In the middle of June that year, Tristan Briggs and his Uncle Eldridge left Manhattan for good.
They weren't going to miss much about New York. Uncle Eldridge had been hanging onto his grand lifestyle from the late 1990s by a thin piece of thread. His Bentley lease had expired and his weekends in the Hamptons were over. At one point, it was so bad they weren't sure there would be enough money for lunch in The Village.
Things had been going downhill since Eldridge had lost his position as a vice president for a high-end designer clothing corporation due to downsizing. On top of that, he'd lost money in the stock market and he was months behind in the rent for his upscale interior design boutique in the east sixties. The wealthy clients weren't spending money on crystal chandeliers and gilded tables the same way they'd been spending it five years earlier. As a result of all this, he'd come very close to losing his townhouse in Turtle Bay and his summer house on Fire Island.
But Uncle Eldridge had been lucky to find buyers for both the townhouse and the summer house in such an unusual real estate market. And just in time to save him from bankruptcy.
Tristan was looking forward to a new life in Florida, where there wouldn't be phone calls from the creditors and embarrassing moments in trendy restaurants where credit cards had been declined.
In fact, moving to South Beach might be beginning of a whole new era. It could be what Tristan needed to push his own life forward. He was ready to meet a man and fall in love. He wanted to get married and share everything in his life with one man, even if marriage between two men wasn't legally recognized.
But when the taxi dropped them off at their new home in South Beach, Tristan gave his uncle a look and shook his head. Tristan hadn't seen the house yet. His uncle had gone down a month earlier for a short vacation and he'd bought it on an impulse. Though the huge, three-story house was located in a desirable neighborhood and was surrounded by multimillion-dollar homes that belonged to rich and famous people, this wasn't at all what Tristan had expected. The stucco was chipped and falling from the corners, the terra cotta roof tiles were cracked and dilapidated, and the shrubberies in front were so overgrown they covered most of the front windows. One of the front windows was boarded up with plywood and the front door had a split down the middle. Beside the front walk, a large faded green commercial sign read: Slocum Real Estate
Tristan got out of the cab and crossed to the cracked front walk. He placed his hands on his hips and looked back and forth. A huge moving van sat in the driveway and the workers were already removing their things from the truck. The sign on the van read, "Wiley & Son Movers, Inc."
When his uncle walked up behind him, Tristan touched the top of the real estate sign and said, "We're going to be living in a real estate office?" His face remained pinched and his right eyebrow arched.
His uncle laughed. He ran his hand through thick brown hair mixed with strands of silver, then patted Tristan on the back. "Of course not. The sign has to be removed. Originally the house was built by Stella Crystal, the old silent movie star. When she died, her niece took it over and lived here for about twenty-five years. After that, a small real estate firm bought it and used it as an office until a few years ago." Uncle Eldridge stared at the house with wide, glistening eyes. He smiled and rubbed his jaw. He seemed to love the fact it had once belonged to a silent film star. "The real estate firm didn't do well, and they were on the verge of losing the property by the time I came along and made an offer."
"I see," Tristan said. He should have known better. When his uncle had first mentioned the house and what he'd paid for it, Tristan should have expected it to be in shambles. Uncle Eldridge had done this before. He'd been buying up ruined properties in New York, renovating them while living there under the worst conditions, then re-selling them for huge profits. He'd done this with the townhouse in Turtle Bay and the summer house on Fire Island. Before that, he'd done it with a brownstone in Murray Hill. He was actually very good at what he did, and he'd always made money. The only problem was Uncle Eldridge's spending habits. If he made a million dollars on Monday, he usually had two million dollars spent by Tuesday.
"It's going to be different," said Uncle Eldridge. "This time we're not moving again. I'm renovating this place with the money I made from the New York houses and we're staying here for a long time. I shall never sell this house."
Tristan smiled; he almost detected a slight British accent in Eldridge's voice. Uncle Eldridge said this each time he bought a new property, and with the same dramatic tone. He'd loved his uncle like a father since he'd been three years old. Tristan's mother had been Uncle Eldridge's sister. When Tristan's father and mother had been killed in an automobile accident, his uncle had taken him into his home and raised him as if he were his own son. Eldridge had even legally adopted Tristan and given him his own name. He'd never hesitated once and Tristan was grateful.
But lately Tristan had been worrying. His uncle wasn't getting any younger and if he kept making poor business decisions based on trendy impulses he'd wind up with nothing. As it was, they were living on the money Uncle Eldridge had just received from the sale of his properties. After the all the debts had been paid, there was just enough to survive for a year of two. And Tristan knew when his uncle started renovating this old mansion it wouldn't take long for him to go through all that money. When Uncle Eldridge designed a kitchen, the counters couldn't be any ordinary material. They had to be special uba tuba granite from some far off country.
