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Marty Lefavor had no clue what homosexuals were supposed to do to be romantic. On his drive home from work, he stopped at the liquor store and bought a bottle of New York State champagne, then stopped at the grocery store with the idea of buying chocolate and strawberries. Except the store didn't sell fondue pots, which it belatedly occurred to him was the essential missing ingredient of that scenario. So he looked at the tankful of live lobsters instead. He imagined the ordeal of bringing these disturbingly bug-like creatures to their boiling deaths while Edgar hovered behind him, wondering aloud if he knew what he was doing. He pictured sitting down at the dinner table and watching Edgar screw the back off his cooked lobster with his hands, picking at the massacred crustacean corpse with legs and entrails and fat and roe tumbling from his plate. He pictured Edgar snapping the large red claw with a nutcracker and dangling the pink-edged piece of meat in front of his open mouth, finally slurping it in like a live goldfish. He imagined the butter and garlic smell over Edgar's fingers, most likely dripped down the front of his shirt as well, permeating his hair and breath and skin.

Trying to force these thoughts to the back of his mind, he put some strawberries and grapes and onions in his shopping cart, and then selected a couple nice beef filets. Marty knew how to cook steak with little fuss; Edgar knew how to eat steak without making himself disgusting. Marty got back in the car with his groceries and drove until he reached another liquor store, where he bought a case of Bass Ale in bottles and a Lotto ticket. He played 4, 18 -- Edgar's birthday -- 10, 23 -- his birthday -- and 9, 11: the day's date and the date of his and Edgar's first meeting three years earlier.

Marty found a decent parking place at the end of the block and walked home with his groceries. Edgar had beaten him home from work and was watching t.v. on the sofa, wearing a long underwear shirt and boxer shorts, his jeans, inside-out socks and tennis shoes tossed in a pile by the door. He was sprawled back, resting a bottle of beer between his legs. "Hey," he said as Marty fumbled to open the inside door. "How was your day."

"Okay," Marty said. "I got some steaks. There's a case of beer in the car."

"Oh shit," Edgar said. "Should I put on some pants?"

Marty carried the groceries into the kitchen. "If you want to get it for me."

"Steak. What's all this for?" Edgar stood in the doorway, sliding into his jeans.

Marty unpacked the bags on the counter. "Where were you three years ago tonight?"

Edgar looked blank for a minute and then smiled. "Three years ago tonight right now?" he asked. "I think I was wondering why I was going to let myself be dragged to half-price night at Allanté."

"You remember, you asshole," Marty said.

"Of course I remember," Edgar said. "I picked up a couple videos on my way home. With that Romanian guy you like."

"You got porno? Edgar, you are foul. You're a dirty boy."

"I picked ones you'd like," Edgar said. "You're the one who likes porno anyhow."

Edgar went out to get the beer from the car. This was true, that Marty was the one who liked porno. He was a little older than Edgar, but he had not had many boyfriends. He was in his twenties before he had been with a man, and even then hadn't liked it so much. He never acquired a taste for meeting gay guys. Instead of learning how to meet people, he studied how to work up the nerve to rent dirty videos and buy magazines without feeling obvious or guilty.

He had become somewhat attached to looking at pictures of different sorts of men having sex. Sometimes it was boring to have sex with the same person over and over again, especially because there were two or three things Edgar liked and he always liked them the same way. And Marty had become annoyingly familiar with every square inch of Edgar's skin, from the mole on his shoulder blade to the ingrown hairs on his throat to the exact lines and folds of his circumcision scar. The only thing to watch, really, was Edgar gaining weight and losing the adolescent smoothness of his skin, and he took no pleasure in that. Noticing those things made Marty feel like he was a bad person.

Sometimes Marty blamed himself for having been shy and ashamed in his search for love. He had wanted to be done with it all and settled on the first guy he met who also wanted out of the looking-for-sex racket. Other days, he'd be sitting with Edgar having coffee in the kitchen, watching the gray smoke curl from Edgar's nostrils, and he'd say, "You're not using the patch still? 'Cause that could give you a heart attack." And Edgar would say, "I'm not a moron, for fuck's sake. I'm not using the patch anymore. It wasn't working. I don't feel like quitting right now. You don't have to nag me." Marty would realize that he was saying these things to Edgar because Edgar was the most perfect person who had ever walked across his life and the thought that this person might die and leave him alone was the most terrifying thing he could imagine. He loved Edgar. He liked their life together.

