It’s been a little while since I’ve shared what I’m working on, so I thought I’d give you a chapter of my latest, an as-yet-untitled legal drama. This (unedited) chapter is a good introduction to the characters, their personalities, and the timeframe of the story. Hope you like it!
“Relax, Kyle. These guys are cool, okay?” Jesse said, gripping Kyle’s hand tightly as they approached the door to Hooters on North Wells.
“I know, I know,” Kyle said, wiping his other hand on his shorts. He’d spent the half hour train ride fidgeting and his poor fingernails cried for mercy from his teeth ten minutes ago. “I just hear ‘frat boy’ and don’t think this could possibly end well.”
Jesse frowned. “Do you think I’d introduce you to my friends if I thought they weren’t totally okay with me dating guys? Are you forgetting I’m a frat boy?”
Kyle pulled him to the side of the door, out of the way of an exiting foursome. “Not at all. I want to meet them, okay? I just….” He blew out a shaky breath. “I’m sort of thinking of this as a trial run for telling my family, so I’m emphasizing it more than I should. I’ll be fine and I promise I won’t embarrass you in front of your friends.”
Jesse’s expression softened. “I’m not one iota worried about you embarrassing me. Just try and have a good time. They’re fun people, even if they’re a little …intense sometimes.”
“Okay, yeah. Let’s go in before they look out the window and see me freaking out.”
Through the revolving door they went and while Kyle blinked to adjust to the dim of the restaurant versus the early evening sun, a holler broke out to their right. Jesse laughed and pulled him past the hostess, who smiled and nodded as they indicated their group.
“Italy!” two of them shouted, while the third clasped Jesse’s hand and they went in for a shoulder-bump hug. Kyle stood back while they got their greetings out of the way. When their focus shifted to him, he smiled awkwardly, mentally cursing the heat in his cheeks.
“Finally!” the Clark Kent look-alike said, holding out his hand and, when Kyle took it, he shifted their grip and pulled him into the same shoulder bump Jesse’d received. “You must be Kyle. I’m Lance Schaefer.”
“Nice to meet you,” he said, somewhat taken aback by the warmth of the greeting.
“This is Devon,” Jesse said of the next one who stepped forward. His broad shoulders would have made him intimidating if not for the merriment in his blond, blue eyed features. “And last, Cameron.”
He did some complicated handshake voodoo, walking Kyle through three or four different grips, which made him laugh. Cameron was hot, too, which Kyle tried not to notice. But seriously, the guy could have graced the cover of GQ with his designer stubble and dark, smoldering demeanor. He was the definition of tall, dark, and handsome. Lord, Jesse’s attracted to me, with these guys around?
“Is that some sort of secret frat club shake, and now you have to kill me for showing me classified information?” he asked as they settled around the table, Jesse to his left and Cameron to his right.
“Actually, that’s a rival frat’s shake, and Delta Chi has made it our mission to spread it around.” Cameron grinned.
Their waitress approached, and to Kyle’s surprise, all three guys behaved themselves as she took their drink and food orders. There was plenty of flirting, for sure, but nothing so overt Kyle felt the need to apologize on their behalf.
Score one for the frat boys.
I need to quit stereotyping, he scolded himself.
“So, Italy,” Lance said, leaning forward and clasping his hands on the table, his demeanor so serious, Kyle swallowed nervously. “How come it’s taken you this long to bring your man around?”
“Maybe because I was afraid you’d run him off,” Jesse said with a wink. “You guys are overwhelming, and I didn’t want to have to make excuses for you.”
Cameron laughed and fist bumped Jesse while Devon and Lance gave melodramatic stabbed-in-the-chest performances.
“Italy?” Kyle asked, his gaze bouncing between the friends.
“Look at him.” Devon gestured at Jesse as if he were a spokesmodel. “He’s a 100% grade A Italiano hunk of burnin’ love, isn’t he?”
“They didn’t believe my last name is McGovern. I had to show them my driver’s license.”
The waitress brought two pitchers of beer and filled their glasses, but despite her presence, the banter continued.
“Your mom married into that name,” Lance said with surety. “What was her maiden name?”
“Luzzatto,” Jesse said, and the table erupted. “Mariella Luzzatto, and she goes by Molly. You win.”
“I love to win,” Devon said, raising his beer to toast Jesse.
Kyle found himself laughing along with them, discovering they were equal opportunity teasers when they turned their curiosity on him.
“So, what is it you do, Kyle?” Cameron asked, digging into the wings when they arrived. “I know you work with Jesse at the hospital, but he’s never said what your position is.”
“Knowing Jesse, Kyle’s position is above, looking down,” Lance quipped.
“Hasn’t anyone told you it’s rude to speculate on a gay guy’s bedroom likes unless they directly affect you?” Jesse shot back with a wide grin.