So Tristan took a deep breath and sighed. "At least we can always sell it for a profit. Once the real estate market turns around I'm sure this house will be worth at least five times more than what you paid."
Uncle Eldridge shook his head. "No way. I want to stay here forever."
"Homes like this require a lot of upkeep," Tristan said. "Without an income, it might not be realistic. We could renovate and sell, then buy a nice condo."
"I will not be forced to live in a con-do-minium." The word condominium seemed awkward coming from his mouth, as if he'd become tongue-tied. "I will not live in something referred to as a unit."
"We need an income. And you can't open another high-end furniture boutique. It's the last thing South Beach needs."
"But we'll have an income," Uncle Eldridge said. "When we open the new restaurant we'll make a fortune." Then he patted Tristan on the back and paid the taxi driver.
Tristan rolled his eyes and followed his uncle to the back of the cab where the driver had just unloaded their Gucci bags. He was only twenty-two, but he had a college degree in fine art and he'd just graduated from culinary school. After he'd graduated from college early and he'd discovered there weren't many decent jobs out there for fine arts majors, he'd gone to culinary school as a back-up plan. He'd always loved food and cooking, he'd always wanted to own his own restaurant, and he'd never been afraid of hard work.
"I'm not so sure this is the best time to open a restaurant," Tristan said, picking up his suitcases. "People are cutting back. Banks are being bailed out. From what I learned in school, restaurants are the number-one businesses to close down after the first year in business. It might be better if I just get a job working for someone first."
Uncle Eldridge lifted his eyebrows and lowered his chin. He adjusted the Gucci bag over his shoulder and blinked. "Nonsense," he said. "We're opening a restaurant as soon as we find the perfect location. You're going to run it and it's going to be a huge hit. I'm not having my own flesh and blood work as a cook for some greasy spoon. What would people think? I have a reputation to consider."
Tristan smiled and tilted his head. "I was just thinking it might be a good idea if I had some experience working in a restaurant, is all." He didn't want to hurt his uncle's feelings. He just wanted to be realistic. Someone had to be.
"Sometimes you're so much like your mother it makes me shiver," Uncle Eldridge said. "She was always the cautious one, always the one worrying about tomorrow." He picked up a suitcase and started walking toward the front door of the massive old house. "I miss her every day, but life is too short. You have to take chances. We'll open a restaurant and that's that. I'm sure you're going to meet some very nice, wealthy young men down here. I just know it. South Beach is filled with some of the richest gay men in the world. With your looks and your body, you won't have any problems snagging one."
Tristan didn't reply to his remark about meeting a wealthy young man. This wasn't the first time Uncle Eldridge had broached the subject and Tristan knew it wasn't going to be the last. His uncle had been trying to fix him up with wealthy gay men since he'd turned eighteen, hoping to secure financial security in doing so. Once, he'd fixed Tristan up with the heir to a huge retail fortune, a young guy named Felix who bit (devoured) his fingernails and would then sniff the tips of his fingers the rest of the day. Then there was the guy from Saratoga Springs with the horses, the one who wanted Tristan to have sex with him in public restrooms all the time. And Tristan would never forget about the guy who came from a famous organized crime family--Uncle Eldridge smiled and called them "business people". This guy had asked Tristan to blow him while three of his intoxicated buddies took turns plowing Tristan. Tristan was a good sport. He did it once, because the guy had asked so nicely and because his friends were so cute. But when Tristan found out that was all this guy wanted to do, he ended the relationship fast.
"But what if the guy I fall in love with isn't wealthy?" Tristan asked. They were at the front door now; his uncle was watching one of the moving men carry a delicate marble topped side table, trimmed with ormolu and inlayed wood.
His uncle smiled. "It's like I always say: it's just as easy to fall in love with a wealthy man as it is to fall in love with a poor slob." Then he turned his back to Tristan and shouted at the moving man. "Be careful with that antique table. There are only two like it in the entire world. The other is in St. Petersburg, Russia." When he was stressed, he tended to sound slightly effeminate.