Marty had once been afraid that if he accepted his being homosexual he would end up having to make himself a different person. You didn't see nice homosexual couples with real jobs living in East Baltimore, having barbecues on the decks they built behind their rowhouse and arguing over who parked the car close enough to the house or not. That was Edgar and Marty, now, if there were any budding homosexuals to observe them and take heart. In truth, Marty had bought the house because he'd wanted to, on his own, when he and Edgar had been going out for a few months. He had not immediately asked Edgar to move in with him, but it was meeting a guy like Edgar finally that had given him the resolve to purchase a house in his old neighborhood and live there and be a homosexual there if necessary. If there were guys like Edgar out there, it could make sense.

"How much did you pay for this? Bass Ale?" said Edgar as he carried in the case of beer. "I hope it was on sale."

"It wasn't on sale," Marty said, turning the steaks in their Worcestershire sauce marinade. "But it was for sale. You like Bass."

"I like Beck's," Edgar said with little apparent concern. "I hope you like Bass."

Marty looked at his boyfriend. Edgar's hair was growing back over his ears. He had buzz-cut it for the summer, mostly to get rid of the bad bleach job he'd given himself earlier, angrily resisting the darkening of his white-blond hair. The stripping agent brought it close to its former color but his hair looked thin and fried and fake and made Edgar feel, he said, "like an old faggot." He was twenty-six. Sometimes Marty liked them getting older and sometimes he didn't. Marty was turning twenty-eight the next month. He had a decent job he intended to keep, and a house of his own, and a boyfriend he intended to be with forever. Sometimes thinking about these things made him happy and sometimes these things made him think he may as well be dead already.

They had sex that night. They had anal intercourse for the fifty-eighth time since they had been together as a couple, Marty on top and Edgar laying on his back with his left leg hooked around Marty's waist. Marty was using a condom. He was not aware of it being the fifty-eighth time. He had not been counting. He would probably have guessed a higher number. It seemed like they repeated this act fairly often, but really their sexual activities had come to be confined to the weekend nights and most of the time less intrusive interactions satisfied them both.

After they had orgasmed and Edgar was almost asleep, his face buried in Marty's armpit, Marty said, "Do you think... I mean... I was just thinking..."

"Huh?" Edgar said.

"I was thinking what's the point of us using rubbers at this point. You know? It's not like we're being, you know... with anyone else or anything."

"Mmmm," Edgar said, eyes closed.

"It's been three years," Marty said.

Edgar didn't say anything.

Marty looked at the ceiling, an ugly plaster ceiling covered in stucco icing whirled in a circular, raked pattern. One corner was chipped where Edgar had experimented to see how easily the stuff would come off. "That shit reminds me of my parent's bedroom," he'd said. "We keep that and next thing you know we're putting painted screens in the window, china cats climbing the lightpost and going full Bawlamer, hon." The outside light threw shadows across the ridges and if you stared at them while going to sleep you could hallucinate small creatures moving around up there.

The next morning, Marty got up and found Edgar in the bathroom standing nude on the toilet, trying to look at a big pimple he had near the center of his back. He had obviously been picking at it.

"That's a prize winner," Marty said.

"No," Edgar said, hopping off the toilet. "It's weird. Doesn't it look weird? It had black in it."

"That's from your T-shirt," Marty said, running his finger around his lover's sore. "You scratched it and it got goopy and some schnibblies from your T-shirt stuck to it." He displayed some of the loose fibers on the tip of his finger.

"No," Edgar said. "That's just threads there. That's from my T-shirt. But there was different stuff before."

"You're crazy," Marty said.

"No, I'm not," Edgar said seriously. "You didn't see."

Marty yawned. He wanted some coffee.

"Listen," Edgar said. "What you were saying last night. If you wanna start, you know, doing that, then I think we need to go to the doctor and all."

