Gray skies loomed over Café Flore. Devin was furious today. At Café Flore, he chomped down a cream cheese croissant as he complained about the new intern’s “promotion” to project assistant. Martin could care less as he spread lukewarm cream cheese on a cold raisin bran bagel. He looked away aimlessly towards the door, hoping a certain Luke Fong would walk through that door. Barry sipped a warm mug of black coffee while Tyler tried to focus sensitively on Devin's whining.
And Ryan was nowhere to be found.
Regardless, Devin was simply frustrated about Blair. “I’ve been in the industry for a long time and he’s such a newbie!” Devin grumbled. “You know, he’s not even in business relations. His major was mechanical engineering from Texas A&M so I don’t know how the bleep he got involved in club management.”
“So White party is going to be Black party,” Martin snapped as he shoved half of the bagel into his mouth, “that’s not really a bad thing.” He tried to feign interest but his anger towards Luke from the previous night overshadowed him. It almost felt that his anger was directed towards Devin.
“Unlike you kids,” Martin threw on his sunglasses quickly, muttered, “I have to do some adult things and get my ass to work.” Only Ryan and him knew what transpired that night.
Barry and Tyler sat across from each other. They weren't the best of friends and the absence of Ryan, Devin and Martin further enhanced the estrangement. Barry sipped his coffee and Tyler tried to read the Datebook section of the San Francisco Chronicle. Tyler's eye caught across Ryan's byline on today's newspaper and flipped it quickly.
“Where’s Ryan?” Barry suddenly said sarcastically.
“Despite all those rumors that you hear,” Tyler stirred his cup of coffee a little bit more furiously. “I’m not Ryan’ s keeper. He’s probably hanging out with that twink Ryoga.” Tyler grumbled as he folded the newspaper over.
“If I remember correctly,” Barry replied, “you’re the one who fucked it up.” He wasn’t going to let Tyler get away with blaming Ryoga or any other attractive gay Asian guy on his current predicament. Tyler looked up with a mix of shock and anger.
“What is with you and all these Asian guys?” Barry finally snapped. “Or is it with all these guys who just happen to be Asian? Why can’t you see that you are better than that” Tyler remained silent.
“The truth is,” Barry said coolly, “is that Ryan Hitomi is never going to love you. Never can and never will. His past is too fucked up and it wasn’t right for you to past and he needs to be with someone who is just as fucked up with him.”
“Who died and made you the authority of who I date?” Tyler snapped. He hated it when Barry acted spoke patronizingly.
“I’m only looking out for your best interests,” Barry said gruffly, “You’re part of two different worlds, you and Ryan.” Barry put down his ice tea. “Tyler Stonebrook from the world where every gay American kid comes out at a young age and joins their high school’s Gay Straight Alliance. And then Ryan Hitomi, whose dark past is further shrouded in mystery because he barely talks about it. The story of a boy who was trying to be the perfect son while sacrificing his own interests who is now doomed to feel like he doesn’t belong anywhere at all.”
“Yeah,” Tyler grumbled as-a-matter-of-factly, “and stealing my boyfriend was in my best interest.” Tyler was about to get up and leave when Stephen Longheart walked into the café. He was fully dressed up in his nurse uniform.
Barry and Stephen’s two children Jessica and Peter accompanied him. Peter was 12-years-old with curly brown hair and inquisitive brown eyes. He was wearing a white baseball shirt and dirty blue jeans. Jessica was also 12-years-old had long straight brown hair and brown eyes. Stephen and Barry had adopted the fraternal twins from a pregnant teenager who chose not to abort her babies.
“They just paged me,” Stephen said. “There’s a medical emergency in the EMT. Humongous MUNI accident. And they’re short-staffed today.” Stephen looked at. “Can you take the kids to school and I’ll let you know what’s up later. Jessica has ballet practice afterschool and Peter has a baseball game tonight.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Barry smiled back at Stephen and kissed him on the cheek. “Just go and do your job and I’ll take care of the kids.”
