"History 3” (That’s Okay - Our Thing)

by Maxine Mayer, 3/26/2000

 [The subtitle is taken from the album, “Marc Anthony,” from the song “That’s Okay,” by Marc Anthony and Cory Rooney. You’ll find the entire song at the end of the story but you really ought to listen to it with music. It’s lovely. Here are the relevant lyrics.

 “I still can’t believe You’re leaving me

In the middle of what used to be

Our thing

That’s okay”]

 YEAR 2007 – CANADA:

 I’m alone, now. Despite Ray’s continued presence in my life, as my friend and partner in all things save one. All things, save the one thing that pushed us to the destruction of our love. Sex.

 Sex has never been “our thing.”

 I’d known it, of course, from the start. That in the intimacy which is sex I would never be able to hide how I felt about Ray from him. In every other situation I could hold on, hold tight to some fragment of my façade. But not in bed. Not with anyone. Certainly, not with Ray Kowalski.

 I am not an undercover agent. Particularly not under the covers.

 I cannot believe I’ve made a joke. A joke. About this.

 Truly, I am unhinged.

 * * *

 It has been slow going, our resumption of the old ways. Back to square one. But we have so much history that, in fact, those six weeks in heaven seem to me to be the dream, not the reality. This, this… stiffness and stodginess and ordinariness, seems to be the reality.

 I have no clue as to what Ray is thinking or feeling about any of it. Now.

 I’ve become suspicious, of course, of anything he does and says. I will find it difficult to accept anything he does and says at face value again. If I ever can.

 He appears to be all right with things. With me. With our relationship. Does not appear to be angry with me any longer.

 But I wonder how that can be.

 Jealousy such as he experienced for Ray Vecchio and for the man I slept with while he was away – that sort of jealousy doesn’t fade easily or quickly. And the anger that accompanies it tends to linger even when it is admitted, expressed. It is unlikely to disappear.

 Nevertheless, Ray appears not to be angry with me.

 I suppose that is a good thing.

 Unexpected and inexplicable, but a good thing, from my point of view.

 Because he has every right to be angry with me. I’ve abused his trust and stolen his life and frightened him and –

 I’ve hurt him.

 I never wanted to hurt him. I wanted to love him, only that.

 But instead, I hurt him.

 Oh, Ray, I’m sorry. I’m so very sorry.

 * * *

 “Tonight at eight, okay, Frase?” Ray asks, his voice on the phone lighthearted, cheerful. He has made plans for us, dinner and then darts at our favorite pub. This is the first time since my… accident that we’re doing this. Not that I haven’t been physically fit. We simply didn’t wish to spend so much time in public while we were lovers. And after that, the intimacy of darts, a favorite game we’ve played together, seemingly forever, was unacceptable.

 But tonight we will play darts and I wonder what it means, that Ray suggested it. Offered it. This intimacy. Beer, tea, darts, Ray and me.

 I can smell the pungent odor of the bar now. In my sense memory.

 The odor of our friendship. Men, darts, beer, tea, Ray and me, dim lights, unfamiliar music blasting from the juke box, cheery hellos from other customers, old acquaintances, and the inevitable request that we join one or another of the darts teams that play in “Sam’s” regularly, every Monday evening.

 We’ve always refused the offer to join a team. I never quite understood why but Ray refused for both of us. Since I had no desire to be part of any team other than the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, I never questioned his decision nor asked him why.

 “Ah, Fraser, Ray! How are you?” the bartender asks. We pass the time of day with him and then I find my way to the back of the bar where a darts game is in full swing. I don’t recognize the players. They aren’t regulars. I hang my jacket on the back of a chair and wait for Ray to join me with our drinks. I search out our own darts set from my pocket and place it on the table.

 And I close my eyes, inhale the odor of friendship, and wait for Ray.

 * * *

 “Didn’t know you were so tired, Frase. Wouldn’t have come out, if I’d known.”

 “I’ll still beat you, hands down, Ray, tired or not.”

