It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over

We got into a cab in front of the hotel in St. Louis. The weather was a hot drizzle, with the temperature around ninety and the air like soup. The cab driver was a black guy who definitely didn’t seem to think he had anyone but maybe a couple of college kids in his cab. Ziggy was still in stealth mode and I didn’t gel my hair or anything, just pulled it back in an elastic which meant the red streaks weren’t all that visible.

A brief conversation ensued between him and Ziggy, in which Ziggy impressed on him that we didn’t know where to go to amuse ourselves and he tried to suss out what kind of a bar he should take us to, despite the fact it was maybe one or two in the afternoon at that point. I eventually spoke up and said I couldn’t drink because of doctor’s orders and joked that ice cream was more my speed.

“You shoulda said so earlier!” he said with an actual palm smack to his forehead, dislodging his hat. He yanked it back down. “I know just the place.”

So he drove us to another part of town, pointing out the iconic arch on the way (it was only a few blocks from our hotel). Ziggy and I chit-chatted and I told him what else I knew about St. Louis, which was not very much, but I repeated the debate I’d heard about whether Missouri counted as a southern state or a midwestern state and was kinda both as far as I was concerned.

Maybe ten or fifteen minutes later we were in what I would have called suburbs but wasn’t. The driver parked in the lot of an ice cream stand with a peaked roof, the kind where you ordered through a walk-up window and then stood in the parking lot (or sat back in your car) to eat it. Ted Drewes Frozen Custard. It was too hot to stand outside and eat or it’d melt instantly, plus the drizzle was on and off. So we bought one for the cabbie, too, and got back in the car.

It was thicker than the frozen custard (Kohr’s) from the Jersey Shore and came in more flavors. While we were still eating, tasting off each other’s spoons and whatnot, the driver finished his and took us off toward another spot. We went past a university campus and he pointed out some of the buildings and then mentioned there was good shopping near the campus. I was imagining something like Thayer Street in Providence, or that funky drag in Madison, Wisconsin, where I had pizza with Carynne once, or the U district in Seattle.

He pulled up in front of a store and then turned to us to collect the fare. I paid him in cash out of the usual unspent per diems accumulating in my pockets, tipped him an extra ten for being awesome, and then was about to exit the car when he said, “You boys be careful, all right?”

“We will, thanks,” I said as I climbed out, then held a hand to help Ziggy out, too.

After the cab had driven away I looked at the store we were standing in front of. It was a bookstore. There was a rainbow flag hanging in the window and a poster in the door proclaiming an organizational meeting for ACT-UP. (Even I knew what ACT-UP was by then.)

“Our World Too.” Ziggy read off the sign over the door. “Well, it would appear our driver had our number.”

“How did he know?” I asked. “I mean, really?”

“You ate off my spoon,” Ziggy said, with that look of cautious amusement on his face.

“I eat off Bart’s spoon all the time but he and I aren’t gay for each other.”

Ziggy snorted. “No, but you and I are and it’s obvious enough. Maybe he figured if he was wrong about it, well, it’s a harmless enough place to drop us off. It’s a commercial street. Come on, let’s go in and see what southern-midwestern gays are reading these days.”

I had a sudden inkling of the kind of “trouble” Ziggy could get into when he didn’t have to be anywhere at any time. I don’t know why earlier I had forgotten what a force of chaos he could be. So it was with a bit of trepidation I set foot in the bookstore.

It was a Saturday afternoon and there were several other people browsing the store, minding their own business. An older man with glasses and a friendly smile was helping two women to find a book, a kid who couldn’t have been older than sixteen had his nose deeply buried in one. An older couple who reminded me of the guys who’d lived upstairs from me and Jonathan were browsing the magazine rack.

I gravitated to the mystery shelf where most of the books seemed to be lesbian mysteries but there were a few with male names and male characters. Matthew, who had started my mystery-reading habit, had never read explicitly gay mysteries as far as I knew. He seemd to stick with the bestsellers–the kind you could buy in airports. I vaguely wondered if these were any good. They were larger, more expensive books–twelve bucks a book instead of the five I was used to in mass market paperbacks–but did that mean they were better? Or just gayer? Hmm.

