tagGay MaleThe Forever Man

The Forever Man

byshabbu©

Chapter One: Flying to Sydney

"Forever is a really long time."

The phrase kept running through Allen's mind as, face turned toward the window of the crowded jumbo jet high above the Pacific, he feigned an attitude of sleep. He had tired of the chatter of the businessman in the middle seat several thousand miles ago. It had been a mistake to tell the man he wrote features for newspapers.

"Forever is a really long time" was the last thing Daren Martin had told him when he boarded his own flight for Sydney three months earlier. Daren had said that he had to take some time to close out his affairs in Australia and then he'd be back. When Allen had said he'd wait for Daren forever if need be, that's what Daren had said. "Forever is a really long time." And then he'd laughed and turned and strode up the jet way. And that was the last time Allen had seen or spoken to him. And even the e-mails had been sporadic and somewhat detached since then. Allen decided that Daren just wasn't good with e-mails—or that's what Allen kept rationalizing to himself.

It was only a couple of weeks after that that Allen found out Daren hadn't been offered a permanent slot at the Times features desk—that the time was up on his exchange program with the Sydney Australian and he'd gone home—back to Sydney.

Allen had no idea why Daren had let him believe otherwise. If Daren wasn't coming back to work at the Times, Allen wondered where he was going to work. Maybe it wasn't in New York. Maybe it wasn't anywhere in the New York region. Maybe that's why Daren hadn't said anything about permanence in their relationship. Maybe keeping this going was up to Allen. Maybe Allen would have to relocate for them to be together. Daren had always been a little hazy and reticent about discussing the future.

That would be OK, though—if Daren was going to be working for some other newspaper in the States than the Times. Allen was an "in-it-for-the-long-haul" type of guy. If he'd have to find another paper to work on and be with Daren, he would. In fact, he was willing to meet Daren more than half way. The few e-mails Allen had gotten had conveyed Daren's reluctance to leave Australia now that he was there again. Allen had therefore decided on impulse that he'd go to Sydney himself, reunite with Daren, and check out where Daren was more comfortable living. The Times had given Allen a furlough and had agreed to take whatever features he wrote and appealed to them on spec. He hadn't told Daren he was coming; he wanted it to be a surprise—in fact, he'd been able to hook up with the Sydney Morning Herald and latch on to a desk there by agreeing to write some "American impressions of Australia" features. He'd let it be Daren's surprise to run across him at the Foreign Correspondents' Club or someplace. Daren had pulled surprises on him like that in New York, so he'd probably get a kick out of seeing Allen appear out of the blue in Sydney, Allen thought.

"Say, I just remembered where I knew your name from," the guy wedged in the seat next to Allen suddenly said. "Aren't you the guy who wrote the series of features on the Chelsea, West End, and Christopher Street districts for the Times?"

"Yes, that was me," Allen admitted, a bit uncomfortable now, as he suspected what was coming next. The guy had been showing quite a bit of interest in him, and Allen had come to be able to gauge that sort of interest.

"You really brought those gay districts to life. Just like you knew exactly what the lifestyles there were like."

The test statement was right out there in the open. Allen looked at the guy and saw that he was giving Allen "the look" back. He looked nice enough to Allen. In his forties, at least fifteen years older than Allen, and dressed well. A wine importer, he'd said, on his way to Australia to talk a deal with the Jacob's Creek people and then to set up a distribution plan. An athletic build and a good-looking face and wavy dark hair, graying at the temples. If Allen had met him at one of the more sedate clubs he went to—before he'd met Daren of course—Allen might have been interested. But Allen wasn't into casual sex. He was a long-haul kind of guy. So he didn't respond to the question.

The man was definitely interested now, and his thigh was pressing on Allen's. He'd put his hand down between their legs and Allen sensed that he'd be feeling Allen up at the mere hint of an invitation.

"You do go to the clubs in those districts, don't you?" the man asked, pressing the subject.

"On occasion, yes," Allen answered. "But I have an exclusive arrangement. I don't do much clubbing, really. I covered those areas on a newspaper assignment."

"You haven't been to XL in Chelsea? Haven't seen where they put aquariums?"

"Yes, I've been there."