 “We’ll see about that,” he replies with a grin. “Shake, bad guys, shake, right, Fraser?”

 “Indeed, Ray. Let all comers shake, in the face of my peerless darts game.”

 “Well, I been practicing, Frase. I bet I’ll win, tonight.”

 “Two out of three, Ray?” I ask, although this is our customary gameplan, nothing different.

 “You’re on!”

 We toss a coin for first up, Ray wins, and starts to throw.

 The game goes first one way, then another, until in the end, Ray wins the first round.

 “I’ll get us another drink, Ray,” I tell him. That, too, is our custom, to play for drinks. I hesitate to say, for the honor of the sport, but in my mind, that is what I am playing for.

 Ray, of course, is playing to entertain me. We have few enough manly things in common, Ray and I. This is something he discovered long ago, something that I enjoy and that we can share. As if I were a regular person, like him. He jumped on it and made it part of our life together, when we were back in Chicago. We’ve continued, through the years. Dressed in jeans and a shirt, throwing darts, I appear to be a man like any other, rather than a freak. From the beginning, Ray liked that. I suppose I did, too.

 At any rate, the honor of the sport notwithstanding, I’ve lost many a game to Ray on purpose, otherwise we could not have continued to play. And the loss of this shared time would have hurt me worse than the loss of my integrity ever did.

 Darts. Our thing….

 * * *

 I really am tired tonight. Ray wins all three rounds fair and square, and he is jubilant on the short walk back to our apartment complex. Spring is in the air. The rich smells of the night, the velvet darkness of the sky, many stars, the faint rancid odor of beer on Ray’s breath, his cologne…. I’m nearly overwhelmed by a feeling of peace. Joy and peace.

 Which I don’t understand and don’t deserve and don’t worry about, simply… experience it.

 Not “it.”


 I experience Ray, talking about everything and nothing, at my side. Bouncing along beside me, reminding me of his joy when he won that softball game, so many years ago. He loves to win. It is such a rarity for him, in these kinds of things, and he makes the most of it.

 I nearly always win, in every circumstance. It never gives me joy.

 Not the way Ray’s joy communicates itself to me, fills me, transforms my spirit.

 I’m tempted again, to beg him to give himself to me sexually. I miss that. It was heaven, as I knew it would be.

 I dare not. Dare not risk this fragile peace for that undeserved heaven.

 Back to square one, where sex was never “our thing.”

 Dare not.

 Risk not.

 Fear all.

 My mood shifts again, and Ray notices almost immediately. How, I’ll never understand.

 “What?” he asks, exasperated, I suppose, that my mood pulls him down. Not for the first time, certainly.

 I shake my head, telling him that it’s nothing.

 “It’s not nothing, Frase. I thought you were having a good time, like me.”

 “I was. I am. Don’t worry.”

 “I can’t help it. Worrying, I mean. That look. I know that look on your ugly puss. It’s your ‘I’m having a good time so why do I feel like shit’ look. Your ‘Why don’t I appreciate my good luck’ look. Last time I seen it, next thing I know, I find you bleeding to death in a ditch.”

 “It wasn’t a ditch, Ray -”

“Don’t start with the nitpicking, Fraser,” he warns. “You know what I mean.”

“I do know what you mean.” I sigh. “I – I’m all right, Ray.”

“You’re full of shit, Ben.”

My heart jumps in my chest. He called me Ben. Forgot himself, for the first time since he told me that he didn’t love me anymore, and called me Ben.

I decide to repay in kind, forget myself, tell the truth.

“I’m feeling particularly… lonely tonight, Ray.”

“Lonely? Like, how? Because you’re not alone. You got me.”

“Yes, of course, I have you.” I pause. “In a manner of speaking.”

He eyes me. Narrows his eyes. Shakes his head. “I can’t believe this! You’re ‘lonely’! Why don’t you ever say what you mean, mountie? You’re not lonely. You’re horny!”

I smile small. “That, too,” I concede.

