A Storm Named Zach

by Flip McHooter

Chapter 10

"You worried?" I asked Zach. It was nine-fifteen the next morning. After packing up my sister's SUV for Las Vegas, and after talking to the security guard parked in my driveway to make sure she knew where the Keurig machine and the bathroom was in the pool house, we were headed to my doctor's office in Pasadena to get our HIV tests.

"I'm not worried about testing positive since I've never been with anyone but you. And you and I haven't done anything that's considered risky. And since you've been tested a bunch of times, that doesn't bother me either. What bothers me are needles. I hate those things. Plus, doctors always seem so weird."

"Well, good news on that. The test is just a swab in your mouth. Doesn't hurt at all. And my doctor is pretty chill. Mostly."

"Okay, good. How long do we have to wait for the results?"

"It's quick. Probably not more than twenty minutes or so. And Doctor Clapp is a good guy. You'll like him. Our whole family goes to him."

"Are you shitting me? His name's Doctor Clapp? Seriously?"

"It's true. Weird, but true."

"Wow. Okay. Doctor Clapp checking us for STD's. Totally normal. Are you nervous?"

"Not really. Trevor and I were always safe, and like I told you, I've been tested a lot of times after we broke up. But still, there's always a minuscule chance of something. But it's good we're doing this now. Bella is a smart woman for being upfront enough to talk about it with us, and her kids and grandkids. Many, many parents don't talk to their kids on topics like this.

"I guess because I'm the de facto big bro, I've been on the twins since before they were old enough to blow a load. I'd buy them condoms, a bunch of bananas and make sure they knew how to put them on correctly. The bananas, not their dorks. Still, it was totally awkward, but my sister or Henry would never do it. In fact, Henry asked me to teach them how to do it, actually. Later, we used them for the best water fights ever out on the driveway. The two of them against me. Totally epic."

"That's crazy. My parents never did that. That's why I bet my dad has all kinds of herpes sores on his dick, plus God knows what else. Anal Warts? Shit, I can't believe that douche spermed me."

"Dude, that's funny, and sad at the same time. But so true. Back in his day, things were way different, and all you had to worry about was an unwanted pregnancy, syphilis or gonorrhea, even crabs which is embarrassing, but treatable. Now, things are way more complicated."

"What are crabs? And how do those big claws climb up your butt? Wouldn't you feel it? Ouch."

"Buddy, you're too funny. They're like lice, but in your pubes. Tiny."

"Oh, ick. It's too bad we have to go through all of this. It shouldn't be like this."

"I agree," I said, picking up his hand and lacing my fingers through his and kissing the back of it. "I'd do this test for you in a heartbeat a hundred times over. And just so you know, nothing bad is going to happen, but if it does, I'll be there with you all the way. You have my word."

"And I'll be there for you too. Whatever happens. Even if you have giant blue crabs crawling up your ass. I promise. I'll even use my favorite Oxo tongs to pull them out."


Thankfully, the small waiting area was empty, and we zipped into the exam room in no time. My doctor was this vast, commanding black guy of about forty-five or so. The thing I liked about him was he could queen it up with his gay patients. That always put me at ease.

"Terrific! The twink squad has arrived. Hi, Jeremy. Good to see you again. And you must be Zach. Wait. Your last name is Dumont?" the doctor said, flipping through the paperwork. "Please tell me –"

"It's true. Don't bother asking. That's my dad. I'm thinking I'm gonna change my name."

"Mmm. Let's see. That's a great opener at a cocktail party, but then, it makes you guilty by association as well. Quite the conundrum, is it not?"

"Well, I'm not old enough to drink, but yes. It kinda sucks. Jeremy won't let me hire a hitman, so I'm stuck with it for now."

"I'm glad you have a sense of humor about it, young man. That's all on your father of course, and no reflection on you, I'm sure. I'm guessing you're nothing like your old man, correct? Otherwise, you wouldn't be sitting here with Jeremy."

