Lanny laughed.
In a few minutes the man returned with a large tray on his shoulder. On the tray was an ice bucket containing a long necked bottle of some sort of white wine wrapped in a white napkin, and two elegant stemmed glasses. He placed that on the side of the table then added two plates of salad and a basket of crusty bread. Then with a smile, he placed a white candle on the table and lit it for them. He poured the wine, replaced the bottle into the bucket, winked and said, "Enjoy!"
"That was nice," Lanny grinned.
Brian raised his glass and said, "To us."
Lanny raised his and added, "To us, and to happiness."
They clinked their glasses and took a sip then smiled at each other. "Right. Here is to our happiness," Brian repeated.
Lanny looked at his glass. "That's pretty tasty. What is that?"
Brian pulled the bottle from the bucket and looked at the label. "I don't know – Chateau de something or other. It's written in French, I think. It's good though."
They tried the salad and found it crisp and delicious. The bread was still warm, and very fresh. They were hungry and focused on their food without much conversation. When they finished the salad, they broke off a piece of the bread and washed it down with another sip of the wine.
They looked out the window at the sea. They could see people walking along the beach with kids and dogs in tow. The horizon disappeared into a blue-gray mist and the sun was sinking off to the south. It was very pretty. Brian took a few photos and they held hands across the table.
Their dinner arrived. On the platters were a pile of french fries, and a generous pile of giant shrimp. "Are these shrimp or prawns?" Brian asked. "What's the difference anyway?"
"I'm not sure," Lanny said. "I think there's a difference, although a lot of times big shrimp are called prawns. Whatever these are, they look good."
Brian took a bite and decided, "They are wonderful – very tender and moist. Whatever they have been cooked in is delicious."
I think it's garlic butter," Lanny decided, "but they are delicious. I think they are just really fresh. How are the fries"?
"Mmm. The best I ever had. This is great. Try the cocktail sauce on one."
"Oh man. It's got horseradish in it. This is wonderful!" They refilled their glasses with the wine. When everything had disappeared from their plates, they leaned back in their chairs and looked at each other.
"That was a darn nice lunch," Lanny declared.
"Yes it was," Brian replied as he let out a soft belch. "Are you up for a dessert?"
"I don't know about that. I'm really full."
"I don't want any dessert. I just wanted to see if you did."
"That was thoughtful," Lanny smiled.
"Yeah?" Brian looked down shyly, "I guess I'm working on both of us being happy. I think I can get used to that."
"I bet you can. You better get used to it because that's my life's work." Lanny grinned. "How would you feel about taking a walk on the beach for dessert?"
"That's negative calories instead of positive ones. And it sounds very romantic."
They paid the tab for dinner. As they were walking out Lanny noticed that there was no wine on the receipt. "That waiter didn't charge us for the wine."
"Well I'll be darned. I knew there was something special about that guy," Brian said. "Maybe he was overcome by your beauty."
They walked out of the restaurant holding hands and strolled down the boardwalk. About fifty feet down from them was a wide wooden staircase which led down to the beach. Still holding hands, they descended and sat on the bottom step to remove their shoes.
"I want to wiggle my toes in the North Sea," Brian said.
"I'm with you," Lanny agreed, and they sauntered out across the wide flat sandy beach down to the water's edge.
Above, the sun was shining, but when they looked down at the horizon, everything seemed to disappear into a light haze. There was a breeze coming from across the water and it was cool, fresh and smelled of salt. At several places, they stopped to look out over the gray-blue water and steal a kiss. There were a few seashells washed up along the water's edge which were pocketed as small souvenirs of this romantic place.
An hour later, they found themselves back where they had started, and walked up the wooden stairs to sit on the top step and reattach their shoes and socks.
"You ready to go back to our honeymoon suite?" Brian asked with a grin.
"Gee. I almost forgot about that," Lanny teased. "I think that's a great idea. Let's go."
Another taxi to the bus station, a quiet ride back to Amsterdam and they were on the street walking to their hotel, still holding hands.
"I'll miss Europe," Lanny said quietly.
"I'll miss the comfortable way we can walk along holding hands and nobody bats an eye."
"We'll have to go back to pretending we're just friends," Brian mused. "Tulsa is not as open minded as most places here."
"Marco and Marty are a gay couple. How do they get by with that in Tulsa?"
"I think they are just kind of discreet," Brian said. "We do things as a family, and sometimes they do things as a couple, but unless you happened to know they were a gay couple, you would just guess they were friends. They probably don't hold hands or kiss in public places."
"No PDA, right?"
That's pretty much it. Of course in some situations people know they are a couple and they can relax. Like at our church. Everybody there knows who we are and are very accepting. Come to think of it, a lot of our social activities are centered around the church."
"It doesn't seem like our church does all that much," Lanny said. "Maybe I should check out St Jerome's when we get back."
"That would be cool."
"Well. I have a friend who goes there," Lanny squeezed Brian's hand and smiled.
In a few minutes they found themselves back at the old hotel and walked up the stairs to their rooftop garret. There was a soft afternoon light coming in from the skylights above them. They took turns visiting the tiny bathroom to shower, then stretched out on the bed with towels wrapped around their waists.
"You did good on this room," Brian smiled.
"This is nice, isn't it?" Lanny agreed. "I think if we ever build a house, we should put a skylight over the bed."
"Do you think we'll ever do that? I mean, live in our own house together?"
"Who knows? I don't know why not," Lanny said. "If we can still be friends after this boondoggle we've been on, we can probably make it."
"True enough," Brian agreed. "We've had quite an adventure."
"You know, the real adventure will begin when we get home and try to explain our situation to our families."
"How are we going to do that?" Brian wondered.
"We'll have to make a plan. Do we sit down singly with each of our families, or do we do it together, first with one and then the other?"
"I'll have to think about that. I really don't believe I'll have a problem with my family," Brian guessed. "I think we should do whatever works best for you."
"It might work better for me if I talk to my family by myself, We will have to cross that bridge when we come to it, I guess," Lanny rolled towards Brian and pulled him in for a hug. "In the meantime, we should take advantage of our last night in paradise, don't you think?"
"Hmm. I can see the wisdom in that," Brian agreed.
A short period of kissing was followed by two damp towels hitting the floor as a prolonged period of intense lovemaking began. There was no hurry, and there was no holding back until both had been satisfied several times. It was a great end to their time in Europe.
In the morning, they would be on their way home.
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