While Uncle Eldridge shouted at the moving man carrying the table, Tristan lowered his eyes and smiled at the handsome young moving guy standing in the back of the truck all by himself. He had short brown hair with reddish highlights, a tall lanky body, and nice furry legs that bowed at the knee. He was wearing an oversized black T-shirt with wet stains under the arms, and baggy cream-colored shorts that hung low on his slim hips. There were two silver hoops in his ears, several tattoos on his arms, and a thick gold rope chain around his neck. He smiled back at Tristan and lit a cigarette. When he inhaled the tobacco, he looked Tristan up and down and made a fist. Then he exhaled and blew the smoke in Tristan's direction.
Though Tristan's ultimate goal was to fall in love and get married, he'd lost his virginity years ago to a guy on his high school basketball team. But this moving man was too good to resist. He had a rough-trade, dangerous quality that made Tristan's heart race and his jeans tighten. His face was covered with a light layer of five o'clock shadow and his fingers were thick and meaty. So Tristan stared into the moving guy's dark brown eyes for a moment and smiled. Before he turned to enter the house, he said, "I think my room's up on the third floor. If you need any help moving my things, just let me know."
The moving guy looked him up and down again, then blew smoke out of his nostrils. "I'll do that. We're one man short today."
"Smoking isn't good for you," Tristan said. He was still smiling and flirting without shame.
The guy shrugged and flicked an ash. "I'll live."
Two hours later, the truck was empty and Uncle Eldridge announced he was joining some old friends for cocktails. He asked Tristan to join him, but Tristan said he was tired and he wanted to take a nap before dinner. He walked his uncle to the front door and watched the moving van pull out of the driveway. He kissed his uncle on the cheek and told him to enjoy his time with his old friends. As his uncle's little red Mercedes convertible backed out of the garage, Tristan closed the front door and jogged back to his bedroom on the third floor.
On the way up to his room, he rolled his eyes and looked up at the ceiling. There was a lump in his stomach; he hated lying to his uncle. But this time it was for his uncle's own good. His uncle hadn't bothered to notice there had been only one moving man in the truck when it left the house. The other moving man, the one with the tattoos and the earrings and the sexy legs, was waiting in Tristan's bedroom. While they'd been moving Tristan's furniture upstairs and no one else could hear them, the moving guy had asked Tristan if he could stay around a little longer and help. Tristan had gladly accepted his offer.
When he walked into his room, the lump in his stomach disappeared. The moving guy was standing in front of a large window at the far end of the room looking down at the swimming pool. His legs were slightly spread and he was scratching his crotch unconsciously.
"Hey," Tristan said. "We're finally alone." He still wasn't exactly sure why this guy had asked to stay. But he had a feeling it had nothing to do with moving furniture.
They guy turned from the window and stared at him. His dark eyes went up and down and he said, "Did anyone ever tell you that you look just like the guy from the vampire movie, Robert Pattison?"
Tristan rolled his eyes. "All the time." He was tired of hearing it. Though he did resemble Robert Pattison to a certain extent, he didn't think he looked exactly like him. Tristan was taller, and his hair was a much lighter shade of brown, almost ash blond. In the summer months, it was practically medium blond. "I'm Tristan," he said, putting Robert Pattison out of his mind.
"I'm Miller." He shoved his hands into his pockets and started rocking back and forth on the soles of his black work boots. Though he'd seemed so blunt and forward earlier, now he seemed apprehensive and shy. "I'm not gay or anything like that," he said, without looking Tristan in the eye.
"That's cool," Tristan said. He wasn't sure where this was going, but he was eager to find out.
"I just thought I'd mention it up front."
For the next few minutes, Tristan carried the conversation. While they talked about Tristan's move to Florida, Miller lit another cigarette and avoided eye contact with Tristan. They both fumbled for words. Tristan really couldn't figure out why this guy was even there. So Tristan asked a few direct questions and discovered Miller wasn't just a moving man. His family owned a national fleet of moving trucks based in South Beach, and he was working from the ground up to learn the family business. Miller spoke with a low, even tone and often hesitated between sentences, as if he were working too hard to say the right thing.
After a long, awkward moment of silence, when there didn't seem to be anything else to say, Tristan smiled and walked over to the window. He stood next to Miller and looked down at the unkempt swimming pool. "Just so you know," Tristan said. "I am gay."
Miller cleared his throat and smashed the cigarette into a tin jar lid on the windowsill. He lit another cigarette and said, "I figured you were. It's cool." He took a long drag and exhaled. "But I'm not gay."
Tristan took a quick breath and smiled. He wasn't exactly sure, but he had a feeling Miller wanted him that afternoon. He'd seen that hungry look before. Miller was telling Tristan he wasn't gay, but he couldn't stop staring at Tristan's lips. Under any other circumstance, Tristan would have reached down and grabbed Miller's dick, and then he would have gone down on his knees and pulled it out of his short pants. But Tristan knew, instinctively, this time he had to play it cool. If anyone was going to make a move that afternoon, it had to be Miller.