Stephen noticed that Tyler was there. “Tyler,” he said coldly.
Barry felt that Peter’s curly brown hair was unusually sticky. He was shocked as he pulled out a wad of black gum out of his son’s hair. “Who did this to you?” he asked gruffly but in a kindly-tone.
Peter pointed to Jessica. “She did.”
“Peter called me a snotball!” Jessica protested angrily.
“Peter,” Barry said a little bit coldly, “it wasn’t right for you to call your sister a snotball. But it wasn’t right for Jessica to put gum in your hair either.” He looked to his daughter with the same chiding look.
“Jessica called you and dad ‘fags,’ “Peter replied. “I didn’t like the word so I called her a snotball because it sounded mean.”
“What’s a fag?” Jessica asked innocently and inquisitively. “My friends say that’s what you and daddy are.” Barry looked a little bit worried.
“How about I tell you later with daddy when we go to Ghirardelli Square tonight for ice cream?” Barry replied, “but I want to see you and Jessica to apologize to each other and learn from your mistakes. Just because you don’t like someone doesn’t mean that you should put things into their hair.” He carried the same authoritative tone that he used with his friends also with his children.
Barry looked at Tyler. “I have to go but I must tell you this,” Barry said. “I never stole Stephen. The real reason that Stephen left you is because you really didn’t know what you wanted and he did. You wanted to chase young closetcases at Club Faith and he wanted someone he could come home to at night. You didn’t open your eyes to something that you could have had and you lost it.” The words hit Tyler hard. He looked down into his coffee, feeling like a failure.
Barry scooped up his daughter Jessica in his arms. “We aren’t getting any younger, Tyler,” he said. “When are you and the others going to grow up?”
“Open your eyes!” Barry glowered at Tyler one last time before he walked out of Café Flore, his two kids by his side. Tyler stared aimlessly at the window, trying to ignore the glances of the Chinese barista.
At work, Devin was not pleased watching young Blair Bentley usurp his power. The handsome and energetic intern took full advantage of his new sense of power as Devin's project assistant that he had woken up two hours early to start the planning process.
"Hey boss," Blair smiled gingerly as Devin walked into the office with his double-shot nonfat mocha. Blair looked strapping with his professional black jacket, striped blue tie and white shirt. His black pleated pants looked neatly pressed and his black shoes were shiny as always. He held a green manila folder in his hand, which he gave to Devin.
"We have a videoconference meeting at 4 p.m. with Absolut to discuss a potential sponsorship and Mr. Kinney wants a marketing campaign proposal by the end of this week so I already have the team working on it." Blair sipped his own nonfat-double shot mocha as he handed Devin another sheet
“So maybe we could discuss the proposal after you settle down in your office?” Blair said quickly. He flashed his thousand-watt smile again at Devin, who was feeling like choking himself. Devin tried to slide the door shut but Blair’s rough hands grabbed it before it could close shut. “What do you want?” Devin said exhaustingly.
Blair peeked his head in and smiled at Devin once again. "It's a pleasure to work with you, sir," Blair said. He smiled coyly. Devin nodded emptily as slid the office door completely shut, wishing that the coffee he drank this morning was actually an Absolut martini. Since alcohol was nowhere in the vicinity, Devin would have to find some other stress relief.
At moments of stress like this one, Devin would normally go to Gay.com and make an appointment for a post-work fuck. Even if work was eight-hours filled with chaos and stress, Devin could at least look forward to some steaming hot male stranger parked at his house that evening. Devin logged into his Gay.com account. Within minutes, he would be gazing upon photo after photo of semi-nude men living in San Francisco and selecting one prime example for carnal take-out.
Not today. Devin scrolled down the list of chatrooms, searching for his familiar "San Francisco M4M" when a newly created local chatroom called "Not Looking for Sex M2M" caught his eye. Who would go on Gay.com and not look for sex, especially in San Francisco? Devin's curiosity overpowered him and he decided to double click.
