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Lower East Side, Spring 2003

 

Benjamin Ashton

 

 

 

 

 

He was never much of a talker, even when he first came up and talked to me. My friendship with Hugo, a male escort ("You can call me a hooker, Ben, you really can") lasted a few months, or a few weeks; we never had sex together, but twice we were in the same room and sex was being had. We did kiss once, but for the benefit of someone else, rather than for our own – even though, on that point, I still like to think that there exists some room for interpretation.

 

I met Hugo on a little auspicious late night, in a gay dive bar in the East Village. I was having a night-cap with my friend Schuyler, after a tedious and unnerving dinner. I had a long and complicated history with Schuyler - ever since we'd met in college, ever since we'd drunkenly kissed, had soberly fucked, had awkwardly and repeatedly tried to live out the sexual tension and the emotion that bound us, in an anguished, unhealthy way. Schuyler was now married, yet periodically acted as if it didn't matter and tried to rekindle the bond with me – his obliviousness to implications as convoluted as was his sexual identity "I'm pretty sure he does love you," my wise and empathic older brother once said, "but if he says he's straight, maybe he just is." Yes, perhaps.

 

He had talked and bragged and teased the whole evening, with an apparent complete assurance that my adoration for him was as simple, pure and infallible as his questionable love for me was distressing, sketchy and consuming. I had wanted to cut our time together short as soon as he sat down at our table, late. I couldn't bring myself to do so before midnight, an arbitrary time deemed just late enough to legitimately claim the need to go to bed on a weeknight, as well as to avoid a scene about my trying to avoid him and being unable to be "normal" around him. Which is quite typically what he accused me of whenever I resisted or declined his clumsy and arrogant sexual advances.

 

I did not decline them always, to be honest, however clumsy, however arrogant they might have been. But that night, I had taken all precautions against myself. I had not had more than one glass of wine – something that Schuyler, in all his self-absorption, failed to notice was quite below my usual consumption. I had also hooked up with a guy online, a business quickly arranged in my last hour at work and satisfyingly conducted on my way back home. I had fucked an Asian guy, who dressed as a teen skater despite being well into his twenties. The sex at his cluttered, crammed place had been excellent: he was an eager and aggressive bottom, with tattoos on his left buttcheek and on both his shoulder blades – a great sight when doggy style is the position mutually and quickly chosen. I had had time to get home, take a shower and walk to the nearby restaurant. I was on time, Schuyler was late.

 

The evening had dragged on, yet Schuyler had still insisted on a last drink. "Let's go to a gay bar, there must be some in your neighborhood". There were and I chose a dive really close to my place, not to make it more convenient to transition to my bed without time for second guessing (as may very well have been Schuyler's intention when suggesting the area), but indeed to get me closer to where I really wanted to be. At home, alone.

 

The bar was a little crowded. Schuyler was getting restless; he seemed to be increasingly frustrated at the persistent flatlining of my sex drive despite his efforts to ignite it. He went as far, and as low, as blurting out, in a hoarse whisper "Man, I get so horny sometimes when I get to the city. I can't imagine what it's like for you who actually live here." And he pressed his leg against mine, which I slowly moved away.

 

"You get used to it, I guess?" I said, trying to stay civil.

 

"I guess, yes", he said, obviously disappointed at the failing of his last attempt. He tried another route. "You know, I think we make quite a pair in a place like this. Honestly, we're the two hottest guys here."

 

"Shut up, will you. And don't delude yourself. You're dressed like the Connecticut preppy boy you are. Believe me, you'd have more success in Chelsea. In this place, you stand a better chance at being mugged or handed a pamphlet about how your SUV is fucking up the environment." I did smile, to defuse any tension.

 

The one thing I could always praise Schuyler for was his ability to take in stride any diatribe of mine against his social origins, current standing and outspoken aspirations. Indeed, he chuckled. "Or I could be your wingman. And watch. Better than porn, I guess."

 

"Not if you're into straight porn, Schuyler, as straight men usually are."

 

"Oh, but you know me, Ben. Don't I defy labels?"

 

"You don't, actually. But anyway, thanks for the offer, I should be fine."

 

"Check this guy out, by the way. Behind you. He's hot, right?"

 

I turned around and caught sight of a guy with a beer, alone at the bar.

 

"Sky, I don't know what you're playing at."

 

"Oh, chill out, Ben. Unclench. I'm only joking around."

 

"Of course."

 

His attention was clearly shifting towards the guy at the bar. I was briefly relieved he wasn't fixated on me and on what I could do to him later in bed. I was briefly hurt that these thoughts could be brushed away so quickly by a random guy drinking alone. I was briefly mad at myself for still, after all these years, letting myself get caught up in this teenage angst.

 

"Go talk to him," I said.

 

"What?"

 

"Go talk to him."

 

"For you?"

 

"Sure, why not. Or for you. Or just for the kick of talking to him. I don't know, you seem to like him."

 

"Like him? Nah. I just think he's hot, don't you?" he asked, still looking over my shoulder.

 

"Sure", I said, still looking directly at Schuyler.

 

"And I don't think he'll beat me up."

 

"Just don't tell him you voted for Bush."

 

"Ha ha. I know how to talk to people I want to screw, you know."

 

"I do know". I realized I hadn't checked how much Schuyler had to drink. Probably a lot for him to get so insufferable. "So you want to screw him."

 

"I don't. But I like to know that I could."

 

"I see."

 

"You never have that?"

 

"I do, but it's not the thing I like best about myself."

