It seemed like the entire university was packing to leave the day Harry and Sal first met. It was a warm, early-June afternoon in 2002. The sprawling Stanford University campus rocked with a sense of excitement and urgency.
Harry was loading his little red Mini Cooper. He'd just graduated and he was driving to New York to start graduate school. He looked up and frowned at his bicycle. It was attached to a roof rack where the bike stood up straight and looked as if it was being held in place by a pair of invisible hands. When he lifted his arms up to make sure the bike was secure, his red T-shirt rode up and exposed the small of his naked back. He had a deep, natural arch that curved in. His jeans were loose and fell low on his hips, and anyone looking could see the waistband of his white briefs. A small, silver convertible slowed down and a good-looking guy with thick blond hair leaned forward to check out his body.
Harry's boyfriend, Mark, moved closer and gave the blond guy a dirty look. Then he lowered his eyebrows, put his hand on Harry's ass, and squeezed it a few times so the guy would get the hint and move on.
The guy in the convertible shrugged his shoulders and hit the gas. Harry jerked forward and asked, "What are you doing?" His arms were still up high, his flat stomach pressed against the window. And Mark's hand was still on his ass.
Mark smiled. "I'm letting that guy know that you're with me," he said. "He was staring at you and his tongue was hanging out." He stood straight and squared his broad shoulders. Mark was a football player and he lifted weights daily.
Harry sighed. "Well, you can let go now. He's gone." When they first started dating two years earlier, Mark's possessive nature made Harry laugh. But now he only forced a smile and tried hard not to roll his eyes at Mark's childish behavior.
A few minutes later, the bike was secure, the car was packed, and Harry was ready to leave. He leaned forward and kissed Mark goodbye. The tiny car was filled with boxes and suitcases and books. The back end drooped down and it was impossible to see in or out the rear window.
Harry grabbed Mark's bicep and kissed him on the lips. "I'll call you later from the road," he said. "Be good." He hated long goodbyes and he didn't want to drag this out longer than necessary.
But Mark grabbed Harry by the shoulders and put his massive arms around his upper body. Mark pulled him into his wide chest, shoved his tongue into his mouth, and kissed him hard. Then he said, "I want more than just a peck on the lips. I'm not going to see you for a while."
Harry tried to pull back, but Mark wouldn't release him. So he gently ran his fingers up Mark's arm, and said, "I just feel weird kissing this way in public, is all. It's kind of cheesy." It wasn't because he was gay. If he'd been straight he would have felt the same way about kissing a woman in public. The campus was mobbed; they were in front of a busy residence hall. People all around them were carrying foot lockers, loading cars, and dragging suitcases. He didn't want to put on a show.
But that didn't stop Mark. He was one of those overly affectionate types who loved to hug and grope in public. When they were alone, Mark barely touched him. But for some reason that Harry couldn't understand, Mark couldn't wait to feel him up in public.
Mark slipped his large hand down the back of Harry's jeans and squeezed his flesh so hard Harry bit his bottom lip and rolled his eyes. "I don't give a damn," Mark said. "I'm going to get one more handful of that hot ass before you leave and I don't care who's watching."
Harry didn't pull away this time. Mark was good with his hands. He knew where to put them and how to use them. So he put his arms around Mark's shoulders and kissed him again. While they kissed, a couple of guys passing on bicycles slowed down; an older man in a seersucker blazer almost tripped over his own feet. But when Mark tried to put his other huge hand down Harry's pants, the button popped open and the zipper went down. Harry stepped back fast and Mark's hand slid out. He pulled up his pants and fastened them, hoping no one was watching anymore.
Then Harry pulled his car keys out of his pocket and crossed to the other side of the car. "I'll call you later from the road," he said. "And I'll see you in New York in a couple of months."
Harry had already rented a studio apartment on East 24th Street in Manhattan. His undergraduate degree was in fine art, and he'd been accepted into a graduate program at a good New York school to study interior design. Mark was moving east in late August to start law school in Connecticut. He could have gone back with Harry, but he was from San Francisco and he had a summer internship lined up with his father's law firm.
When Harry got into the car and switched on the engine, Mark tapped the roof hard and shouted, "Drive safely."
Harry pulled away from the curb and threw his arm out the window. While he waved, he looked into the side mirror and saw Mark standing in the middle of the street. He was grinning and nodding his head up and down. His strong legs were spread wide and his right arm was up. Mark didn't wave; he just lifted his palm and held it there. Harry hit the gas pedal and sighed so loud that it sounded as if a huge boulder had been lifted from his back.
After that, he drove to the Fire Truck House to say goodbye to Marla, his best friend from the fine arts program. He'd met her on the first day of class four years earlier, and they'd been best friends since. She was standing in front of the building waving her arms. Her newest boyfriend was standing next to her. Harry had heard about him, but he hadn't officially met him yet because she'd only been dating him for two weeks and she didn't think it would last.