Marty was surprised. He thought Edgar had been sleeping through those comments. "You want to get tested," he said, "in other words."

"Don't you think we should?"

"Yeah. I mean, it wouldn't hurt." Marty had gotten a blood test a couple years ago when he'd gone to the doctor after stepping on a nail at work. During the examination he suggested to the doctor that maybe he ought to take an HIV test, "seeing as he was there already and all." The doctor paused and asked him why he thought he ought to take a test like that. Marty shrugged, said he didn't know, really, and the doctor shrugged and said if Marty wanted one... And so they did and when the tests came back there was nothing unusual and the doctor told him he shouldn't get all worked up. It was hard to get AIDS and there really was no call for someone who wasn't doing any of those things you had to do to get themselves in a state. Marty gathered that the doctor thought he was being overanxious about a one-night stand with some girl he didn't know too well.

"I mean, if you want to," Marty said. "I've got no problem with it."

Edgar nodded.

"That's just a zit, though. You know that, right?"

Marty had his second cup of coffee at work, listening to the crew foreman describe the extent of the drywall that needed to be hung by the end of the day. This project was a couple floors of an office building on St. Paul Street. They were converting some floors set aside by the corporation that owned the building for its own use into smaller rental units. Everyone was downsizing these days. Most of the crew's work lately had been renovation jobs like this rather than new construction, and their contract for this job contained rigid deadlines.

Marty often ended up paired off with the one female on the crew, Trini Coulburn, a short-haired, well-muscled black woman about thirty-one or -two. He suspected Trini was a lesbian, and to that end had earlier broached the subject of his upcoming anniversary with Edgar. Trini had been unsurprised and sympathetic but she had not returned the courtesy of admitting to being a homosexual. Not that Marty had said, point blank, that he was either. He'd said, actually, to quote: "Yeah, uhm. Well. It's sort of my anniversary coming up. You know my friend Edgar? We've been together three years this Wednesday." Trini had nodded without any expression in particular and said, "That's a long time -- I mean, for a guy your age." Thursday morning, when they began cutting the drywall for the bare aluminum-stud framing that outlined a bank of office cubicles, Trini asked Marty how his big night had gone.

"Okay, I guess," Marty said. He was hoping that she would pry beneath the surface to inquire why, for example, Marty only "guessed" that it had gone okay. Which of his hopes had gone unrealized. But instead she nodded and smiled a little and went back to slicing the hole for an outlet box near the bottom of the panel.

"He just got me a little edgy," Marty let out a little while later, as if there'd been a far shorter pause in their conversation. "He got it into his head somehow that we need to get blood tests all of a sudden."

Trini wiped her forehead and her nose with a blue bandanna, then returned it to the back pocket of her jeans. "I had a cousin that died of that," she said matter-of-factly.

"I'm sorry," Marty said. Lots of conversations he had with people he supposed to be gay went like this, admitting nothing but continuing nevertheless. If he were stupid he might conclude Trini meant her cousin died of a blood test, but he knew they agreed on what they were actually talking about using these unspecific terms.

Trini shrugged. "It's something you don't wanna mess around with," she said.

"I know," Marty said, somewhat abashed. He had wanted to talk about anxiety, not about some person dying. "I just don't know why, all of a sudden," he said. "He wasn't worried about it six months ago. He wasn't worried about it two days ago. But now he's got a notion."

"You know people," Trini said. "I got a sister-in-law like that with brain cancer. Sometimes it's cell phones and sometimes it's power lines but it's all gonna give her brain cancer. At least for a couple days after she's seen it on the news."

"Your sister-in-law?" Marty wanted her to tell him whether she meant a brother's wife or whether she meant a woman who was sister to a person Trini considered her spouse.

Instead Trini just squinted at him like he was stupid or deaf. "Yeah, my sister-in-law."

After work, Marty stopped for a beer with a couple guys from the crew. There was a game on the t.v. at the end of the bar and they watched it and talked mostly about baseball. Jimmy Elsrod was having problems with his wife and announced he should have stayed single like Lefavor. Then he could see any woman he wanted. Marty figured he based this assertion on the masculine beauty he might have possessed ten or twelve years ago when he was still a teenager. Considering Elsrod's present appearance, he was lucky if his wife wanted him. And after all, it seemed she didn't particularly.