"Oh, yeah. He's an idiot. My dad, not Jeremy. Jeremy's great."

"Good. Glad that's all sorted out. So, may I ask, are we doing this test because you two are planning on getting married?"

I choked a little, and Zach turned bright red, but surprised me when he manned up and said, "No. We haven't even talked about that, but we do want to be exclusive and monogamous. We both want to take it to the next level, and as my housekeeper Bella told us, 'we can't have the butt sex until we're tested'. That's why we're here."

"She's a wise woman. I like her already."

"She is," I said. "I already hired her, so keep your mitt's off her, doc."

"Don't worry. My husband Ricardo's auntie is taking great care of us. What a firecracker. Bonus points: I've learned a load of Spanish curse words. So, the test is simple. I'm going to swab your cheek, and then in about twenty minutes, we'll have the results. Is there anything else I should know about?"

"Doc, you know I was only with one guy, and we were safe –"

"And I've never been with anybody, you know, that way. Well, any kind of way. Anybody but Jeremy that is."

"Good. That makes it straightforward. You guys have any questions? Speak now or forever hold your peace. Ha. I just made a marriage joke."

"Doc, you're a piece of work, you know that?" I said.

"I'm a doctor. It's my job to make patients uncomfortable."

"Um, not to be rude, but did you get your medical degree at the Laugh Factory School of Medicine? I'm talking the school in Manilla, not the one in Hollywood," Zach asked with a straight face. I loved that he could take it and dish it right back.

"Jeremy? This guy's a total keeper. He's cute, smart, and funny. Don't let him go."

"I have no intention of doing that. Trust me."

"Okay, let's get this over so you guys can be on your way to Sin City. To not get married. Like I believe that load."

Twenty-five minutes later, we were on our way with a clean bill of health and each of us with a handful of pamphlets on every STD known to man or woman, some I didn't even know about.

"I'm so happy," Zach said. "We worried for nothing."

"I know, but it's still unnerving. I can't even fathom what it would be like to get different results."

"I can't either. There was a kid in my school who had an uncle that is HIV positive. He told us about it in that seminar, the one where I got the card for the LGBT youth center a couple of months ago. Apparently, the guy had used IV drugs when he came back from Afghanistan to mellow out the PTSD he was suffering. It was doubly bad because the V.A. is so screwed up. Poor dude had trouble getting his meds refilled and the waiting period to get into a treatment program was ridiculously long. It shouldn't be like that. We're the richest society on earth, and we can't even take care of our veteran heroes. I don't get that. I think that freaking sucks."

"I totally agree. Everything is so politicized now that nothing gets done. Take the homeless problem. It's not a homeless problem, it's a fucking addiction problem nobody talks about. Don't get me started. It pisses me off that so many of my friends from high school and college are going through this. It's so not right."

"I get it. But chill, okay? I don't want you to drive off the road before we even get out of the SGV."

"Some things just chap my anus. Sorry."

"Don't be. I'm glad you're so passionate. So, what about shopping? I wish you'd let me pay for it."

"Zach, I can't. Please, just let me have my fun. Someday, you'll get to take care of me."

"Yeah. Changing your adult diapers when we're in our eighties," he laughed, "all full of runny poo because all you'd eat is mashed peas. But yeah, I'd do it."

"Very funny. You're very frisky today. What's up with you?"

"It's because I'm happy. Happier than I've been in a long time. So tell me, what's your favorite store?"

"None, really. I usually order online. It's easier."

"Outside of Vans, I don't really have one either. Mother used to buy everything for me. I really didn't have any say. Besides, your dog ate my shoes last night, so you owe me a new pair."

"Awesome. Then we're going to that big mall in Arcadia. It's just a block off the freeway next to the racetrack. They have everything, including a Vans store. That's the mall I like to go to, not that I do it very much because I hate shopping. But this is going to be so great! I get to dress you up, so you finally see how handsome and sexy you really are. But I promise if you don't like something, no worries. I'm not your mother."

