Keith and Sam, mercenary soldiers for Blackwater, came through multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Each has taken a bullet for the other, and the two became as close as two men can be and were the perfect fit—Keith being extremely hard to accommodate, but Sam being able to. Once safely back in the States, and happily married to each other, Sam unexpectedly dies. This has left Keith full of sexual frustration and searching for that new Sam who can take him like Sam could. The search leads him to a Richmond bar, a Richmond gay men’s support club, and a hike on the Appalachian Trail; all in search of the perfect fit.
I bet Jimmy’s would be open. Hadn’t been in there since before Sam passed. But it was worth the try. If sitting in there and nursing a drink on Christmas Eve brought memories back, I could always try buying a bottle from the bar to bring home. At least there was booze at Jimmy’s. I found that it was just me and Eddie, the bartender, to begin with, and I almost didn’t stay. The same fuckin’ blinking lights on the poor excuse for a tree standing in the corner and the other decorations, such as they were, as I had on my tree were pathetic. That’s not why I almost didn’t settle on the stool, though. First I came in, Eddie gave me a long-faced look and said, “Sorry to hear about Sam. Here let me stand you a drink and we’ll toast him.”
I would have left right then if it hadn’t been for the drink. I growled my thanks and straddled a stool. It was a nice gesture, Eddie giving condolences and offering a drink. I didn’t want to alienate any of the good people still alive who I knew. But I was trying to put Sam in a box in my brain, not let him wander all over the place.
As I sipped, I thought about the good people I knew who were gone. Blackwater was no nursery school. We’d lost guys. It was a miracle I’d found Sam and that I hadn’t lost him—not in Afghanistan or Iraq—not until the fall, and then not to a bullet. I’d almost lost him to bullets and he’d almost lost me that once. But we’d been patched up and soldiered on. It had made us closer, had opened him to my needs—his needs too—both of us learning that life was too short to deny ourselves—to deny who we were and what our desires were.
“To Sam,” I said, lifting my glass.
“To Sam,” Eddie said, lifting his. “And to Keith and to surviving,” he added. I hesitated before drinking to that but then did so.
I saw my reflection in the mirror behind the bar and looked away quickly. When had I grown old? Where had all the lines that made my face craggy come from?
“I must say that you’re lookin’ good,” Eddie said, which pulled me out of the depression I was beginning to sink into on the aging matter. “You have one of the faces that will never go bad, and you’re body’s great. Been workin’ out a lot? Gotten any good tail?”
The questions weren’t out of line. Jimmy’s was a gay bar. Eddie was as queer as I was.
“There isn’t much else to do other than work out at the gym when you get my age and age out of the job. I’ve got a basement gym. Work out a lot.” “A lot” was an understatement. I worked out constantly to try to control my urges and my needs—and, yes, to keep my body in shape toward the time I’d need it for pleasure.
I’m sure he’d noticed that I hadn’t answered the “get a lot of tail” question. He was being sensitive about not pursuing it. In a bar like this, there was at lot of bravado about laying guys and being laid by guys. Eddie knew—or thought he knew—I didn’t say I’d done anything I hadn’t done.
“Miss the job?” he asked.
“No, not at all.” Yes, constantly.
“What job was that?”
Both Eddie and I swiveled our heads around. We hadn’t noticed the bottle blond—maybe of age, maybe not—who had slipped onto a stool down the bar. Now there were three of us. If Eddie didn’t have that insipid Christmas music on the sound system, there might be more of us.
The new guy was maybe five and a half feet tall—more than a foot shorter than I was—trim and wearing flashy clothes, including ridiculously design-tooled cowboy boots with bits and pieces in Christmas colors. I wondered if he brought them out just for the season. He screamed of trade, although I’d never seen him in here before. Eddie was acting like he’d never seen him before—and Eddie was the local matchmaker, hooking likely guys up with each other. A lot of men came to this bar just for Eddie to hook them up with someone to take home and fuck.
“Mercenary, in Afghanistan and Iraq,” I muttered, responding to his question.
“Nice one,” the young guy countered.
“It’s true,” Eddie came back with in defense of me. “Blackwater.”
“Cool, I’ve heard of them,” the young guy said, sliding one stool closer to me. “And I can believe it. My, you are one big dude, aren’t you?”