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    Parker Owens
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Double Concerto - 35. Rondo

No Rita, Heinrich or Willy warnings are needed for this chapter.

Gus sat at the keyboard of a well-used studio grand piano wedged into a narrow practice room. His expression of wonder transformed into a broad grin.

Rick felt his heart leap.

Then things became more complex, as several people in the room tried to talk at once.

You! What are you doing here?” Zoltan Takács was the first to recover his power of speech. “Get out! This is a private meeting!”

“You’re here.” Gus said simply.

Magda Takács muttered some dark phrase in Hungarian, glaring, while Helene, Gus’ onetime partner, hissed: “Who is he?” to the woman on her right, looking at Rick with distaste.

“Well? Are you leaving or shall I have you thrown out?” Zoltan demanded.

“Um…” Rick tried to get out.

Istenem Segíts! I cannot believe this!”

“Van savanyú káposzta leve, ahol a fej legyen?” Magda added.

“Magda, who is this?” Helene repeated her question, louder this time.

“You found me.” Gus stood. He tried to sidle past the tall white-haired impresario, but the man blocked his way.

“Zoltan, send the plumber away—” Magda gestured, causing a heavy crystal vase full of flowers on the piano to wobble.

“Gussie, who is this guy?” Helene raised her voice to a most unmusical whine.

“—has no business here—”

“Gustavo, sit down —" the elder man snapped.

“Oh, for goodness sake, let me by—”

“—should call building security—”

“Will somebody tell me what’s going on?” The violinist wailed.

“Don’t you dare—”

“—our discussion is not finished—”

“QUIET!” Rick’s voice rang like a clap of thunder in the cramped space, cutting off the unruly gabble. He blinked. Had that sound come from his mouth? Rick zeroed in on the reason he’d driven at breakneck speed all the way from Eagle Lake. “Are you okay, Gus?”

From the far side of the piano, Gus nodded. He held up his right hand, now free of its rainbow cast.

“You didn’t say ‘goodbye.’”

“That’s because I didn’t want to.” Gus replied. He glared at Zoltan. “I never wanted to leave in the first place.”

The impresario fumed. “How did you get here?”

“I drove. Same as you.” Rick rejoined.

“You won’t be so funny with the police. I think I shall call them immediately.”

“Zoltan, stop it.” Gus frowned.

“Gustavo, this man is obviously deranged.” Magda growled from her perch.

“You have a stalker?” The raven-haired violinist squeaked, eyes betraying fear.

“Helene, shut up.” Gus rolled his eyes.

Rick interposed. “I’m the inconvenient boyfriend. Rick Ernst, at your service.”

“Boyfriend?” The woman turned to Gus. “Since when do you have a boyfriend?”

“There is no boyfriend. He is delusional, my dear. We will find out how he has tracked Gustavo this far. I fear we shall have to involve the authorities.” Zoltan made a face as if he had been given an unpleasant task. “We wanted to keep him away, of course. With you and Gustavo leaving for Utah tomorrow, it will be possible to take care of this matter with little damage to your careers and performances.”

“I’m not going to Utah tomorrow.” Gus insisted.

“You must. We have already discussed this.”

“No, you commanded it. I think I’m able to decide these things for myself.”

“After everything I and Magda have done, you could at least listen! We took you in, educated you, got you the best teaching—”

Gus passed a weary hand over his face. “Yes, yes, how can I forget? You remind me every time I have an independent thought.”

“If you were permitted to wait for the roast chicken to fall into your mouth, you’d still be at Juilliard. We made you into the professional you are today.”

“It’s not unprofessional to take time for reflection and reassessment. It’s something adults do. You treat me as if I’m in kindergarten.”

“Then stop behaving like a child.”

Gus paused a moment. He blinked and then narrowed his eyes. The corner of his mouth twitched. “Make me.”

“What?”

“Make me go to Utah. I dare you.”

Zoltan Takács’ eyes bulged. “You ungrateful little swine—” The man made to get around the piano bench to reach Gus.

As soon as Takács was committed, Gus ducked and crawled underneath the piano, popping up on the near side of the instrument. Two more steps, and he wrapped Rick in an embrace, who tried to return it awkwardly. The bucket clattered to the floor.

“I thought I’d lost you.” Gus murmured.

“Nope. I’m still hooked on the line.”

“Oh, so clever, and so very pretty. Are you saying your goodbyes now, Gustavo?” Zoltan mocked as he made his way back around the compact Steinway.

Magda reached for her handbag.

“That’s right, say goodbye, douchebag.” Helene jeered, addressing Rick. “Gustavo’s mine.”

“He is ours.” Takács corrected, advancing.

“No, he’s not. Gus isn’t anyone’s property.” Rick pushed Gus behind him, toward the open door. “Stand back!” He brandished the toilet plunger in front of him, like a weapon.

Instinctively, the tall, white-haired man recoiled in disgust. He retreated a step, and his heel encountered the piano bench. Losing his balance, he fell backwards, hitting the wall and landing on the polished wood floor with a surprised “oof!”