DevilAngel: You aren't looking for sex and yet you specifically said M2M.
Devin sat back and waited for a moment. He felt wity and intellectual.
In2ition: Well, I'm not looking for sex but I definitely identify as gay. Just because I'm a homosexual doesn't mean that I'm always a homosexual.
In2ition: Besides, if I were cruising for sex at this moment, then I would change my screenname to something haphazard like “SuckURCock” now.
Devin snickered at his jokes a little bit. What else was there to talk about other than sex on Gay.com? He continued to talk to the anonymous male stranger about how the San Francisco community is simply a meat market and Mr. In2ition politely responded through instant messages about his viewpoints. Topics of conversation moved to monogamy, past relationship histories, one-night-stands and finding that special someone in a city of endless possibilities. Devin’s fingers flew furiously across the screen as he continued his debate with his new anonymous friend. Finally, In2ition said that he would be right back.
Devin changed the window quickly as Blair slid the office door open. “Are you ready for the meeting with Absolut?” Blair asked Devin cheerfully. “I think I have an ad pitch that’ll knock ‘em dead.”
Devin choked as he started to fumble through the folders quickly. “I’m halfway through it,” he lied. “How much more time do we have?”
“In about thirty minutes,” Blair grinned. “I’ll get you when you’re ready.” Blair slid the door shut again. Devin was upset. He was talking to Mr. In2ition for three hours and he didn’t even get the guy’s name or number!
Across town, Martin was in a vicious mood.
Martin’s office was located on the fifth floor of Macy*s in downtown San Francisco. He looked cute with the tape ruler wrapped around his neck as he wringed the throat of a wholesaler over the cell phone.
“Of course I don’t want to pay extra for first class shipping,” he screamed on his cell phone. “It’s Calvin Klein, not Gucci, for God’s sake! Do you have any idea how many budget cuts have been going on at this place?” Martin paused to hear the wholesaler whimper. “I don’t CARE if it’s 5,000 threadcount cotton sheets either. It can get shipped here the same fucking way that everything else does…by UPS standard. Do you think I can pull money out of my ass like that!”
Luke walked in. Luke wasn’t looking good either. His once warm black eyes now stared at Martin coldly. His once cheerful smirk now was a grave and serious frown. His arms were folded.
“Hi,” Martin said cordially. “Welcome to my office.” He paused before throwing in the punchline. “Where gay people are allowed.” Martin emphasized the word gay, letting the sound of it roll louder than the other words in that sentence. Loud enough that the rest of the hallways could hear. Luke panicked and closed the door quickly. Then he turned around to face Martin.
“You humiliated me in front of all of my friends and co-workers,” Luke blurted out. His curt words pierced Martin’s heart like sharp rusty nails, “and your father.” One nail was larger than the rest. Luke’s words caused Martin to stand still. They were both still right next to the closed door.
Martin folded his arms. “What did you expect me to do?” he asked Luke sharply. “Watch as the pack of wolves, known as your ‘friends,’ pick my bones dry with their offensive elations? They were wrong to say what they said about me.” Then he looked Luke directly in the eye. “And you know it and you let it keep going.”
“Of course I know it!” Luke shouted back almost too quickly. “They do it every single day and I have no power to stop it.” Luke looked back directly at Martin, his eyes were almost pleading but his tone was a mixture of anger and frustration. “I worked so hard for four years to attain the position that I currently am. My fellow co-workers are blatant misogynists and homophobes but they still have the power. And I’m lucky enough that I can impersonate a supposedly straight person in this world to maintain my popularity.
“But that could all go to hell very quickly if they find out that I’m dating the flamboyantly flaming dishonorable son of our now-retired veteran brokers? And worst, one of the guys’ parents knows my parents particularly well.” Luke shook nervously as he blurted out these words. He feared what would be the look on his mother’s face if the word ever spilled out that her hardworking Harvard graduate Chinese-born son was gay.
