Friday, August 20, 1999

Wrong Turn

This story originally appeared on the Secret Garden website and is archived here at the request of author Doug Rogers.


Twice in my life I've found that a wrong turn can change everything.
The first time was about four years ago when I made a wrong turn on the St. Louis Expressway and woke up with only one leg. Well, no, I'm not totally one-legged I guess, but what's left of my right one is something around eight inches. Close enough.
I spent the next four months healing and getting fitted for what my prosthetist laughingly refers to as an 'artificial leg.' Yeah, it works well enough, I guess. It's got computers and all sorts of whiz-bang electronics inside and it seems to pretty well read my mind and know how I want to walk. Still, it looks like hell. There's no mistaking it for the real McCoy with all it's shiny metal and the blue composite shell over the wizardry. The life-cast foot that it sports is almost funny by comparison. They obviously spent so much time and care making it look totally real, and then it gets stuck on the end of a glorified pipe. Really fools people. Go figure.
Now, to say that this little event changed my life is an understatement.
First, you have to understand that I'm gay. I've known I was since, oh, about the fifth grade, I guess, when the other little boys were starting to talk about little girl's boobies. Big deal. I liked talking about dicks much better, especially when mine started getting big.
Second, I owned the St. Louis club scene. I was gorgeous! I've got classic male features, like you see on Greek statues, except I'm blond. I'd spent several hours a week in a gym since I was sixteen, and I had my body buffed to the 'n'th degree. I suppose what's left of it still is. I still work out three or four times a week. No sense letting the rest of the stuff go south just because a piece is missing.
Third, I had a good job. I was a model, you see. One of the guys that you see in the mens underwear and fashion ads and the like.

Items two and three went away immediately when I made that wrong turn. Item one had just as well vanished. I hadn't seen any action at all since I got out of the hospital.
By the fall, my bank account had just about enough money left in it to get me to the east coast. I decided on that side of the continent because it was a shorter drive than to the west one. I had never seen the ocean, you see, and I wanted to see it before I died. Yes, died. I was going to see the ocean, then go for a little swim in it... as in see how far I could get toward, say, Spain. Taking the long swim was an incredibly attractive proposition, or so it seemed at the time.
Then I took that second wrong turn.
The rain had started somewhere on the west side of Ashland, Kentucky. I saw the cloud bank at least an hour before I hit it as I left the outskirts of Lexington where I'd had lunch at a KFC across from one of those white-fenced horse farms. The clouds were dark, dark blue with almost jet black spots in them, and the closer I came along I-64, the more clearly I could see what can only be termed a wall of water hanging there at the perimeter like a cheerleader's flared skirt at rest. The lightning flashed with more and more intensity the closer I came.
I stopped a few miles ahead of the storm and put the top up on the car. I'd had it down because of the summer heat. The air in the buggy wasn't working. That was one of several things the garage was still fooling with after the accident. I'd resorted to baggy Bermuda shorts and a tee shirt with the top down to stay cool.
The storm must have been moving awfully slowly, or had just started dumping its load. The roadway was wet less than a quarter of a mile before I hit the sheet. I had slowed to about thirty and immediately felt that was too fast after I crossed the boundary. The clouds and the sheer density of the rain effectively closed out most of the sunlight. The lightning was nothing short of terrifying.
I toyed with the idea of turning around and going back west a bit to sit the storm out, but I was afraid to: I couldn't see if anyone was coming toward me or behind me. The idea of getting into another accident terrified me worse than the storm. No, I decided, I would go on.
About thirty minutes into the storm, I realized that I had to get off the main road and wait the monster out. The tension of peering into impenetrable rain had taken its toll. I saw a sign and made out something about a 'resort' and a right arrow. I took the turn.
A resort. Okay. That ought to work as a place to wait out the storm. I looked at my watch. It was past four. What the hell, it might be a good place to stay the night.
I almost lost the road twice before I got to the place. It was apparently quite a ways up the West Virginia hill, and there were several sharp turns leading to it. I finally made out the building up ahead. Through the gloom I could see that it was a large, low place, perhaps three stories tall. There was an ornate covered area in front near the center. I made for it.