“Look what you have done!” Magda exclaimed. She rose and scuttled around the far side of the studio grand.

Rick blinked. “Are you all right?”

“Stop him.” Zoltan wheezed.

“Rick, let’s go.” Gus tugged on his elbow, dragging him back to the door.

Helene seized the arrangement full of flowers.

“Look out!” Cried Gus.

The violinist made to hurl the cut-glass vase at Rick’s head; he sidestepped and pulled the door shut. Glass shattered against the other side of it.

“Geez. High and inside.” Rick breathed.

“Let’s get out of here. This way.” Gus took Rick by the hand as they fled up the corridor, away from the elevator.

“Don’t we go—”

“Trust me. I know my way around this building.”

There was no choice.

Gus turned and led them through a solid, unmarked door to the right, opening to a most inelegant steel-and-cinderblock stairway. They hustled down the steps, feet moving at a blur. Rick felt dizzy with the pace.

Partway down, a chuckle bubbled up, even as he looked over his shoulder to see if they were being followed. I did it. I found Gus.

At his left hand, an answering giggle sounded, accompanied by the flash of a bright smile.

And he’s with me.

The sound of their laughter trailed them down the stairwell. Almost giddy by the time they emerged on the ground floor, Gus pushed open a door into a hallway much like the one they’d escaped from four floors up.

“Come on,” Gus motioned to his left.

Just a few steps down the hall he pushed open another door on the opposite side from which they’d entered. Walking through a kind of short passage, Rick noted restroom signs posted on his right. Gus kept going through yet another door at the end, turning right down a wider, darkened corridor.

“You sure you know where we’re going?”

The dark-haired man said nothing, leading them farther along to what appeared to be the end, though a dark, heavy door on the left promised there would be more. He turned and grinned at Rick. “Follow me.”

Gus pulled at the door handle, since this portal opened inward.

What else could he do? He went with Gus. In an instant, Rick realized they hadn’t entered one more endless passageway. Their steps seemed to echo endlessly. He was on the wide, open stage at Symphony Center.

He turned in a slow circle, gazing upward. He’d never been in such a huge indoor space as this. Even in the subdued lighting of the silent concert hall, he could make out an ocean of seats, box seats, and two sets of balconies, plus a further deck of seating behind the stage. High overhead, a forest of lights hung, mostly unlit.

Gus grasped his hand.

“This is where you work?” Rick asked in a hushed voice.

“Sometimes.” Gus replied, sotto voce.

“And everyone can see you?”

“More to the point, they can all hear me.”

Rick let his gaze fall to the man beside him. He became aware he still held a toilet plunger in his right hand. He let it fall, the sound of it reverberating with a sharp report throughout the space.

He took Gus in his arms. “Is it okay if I kiss you on stage?” He breathed. “Anyone could see.”

“I wish you would.”

Rick closed the distance between them, letting their lips meet. Gus’ tongue flicked against his, and he opened gladly, greedily. His arms went around his man’s waist, never wanting to let go.

Gus’s hand cradled Rick’s head and neck, his hunger mirroring Rick’s.

They broke for air. “You rescued me again.” Gus murmured.

“No. You’re the one who rescued me. Without you, I’d still be locked away in my own little world. I couldn’t go back to that.” Rick’s voice was hushed.

“Shhh. Just tell me one thing?”

“Anything.”

“Why are we whispering?”

Rick smirked. Then he chuckled, followed up by a great, whoop of joy. He picked up Gus around his waist, and spun them around and around together. He whooped so the echoes rang off the upper balcony seats.

“We’re free!” Rick panted a little as he came to a stop.

“Don’t let me go. Promise?” Gus asked.

“Promise.” He kissed his boyfriend again.

A door to the stage opened behind them. Startled, the pair parted and turned, ready to run.

“Oh! Excuse me, but are you –?” a dark skinned woman dressed in custodian’s garb began.

“Hi, Halima. It’s just me.”

She stepped closer and squinted through thick, square-rimmed glasses. “Mr. Morales. Sorry, I didn’t recognize you.”

“That’s all right. I was just giving my boyfriend a tour.”

The woman came closer. “Getting a taste of the stage?”

“A little.” Rick replied.

She peered at their feet. “Oh, my goodness, I’m so sorry! Who could have left that lying around?”

Before Rick could protest, the custodian darted down and picked up the plunger he had dropped.

“That’s—” Rick began.

“We’d better get going.” Gus interrupted, taking his hand. “Nice seeing you again.”

“Good to see you, too. Have a nice tour.” She ambled off.

Gus led Rick away toward the far side of the stage, where a set of steps led down to the crimson carpet on the main seating area. “Let her keep it. Zoltan will be looking for a plumber, right?”

“Oh. Of course.”

They headed up the side aisle, their feet hardly making a sound on the plush flooring.

“Zoltan and Magda brought me in through the restaurant side. I’m hoping they think I took you back that way.”

“This place is incredible. Is every concert hall like this?”