"Thought so. You wrote about it as I remember. Listen, might you be interested—?"

Allen sat up in his seat and looked pointedly at the occupant of the aisle seat, a large, older woman who had her seat tilted back as far as she could, had covered herself with a thin airline blanket, was wearing a sleeping mask, and obviously was trying to be someplace else altogether. Allen had seen her in the terminal hall as he was coming through security at L.A. International. She'd arrived with a bevy of what were obviously members of the American branch of her family. She was speaking in a jovial Aussie accent—louder than necessary, with an edge to her voice that indicated she was on the edge of the "farewell" emotion. A grandmother ending her visit and returning to Australia—quite probably never to see her American family again. He knew she must be exhausted now, after hours and hours in the sky and after the strain of putting up a brave front at the farewells.

"She's asleep," the man said. "I've got a blanket here. You could cover with that and lay back and just enjoy—"

"What I really need to do," Allen said, as he unbuckled his seat belt and slid out from underneath the hand that was now gripping his thigh, "is to use the restroom. Sorry to have to climb over you. Miss, sorry, but I need to get out."

Allen was talking to the woman across the man, but the man was still being hopeful. "Would you like me to go with you . . . to show you where it is?"

"No, thanks, I think I can find it," Allen answered, trying to keep his voice polite.

There were a couple of stewardesses standing in the galley near the back of the plane and gossiping during a rare lull in their service responsibilities as Allen came out of the bathroom.

Allen approached them and asked, "I noticed that there are a few rows of empty seats back here. It's awfully crowded in my row. I think the man in the middle seat might be more comfortable back here where he can stretch out—but I think he might be offended if I say anything to him about it. The woman on the aisle would be more comfortable with the extra room too, I think. If these seats aren't taken, perhaps one of you could—?"

"Certainly, a good idea. I'll come right up with you and—"

"Perhaps you could wait a bit," Allen said. "If you come back with me now, it will look like—"

"Yes, I understand," the stewardess said.

When she appeared and made her offer, the man was torn between continuing his approach to Allen or getting into a more comfortable seat. They still had five hours in the air, so the more commodious seating arrangement won out. "You'll be staying in Sydney for a while, won't you?" he asked Allen as he was gathering up his belongings.

"Sure," Allen answered.

"Maybe I'll see you at Gilligans—in the Oxford Hotel—sometime then?"

It was obviously an invitation, and Allen just smiled at the man as he left.

"A really nice-looking guy," Allen thought as he waved the man away. "Not a forever type of guy, though, I don't think. And I'm definitely a forever type of guy myself." And with that he turned his head toward the window and thought of Daren again.

Daren had been so open and friendly from the beginning. Allen suspected it was an Aussie trait. He'd been embraced immediately by those on the features desk, a motley crowd that was pretty crabby and backbiting until Daren arrived. Everyone was in competition, keeping secrets from one another, and stealing any story angles they could from one another. They all talked in double entendres that were sweet on the outside and jabbing and nasty on the inside.

Daren had changed all that. He'd walked right onto the newsroom floor with his "G-day, mate" and his broad smile. He was open and honest and made anyone trying to double entendre him shrivel right up with his disarming smile and humorous "no hard feelings" responses. It helped that he was a gold mine of ideas for features—a real fresh perspective on New York and its inhabitants—and that he gave such good feature idea leads away for free, no strings or backbiting attached, that there was no reason to try to steal them from him.

Allen had been well into his feature series on the gay districts of New York already when Daren had appeared, and Daren had asked to come along to see the whole process of Allen's research and writing from the beginning to the end. After the third night of clubbing and observing the cruising, Daren had invited Allen up to his hotel room and made Allen exclusively his.

Allen had wanted to "forever" with Daren, and Daren hadn't disabused him of that notion.

Allen was still thinking of his dreams of a lifetime with Daren as the jumbo jet was circling Kingsford Smith Airport on Sydney's Botany Bay after having banked over the Sydney Opera House to give first-time visitors to Australia a thrill of a lifetime.

Chapter Two: Reality Time

"I'm at the Four Seasons. No, the one right here in Sydney. I've come to Australia. You couldn't say when you'd get back to New York, so I came here. I'm here, Daren, right here."

Silence on the other end of the line.

