Fridays at Battery Park Books

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“Sure, I’ll drive you home. But do you really want to go home just to sit around a do nothing or would you like to come with me downtown to the Battery Park Book Exchange for some stimulation?”

Trent had just put in eight hours at the University of North Carolina Asheville Ramsay library, checking out books at the circulation desk, and more time with books today was not his idea of stimulation. “Stimulation?” he asked.

“Stimulation of the intellectual kind, at least while we’re at the bookstore,” Julian Carter, director of the Special Collections at the library, answered, giving Trent a little knowing smile like Trent might be thinking of another kind of stimulation. And to show that Trent was on the right track, Julian added, “and if you are interested, other stimulations later in the evening.”

And Trent, in fact, was thinking of stimulation more in the sexual sense at the moment, having been well taken care of sexually when he was working on his masters and not having gotten any since he arrived at this job in Asheville, North Carolina, a month previously. He had completed his masters of library science at UNC Chapel Hill at the end of the summer and taken until late November to get settled in this job.

He didn’t think that Julian Carter, seven years older than he was at twenty-two, was personally offering sex, though. It was clear to them both that they were both submissives, Julian flamboyantly so, piercings and changing-colored hair streaking and all, and Trent small of stature but more all-American handsome and sleek bodied. They had seen it in each other early on and had been open in discussing their preferences and experiences. But no matter how much Trent was aching for it, he made pains not to show either his orientation or his need to everyone else.

“The book exchange isn’t like any other book store, it’s an experience, and a revolving group of us meet there on Friday evenings for a couple of hours after work for arts and literature discussions and champagne and then going on to ‘whatever’ afterward. You’d be a very welcome addition to the group. It includes highly intelligent men of art and literature. You say you haven’t had time to explore Asheville yet and the Christmas holiday time is a great time to do that. The book exchange is in a corner of the Grove Arcade, which is at the heart of the downtown area.”

“Men, you said.”

“Yes, exclusively men. Most of them are middle aged but they are intellectual giants of Asheville, including theater and art and museum gallery directors and even an executive chef up at the Grove Park Inn and a novelist. Very stimulating conversationalists. You have said that you mix well with older men, haven’t you?”

“Yes,” Trent answered. And he had. He wouldn’t have made it through his library arts masters without the financial and emotional support of two older men, one after the other. He had merged well with both, one because he had kept in top shape and the other because of his physical endowments—but both because they had the wealth and willingness to support him through graduate school. So, no, he didn’t shy away from older men.

Conversely, he was sexually curious. All of his relationships heretofore had been with older men. He sensed there was something else out there—something more exotic, and maybe something more taxing, and that maybe younger, more vigorous and athletic, and maybe a bit cruel sex partners, would raise the arousal of sex with men. That’s partly what led to him moving to an entirely new town to restart his life—the possibility that there was more out there while he was young and good-looking than what he’d been getting. He was open to possibilities.

“I can see how you, as the university library Special Collections director would fit in with that crowd,” Trent continued. “But I just got out of library school and work at the circulation desk.”

“That’s what I think you need, baby—to get into circulation. After our gatherings we disperse to dinner and other activities. This would give you an opportunity to circulate with the literati of Asheville, such as they are, and you could see the Christmas offerings in Asheville and dine at someone else’s expense. And you’d be a hit with these men.”

“I still don’t—”

“You’re a handsome, young submissive, Trent Ashton. The group needs a continuous infusion of candy, and, quite frankly, you’ve been increasingly fidgety and cranky. I think what you need is to be covered.”

Trent thought so too, but he didn’t say it. “You’re saying these men are all gay?”

“And tops, and the ones who have had me are proficient at it. And they are good conversationalists, treated like royalty in this sophisticated town, and they have money—at least enough to show you a good time in Asheville. I think this is a match born in Nirvana—a high-brow gay discussion group and a sweet young submissive like you. Even I do quite well in the group. You’ll be a smash.”

“It’s a Friday group?”