Gus shrugged. “More or less.”

Rick pushed open a large, heavy double door at the back of the hall. They emerged into the lobby. Daylight streamed across what looked like acres of polished marble through glass doors on the other side.

Gus hustled them out, so there was little time to gawp. In a few moments, they stood in the heat of a summer afternoon. Across the street, an imposing building stood, its temple-like arches reared above the street.

“What’s that place?” Rick asked, raising his voice to be heard over the noise of cars and trucks.

“The Art Institute.”

“The place where you go to sit and think?”

“Yes. We can go see it, if you want.”

“Maybe some other day.”

“You mean that?” Gus asked.

“What?”

“‘Some other day’ means you’re thinking about there being another time.”

“I’m sorry, I kind of assumed…” Rick seemed unable to finish the sentence.

“Good. I was hoping you would. Assume, that is.”

Rick smiled to match his boyfriend. “So, where to from here?”

“Let’s go into the park.” Gus pointed down the street to a light where they could cross.

With no pursuit in sight, Rick began to relax a little. He was happy to stroll anyplace Gus wanted. The man led the way through the flow of pedestrians over East Jackson, and then past six lanes of traffic on Michigan Avenue, heading east into the sunlight. On a bridge, Rick paused to stare at the rail lines which ran below grade level.

He shook his head in wonder. “I’ve never seen that many trains at once in my life. Do you take the train to your, um, wherever it is you live?”

Gus laughed. “No, I walk most of the time.”

“And you don’t get lost?”

“Not anymore. As long as I’m close to downtown, I’m all right.”

They ambled onward, turning onto a path leading along an avenue of widely planted trees. A woman walked by, her ear glued to a cell phone, being led by a well-mannered spaniel on a leash.

“I can’t believe you’re here,” the shorter man said.

“Where else would I be?”

“I don’t know. Working. Fishing. Living your life.”

“None of which would be anywhere near as good without you.”

Gus’ eyes crinkled when he smiled.

“I went to Cedarcrest this morning. I meant to confront Zoltan about what he said.”

“Let me guess. He told you not to contact me?”

“And if I tried, he promised to charge me with stalking and harassment, and to make it very splashy.” Rick nodded. “He was going to make sure I got outed in the most public way.”

“Did he threaten to sue?”

Rick nodded. “And he told me that ‘I was not wanted.’ Zoltan said those were your words.”

They walked on. A jogger, clad in maroon and white University of Chicago gear, passed by, going the other direction.

“I’m sorry,” Gus said at last.

“For what? You didn’t say that, did you?”

“No, never.” The shorter man turned to face him. “You’re very much wanted.”

Rick felt a smile widen on his face.

“But I wish I could have spared you from dealing with Zoltan. I know he’s warned off other men before. None of them were brave enough to cross him.” Before Rick respond, Gus added: “And before you say anything, yes, I’ve fought with Zoltan about my private life for years. Somehow, he’s always won.”

“But not this time.”

“No. Not this time.” Gus agreed. “So. Are you ready to be out? Zoltan might follow through on that.”

Now it was Rick’s turn to shrug. “I saved him the trouble by doing it myself. I told Eagle Lake’s busiest gossip and let her do her thing. It’s more effective than putting it on the news.”

“But Zoltan can still file a lawsuit.”

“Let him. I hired a lawyer myself.”

“Please, tell me you didn’t.”

“We went to school together. She and her husband just moved back to Eagle Lake after doing corporate litigation in New York for a while.”

“Can I ask how much that set you back? I’ll help.”

“Don’t worry. She owes me.” Rick allowed himself a moment of satisfaction. If Zoltan wants to tangle with Debbie Beck, God help him.

They strolled into an open area, a kind of plaza in front of a brooding bronze statue. Approaching it, Rick made out the inscription: Abraham Lincoln. “Let’s walk down to the lake,” he suggested, turning to his right.

Gus cocked his head. “How did you know that was the right way?”

“I’m a plumber. I can smell water. Besides, all the tall buildings are over there.” Rick gestured with his head.

His companion shook his head in wonder. “I should have known. I’m going to let you be the guide from now on.”

They followed a wide walkway to the next cross street but found it too busy to jaywalk. The flow of strollers and walkers took them down the street to the right, where a crosswalk made it possible to navigate six lanes of cars waiting at the light.

Rick stared at the sight before him. A wide pavement surrounded an enormous fountain; three tiers of graceful spray rose above the surface of a broad pool, while fanciful green-patina sea horses spouted on their own. A tall single plume of water soared at its center, the wind blowing stray droplets over them and anyone else who stopped to stare.

“Don’t tell me you’ve never seen one of these before.” Gus teased.

“I know what a fountain is; I’ve piped in water for small things in gardens or foyers. But this…”

“It’s called the Buckingham Fountain. I’m not sure why.”

Gus and Rick ambled further around the spectacular sight. Tourists stood and snapped photos with their phones.

Rick frowned, and stopped to look around. He scratched the back of his head. “The water lines,” he murmured, “they’ve got to be, what…?”