 

He suddenly stood up, his eyes on his prey, and darted towards the bar. I was shocked he actually went through with his ego-boosting scheme. I didn't turn around to watch, I couldn't. I felt ill, nervous, upset. I could deal with not having sex with Schuyler (it was after all my own wish, buttressed by my foregoing of alcohol and my fucking a tattooed ass a few hours before). But I knew I'd be sick if Schuyler ended up being fucked by anyone else than me that night. I wanted to leave, I gulped down the beer I had ordered, and pondered the way to get out of the bar without being seen. Before I could make a move, however, Schuyler was back, shaking my shoulder, obviously rattled and a little angry.

 

"Come on, Ben, let's go!"

 

"What? Why? What happened?"

 

"Nothing happened. The guy is a fucking hooker. And an expensive one at that. This is so fucking embarrassing. Let's go! I'll walk you home"

 

I tried to hide relief and amusement. I don't know how successful I was. "I'm fine, I'm going to finish my beer. You go."

 

"You beer is empty, Ben" he said, coldly.

 

"I was thinking about getting another one."

 

We stared at each other in silence. There seemed to be a creeping, silent rage in his beautiful brown eyes. His tanned cheeks reddened.

 

"Fine. We'll talk. Thanks for dinner."

 

"Yep. We'll talk. Drive safely home."

 

And he left. His departure created a comforting, blissful silence. I breathed. I smiled. I chuckled. The night was over, finally. I felt good. I realized some music was playing, The Velvet Underground coming out of the jukebox. It felt like a sign. I did want to have a beer, I did want to finally let myself get just a little drunk. I walked up to the bar and ordered a Rolling Rock. When the bartender handed it to me, a voice said "That's on me". I turned around and saw the guy Schuyler had just hit on. He had moved and sat down right next to me. He gave some money, motioned for me to sit on the stool next to his and clinked his own beer bottle against mine.

 

I didn't want to sit down. I had actually looked forward to spending ten minutes alone in this bar, to exhale Schuyler out my mind and my thoughts before I headed home to a welcoming empty bed. And, yes, I had little interest in being propositioned by a prostitute, if that's what this guy indeed was. But my vestigial good manners, as they sometimes do, led me to sit and cheer. I had had sex with men in the past just because it felt rude to say no, so I silently made the firm resolution not to have sex for money just because it might be impolite to decline.

 

"Your friend left."

 

"Yeah, he did."

 

"Anything I said?"

 

I laughed and turned towards him, actually looking at him for the first time. He wasn't beautiful, but I could see how Schuyler, especially from a distance, had found him hot. He looked a little rough, beaten by life. His very raspy voice seemed to indicate he was someone who had smoked and drunk a little too much for his own age. His sad and baggy eyes sent the same message, even if his wide mouth with thin lips had a fixed, permanent flat smile. It gave him a knowing look, warm and wise. A bit dangerous too. Or maybe I was thoroughly projecting his supposed profession onto his appearance. But I didn't think so – I knew a clean, healthy man when I saw one. He had disheveled dark hair, with slightly greying temples despite being in his late twenties. A good square jaw, a big nose, large but sparse eyebrows, very dark deep eyes, and ginger freckles splattered over his cheekbones.

 

"Might have been, yes."

 

"Oh, well. Sorry if I ruined your evening."

 

"No worries there."

 

He looked straight ahead, then scanned the bar, then looked at his beer. His silence did not come with unease or embarrassment. I couldn't tell if he was casually and coolly waiting for me to say something. I mimicked his oblivion and drank a little more. Yet, I did feel somewhat ill at ease. It was a ridiculous situation. If he was thinking I could be his next client, he was wasting valuable time. If he wasn't a hooker at all, then there was a misunderstanding to be cleared. By me?

 

"Listen," I said tentatively, "I, erm, don't know how to say this. But just in case you weren't pulling his leg... I'm not looking for, well, anything."

 

"Can't a guy just buy a beer for another guy?" he said, smiling faintly at my embarrassment.

 

"Not in a gay bar, not really. I mean, he can. There's just usually some intention that goes with it".

 

"I guess there usually is."

 

"So, why did you get me a beer?"

 

"Because you look like me and I'm a narcissistic prick, maybe."

 

I frowned. We both did have a three-day stubble, square jaws and big noses, maybe, but I hoped my own smoking and drinking hadn't taken such an apparent toll on my face. I was freckle-free and not greying anywhere. But I took a fuller view of him and got a better sense of what he was saying. We were both wearing worn t-shirts (mine blue, his black) under leather jackets, we both had jeans on, and we both wore the same pair of old Stan Smiths. Yet, still, he was a little shorter than I and filled his jeans and jacket with bigger legs and chest.

 

"I guess", I said, somewhat quizzically.

 

"Yes. Maybe I was just curious to see what kind of guy who dresses like me hangs out with such a cunt as your friend seems to be. No offence."

 

"He wasn't having a good night", I said, instantly puzzled by my willingness to defend Schuyler.

 

"Were you?"

 

"No, not really."

 

He looked approvingly at me, silently, and sipped some of his beer.

 

"Interesting way to scare him off, by the way."

 

"What do you mean?" he asked evenly.

 

"Telling him you were an... escort?"

 

"I am. I am a hooker. I do know it usually scares off dickheads like him."

 

"Ok, you can stop trash talking him. He's gone."

 

"You're right, sorry."

 

"Listen, just to avoid any misunderstanding -" I started to mumble.

 

"There are none. I'm not working tonight. I am just buying you a beer, because we have the same shoes and we both seem to like the Velvet Underground. All clear?"

 

"Yep. Sorry."

 

"Don't be."

 

"Why are you here on your own if you're not working?"

