The Cabin

Jeffrey had stacked a magnificent fire and it now roared in the vast opening in the center of the room. The sweet-smelling warmth, punctuated by the occasional "pop" or "crackle" of the blaze, suddenly became the sun, the center of the universe on this incredibly cold night. Dimmed lamps and candles lit the lovely broad Maple beams of the floor, the tan leather seating and the carefully-chosen antiques. The dining table on one side of the capacious building was set with gleaming crystal, china and silver. An enormous fishbowl filled with ice served as centerpiece of the bar, its top made of green Italian marble. Expensive bottles of liquor stood like soldiers on the countertop, with glasses set upside down and ice-buckets with bottles of chilled mixers inviting the guests to come to help themselves. Behind the bar was a glass-doored, temperature- and humidity-controlled storage unit laid floor-to-ceiling with bottles of fabulous examples of the vintner's art.

The snow outside had drifted against the floor-to-ceiling panes of glass which formed the "living room" extension of what Tim called "The Cabin." What had, literally, been a one-room cabin had been turned into a year-round escape; an architectural gem tucked deep into a pine forest, literally a quarter mile from the nearest residence on one side. The other side of the home faced a few hundred acres of protected wilderness, a State forest with but a single road running through it. This was isolation; peace and quiet sublime; but the house itself was certainly no "cabin." The original cabin, containing a wood stove and made of logs, was a simple affair which measured about fifteen by twenty feet. The "cabin" was now the kitchen, with wood-burning stove intact; very quaint in the presence of the superb modern appliances which surround it. Two halls lead backward to the "barn;" a structure with a facade of weathered wood rescued from collapsing farm buildings from New Jersey to New England. Behind the facade was an ingenious concrete structure which held warmth in winter yet insulated from summer's heat. Each bedroom in the barn was decorated in a different style, a whimsical perhaps hackneyed treatment but done so tastefully in this case it became an adventure to explore. The pool was small as indoor pools but had been featured in Architectural Digest as an exquisite example of the marriage of indoors and outdoors seamlessly; a boulder extended from outside the building, pokes through a glass wall and forms one wall of the pool where the huge rock's been partially carved away.

The living room extension of the home faced the driveway. Built to imitate architect Philip Johnson's famous "Glass House" in Connecticut, the transparent-walled structure with its copper flashing top and bottom was cantilevered so it seemed to float like a warmly-lit spaceship above the foundation. The living room alone measured nearly a thousand square feet. At night, drivers approaching the structure from the tiny drive compared it to the sterility of an office complex, until greeted by the glow from behind the double front doors underneath the living space. The custom-built frosted glass doors open outward to reveal the fireplace chimney, built of fieldstones, upon which hangs a fourteen-foot tall abstract oil painting depicting an explosion of yellow, orange, red and black.

Weekend in a Winter Wonderland

The guests had all made it out to southern New Jersey despite the thick white snow. Fact be known, this close group of friends would've climbed Mount Everest in a blizzard twice as bad for an invitation to "The Cabin," particularly for the weekend. Activities at the weekend retreat typically include hours of witty banter, gourmet meals accompanied by fabulous wines, much drinking of rare liquors, but best of all, the camaraderie that comes of a quarter-century's acquaintance or more. Tim greeted each guest warmly as they arrived, and the huge residence began to bustle with activity.

As Jeffrey showed Warren to his guest room, Warren hissed, "I always get the Queen Anne room; can't I ever get something a little more butch!? Jeffrey and Tim had gotten used to the quips made by their guests about room assignments; but it was house rules, the guests were not allowed to select their own rooms. This weekend, the biggest joke was on Bobby, known for his love of all things velvet, silk, and fur. Tim had decided to give him the "Leather" bedroom. Marc, a Broadway producer and successful songwriter, was given the only guest room with a glass wall facing outdoors, as he once had told his host of the magnificent inspiration he derived from the movements of the birds (and the occasional deer) in the woods outside. The other guests arrived a bit later.

Jamie had recently parted company with a lover half his age in a very acrimonious, public breakup that had made headline news in gossip-queen Liz Smith's column. Jamie tried to keep out of the news all he could, but the young man had gotten himself a lawyer and won a hefty palimony award rumored to be in the low seven-figure range. When Jamie pulled up that evening, he was driving a Volvo station wagon, his "country car." The others peered out the windows above and whispered whether or not Jamie had been forced to divest himself of his classic Rolls. Before losing nearly a third of his fortune, he had always complained about the cost of everything, probably due to having a Depression-era mentality drummed into him during childhood. But now, they were all bracing for stories from Jamie about having to "eat beans out of a can" and drink bag-in-box wine from Sutter Home or (Heaven forbid!) Gallo.