Sometimes Marty actually said these things. Sometimes a guy from work would mention an attractive sister who could use a steady, responsible guy -- usually in place of the reckless, irresponsible guy she was currently quite happy seeing even if her brother wasn't. Marty would decline the date and sometimes a guy like Elsrod would say, "What the fuck's the matter, Lefavor. You gay or something?" And Marty would say, "Yeah. I am gay. I have a homosexual lover and everything." And an Elsrod would say, "Yeah. Right. You're gay and I bet you butt-fuck all the time." Anly. He was a fat, balding jerk who thought he possessed some natural charisma, but he was an all right guy besides that. And the other guys on the crew, Roy Schaeffer and Pat Donaldson and Mark Joyce, were nice. They had their little bits. Roy was a racist, and Pat talked about the strange magazines he liked to read about ghosts and UFOs, and Mark told too-explicit stories about his swinging sex life. Mark's wife liked to stick a finger up his ass when she gave him head, and once he had persuaded her to get a girlfriend to join them in bed. Everyone found these stories both believable and disturbing, unlike Marty's deceptive admissions, and they liked Mark but in a condescending way, as if he were mildly retarded and could not be expected to exercise a socially acceptable restraint on the things that occurred to him to say.

Marty thought Mark's sexual life, as revealed through his banter, sounded pathetic and sad. How could you love your wife and do things like that? And if you didn't love her, what did you get out of it, chained to one person but not even pretending to be faithful? The other straight guys did not seem to envy it either. On more than one occasion, Elsrod had said, "Did you ever hear of anyone bragging about that kind of thing? I think that damn Joyce is a closet case queer. Wanting us to hear all about where he's sticking his dick."

Sometimes, Pat Donaldson suggested, people who have these compulsive abnormal sexual drives are just experiencing the side effects of the brain experiments the aliens do. It was probably Mark's way of crying out for help.

Roy and Marty and Elsrod agreed that this was as likely an explanation as they could come up with. Why they didn't think Pat was nuts is another issue altogether. He didn't seem particularly intent on believing the things he enjoyed reporting, was one thing. That his knowledge demonstrated some admirable devotion to reading and the intellect was another. Plus, it was interesting to hear about. It was interesting to imagine that, behind closed doors, people would admit to being kidnapped by creatures from other planets; to knowing that our genetic codes had been manipulated back in prehistory to help us walk upright, develop our brains and our society so we could one day join our ancestors in space. More interesting than hearing about Mark Joyce and his wife's finger anyhow.

Edgar was mad when Marty finally came home around nine-thirty. He had the television on and would not look at Marty. "There's a whole stack of bills that need to get paid," he said.

Once a month they sat down to go over their finances. Except for the mortgage payments, which Marty alone covered, they split everything down the middle. They added up all the expenses and divided them in half and then sorted the individual bills into two piles which most closely approximated the halved sum. There was always a tie-breaking bill for which they would need to write two checks. Edgar had his name on Marty's MasterCard account but other than that they had no joint finances. To get the credit card Marty had only needed to send in a form to the company's address in Delaware and this form did not ask why you wanted this other person to be able to use your card but to get a joint checking account they would have had to both go to the bank branch and probably explain what they were.

Edgar finally looked at Marty and said, "I guess you're too drunk to do it tonight."

Marty made an irritated sighing noise and went into the kitchen.

"Did you think about what we talked about this morning?" Edgar said loudly. Marty was looking over the bills. He wasn't too drunk. They weren't that hard to figure out.

"Yes," Marty said. "I thought about it."


"Well I'm ready to do it," he answered. "It's perfectly fine with me. I don't think it's all that necessary but I guess we should."

"What do you mean it's not all that necessary?" Edgar was being pissy. "Do you think you know everything about me? Do I know everything about you?"

"No. I don't know. I'm just saying, you know. We're healthy and I trust you."

"Trust? Jesus shit, Marty, do you think people want to give each other AIDS? It's people who don't bother worrying about it who end up getting it."