"Weather's not fit for man nor beast," was the pronouncement of a smiling older man who opened my left door as I drove up. "Go right on into the lobby, sir," he told me. "I'll park your car and see that your luggage is brought in!" He offered his hand and almost pulled me from the car. He apparently noticed my leg and sort of nodded. I didn't know quite how to take his response, but decided to just smile back and do as he suggested.
The interior of the place was done along the lines of the exterior. It was all in white and green. The couches were upholstered in what looked like white leather, and there were green potted plants everywhere. I walked the width of the long lobby to the registration desk.
"Yes, sir?" the crisply suited desk attendant asked.
"A room," I said simply.
He smiled. "Of course sir. Your name?"
"Gene Connors."
"Connors... Connors..." he was running his finger down the names on a clipboard. "I don't seem to have a reservation for you sir."
I started to tell him I had none, but didn't get the chance.
"There's no problem. I can get you a room with the rest of your group." He turned and picked up a key. "223," he announced, handing me the plastic rectangle. "Just sign in here, sir." He slid a registration card across the desk.
Again, I started to complain that I was not a part of any group, but he cut me off.
"The mixer has already started, sir, in the Valley Overlook Lounge." He pointed to a door to my right. "Of course, the view is not all that spectacular today, given the storm, but we can't have everything, can we?"
"Well, I..."
"And, if I may say so, sir, you are going to be the hit of the mixer!" He gestured to my prosthesis as it protruded from my shorts. "You are far and away the most convincing one I've seen so far!"
I wrinkled up my nose. What in the hell was he talking about. I looked like the Terminator! I shook my head. The devil with it... a drink on somebody else sounded good along about then. I headed toward the neon sign crowned door that announced the venue.
When I entered the place, my mouth hung open in amazement. There were, perhaps, forty other people in the room. Perhaps a quarter of the number where standing here and there, many on crutches, each having lost one of their legs! The rest of the standing members appeared to be one-armed, several wearing hook hands.
I shook my head. What in the world? An amputee's convention? No wonder the people at the hotel hadn't thought anything of my own missing leg. I walked over to the bar and ordered a Captain and Coke. The bartender made it like he was pouring someone else's booze. It tasted especially good given the pounding rain just outside the huge glass window to my left.
I scanned the room as I stood there sipping my libation. One woman in particular caught my eye. She was not one-legged, but was wearing a prosthesis nonetheless. Her left leg was resting in some sort of supporting harness that appeared to go around her waist. It was pulled back up at about 45 degrees angle, the straps obviously keeping it out of the way. I assumed she must be paralyzed or something, because the device she wore was almost like a brace on the part that went up her shorts toward her body, but looked like an artificial leg from the knee down. As she walked, it was clear that she was using the basic swing through gait of a new amputee with a basic leg. I assumed she was more willing to put up with the contraption than to go through the surgery to get rid of the useless leg. I wasn't sure that I blamed her.
"I think Alice may have lost the prize," a voice announced behind me.
"Beg pardon?" I asked, turning toward the speaker.
"I think you probably are going to take the prize for the most realistic prosthesis." The man appeared to be about my age, perhaps a couple of years older, and had striking black hair. His contrasting pale skin was almost opalescent and the blue eyes glowed from within their elegant settings. He was stunning. I glanced down. His right pant leg was pinned up at the knee and he was using a pair of European style sticks with blue trim pieces. "Gale Beckenstein," he announced, offering his hand.
"Gene Connors," I returned, then added, "Prize?" I knocked on my leg a couple of times. "There's not a damned thing convincing about this monster. It doesn't fool anyone!"
Gale shook his head. "Looks damned real to me," he answered. "What I don't understand is how you fold up your real leg as tight as you have." I gestured to my sound leg. "You're obviously pretty muscled up. How do you hide it?"
I was bumfuzzled. "Hide?"
"Like, I use a couple of ace bandages on mine," he explained, but my foot still sticks out a little in back and I have to wear the sport coat to hide it." He smiled and shook his head. "I don't see anything there with you!"
I still didn't get it. "I haven't got a clue what you're talking about," I finally got out. I looked at the man more closely. "Are you telling me that you aren't really an amputee?"
"Uh, yeah," he answered, his turn to be bewildered. "I'm here for the Pretender's Weekend." He paused and then added, "Aren't you?"
"Afraid not, Bud," I told him. "I'm just a guy heading east who got forced in here by the rain."