“Every illegal bahis Friday, with regulars at the center and others who float in and out, rarely more than eight at a time. We have reserved placement in the bookstore from 5:00 to 7:00. The conversation is freewheeling, and afterwards is whatever you make of it. It’s raining. You asked for a ride home from work. I can do that, or you can go to the Fridays at the Battery Park Book Exchange group meeting with me today . . . now. I don’t think you’ll regret it if you come with me. It’s the perfect way for guys like you and me to insert ourselves into the Asheville lifestyle.”

* * * *

The Battery Park Book Exchange, indeed, wasn’t what Trent had envisioned it would be. It was a used bookstore, specializing in books you wouldn’t normally find in a Barnes and Noble, but it also was a bar and coffee shop and music venue. There were three levels to the store, which was set in a corner of the Grove Arcade, an elegant old shopping mall building that had been meant as the base of a skyscraper that never materialized beyond the first five stories set in multiple classical European architectural styles.

The book exchange was entered from outside the arcade. It had three levels that meandered around. The first level had a bar and a platform where music was played—tonight a classical guitarist—to the left of the door and a lounge area to the right, set with deep sofas and chairs on Oriental carpets, with bookshelves lining the walls. Up a wide set of stairs from this was a mezzanine level, with an antique Chinese canopied platform bed in the center, serving as a table, and four overstuffed sofas around it. Again, the walls were lined with bookcases and the floor with a vibrantly colored Oriental rug.

The third level featured an open balcony one side over looking the bar and music platform below. Bookcases divided this space into three, one of which was a bar, the other two gathering spaces. The Friday Group had a reserved gathering space for Friday nights, with eight overstuffed chairs gathered around a Chinese Chippendale mahogany table, set on a red-dominated Oriental carpet. The arms of the chairs were broad enough for extras to sit on if more than eight appeared, but Julian proved to be correct. There always seemed to be eight, and only eight, present, and as one or two drifted away, they were magically replaced until past 7:30, when they slowly faded into the bookcases.

The bar only served coffee and champagne to drink and a standard cheese and nut tray. The Friday Group drank only coffee or Heidsieck and Company Monopole champagne, two or three glasses each tops, which somehow got paid for on a revolving system that only the regulars seemed to know how to keep equitably covered and that never included the group’s submissives, like Julian and Trent. Cheese trays magically appeared along with champagne refills, served by black-clad book exchange staffers who were also experts on where to find what on the book shelves. The books were available for sale at astonishingly reasonable prices. And, as the name “exchange” implied, they could be returned for recycling to other buyers at a discount on future purchases.

Trent and Julian fairly blew into the front entrance on a gust of cold rain-laden wind on the last Friday in November, which also was the last day of November. They immediately were in an area bounded by stuffed book shelves, with a bar directly in front of them and guitar music coming from over to the left. A handsome man in black, maybe in his early thirties, muscular and square cut with reddish-brown hair, was looking directly at Trent when they entered and were attempting to tame their umbrellas. He had a slight smile on his full lips, and Trent got the impression he was being assessed on preference. Of course he was with the screamingly flamboyant Julian, who was jabbering about the Friday Group meeting upstairs here, and Julian no doubt was a regular, so the guy, who appeared to be on the book exchange staff had every reason to know Trent’s leaning. Trent blushed, though, finding the man enticing and gauging the man’s interest to be sexual. But, then, Trent was in high heat or he wouldn’t have come on this adventure to begin with.

As they got their umbrellas closed and Julian guided Trent to the right, where there was a two-story-high room that looked like a library, with comfortable chairs, a sofa, and filled bookcases and pointed to the wide staircase across the room that went up the mezzanine, the man in black came around from behind the bar, with a ice bucket in one hand, cuddling a bottle of champagne, and two champagne flutes balanced on a tray in the other. He fell into step behind Julian and Trent as they headed for the stairs to the mezzanine.

“You with the Friday Group,” the man asked in a rich baritone voice.

It took Trent a couple of seconds to realize he was speaking to him. “Yes, I think so. I’m with Julian here.”

“My name is Art. Art Hilliard,” illegal bahis siteleri the man in black said. “A couple of the men are already up there. The bathroom is back in that alcove,” he said as they walked around the Chinese platform bed and sofas to the stairs to the next level. He continued before Trent could respond, although Trent was glad to know they had a bathroom and where it was located, as it wasn’t marked other than with a neon green stylized moon sliver on a luminescent aquamarine door. “I don’t think I’ve seen you here before.”