 

"Why are you?"

 

"Because I wanted to be alone just for a while and I live close by."

 

"Well, I wanted to be alone and I live uptown, so I don't really come across anyone I know here."

 

He resumed after a brief pause. "I don't do business in places like this, you know. This is not how I work."

 

"How do you work?"

 

"I work for some kind of agent, if you will. He books me."

 

"And business is good?" I asked, smiling.

 

"Yes, it is."

 

"I'm Benjamin, by the way. Ben." I held my hand.

 

"Hugo", he said, shaking it. "You want another beer?"

 

"I'm not done with this one."

 

"You will be soon. And I don't like the impending emptiness of a bottle with just an inch of beer left."

 

"Well, it's an inch full."

 

He chuckled and ordered two beers.

 

"Where are you from, Hugo?" I asked, trying to ignite some sort of conversation.

 

"Detroit suburbs, originally. You?"

 

"Philly. But I lived in a few places since then."

 

"Like?"

 

"New Jersey for school. California for a couple of years. Here."

 

"Nice."

 

"You said you live uptown?"

 

"Yes, Upper East Side. Fancy. It's actually my girlfriend's place."

 

"Oh."

 

"Yes, it's nice, though."

 

"I'm sure. Does she, like, know?"

 

He smiled. "About what I do? Yes, she does."

 

"She's cool."

 

"She is the essence of cool, Ben. She did make me stop taking on female clients, though. But that's okay. The real money is more with the men anyway."

 

"What is she like?"

 

"She's 45. She's a big shot corporate lawyer. Tough as nails. Fucking big personality. Scary to many, damned attractive to me. We never fight, we have great fun together. She gets me, you know?"

 

We talked some more. About how they met, how happy they are in the little bubble they have created for themselves, hermetically separate from their respective professional lives. He did inquire a little more about Schuyler, but in a gentler, more empathic tone. I didn't have much to say, or didn't want to. We finished our beer and shook goodbye.

 

"I hope to get to see you again, Ben. I'll make sure to stop by here every once in a while. I'm sure we'll run into each other."

 

"Yes, New York tends to work that way."

 

As I was stepping out, he softly grabbed my shoulder. "Or you could just give me your cell number."

 

I did and left to walk back home.

 

I wasn't drunk but I was a little light headed. As I got to my building, I sat on the step leading to the front door and lit a cigarette. The night was mild. I thought about Hugo, then of Schuyler, then back to Hugo. I liked him, I really did. Then, I found myself checking how horny meeting him had left me, as one checks his vitals after a straining experience. I was moderately horny, I concluded, which seemed appropriate after having spent an hour with a male hooker who grew sexier and charming throughout our talk. Yet, moderately horny might be a little over what could be expected after having fucked someone before dinner.

 

So, yes, there was an attraction to Hugo. But he hadn't been flirtatious at all, not a single moment, and neither had I – or so I sincerely hoped. It would be a great irony to shake off oscillating Schuyler to rebound on a straight male hooker. I knew better. And I wanted better than that, too. A friendship with Hugo promised much more than a quick hook-up, a free hand-out from a professional sex worker.

 

So against all odds or predictions that I could have made a few hours before, I ended my day lying in bed alone, taking care of that moderate horniness, shaking off all images of Hugo by concentrating on any other guy that came to mind, jerking off to the Asian skater, to the bartender (briefly), then, inevitably, to Schuyler.

 

* * *

 

Hugo did call the following week. We met up for a late drink, at the same bar, and talked for an hour. He called again, the week after, and pretty much each week of the following two months. We started to have a routine; we would either meet at the bar or take a long walk around my neighborhood. He loved walking; he said it was a nice change from his neighborhood. He liked "the energy", he said. I suspect walking also made our long silences together more acceptable, more comfortable. Because, as I said, he wasn't much of a talker. That is, he never really started a conversation nor asked any questions. But he could talk in fact, could get animated on certain topics, on certain issues that I would raise. He wasn't averse to talking about himself, he seemed genuinely interested in everything I had to say, and answered all the questions I would bring up. We talked about ourselves and about my family, a little bit. He talked a lot about Caroline, his girlfriend.

 

He did fit some of what I conceived as stereotypes of a prostitute: from what I gathered, he was a high school drop-out, grew up in a working-class family with an abusive father, headed to the big city to make a life for himself with few learned skills or talents. But he was also, as I slowly found out over the course of many encounters, an avid reader, passionate about European history and a frequent visitor to the Met, where he would often kill times between two clients. Yet, just before I was starting to knit him a cloak of the Romantic Hustler and dress him in it with care, I saw him once with deep scratches on his neck, the blood barely dried. He had met with me for a drink just after visiting an out-of-town client in a hotel. "Professional hazard," he said, dismissing my worried look. "Sometimes they do that." He moved on to another subject swiftly. My older brother, probably, who seemed to fascinate him a great deal.

 

We never really talked about his job, even if it never was explicitly off limit. Yet I can't tell if it just never came up or, more likely, I refrained from prying. It wasn't about prudishness; I held no qualms about Hugo's profession. I was probably unsure of my ability to mask my lingering curiosity and I didn't want to come off as a drooling letch.

 

I did once mention to him the fact that he never pointedly asked questions or started a conversation. He nodded, thinking, and left it at that. The following week, while we were still just ordering our drinks, he said "I told Caroline about what you said about me never starting a conversation."

 

"You did? You talk about me with Caroline?"

 

"Yes, all the time. Well, she said it might be because of how my fucked-up parents raised me. They never made us feel important, you know? I know it's lame, but they were mean motherfuckers. Caroline thinks that, to this day, deep down, I don't feel smart or important enough to take an active role in a conversation. Especially with an Ivy league guy like you."