"Daren?"

Allen had every intention of not contacting Daren directly upon reaching Sydney—to at least get rid of his jet lag first. But he was right here in Sydney. Where Daren was. They were in the same city again. And the first thing he did after the bellhop performed his traditional opening of the drapes and gesturing to the clean towels as Allen reached into his pocket for tip money, was to figure out how to use the hotel phone and call Daren at the Australian.

"Yes, yes, of course, it's great to hear from you. It's great you're here. What, though—?"

Allen could still hear the surprise, shock almost, and the numbness in Daren's voice. It was like he was talking with cotton in his mouth. Allen had never known him to be knocked off his confident, brash Aussie stride like this. So, the surprise had worked, even though it hadn't been a face-to-face surprise. Still it was a good joke—playing one back on the habitual jokester Daren. And Allen was sure Daren would appreciate the humor in it—that he'd bounce back and hear that open, unrestrained Daren guffaw again.

"Same as you with the Times, Daren. I've wrangled an exchange—I'll be working a brief stint at the Morning Herald. That will give us time to—"

"The Morning Herald?" Daren's voice sounded almost strangled now.

"Yes, the features desk."

Another moment of silence on the line.

"It's OK, I promise not to steal subscribers from the Australian," Allen continued. "I'll probably be writing mostly 'American misunderstanding of things Aussie' features anyway. Nothing up your alley."

Daren did laugh now, but it was rather a hollow laugh.

"So, how soon can we meet?" Allen asked. "I'll have to sleep straight for, like two days, but then I should be ready to go. I've missed you, Daren."

Silence again.

"Daren?"

"I'm thinking. I'm thinking of a good place. How about Friday evening at Gilligans? You think you can find that? It's in the Oxford Hotel in Darlinghurst. I'm really up against it on deadlines, but—"

"Maybe someplace else?" Allen said nervously. The last person he wanted to see when he reunited with Daren was the man from the airplane. "I've heard of the place. But it doesn't sound all that good to me. I'm not ready for that scene again. Since meeting you—"

"Well, then, how about the bar in your hotel?"

"OK," Allen said. What he really wanted was for Daren to just pick him up at the hotel and take him back to his apartment or his house—or wherever he was living and make love to him—forever. Allen wanted back into Daren's life—as deeply in his life as possible—forever. Right here in his room would be acceptable too, even though it didn't reflect the commitment of moving right back into the center of Daren's life.

"OK, Friday evening at 9:00 p.m. it is, then."

"Until then," Allen said. "And, Daren . . ."

"Yes?"

"It's great to hear your voice again. And it's great to be here—with you. And wherever you want to be, whatever you want to do, I want to be there, to do it—with you." He so wanted to use the four-letter "L" word, but he couldn't quite get it out. What he really wanted, of course, was to hear Daren say the word.

"Yes, it's . . . get some good sleep, Allen. I'll see you at 9:00 on Friday."

Allen had no idea how uplifting it would be to be in direct contact with Daren again. He should have thought of this when Daren first said he was going back to Australia, he mused as he showered and dried himself off and fell onto the bed. He thought he'd go to sleep the instant his head hit the pillow, but he was too tired—too tired and excited—to sleep. But this didn't frustrate him. He daydreamed. By the time he slept, he'd built up a lifetime with Daren. Had moved in with him here in Sydney and had worked and played—and slept and made love—with Daren. And they'd grown old and satisfied—fulfilled in life—together, for all time.

* * * *

Allen stood there, looking dazed, and halfheartedly waving as Daren got into the taxi at the entrance of the Four Seasons Hotel and was gone.

He hadn't even finished his drink.

"It's just that it's such an awkward time," Daren had said when he showed up in the hotel bar—a half hour after the appointed time. This alone didn't surprise Allen all that much. Daren never did feel the urgency of time. But Allen had been on pins and needles anyway, dying to see Daren again, anxious to take up again where they had left off.

But they certainly couldn't do that in the bar of an upscale downtown tourist hotel. Allen had wanted to touch him, to caress him, and merge with him—to assure himself that Daren was real and was still there. But it had been much too public. Only now did Allen realize that he should have risked Gilligans. It was a place where they could have greeted each other appropriately, as two lovers coming together again after a three-month separation. Nobody in Gilligans would have cared, would even have looked at them, since it was obvious that they were together, complete in and of themselves.