The Fire Truck House was a cream-colored gem that dated back to 1904. At one time, it had been a real firehouse. But when a new one was built on Serra Street, they'd turned the old firehouse into a building that housed student organizations. Harry had spent a great deal of time there in the LGBT community resource center. He'd already said goodbye to Marla a hundred times, but he wanted to hug her again once more and he wanted to have one last look at one of his favorite buildings on campus.
He parked diagonally at the curb and jumped out of the car. He looked up at the building and smiled. Marla jogged toward him and threw her arms around his shoulders. Her long blond hair fell over her shoulders in thick waves, and her black camisole hung from her thin body. She hugged him hard and said, "I'm going to miss you so much."
Then she stepped back and stood beside a swarthy young guy with short black hair and large dark sunglasses. He was wearing a tight black T-shirt and faded loose-fitting jeans that looked about an inch too long. The backs of his hems were frayed near the heels of his shoes. His shoes were shiny black leather and narrowed to points at the toes. There was a heavy gold wristwatch on his left arm that looked out of place for someone so young. Marla grabbed the guy's arm and said, "This is Sal Sorentino. Sal, this is Harry Beckham."
Harry tilted his head and extended his arm. He shook Sal's hand and said, "It's nice to meet you, Sal." Sal's torso was long and lanky and his forearms were covered with an even layer of black hair. Harry noticed a black leather suitcase beside him.
Sal didn't remove his sunglasses. But he was smiling. He shook Harry's hand and said, "You too, buddy." His voice was deep, with a hoarse, raspy quality.
Marla gave Sal a look and grabbed Harry's arm. She pulled him to the other side of the car and said, "I have a small favor to ask." She lowered her eyes and pouted.
Harry's eyebrows went up. He knew her well enough to know that her tone suggested that she wanted a really big favor, not a small one. He smiled. "What now?"
"Sal needs a ride to New York," she said. "He got a call last night about a job offer. He just graduated with a degree in math, and this is a good offer."
"Why doesn't he fly?"
She shrugged. "He can't afford it. He worked his way through school, and he has a ton of student loans to pay off. He was planning on staying out here and getting a job, and then this offer came up out of the blue. I offered to loan him the money for the air fair, and he flatly refused. He has a lot of pride and he won't take handouts."
Harry looked over at Sal. He stood there quietly with his hands in his pockets and his head down. The thought of driving cross country with a total stranger in the car made Harry's stomach turn a few times. And if Mark found out he was traveling with a strange guy, Mark would lose his mind. "I don't know," Harry said. "It could be awkward. I don't even know the guy. And this car is so small."
"He can pay for half the gas," she said. Then she reached for his hand and smiled. "He's a nice guy, and he's too stubborn to take any money from me. Besides, you'll have company all the way to New York. I hate the idea of you driving cross country alone."
Harry had always admired Sal's kind of pride. Harry wouldn't have taken money from anyone either. So he shrugged his shoulders and said, "I'll do it. But Mark can't find out about this. He'll really freak out."
Marla took a deep breath and frowned. She'd never been a huge fan of Mark's. She didn't like the way he took control of Harry's life, and she didn't like the way Harry let him do it. "What Mark doesn't know won't hurt him," she said. Then she lifted her arm and shouted to Sal, "You're going to New York today."
Sal lifted his head and nodded it fast. Then he reached down for his bag and loped toward the car on the balls of his feet with a light, carefree bounce. His shoulders rocked up and down. He crossed toward them and said, "Thanks, buddy. I really appreciate this. I'll pay for half the gas, too."
Harry waved his arm and said, "Don't worry about it. I was going to pay for the gas anyway."
But Sal lifted his sunglasses and looked him in the eye. "I insist," he said. "It's the least I can do. You're doing me a huge favor, and I really appreciate it, man." His eyes were deep brown and warm.
Harry nodded and said, "That sounds fair. And you can help with the driving, too."
While Harry found a place in the back seat for Sal's suitcase, Marla put her arms around Sal's shoulders and kissed him goodbye. It was a fast kiss, without much passion, and nothing like the sexy scene Mark had created in front of the residence hall. Then she stepped away from him and hugged Harry again. "I'll see you in the fall," she said. She was moving to Los Angeles that week to start a new job as an assistant art director with a film company. And she was planning a visit to New York in late October.
And as they pulled away, she shouted, "Call me."
When Harry looked into the side mirror, he saw her standing with her elbow in her hand and two fingers pressed to her lips. He sighed and said, "I'm going to miss her most of all. I don't know what I'm going to do in New York without her."
Sal shrugged his shoulders and adjusted his seatbelt. Then he spread his legs wider and slapped Harry on the thigh. He smiled and said, "She's great. I'm gonna miss her, too."
Harry's eyes opened wide and he looked to the right without moving his head. Sal had slapped him hard; it stung and Harry wanted to rub his thigh. But he bit the inside of his mouth and said, "If you want to listen to music, feel free to put on anything you want."
Sal lifted his arms and yawned. "Naw," he said. "I like the peace and quiet." Then he slanted his seat back and rested his head against the leather. He was still wearing the dark glasses, and Harry couldn't see if his eyes were open or closed.