 

"And do you believe that?"

 

"She's usually right about me, you know."

 

"Has she met your parents?"

 

He laughed. "She'd send Russian hit men to kill them off before that ever happens."

 

"So, ask me questions," I said after a pause.

 

"What do you mean?"

 

"We know each other well now. We're good together. You should feel comfortable asking me questions."

 

"Okay". He thought briefly before asking "Tell me more about your mother, then. I don't get her."

 

"Oh, no one does, Hugo."

 

And we talked. More than we ever had. We talked until the bar closed, talked some more walking to my place, talked some more while waiting for a cab for him. I talked about parts of my family history which I rarely broach (my mother, my younger brother). He talked about his Italian dad, his Polish mom, his two brothers (we were both the middle ones), his two little half-sisters (to whom he was trying to stay close, despite the distance, despite the difficult family dynamics). There was a little rage, a little emotion, both tamed by some kind of introspective detachment.

 

When he finally waved a cab (many had already driven past us), he hugged me goodbye, with two brisk pats on the back. "I'll call you next week", he said slamming the clunky door behind him.

 

* * *

 

It was two or three weeks later that the topic of his job was finally discussed. We were at the bar, and the heavy rain outside kept us from the walk Hugo had been looking forward to.

 

"Am I not the one who's always asking all the questions, now?" he said at some point, a little out of the blue.

 

"I don't think so. Why, you ran out of conversation?"

 

"No, I just wondered. I seemed to be doing better, though, right?"

 

"Yes, Hugo, you're being a good boy."

 

"Shut up. I was just saying."

 

"It's nice, though."

 

"Yeah, it is. But go ahead, ask questions. You haven't for a while."

 

He looked at me peculiarly, intently, expectantly.

 

"I don't know."

 

He looked down and took a little breath, with a slight exasperation. Or was it disappointment?

 

"Come on, Ben, you can ask me about what I do. Everyone does."

 

"You talk about that with everyone?"

 

"I didn't say I answered their questions. Or that I'm happy they're asking questions in the first place."

 

"Ok. Well, I guess I didn't feel like asking stuff like `what's it like to be an escort?'".

 

"You can call me a hooker, Ben, you really can", he said with a warm, engaging smile.

 

"Ok." I waited a bit, unsure of where and how to start. "I guess I wonder why you do it. Why you still do it, I mean. Caroline seems well off and your relationship seems healthy enough that she'd be ok with supporting you while you find the opportunity to do something you really like to do."

 

He looked puzzled. Hurt, even. I regretted instantly asking that question, even though I wasn't sure exactly what I had said that elicited that look.

 

"What makes you say that I don't like what I do?" he asked, sternly.

 

"Nothing. You're right. I guess nothing made me think that you might like it either."

 

"Because we've never talked about it, not really."

 

"Indeed."

 

"Well, I do like it," he said lowering his look, "I really do."

 

Asking "why?" felt rude and inappropriate, yet he couldn't possibly leave it at that. He lifted his head and looked at me straight in the eye and started talking.

 

"I like it because I'm good at it, Ben. This is the one thing at which I am actually really good. I'm a welder, you knew that? No, I don't think I've ever told you. Well, I'm a welder. I weld things and I'm okay at it. I used to try and do that for a living, and I did, for a few years. Then I fucked up a couple of times because of a drug problem I had for a while. So I quit and focused on my welding, on getting jobs. Yet I knew I wasn't great, I was just decent. My bosses were happy, they paid me, I went home, it was all good."

 

He took a sip of his beer. "But now, Ben, I am doing something I am actually good at. It feels amazing, it really does. I don't talk about what I do, but I'm fucking proud of what I do. Because, Ben, I'm one of the fucking best out there. I really am. It is nice of course to make money out of it, I wouldn't do it for free. This is a job, but one where I am finally accomplishing something. And I don't have to think it'll end tomorrow. It might, but like Caroline tells me, it doesn't have to, not right away. Do you get that? Am I making any sense?"

 

"You are."

 

"I told you Caroline asked me to stop taking on female clients. There is another reason why it wasn't a problem at all; I'm better at my job with men. I don't know why, I just am. I'm guessing, with women, I'm trying to be a lover to them? Or there is always a risk of some kind of emotional attachment? I don't know. I don't think so. I think I just don't get women the way I get men."

 

"But you get Caroline?"

 

"Yes, of course. But we've known each other for a long time now. We've learned each other, you know, like a fucking foreign language. I'm fluent in Caroline now, I guess." He chuckled at his own joke.

 

"But with men? You speak native?"

 

"Yes, I guess."

 

"But don't gay men speak a different tongue than you? And do all gay men speak the same language?"

 

"Ok, let's drop that fucking metaphor. Then thing is, I get men. That is, I get my clients. Very quickly. I get what they want and I try to be what they want me to be."

 

"Don't they just tell you what they want?"

 

"How can you think it's as simple as that? Listen, I'm sure you've had at some point a guy who told you he wanted you to fuck him, right?"

 

"I have."

 

"Well, how do you fuck him? How do you know how he wants to be fucked?"

 

"Position wise?"

 

"No, that's just a means, not an end. Does he want it rough or gentle? Does he want you to talk or not? Does he himself want to shout or does he secretly want you to tell him `shut up, bitch'"?

 

"I don't know, Hugo. I think you're overthinking this. If a guy wants me to fuck him, first that's a big turn-on, and second, you just go with the flow. You sense things, you adapt your rhythm and all. I don't know."