"Oh, God. This is going to be a giant fustercluck, isn't it?"


"And there's no way I can pay for it?"

"Nope. None. Nada. Nyet."

"Okay, bring it on, big man. But if I don't like something, or if it's too expensive, I'm holding you to that. Promise?"

"Promise," I said, kissing the back of his hand again. "And just an FYI, I despise peas."

"You say that now. Just wait sixty years."

Shopping was actually kind of fun. Zach reveled in his new wardrobe, and I even picked up a few new things for myself. The kid looked so happy and cute, and I think he actually enjoyed it after he got into it and let loose. He looked especially amazing in the dark skinny pants, a light-blue t-shirt, and the snug, lightly plaid sport coat. Yum! The Asian saleslady at Nordstrom was terrific and thoroughly enjoyed helping us out. They even had a special edition of Zach's favorite black and white zebra-striped Vans slip-ons that made him enormously giddy. I loved seeing him so happy. Unfortunately, it took forever, though, because he had to try everything on. But luck was with us since we didn't have to go to any other stores.

I don't know why this kept happening, but when I paid for everything, the saleslady helped us out with all the bags to the SUV, she told us, "Have the best wedding ever. You two are going to look amazing."

Instead of bursting her bubble, we both smiled and said thanks. Too weird.

Back on the road, we made good time heading east. Luckily, since it was the middle of the day in the middle of the week, the Cajon pass was free of any high-speed car pursuits, road-rage incidents, car-to-car gang shootouts, big-rig crashes, wildfires or Cal-Trans repairs. An hour later as we headed into Barstow, Zach's stomach growled the same time we spotted a billboard for In-n-Out.

"On it," I said.

"It's amazing how you can read my mind. We got screwed last time by that stupid reporter."

"No kidding. I love me my Animal Style. Ever had the fries Animal Style?"

"Nope. They do that?"

"Oh, yeah. They're the bomb. They do all kinds of stuff you don't hear about."

"Like what?"

"If I told you, I'd have to kill you. And since we're in the desert, it would be easy to hide your body in a shallow grave. So I have to keep it secret."

"You're such a dork. Like you have experience with that. Good try though. Guess that's why I love you."

"What did you just say?"

"Turn up your hearing aid, you old, smelly pea-eating geezer. I said, I LOVE YOU! I'm tired of this thing we're dancing around. Everybody else sees it. I think I've loved you from the first day I met you way back when, even though I had no idea what that actually meant. But yeah, Jeremy, I love you. You! With my whole being. I'm all yours, just for you. Forever. Do I have to get a tattoo on the inside of my arm in some undecipherable script to make you understand that?"

"That's not fair. I was going to say it first, and now I'm driving, and I can't even kiss you!"

"Too bad. I finally pulled one on you. A big, humongous, ginormous one! Yay, me."

"You just wait, buddy. I'm going to show you what love is. You just wait until we check into our room. We are going to make the most passionate love that will rock your world. You're not going to walk right for a month."

"Good. I'm counting on it. All this talk, even by all these strangers, and we haven't even taken it for a test drive yet. It's like shopping for sheets."

"What the hell does that mean?"

"I don't know. My mother used to say that. But I don't care. It's fast, I know. But it's right. I feel it, you feel it. Shit! Everybody feels it. Even that homeless dude at the gas station. Geez. He gave us two thumbs up and a toothless smile."

"Wow. You've just blown my mind."

"Good. Double score for me. Now order up. Here comes the girl with that wacky wireless thing around her neck."

"I hope she doesn't wish us a happy honeymoon."

"She won't. This is Barstow. Get real, doofus."

"Are we almost there? The desert is so beautiful, but…I don't know…repetitious, I guess. How much longer?" Zach asked as he flipped through my iTunes library. "Hey! Empire of the Sun. Love them."

"You sound like a ten-year-old in the back seat picking his nose and cutting farts."