“Please don’t tell me you’re working out the plumbing for the fountain in your head.” Gus said.

“Just thinking about the size of the water lines. And where all this water comes from.” A sheepish grin followed.

“Well, I’d hazard a guess that the water comes from over there.” Gus pointed beyond the pavement where they stood to the wide expanse of water that had to be Lake Michigan. Busy city traffic on Lakeshore Drive bustled to and fro.

Soon after, they found themselves on the far side of the wide boulevard and its teeming cars and trucks, strolling along the pavement marking the shoreline. It was easier to hear there.

“So, back to that lawyer friend of yours.” Gus said. “What did you do that she owes you for?”

Rick flushed. “I kind of saved her house. Twice.”

“All right, you’re going to have to explain that.”

“Her basement flooded; I found and fixed the cause of it.”

“All in a day’s work, right?”

“I guess so.”

“And the second time?” Gus could be persistent.

“I, um, spoke up at a meeting last night. Someone was going to develop the land behind her house. The drainage could have been a big problem.”

“So you kept the floodwaters at bay.”

Rick gazed out at the sailboats on the sparkling water. “Something like that.”

“You’d be a hero in my book.”

“No. Just an ordinary plumber.”

“And modest, too.”

A couple of Asian teens in tie-dyed shirts and ball caps passed, going in the opposite direction. So many different people. I’m not in Eagle Lake anymore.

Rick changed the subject. “If you hadn’t been injured, where would you be right now?”

Gus shrugged. “I really don’t know. Some festival or another. Zoltan had me booked for one or two every week, plus trying to get ready for the Southeast Asia tour. Honestly, I had no great desire to play in Manila, but the stop in Sydney would have been all right.”

Rick tried to wrap his head around making such a journey.

“And then there’s the film work.”

“Film work?”

“You know, music for the cinema. Studio stuff.”

Rick looked impressed. “Wow. What movies would I have heard you in?”

“Did you see Typee? It’s an adaptation of Melville’s novel. I participated in the soundtrack for that.”

“Really? It played in Wausau. I heard about it; it was supposed to be fantastic. I couldn’t go see, though, I was tied up. That won an Oscar, right?”

Now it was Gus’ turn to look modest. “It was nominated.”

“And you just happened to be the pianist.”

“I was amazed they didn’t want a huge, lush symphonic sound for it. Instead, the film score was spare—done on a human scale, really. And some of the music was really challenging—”

Rick gazed at his boyfriend in a combination of awe and delight, watching his animated expression and his hands in motion as he spoke.

“—so the transitions from piano and ensemble to Polynesian instruments was seamless.”

How did I get so lucky that this brilliant man should like me? It seemed too good to be true. Maybe it is.

They walked on, and for a moment, it seemed as if a cloud had covered the sun. What am I doing here, anyway?

“What I want to know is how you found us,” Gus said, pulling Rick from his reverie.

“Marta.” He responded swiftly. The cheerful expression on the face of his man pushed away the clouds of doubt.

“Marta? How? During the drive down, she said you’d come for me, but I wasn’t sure … it was hard to believe.”

“She said you’d have Joey’s phone and told me how to track it.”

“Joey’s phone?” Gus checked the pockets of his shorts. “I don’t have—oh.” From the right-hand pocket, elegant fingers extracted a familiar, much abused iPhone.

Rick tried to hold back a laugh. “She must have slid it into your pocket somehow. I followed you all the way from Eagle Lake.”

Gus gazed at the rectangular object with a thoughtful expression. “That girl’s a wonder. Not a great clarinetist, but she’d make an excellent pickpocket. I had no idea.”

“What did she threaten Joey with to get him to part with his phone?”

“I’ll bet she bribed him. Maybe she promised to do all his music theory homework.”

“What happened to Joey and Marta?” Rick asked.

“Zoltan and Magda dropped them off at their house after I got my cast off. They were getting ready to start another civil war in the car.”

“Probably over that phone.”

“You’re right. I had to get between them while they were in the house – Oh! That clever little minx!” Gus grinned. “That’s when she must have slipped it in. I was distracted.”

Their path veered away from the lake, passed through a line of shrubs and emerged on a street. The scent of something delicious wafted its way from a couple of food trucks parked to their left. Rick’s stomach growled, loud enough to be heard over the nearby boulevard.

“Do you want something?” The smaller man gestured.

Their eyes met. Rick tried to suppress a smirk and a response that wasn’t suitable for the other pedestrians nearby to hear. “You mean, to eat?”

Gus paused a moment, eyes full of banked fire. “Yes. Let’s snack for now.”

 

They ambled back toward the tall buildings through the park, munching on tacos and observing families and children at play. Crossing back over Columbus Drive, Gus led the way past a huge green space covered over by a network of metal rods. Rick stared at the huge structure.

“What is this?” He asked.

“It’s an open-air event space. I played a concert here last year,” Gus answered.

Rick felt like a rube, gaping at the sight, ignoring the Chicagoans adorning the benches placed in the shade along the walk.

