César and Brett arrived the afternoon before Christmas. When CJ began planning his twenty-first birthday celebration, his fathers insisted on remaining in Washington. They told their son to invite his own friends instead. They would join him, Owen, and Ritchie the day after the dinner party, and the five would spend Christmas in Manhattan.
“So, what’s the plan for what’s left of the day?” Brett put his feet on the coffee table and leaned back against his husband. The three younger men in the room had finished regaling them with tales from the past two days, and CJ had dropped his pants to show off his new tattoo. “Dude, your ink makes me want to get more. You think this guy’s working today?”
“Forget it. It’s Christmas Eve. He doesn’t take walk-ins anyway.” CJ raised his sweats and sat on the floor with his back to the couch.
“I promised Silas we could go up to the Empire State Building at night.” Ritchie and Silas got along well and spent a lot of time together during the trip.
The Chicago couple kept their plans to stay in New York for Christmas secret until after the party the previous evening. Randy’s twin brother, Rod and his wife, Taisha also remained behind, while the rest of the guests scattered to wherever they planned to spend the holidays. The five had gone to lunch together and would meet with the remainder of the family later.
“That’s always fun.” Owen walked in from the kitchen carrying two wine glasses. “I found a bottle of chilled Taittinger Brut and popped it for mimosas this morning. Hope you don’t mind. We’ll replace it before we fly out. I thought you guys might want to enjoy the rest of it.” Handing them to his fathers-in-law, he sat next to CJ.
“Don’t be an ass, Ozzie.” César sipped and sighed. “Damn that’s good. Why would you feel obligated to replace a bottle of booze at your own home?”
“We weren’t sure if it was Doc’s or yours.”
“Who cares? You and CJ stock that wine fridge on a regular basis, and we all drink it. Don’t even think about it.”
“Okay… You know what I’d like to do after dinner? We’ve been running around the past two days and nights, and haven’t seen much of anything. We can do the Empire State, and then I want to check out the Christmas Windows at Bloomie’s, Saks, and the other stores along Fifth Avenue.”
On Christmas Day, the family went ice-skating at Rockefeller Center; CJ spent more time on the ground than anyone else. He gave up complaining it hurt too much to land on his still-healing tattoo after they all ignored him.
During a break, Ritchie approached Brett and César. “Hey, dads. There’s a mass at St. Patrick’s right now. Is it okay if I walk over? I just want to take communion.”
“I’ll go with you, bro. I’m tired of spending so much time on my ass.” CJ’s offer raised eyebrows all around. “What? I’m just going to keep him company. I haven’t changed my mind about the evils of religion.” That was true. He considered most faiths to be the cause of pain and suffering. But he had come to realize some people found comfort believing in an all-powerful, mythical creature who could influence their lives.
“Thanks, CJ. Don’t worry, I’m not turning into one of those crazy people. It’s just that…” Sadness clouded Ritchie’s visage for a moment. “It’s just that Christmas Day Mom and Dad always took us to church. You remember that? Anyway, it’s more about tradition than the religious stuff.”
It was not CJ’s first visit to the famous church; he loved the structure but had no desire to partake of the sacrament. He was there as a companion to his younger sibling. While Ritchie walked down the aisle toward the altar, CJ sat in the last pew and waited.
The time in New York flew by for CJ and Owen. The day after Christmas, they had the apartment to themselves; the fathers and Ritchie returned to Washington in the morning. Wanting to do something different, they headed across the East River for a visit to the Brooklyn Museum.
“What do you call this style of architecture again?” Owen glanced past the modern, glass-enclosed entrance pavilion at the original edifice.
“That’s definitely a Beaux-Arts building.” Standing across the street from the structure, CJ snapped a couple of pictures of the museum’s exterior. “I like how the new section doesn’t block the view of the old one.”
“You taking more pictures?” Owen’s sideways glance and smirk led to CJ sticking his tongue out at him. “I thought you took plenty last time we were here.” During their trip in March for the Big East Basketball Tournament, the couple traveled to Brooklyn to see the David Bowie is exhibit. This time around, they were there to tour a new show: Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power.
“Duh… One set with snow on the ground. One without.”