Kyle wiped a napkin across his mouth before answering. “I’m a surgical nurse.” He half expected a joke about him being a male nurse or sponge baths, but he’d already had his expectations shattered by this bunch, so he didn’t brace himself for the comments like usual. He wasn’t disappointed. Either Jesse prepped them, or they were genuinely progressive people. Even his parents had stuttered a little when he declared nursing his major in college.
“Wait, you help doctors operate on people?” Devon asked, his french fry forgotten halfway to his mouth.
“No, scrub nurses actually go into the OR. I do all the before and after care for the surgical patients. Help prep them for their operations and wound care after the doctors fix them up. Get further tests if necessary, that kind of thing.”
“Is that an RN?” Cameron asked, sounding genuinely interested.
“BSN. 4 year degree. There are RNs on the surgical floor, but they’re beginning to bridge the gap. More and more, hospitals are encouraging the four year degree programs.”
“Enough shop talk,” Jesse said, plopping a couple wings on Kyle’s plate. “You better get in here or you’ll be staring at a pile of chicken bones and wondering what the hell just happened.”
To Kyle’s surprise, the platter of wings was almost half gone already. They ate and bantered for a while, until Lance threw his last chicken wing onto his plate and said, “Since none of you other fuckers are going to ask, I guess I have to.” He turned to Kyle, expression grave. “What are your intentions, son?”
Jesse thunked his head on the table, making their beer glasses jump. “You guys know you’re not really my brothers, right? You don’t have to stand in the doorway with a shotgun to make sure he’s honorable. I can tell you right now, he’s more virtuous than all of you combined.”
Kyle couldn’t help but laugh. “I don’t know about running for a marriage license tomorrow, but it could be in the future, if that’s what you’re asking.”
Lance cleared his throat. “Jesse tells us you’re bi, not gay. What happens if a girl comes along and turns your head?”
“The same thing that would happen if a guy turned his head,” Jesse said. “He can look if he wants, but he’ll come home to me.” His expression was cautionary in Lance’s direction.
Kyle squeezed Jesse’s hand, appreciating the backup while trying to keep him from getting upset. “It’s okay, babe.” He focused on Lance. “Bisexuality doesn’t mean incapable of monogamy. It just means I’ve dated both men and women. I can be happy with either.”
“Just not at the same time,” Lance said, more as if he were asking, but it wasn’t quite a question.
“Right.” Kyle had heard this before, mostly from an ex-boyfriend during their final fight. There was skepticism about bisexuality being a real thing, though in his opinion, more people were bisexual, or at least bicurious, than would admit even to themselves. They tended to identify as entirely straight, or entirely gay, and who was he to question that, if that’s how they felt? But the flip side of that coin was who were they to question his attraction to both sexes? “I’m not promiscuous,” he assured Jesse’s friends. To their credit, Devon and Cameron looked uncomfortable with Lance for bringing it up. “Being with Jesse doesn’t make me miss being with girls, and I don’t need one of each at all times to be happy. I’ve chosen to be with Jesse and only him.”
“Yeah, but some people don’t act that way,” Lance pushed.
“True,” Kyle agreed. “There are straight cheaters and gay cheaters. I’m neither. And I’m not a bi cheater.” Lance opened his mouth but Kyle cut off whatever he wanted to say next. “Look, I get that you’re protecting your friend, but there’s no need. I love Jesse. I’m not going to hurt him, either by cheating, or by deciding dating a girl is more socially acceptable, or any of the other things people say bisexuals do.”
“I trust him,” Jesse said, glaring at his friends. “So should you, but if you can’t, that’s not our problem. You’re my friends and I care about your opinions, but frankly, it’s about Kyle and me, and what works for us. So either drop it or tell me now if you have a problem. We can leave.”
The table was quiet, Cameron and Devon concentrating on their plates. Lance kept eye contact, but his expression had softened. “Just making sure, Italy. Not trying to offend either of you.”
Kyle nudged Jesse’s leg beneath the table. “It’s okay, Jess. They’re just looking out for you. I get it.”
Jesse blew out a breath, visibly trying to relax and move on. “Besides, we’ve only been together seven and a half months. You can quit the older brother intimidation routine. I haven’t gotten him pregnant.”
“Yet,” Devon and Lance said in unison, and then snapped fingers at each other.
“It’s legal in Illinois, right? Marriage, I mean?” Cameron asked, finishing off the first of the original two pitchers and signaling the waitress for another. The tension around the table dissipated.
“Yeah,” Jesse answered. “Has been for a year now.”
“That’s right.” Devon pointed at Jesse. “Just after graduation, that was when you were on that political group’s roster trying to get the law passed.”
“Isn’t it going to the Supreme Court for the whole country or something?” Lance said, refilling his glass from the last of the second pitcher. “I thought I saw that in the news a while back.”
“The Supreme Court consolidated four cases into one. Back in April, the cases were argued in Washington. The Court’s session ends at the end of the month, so hopefully they’ll announce an opinion before they break.” Jesse met Kyle’s eyes, and they reflected the flutter of hope that lived in Kyle’s chest, tiny little wing-breaths of possibility bouncing from his ribs to his heart and back.