They continued. There were more people in the park now. They gave a wide berth to a gaggle of brightly dressed adolescent girls, chattering amongst themselves. Ahead, more pedestrians seemed to be gathered around a most singular sight.

A giant, mirrored bean-shaped monument appeared in view.

“It’s called The Cloud Gate.” Gus explained.

Rick’s brow creased. The metal gleamed, reflecting the sky and cityscape, greenery and pedestrians all around it. He scratched his head. “It kind of looks like a cloud. Maybe.”

“You want to walk underneath?” His boyfriend’s head gestured toward the opening.

“Sure.”

They approached the opening beneath the tons of polished metal. Looking up, Rick could see themselves weirdly reflected by the curved surface. Impulsively, he took Gus’ hand. The other man squeezed back, but didn’t let go as they walked through.

When they emerged on the far side, their fingers remained intertwined.

“Where next?” Rick inquired.

“Let’s go this way.” Gus’ eyes sparkled as he tugged on their connection.

They came out of the park and onto a noisy thoroughfare. Gus said something to him, but he couldn’t quite hear over the traffic. Soon, a street corner presented itself: ahead and to the left, a maze of giant skyscrapers beckoned.

“We’re going there?” Rick almost shouted.

Gus nodded.

They crossed over Michigan Avenue and proceeded down a narrower street. Fewer cars passed along it, but their sounds echoed off the concrete canyon walls. His boyfriend moved quickly now, and he had to adjust his stride to keep up as they passed anonymous storefronts, banks, and a couple of fitness clubs. Rick got his bearings when they crossed a street which ran under the elevated railway tracks. This looked familiar.

“Shouldn’t we go that way?” Rick pointed to the left. “My van is parked at Symphony Center.”

Gus shook his head. “Not right now. It’s safe where it is until morning. Don’t worry.”

The man kept up his torrid pace. A department store sign caught his eye; he’d heard of that chain, but had never actually seen one.

They turned left at the next corner, which opened up onto a wider avenue; Rick could see the sky more easily. Steps descended into the earth at his left. A subway? Gus was walking too quickly to ask. He stepped up his pace to pull abreast of his man.

“Where are we going?”

Gus stopped and glanced around, muttering to himself.

“Do you live near here?” Rick tried another question.

“I mixed up the turns. We’re supposed to be over there.” Gus pointed across the street toward a dark, narrow alley between two imposing buildings.

“That’s okay; we can cross – hey!”

Gus had stepped out onto the street and began to cross over, taking advantage of a momentary break in the stream of automobiles. Making a split-second decision, Rick ran after him. A horn blared behind as the pair hustled over four lanes of traffic.

He caught up to the shorter man as they entered sudden darkness of the alley. At least it was quieter there. “Are you sure you know where we’re going?”

“I am now.”

This street had no sidewalks; building walls rose sheer on either side; only lidded dumpsters lined the way. Rick looked dubious. Still, he decided to trust Gus. After all, the other man had allowed him to drive all over the wild country outside of Eagle Lake, he reasoned.

“Sorry about that.” Gus apologized, taking his hand again. “I forget you might not be used to city streets.”

The gesture and the contact made Rick happy. He felt less anxious. “You’re forgiven.”

He started to say something else, but his phone began to ring in his pocket. He pulled it out; Caroline Lee’s name appeared on the screen. He smiled at Gus and accepted the call.

“Hi, Mrs. Lee. What’s up?”

“Rick? Where are you?”

“I’m in Chicago.”

“I know that, dear. Have you found Gus?”

“So Irene told you what I was doing?”

“I think it’s very noble of you. Are you all right?” His neighbor sounded concerned.

“I’m fine. And yes, Gus is right here.”

The man in question raised an eyebrow.

“Oh, good. Could you put him on?” The old woman asked.

“Sure,” said Rick, surprised. “Here he is.” He handed the instrument over.

Gus took it and held it to his ear, looking nonplussed. “Hello?”

Rick couldn’t help observing the man while they walked.

“Yes, he tracked me down.”

Rick could only hear one side of the conversation, but Gus’ eyes seemed alight with merriment.

“I’m very happy he did.” Gus said in response to an unheard question. Then: “I have no idea. I doubt it. I guess he must have been in a hurry.” A moment later, the man laughed. “I’ll have to do that.” His boyfriend listened intently for a dozen paces. Gus glanced sideways at Rick, smiling. “Absolutely. I’ll tell him. Yes. I’ll make sure of it.”

Rick frowned. What were they talking about?

“Don’t worry. I’ll take very good care of him. Bye.” Gus ended the call and handed the phone back to Rick.

“You’ll take care of me?”

“You have some very nice friends. Caroline wanted me to tell you that she’s talked to a dozen people, all of them concerned about you.”

Rick looked doubtful. “Did somebody have an emergency?”

“You did, apparently. How fast did you get out of town?”

“Right after Marta called.”

“So you have no overnight bag, no clothes, nothing at all?”