"I said we should do it so I don't know why I need a fucking lecture about AIDS tonight. You're not sick, Edgar, just because you got a goddamn zit."

"I know I'm not sick, asshole. But wouldn't it be nice not to worry about it every time one of us gets the flu or a rash or a zit? Not to have to worry about dying all of a sudden every time something stupid happens? That's all I'm saying."

"Did you hear me say it was fine? I said fine. It's stupid. I don't worry about zits. You're out of your mind. You don't worry about zits."

"I don't know what's up with you, man," Edgar said. "I don't know why you're freaking out about this."

"I'm not freaking out about it," Marty said. "I'm freaking out at you. You're pissing me off. I'm sorry I stayed out and didn't call, I can understand you being mad. Why do you have to turn it into me not caring if I give you fuckin' AIDS for christssake?"

"Fuck you Marty. Not everything's about you." Edgar's voice had a sharp, quavering tone to it. Marty slowly turned around. Edgar had his legs folded up on the couch, his hand over his mouth. He wasn't sobbing but there was a visible tear or two on his reddening cheeks. He looked sidelong at Marty then darted his eyes away again.

"You aren't the only guy that's ever fucked me, you know," he said.

"I can take care of these bills tonight," Marty said. "I only had a couple beers. Let me relax for a while and I'll do it during the news."

"Marty..." Edgar said plaintively. "I'm sorry. You know? I've just been putting it out of my mind is all. I love you. I don't want to make you sick."

In his dreams that night Marty was back at Hampstead Elementary, wandering through the halls, passing by the white porcelain water fountains set at his hip level: he guessed this meant he was grown up. One of his fifth grade teachers, Mrs. Green, took him by the arm. She did not immediately recognize him. She asked him if he had a visitor's pass. It seemed that his brain was trying to make her look appropriately older but it did not do a complete job. She still looked about thirty years old, even though her hair was grayer and her clothes were modern. Marty felt a wave of anxiety about not having a visitor's pass, and explained he had been in her class. Mrs. Green said, "Oh, yes, you're Marty Lefavor. I remember now. Perhaps in the summer you can come back but I have students to teach. Your class is supposed to be in the gym right now."

Marty had some trouble finding the gym, which was often set up with chairs for various assemblies. Instead he found himself wandering in confusion in the school's backstairs area, near the phys. ed. offices and sports equipment storage areas. Some of this was snatched from his memories of high school rather than elementary. He stood by a bank of gym lockers in a room which was much dingier than the real gym locker room had been, dull green tiles stained with rust and mildew, and he was alone in a place he knew he shouldn't be. When boys he did not recognize returned from their exercises, they did not take his presence amiss and began changing back into their street clothes. They did not seem to be proper teenagers for some reason. In one boy's open locker he noticed a cheap gay porn magazine, the kind that comes in packs of three for five dollars or so. Marty wondered why the boy had it and why he was not ashamed to keep it in such a visible place. He began to suspect he was dreaming and wondered if something sexual was going to occur. It didn't, though, and his memories of the dream beyond this point were garbled and fragmentary.

He had a hard-on when he woke up. Edgar was asleep with his back pressed against Marty's left side, snoring softly, dusted with sweat. Marty tried to remember if the boy with the porn magazine was someone in particular. It made him think of several people to whom he'd been mildly attracted but he could only envision the baggy blue gym shorts over a skinny butt and freshly haired thighs, the pile of clothes half-obscuring the porn magazine, the fine, longish sandy-blond hair of the kid's bowl cut, the pipe-cleaner teenage arms. When he had been that age he had never let himself think any of these boys were within his reach, sexually. He had fantasized, sometimes in quite specific detail, of going over to a friend's house, hanging out on a strange bed listening to music when something accidental and electric happened. He never picked his own friends for such a daydream. They were always boys he admired but knew slightly. Sometimes they weren't even on friendly terms. He enjoyed making up what their bedrooms might look like.

Edgar, on the other hand, had begun to sleep with men when he was rather young. He had slept with men who had no business even talking to a teenage boy. "I thought someone would show me what I was supposed to do," he'd said of those experiences. "It was nice to have someone think you were important because you were young and inexperienced. No one else thought that way when they looked at me. You were just some worthless kid."