 

"See, but you're talking about your own turn-ons. You adapt to the guy, sure, but how many different ways do you really have to fuck a guy?"

 

"What do you mean?"

 

"I mean, being a hooker, a good one, means that sex has nothing to do with you and with what turns you on. It's all about the other guy. He's paying and he wants precisely what he is looking for. He is not interested in going with the flow, adapting his wants to yours and finding a happy combination. He is not interested in asking you nicely to go deeper or slower, he wants you to know and realize his wishes without having to express them."

 

"So you never have clients who shout `fuck me harder'?" I asked jokingly.

 

"Of course, I do", he replied in all earnestness. "But that's because they get a kick at screaming it. I can fuck them as hard as I want, if it turns them on to be sluts begging for more, they will. My job is then not only to fuck them hard but to ask them `Is this hard enough for you?'."

 

"Okay, but you're just describing good sex. Being attuned to the other guy's needs or kinks or whatever."

 

"Well, sure, these are the signs of a good lover. But in real life, you do factor yourself in too, you're not that altruistic. And you shouldn't be, it's a two-way street. But don't tell me that sex with strangers is always amazing."

 

"Well, the fact that it is with a stranger is part of the turn-on, often. But yes, I guess it can be a disaster."

 

"Exactly. Well, my job is to have sex with strangers and make it damn fantastic every single fucking time. So fantastic that they are willing to pay for it and, possibly, come back for more. And the only way to be good at that is to remove yourself completely from the equation and to be able to perceive exactly who they want you to be and what they want you to do. And you're a fucking sex genius if you manage to do things that they didn't even know they wanted, but you felt instinctively, things your gut detected."

 

He had to catch his breath. He suddenly stood up and asked "You want another beer?" I nodded and he darted off to the bar. He came back quickly, still looking absorbed. After taking a swig of my drink, I asked him "What did you mean by `who they want you to be'? Like role play?"

 

If he was disappointed by my rudimentary grasp at what he was trying to say, he didn't show it. "No, not really. I mean, I wouldn't describe it like that."

 

He seemed to think, looking away, sipping at his beer. He had never talked so much, so assuredly, so vibrantly. I felt a pang of pride and pleasure at being the one person, right there, right then, who had been able to ignite such energy within him. I should have been tamed by an ounce of shame for giving in to such egotism, but I clearly wasn't. Yet, I felt a slight unease. Hugo's charm and attraction had sprung from the novelty of interacting with someone who, when he wasn't guarded, was raw, simple in a way, but sensitive and blunt. Yet to me he was never intelligent: most of his introspection seemed to come from the caring and positive life stewardship Caroline offered him and most of his piercing observations on the world around us had to be either extracted or reconstructed from our slow-paced dialogues. That night, though, I realized that his lack of formal education might only impact his eloquence, not the emotional intelligence needed to make sense (albeit fortuitously or laboriously) of what drives and fucks with people's hearts and minds.

 

I stared at him, at his long thin lips shining with traces of beer, at his dark blue t-shirt gnawed at its collar and stained on the left shoulder. He shook his t-shirt vigorously, something I had noticed him doing whenever he felt hot and needed a little breeze. He sniffed loudly, still thinking, still looking away. His beautiful, strong, hairy left hand (with bitten to the core fingertips) was flat on the table, occasionally tapping briskly, as if conjuring the words he was looking for to finally, at long last, tell me what he needed me to understand, what he knew, who he was, who he really was.

 

I was ready to listen just as he appeared ready to go on again.

 

"Say you're walking in the street, or strolling in a bar, looking around. You spot someone, you find him hot, desirable. You don't know him, but you feel like you do. You assign him a type, you like that type. He's projecting something, right?"

 

"I guess, yes."

 

"No, don't guess. It's important. Well, if you start talking to that guy and what he says or the way he says it doesn't match how you had perceived him, there is a disconnect. You don't like his voice, or where he is from surprises you, or what he does doesn't match what you saw, or he's really fucking stupid. Whatever. And I'm not saying the surprises are always bad. It's just that, when you talk to a guy, he becomes a real guy and he's never exactly what you had seen, what you had pictured."

 

"Sure."

 

"Well, a good hooker, in my opinion has to match the client's expectations, the closer the better. Clients are looking for a type. They're usually, almost always, quite specific about it. It's not like in love, when you marry a brunette after years of lusting after curved blonde chicks. When I say `type', it's actually not so much the physical features, as what you project, right?"

 

"Right."

 

"Mike, he's my boss, if you will, the guy who books me clients, he has different guys to offer to clients, to match their needs. My friend Billy, for instance, looks fucking young. I mean, really young. He's this short, blond, pale, skinny teenager. He's 22, I think, but he looks barely eighteen. Well, Billy and I are not in a competition. You'll never have a client who'll tell Mike `Oh, I don't know about tonight, send me Billy or Hugo, it doesn't matter'. I'm not saying Billy and I never had a client in common, but I'm saying that, because we're so different, if the client chooses one over the other for a job, it stems from what he wants at that moment and from how he sees Billy or me."

 

"I get that".

 

"Well, my point is whatever Billy's true personality or turn-ons, he knows that, in the eyes of clients, he will always be a boy. As long as he looks the way he does, at least. So, for instance, he really doesn't get to fuck all that much. But you wouldn't believe the number of clients who, at some point or another, ask him to call them Dad. That's his thing and he has become quite good at it. He's very much in demand."

 

"And what you're saying is, there's an art to it."