“I have my wallet. And I had a plunger, but I left that back at Symphony Center.”

They walked down the alley, shoulder to shoulder.

“You left everything behind just to find me?”

“Guilty as charged.” Rick nodded.

“That’s incredibly romantic.”

He tried to deflect. “You make it easy to be that way.”

“Caroline said you’re not to worry. You can stay in Chicago as long as you want. And I have to say, I agree.”

“I’d like that. If you don’t mind, that is.”

Gus didn’t miss a beat. “And as long as you were in the city, she thought I should take you shopping for clothes—seeing as you didn’t bring any.”

“That’s not necessary.”

“Of course, it is. You don’t want to wear those work clothes again tomorrow, do you?”

Rick flushed, embarrassed. “I really hadn’t thought about it.”

“Well, I’m not interested in clothes right now. Maybe tomorrow.” Gus’ eyes flashed.

Rick suddenly felt hot. He flushed.

They came to a corner. The shorter man guided them to the left, down past a couple of store fronts. He stopped. “Look, Rick, I’d understand if you need to go back to Eagle Lake, but I was…” Gus hesitated and appeared abashed. He turned back to look Rick directly in the eye.

For a moment, Rick was lost in those dark brown eyes.

Gus started again. “I was hoping that you would be willing to…”

Rick didn’t let him finish. Taking him by both elbows, he bent and kissed Gus, right there on the street in broad daylight. He really didn’t care who saw.

When they broke apart, he said: “Whatever you want, the answer is ‘Yes.’”

Gus bit his lip. “You know where we are?”

Rick peered at the building behind his boyfriend’s shoulder. A discreet sign identified the place as the Great Lakes Men’s Health Center.

Realization dawned. “You want us to get—"

Gus nodded. “Yes. Please. And then I’m taking you home.”

 

He should have been exhausted. He had every reason to be utterly unwound and snoring; he’d gotten maybe seven hours of sleep in the last forty-eight, and only two or three of those since getting to Gus’ apartment. Instead, Rick stood near the window, nine floors up, taking in the bright lights of the street below. Dressed in a soft blue terrycloth robe, he wondered if there just might have been a hint of a brighter, lighter coloring to the sky far to the east. Rick decided his eyes could easily have been playing tricks with him.

His facial muscles almost hurt because he was so damn happy. He felt restless and a little sore, yet elated.

Gus had barely gotten the apartment door closed, apologizing for something, he couldn’t recall what, when he had gathered the man into his arms and kissed him. Sinewed arms wound around him and his kiss was returned, eager and delighted.

After a time, they broke their kiss, eyes bright. Gus wrinkled his nose. “It’s kind of musty in here. It’s always that way when I’ve been away.”

“You sure it’s not me?” Rick asked. “I think I could use a shower.”

His boyfriend grinned. “I like you just the way you are. But the shower is this way.”

Under the spray, Rick washed and cleaned up quickly, a frisson of goose bumps making him shiver. Was it the hot water supply, or anxiety? He turned the handle on the tap to shut off the flow.

Grabbing a towel from the shelf, he dried off. Should he get dressed again? Dithering, he compromised by pulling on his now-very-tired work shirt and wrapped his midsection with the towel.

Opening the door, he heard Gus humming a tune from around the corner. Following the sound, he found his man in the bedroom, making a wide bed which nearly filled the space.

“Oh! You were quick.” He sounded surprised. “I was going to join you.”

Rick felt the corners of his mouth tick upward.

Gus moved close, abandoning his task. Elegant fingers found their way under his shirt and set his skin on fire. “And what are you doing with clothes on?”

Tumbling onto the clean sheets, they lost themselves in one another, making love with an urgency born of reunion, of delight in the other. It seemed as if no time at all had passed before Gus buried his nose in Rick’s neck, almost keening as his climax overtook him. He’d held his man close, fingers feathering the fine black hair at his nape, while Gus slowly subsided, still gently rocking into him.

Gus had insisted on ordering takeout from a local Indian restaurant. From what Rick could hear, the person delivering their supper seemed quite unfazed taking payment from a customer wearing only a robe, albeit one tied snug around sexy hips.

The enjoyed a long, leisurly supper while the sky darkened in the windows. Delivery containers lay scattered over the square table in what some architect must have termed the ‘dining area.’

“How did you know what to order?” Rick picked up another samosa, and bit into the crisp, turnover, savoring the texture and taste. The matching robe he’d borrowed from his boyfriend was on the small side, and the sleeves rode up his arm.

“I just chose some of my favorites.” Gus scooped up some more of the curried lamb. “I hoped you’d like them.”

“Everything is fantastic. But this”—he gestured with his half-eaten samosa—“is awesome.”

“Mango Chicken? I’ll have to remember that.”

The very idea that there might be more evenings, more opportunities to share meals with Gus, warmed him more than any meal. “I have one question about this apartment, though.” Rick changed the subject.

“What’s that?”