Ziggy picked out a book, the title on the cover proclaiming in huge letters, The Joy Of Gay Sex, and began leafing through it.

My curiosity eventually drew me over to him when he was still looking through it a few minutes later. “Learning anything?”

“This book is really serious,” he said with a nod. “When I first saw it I wasn’t sure if it was, like, mostly a joke book to buy as a gag gift for uptight people or, you know, to sneak onto their coffee tables when they weren’t looking. Or if carrying it around in the store served as a cruising aid. But it’s actually… a lot of reading.”

I looked over his shoulder. “And pictures,” I pointed out. Pretty hot pictures, some of them.

“Mm-hm,” he agreed. He flipped to the front of the book, to the copyright page. “Wow.”

“What?”

“You were nine years old when this book was published.”

“Really?” I looked. The copyright was 1977. “Same year as ‘God Save the Queen’ and ‘Rockaway Beach.”

“Huh,” Ziggy said. “Sex Pistols and the Ramones?”

“Yeah. It was like the world was about to become an awesome place in the late seventies. And then came Ronald Reagan and AIDS and Just Say No.” I shook myself like a dog. “It’s kind of…freaky to realize that before the Reagan era was a wilder time.”

“Kind of sad,” he said. “Like the clock turned back and we’ve been trying all this time to turn it forward again.” Then he did something I didn’t expect. He put the book back on the shelf. “Not probably the best choice for airport reading if I want to get home in one piece.”

Ziggy being sensible and not a provocateur. I made a note to myself to inquire later, at some safe point, how his current antidepressants were working out, but right then I kind of thought I knew the answer: pretty well.

We were in there for a good hour, I’d say, which was by far the most time I’d ever voluntarily spent in a store that wasn’t a record store. The clerk who had been helping the women checked them out and then made a point to come greet us. “Haven’t see you in here before,” he said. “Welcome! Did you just find us or are you just passing through?”

“Just passing through,” Ziggy said.

“Oh? From whereabouts?”

“I live in Greenwich Village, actually.” Ziggy laughed self-deprecatingly, as if we’d walked into a jewelry shop and he’d just said he lived in a diamond mine.

Maybe it was that he was standing there, and maybe it was seeing that older couple, and maybe it was that I wasn’t on any drugs today so my brain was working, and maybe it was a thought I’d had a couple of times on that tour already, but I suddenly got a wild hair across my ass.

I know. Normally it was Ziggy who would drag us off unexpectedly into something but maybe it was my turn to do it. I waited until he was looking at greeting cards and then I went back to the bookstore clerk–who turned out to be the owner–and asked him for advice about where to go next. He wrote an address down on a piece of paper.

Ziggy bought some greeting cards and I bought a magazine and some stickers for my road cases and then we left.

“What a lovely shop,” Ziggy said as we went back onto the street.

The sky was strangely dark and a gust of wind made me turn my face aside for a second. “We’re in tornado country,” I reminded him.

“Does that mean we should head for shelter?” He looked around.

“I’m not sure, but there’s one more stop I want to make.” I led him to the next corner and turned. Now we could see the towering clouds that had formed. The fog and drizzle was gone, as if the heat had sucked it all into the thunderheads. “And we should at least try to get there before the rain comes down.”

“Sure.” He didn’t ask me where we were going, perhaps assuming I’d gotten directions to a record store. That’d be a good assumption to make. Usually.

A few blocks away we stopped in front of the place the bookstore owner had sent us. The window showed a few faceless busts sporting gold and silver chains hung with pendants. Ziggy looked from the storefront to me and back and then lasered in on me, saying nothing, but staring at me quite intently.