The moment Jamie walked into the room the gossip stopped abruptly and each guest approached him with a hug and a question about how he was doing. Finally his sad Basset Hound face lit up when Jeffrey approached with a gigantic glass containing lots of Bourbon and just a few ice cubes. Jeff carried Jamie's bag to his guest room and Jamie followed, explaining that he wanted to "powder his nose."

Vince and Benjamin arrived last. They'd been a couple now for nearly a half-century. Vince had been a teacher in the New York City public school system for his entire career. Benjamin thought that very noble, and bore the financial weight of the couple from their humble beginnings when they'd just met and Ben was a lowly junior broker with a small bond trading house. Now on the board of directors of two powerful financial institutions, Benjamin was in semi-retirement but still kept his fingers on the pulse of the world's markets and dispensed his advice to Fortune 500 firms in exchange for a retainer and per-diem fee that would be the envy of any Senior Partner in a major brokerage firm, or law firm for that matter. Benjamin had asked Vince to politely leave his teaching job the second time a student brought a gun to school. Vince retired at age 71 — the third time a student brought a gun to school.

The Ice-Man Cometh

Friday evenings always began with strong drink. To keep the guests from getting tipsy, Jeffrey had put out tiny yellow potatoes stuffed with Brie cheese and dill, scallops wrapped in bacon, and fiery-hot Guacamole with Pita toasts to go with the drinks. It took two hours before Tim and Jeff even got an inkling anyone was hungry. Of course, the center of the chit-chat was Jamie, and rightfully so, because he'd been through so much recently. He'd finally had enough of the spotlight and suggested that, although the hors d'oeuvres were delicious, perhaps some of the guests might want to take their supper.

Jeff had out-done himself yet again, starting with a lovely cream of Asparagus soup, a simple salad of Radicchio and Pink Grapefruit sections, Vegetarian Lasagne (with three cheeses, though), splendid Anise-scented grilled Italian sausages and Brussels Sprouts with Pumpkin Chunks in Nutmeg-spiced Beurre Blanc sauce. The men ate heartily and thoroughly enjoyed the repast, commenting politely about each dish. Vince and Warren helped Jeff get the soiled soup and salad plates off of the table mid-meal; the trio would also load the dishwasher later. These were roles that they'd become accustomed to and genuinely enjoyed, despite their loud complaints that "a woman's work is never done!"

Tim was opening yet another bottle of the lovely Pinot Noir he'd chosen to accompany the entree course when a loud buzzing sound came from the kitchen area. The guests thought that it was a timer of some sort; Jeffrey explained that it was no timer, it was the doorbell to the back door. Warren motioned for Tim to stay where he was, and he accompanied Jeff through the kitchen, the pantry and the mud room to the back door. The two of them chuckled and figured it was perhaps a "secret" additional guest Tim had invited either for the meal or for the weekend.

The part-time help responsible for the grounds had kept the driveway and front walk free of snow. They had ignored the lengthy path leading from the service area behind the house up to the rear door. Fully a foot of snow had drifted onto the door, making it difficult to open. Jeffrey put his shoulder into it while Warren turned on the outdoor light.

Warren's scream was so loud and so protracted that Tim dropped his wine glass on the floor. Nobody cared; all who remained at the dinner table ran to the tiny mud room off the kitchen to see what had prompted the outburst.

"I think he's dead. Look, he's all blue!" Warren was hysterical. He and Jeff had opened the door to find a young man, near frozen to death, squatting and holding his knees with his hands, right outside the door.

Ever cool-headed, Vince said "I doubt it. He managed the doorbell. Now let's get him inside and wrap him up in blankets fast."

As Jeffrey and Tim bent down to pick up their uninvited visitor, Benjamin inquired "do you think I ought to call 9-1-1?"

The young man now being held up in Jeff and Tim's arms tried to raise his arms feebly. "N-n-n-o-o p-p-police. I'll, I'll ex-x-plain. Please, n-no p-police!"