“How did you get that thing all the way up here?” Rick popped the remainder of his appetizer into his mouth and pointed at the hulking black grand piano which took up much of the living area.

“In pieces. The legs and pedal assembly are detachable. Once it’s trussed up and padded, the main part can fit in a freight elevator.”

“That makes sense. I’d love to know how all that gets put together.” He picked up a different deep-fried appetizer. It might have contained shrimp.

Gus smirked. “Just because you want to replace my shower doesn’t mean you can take apart everything in the apartment.”

“Well, your shower is mediocre. I could do better for you.” He inspected the crumbs on his fingers.

Dark, honey-colored digits grasped his hand. Gus’ eyes glinted as he drew Rick’s hand to him, and carefully, sensually licked it clean. “I think we have better things to do right now, don’t you?”

Rick’s eyes went wide; he shivered, swallowed, and nodded.

 

Their second time was slower, languid, unhurried. They took their sweet time, kissing and caressing and grinding. Gus’ long fingers played a melody on Rick’s ribs while nipping at the skin on his chest, moving down, down, farther down, toward his reawakened member. When his lips closed over the head, Rick almost cried out. But that crescendo faded as Gus pulled off, and wandered still farther south. Unconsciously, Rick raised his legs letting his man have as much access as he could want.

Under the spell of Gus’ magic tongue, Rick crooned a wordless ballad of his own. Finally, he could stand no more.

“Gus!”

“Yes, my love?” His man looked up from his task, black hair hanging down near his eyes, framing a smile.

“I need you. Please.” He almost panted. “Don’t make me wait any longer.”

When Gus entered Rick again, there was no rush, no haste, only deep, abiding joy. Above all, there was no room for doubt. Before long, their deliberate, certain, rhythmic duet drove all thought from Rick’s mind.

Satisfied and drowsy, they had slept. Gus snuggled up against Rick’s chest, with a blanket hastily drawn up to cover them. But only two or three hours later, nature called, and Rick rose to answer. Afterwards, with his borrowed robe over his shoulders, he had padded out to the darkened window by the piano to watch and ponder.

He was startled when Gus’ bare arms wrapped themselves about him from behind. “What are you doing up, lover?”

“Just thinking.”

“About?”

“What’s going to happen tomorrow?”

“Well, I have a kind of plan. You want to hear it?”

Rick turned so they faced each other. It was hard not to notice his boyfriend was quite naked. “Um, okay.”

“So, I thought we’d walk back to Symphony Center and reclaim your van before the morning security shift reports for work. We’d drive out to the airport, stopping at a mall to get you some clothes.”

“You’re not going to Utah, are you?” He barely whispered.

“No! Absolutely not. I was hoping you’d fly down to Austin with me to see my mother for a few days. She still lives down there, and I haven’t seen her in almost a year.”

“You want me to meet your mom?” Rick asked, not sure if he heard correctly.

“Very much. I think she should get a chance to approve of my new boyfriend. It doesn’t hurt that Austin is the last place Zoltan will look for us; if I know him, he’s going to have the police scouring Eagle Lake for us.”

“I’ve never flown before.

“As long as you have a good driver’s license, you’ll be fine. And don’t worry about the airfare. I have plenty of airline miles.”

Rick pulled Gus to him, the man’s skin warm on his own. “Okay.”

Together, they stared out the window for a moment.

“So many lights.” Rick said.

“I prefer the stars in Eagle Lake.”

“You do?”

He felt Gus nod against his chest. “After we get back from Texas, can I come live with you?”

Rick’s breath caught. His heart skipped a beat. “Are you sure?” Are you crazy?

Gus leaned back, holding them apart. “You doubt me?”

Rick searched Gus’s eyes. “No. Not at all. It’s just completely beyond anything I could have hoped for. I know we’ve only known each other for a few weeks, but it seems like forever. Who knows why, but I’m drawn to you. There’s something about the music in us that we can make—something about the perfect we can hear—I can’t explain it. Being with you sounds so right.” He paused. “I just… I didn’t know how to ask. I was afraid of breaking the spell.”

“Well, I’m the one asking you. Will you take me back home?”

“Yes. Oh, yes.” Rick pulled Gus back into their embrace.

His boyfriend kissed his chest, up his neck, and to his ear. A wayward hand found its way to his cock and stroked. “Now will you take me back to bed?” He whispered hoarsely.

“Again?” Rick felt himself responding, incredibly.

Gus nodded. “I want you in me this time.”

Rick blinked and hesitated.

“What’s the matter?”

“No one… no one’s ever asked me to do that before.”

“You’re joking. Really?”

“Really.”

Gus displayed perfect white teeth in a wide grin. “Then I’m the lucky man.”

 

Not much later, Rick might have disputed that assertion. Kneeling behind his lover, holding him so close and deep, he felt like the most fortunate man on earth.

 

I must thank @AC Benus and @Carlos Hazday for their kind and unflagging efforts in helping to make this story better. Should you have any thoughts, observations, or comments to make, I beg you to leave them here. I'm grateful for anything you might have to say.