Luke’s multisyllabic words further spurned Martin’s sharp anger and quick wit. “Perhaps you can find other ways to bond with your fellow businessmen than misogynistic banter and homophobia,” Martin retorted snidely.
“As long as you’re with me,” Luke said, “I would appreciate it if you do not show up with me to any events that my co-workers are at. Annie is my faux-pas girlfriend whenever I’m hanging out with my bros okay?”
“Your bros?” Martin laughed sarcastically at poor Luke’s attempt to sound like a heterosexual Asian guy. “Your bros don’t care about you at all if you have to keep on this masquerade. And as long as you are going out with me, I’m not one who wants to be in a masquerade. I’m proud of what I have with you and I don’t care if I have to shout it out to the world.”
“What’s the matter with privacy!” Luke yelled finally. He realized that people could hear him outside, even though the doors were closed. Luke started to quiet down, his head tilted down in guilt. “If I’m outed at work, I’m screwed. You know that the rest of society doesn't understand guys like us."
“You mean guys like me,” Martin snapped back to Luke, “Guys who wear their sexuality on their sleeve because people guess it anyways. I never asked for this and I never wanted to be gay, but you know what? That’s who I am and I’ve made peace with it.”
Luke folded his arms. “You’re just like those other faggots,” Luke said coolly, “giving gay men everywhere a bad name by acting too. You’re never going to find anyone because you’re too much of a drama queen.”
“In that case, darling” queen Martin said icily to Luke as he opened the door. “I’m a FUCKING FABULOUS FAGGOT and if you can’t deal with that then FUCK OFF!” Martin stammered to say the last two words. A horde of pigeons flew off the roof of Macy*s with the echoes of Mark’s voice.
Luke had nothing more to say. Luke looked one more time to Martin. His heart almost broke as well. The warm black eyes returned with a hint of sadness. Luke shook his head as he turned away. His hands shook nervously as he grabbed doorknob and quickly slammed the door behind him. Who was the drama queen now?
Martin caught his breath. His heart was still beating as fast a speeding train. He walked to the brass knob of his office door and quietly locked it. Then, he looked out of the window. Below him, the streets clamored with multi-colored vehicles. He could fairly glimpse the back of Luke’s gray business jacket exiting the building. He sank into one corner of the office and whimpered softly, so quiet that the rest of the office would not be able to hear.
Ryan rang the doorbell of Barbary Coast apartments. A harsh winter wind gusted and hit him in the face. Ryan felt chills up his spine even though he was wearing two layers of clothing over his pinstriped black shirt and black tie.
"Who is it?" the voice he was waiting anxiously to hear finally said. Ryan wet his lips nervously and then choked into the speaker: "It's Ryan." A brief pause occurred. A buzzing sound emulated from the speaker as Ryan pulled the silvery and rusted gates open and walked into the apartment complex.
Ryan walked up three flights of old, dusty stairs with faint red Turkish carpet. It had been several months since Ryan first escorted Ryoga to his new home. He finally reached the top of the third floor. Ryoga's door was the first one on the left corner of a long and narrow hallway that seemed to spread endlessly. The inlaid gold number "312" glistened in soft-coated light.
Ryan knocked on the door and it made a hollow booming sound. He felt almost frightened by the noise. He stepped back. Then he heard a click on the other side and the door slid open. Ryoga was wearing a simple black tank top that high-lited his chiseled body and tight blue jeans.
"I haven't seen you for a long time," Ryoga said.
"I just wanted to check up on you," Ryan replied nervously, which was a complete lie. "How are you doing?"
"I'm sorry about Kerry," Ryan finally said, awkwardly.
Ryoga closed the door quietly. "Yeah," he looked carefully at the door as it made a soft clickings sound, "at least he was honest about it." He turned to face Ryan. "I'm sorry about Riki."