* * *

The bounce has left his step, now. He’s walking beside me. We reach our building. He looks up once, looks at me, motions come on, and passes our place. He continues without checking to see whether I’m following, but of course, I am. He takes the long route which will bring us to the lake, then around the lake, or as far as we wish to go. We can always turn back without making a full circle, of course.

I don’t walk as quickly as once I did. He strides ahead, then slows down, waits until I catch up, all the while without saying anything or looking at me. Then the process begins again, and yet a third time. We reach the lakeshore and he sits on a large rock. I stand nearby at parade rest, although I’m dressed in civilian clothing and haven’t even brought my Stetson with me, it is so warm.

“I guess you’re right, Frase. Only so long we can go without sex before one of us is gonna pick up somebody, just to fuck.”

“Speak for yourself, Ray. A few weeks is nothing to me, in this regard.”

He grins. “You sure?”

“Certainly, I’m sure. You know me, Ray. I didn’t bother to go looking when I was young and virile. I’m unlikely to start now, old man that I am.”

“You didn’t go looking because you could look without going any place.”

“Yes, that’s true,” I admit.

“You did without, pretty good, though. I remember that pretty good.”

“I did without, yes.”

“And now?” I don’t reply. “Now, you telling me you’re so horny you’ve gotta sigh and ruin what was pretty much the best evening we’ve had in a long time?”

 “Yes, Ray.”

 “Whaddaya mean, yes, Ray? You’re so horny, you’re gonna pick up some guy in a bar, like that other time?”

“No, Ray.”

“What, you’re just gonna… grin and bear it?” he challenges.

“No, Ray. I am not going to grin and bear it. I’m simply going to bear it.”

“Punishing yourself, Frase?”

“Not exactly.”

“Me, then? You punishing me?”

I’m taken aback. “No! Of course not.”

“What, then? You’re horny and you’re not gonna do anything about it? Except maybe jerk off?”

“Yes, Ray.”

“So.” He gets off the rock and circles around me for a bit. Finally, he stops in front of me, looks me in the eye and asks, “So, you don’t want me anymore?”

I don’t reply. We have reached the ultimate absurdity. He has informed me that he doesn’t love me any longer, and now he believes that I don’t want him any longer.

Part of what he told me weeks ago isn’t true. He does love me as a friend, and that is valuable to me, nearly more valuable than anything else we might share. Except for truth, and trust.

Along the way we’ve lost the truth. Stopped trusting. And now we’ve lost all sense of who we are to each other.

At last I say, “Why?”

“Why, what?” he asks, and his tone is defensive, or so it sounds to me.

“Why do you care? If, as you say, you no longer love me, why do you care whether I want you?” For that matter, although I do not ask it, why do you choose to spend all your discretionary time with me? Why do you exert thought and energy to finding ways to entertain me? Why do you exude joy, in my company, as you did before, when you did love me?

No, I don’t ask these questions because I know Ray has no answers for them. What we are to each other seems as arbitrary now as the first day we met. A whim of the gods, or destiny. Arbitrary, yet real….

“Who says I don’t love you?”

I stare at him without replying.

“Okay, yeah, well, I said it. But that doesn’t mean I still feel that way.”

“I never considered you a frivolous man, Ray, a man changeable in love.”

“I’m not. Frivolous. Changeable.”

“Then, might I take it that you lied, before, when you said you didn’t love me?” I inquire, opening a door for him, an out.

“Yeah, I was angry, really really angry. So I lied.” Then, after a moment, shaking his head, then shrugging, he contradicts himself. “Well, not lied, not exactly.”

I’m encouraged by his honesty. Between us, he was always the honest one, his finest quality. “Exaggerated?”

“No. Not exaggerated. I wasn’t exaggerating. I… I felt that way, then. And for a long time. But…”


“I don’t feel that way now,” he concludes slowly.

“You’re no longer angry with me? You love me? Is that what I am to believe?”

"Yeah, you can believe that, if you want.”

 “But is it true?” I insist, my words following swiftly on his, with an edge that surprises me.