Copyright © 2020 Parker Owens; All Rights Reserved.
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Great chapter, laughed out loud at the Don Quixote-esque image of Rick and the plunger sword. But now you have a dilemma — to steal a line from Fiddler on the Roof, a bird and a fish can fall in love but where will they make their home? Curious to see whether you have painted yourself into a corner and whether (how) you give them a future together. Good luck😂 I am looking forward to the upcoming chapters (Please!) 

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Great chapter!  It's nice to see both men finally taking control of their own lives :) 

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4 hours ago, weinerdog said:

Perfect Chapter:heart:I don't really want to ruin it by talking about the other stuff but I have to.

Zoltan playing the  "after everything we've done for you" card to Gus.I guess he thinks Gus is obligated for life to them.Well I'm sure they exploited Gus enough to where they got their investment back god knows how many times over.I wonder if they lied to Helene and told her that Gus was interested in her. "Gustavo's mine"🙄

BTW if Zoltan wants to have Rick arrested for stalking wouldn't Marta have to be charged as an accessory  think about that Zoltan.

I have mixed feelings Im so glad Rick and Gus are together but that means the story almost over😢.Maybe you can use your creative writing and add a extra chapter where Heinrich, Rita, Willy and Zoltan end up on a deserted island stuck with each other.One can wish

Helene may have formed an attachment to Gus all on her own, though Zoltan and Magda's throwing them together on stage so often may have contributed to that. Zoltan may have to eat humble pie once Debbie Beck gets through with him. Heinrich, Willy, Rita and Zoltan all get stuck on a desert island? Whew. Sounds like the intro to a joke or maybe a reality TV series. Of these four, Zoltan is likely to retain some kind of connection to Gus and Rick, but one in which the power relationship has radically altered. Thank you so very much for all your reading and commentary!

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4 hours ago, drsawzall said:

Never get between an angry plumber and his plunger!

Seriously, a great chapter, well done, looking forward to another chapter or two, or at least an epilog!!

Indeed, watch out for Rick and his drain-clearing weaponry. Thank you for your kind and encouraging words. I appreciate your reading and commenting on this story.

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3 hours ago, re2 said:

Great chapter! But what could Zoltan possibly sue Rick for?

Zoltan will be hard put to make some kind of lawsuit stick. It has always been the threat of legal action, rather than the actual lawsuits, which have deterred other men from pursuing Gus before. Thanks very much for your response, and for reading!

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2 hours ago, 84Mags said:

Oh my gosh, they really are together! There isn’t anything, any experience  or anyone that will keep Rick and Gus apart. The whole chapter had me happy crying!

I am glad that you had to break out the tissue box at least once during this chapter. Rick and Gus have definitely fallen for one another. It now remains for them to stay together. Flying to Austin will help, as they can bond over a road trip. Thanks very much for reading, and for your responses to this story.

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1 hour ago, mayday said:

Great chapter! I could not help laughing at the scene of Z. recoiling from the plunger. What a funny scene! Brilliant.

I had always wondered how these two will ever manage to get together. You have worked your magic as ever. Great story!

Rick and Gus may seem unlike, yet they remain in one another's gravitational pull. Their songs were meant to be sung together.  I have never used a plunger as a weapon myself, but Zoltan seemed to feel it was deadly enough. It was enough to send the impresario reeling. I'm glad you enjoyed that bit, as I had fun writing it. Thank you very much for reading Rick's story, and for your comments.

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1 hour ago, JACC said:

Such a beautiful chapter!!! Thanks so much, Parker!

You are most welcome. It was a wonderful, sunlit chapter to write. Thanks for reading!

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1 hour ago, starboardtack said:

Great chapter, laughed out loud at the Don Quixote-esque image of Rick and the plunger sword. But now you have a dilemma — to steal a line from Fiddler on the Roof, a bird and a fish can fall in love but where will they make their home? Curious to see whether you have painted yourself into a corner and whether (how) you give them a future together. Good luck😂 I am looking forward to the upcoming chapters (Please!) 

I like your quote from Fiddler on the Roof. Gus' first instinct is to settle in Eagle Lake, and Rick isn't about to deny him that. They will have friends waiting for them, and the thing Gus has wanted for a long time: community. Eventually, I see Rick and Gus finding their way together. There is but one chapter left in this story, but perhaps a snapshot or two of their future will be in order. Thank you very much for your comments and for reading!

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1 hour ago, Valkyrie said:

Great chapter!  It's nice to see both men finally taking control of their own lives :) 

Thank you!  It is indeed a ray of sunshine for them both, to be feel comfortable - and able - to make their own choices, and to choose one another.

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Oh no...not just another chapter or two - A second movement to this tone poem!  You just are nearing the end of the first movement.  Think "Ma Vlast"!  There are too many loose ends:  Heinrich Sr., Rita and Willy, the future of the business, Gus' career, and a wedding!  So, you see, too soon to end yet!

And, I must say, the "No Willy" warning did make me chuckle in a most sophomoric way!

Tony

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