“I’m new—new to Asheville,” Trent said. “And my first time here to this bookshop and group.”

“Well, you take care with these guys,” Art said, as they reached the first floor which opened into the room where the Friday Group met. “Maybe I’ll see you around. Maybe I’ll see all of you.” The attendant continued on into one of the other rooms on this floor with his champagne and flutes after giving Trent a smile and a wink. Did he have “submissive” written all over him, Trent wondered. But if the hunky guy was on the staff here, he probably knew what the Friday Group was all about. Trent wasn’t sure he knew the all of that, though, himself yet.

Miraculously, when Julian and Trent had arrived at the third-level meeting circle, they were attendees seven and eight. There were two chairs empty next to each other at the table, and Julian motioned Trent to one of them and stood in front of the other momentarily. “Here he is,” Julian said, gesturing to Trent. “I have delivered, as promised.”

That was news to Trent—that he was expected, and that he’d been promised. If he wasn’t horny as hell, he’d be upset and leave. The six men sitting at the table, five from their late forties to something around sixty were mostly presentable. Surprisingly, though, one of them was in a priest’s cassock. He looked like the oldest of them, but he was an almost-skeleton-bodied man, an ascetic, handsome and regal of face and with a healthy mane of silver-gray hair. One of those at the table was as young as Trent was—candy like he was, Trent wondered.

Julian didn’t sit down until he’d made introductions. “This is Trent Aston, a new arrival in Asheville, just out of library science graduate school in Chapel Hill and working in the university library here with me. He is a virgin to the Asheville sites and glories. I’m sure he’d be grateful for being shown the glories of the Christmas season here. To your right there, Trent, is our features newspaper editor, of the Citizen-Times, just next door, fittingly on OHenry Street, Jerry Morgan.” Morgan was a beefy, no-nonsense-looking bald man appearing to be in his late forties. He smiled at Trent as he rolled a black poker chip around in his fingers. He was drinking coffee rather than champagne.

Seeing that Trent was looking at the coffee cup, Morgan lifted it and, as if apologizing for not drinking champagne, said, “Unfortunately, still on duty and soon to have to leave for a bit.”

“Next to Jerry, who will disappear after about an hour to check on tomorrow’s edition, is the artistic director of our quite professional community theater, Cyril Birch.” Birch was tall, in his late forties or early fifties. He was handsome, and elegantly dressed, and emoted in sweeping gestures indicating he knew he was both. He was drinking champagne, as was the young man sitting next to him, who Julian introduced as a UNC undergraduate student, Keven Dundee, who was a more flamboyant and somewhat bent-wrist version of Trent himself. He, like Trent, was blond and blue-eyed, of smaller than normal stature, but perfectly formed. His hair was frosted, though, as opposed to Trent’s natural golden-blond, and, like Julian, but not Trent, he had piercings, but more so—small silver rings in the lower lip, an eyebrow, and in a nostril. His T-shirt was so tight that Trent could tell his nipples had small rings pierced in them too. He was drinking champagne and looking very Bette Davis pleased with himself. Trent was surprised and intrigued that he had a purple poker chip in front of him on the table by his champagne coaster.

“And this man trying to look like Hemingway is our resident novelist, Bernard Raskin,” Julian was saying, moving on to the left of the college student trying to look cool and succeeding in looking young and available, which he probably was, no more than nineteen or twenty, and most certainly available. Raskin, who Trent had to agree was trying to look like a macho Hemingway, was, in fact, quite macho—dark and sultry and hirsute, with flashing black eyes. He was studiously scowling and looking lost without a cigarette in this no-smoking environment. He was drinking champagne. A blue poker chip rested on the coaster under the base of the champagne glass, but, as Trent was being introduced to him, he flipped the chip over to in front of Trent on the table.