“Oooh… Excuse me, Mr. Seasonal Photographer.” Owen’s sarcasm was in top form. “I assume we’re looking at the sculptures again? I mean, they may look different depending on whether there’s snow on the ground or not.”
“Fuck, you, Oz.” In a playful maneuver, CJ shoved his husband sideways. “You can entertain yourself any way you want while I look at them.”
“Nah. I love watching you turn into a little boy around that stuff.”
The Steinberg Family Sculpture Garden displayed architectural items rescued from New York City demolition sites. Some of the objects were carved limestone, brownstone, granite, or marble; some were metal and many others cast terracotta. Scrolls and garlands, fruit and flowers, cornucopias and shells, and geometric and foliate patterns abounded, as did human and animal forms and fantastic creatures. CJ remarked he felt like a kid in a toy store upon discovering the exhibit.
“Mate, we have time before our dinner reservation. We’re always on the Upper East Side or Chelsea. We don’t make it to Brooklyn that often.” Owen slipped on his overcoat and gloves as they stepped outside the warmth of the museum. “Let’s take a walk around here.”
“Works for me.” CJ ran his fingers through his hair and shivered. “Fucking cold out. Let’s head north on Washington Avenue since that’s the direction of the restaurant. I wouldn’t mind stopping somewhere and getting a drink. Now that I’m all legal and shit.”
They did not go far. Two blocks later, they ducked inside Tooker Alley. The long, narrow space had a smattering of tables and a bar running along the side near the back. “Bloody hell, this is perfect.” Owen scanned the crowd and smirked. “We fit right in.” The place was warm and they blended in well with the millennial hipster crowd.
An hour or so later, after a couple of cocktails, they stopped at an ATM to retrieve cash before boarding an Uber to the Williamsburg neighborhood. Neither the pub they stopped at, nor the restaurant they were headed to accepted credit cards.
Peter Luger Steakhouse had been crowned best in New York City for thirty-plus years by Zagat and countless other reviewers. This was the couple’s first visit to the landmark restaurant.
“I can’t believe you’ve never been here before.” Owen glanced at the wooden floor, tables, and paneling, as they followed the man with the menus. Clean and well-maintained, the establishment lacked the adornments found in other popular, upper-echelon eateries. Decorations were at best stark.
“I know, right?” CJ closed his eyes for a moment and concentrated on the wonderful scent of grilled meats. “But you have to remember I’ve only been in New York a couple of times without you. And that was right after I moved to DC. The dads took me to places around the apartment at first. Since then, we always seem to have our weekend trips planned out in advance.”
If the aroma was enticing, the sizzle of the dry-aged steak-for-two they ordered was just as pleasing. The attack on their olfactory and auditory senses—enhanced by a visual element once the food was served—was overwhelming as the first bite crossed their lips.
“Bloody hell that’s the best piece of meat I’ve ever tasted. I’m warning you, CJ, this won’t be the last time we eat here.”
Nakoa Wolf Manakauapo and Charles Beauregard Houston arrived the following afternoon and insisted on going out to PRIME in the evening. Danno and Trip struck up a friendship with the owners during CJ and Owen’s wedding and wanted to see the place they had heard so much about. Their visit was part of the continued marketing for Bullies Beware. CJ and Trip made appearances on a couple of morning shows, taped a segment with Anderson Cooper for CNN, and had book signings at the two Amazon bookstores in Manhattan.
“I don’t fly that often, but I could get used to this. Much better than coach.” Danno sat next to CJ in the Los Angeles-bound plane while Owen and Trip occupied the two seats across the aisle. “I’m surprised the book publisher sprung for the more expensive tickets.”
“Not sure it was their doing, Danno. I think Bezos had a hand in it.” Jeffrey Bezos, founder and chief executive officer of Amazon, had become a champion of the book written by Trip—a reporter for the Bezos-owned Washington Post—and CJ. “You heard he offered me a job after I graduate, right? He’s been pursuing me the way I see Coach Ewing and the Georgetown basketball program go after five-star recruits. He insisted we do appearances at his stores in New York, Los Angeles, and San Diego. I’m pretty sure he had something to say about TV bookings, lodging, and travel.”