There was a long pause as he continued to alternate glances between my face and my false leg. "So you really, uh, you've actually lost... your leg?"
"No shit."
"Damn!" He blushed. "Like, man, I'm so sorry! I... I had no idea. I thought you were one of us!"
I looked around the room. "You mean none of these people..." Words failed me. I was in a sort of shock.
"Uh, no. None. We're all pretenders."
I put my glass down on the bar. "You fuckers are sick!" I announced and hurried from the room.
**********
I didn't know what to think. Yeah, I'd vaguely heard the shrinks at the hospital talking about devotees and all that stuff, but I'd never knowingly run across one. Hell, the idea of someone who'd get hot over this nub of a leg actually sounded good to me at this point! But these people were totally around the bend! A whole room full of sickos playing at the nightmare I had to live in every day? Talk about no connection to reality! I slipped my leg off to let the stump breathe, wondering how long before the rain would let up.


**********
I have no idea how long I must have napped. The room was dark when I was awakened by a knock at the door.
"Yeah?" I called out. "Who is it?"
"Gale," came the answer. "From the bar. I want to talk to you."
"Go away," I yelled through the door. "I don't want to talk to you."
"Please," came the gentle plea.
I flipped a mental coin and it came up heads. "Just a second," I called. I reached for my leg, then decided it would take too long to get it reattached. I discarded it and hopped to the door. Gale from the bar stood before me, now on two legs. Must be nice, I thought. "Come on in," I said simply as I turned to hop back to the couch.
I could feel Gale's eyes on me. I didn't know how I felt about it. I sat down and faced my guest. "Well?" I asked.
"I, uh, I felt I owed you an apology," hee began haltingly, "you know, for down in the bar."
I shook my head. "No, you don't. You didn't know." I paused. "Hell, I didn't know. For Goddam sure I wouldn't have been in that bar if I had!"
"I know. It must seem pretty sick to you."
"No offense, chum, but that doesn't even begin to cover it!"
Gale reddened a bit. "I'm sure. But what I wanted to do was try to explain myself to you. You seem like such a nice fellow with so much going for you... I just thought maybe if I told you a little you might think a little less ill of me."
I looked out the window. The lightning flashed right on cue. "Hell, no one's going anywhere until the rain ends. I don't guess it's going to hurt for me to listen."
"Thank you," he sighed, relieved. "May I use your phone before I begin?"
"Sure." I waved at the instrument.
He dialed room service. As it was ringing, he asked, "What do you drink?"
"Cap and Coke." I hadn't finished my drink from the bar. Another sounded like just the ticket if I was going to have to listen to a load a shit from this guy.
He ordered and hung up. We waited a few minutes, neither of us really saying much until room service arrived. Gale answered the door and paid the bill, not letting the server inside the room. I suppose he was trying to be polite, not putting my bare stump on display. He could have saved the trouble. I'd already given up caring. Enough stares do that to you. He put the tray on the motel modern coffee table and settled into the plastic and wood chair opposite the sofa.
"I guess the place to start with this is with my fascination for people like yourself," he began, "amputees. I grew up on a farm in southern Kansas. Being a farm kid, I went to school at a consolidated elementary, along with several hundred other farm kids.
"I remember like it was yesterday when the news hit that Tommy Bledsoe had been hurt. Tommy was a friend of mine, you see. His family had the farm about a mile from ours, and he and I'd played together since before we started school. It was the summer before sixth grade. Tommy had been in the north pasture, driving small tractor with a hay mowing jig attached behind. You know the kind, sort of like the bush hogs the highway crews use to keep the brush down by the sides of the roads."
I nodded. Something inside me became a little queasy over what I knew was about to follow.
Gale continued. "One of the blades had gotten jammed, and Tommy had hopped off the tractor to free it. He stuck his left foot just under the guard and felt for the blade. He found it and gave the back side a swift kick to get it unstuck." He cleared his throat. "What he hadn't realized was, he'd forgotten to disengage the drive to the unit. When the thing broke loose, the power train grabbed so suddenly that he couldn't get his leg out quickly enough."
I winced.
"It took everything from mid-calf down in a diagonal slice, then proceeded to make hamburger of what it got.