So Tristan looked down at the floor and kicked a large old trunk next to Miller's legs. "I can't believe that old thing got into my room by mistake," he said. "It was supposed to go to my uncle's room."
Miller perked up and squared his shoulders. "I can bring it there now," he said. "It's too heavy for you to move alone."
"Don't worry about it. We can take care of it later." He bent down and opened the lid of the trunk. It was filled to the rim with sequins, feathers, and colorful fabrics. "I haven't seen this old trunk in years. I'd forgotten all about it."
Miller leaned forward and stared into the trunk. "What's all that shit in there?"
Tristan shook his head and laughed. "It's my uncle's old drag outfits. He used to wear them when he entertained on stage in Fire Island." He reached into the trunk and pulled out a short, sparkly red dress. "My uncle was Miss Fire Island four years in a row back in the eighties. He's actually very professional and still very well known on the circuit."
Miller reached out and touched the red dress. He ran his thick, soiled fingers across the sequins and bit his bottom lip. "Why don't you try it on?"
"Seriously," Miller said. "Try it on. I'd like to see how it looks."
Tristan's eyebrows went up and he stared down at the red dress in his hands. Though he'd always enjoyed a good drag show, and many of his uncle's New York friends had done drag on stage, Tristan had never been interested in doing drag himself. Even his personal taste in clothes was tame compared to his uncle's. He didn't own a single shirt that was brighter than light taupe.
"I'm not sure about this," Tristan said. "I'd feel silly."
"Just try it on for a minute," Miller said. His eyes were wide and his voice sounded more animated than it had sounded up to now. For a moment, it even seemed as if he were about to smile.
"I guess I could try it on for a minute."
But when he lifted the dress, just as he was about to lower it over his head, Miller reached out with both hands and said, "No. Take off your clothes first."
"Take off my clothes?"
"It won't look right over jeans and a black shirt. You should be naked."
Tristan put the dress down on the bed, kicked off his shoes, and pulled off his socks. While he lowered his jeans and underwear at the same time, Miller lit another cigarette and watched. By the time he removed his shirt, Miller was breathing so fast his chest was heaving.
He lifted the red sequined dress and lowered it over his head. The neckline was cut low and there were two dramatic slits on both sides that exposed his smooth legs and most of his ass.
"I feel ridiculous now," Tristan said. He turned sideways and looked down at his legs.
"It looks good, seriously. You have good legs."
Then Miller smashed the cigarette out in the tin lid and crossed to where Tristan was standing. He reached out so he could zip up the back of the dress and fasten the small hook at the neckline. When he was finished, his hands went down and grabbed Tristan's ass. He squeezed Tristan's flesh hard and asked, "Can I fuck you?" His voice was a low stage whisper and there was a hint of desperation. "I need to come."
Tristan pressed his lips together and closed his eyes. He could feel Miller's hot breath on his neck, and Miller's hands were still squeezing his ass. Though he'd never done anything like this, he felt more desirable than he'd ever felt in his life. No man had ever begged to fuck him; no man had ever been this persistent. Though it wasn't the most romantic scenario Tristan could have imagined, there were no other hot-looking guys with big hands tossing wedding rings his way that afternoon.
"It's okay if you say no," Miller said. His voice was deep and raspy. "I'm not forcing you or anything."
"You said you weren't gay," Tristan said. He wondered what Uncle Eldridge would think if he came home and caught Miller fucking him in a red dress. And with his luck, that's exactly what would happen.
"I'm not gay," Miller said. "I just like to fuck."
"Do you have a condom?" He crossed his fingers, hoping and praying Miller had one.
Miller let go of Tristan's ass and reached into his pocket. He pulled out a pre-lubed condom and held it up to Tristan's face. Then he bucked into Tristan's ass and said, "Can I fuck you now?"
Before Tristan could finish nodding yes, and before he could even consider his Uncle Eldridge walking in on them, Miller pulled his dick out of his pants and pushed Tristan down on the bed. Miller had one of those thick, smooth, floppy dicks that actually do, in fact, resemble long, irresistible uncooked sausages. Miller didn't even bother to take off his clothes. He just put on the condom, climbed up on the unmade bed, and pulled the red dress up to Tristan's waist. He spread Tristan's legs apart and guided the tip of his cock to Tristan's opening. He went inside so hard and fast a pillow jumped up and flew off the bed. Then he plunged to the bottom of Tristan's hole before Tristan even had a chance to arch his back and prepare for the intrusion. There was a moment of sharp, concentrated pain, but it didn't last long. Though Miller's cock was large and thick, Tristan was experienced enough to know how to accommodate him.