Warren fussed and mopped the tall young man from head to toe with a couple of very thick towels. Vince came running with two down comforters from the linen closet. Someone moved the table away from the dining nook in the kitchen and they sat the boy down, wrapped up tightly, on the bench built into the kitchen wall.

The young man Warren and Jeff had found at the door was about six feet tall, with a thatch of bushy black hair. Sadly, the cold had rendered the boy's lips, fingers, and even cheeks nearly as blue as were his eyes.

The boy had been completely nude but for a pair of hiking boots.

The Young Man's Story

Jeff microwaved some tea and Vince prepared a warm foot bath to ward off hypothermia.

Benjamin motioned for Tim to join him away from where their conversation could be heard. After a moment's discussion, Benjamin and Tim returned to the mudroom. "Now, young man, you're going to have to tell us exactly what you're doing a mile away from the main road without any clothes, and your story better be good or we will indeed telephone the police." While Benjamin was saying this, Tim was digging through the snow outside the kitchen door with gloved hands looking for some sign of a weapon. He found none.

The boy explained that he was an expert skier who'd tackled some of the world's toughest trails. That afternoon, he and a group of college chums had been drinking and they wagered a lot of money on a silly prank which involved walking down the road in the State Forest to their cars, parked a mile down the road, completely naked but for footgear. He offered up his parents' telephone number, but beseeched Vince, who'd picked up the phone, merely to tell them that he'd been in a fender bender and that it would take a little while to sort out but that everything and everyone was fine. Vince decided to wait until the boy's teeth stopped chattering before forcing him to speak to his parents.

It didn't take long at all until the boy, who introduced himself as Jared, stopped shivering. The color was returning to his cheeks when he asked Jeff for another cup of tea. Jeff asked if he'd rather have some brandy. Jared eagerly accepted, "that'll make it easier to talk my way out of this with my folks."

Benjamin was all business and allowed Jared only a few sips from the snifter of aromatic Cognac before dialing the number Jared had given. A woman answered.

"Are you Jared's mother?"

"Yes, I'm Mrs. Grosvenor," her voice took on a very worried tone immediately, and she spoke loudly, "where's my son? Is he alright."

Benjamin felt bad and did the best he could to take the crisp, businesslike tone out of his voice. "Your son's fine. He's just fine. He'd like to speak to you."

Jared told his mother that he'd been with friends, rattled off their names, and that he'd decided to go cross-country skiing but that he'd run into a little trouble with his Jeep afterwards. His mother had obviously asked him when he'd be home and he answered candidly that he didn't know but that he'd be just fine. The conversation ended with Jared saying "yes, mother, I've got plenty of money and I'll be just fine. Don't wait up, okay?"

Jamie asked Jared how far they'd gone into the State Forest and which side their cars were on. It turns out that their cars were parked on the side of the main road, a mile down the road. They'd actually been dropped off by Jeep, all the way on the opposite side of the woodlands. Jared offered up a guess that he'd been walking nearly 3/4 of a mile before he came upon the house. Jamie and Vince had the same thought at the same moment, "Where the heck are your friends? They could freeze to death out there!"

Although Jared seemed to be a bright fellow, it hadn't occurred to him that of his group of friends, he was by far the best able to handle the cold and that there were three more boys wandering around, unclothed but for footwear, somewhere between the house and the drop-off spot in the State Forest. Jamie said "well, my wagon has four wheel drive, do you think I can make it up that road?" Jared stood up, saying "Yes, yes. I'll show you the way!" but sat down after he realized that he still had nothing on. He covered his groin with a corner of one of the comforters he was wrapped in.

"You get him dressed while I clean off my car," Jamie said to the others. They were about to go on a mission of mercy. Vince gathered the comforters off of two of the guestroom beds, and took the two that had been wrapped around Jared, and handed them to the boy, advising him to tell Jamie to drive carefully. All the men were relieved when Jamie handed Jared the keys and said "you've had a lot less to drink than I have, my friend. Just be careful with my little car."

In The Nick of Time

It only took Jared about ten minutes to drive Jamie up the road through the thick woods before they found the first of Jared's friends. The young man was obviously in trouble. He stood in the road and waved his arms at the headlights. Jared said "It's me; I've brought help."

The first passenger, Steven, explained that he was afraid that the other two boys had had too much to drink and had either frozen to death or were quite close to it. Jamie gave Ben the front seat where the most heat was, covered him with a comforter, and they were off again.