Ryan sighed. "I knew what I was walking into," he said. Ryan quickly changed the subject. He had never been in Ryoga's apartment and was awestruck about how quickly Ryoga had settled into his place. "Your apartment looks great," he said. Ryoga smiled a little bit proudly. Ryoga's living room was small but cozy. The centerpiece of the room was a blood-red three-seat sofa.
"Nice couch," Ryan said as gently touched the smooth copper-colored pleather material. "Did you get this from Ikea?"
"I got it from a rummage sale," Ryoga replied quickly. "Some guy was about to throw it out and I thought it would look nice in the house. I even got it for half the original price at Ikea." Are you proud of me finally? He gazed back at Ryan. Ryan smiled back awkwardly. He was proud of Ryoga.
Then Ryan's cellphone phone rang. Almost in a flash, Ryan picked up his cellphone and then put it to his ear. He turned away from Ryoga and did not see Ryoga slightly frown as he did so. "Hello?" Ryan started to say to the cellphone. "Yeah..." he paused. "Omigod." Ryan looked down. "Is he okay?" Another pause as Ryoga’s frown turned into a look of concern. “I’ll be on my way soon.”
"Who was it?" Ryoga asked. Ryan turned around. He closed his eyes and shook his head sadly.
When Martin Ventura is depressed over any particular issue, he turns to Spanish soap operas, which feature characters whose lives are ten times more chaotic than his. Tonight, Martin tuned into the latest episode of Pasiones as he sat on his plush tanned sofa. A bowl of popcorn delicately balanced itself on Martin's lap. He sniffed and tried to hold back the tears that he still felt for Luke
"Esmerelda!" Martin shouted at his TV angrily. "You know Enrique is cheating on you, that dirty bastard!" He threw several shards of popcorn at the television. The doorbell suddenly rang. Martin almost jumped out of his sorry state. He dragged himself to his front door and opened it. Ryan greeted him with his charming smile.
“We brought boys and booze,” Ryan said. In one hand, he held the latest seasons of Queer as Folk. He knew how to make Martin’s blues go away. Tyler walked in with a case of Coronas, followed by Devin and Ryoga.
"How are you doing?" Ryoga smiled. He opened his arms. Martin took heed and threw himself into Ryoga's warm chest, bawling incessantly.
Ryan placed the beer bottles on to Martin’s oak coffee table. “Where’s Barry?” he asked and looked at Tyler.
“He’s going to have to explain to his kids what fags are,” Tyler said coldly.
Ryan twisted the beer bottles open and the men settled down for another long night of Queer as Folk, an American soap opera featuring gay men living in the city of P Pittsburgh, which was actually filmed in Toronto. The intensely sexual drama between the men of the show heated the cold climate of Pittsburgh/Toronto to fever pitch levels. There was a lot of nude male bodies without any definitive plot so the viewers drank their beers and enjoyed the flashing images in silence.
"I'm jealous of Barry," Martin finally said. He pushed his legs to his chest and wrapped his arms around them.
Tyler looked up. "Why are you jealous of Barry?" He took another swig of Corona. Martin took another swig of beer. “Remember when we were going to get that beach house in Provincetown?” The other guys nodded agreeing, except for Ryoga, who quietly felt confused.
“What is Provincetown?” Ryoga asked innocently. Ryan smiled back at him.
“Well,” Ryan started to tell the tale, “I was really good friends with Barry when I was in Boston and he introduced me to Martin while he was getting his graduate degree at M.I.T. Martin was seeing Tyler at that time. We all became really fast friends and took these random trips to Provincetown, which is the big gay community. The beaches were amazing and the men were even more.”
“On our last summer to Provincetown, we found this cozy blue townhouse right by the beach. We told ourselves that once we could all afford it, it was going to be our vacation house and we would grab any man who walked by it and sleep with them.”