 

"Yes, exactly. I don't know what Billy's sex life actually is when he's not working. His boyfriend looks like him, just with brown hair. I doubt he calls him Son. Now, the thing is, or the art is, I guess, to both know exactly what to be and get into that skin, but also not to let it eat you. I have another friend in the business, Tyron, big guy, African American, super tall with a bunch of muscles. The sweetest guy ever too. Tyron had it tough, growing up. He's gay and it wasn't easy. He had to get himself out of hell and come here to Manhattan and really try fucking hard to be himself and be happy. All his friends are white now, he's like a fucking Uncle Tom. No one in his family speaks to him. He became a hooker to make ends meet, but he was also trying to go to some school. Anyway, clients like him. A lot. For a while, Mike couldn't juggle all the requests. But you get it, right? Men want Tyron because he's black. He is really, literally, just defined, advertised, and bought because of his race. Color-blind America, my ass. It fucking messed him up. He was trying to reinvent himself in his real life and he was constantly slammed down in his work. And, fuck, he just couldn't take any more slavery references."

 

"Slavery?"

 

"Yes, fucking slavery. I'm not talking bondage stuff. I'm talking about "who's the master now?" bullshit, "be my slave" or "make me your slave" stuff. It really, really messed him up. He was never strong to begin with, but that didn't help. He started doing drugs again. He still does. He had to quit the job, or take a break I guess, because he couldn't get it up – and that's the death toll for a hooker who's mostly hired to be a top."

 

I looked around me. For the first time that evening, I was wondering whether Hugo's voice carried further than would make me comfortable. It's not that I would have been embarrassed of being overheard as such, but the weight, the potency, the fierce rot of Hugo's words were so vindictive and incriminating that I felt like the crowd had to be protected from these nasty, ugly truths. He may have sensed my unease, because he warmly patted my hand and smiled. "But that's just an extreme case, I guess. Billy's doing a great job. And me, as I said, I'm really proud of what I accomplish."

 

"So, what is your type? What do men see in you that you have to play up?"

 

"Look at me. Think."

 

I did. "I know what I see in you. I'm not sure other guys see the same thing."

 

"Well, maybe because you know me now. We're friends." I didn't have time to relish the jolt of emotions that came from hearing these words. The first time you say `I love you' in a relationship is a little electrifying; the same, I discovered, holds true in friendship.

 

"Me?" he swiftly continued, "I'm pretty sure I'm typically the straight guy they had a crush on in high school, the one they longed for secretly, or the one they were bullied by. The jock. Maybe a little thuggish too, a bit on the wrong side of the tracks. But being the token straight guy is just the beginning. What do they want from that straight guy? Some want me to hold them and tell them they're hot, beautiful and awesome. They want me to make love to them. They want to be, finally, accepted. Even if they're 60 years old and make shitloads of money, that's the feeling they're still running after."

 

"Isn't it pathetic?"

 

"Don't fucking judge them, Ben. Ever. Out of respect for me, if not out of respect for them. We're all chasing ghosts, you know."

 

"I know."

 

"Some want me to fuck them hurriedly and beg them not to tell anyone. They dig the whole closeted jock thing. Some want to jerk off with me watching straight porn. But a lot of them just want to watch me do stuff, sometimes while talking to them. Some want me to abuse them, verbally or physically or sexually. But it's all about knowing exactly how far they actually want you to go."

 

"And you do."

 

"That's why I'm good at my job too, yes."

 

He took a large gulp from his beer. "Then some want to fuck me, like they finally managed to conquer the fucking Everest or defeat the fucking Minotaur. A lot of my clients do. But it can get pretty nasty sometime. When fucking me is not revenge enough for the pain they went through in their youth, some of these guys need to beat the shit out of me. And I cannot fight back; I have to take it and beg for mercy."

 

"So, the scratches on your neck I saw recently...?"

 

"Nah, that was another kind of client." He didn't seem willing to elaborate. He looked suddenly done, actually. Content, warm, at peace. He just said, feebly "Do you get it?"

 

"Yes, Hugo. I think I do."

 

"Do you have any other questions?"

 

I gave a weak half laugh. "Well, I don't know. You've said plenty. I guess, I don't know - I guess I have one question. Don't take it the wrong way but –"

 

"I'm pretty sure I won't".

 

"Well, okay. How do you get hard? I know you're straight, I do know that. And you have all this gay sex which, presumably, is not your thing. I know you said it's not about you and it's all about the other guy. But still. All guys get limp sometimes or just can't get it up. We've all been there. How have you not?"

 

He laughed briefly. My question obviously seemed an easy one to field. "You guys all ask that question."

 

"I thought you never really talked about all this with other people."

 

"I don't, but a lot of clients love to dig into the whole straight thing. Here again, my answer depends on what they want to hear. Usually, I just let on I have to take a lot of Viagra with my other clients but that, with them, it usually comes easy. Or I play up the confused part, for some who need to hear that maybe, just maybe, I'm actually gay and they get to me with some kind of unique fucking ability."

 

"And they believe you."

 

"People believe what they want to hear. Especially when they're paying for it. I'm not saying they still buy it when they're back later at their place or alone in their hotel room. But when I'm with them and I talk, they listen and they believe me."

 

"And what's your answer for me?"

 

"One that you might not understand or totally get, actually. I do take a lot of Viagra, that much is true. I really hope they're not gonna come up with some fucking study which shows that using too much of the stuff will make you go bonkers or something. But the thing is, I can get hard. Always. Maybe it's just doing my job well that turns me on. I don't know. Plus the fact that me fucking only happens with maybe a third of my clients. For anything else, a semi-hard cock is usually enough. But you have to be able to cum. That's very important. And the more, the better. So masturbating alone is the one thing I've had to forego. Between my job and my sex life with Caroline, it's just not feasible. But that's a small price to pay. I'll jerk off when I'm retire."