“Well, I’m not going to complain about flying first class and staying at The Beverly. Like I said: I can get used to the life of the rich and famous. It’s gonna be rad to be out of the cold again. That snow shit’s not right for a Hawaiian boy. I miss warm winters.” Danno owed his nickname to a character in the television series Hawaii Five-0; CJ did not find out his real name until months after meeting the beefy man.
“Ever think about moving back?” CJ caught the flight attendant’s attention and motioned for another round of cocktails.
Danno left his tropical hometown of Honolulu for the desert sands of Phoenix after high school graduation. His time at Arizona State University was short; he dropped out and headed to California.
“All the time.” The man stared out the window and appeared lost in thought. “More each day as I face turning forty next year.”
“How the fuck did you land in DC anyway? I’ve never heard the story of how you ended up with Rogo’s.”
The smile of Danno’s face bordered on a leer. “Thanks to my huge cock…”
“You’re such a pig. Fine, I’ll bite. Tell me how your little dinkie landed you in the nation’s capital.”
“Little? Dude, you’d be walking funny for a week if I put it to you. Anyway, you know when I left school I moved to the coast, got into stunt work for movies and TV, and landed a bit part in the old Baywatch show. I think they wanted someone with Pacific Islander looks. When I realized I was never going to make it as an actor, I drifted out of town.
“A couple of years later, I was in New Orleans working as a roughneck on the oil rigs. I was shacked up with an older guy, an executive in the energy company that owned the well I was at in the Gulf. He couldn’t get enough of my dick. The ultimate sugar daddy. When he died in an accident, I found out he left me Rogo’s—he was an absentee owner and a cousin managed the bar for him.”
“Wow! I never knew that part.”
“Not many people do. Your dads would have told you if you’d asked.”
“Nah, you know I don’t pry into people’s lives. If they want me to know something, they’ll tell me.” CJ at times was thought of as aloof because of his reticence to pry into the lives of people he knew. He smiled realizing that did not apply to his close friends; with them, he was up in their shit all the time.
“Now you know. I’m glad we’re taking this little trip. When you and Ozzie head back to DC, and Trip and I go spend a week in the islands, I may try to convince him to move.”
CJ did not voice his hope it would not happen. Seeing Rashid Khan in London prior to the wedding, made him realize how much he missed his uncle after his return to England. CJ did not want to lose two more of the men who meant so much to him.
CJ and Owen initially thought about renting motorcycles during their stay in Southern California. They settled on a convertible when Danno and Trip let them know they wanted to hang out together. Arriving in the early afternoon of the next to last day of the year, they stopped at the hotel, dropped off their luggage, and changed into lighter clothes. There was a temperature difference of almost thirty degrees, so they traded sweatshirts and jeans for shorts and polo shirts.
“Where to, boys?” Having spent considerable time in Los Angeles, Danno offered to drive, so the other three could enjoy the sights. “We got lucky with the weather. Christmastime can be chilly in LA.” Danno fiddled with his phone and the BMW 4 Series Convertible’s sound system. Before putting the car in gear, Randy Newman’s “I Love LA” blared from the speakers.
“I think the first thing on CJ’s list is Griffith Observatory. We can do that now, and then head out to dinner.” Owen looked at his husband for confirmation and received a nod and a smile.
“Dude, you have a list? Sounds like you inherited that bad habit from your dad.”
“Fuck off, Danno. I’ve never been here and I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss the important shit. For the record, the observatory’s first on the schedule because Ozzie wants to see it. Typical of him to throw me under the bus.” CJ gave his husband a slap on the shoulder, but his smile did not falter. “Of course I have a list. You know, the seven Ps.”
The song reached the third stanza and Danno belted out the words with gusto:
“Roll down the window, put down the top Crank up the Beach Boys, baby Don't let the music stop We're gonna ride it ’til We just can't ride it no more—“
Trip turned and stared at the younger couple. He ignored his singing partner and spoke over him. “What the hell’s the seven Ps again?”
CJ chuckled and motioned with a hand, encouraging Owen to reply. “Proper prior planning prevents piss poor performance. CJ lives by those words.”
Built on the south slope of Mount Hollywood, Griffith Observatory was a Los Angeles landmark and a popular tourist destination. Immortalized in countless movies and television shows, it offered a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean, the Hollywood Sign, and Downtown Los Angeles. Danno kept below the speed limit as they drove up Western Canyon Road; the narrow, twisting roadway climbed through arid landscape until it reached a small parking lot next to the observatory. Along the way, as they got closer to the top, cars lined both sides of the road. Sundays appeared to be a popular day to visit.