Tyler laughed as he downed the beer. It was the memory of really good times. Martin smiled weakly and Ryan laughed heartily. Ryoga laughed nervously
“The point is that Barry moved on!” Martin grumbled. “Now he has a partner and kids and we barely see him. While we, on the other hand, travel from bar to bar looking for the next young guy who could remind us of our lost fountain of youth.” He paused and looked at the TV sadly. “At least, he has someone that he can go home to after it’s all over.” Martin stumbled drunkedly as he motioned to the show. "Even these guys knew when their time was up."
“Open your eyes!” The words echoed in Tyler’s head. But Tyler had no time to meditate on Barry’s meanings. The guys suddenly heard something heavy drop at the front door and the screeching of a car leaving the house’s driveway.
The word “Martin” had been written quickly, as if by a nervous hand. Luke was starting to break down as much as Martin did. Without having to ask, Ryan pulled out Martin’s Powerbook and placed the CD into the computer. The CD-Rom contained only one mp3 song on it. Ryan double-clicked the icon on the computer and sad piano tune started to play. The piano tune turned into a heartbreaking drumbeat. Then, pop singer Brian McKnight started to croon his hit Shoulda Woulda Coulda and the house was filled with melancholy.
Martin crumpled the letter with a look of sadness on his face. The other guys didn’t need to know what was on the letter. The sobering song said more than enough. Devin quietly took the letter and placed it in the trash while Tyler and Ryan proceeded to comfort the once-again bawling Martin.
Trying to distract himself from the surrounding sadness, Ryoga looked back onto the television, now filled with images of promiscuous white muscular male bodies fucking each other in the blinded chaos that one calls life.
To help me work on this chapter, I played Brian McKnight’s Shoulda Woulda Coulda. Here are the complete lyrics because I believe that these lyrics evoke more of Luke’s feelings than describing the actual letter that Luke wrote to Martin.
Baby, can you put them bags
Just wait hold on for a minute
Gotta say a couple things before you go
Even though I know that we're finished
I don't want you to leave without knowin'
Just where I'm comin' from, babe
I just wanna say I made a big mistake
And now I gotta face the fact that I
Shoulda been a better man
The kinda man that you needed
Woulda been better off
If I done right by you
I coulda done this, I coulda done that
But I know I can't go back
'Cause now it's just too late
I'm sayin' shoulda woulda coulda, yeah
I can tell by the look on your face
You ain't tryin' to hear what I'm sayin'
Maybe you done heard all of this before
To her this ain't no game that I'm playin'
This may be the last chance I ever have
To talk to you before you go
So I gotta say I made I big mistake
Girl, you know it's killin' me that I
Shoulda been a better man
The kinda man that you needed
Woulda been better off
If I done right by you
I coulda done this, I coulda done that
But I know I can't go back
'Cause now it's just too late
I'm sayin' shoulda woulda coulda, yeah
I should have done my best to love you, baby
I should have placed no one above you
And now it's killin' me more than you know
Letting you, that's why I...girl, I know that I shoulda
Shoulda been a better man (Coulda been a better man to you, baby)
The kinda man that you needed (Shoulda been there for
you every time you needed me)
Woulda been better off (Every time you called me)
If I done right by you (And you know that I coulda done this)
I coulda done this, I coulda done that (Coulda done that, yeah)
But I know I can't go back (You know I can't go back, baby)
'Cause now it's just too late (All I know need to know
is, girl, all I need to know is)
I'm sayin' shoulda woulda coulda, yeah (Do you love me
like you used to, baby)
I know I shoulda, yeah
I know I woulda, yeah (All the things I coulda done)
I know I coulda been a better man (All the things I shoulda done)
Said I shoulda woulda coulda, yeah (Sayin' shoulda
woulda coulda, yeah)
I know I shoulda, yeah (Yeah)
I know I woulda, yeah (Cooulda woulda shoulda)
I know I coulda been a better man
Said I shoulda woulda coulda, yeah (Yeah)