"His father heard him screaming and came quick. They got him to the hospital before he bled to death, but there wasn't much the doctors could do. When I saw him a couple of days later, his lower leg was bandaged from above the knee. At first, I didn't think he had a knee any more, but then he told me what the doctors had said. 'It's gone, Gale,' he said. 'I've just got this little piece of my leg about three inches long below the knee left there. This is the shits!'"
"I remember the feeling," I agreed darkly.
Gale raised his eyebrows slightly and nodded. "Tommy was back in school by the time it started again in the fall, but he was using crutches. He got kind of quiet and withdrawn... wouldn't even come out and talk to me when I'd drop by his house... until one day about three months after the accident when he came to school sporting a peg leg!"
"I had no idea anyone still made them," I said, grinning a little in spite of myself.
"Well, I don't think they do, actually," he replied. "Tommy's grandfather had made it for him. It was actually the bottom part of a crutch cut down, and fitted with straps to hold it on. Tommy bent his knee and rested it on this little platform the old man had nailed in there and put padding over. A strap over his stu... er, lower leg and one around the thigh held it on."
"So he couldn't bend it?"
"Nope. Not a bit. He had a hell of a limp, of course, but I think not having his hands full with the crutches meant a lot to him. He came out of his shell again!"
I nodded. "Yeah, I understand how he felt." I wiggled my own nub a time or two. "That's two-thirds of why I wear a leg."
Gale looked at the tapered bit of flesh and just nodded. "So that was the start of your interest? Your buddy wearing a peg?"
"Well, there's more to it than that," he replied a bit nervously. He took a deep breath. "A few weeks after Tommy first got his leg, Georgie Kreuger and I were over at his place. The three of us were bird hunting in the back forty. We were out there eating the sandwiches we'd brought, and Tommy noticed I kept looking at his leg." Gale blushed a little. "'Why you keep lookin' at my leg?' he asked me. I finally managed to get out 'cause it looks neat.' Tommy didn't bat an eye. 'Wanna see it?' he asked. That was all I needed. He undid the buckles on the straps and just pulled the thing right off and handed it to me! Then he starts pointing out how his grandpa made it and how he kept it on."
"I've done show and tell with my leg a couple of times," I nodded back.
"It was Kreuger who first hit on the idea that would change me forever. 'You just bend your knee and stand on this little pad?' he asked. Tommy nodded. 'Neat. Can I try it on?' he asked." Gale looked at me, wide-eyed. "I would never have thought to try it on my own! Georgie slipped his foot through the top strap and snugged it up, then buckled the lower strap over his calf. When he tried to stand up and take a step we all three collapsed in laughter! He was about half a foot taller than Tommy and it was way too short for him!"
I shared a smile.
"I, on the other hand, was about Tommy's height." He grinned. "It fit me like a glove! I took a few steps, fascinated.
"It didn't take long for Georgie and me to both grab an old crutch. You know how farms are... there's always someone around who's broken a leg. We actually brought a saw and hammer and nails out into the back forty and built our own peg legs there! Tommy got strapping and buckles from his grandfather's leather bench, and we were all in business!
We would all wear our legs whenever we were back in the woods playing. It amazed me, you know? No one ever caught us or even suspected what was going on."
"How long did this go on?" I asked.
"Until our senior year in high school." Gale's face darkened. "In October of that year, Georgie was in a really bad car wreck. I couldn't believe the way that fate works. They took his right leg... the one he used to pretend with the peg... they took it off just below the knee, almost exactly where Tommy's was missing. But he never regained consciousness. He died three days later." He looked up at me. "I never pretended with Tommy again. Somehow, it just wasn't something I felt like I wanted to do."
I took a pull at my drink, draining the remains of the glass. "So what happened between then and now? What made you wind up in the freak show downstairs?" I asked.
"Just because I didn't feel like doing it around Tommy didn't mean I'd lost the fascination. When I went to college, I wound up not having a room mate the first year there. I had retrieved my last peg leg from the hollow tree on the farm and taken it with me. I must admit, I played in private a lot, especially on the weekends. Hell, my left foot hardly ever hit the floor some Sundays. Even during the week sometimes I'd drag it out." He blushed again. "I almost got caught several times."