After that, the entire affair lasted less then five minutes. By the time Miller was grunting and filling the condom, Tristan was reaching between his own legs to climax.
They both came together, then Miller wiped a bead of perspiration from his forehead and rammed into him a few more times. When he'd had enough, he pulled out just as fast as he'd entered and stared at Tristan's ass for a minute. Tristan was unable to move. His heart was still palpitating and his ass was on fire. When he heard a car door slam outside, he stopped breathing for a moment, terrified his uncle would catch him in bed, wearing a red sequined dress, getting fucked by the moving guy.
While Miller removed the condom and pulled up his zipper, Tristan stood up fast and tried to remove the dress. He didn't want to get caught; his uncle would pass out on the floor and he'd have to call 911. But his legs were a little wobbly and he couldn't unfasten the clasp at the neckline. He had trouble looking Miller in the eye, but he needed help.
"Can you give me a hand? I can't seem to get the hook unfastened."
Without saying a word, Miller walked up behind him. Before he unfastened the clasp, he reached down and squeezed Tristan's ass one more time. He slipped both hands up the red dress and massaged with rough, circular motions. It made Tristan's eyes bulge and his stomach jump. For a moment, he forgot all about the red dress and getting caught. He'd assumed Miller would want to get out of there as quickly as possible. He'd thought this was just a quick fuck and he'd never see this Miller the moving guy again. But Miller wasn't in a hurry. And when he finally unfastened the clasp and pulled the dress up over Tristan's head with his own two hands, Tristan wasn't sure how to react.
So he smiled and said, "Thank you," and put his clothes on as fast as he could while Miller stood there watching him shuffle.
When he was dressed, he turned around and looked Miller in the eye. "How are you getting home?" Tristan knew the moving van was long gone. It dawned on him Miller was probably taking his time because he wanted Tristan to give him a ride home.
"I can walk," Miller said. He shrugged his shoulders and tilted his head. He spoke with abrupt sentences and his facial expression remained blank.
"I can give you a lift if you want. I don't mind at all. You've worked hard today and I hate to think of you walking in this heat. I have a car in the garage, but I haven't seen it yet." It was over ninety degrees that day. Tristan figured this was the least he could do. Though Miller wasn't exactly fawning over him with kisses and hugs, he'd been unexpectedly polite...for a straight guy who was just looking to get off on a hot afternoon.
"Don't bother," Miller said. "I live across the street. I can walk."
Tristan's head fell back and he gave Miller a sidelong glance. One of the first things he'd noticed about his new neighborhood had been the house across the street. When the cab had dropped them off earlier, he'd actually gaped at the house. It was a massive Normandy manse with large black gates, a long winding driveway, and manicured grounds stippled with perfectly trimmed topiaries. Though the entire neighborhood was impressive, this was the one house that stood out among the rest. Uncle Eldridge had pointed to it and said, "I'm going to make my house even better."
"I'll walk you downstairs, then," Tristan said to Miller. He could still feel this magnificent man inside his body; he could still smell his masculine scent.
A minute later, while Tristan was opening the front door for Miller, he smiled and said, "Thanks for helping out so much. It's been a long day." He was talking about the moving, not the fucking. Though it had been a long time since he'd been fucked by someone as competent as Miller, he didn't want to sound needy.
But Miller misunderstood. "It was good. You're a good fuck." Then he stepped outside and shoved his hand into his pocket. He pulled out a business card and handed it to Tristan. He looked him in the eye and said, "If you need help with that trunk, call me. My cell is the bottom number. If you don't get me, leave a voice mail."
"Okay." Tristan held his breath for a second, then said, "But you're straight, right? I just want to understand. I'm not sure what just happened here." He'd never been in such a precarious position before. At least he could relax about his uncle catching him. The door he'd heard slam was the mail truck, not Uncle Eldridge's car door. The mail carrier had parked in front of the house and he was delivering mail to the house next door.
Miller shrugged. "We just fucked. That's what happened."
"I know," Tristan said. "But you're straight, right?"
"I didn't say that. I just said I'm not gay."
"I see." He still didn't understand, but he didn't want to press the point. Miller seemed slightly annoyed with him now.
Miller turned and headed down the driveway. Without looking back, he said, "I'm usually around most nights. You'll never be able to move the trunk alone. Call me."
"Okay. I'll call."