“We got lucky, boys.” Danno stopped to allow a car to leave a parking spot before taking the vacated space. “How’s this for door-to-door service? So, Ozzie, how come you wanted to come here first?”
“Hey, I didn’t say anything about this being the first stop.” Owen’s chuckle ruined his attempt at sounding innocent. “Not that I’m complaining. CJ’s the explorer in the family, but he does try to accommodate me when I say I want to see something. Anyway, my mother’s a fan of old movies. We used to sit around watching them, and my brother and I would complain. Now, I guess I’m glad she forced us to watch with her. I’ve seen Rebel Without a Cause more times than I can count. As cheesy as it looks these days, it’s still a great movie.”
CJ leaned against the railing that bordered the grounds of the observatory, staring at the spectacular view of the city, with the famous Hollywood sign perched above it on a hillside. Slowly turning 180 degrees, he fixed his gaze on the observatory and delighted in the beautiful lines of the Art Deco structure. “Picture time, guys. I want one with the sign behind us. One next to the James Dean bust, and another one by the front of the building. Right where Sal Mineo was shot in the movie.”
Owen had stopped complaining when CJ tackled recipes cooked by contestants in the reality television show Top Chef—some were a success, others a dismal failure, but those were few. The couple also tried to patronize restaurants run by former chefstetants whenever possible. When the trip to Los Angeles was planned, they made reservations at Michael Voltaggio’s ink.well in West Hollywood.
“CJ got me hooked on the bloody show.” They had returned to the hotel to freshen up and rest for a short while before heading out to dinner. “I’m not complaining, though. He’s managed quite a few fancy meals inspired by what they cook on it.” Owen held the elevator door for the other three men as they left their rooms.
“This guy competed in the same season as his brother, right?” Trip sounded exasperated and stuck his phone back in his pocket. “Damn Wi-Fi’s not working in the elevator. I was trying to find out the season this guy was in.”
“Sixth season. Michael won against his brother and another guy in the finale.” CJ rattled off the information without missing a beat. “He and Bryan grew up in Maryland. And while Michael lives out here, he and Bryan now own a steak house at the MGM in National Harbor.”
“Well, if it isn’t Mr. Wikipedia himself.”
“Fuck off, Danno!”
After the meal, they stopped at one of West Hollywood’s many gay bars for a cocktail. Due to the time zone change, the long flight, and their desire to get up at a decent time the next day, they made it an early night. In their room before midnight, CJ and Owen managed to exert themselves before collapsing in a sweaty mess and falling asleep.
The hotel’s state-of-the-art fitness center was deserted when they arrived. Having gone to bed early, the guys agreed an early morning workout would be a good way to begin the final day of 2018. Done, they met again for breakfast after showering.
An outgoing man, Danno had friends scattered through every state he had lived in. “There he is. Eric!” The Hawaiian pushed his chair away from the table, stood, and waved at the man standing at the restaurant’s entrance scanning the diners. Eric Swallows’ smile split his rugged-looking face as he raised his sunglasses, settled them atop his longish brown hair, and strolled toward his friend.
“Dude! You’re getting fat! What the hell you doing? You drinking and eating everything at your joint?” Swallows was in his thirties according to Danno and worked as a stunt-double in the film industry. The tight polo shirt he wore hinted at a ripped body.
“Fuck you, fag. Bet you’d still bend over for me, even if I’m fat. Hey, let me introduce you to these guys.” The newcomer took the seat saved for him and shook hands with Trip, Owen, and CJ.
“Don’t know about that, bro. Looking at the company, maybe I’m ready for something different.”
“Good luck with that. Those two”—Danno pointed at his traveling companions—“are still on their honeymoon six months after getting married. You don’t stand a chance with them.”
“Oh well, at least they’ll be good eye-candy tonight. We all still going out, right? ’Cause if we are, I need to make a call. I can get any party favors we want as long as I place the order early enough.”
Danno looked at the younger couple and raised an eyebrow. “You guys up for a little substance abuse tonight?”