"There was this one night, a Thursday, when lots of the people on the floor were gone to the bars downtown. I'd had a really bad attack that night, and had been pegging around my room all evening. It was about ten when there was this knock at my door! I undid the straps and pushed the leg under the bed, then answered. It was a guy I knew who had the room across the court from mine! He'd been seeing me limp around all evening!"
"What did you do?" I asked.
"I thought real quick and limped back to my bed. I told him I'd sprained the ankle! It's a good thing those windows are as high as they are and didn't let him see that crutch-leg I'd been using all evening!"
I smiled in spite of myself. I found myself liking this lunatic. I had to admit that the idea seemed crazy to me, but that his liking to play at being one legged was probably no crazier than people who thought the fact that I was an amputee made me sexy! It finally occurred to me to ask: "Are you a devotee, too?"
Gale didn't blanch on that one. "Sure. What makes a guy need a peg leg?"
Like a young girl realizing that a boy is looking at a bared nipple, my hand went to the end of my stump, covering it from prying eyes. Then I realized I was a little late in the reaction. I'd been sitting there with the scarred end on display for nearly half an hour! I flipped another mental coin and let my hand drop back to my side. I finally spoke: "I guess I shouldn't be sitting here tempting you like this then."
Gale smiled broadly. "Hey. Tempt all you like. I happen to think you are gorgeous!"
I smiled back, a bit wickedly. He was a good looking guy by any measure! I'd never been with a dev before. I could use a little worshiping right now. I needed to be loved one last time. In that moment, I decided to make my play.
"I like you, too." I returned. "A lot."
Gale's eyes brightened. "You think we might have dinner together?"
"Why not?" I returned. I looked out the window. "Although I don't believe we are going anywhere except the hotel's dining room. From the looks of things, I hope someone is building an ark!"
"They have a little Bar B Q place at the far end of the place from the main room," he told me. "The group is having a banquet tonight. I suspect we'll have it all to ourselves."
I looked at my watch. It was nearly six. "Well, I don't know about you, but I'm about ready," I said.
"Give me ten minutes, tops, to get cleaned up and dressed."
I nodded. "Want to meet down there?" I asked.
He grinned wickedly again. "No," he answered. "I am of the opinion that a gentleman should call at the door for his date. I'll be back!"
I shook my head as the door closed. The guy was obviously nuts, but he seemed to be full of fun. Besides? What did it matter? It's not like I was going to have to deal with him after tonight. I reached for my leg and re-attached it. I walked over to the bed where the bellhop had dropped my bags and opened the one containing my shirts and slacks. The air conditioning worked here. I would wear long trousers. No need in attracting attention.
**********
"Ready?" Gale asked as I answered his knock.
"Yeah," I told him, stepping through the door. He was wearing a slightly loose sports coat and a pair of khakis. Quite dashing! I almost felt like a poor relation in my dark straight line slacks and open shirt.
"You really walk well," he said as we made our way to the elevator. "How long have you used a leg?"
"About eight months," I answered. "Since an auto accident. And thanks for lying. I limp like hell."
"Everyone does to some extent," he countered. "Even guys with two flesh legs. How often do people sprain ankles and knees get pulled muscles? No one thinks anything of it, really."
"They sure do in my business," I answered darkly.
"What do you do?"
"I was a model."
"Nude?" came the salacious answer.
"Afraid not. Fashion."
"Wow!" he returned. "I'm with a real alpha!"
"Not any more. I haven't worked since the accident."
"I can't believe that."
"Believe it. No one wants to hire a model with one leg."
Gale said nothing more about my leg. We talked of other things through dinner: politics, hobbies, coming out. It was funny. We had never stated to each other that we were gay. It was just sort of understood as we sat in my room and talked earlier. His coming out story was quite funny.
"I was a sophomore," he began. "I woke up one morning and opened my dorm room door to find a single rose lying there in the hall. I looked both ways and saw nothing. I picked the bud up and took it back in the room, sticking it in a glass of water and thought nothing more of it. Obviously, someone had dropped the stem out of a bunch meant for a girlfriend.
"The next morning, and the one after that, the same thing happened! It didn't take me all that long to realize that I had an admirer! I couldn't imaging how the young lady was getting into an all male dorm to deliver her gifts, but it sure was intriguing!"
"So what did you do?" I asked.
"I put a note on my door the next night. It said: 'How about a kiss to go with the rose?'"
