This takes place late last summer, after Jamie and Pete have been back from New Mexico for a few weeks. It’s a hint at one of the plot lines in the next Jamie Brodie Mystery, Drugged to Death, coming in May. Enjoy!
It was Melanie Hayes’s 39th birthday. Neil Anderson, Mel’s law partner, and his husband Mark Sivak were throwing a big birthday bash on the weekend, but we didn’t want to allow the actual day to pass without a celebration of some sort.
Ali and Mel’s favorite hangout was El Caribe, a straight-friendly gay club in Venice. After ensuring that we wouldn’t encounter speed dating, and possibly Stephen Atcheson, we arranged to gather for dinner and drinks after work.
When Pete and I got there, Ali and Mel were already at a big table in the far corner with Jon and Liz. Kevin and Kristen arrived shortly thereafter. When our beers, margaritas, pina coladas, etc. arrived, I lifted my glass. “Happy birthday, Mel. You’re finally caught up to the rest of us.”
Mel was the baby of our grade school friend group, three months younger than Ali and me. She laughed. “Not for long. Robbie turns forty in November.”
Robbie Harrison, the fourth member of our Four Musketeers from fourth grade through middle school. He was now a forensic accountant in San Diego. Ali said, “We should all descend on his office that day. Drag him out to do something fun.”
The conversation led to regaling Pete, Kristen, Jon, and Liz with tales of our childhood exploits. After a couple more drinks and a full glass of water, my bladder was calling to me. I said, “I’ve gotta hit the head.” I held a finger in front of Liz’s nose. “You, don’t touch my drink.”
Liz spluttered indignantly. Jon said, “Never fear. The LAPD will protect your property.”
The men’s room was busy; I had to wait a minute for a urinal. As I did, my gaze came to rest on the first stall – or what I could see of it, below its metal wall. It was occupied by two guys. One was standing with his back to the door; the other was on his knees, apparently servicing the first.
Whatever. El Caribe wasn’t known as a pickup bar, but it had been known to happen.
A couple of other guys had noticed; one raised an eyebrow at me as he walked past. I shrugged and headed for the urinal that he’d just vacated.
By the time I was finished, the rest of the customers had washed their hands and left the room. I zipped up to the sound of someone’s orgasm – apparently the guy who was standing, since I could see that the one on his knees was pumping himself. He finished just as I reached the sink.
I washed my hands thoroughly, finding myself voyeuristically curious about the couple in the stall, and a tiny bit turned on. As I was yanking paper towels from the dispenser, the stall door opened, the culprits came face to face with me – and my arousal instantly died.
One was a cute young twink with blond hair sticking up in tufts and red, swollen lips.
The other was Paul Thayer.
Paul was married to Aaron Quinn, one of Pete’s best friends from their days on faculty at Santa Monica College. Pete had been Aaron’s best man at his wedding to Paul, six months before our own. But for a couple of years now, Paul had been intermittently cheating on Aaron. I knew they were in couples therapy as a result.
Unsuccessfully, it seemed.
I recovered from my shock first and dried my hands. “Hiya, Paul.”
Paul’s eyes were darting around like a trapped animal. He was looking at anything but me. He said, “Um. Jamie.”
“You’re a long way from home.” Paul and Aaron lived in Pasadena.
He laughed weakly. “Yeah. Well.”
The twink was eyeing me with more than academic interest. “You’re cute.”
“I’m married.” I nodded at Paul. “So is he.”
“Oh.” The twink glared at Paul. “You didn’t tell me that.”
Paul smirked at the kid. “Would it have mattered?”
Twink squared his shoulders in an attempt to reclaim his dignity. “Fuck, yeah. I don’t do married guys.” He moved to a sink and washed his hands.
Paul, having recovered his senses somewhat, turned bitchy. “What are you doing here?”
“Celebrating a friend’s birthday. We come here all the time. I guess I don’t have to ask what you’re doing here, 25 miles from home.”
Twink shook water from his hands and dried them. “Where does he live?”
I said, “Pasadena.”
“He told me he lived in Santa Monica.”
“I bet he did.” I balled up the damp paper towels in my hand and zinged them into the trash can. “I bet he told you he has an oceanfront condo, all to himself, and how lonely it is.”
Paul’s face was crimson. Twink stared at me. “How do you know that? Did he tell you that before?”
I laughed. “Hell, no. I’ve known ol’ Paul for a long time. He’s not very original.”
Twink crossed his arms. “So there is no oceanfront condo?”
“Oh, sure, there’s a condo. But it’s not Paul’s. He works in real estate. He has access to all kinds of properties.”
“Thank you.” Twink jabbed a forefinger in Paul’s direction. “And fuck you.” He spun and stalked out of the restroom, banging the door open.
Paul, to his credit, didn’t respond to the kid. He said, “Jamie. You can’t tell Aaron.”
“Why shouldn’t I? He deserves to know that you’re cheating on him again.”
“But he’ll leave me.”
“Well, yeah, Paul. Because you’re a dishonest asshole. He can do far better than you.”