CJ was unable to reply through a mouthful of pancakes so he looked at Owen and shook his head; Owen spoke for them. “Thanks, but alcohol will do for us tonight. CJ’s in process of applying for a job, and the State Department frowns on drug use. We’re on the wagon until further notice.”
“The State Department as in the State Department?” Eric sounded amused. “Damn, Danno, not only are you getting fat, you’ve been upgrading your friends. I knew we’d lose you when you moved to DC.”
Eric planned to spend the day with Danno and Trip lounging around the hotel’s famous pool, a place popular with guests and visitors who came by to enjoy the al fresco, all-day breakfast menu at the poolside Cabana Cafe. Owen and CJ took the car—selectiveexploration was how they described their plans—planning to return in the late afternoon for a nap, before going out to dinner and then dancing.
Their first stop was a short fifteen-minute drive away, the venerable Chinese Theatre. Known worldwide for the concrete imprints of famous movie stars’ hands, it also served as a starting point for a stroll along Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. They did not have time to browse through over 2,500 tributes, but they did manage to take pictures of several honoring people they recognized, including Michael Jackson’s across from the theatre.
The Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall was their next destination. The stainless steel-clad structure he had read about fascinated CJ. He wanted to take pictures and run his hands over the surface. Although the exterior exhibited an avant-garde design, the self-guided, hour-long audio tour revealed the inside as a traditional box. Albeit with what was acclaimed as one of the best acoustical environments for a performance space.
Sightseeing for the day ended at the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum. The admission price included a visit to the Observation Pit where they got a glimpse of what a real fossil deposit looks like—a jumble of bones neither could identify as belonging to any of the creatures featured on the graphics or in the museum exhibits.
“I’m hungry.” CJ glanced at his watch and did some calculations in his head. It was already late, they had rushed to see as much as possible, and he felt it was time to slow down. “How about we drive through a fast food place and then go shopping?”
“We can do that. As long as we have time for a long nap after. If we’re going out dancing tonight, we’re gonna be out late, and I need my beauty sleep.”
“Oh, you don’t need any more sleep to look beautiful, Oz.” CJ leaned in and gave his eye-rolling husband a peck on the cheek. “At least not to me. But yeah, I want some relax time before we head out to dinner anyway. Let’s hit Rodeo Drive. I want a cool shirt to wear tonight. And one for you too. Oh, and remind me I need to trim so the tat can be seen when we take them off on the dance floor.”
Owen ran the trimmer over CJ’s chest, clipping the hair just enough so the Southern Cross could be seen, but not so close his husband’s pelt of hair looked overly manicured. Showering together, he returned the favor by running a razor over the Aussie’s pectoral muscles to remove the almost invisible stubble. In a festive, frivolous mood, CJ had to stop a couple of times when chuckles and laughter made him scared of cutting Owen. He smiled recalling how he always found hairy chests attractive but ended up marrying someone with so little fur it was better to shave it off.
“Damn! Can you dim that shirt down a bit? It’s gonna blind me!” Danno covered his eyes with a fingers-splayed hand when the younger couple approached him and Trip in the lobby. “At least your husband shows some style.” Owen had purchased a knit, silk V-neck pullover, in a blue that matched his eyes. It contoured to his muscular chest, the two rings on his nipples visible through the fabric.
“Fuck off, Danno. Don’t be a hater.” CJ looked down at his new top and smiled. The black short-sleeved shirt’s fabric had multi-colored metallic threads woven through it. The garment shimmered with his every movement. “Just ’cause you have no sense of fashion…”
“Fashion, my ass! The Bee Gees are looking for that shirt! Did you stop at a disco-era, second-hand shop? When I first met you, all you wore was t-shirts. Lately you’ve become a little classier and more conservative. But that damn thing’s neither classy nor conservative. It’s plain fugly!”
“Fuck off, Danno.”
None of them wanted to drive; they eschewed the rental car and relied on Lyft to take them to Nobu for sushi, and to the club in West Hollywood afterward. The line to enter The Abbey was long and full of good-looking men and women. Danno was the first one out of the car and pointed away from the crowd toward the entrance where Eric waved at them. “That’s for general admission, guys. We get to skip it tonight.”