"And?"
"Sure enough, the next morning about 6:00 comes this knock at my door. I open it, and there's the captain of the school soccer team with a rose in his hand and a big smile!"
"No shit?"
"Not a pound. He looked into my eyes and whispered 'Delivery.' I stood there with my mouth hanging open. He was so smooth with it all. He stepped in the room, closed the door and took me in an embrace like I'd never had before. And talk about a kisser! God was he good!"
"And this is the first time a guy had kissed you?" I asked.
"Very first."
"And?"
"Well, of course I started with the 'I'm not gay' bullshit. All I got from him was 'right' as he just kept kissing me. Well, hell... I mean, I'm like the rest of us. I had known in the back of my mind that there was a reason why I liked the communal showers and gym classes so much. This guy was such a stud, I just totally caved! I mean, like a complete slut puppy!"
"What happened?"
"What do you think?"
I laughed. "I mean, afterwards."
"Oh," Gale said with a blush. "We dated for several weeks. Turned out he didn't really do boyfriends. It was all about the conquest for him. He moved on."
"And you?"
Gale smiled. "There was no going back. I realized that guys made better lovers. I've been on the south side of Gay Street ever since."
I thought about it during the elevator ride and decided. When he had walked me back to my room, I turned to him. "I'm afraid I don't have any roses," I whispered. "The kiss is going to have to do!" As the door opened I grabbed his necktie and pulled him inside.
**********
There is a euphoria involved in waking up next to a man. The memories of passionate kisses and seemingly endless orgasms create a connectedness that can be achieved in no other way. I smiled as the sunshine caressed the wall of the room as gently as Gale had caressed every part of me the night before. I smiled, remembering my amusement when he had finally arrived at my stump. He had touched and stroked me there, planting kisses all over the thigh. It had been the prelude to fellatio unlike any other I'd ever had!
I didn't know what to think. Suddenly, I didn't feel suicidal any more. If there were nights like this in my future, did I really want to miss them?
Gale roused. "Good morning," he whispered and followed the judgement with a soft kiss.
"It sure is," I whispered back.
He ordered room service without even asking what I wanted. It arrived while he was gone to his room to get his stuff, and I understood why... it was a mini-buffet! I took some of the eggs and bacon and was about ready to start when he returned. We ate with relish.
"I thought I'd return a favor from last night," he began after breakfast.
"Oh?"
"Yeah. You showed me your leg and how it worked. I thought you might be interested in mine!"
I giggled. "Sure. Why not?"
The peg leg was almost exactly as I had envisioned it when he described it. The lower portion of a wooden crutch, a cross member with padding for the knee to rest on, and a pair of straps, one for the thigh and the other to go over the back of the bent calf. "Looks workable," I told him as I handed it back.
Gale put it on. "You bet it works!" He got up from the bed and demonstrated. It was clear that the arrangement wouldn't fool anyone. I was sure he never went out in public that way. The lower leg bent at 90 degrees was sticking out in back. Still, somehow, I understood why he did what he did. I could see where it would give him the experience rather like the one I had wearing my own artificial limb. The crazy part was, where I hated having to do it, he seemed to relish doing it voluntarily! Part of me darkened for a moment, but then the memories of the previous night broke back through.
"This bothers you, doesn't it," he asked seriously.
"In a way," I told him. "I was just thinking about it. The look on your face is sheer delight. I wish I felt that way about having to use a leg."
Gale nodded. "I wish I could explain it to you. Hell, I wish someone would explain it to me." He started to unbuckle the top strap. "Here, I'll take it off."
Something in me turned totally fruity. "No," I grinned. "Wear it if you like. I think I'd like to see you this way all day." He beamed. I picked up my aluminum forearm crutches. "Can I crutch it today? Or would you prefer that I use my leg?"
Without telling you more than you want to know, let's just say I got attacked again. When it was over, we went into the bathroom and ran a bubble bath for two.
**********
It was about three that afternoon when Gale unhooked his peg and stretched his leg out.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"Nothing," he answered. "Just time for a rest." He got up and took a few steps.
"Quite a luxury, isn't it?" I asked.
"Say what?"
"Just being able to take your artificial leg off and go back to being normal."
He blushed a little. "Yeah," he said softly. He walked over to the sofa and sat down next to me. "Gene?" he began.