 

* * *

 

Something shifted in my friendship with Hugo. He certainly didn't behave any differently, or if he did, his transformation was slow and subtle and all leading him to be more at-ease, more eager to see me and to talk, more joyful and keen at times too. He wanted me to meet Caroline; I did, during a delightful, even if strange, dinner at their place. He was ready to share a little more about his job; he did and I got to hear more about his clients, about Mike, about Billy and Tyron.

 

But the deepening of our frail bond, the intimacy that had descended upon us, felt like clothes too large and too heavy for me to walk with easily. As nonsensical as it may sound, Hugo's careful, detailed autopsy of the sexual politics of his job had actually sexualized him in a new way. A friendship with a hooker, a gay-straight alliance, an exclusive emotional intimacy with a social outcast: the concept of our friendship had appealed to the smug liberal, self-righteous gay hipster that I was. Tom Sawyer was hanging out with Huckleberry Finn, the oldest story in male bonding. Yet, as hard as I tried to wave off any signs of sexual attraction that would expose (to me or him) my empathic friendly presence as a fraud, it became increasingly difficult to ignore what dozens of fleeting instances were clearly indicating: I wanted to have sex with Hugo.

 

It was indeed the only logical conclusion to my growing feverishness whenever I would meet him – and especially when we'd hang out after a job he'd had just performed with a client. I'd glance at his hands and would see them gripping his dick, at his fingers and would see them fingering himself, at his shoes and would see his feet up in the air, at the patchy hair on his stomach, revealed briefly when he stretched and yawned, and would see drops of his cum, of my cum smearing it. I looked at his lips when he talked and would see them around my cock.

 

My confusion didn't extend far. It was clear to me I did not want to date him, to hug him tightly, to whisper sweet stanzas to his shivering ear. My attraction to him was indisputably not adorable. I wanted to fuck him, fuck him hard. Just once. I wanted to own him. Just once.

 

There was no way to escape reflections about what he said, what he told me about his clients' translations of their inner emotional baggage into the sexual appropriation of his body, of his persona. I cringed at the crass analogy: men filled Hugo's hole to fill a hole inside themselves. What did Hugo ignite within me? He was thuggish, a little. He was straight. But I had never been bullied (if anything, I couldn't help but shamefully remember some bullying on my part, directed at easy, impressionable targets, when I was very young). There was no revenge to be taken.

 

And I had had sex with self-proclaimed straight men, many enough to have found the validation I had sought, if indeed such was my unconscious drive. Or are we this damaged that most of us never get fully over the disorientating gnawing realization of being different? My good friend Tom uttered once with exasperation: "Stop talking about `straight-looking' guys, Ben. It makes you sound pathetic." I had learned the lesson. See the beauty in all of us, and all that. That is, I had learned the lesson to be careful with my words.

 

"Can I say `masculine', then?".

 

"I guess, Ben. Or just say `hot'. It usually does nicely. If masculine is your thing, just go for it, but don't make it a benchmark universally forced down our throats. And if masculine equals straight for you, then talk to a shrink."

 

Fine. Point taken. Thank you Tom. And yet there I was. There I was when that call from Hugo came.

 

"Ben, hey, it's me." I was supposed to recognize his voice instantly, even without caller ID (I had an old phone), the way some slightly possessive friends expect you to.

 

"Hugo."

 

"Yes. Listen, I don't know how to say this. Ask this. I'm just gonna come out and tell you, but please, feel free to say no, to say I'm crazy or sick or whatever. It's just, I'm in a situation".

 

"Okay".

 

"Right. Okay, I've got this client who I have to see in an hour or something. He's a new one. The thing is, he wants another guy present. Just a watcher. I'm pretty sure it's just a watcher he needs. Mike had set up the whole thing with a guy, but the dude just bailed out this morning. Mike didn't tell me before now because he thought he could fix it. But he couldn't find anybody on such short notice."

 

"Right," I said, too frozen to know if I felt trepidation or excitement at where this was obviously going.

 

 

"I thought about Billy, but the client wants someone `like me', apparently, and, well, Billy isn't. Tyron is out these days and I'm not sure he'd do the trick anyway. So... I don't know."

 

He left a pause. I refused to help him out, to finish for him with a smiling voice the question he left lingering. "So...?"

 

"Well, you know. Listen, Ben, I swear I wouldn't ask you if I absolutely didn't need to. But I want this client, he's new and loaded. So Mike tells me. I swear you won't have to do anything weird. It's pretty much watch him watch me do my stuff, I guess. No kinky shit. You may have to jerk off, but I'm not even sure about that. But you don't have to touch anybody, I promise. I made sure of that. And, of course, you'll get your cut."

 

I couldn't say no. I felt my refusal to perform such simple tasks would be taken as a sign that, despite my engaging sympathy and my eager listening, I judged him and his job in ways that would shatter the foundations of our friendship. I also did not want to say no. That is, I couldn't find the sense in me to steer away from anything that would deepen or solidify my unmanaged sexual attraction to him. I wanted to cave in.

 

"Fine. Where and when?"

 

He gave me the address of a hotel midtown and told me to meet him in the lobby an hour later. "All right?" he said, as if everything had been swiftly finalized.

 

"Wait. What... I don't know, what should I wear?"

 

He took a couple of seconds to answer. "I think you can dress pretty much the way you usually do. What are you wearing right now?"

 

"Short-sleeve red t-shirt over a white long sleeve. Cargo shorts. Sneakers."