The young couple was familiar with the legendary Los Angeles venue; they had binge-watched half-a-dozen episodes of What Happens at The Abbey on a snowy Saturday. It was not a continuous session; the multitude of hunky men showing off plenty of skin inspired them and led to impromptu bouts of sex.
“Welcome to a WeHo institution, men.” Eric exchanged hugs with all of them while the man standing next to him smiled and scratched his furry face. “We’re gonna party all night. Hey, this is my friend, Fisher.” He draped an arm around the bearded stud and pulled him into the tight little circle they created. “He’s the one I mentioned earlier. If you want any party favors, just let him know what you need.”
CJ wondered about Fisher’s background while introductions were made. Almond shaped eyes hinted at Asian blood, while thick, luscious lips and olive skin suggested Mediterranean or African ancestors. Those features softened the brutish appearance created by the shaved head, full beard, hoop earrings, finger tattoos, and bulky, muscular body. When the two of them shook hands, CJ thought he could lose himself in the pools of melted chocolate his eyes resembled.
“Good to meet you, CJ. Eric said you live in DC but flew in from New York. You were there celebrating your twenty-first? Happy belated birthday, bro.”
“Thanks, man. Ozzie and I had a great time and we’re looking forward to doing it again tonight.”
Fisher brought his head closer and lowered his voice. “Eric said you and your boyfriend aren’t partaking tonight. If you change your minds, let me know. I’m not working, but I have plenty of stuff on me. On the house. Consider it a belated birthday present. And I hope you don’t mind if the rest of us get a little messy.”
“Nah…” CJ chuckled and clasped the man’s thick biceps. “We’re not against it. I’ll tell you why we’re not doing anything but drinking champagne later. Oh, and he’s not my boyfriend. He’s my husband.” The comments earned him a high-five from the dealer.
Inside, a pretty, black girl steered them toward a booth. Before she left their side, a shirtless, muscle-bound server stood next to the table. “Welcome to The Abbey, gentlemen. Hey, Fisher. Great to see you, bud.”
“Gio! Looking good, bro. You still chasing girls?” Fisher rose from the bench seat, and hugged the man with the toothpaste advertisement smile, his arms unable to wrap around the huge torso.
“You know it, dude. Still terminally straight here. You gonna introduce me to your friends?”
“Hell, yeah! Guys, this meat-stick’s Gio. Careful with him. He claims he’s straight, but will flirt with you to no end.” Gio shook hands with the rest of the group, left them for a few minutes, and returned with a silver-colored bucket full of ice.
“Champagne for five and sparkling water for one,” he said, giving Trip a wink. “I think I know who’s the designated driver tonight.”
The evening started slow, but the atmosphere grew progressively more festive with each round of tequila shots. When Gio found out CJ and Owen were newlyweds, he insisted they had to be part of something special, even if their wedding had taken place six months before. The club had created a small shrine to Elizabeth Taylor after her death, featuring a large portrait of the movie star. The Abbey was her favorite nightclub in Los Angeles. She frequented it often when in town, and did so a lot more as she got older and less mobile. Newlyweds taking their picture in front of the memorial to the supporter of the gay community had become a tradition.
“I’m going to regret this tomorrow morning.” CJ downed the remainder of the champagne in his flute and held it out for Gio to refill. The man was tableside every time one of them needed their drink topped off.
The server threw his head back—his floppy bangs flying off his forehead—and laughed. “Worry about it tomorrow. Fisher said you guys are at the Beverly. You can spend the day recovering. Dr. Gio prescribes aspirin and mimosas by the pool.”
“Don’t think so, mate. We’ve never been to LA before. We want to do a little more sightseeing.” Owen draped an arm around CJ’s shoulders and gave him a kiss while holding his glass out to Gio.
Midnight found the six sweaty men clustered on the dance floor. They had kept their shirts on for the time being, but CJ’s had lost a couple buttons when Danno pulled the sides apart after CJ complained once too often about being hot. Owen laughed until some guy traced his abs and he realized his own garment was so wet it clung to every muscle ridge, and he may as well not be wearing it.The torrid kiss he and CJ exchanged as the clock struck twelve seemed never-ending; their friends pried them apart and pushed them toward their table so they could toast 2019.