He stopped singing 'Two Vines' when he said, "I'm anxious, that's all. And just so you know, buggers maybe, farts, no. Next time, can't you rent us a Porsche? They keep whizzing past us like crazy. They're probably there by now. There must be a Porsche convention in Vegas or something."

"Look over there, Mr. Smarty tighty-whitey underpants, on the other side of the freeway. That CHP chick just nabbed that brand-new red 911. A hundred and twenty-five on this freeway gets you not only a ticket, but jail time and a loss of your license. Not to mention your insurance goes up astronomically if you can even get it renewed, Plus, they impound your car."

"How do they catch them? I haven't seen any squad cars."

"Helicopters and spy planes with tracking devices. Drones, maybe. Who knows? Spy satellites? They're watching over all of us, all the time out here. And not in a good way. Eighty is okay, but that's it. Seriously, it's all about the revenue, not safety."

"We should move to Idaho and buy a llama farm. Or Montana. I don't think they have speed limits there. That would be cool, right?"

"Until it snows. But no. Not in this lifetime, you goof. I don't want to have to wear not-so-mysterious special undergarments. No way. Sorry. I like my junk to hang free as nature intended. Anyway, what's your fascination with llamas? You realize those animals' spit, right? And scream like, I don't know what. They're just plain weird. How about a cannabis farm?"

"Whatever. But only if we got a llama. I'm gonna name her Betty. Besides, I'll take care of her. Now you're the one being a dork. And a pot farm? Right. I'm too young to get killed. Plus, I have no idea how to ride a four-wheeler, wear a facemask and fire an AK-69 whatever all at the same time yelling into a walkie-talkie for backup and trying to keep my bong water from spilling all over me. I can't multi-task."

"Bong water? Seriously? Dude, what have you been smoking? So how's this? A winery in Central California? That's chill, right?"

"Maybe. Umm, let's think about that for a moment," Zach said. He sure was hyper all of a sudden. "I know! We could hire drag queens from San Francisco to run the tasting room. Or better yet, those drag queen nuns on roller skates. That would be totally different and separate us from all the other hundreds of thousand dumb-ass celebrity wineries. Actually, it's a brilliant idea, now that I think about it. Our tasting room could be in an old, abandoned rectory. Eww. Why do they call it that? So gay. So, try this: Sashay Away Merlot? Or, Cardinal, Get Your Paws Off My Chardonnay? Or this one: Let's See What's In My Room, Red Blend?"

"Oh. My. God. You're freaking nuts today. But totally awesome. I love it!"

"I know. I'm full of all kinds of useless information."

"Good to know. Now a winery, that I'd talk about. That's a fascinating idea. Totally weird, but interesting. I can play this game too. RuPaul Red? Tuck and Zin? Or the Pope's special reserve, I'm Not a Pedo, Pinot? That one would have to be a limited edition of course. I love it. That, my friend, would make us a mint before we get sued."

"Hey! What's that?"

We had just gone over the last pass and were headed north again to the Nevada state line. Off to the left was a dry lakebed full of mirrors, strategically placed towards a massive tower in the middle of the desert. It looked way out of place, like something you'd see in a Star Wars movie.

"It's a solar electric generating thing. The mirrors reflect the suns rays onto the tower, and it heats the water or oil or whatever is in the tower. Then they make electricity out of it. Vegas uses a lot of power, you know."

"That's cool."

"Not for birds."

"Why's that?"

"It's burning hot. So really, it's not cool. The minute the birds cross the mirror field they're fried to a crisp. It's like a bird crematorium."

"Eww, yuck. Does Colonel Sanders own it? That'd be a double money maker. You should buy stock in that. You'd make a boatload."

I laughed. "No, I don't think so. Chickens don't really fly, picklehead. It's supposed to be carbon neutral, but environmentalists hate it."

"I see why. And what a horrible job having to clean all the fried bird guts off those mirrors. Hey, look, Jeremy! We're finally here. Um, wait. Oh, no. This can't be right. Did you make a wrong turn or something? Why is it so small? I thought Vegas was way bigger."