"Yeah?"
"I think I've come to a conclusion."
"What's that?"
He took a deep breath. "I think I've figured out why I've been a pretender all of these years."
I looked at him with both palms up, indicating that I was ready for his revelation.
"This is going to sound as nuts as the rest of it, but the first thing I have to tell you is, I care about you."
I smiled. "Yeah, I'm not bad for a weekend affair," I teased.
Gale's face was serious. "I like you a lot more than that," he said, then added, "but there's more to it than that. You are entirely right with your crack about it being nice to be able to take it off and go back to normal. You have to understand that I've never really been around an amputee very long. Just casual meetings and the like. Most of you guys make it look so easy on those high-tech monsters like you have. I guess that I always figured it was easier than it seemed when I pretended."
I started to speak, but he stopped me.
"Being with you this time, I'm beginning to realize the reality. And understanding the reality makes me understand more about myself." He took my hand in both of his. "Gene, the reason I've pretended all of this time is, I was trying to be the object of my own affections, so to speak."
I wrinkled up my nose, not grasping what he meant.
"I was gay even when I knew Tommy," he explained. "Of course I was too young to realize it, but I really had a thing for him. But it was rural Missouri, and I could never even hint at it. Hell, I didn't know what to do with the feelings myself. But I know what they are now. Gene, for better or worse I'm a devotee through and through. I understand what you go through missing your leg, and I'm sorry for the pain and inconvenience, but I want you to know that I think you are the most beautiful man I've ever seen. You're beautiful in the face, in the body, in the spirit... I'm in love with you."
I sat there for a few heartbeats, not knowing what to say.
"I know now that my pretending has just been something to keep me in touch with my feelings until I found you! I know all of this sounds fast and unbelievable, but I think we ought to move in together... you know... see if it'll work out... for the long haul."
It was my turn to take a deep breath. "You've just blown my mind," I said.
"Look, I know I'm a few years older and I'm not the looker that you are, but please, Gene, think it over. I have a very good job. I'm an ad exec for an agency in Dallas. Money's not a problem."
"But you don't understand," I told him. "You have no idea why I'm on this trip."
It was Gale's turn to present me with the questioning upturned palms.
"I'm everything you're not. I'm a cripple and I'm out of work and broke." I paused. "I'm on the way to the coast to drown myself. I want out of this horror!"
Gale took me in his arms very tenderly. "Dear God! And here I've been dumping all of my mental illness on you all this time. God! I'm so sorry!" He hugged me tight and kissed my cheek.
Somewhere in all of this, our passions ignited again. I have no idea how long we made love, but it was dark by the time we both came down off of cloud nine. We were eating dinner in the Bar BQ bar when he finally began talking about Dallas again.
"Come with me," he urged. "Let's at least see if we've got what it takes to build a life together."
"I'm not going to become your houseboy or a gold digger," I told him. "In case you don't recall, I'm dead broke. What would I do in Big D?"
Gale smiled. "Perhaps you forget who I work for."
"An ad agency. What of it?"
"I supervise most of our photo shoots," he explained, "including model selection. I have a feeling I know where there's work for you!"
"Yeah, right. I can just see how smart your clients are going to be when you cart out a one-legged freak to hawk their products!"
"Not as crazy as all of that, I can assure you. For instance, no one cares if the legs inside a pair of slacks are both real or not. Shirt photos don't care about that either. And that face!" He held up his hands in the style of an old-fashioned movie director, framing my face. "I can't think of a product we can put near or on you that face won't sell!"
I shook my head, still not knowing what to think.
"Besides, have you not noticed catalog photography the last few years? There are wheelchair people in there... every sort of model you can think of. Hey! We need to sell to everyone these days! Come on, Gene! I'm offering you the chance of a lifetime! Your career back." He paused and dropped his voice, "And a mate who will never be able to see you walk by without wanting to pinch your ass!"
Of course, all of this was three years ago.
I moved to Dallas, and yes, we tried living together. I moved in, then out for a while, then back in. Gale didn't lie. It went down just the way he said it would. I've got it all: a career, a partner, in short, a life. What can I say? There are wrong turns, and then there are wrong turns. Looking back on it, I don't think I'd have done things any other way if I'd had a choice!

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