When Marty made love to Edgar he felt like he was protecting him.

"How many 'lites' do we need, Mar?"

Marty and Pat Donaldson had volunteered to run down to Wawa's to pick up coffees for the crew. Pat was ordering at the counter while Marty wandered down the magazine rack, reading coverlines.

"Marty?" Pat asked again. "How many with milk?"

Marty looked over. Both Pat and the clerk were looking at him. "Oh. Four. Five, I guess."

"Everybody like regular donuts? Or should I get a handful of these danishes and shit?"

"Just get the donuts. We had that argument last time, remember."

"Yeah," Pat conceded. "If I get a danish to eat in the truck, you want one too?"

Marty laughed. They'd been given ten bucks to go to the store, were supposed to bring back change. "Okay, sure," he said. He prodded a tabloid magazine with the headline "Astronomers Discover Ancient Air Force Base on Mars." "Hey, Pat," he said. "You want this?"

Pat cocked his head back. "Man." He scrunched his nose up. "What, do you think I'm an idiot?" The clerk finished packing a cardboard tray full of steaming coffee cups and pushed it across the counter. Pat handed over the ten dollar bill. "You ever look at that magazine? It's got a sentence right on the inside cover says 'For entertainment purposes only.'"

Marty pulled the tabloid out of its slot. Beneath the Ancient Air Force Base blurb was one that read "AIDS Scare for Baywatch Beauty." He let go of it distainfully. "You mean you don't believe in the chicken boy?" Marty teased.

"People in this world," Pat exhaled, picking up the tray of coffees. "Still believe in an ancient sky god gonna send them to hell, and I'm a freak for thinking somewhere in this infinite universe there's another planet with living creatures on it."

"I'm just pulling your chain, Pat." Marty held the door open for him. They'd driven down in Pat's white Ford pickup. Pat handed off the coffees for Marty to hold. "You know I don't mean nothing by it."

Rings of burning hot coffee swirled around the plastic lids on the cups, splattering a few drops on Marty's jeans as Pat backed the truck out. "Shit!"

"Sorry. Watch yourself," Pat said. He squealed into the intersection but by then the coffee spillover had cooled down a little.

"Man," Marty said, rolling down the window and resting his arm there. "You don't believe in God, Pat?"

"Well," Pat said. "I mean, I don't believe in God with a white beard. I don't believe in God parting the Red Sea. I don't know what the fuck's out there. Maybe there's some kind of God but I don't know him." Pat pushed in the lighter, smacked his new pack of Marlboros against his thigh to tamp down the tobacco in them. "Does that surprise you?" he asked.

Marty shrugged. "Kinda. I don't know."

"You surprise me," Pat said. "I woulda thought you'd be a little skeptical of the whole thing."

"What? God?"

"Yeah, religion and all. Organized religion."

"What would make you assume that?" Marty asked.

"I dunno. I guess I just think certain kinds of people get skeptical about things. About being told how things are supposed to be."

"What kind of people? What are you talking about, Pat?"

He exhaled, a slight snort, then shrugged. "I don't know, Marty. Nothing." He rolled the pack of cigarettes between his fingers, undoing the celephane wrapper with one hand. "I'm not Elsrod, you know. It's cool with me, man."

"I don't know what you're getting at, Pat."

"Okay. Sorry," Pat said. "But it's cool with me, Mart. I just wanted you to know that."

"Yeah, okay," Marty said. "It's cool with me too." He chuckled as if he were bemused by the conversation.

"You're such an asshole," Pat said, beaming. "You know exactly what I'm talking about."

Shortly into the morning, Mark Joyce was horsing around with a nail gun and drove a one-and-three-quarter's inch galvanized steel nail into the meat of his forearm. Trini Coulborn sat him down in a chair and straddled him to pull it out. Marty felt his head go light as a thick trail of blood oozed out the dark hole in Mark's arm. He had to sit down and look away.