And that was the moment I realized he’d come to St. Louis expecting me to say something to him. To “say something.” No wonder he’d been acting so weird. I saw it clear as day. He had been expecting bad news, like there was something so awful I had to tell him in person. Like I was quitting or something. I don’t know. Something bad. And when I hadn’t said anything bad, he’d bided his time hoping that instead it was just that I was trying to work up to saying something good.

Which turned out to be the case. I just hadn’t known it myself. And now I realized that I had arrived at A Moment of my own creation but I hadn’t actually worked out what I wanted to say. So I had to improvise on the fly.

“So, I’ve been thinking,” I said. This was often how I announced that I had something “important” to say, and Ziggy knew it. “I… There are times, recently, when I’ve been wishing I had a…” Wait, no, that’s the wrong way to say it. Start over. “I mean, like this one time in Cleveland, I realized…” Nope, try again. “I mean I turned down a, you know, solicitation, with the ‘excuse'”–I put quotes with my fingers around the word “excuse”–“that I was committed to somebody. Which is true. Or at least, I want to be. I know I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. And I don’t want you to take it as a… like… demand, because it’s not a demand.”

Ziggy finally had to get a word in edgewise to make sure he was hearing me right. “What do you mean, committed?”

“I mean monogamy. I mean I want something that tells the world I’m taken, because I am taken, by you, at least, that’s the promise I made to myself a while ago and if you want, I’ll make it to you, too.”

He was biting his lip hard and I wasn’t sure if it was to keep from laughing or crying. That lump that had been in my throat for days was threatening to make it impossible for me to keep talking, and it sounded contagious as he said, “You mean, you’ll make the promise to yourself…even if I…don’t demand that you do? Um, what?”

“Oh god. I’m not trying to be so confusing, I swear. It all made sense to me before I started talking.” I tamped down a flare of panic. Fucking words. Why didn’t I think this through? It was hitting me know just how badly I was fucking this up. I should’ve written a song.

“Okay,” Ziggy said, taking my hands in his. His eyes looked very black as he held my gaze, like they were all pupil. “How about you slow down and just tell me why we’re having this conversation in front of a jewelry store.”

“Because I want a ring,” I blurted. “A gold ring. That people will… people will assume is a wedding ring. So they’ll know.” That was as clear as I could be. “And I’ll buy it myself but I didn’t want to do it without warning you f–”

He was hugging me around the neck so suddenly that I couldn’t continue (or breathe) and I think he had intended to kiss me except that he burst into tears so he redirected his face to my shoulder. I hugged him so hard my arms hurt.

When he pulled back to look in my face (and let me breathe) he wiped tears out of his eyes at a furious pace. “I’m buying you that ring. And you’re buying me a matching one.”

The lump in my throat was so severe I could only nod. But I had questions. So many questions.

He knew it, too. “To me it means commitment. I know we’re still working out exactly what that means. That’s why the ring is important. Because it’s not just words anymore. It’s not just ideas. It’s real and it’s visible. And it means I don’t just love you. It means that love means something.”

And then, I kid you not, a huge crack of thunder nearly deafened us and we ran inside the store.

If this was a fairy tale story, that’s where I should end it, right? Just stop and let you imagine the rest. But I want to tell you about the woman inside the store.

When we ran in, she was cleaning the top of an already spotless glass case, very obviously playing it casual. Ziggy would later tell me he’d caught sight of her peeking at us through the front window–this was obviously her trying to pretend she hadn’t been watching. She pretended to look up and “notice” us. “Why hello gentlemen, can I help you find something?”

Another peal of thunder made me put my hands over my ears for a few seconds. When it had passed I said, “Um, yes. Wedding bands.” Then I cracked myself up because it made me think of bands who play at weddings. While I had my moment of hysterical laughter Ziggy strode forward.

“We each need one,” he said. “If that’s all right.”

She was a heavyset woman with short curly blond hair–but not too short–and square glasses with gold rims, probably in her forties. “Bill said you might be along,” she said. Outside the rain started to pour down and it made her welcome seem even warmer. “And yes, that’s perfectly all right.”