Familiar with closing time in South Beach being 5:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m. in New York City, CJ and Owen were surprised when Gio came by just before two in the morning to announce last-call. “Hey! Where are you all headed when we close? If you’re interested, there’s an after-party a bunch of the staff and a few favored customers are going to. Should be a blast. Mixed gay and straight group. You guys would fit right in.”
Before he could finish, CJ gave Owen a head shake. “Thanks, mate. Another time we’d jump at the chance, but I think we’ll head back to the hotel. Like we said, this is our first time in LA, and we want to get in some sightseeing tomorrow.”
“That don’t mean you guys have to call it a night.” CJ waved a finger in the direction of the others at the table. “Depending on when you drag in, we may have taken the car and left. But we’ll text you our plans when we leave the hotel.”
“Aloha, dudes.” Danno was in rare form as they parted ways. CJ suspected the big man would be useless the next day.
Although far from empty, the throngs of people they were used to seeing on television or the movies were not around Venice Beach on the first morning of the New Year. Muscle Beach was deserted, the workout equipment covered in a light layer of wind-blown sand. CJ and Owen wandered the sidewalks sipping coffee, munching on croissants, and trying not to make too many sudden moves. They were hungover and postponed a real meal until brunch.
Correctly assuming traffic from the Rose Bowl Parade would clog the roads, they waited until the afternoon to visit the Santa Monica Pier. They rode the Ferris wheel and took pictures flanking the Route 66-End of the Trail sign, but avoided the rollercoaster. CJ and Trip had to work the next day, so in the evening the two couples went out to dinner but returned to their rooms by midnight.
“Are you sure we can’t stop in Yorba Linda for like an hour?” CJ’s request to visit the Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library and Museum was again met with derision and a resounding no. Instead, they stopped in Laguna Beach for an early lunch and a stroll through some of the many art galleries. He stood his ground as they neared Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. They groaned and moaned, but CJ insisted they had to stop and take pictures standing by the main entrance sign. “My dad was stationed here at the beginning of his career. This is a way for me to connect with him.” Their presentation and signing at the bookstore in San Diego was well attended in the afternoon. In the evening, they had cocktails and dinner in the famed Gaslamp Quarter.
The next morning found them on lounge chairs around the pool. Trip and CJ wanted color on their faces, since the following day they would be in front of television cameras. In the late afternoon, there was another book discussion and signing at the Los Angeles Amazon bookstore after which they headed out for Mexican food with Eric.
“Las carnitas, por favor.” Owen ordering the pork dish in Spanish brought smiles to their server.
“You speak Spanish!”
“Un poquito. My accent’s not that good but I can understand well. You just need to speak a little slower than normal.”
“Did you learn the language in Australia or was it because of this one?” Eric pointed at CJ.
“Mostly his grandparents. They’re all fluent in English, but I know they’re more comfortable using Spanish. And we’re in Miami so often it helps at restaurants.”
“So, how’ve you liked your first trip to LA?”
“I’ve had a blast.” CJ sipped from his beer bottle. “I wish we had more time and I didn’t have to work, but still…”
“Work? You call sitting behind a desk signing books work?”
“Fuck off, Danno. See if Trip and I invite you on one of our junkets again?”
“Then I better enjoy myself. Are we going out tonight?”
“I’m game.” The other men nodded their agreement. “My dads mentioned The Argyle. Is it any good on a weeknight?”
“Definitely!” Eric sounded excited. “I haven’t been there in a while. I may not know the door staff, but I know they’re big on looks. You and Owen are pretty enough and young enough we should jump to the head of the line. You’ll have to dress up.”
“Sounds like a plan. So, since Danno’s ugly and old, does that mean he won’t get in?”
As always, my thanks to Reader1810 for beta reading and Mann Ramblings for editing.
A special shoutout to @MrM for his assistance with this portion of the story..
After this chapter was written, Michael Voltaggio closed ink.well. He’s back in the Washington DC area focusing on a second restaurant jointly owned with his brother. I’ve chosen not to change the chapter. Since this was a risk I was aware of when writing in the future, it may happen again.
Welcome to the discussion thread for CJ’s series.
All things CJ are fair game, I simply ask you be respectful of others.
I will actively participate in the discussion. Ask questions, speculate about what’s coming, or bitch about what happened.
We’re now open for business!