Going up to his room even would have been better than this. Allen could have kicked himself for overreaching—for not being satisfied with the initial reunion in his own, albeit impersonal, room. Just to help Daren get over the shock of him really being here. But it was too late for that now.

"What do you mean 'awkward'?" Allen had asked.

"I'm on assignment. A delicate situation. Rather undercover work. I must go under for quite some time—and file my stories when I can and do what I can to conceal my identity. I know you know how that is. It's the assignment. I'm sorry. If you'd just let me know ahead of time. Probably no worse time then now. Perhaps it would be best if you went—"

Allen had closed it out; it wasn't at all what he wanted to hear.

And Daren wasn't giving him his full attention, even here. Even here, Daren had been sitting back in the shadows of the corner booth in the bar and looking surreptitiously around—not wanting to be seen here, to be recognized. Already deep in the cover of the story he was currently pursuing.

Yes, Allen knew how this was. He'd done his time on the news desk too. He'd done the criminal beat and written his stories and hoped to god that they didn't redound on him—that none of the criminals he wrote about would consider it worth their while to come back at him. And it had been nerve-racking, and Allen had decided it was not the life for him. He didn't think it was the life for Daren, either. Daren was just too open and easygoing for this. But he'd learn. And when he did Allen would be waiting for him. Allen didn't give up. He was in this for the long haul.

Standing on the sidewalk, watching Daren's taxi pulling out into traffic, all too soon—gone without even so much as giving Allen any means of contacting him when he'd gone underground on this story assignment—Allen lowered his head in resignation and frustration. There, between his feet, though, written in colored chalk in elegant script, was the reminder of who he was—what sort of person he was, and what he had to do. It was just one word. It read "Forever."

* * * *

It was Allen's first day on the job at the Morning Herald. The newspaper was almost a small hometown tabloid compared with where he'd come from—the New York Times. But there was just as much red tape and hoops to go through here to get settled in.

Allen was tired and felt snappish and out of sorts. It didn't have anything to do with the people he was being shuttled back and forth between at the paper, though. He was still frustrated at having come this far and still having to wait for Daren to be free enough to be Daren with him.

Allen cursed fate, but he knew that he certainly couldn't blame Daren. Perhaps it would have been different if he wasn't in the news business too. But he was, and he knew how the story drove people's personal lives. A newspaper was a jealous spouse—leaving little room for personal relationships. But Allen was in it for the long haul. He would persevere.

And then, there, at his last stop of the day—having reached his destination—Allen's world caved in on him.

"Hello. Welcome to the Morning Herald features desk," the woman with the soft, golden hair said to him. "I'm sorry at all of the fuss in getting you verified and documented and eventually delivered here—but you are home now, and we're looking forward to your stay with us. I've read your clippings, and I think you'll bring a whole new perspective to our section."

Sandra Martin was obviously a very nice person—she was easy to look at and was just as welcoming and genuine as Allen could have wished for. But all the time he sat there, beside her desk in her cubical in the center of a busy newsroom of a never-ending line of identical cubicles with low walls that—purposely—preserved the hubbub and flowing mass of people on a mission and a deadline, Allen had to fight to keep a smile on his face and to give the impression he was listening to her. And all of the time he was wondering how he was going to get his heart out of his shoe—where it had fallen the moment he had arrived at the desk of the Morning Herald's features chief editor. He was sweating and hyperventilating and dissolving into a puddle of broken dreams.

There on the desk, at Sandra Martin's elbow as she was turned in her chair to face Allen, was a framed picture of her family. Two preteen boys and their proud parents. Sandra and her husband—Daren Martin. Allen's Daren Martin. Reality crowded in and Allen was wondering how he could have been so stupid, how he could have misconstrued Daren's departure from the States and his avoidance of Allen since then.

"Are you OK, Mr. Singleton?" Sandra was asking. "Can I get you something, water or something. Still jet lagged? Perhaps you tried coming in to the paper too soon. I'd be happy to call one of the copyboys to help you get back to your hotel. Please, please. There's no rush. We can start this some other—"

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