The first thing she did was measure our ring fingers. She did Ziggy first, then me, her hands gentle and warm as she slid the sizing ring on. “You two in some hazardous line of work?” she asked, looking at the scars on each of us. (Ziggy’s were on his right wrist and forearm mostly, but quite visible.)

“Just unlucky,” I said.

“No. Very lucky,” Ziggy said emphatically, and kissed me on the cheek.

“Well, all right.” There were a couple of ways you could interpret his statement and I took all of them to be true.

“So what exactly were you looking for in a ring style?” she asked.

“I want something unmistakably a wedding ring, something that no one will mistake for anything else,” I said.

“Then you want gold and you want nothing too fancy,” she said. She pulled out a flat case. “You’ve got a couple of grades of gold or plating to choose from, and the finishes range from mirror bright to an almost burnished matte…”

I let the words wash over me while my eyes took in the array. I looked at Ziggy. We both looked at the tray. We pointed to adjacent rings–one slightly wider than the other but not by much. Not too shiny. What I would have called a warm color of gold.

I don’t actually remember the rest of the details about picking out the rings, because what I do remember is the tornado siren going off at the same time a radio behind the cash register began to crackle and buzz. Ziggy and I looked at each other, wondering if we were about to be plunged into an emergency situation. The jeweler fussed with the radio a bit, listened to an announcement, then went into the back office to turn on a TV. She invited us back there and we went around the counter and into a small office.

She pointed at the screen. “Nothing to get too excited about. The thunderstorm’s going to pass right over and they’re not seeing any funnels. It’ll probably all be clear by the time you leave here.”

Which was about twenty minutes or thirty minutes later, wearing the rings. I swear she teared up when we put them on each other.

“Good luck, now,” she said, as she saw us to the door once a cab was waiting for us at the curb. “Good luck to you both.”

Okay, I will stop there. Knoxville, Birmingham, and Biloxi were still to come, but I don’t have the heart to go into that right now. There’s a word for that glow you get after something amazing happens, for that period of time when you get to just enjoy something for a while. So I’ll wait to tell you about that stuff and just let you bask in the honey-colored moonlight.



(Yeah and I even picked a shmoopy song. It was a hit at the time. Deal with it. -d)


(NOTE FROM CTAN: I, um, kind of expect folks might be interested in an adults-only followup to this chapter. We haven’t had a bonus sex scene in a LONG time, since May!–that’s what happens when Ziggy and Daron aren’t in the same state for a while! But it’s time. For a reminder how this works. Anyone who puts a donation into the Paypal tip jar [https://www.paypal.me/daronmoondog]–minimum of one dollar– will get the bonus scene emailed to them as soon as I write it. {Those of you who are patreon supporters will get it automatically.} This will be “bonus scene #12” for those keeping track of whether you’ve collected them all! You pick the amount of your donation! One other thing to keep in mind, all these donations ALSO count toward potentially triggering an extra chapter post on Saturday, too! We’re around $50 from one of those. And you know what happens if an additional $100 comes in on top of that? ANOTHER Saturday post. And so on. So it’s kind of like this donation counts toward two bonuses. Thank you all so much for your support and for sharing this milestone in Daron’s life with me. Grin. -ctan)

(MINI LINER NOTE: The bookstore, Our World Too, was a real place, and Bill Cordes was a real pillar of the gay community. The store closed in 1999 and Bill passed away in 2005. You can read about him here: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=11209564. And yes, the weather was the real weather for this date in 1991! -ctan)

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Comments 11

  1. s wrote:

    The lady at the jewelry store wasn’t the only one tearing up. I really needed this today. Love you guys!

    And yeah, bonus scene!

    [Reply]

    ctan Reply:

    Ziggy is bucking to be the narrator of the bonus scene, now, btw. He and Daron are wrestling over it right now. I’ll find out when I sit down to write it later which one of them won.