“Next is Brad Haywood, the development director of the Asheville Art Museum. That’s being totally renovated canlı bahis siteleri and will open again next spring. This is probably the busiest time for Brad is getting the museum open again. He’s attending galas left and right to raise development money. But if you can carve out some of his time, he’s probably the best guide of the city you can get, and quite stimulating, I can attest to.” Haywood, also drinking champagne and, like Raskin, with a poker chip, this time green, under the base of his flute, was in the same assured, ruggedly handsome, tall and trim vein as Cyril Birch was, although older, perhaps in his mid-fifties.

“And last so far this evening, is Monsignor Emeritus Antoni Skileri of the nearby Catholic Basilica of Saint Lawrence. Antoni is our resident classicist, reminding us that no topic we discuss is in any way new to the world—and able to identify what came before it. I presume, since Bernard is here this evening, that we’ll be talking about Thomas Wolfe and his autobiographical novel Look Homeward Angel and how the residents of Asheville snubbed him for writing what he did about this town until he became famous enough to the celebrated and to bring in the tourists and Monsignor Antoni will again relate examples of the exact same things happening to writers in Athens and Rome.”

Julian sat in the chair to Trent’s right and the priest’s left, as everyone laughed, but, in fact, that was where the general conversation went. There were side conversations, though, first observed between the priest and Julian, during which Trent saw Monsignor Antoni put a white poker chip in front of Julian, which Julian picked up and put in his shirt pocket.

The table in general quizzed Trent on his background and his interests while still managing to breeze through topics of art and literature at a deeper level, including what some of the attendants were working on at the moment. There were undercurrents of homosexuality in the discussion, though, that, at one point became raunchy when the novelist, Raskin, pulled a Tenga Egg masturbation toy out of his pocket when the discussion was centering on people who could be depended on, and Raskin made the crack that the egg was what he could depend on the most. He looked directly at Trent when he said it and smiled. Everyone laughed, a few a bit nervously, and the question of the dominant architecture of the Grove Arcade was flipped out for discussion.

Trent found it all very stimulating, including the homosexual undertones, and the time passed quickly. He was a novice on all topics that were worked over, but so was the UNC student, Kevin Dundee, and neither one of them was patronized or denigrated—or excluded from the conversation. When Art, the waiter, who Trent was to find out was an assistant manager, dropped off Trent and Julian’s first flute of champagne, he bent down by Trent’s ear and whispered, “Remember to keep both of your feet on the ground,” before wafting off. Trent mulled that for a few seconds but was immediate swept up in the discussion again. When the second flute of champagne was delivered by Art, Trent looked down to see that there were three poker chips—a black one and a green one in addition to the blue one the novelist had flipped across the table—in front of him. When Art saw those, he laughed. Trent was just confused, but the conversation picked him back up again.

The spell was broken by a delivery guy, muscular, black, and cocky, who paused long enough in moving from the stairs to the bar in the other room with a heavy carton of champagne bottles in his arms, hefted with no apparent effort, to give Trent a pointed stare and a sneery smile before moving on. He made two trips through the room with cartons of champagne and gave Trent “the stare” each time.

The spell of the discussion broken, Trent went to find the bathroom Art, the bookstore staff member had pointed out to him on the mezzanine. When he came out, there was Art, standing by as if he was waiting for Trent, and perhaps he was.

“You do know what those old guys come here to get, don’t you?” Art said.

“I have some idea, yes,” Trent answered.

“It looks like you’ve turned them on. Three poker chips. Take care of yourself. Some of them are more taking than their age would imply. You want something younger, though, you know where to find me.”

Trent focused on the offer, which was the best one he’d gotten in Asheville so far, that he didn’t even think to wonder what the remark about the poker chips meant. When he got back to the Friday Group table, Julian and the priest were gone and another older man had taken Julian’s chair. He introduced himself as Daniel Park, the director of the Asheville Music Hall. He brought himself up to speed on who Trent was and was moving into more intimate questions when Brad Haywood called over to him to ask him questions about some scaffolding the two venues were going to split the cost on. While he was turned away, the newspaper editor, Jerry Morgan, touched Trent’s arm from his left to get the young man’s attention.

“I have to go back to the office for a while to put the paper to bed, but I can come back . . . if . . .” He was fingering the black poker chip in front of Trent. “Julian says you—”

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