Trini wrapped a sheet of clean chamois tightly around Mark's arm and Roy took him to the emergency room but the image - and the red dots on the floor where Mark had done it - made Marty uneasy for the rest of the day. At lunch Pat apologized if he had made Marty uncomfortable about anything and Marty assured him he hadn't. Pat said that on Saturday he was going to the ball game with his brother and they had a couple extra tickets if Marty had twenty bucks. Marty said thanks but he had some chores he needed to take care of at home this weekend. After work everyone stopped off for a beer as usual but Marty only finished half of his before he said he needed to get along.

There were some groceries out in the kitchen but Edgar did not seem to be around when Marty came home. The back door was sitting open, though, and after fixing himself an ice tea Marty heard Edgar talking with one of the neighbors outside. He stuck his head out the screen door.

"Hey," Edgar said. He was in the Gristlers' yard next door, leaning against the cinder block wall that divided the area behind the houses into their individual pens. Matt Gristler was starting up his grill. "I was just over here helping Matt put up the crib for the nursery. He was dragging it in from his car when I got home to work."

"Hey Marty," Matt said. Matt was a married guy about their same age. His wife Jen was pregnant. "I told Edgar I could put on some burgers for you guys. I appreciate the help and all. Had to go up to Jen's mom's this afternoon and bring down this old nursery furniture Jen wanted. She's been bugging me for weeks."

"Oh yeah," Marty said. "When's she due?"

"First of November. Not too long now, right?" Matt said. He shook the grill a little, settling the charcoals. "Goddamn. I'm looking forward to it and all, but man. Kids."

"It's a big step," Marty agreed.

"Shit yeah it's a big step. I'm going to be somebody's dad." Matt put the lid back on the grill. "I gotta get the burgers from inside. You want a beer while I'm in there?"

"No thanks, man," Marty said.

"I'll take one," Edgar said. "Shit. Hey Mattome. She waddled out to the back door, a huge pinkish gray sweatshirt tight across her belly but baggy and huge in the neck and arms, waved hi at Marty and Edgar and smiled with genuine pleasure when she saw Matt had fixed dinner. "Someone's been a good boy today." She pulled the elastic off her dark blond ponytail. "I saw what you done upstairs."

"Edgar gave me a hand," Matt said.

"I wonder if they'll love us so much when we've got a baby screaming through their bedroom walls all night," Jen said.

"I can sleep through worse than a baby," Edgar said.

"Him too, I'll bet," Jen said, kicking at Matt's leg with her sneaker. "I can guess who's gonna be getting up at night." Matt smirked as he flipped the hamburgers. Jen laughed like she was offended and lowered herself gently to the picnic bench. She shook her head as she caught Marty's eye and said, "Men," with a pouty groan. She winked at him then and he did not know how to react. "Go on, drink your beers in front of me, you sons of bitches. Damn, I'd like a beer."

Edgar took a dramatic swig off his beer bottle, wiping its mouth on the tail of his T-shirt.

"You know, Doctor French says I shouldn't start drinking alcohol until the baby's done breast feeding, can you believe it? Oh, I sound like a drunk, don't I? But not even one beer for the last six months. I suppose if I hung out with a different crowd I might not even be noticing, right hon?"

"I told you I'd stop if it'd help you."

"I know," Jen said. "He quit smoking already," she said over to Edgar and Marty, "so I let him have his beer for the time being."

"I have a cigar now and again," Matt said. "I figure it does less harm."

When they finished eating and Marty had helped Jen take the dishes inside, Matt brought his cigar paraphenalia up from the bar in the basement, arraying the coat-pocket-sized leather humidor case, the wide brass lighter, and the cigar cutter on the picnic table in front of Edgar, who examined each item with interest. The cutter was of surgical steel in a matte finish, square with a round hole in the center, from which two blades emerged when you squeezed the two levers between your thumb and forefinger. It looked partly like a nail-cutting tool and partly like a instrument of torture. "Jen's brother got me these for Christmas," Matt said as Edgar rolled one of the cigars between his fingers.

"You're not going to have one of those," Marty said with a little irritation. Edgar looked at him and raised his eyebrows in an expression of uncertainty.

"Go ahead," Matt said. "Don't worry about it. I got a whole box." Which wasn't really Marty's concern but made it hard for him to object further. He just wanted to be getting home soon. He liked Matt fine, of course, but he and Edgar had things to talk about.