    [Reply]

    s Reply:

    Well, Ziggy does know how to get his way… Yes, I would love a Ziggy narrated bonus scene. <3

    [Reply]

    ctan Reply:

    Man, he just wouldn’t do a scene only, because he’s Ziggy he wanted the equivalent of retelling three chapters and THEN the sex scene. I need sleep and he’s writing a 5,000 word epic…

    [Reply]

    chris Reply:

    Would Ziggy consider narrating my life?

    [Reply]

    ctan Reply:

    Heh. You mean he’s not making snarky comments in your head all the time anyway? Maybe that’s just me.

    [Reply]

    Posted 26 Jan 2017 at 10:27 am
  2. Stacey wrote:

    I needed this today too! Thank you!

    [Reply]

    ctan Reply:

    Yr welcome! I’ve been waiting for this chapter to arrive for months (years? I play a very long game…) and I’m so glad it’s finally here!

    [Reply]

    Posted 26 Jan 2017 at 10:54 am
  3. steve wrote:

    Maybe a little misty-eyed here on the 66 today.

    [Reply]

    daron Reply:

    Are you on the 66 bus or does Route 66 go through St. Louis and I didn’t notice? (because as we know my geography is a bit warped)

    [Reply]

    steve Reply:

    Well, I was talking about the 66 bus—you’ve lived in Allston; you know the 66 bus—but doesn’t route 66 “go from St. Louis, down through Missouri…”?

    Honestly, Daron, that’s not geography. That’s lyrics!

    [Reply]

    s Reply:

    Hahahahaha

    [Reply]

    daron Reply:

    Wow, right, “Saint Lou-ee” is St. Louis but somehow I guess I always heard is as something more exotic. Maybe because I can never understand a word Mick Jagger says anyway (heard the Stones version first), and the Depeche Mode version isn’t much better, made me think the line was “King man barstools and burner Dino.”

    [Reply]

    chris Reply:

    Right through the middle of St Louis….

    [Reply]

    daron Reply:

    I could’ve sworn that was Route 70. Isn’t Route 70 the interstate through St. Louis? Or am I just getting numbers mixed up?

    [Reply]

    Posted 26 Jan 2017 at 12:07 pm
  4. K wrote:

    Awwwww. Be still my heart. Congrats to you both on taking this big step forward. <3

    But…why do I still keep waiting for the other shoe to drop?

    And…yassssssssss! Bonus scene.

    [Reply]

    daron Reply:

    Because I always wait for the other shoe to drop. And sometimes Ziggy is wearing more than one pair of shoes, I swear. But that shouldn’t stop me, I guess.

    [Reply]

    sanders Reply:

    And sometimes, D, there’s only one shoe.

    [Reply]

    songquake Reply:

    :)

    [Reply]

    daron Reply:

    I can hope. *flings off shoes and runs into the ocean* (except there’s no ocean in Missouri but you get the metaphor)

    [Reply]

    Posted 26 Jan 2017 at 12:27 pm
  5. G wrote:

    This. I’ve been waiting for this moment in this journey for what feels like an eternity. Thank you so much for this. I had to stop reading because I started getting goosebumps and then my eyes started to prickle, but I was in the middle of class and wanted to just enjoy so I had to wait until later and start over.

    It’s like everything has led to this, and the ride has been so worth it now that the moment is here. Oh my god, I think you just made my life.

    I’m going to remember this chapter title so whenever I need it I can come back to see this beautiful moment again. God.

    [Reply]

    daron Reply:

    This beautiful moment where I couldn’t even explain myself and he had to drag it out of me. LOL :-)

    [Reply]

    s Reply:

    Well, D, if you’d been eloquent we would’ve known you were lying. It was beautiful, and no less so because he had to help you along. I think I’ve read it at least 6 times already, and I had to work today!

    [Reply]

    G Reply:

    I’m with you, s. Ziggy knew, and that’s what’s important. Anything planned and rehearsed wouldn’t have been you, Daron, unless it was a song. And it was beautiful and I’ve read this so many times just so I can smile.