"It is. Way bigger. This is Primm. The border between California and Nevada."

"Primm? What a stupid name for a gambling town. There are only two casino-hotels here, and they look kinda cheesy to me. There's a roller coaster, but it looks rusty, like it hasn't run in years. Death by roller coaster? No thanks."

"Well, I guess you're right. It does look sketchy."

"How much longer? My butt's getting scratchy."

"You're making me laugh, and I don't want to crash this close to our destination. Mellow for just a few more minutes, okay? We're almost there. You'll see it in a second, and it will amaze you, I promise. Once we get through Primm, we're only about a half-hour away."

"Good. We must be close because all these cars are really moving now."

"No kidding. You'll see it in a couple of miles. It's an amazing sight. Especially at night."

"I can't freaking wait. I forgot to ask. Are we staying at the hotel with the fountains?"

"Yep. The Bellagio. I got us a good deal on a corner room on a higher floor with a great view of the fountains and the lake, and the Paris hotel across the strip. You're gonna love it."

Zach was so excited he was practically jumping out of his seat. "This is going to be so great! I can't believe we're actually doing this. Jeremy, thank you again. I mean it."

"You're welcome. It makes me happy to see you this happy. That's my mission, to keep you like this."

He didn't say anything, but leaned over and kissed my cheek.

"But, wait. There's more!"

"You sound like the announcer on the Price is Right. Jeremy Farnsworth, come on down!"

"When I made the hotel reservations, I talked to the concierge dude, and he got us in to Spago for dinner tonight. There's more, but I can't tell you. Hey! Maybe Wolfgang Puck will be there."

"Wow! Just like my dream. Now I love you even more."

"Back atcha, buddy. Look down the road, Zach. There's Vegas, baby, off in the distance."

"This traffic is insane! I thought L.A. was bad, but this is crazy f'n nuts. Look at all those taxi's darting everywhere. Is it like this all over here?"

"I hope not. I think it's just here on the strip. If traffic's like this everywhere, we're going to rethink how we look for your bio mom. Maybe tomorrow when we're chillin' in the cabana by the pool, we can make some calls to the dance studios and ask for Eve. I'm not sure I can handle a whole day of driving in this kind of traffic, especially since I don't know my way around," I said.

"I don't blame you. I'm freaking out just sitting here. Hey! There it is. On your left. You're gonna have to speed up and cut off that Chinese tourist bus to get in the left lane."

"Got it."

"Wow. It's huge. And beautiful. You know, I've traveled a lot with my dad when I was younger when he had premiers and openings and stuff like that," Zach said, as we waited not so patiently through five signals before we could drive onto the property. He wasn't kidding. Traffic was a gridlock nightmare, even in the early afternoon.

"It was usually pretty boring. Mother would never go, which I guess was a good thing, now that I think about it. I've been to New York a bunch. London a couple of times, Paris, Sydney. Even Moscow one time. I hated it there. And the food. Holy moly. Talk about mystery meat. Yuck. That was freaky scary and really, really weird. I didn't want to leave the hotel. But this. This is just amazing. Everything is so big. And busy. Look at all the neon signs. I wonder what it looks like at night."

"It's incredible, buddy. I can't wait for you to see it."

"Where're the fountains? I don't see them."

"They don't run all the time. I think a few times during the day, but more at night because the lights make it even better. I also heard there's a fountain dance choreographed to a Lady Gaga song."

"Oh, shit! Super cool. What else?"

"Uptown Funk. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. The Beatles version, not Elton's. And that insipid Celine Dion song that we've heard like twenty trillion times."

"I hate that song. Reminds me of that movie, and every time I watch it, the ending makes me want to pee. It's so long, right? And geez? How can you sit there after you've downed a Big Gulp? Mother made me watch that stupid movie all the time since I was like four. Then she'd ask, 'Why doesn't your father make those kinds of movies? It's so romantic'. I wanted to say 'He's not that bright, plus the dude just froze and drowned into an ice cube', but that would just get me in all kinds of trouble."