A mere three minutes up the road they spotted another young man standing over another, who appeared to be asleep in a snowbank. Jared and Jamie got the boy who was standing up, Mark, into the rear of the car. The boy on the ground was a difficult lift for someone Jamie's age, but he and Jared managed to get him into the passenger seat. He was unconscious, but had a pulse and was breathing. He'd been moments away from death. Both of the boys found in the woods reeked of alcohol. Mark introduced himself with a chatter and said nothing further than "Oh, and he's Henry."

Jared had to back the Volvo down the road quite a way before he found a clearing he'd dare turn the car around in. He did so successfully, and they headed off to the house. When they got to the house, Jared, Jamie and now Jeff hustled the three freezing, naked young men into the foyer.

Curfew? What Curfew?

Tim and Benjamin had had plenty of time to discuss the potential legal ramifications of housing a group of naked minors, some of whom were perhaps frostbitten and by now (2:00 a.m.) must all have been out well past their curfew. When the boys got settled, each of Jared's three friends was instructed to call home and have their parents identify themselves to Benjamin. The older men were rather amazed at the responses from the parents Benjamin was receiving. When they were all as young as Jared and his friends, their parents imposed strict curfews, rarely later than midnight. But that was, for some of them, not too long after World War II had concluded.

All of the boys were given pajamas to wear. Then the interrogation started. Tim and Jeff's guests couldn't get enough information out of these boys. On top of the list of questions were where they attended college, what their studies were, and what on earth had possessed such intelligent young men to take a dare so potentially life threatening. It was six in the morning and the sun was about to go up by the time everyone found a place to bed down, despite the capacity of the house for guests. All went to sleep and remained sleeping until after noon.

The following day, the boys' cars were retrieved and, at the encouragement of Warren and Bobby, they were invited to brunch. The older guests sipped proper Bloody Marys, while the young men opted for beer, except for Jared, who very humbly and politely asked to sample some of the Cognac he'd partaken of the night before. Jeff fixed a fine brunch, nothing fancy but all very good. The entire gang managed to eat over two dozen of Jeff's ham biscuits, as well as eggs, bacon, fruit, and fried potatoes.

The last bits of brunch were being nibbled when Steven astonished the living room full of men by quickly swallowing an entire can of beer (his fourth), wiping his mouth with his sleeve, and asking in a rather nonchalant fashion, "Hey, all you old guys are, like, gay, aren't you?"

The silence was such that one could hear a pin drop, in fact, one could hear a pin drop onto a down pillow. The pause lasted about a minute and then there was a vigorous clearing of throats and such from almost everyone. Vince spoke up first. "You mean, happy? Carefree? Gay?" His stare was like a laser aimed right at Steven's glazed eyes.

Jared tried to interfere, starting with "Steve, these are very kind gentlemen and I think it's rude of you to pry like that..."

Vincent lifted a hand and silenced Jared. Vincent then took about twenty minutes to explain that, yes, they did prefer the company of men but that they in fact only preferred the company of gay men, and that although they found the lads interesting and, indeed attractive, he and Benjamin were a committed couple. He went on to offer to speak on behalf of the rest of his friends, and did so eloquently, delving into such topics as stereotypes, homophobia and what leading a dual life; one public, one extremely private; was like. He finished on a note of levity: "and, unlike your friend Steven here, we have manners. And manners dictate that you never ask a new acquaintance to be physically intimate on the first date!" That relieved the tension in the room, and the serious conversation ended at that moment.

The rest of the day was spent in conversation, drinking a bit, swimming in the pool (the young men naked again, and apparently quite comfortable with it) and eating some more. Soon it was time to go home, and the boys were given telephone numbers and told to visit New York any time they'd care to.

You Just Ain't Gonna Believe This

About a week later, Tim and Jeff, Vince and Benjamin, Jamie, Warren and Bobby were seated at a dinner held by a mutual friend, who happened to be a very well-known entertainer who was also known for his voracious appetite for the pleasures of the flesh. Same-sex flesh.

"Well, I hear you all spent a nice weekend in the country and didn't think to invite moi, did you? What did you do all weekend, play Bridge?

Jamie held the actor's hand and with an Oscar-winning deadpan face on said, "my friend, you really didn't miss a lot. And if I told you what we did, you'd never believe me in a million years..."

Based on a true story. The names have been changed to protect the innocent. Submitted for ushdfgakjasgh's little homage to hatred.

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