The men around the table grew solemn, and sweat broke out on the back of Kyle’s neck. Were they going to start grilling him again? He didn’t know these guys, so he couldn’t tell what the shift in mood meant. The evening was going so well, even with Lance putting him on the spot. Devon was the first to stand and raise his glass. The others quickly followed suit, with Kyle getting to his feet last.
“To the Supreme Court Justices. May they do what’s right by every American, no matter their orientation,” Devon intoned.
“Or gender identity,” Jesse threw in. “It’s not just about orientation.”
“May the Judges taste the rainbow,” Lance said, his eyes full of mirth as well as a healthy dose of apology to Kyle.
“Please let me be Jesse’s Best Man—even if I’ll show up the grooms—at the most awesome gay wedding anyone has ever seen, and let that happen in whatever state they want,” Cameron said, clapping Kyle on the shoulder.
Collectively, they turned to Kyle, waiting for his addition to the toast. The group was beginning to draw attention from the other restaurant patrons, and his face heated in embarrassment as his mind went completely blank. The only thing he could remember was the name on the case before the highest court in the land.
The other three looked confused, but Jesse gave him an extra clink for that and kissed his cheek, heedless of what anyone might see or say.
A couple hours later, they left a large tip for the waitress for tolerating them hogging her table and spilled out of the restaurant into the pleasant evening, though a rumble of thunder could be heard in the distance, the building clouds obscuring the sunset. A warm breeze stirred Kyle’s hair and cooled the sweat on his neck. The restaurant’s air conditioning hadn’t been able to keep up with the warm bodies, and it was refreshing outside.
“You guys want to get another beer at a better bar?” Lance asked, checking his phone. “It’s only eight fifteen.”
“Can’t,” Jesse said with a shake of his head. “Some of us have to work on weekdays, Mr. Graphic Designer Who Sets His Own Hours.” The others grumbled in agreement.
Lance grinned and slung his arms around Devon’s and Jesse’s shoulders. “Not my fault you chumps didn’t think of that when you got your degrees.”
“I have to be at the hospital at five-thirty.”
Jesse’s friends looked horrified. “You chose that job?” Cameron asked, feigning tragic sympathy.
Kyle laughed. “I have to go over charts with the overnight staff before my shift. It’s actually not that bad, once you get used to it.”
“Dedicated,” Devon said, rubbing his chin theatrically. “I like that in a guy.”
“You always were the most fluid of us,” Cameron said. “I can do one more drink, if you want, but no more. Sharon will kill me if I stumble home late on a weeknight. Four beers over three hours with dinner isn’t enough to do me in, but she’s heard some of the Delta Chi stories. She’s no fool.”
“I’m out,” Devon said. “Prepping the marketing team tomorrow for a presentation on that new thingamajig the engineering department invented. Don’t even ask me what it does, except the execs are all fawning over it.”
“When they start making robots with artificial intelligence, then I’ll be impressed by what you do,” Lance said.
“I’ll ask them to put that tech in a blow up doll, just for you,” Devon returned.
“Okay, guys. We gotta get,” Jesse said, doing the rounds of fist bumps and one armed hugs.
To Kyle’s surprise, he got the same treatment. Lance gave him an extra clap on the back, murmuring in his ear.
“Sorry about earlier. I hope you understand. You’re not exactly what we would have guessed for him, but we would have been wrong.”
What? Kyle thought, mulling the words over in his head. Is that a compliment? Insult? To hide his confusion, he simply smiled. “No worries. I’m glad he has people looking out for him.” They began to break up, and Kyle made sure he told them all it was nice meeting them. Including Lance.
“Now you have no excuses not to bring him every time, Italy.” Cameron was walking backward with Lance toward the next bar as he pointed at Jesse, the distance between the groups widening. “He’s one of us.”
“Glad to hear it,” Jesse called, waving goodbye.
Devon gave Kyle one more handshake, and without a word, hailed a taxi and was swallowed up into the Chicago night.
“Wow, you were quite the hit.” Jesse beamed as they began to walk toward the train station, but the smile melted and Kyle knew what was coming. “I’m so sorry about Lance. I’ve talked to them all about you being bi, but apparently I didn’t hit the high points with him well enough. You sure you’re not upset?”
Kyle waved the words off. “Not at all. They were really nice,” he observed, shoving his hands in his pockets. He had the overwhelming urge to grab Jesse’s hand, but he really only felt comfortable doing that in Boystown with a little liquid courage.
“They loved you.” As if reading Kyle’s mind, Jesse yanked him into the darkened doorway of a closed business, the shadows obscuring them from pedestrian and vehicle traffic alike. He pulled Kyle into a hungry kiss, loaded with promise. Still aware they were in public, Kyle returned the kiss, but kept Jesse from getting too carried away. When Jesse pulled back, he was breathless. “I knew they would.”
“What’s not to love?” Kyle asked.
“Oh, now you get cocky.” Jesse’s laughter echoed down the street and back. “Come on. Let’s go home.”