I had to laugh. "Wow. I guess Hollywood isn't all that. Okay, buddy, we're here."

"Yay! Finally."

We pulled into the not so surprisingly hectic valet parking area and were immediately greeted by a friendly dude in a ridiculous uniform that had to be burning hot on a summer day like this. But he seemed adept, and had a small tablet in his hand that he was busy poking at.

"Welcome to the Bellagio, sir. I'm Antoine. Do you have a reservation?"

"Please, don't call me sir. I'm way younger than you. It's under Farnsworth."

"Perfect. Okay. Got it right here. Will you need your car tonight, Mr. Farnsworth?"

"It's Jeremy. And no. Maybe tomorrow." It was really crazy, trying to listen to the guy, keep an eye on Zach and watching out for all the cars and taxis and ride-shares zooming through the entrance all the while listening to some operatic Italian soundtrack blasting overhead. After driving for five hours, this was totally overwhelming.

"All right. Here's a claim ticket for your car. If you need it before tomorrow, call down, and we'll have it ready for you. Have you been here before?"

"No. Not to this property."

"You'll love it here, I promise. We're going to take good care of your bags and get them to your suite in just a moment. When there's a break in the traffic, you fellas head inside and look for the Chairman's lounge on the left. It's just before the reception desk. Much less hectic. They've been notified of your arrival and are expecting you. Is there anything else I can do for you?"

"No, I think we're good. Thanks for your help, Antoine," I said, as I slipped him a couple of twenties and then grabbed Zach's hand and squeezed it tight. "If we meet again, it's Jeremy. Are we good?"

"Yes sir, and thank you, sir. You two have a great honeymoon."

"Just smile, buddy, just smile," I whispered.

Once inside, it was calmer, but just slightly. We found the Chairman's lounge easily enough, which was great since the line at the regular reception desk seemed like it went for miles and would take forever to check in. Once we walked in, the woman at the desk immediately snapped to attention.

"Mr. Farnsworth, Mr. Dumont. Welcome to the Bellagio. Just a couple of seconds to review your reservation and I promise, you'll both be on your way lickety-split. I just need to see your credit card and drivers' licenses, and get a couple of signatures. Easy peasy." Weird how she knew our names.

"Here's mine, but Zach's got stolen last week," I lied because I didn't want him using the fake one. "You have your school I.D. on you?"

"Oh, um, yeah. I think."

"Not a problem. Mr. Farnsworth, we've upgraded you to a one-bedroom penthouse suite, at no extra charge. It has the best view of the fountain show. Also, your dinner reservations are set for 8:00 tonight at Spago and then –"

"The cabana for tomorrow? Right?" I had to give her a stern look because she was about to blow my surprise for Zach.

"Of course. You guys will love it. Here's a tip. Ha-ha. My nephew is working tomorrow at the pool. He's a cabana boy. Ask for Steven, and he'll take great care of you. I'll tip him off. Oh, my gosh. Ha-ha again."

"That's very kind of you."

"Not a problem. Here are your key-cards, and Hermie will take you to your room. Is there anything else I can do for you?"

"No, I don't think so. Actually, you know what? Can you have the hotel operator call us around seven tonight? Don't want to miss our dinner reservations."

"Of course. I got it! Enjoy your honeymoon."

While we were following Hermie through the casino, Zach asked, "Why does that keep happening? Why does everyone think we're getting married or on our honeymoon?

"I don't know, buddy, but it's starting to get ludicrous. Even the security guard wished me good luck when we left home this morning. It's just too weird. Shit. If I was going to ask you to marry me, I do a big production out of it. Like a flash mob or something. You know, let's just go with it. There's no sense getting pissed off about it. We can't do anything about it anyway, right?"


We got off the elevator on the twenty-eighth floor and walked down the long hallway. Hermie made a big production out of opening the door and said, "Gentlemen, Your suite!"

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