    [Reply]

    daron Reply:

    I know. Look at all the times I spent the entire day trying to figure out what to say to Jonathan and then either I wouldn’t say it or if I did it would never come out as expected anyway.

    [Reply]

    Posted 26 Jan 2017 at 1:16 pm
  6. sanders wrote:

    Oh, my heart. No tears, but only because I used them all up on march footage last weekend. Otherwise, I’d be sobbing right now.

    [Reply]

    daron Reply:

    You should see these gorgeous fucken rings too

    [Reply]

    Posted 26 Jan 2017 at 2:57 pm
  7. chris wrote:

    I loved this chapter. I felt such a sigh of relief reading it. That this happened in St Louis was just an added bonus for me, since that’s where I was born and lived most of my life. Ted Drews… yup that’s where a taxi driver would take you if you said ice cream… that’s where my husband took me on our first date. I know of the Our World Too bookstore, it was just down the street from my bank, although I never went there.
    ***digging in purse for bonus chapter***
    This is just what I needed this week to bring some light into my life!

    [Reply]

    daron Reply:

    And you know me and ice cream. I swear I’d live on the stuff if they’d let me.

    [Reply]

    Posted 26 Jan 2017 at 3:04 pm
  8. cairine wrote:

    SQUEEEEEEEEEE! Best news I’ve read all day.

    [Reply]

    ctan Reply:

    Glad you enjoyed it! :-)

    [Reply]

    Posted 26 Jan 2017 at 4:37 pm
  9. Amber wrote:

    *happy tears*
    Congratulations!!!!
    I can’t handle this. I’m so happy for you and Ziggy! I’m literally vibrating because the joy has nowhere to go.
    Thank you, ctan, for giving us this moment. This moment was definitely well earned. Bask in it, Daron.

    [Reply]

    daron Reply:

    I just love him and it was time to stop thinking about that and just do something. This thing.

    [Reply]

    ctan Reply:

    You’re welcome. It’s been a long time coming. Whenever any of you go back and re-read you’ll see the groundwork hundreds of chapters ago. :-) Everyone deserves to enjoy this moment!

    [Reply]

    Posted 27 Jan 2017 at 2:00 pm
  10. Mark Treble wrote:

    ‘He was hugging me around the neck so suddenly that I couldn’t continue (or breathe) and I think he had intended to kiss me except that he burst into tears so he redirected his face to my shoulder. I hugged him so hard my arms hurt.

    When he pulled back to look in my face (and let me breathe) he wiped tears out of his eyes at a furious pace. “I’m buying you that ring. And you’re buying me a matching one.”’

    This is the man I am confident Ziggy can become. It’s the biggest milestone so far in his coming of age.

    Bless you, Cecilia.

    [Reply]

    ctan Reply:

    Yr welcome! It’s a big big moment in Ziggy’s life. One of the biggest.

    [Reply]

    Posted 29 Jan 2017 at 9:42 pm
  11. Maelia wrote:

    I left a review on Amazon (under my real first name, Isabelle) right after I finished reading the ebook earlier today, but I didn’t want to put anything spoilerish in there so I’ll say here instead that the way this volume ends is even more adorable than unexpected. Well, Daron struggling to find the words is not surprising, of course (it’s only the idea of buying a ring that I didn’t expect), but definitely adorable. Then Ziggy’s reaction… <3 I couldn't have hoped for a better last chapter to keep in mind until the next ebook is available. I'm sure lots of things will happen in South America (are you in the middle of that tour in the chapters posted recently?) and that we'll have reasons to worry again, but for now I'll just focus on the happiness of this temporary ending. :)

    [Reply]

    ctan Reply:

    I want to say thank you so much for the review! I haven’t been reminding people to do it. They say to sell more books I should always end them on a cliffhanger but I love the aesthetic of an ending like this one. :-)

    [Reply]

    Posted 24 Aug 2017 at 4:07 pm

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