"Seriously?" Edgar said. Matt nodded enthusiastically and got himself one as well. Edgar smiled as he and Matt began unraveling the cellophane wrappings at the same time. It was a flirty, pleased smile that lit up his face, Marty observed - they were about to do something naughty together - though he was only a little bit jealous because it didn't mean anything. Edgar liked to be accepted into the rituals of guys. He'd fallen in love with Marty because Marty was a guy, but this was a difficult impression to keep fresh now that they'd been having homosexual sex for three years, keeping a household together. Anyone seems to be a queen once they start bitching about the smell of your pee drying on the tile where you missed the bowl a little.

Matt showed Edgar how to draw in on your cigar to get it lit, and Marty wondered who Edgar thought of when his mind wandered having sex. It didn't bother him because he did it too, but he wondered who. They talked about certain famous actors being cute -- Keanu Reeves, Brad Pitt, the guy who played Becky's boyfriend on Roseanne -- but actors were something you masturbated about, maybe, when you were alone. Marty thought of real guys when he had sex. Boys he had liked in high school, guys he had known since, and past sexual experiences that had been hot. He assumed Edgar did likewise. He wondered if Edgar had ever thought about Matt. It was no big deal: Marty had.

"Marty," Matt said, shoving the open cigar case down to his end of the table. "You want one?"

Marty frowned. "Not a whole one. I'll take a drag, though, I guess."

Both Edgar and Matt began to offer their cigars in his direction. Matt put his back in his mouth and puffed vigorously when Marty accepted Edgar's.

"I guess he's more used to my spit," Edgar said, as if he'd won a contest and needed to be magnanimous, deferential in victory. Matt grinned bashfully -- as he did any time his neighbors referred, however obliquely, to the nature of their relationship -- and turned his eyes away when Marty brought the cigar to his lips.

"Gee," he said awkwardly. "Look at all the stars out tonight. Sometimes with the lights from the harbor you can't see anything."

The night felt kind of cool so Marty put on an old T-shirt before getting into bed. Edgar smelled him and made a face. "You dig that out of the bottom of the closet? Makes you smell like socks." Marty snorted. Edgar pressed his lips against Marty's armpit and bit his flesh through the cotton fabric.

"It's real nice how Matt's got the nursery set up," Edgar said, his hands on Marty's stomach. "I mean, they got this big wardrobe with a fold-out changing table pushed up against our wall. Matt said he figured it'd buffer against the noise. I thought that was real considerate."

"We'll see how well it works, I guess."

"It's just a baby," Edgar said. "I don't imagine we'll hear much out of it."

"I'm not sure," Marty said. "We heard them make it, didn't we?"

Edgar giggled, hooking his leg around Marty's. "Do you think they can hear us?"

"I guess. We can hear them, right? I can't imagine they're so much louder."

"I think they're a little louder," Edgar said. "Jen's a little more dramatic than I am. Or maybe Matt gives her more to yell about." He had his hand down Marty's shorts now, squeezing him gently. Marty switched off the lights and closed his eyes. Edgar moved his head to Marty's chest and planted damp kisses on his shirt.

"Marty?" he whispered. "Honey?"

Marty moved his hand to Edgar's head, stroking the short, fine locks of hair. He traced the curve of Edgar's ear with a finger he wetted on Edgar's lips. "What?"

"I'm sorry I was so stupid before. I guess it just freaked me out. Even the idea. Thinking about drawing blood makes me go light in the head. To think that we're filled with ... veins and shit."

"Don't worry about it," Marty said. "That's natural. It's scary to think about."

"It's just, you know. Us thinking about making a decision like that. It kind of scared me. Because that's it, right? That's the last step. That's us saying we really mean it, isn't it? I mean, Jen and Matt, they're married, they're going to have a baby together."

Marty softly hummed in agreement.

"Marty, I want to have a baby."

Edgar listened to Marty's heart beat.


"You can't have a baby you silly old girl," Marty said.

"How do you know?" Edgar said, pulling Marty's underwear down past his knees and climbing on top of him. Sliding his hands up his lover's chest until he had him by the shoulders. "We've never tried."


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