 “It’s true,” he says, then turns and walks a few steps away from me, stands looking at the lake, his back to me. He seems… defeated, somehow, by his admission, and the truth behind it. For whatever reason, he doesn’t want to love me…. If I can believe that much – believe in his unhappiness – then the corollary is true…. He loves me still….

 “And that is why you wonder whether I still want you? Because you love me, want me?”

 He comes back to where he’d been standing, very close to me. “You don’t want me now, do you? I screwed up and you closed down again and that’s that, right? No more us. Over and out. Stick it in a box marked done?”

 “You believe that, that I could do that?”

 “Yeah, I think you could. You could. Turn it off and that’s that. Yeah.”

 Again, I don’t reply. Cannot, for a moment, reply to this evidence that Ray and I have slipped so far back in time and so far away from our partnership and friendship, it is as if the intervening years had never happened.

 And Ray waits, as if for a blow. I do not wish to make him wait but I’m not so free as I’d been with him. Not so trusting and not so close. It is hard for me to speak from my heart, now. We’ve both slipped back….

 But he is waiting, hurting. I must not keep him waiting, whatever my doubts.

 I touch his cheek and say, “You must know better than that, Ray. You were there.”

 There, when fate threw us together. We’ve not been parted, since….

 There, in bed with me….

 He takes a deep breath. Grabs my hand. Holds it against his face. Slides it down to his mouth. Covers his mouth with my hand. Slips his tongue out and wets my palm.

 “Ray…” I can’t breathe. “Want him” doesn’t begin to describe it. Always, every part of me, heart and soul and body, with everything I am, I want him.

 So much that I don’t think the doubts, don’t feel the fears, don’t remember the words that broke my heart…. Cannot, in his presence, experience anything except him.

 All there is now, is Ray, and how much I want him.

 I take the part of him that is permitted to me, in this setting, in public. His mouth. Hold his face with both my hands and kiss him. With everything I am. I kiss him until he can’t breathe and he breaks the kiss, pulls away.

 * * *

 “Fraser –“

 “Yes, Ray?” I reply shakily. Surely, he cannot question now, how I feel. Surely, he knows.

 When he says, “We can’t do much of anything out here,” I think I know how he feels, as well.


 “Ya wanna go home, then?” he asks.

 I decide to trust the shyness in his voice, believe in it. I always have believed in him. We’ve always believed in each other. Arbitrary, yes, how we’ve always felt, yet no less real.

 Of what use is it for me to question and doubt now? We are always together. Destiny, the whim of the gods? I don’t know why. I know only that it is so. And that it is real.

 He knows it too.

 Real for both of us, then.

 I want him, I need him, and I love him. I must trust that it is the same for Ray.

  “Yes, Ray, I do wish to go home,” I say, meaning more. Hoping his offer is in good faith. Not wanting to know, if it is not….

 “Your place or mine?” he asks with a grin, swinging my hand in his as he pulls me along with him and we walk back towards town.

 “Mine. I have the larger bed.”

 We smile at one another.

 It’s almost the way it once was.

 Almost the same as it used to be.

 With this new thing added… Sex.

 Sex. Which almost became “our thing.”

 Not quite, but nearly.

 That’s okay.

 I’ll make it our thing.

 Or die, trying.

 That’s okay, too.

 * * * * * * * * *

 [Here are the lyrics to Marc Anthony’s song, “That’s Okay.”

 “I remember how it used to be

When you said you were in love with me

Now I’m all alone

Sitting by the phone

There’s that memory

Hangin’ over me


Oh, you were something

And now we’re nothing


I still can’t believe

You’re leaving me

In the middle of what used to be

Our thing


That’s okay


And I still don’t see

A reason for you killing me

The way you did That day


That’s okay


I can’t shake

All that you promised me

Can’t believe I let it conquer me

Now you’re on your way

To that better day

And I’m here at home

Sitting all alone


Oh, you were something

And that’s why we’re nothing.”]