Paul was whining now. “But I love him!”
I waved my hand at the restroom. “So this is how you demonstrate that?”
“Listen. I need lots of sex. Aaron and I…well…the spark just isn’t there anymore. You and Pete have been married almost as long as we have. You must know what I’m talking about.”
I did, but I would never admit it to this jerk. “And yet you told Aaron you didn’t want an open relationship. There’s only one question here, Paul. Who’s gonna tell Aaron about tonight? You or me?”
Paul’s face darkened. “You’d do that? Ruin my life? Ruin Aaron’s life?”
“Aaron’s life is already ruined.” Paul started to babble, and I held up a finger. “Shut it. Here’s what’s gonna happen. In a couple of days, Pete will call Aaron for an unrelated reason, and in the course of the conversation ask how it’s going in counseling. If Aaron doesn’t tell Pete that you’ve filled him in on your weekend activities, then Pete will tell Aaron.” I spread my hands. “Your choice.”
Paul’s expression was thunderous. He snarled. “Fine. I’ll tell him.”
“See that you do. And you might want to find out if this place has a back door.” I turned on my heel and left the restroom.
When I reached our table, the conversation skidded to a halt as seven faces caught my facial expression at the same time. Ali said, “Uh oh.”
Pete said, “What?”
I dropped into my seat. “Guess who was in the men’s room, receiving a hummer from a barely legal kid?”
Liz said, “Not Stephen Atcheson.”
I nearly choked on my drink. “God, no.”
Pete didn’t have to guess. “Paul Thayer.”
Kevin said, “He’s the home staging guy, right? Fixed up your dad’s house to sell?”
Pete said, “Right. He’s also married to my friend Aaron Quinn. I was Aaron’s best man. They’re in counseling, supposedly working through Paul’s cheating and dishonesty.”
Liz said, “Doesn’t seem to be helping.”
I said, “Mel. Listen. If Paul contacts you, asking you to represent him in a divorce, please say no. If you take anyone’s case, take Aaron’s.”
Mel nodded. “Give Aaron my number. Is Paul the primary breadwinner?”
Pete said, “Yes. Paul is one of the top home stagers in LA. He makes at least twenty times as much as Aaron.”
Ali grinned, nudging Mel with her shoulder. “You’ll enjoy this one.”
Mel tossed back a mouthful of margarita and thumped the glass onto the table. “You betcha.”
I said to Pete, “I told Paul that if he didn’t tell Aaron, we would. That you’d call Aaron in a couple of days to talk about something else and ask him how counseling was going, and if Aaron didn’t know, you’d tell him.”
Pete was aghast. “I’m not gonna tell him on the phone.”
“Of course not. You and he will meet for coffee or something.”
Pete scrubbed his face with his hands. “Uurrrgggghhhhh.”
Kristen said, “I’m guessing there’s no open relationship.”
I said, “No. Aaron offered one, and Paul refused. Said he wanted monogamy.”
Kevin was disgusted. “Is he one of these who doesn’t consider blow jobs as cheating?”
Pete said, “No. I’m sure they’ve both made their expectations clear in counseling. At this point, the dishonesty is worse than the cheating.”
Kristen said, “Aaron can’t trust Paul anymore.”
Pete scowled into his beer. “Nope.”
Paul must have found the back door; he didn’t appear. Our conversation gradually swung to other topics, and we ended the evening on a lighter note. When we got home, our yellow Lab, Ammo, leaped to his paws in delight and began dancing around us. Pete groaned.
I said, “The joys of parenthood. Come on. A walk will help me sober up.”
We took our usual route, around the corner to Arizona Avenue. I said, “Do you think I did the right thing, with what I told Paul?”
“Yes.” Pete sighed. “Ideally, it’ll scare Paul into telling Aaron himself.”
“Yeah. I’d prefer that too.” We walked in silence for a minute. “They’re not gonna make it, are they?”
Pete said, “I don’t think so. Knowing Aaron, frankly, I’m surprised he’s stayed this long.”
“I guess Paul will keep the penis collection.” Paul and Aaron’s house was decorated with penile art in various media and styles.
Pete snorted. “I expect so.”
“It’s such a shame.”
“I know. I feel terrible for Aaron.”
“So do I, but not just that.” I stopped as Ammo added his signature to a telephone pole. “People fought so long and so hard for same-sex marriage. And for someone like Paul to treat it like it meant nothing, to throw it away… It’s maddening.”
“Agreed. And it plays right into the hands of the opposition. ‘See? The gays aren’t stable enough for marriage.’”
I kicked at a pebble. “I still believe, though, in the long run, our divorce rates will be lower.”
“So do I. But those stats won’t be available for a while.”
I nudged him with my shoulder. “I’m never divorcing you.”
He laughed. “Good to know. I’m never divorcing you either.”
I started to sing – softly, so the people in the houses we passed didn’t think we were nuts. “We’ve been together since way back when…”
Pete laughed and joined in. “Sometimes I never want to see you again…”
We sang out when we got to the chorus. “You’re still the one…”