As Clayton stares mournfully into the full-length mirror, he sees a 48-year-old stranger reflected back, an aging man whose paunch and saggy skin make him hard to recognize as the toned, athletic man he once was. In the youth-obsessed gay world, the older, more unattractive, and more overweight you are, the more difficult it is to find love and companionship. The prospect of having to endure his twilight years alone terrifies Clayton.
Then two events occur, both of which impact on his life.
The first is the arrival of a new neighbor. Dean is a hot young man in his early thirties -- more than fifteen years Clayton’s junior. That doesn’t stop Clayton from fantasizing about something intimate, and even romantic, happening between them. But in his haste to make his fantasies real, he commits a terrible faux pas.
The second, and infinitely more devastating, event is the bombshell dropped by his oldest and best friend, Emmett. Neither he nor Emmett has any way of knowing the end result. But even in their wildest imaginations, they couldn’t come close to guessing the eventual, and wholly surprising, outcome.
“Hi Emmett. How’s things?”
“Clay?” The voice on the other end sounded groggy. “You’re not calling to cancel, are you?”
“Of course not. When do I ever cancel? I’m calling because Jan has invited us to lunch. Her treat.”
Clayton usually preferred to pay his own way, a trait his middle-class parents had instilled in him from an early age. Jan, however, was the exception. Due to three divorces, the still sexy and vivacious Jan had amassed an obscene amount of money and if it made her happy to occasionally take him out for a meal then who was he to deny her?
Emmett groaned. “Clay, I invited you over for lunch for a reason. I’ve got something important to tell you.”
“Can’t you tell me on the way?” asked Clayton. “I’ll pick you up. We can talk in the car.”
Clayton felt a twinge of guilt. “Look, if it’s that important, I’ll call Jan back and cancel. I’m sorry. My fault. I shouldn’t have accepted in the first place.”
“No, no, it’s okay. I suppose we can talk about it later.”
There was a tone of resignation and disappointment in Emmett’s voice that he’d tried, unsuccessfully, to mask.
“Are you sure?” asked Clayton, who was now awash with guilt. “Because it’s no trouble to call Jan back. I will. You want me to?”
“No, no, no,” said Emmett, more and more emphatically. “A nice lunch sounds wonderful. What time will you be here?”
“She wants us at Mezzo at twelve so how about eleven-thirty?” He twisted around to look at the kitchen clock. It was now eleven. “We’d better get our skates on.”
“I’ll see you then,” said Emmett before hanging up.
Their short conversation haunted Clayton. It took a lot to get Emmett down, which was exactly the way he’d sounded. Emmett was quite shy, but somehow always ended up being the life of the party. In fact, Emmett had more in common, personality-wise, with Jan than he did with him. Clayton was quieter, deeper; a thinker and prone to periods of time spent in reflective solitude. He’d been that way his entire life. Had it not been for Jan and Emmett, he wouldn’t go out a fraction of the amount he did.
He toyed with the phone, turning it end over end against the newspaper. Should I call Jan and cancel? he wondered. Emmett had told him not to, but had he meant it, or had he just given in? Finally, he decided to go and shower, and leave things as they were.
* * * *
Lunch was a banquet of various salads, fish and chicken dishes, followed by desserts that were so calorie-laden and rich they should have come with a warning label.
“Jeez, this lot is going to undo all the work those salads have done,” said Jan as her Death by Chocolate with ice cream was placed in front of her.
Despite all the food they’d eaten they still managed to put away two bottles of Sémillon Sauvignon blanc and a bottle of imported French champagne.
“I feel positively decadent,” said Emmett, whose mood had lifted somewhat under the influence of Jan and her extravagant lunch. “This meal alone is going to give me gout!”
After paying the bill and leaving the handsome waiter a twenty dollar tip based not on the service he’d provided but on the gifts with which the good Lord had endowed him, Jan went to stand up, over-balanced, and plonked right back down on the seat. She burst into raucous laughter.
“Thank God for the numbing effects of alcohol,” she said, making a second, more successful, attempt to get up from the table.
Emmett looked quizzically at Clayton.
“A bit too much wear and tear on the old pussoir last night,” Clayton explained quietly.
Jan pushed her chair in, knocking it against the table. “Hey, I heard that. My pussoir is not old. There’s plenty of life in her yet. And why do you call it that, anyway?”
“Sounds classier,” Clayton replied.
She pulled a face and wrapped her arm around Clayton’s waist.
“Help me, Clay. I feel funny. I think there must have been something wrong with the dressing.”
“Yeah, that’s it, Jan. Definitely the salad dressing,” Clayton said, rolling his eyes.
The happy trio stepped out into the bright light of a late summer afternoon; all three immediately reached for their sunglasses.
“This is obscene,” remarked Jan, digging around in her Hermes handbag for her car keys. “There’s no reason for anything to be that bright.”
“Are you sure you should drive?” asked Clayton.
Jan glanced at him. “Are you sure you should drive?” She continued rummaging around in her handbag. “I’ve driven in worse states than this. Scandalous, I know. Ah, here they are.”
Clayton and Emmett kissed Jan good bye and snickered as they watched her try to walk away with some amount of decorum, teetering dangerously on her high heels.
“Those heels with that amount of alcohol are a lethal mix,” Clayton commented.
“I hope she’ll be okay driving,” said Emmett with a single shake of his head.
Clayton slapped his friend on the back. “You know Jan. She’s indestructible.” They began walking. “Besides, she doesn’t listen to anyone who doesn’t agree with her.”
They walked a short way along the footpath without speaking. The streets were busy with people going out to lunch or having just finished it. There wasn’t a spare table or chair at any of the al fresco cafés they passed. A young girl with gothic make up was handing out flyers. Clayton shook his head and passed her by. Emmett took one, probably to be polite, glanced at it then promptly screwed it up. He tossed it into the next rubbish bin they passed.
“Do you want to find a place for coffee?” said Clayton. “You can tell me what’s on your mind.”
Emmett looked at him, his expression a worrying combination of anxiousness, fear, and despair. “I’d rather not. I don’t want other people around when I tell you.”
Clayton felt a crease form between his brows. It wasn’t like Emmett to be mysterious.
“All right then,” he said, growing both more concerned and more eager to hear Emmett’s grim news. “We’ll go back to your place. You can make us both a coffee and tell me there.”