 

"Ok, just nothing too clean-cut, I think. It sounds fine, just make sure you wear your older, dirtier sneakers. No baseball cap, no hoodie, nothing of that sort."

 

His precision and professional no-nonsense tone struck me. He was working. He was at work.

 

I didn't have much to do to get ready. It was early in the evening, I had showered after the gym on my way from work. I wish I hadn't; I wish I had to hurriedly busy myself with multiple grooming or dressing tasks, so that I wouldn't have to spent the next thirty minutes pacing around my apartment.

 

I was nervous, excited. But nothing felt momentous. I had never really thought I would actually have sex with Hugo and it had never crossed my mind that I'd be some day on a job with him. My fantasies about Hugo had only involved our tight little twosome, in settings far removed from what I pictured his working environment to be. This arrangement was a sudden, unforeseen fabrication. It was not the ultimate realization of a much played private mental porn movie. But it might have been a way to get some lack of resolution out of my system.

 

I arrived early, but Hugo was already standing outside the hotel. "I thought it better to meet up on the sidewalk, I wasn't sure how we would've fit in inside, in this fancy lobby". Hugo looked like an off-duty construction worker. He was wearing old Timberland boots, baggy jeans, ragged green wool sweater under which protruded a white t-shirt, and an unflattering denim jacket. I had never seen him wear any of these pieces of clothing before. He must be warm, I thought, feeling my own sweat sticking my double layer of t-shirts against my back. He scanned me briefly, looked satisfied.

 

"Thanks for helping me out," he said, patting my on the back. "I owe you one. You have a cigarette?" Hugo rarely smoked nowadays and I wondered if he was nervous or whether this was part of his ritual. Did he have a ritual? I hadn't brought any cigarettes, to make sure I wouldn't cave in to the urge of smoking and ruining my breath. I wasn't supposed to do any kissing, but still.

 

"No worries. Let's just go. He might appreciate that we're a bit early". I followed him inside, mimicking his decisive walk towards the elevator. Had he been scouting the place beforehand? Hugo left a scenting trail behind him, one I had never noticed before. I couldn't tell if the musky smell was just from walking in the early summer heat, or because he hadn't (purposefully) taken a shower. We went up to one of the higher floors and easily found the room we were headed to. Hugo knocked firmly, twice. And the door quickly opened.

 

A man in his late fifties, I guessed, welcomed us silently, waving us to follow him inside. He was tall, thin, with cropped grey hair. His wore dark slacks and loafers and a white shirt striped with thin blue lines. He had opened his shirt halfway down his stomach, revealing a greying hairy muscled chest and a silver chain. He took good care of himself, he was closely, recently shaved. I didn't see a wedding band. He didn't smile nor talk.

 

"Hey," Hugo said, nonchalantly, "we're a bit early. We just got off work and thought we'd come straight here. We're pretty fucking horny. I'm Derek, as you know, this is my buddy Josh". So I'm Josh. I'm his buddy. We're horny, on our way back from work. What do we do? I felt it mattered, for some reason. Especially since our clothing styles did not tell an easy common story.

 

The man did not reply. Not immediately. He went to sit on the armchair between the window and the bed. On his way, he gently tapped on a neat little pile of folded dollars, laid on the desk. As Hugo walked past it, he discreetly grabbed the money and swiftly stuffed it in his pocket. I didn't see how much that was.

 

 

It was a fairly regular hotel room in its lay out and set-up, maybe a bit on the upscale side: it was a little roomier and the big, high bed seemed to be mahogany. Or some well-crafted imitation. "I'm Harry", the man finally said, as if conceding a bit of information of which he didn't really see the purpose. He spread his legs wide, relaxed his back and looked up at us, scanning our faces and bodies with a weary curiosity. "Well, it's time for you to take it easy, Derek. Especially if you had a long day. Just go on the bed and relax." He didn't address me, nor told me where to go. There was actually no clear place where I found it intuitive to position myself. The chair at the desk? The second armchair next to him? The bed? I silently cursed Hugo for not giving me more heads-up, for not telling me how a watcher actually watches.

 

But I couldn't just stand there. If I were Hugo and were so good at my job, so in tune to the client's wish, where would I go? I realized that if I kept overthinking the whole thing, I would just end up acting awkward. It's not building a rocket. You are Derek's buddy, you are horny and are eager to watch him do things (for Harry? to Harry? with Harry?). But Harry himself wants someone to watch the whole thing, which must have included himself. I went by the desk and half sat on its edge, positioning myself with a good view a both of them, yet making it easy to adjust if need be.

 

"When was the last time you had pussy?" Harry asked Hugo, who had removed his jacket and was slowly unlacing his boots, throwing them in the corner of the room.

 

"Oh man, like two weeks ago. Fucking long time."

 

"Good pussy?"

 

"Yeah, pretty awesome."

 

Harry was carefully watching Hugo's hands, following them as they lifted his sweater, then his t-shirt. He dropped them both on the floor, by Harry's feet. I recognized his stomach, at which I had previously a chance to glance. I was now in full view of his whole torso, half of his body, naked. I was startled back to attention by Harry asking Hugo "And your buddy? When was the last time he had pussy?"

 

"Last night," Hugo said before I could decide whether I had to answer a question about myself that wasn't even directed at me. "He's a fucking horndog. He's a fucking pussy magnet."

 

"I bet", Harry replied, still not looking at me, transfixed by Hugo's excruciatingly slow unbuttoning of his jeans.

 

I realized there was a straight man on the bed pretending to be somewhat gay, a gay man at the desk pretending to be somewhat straight. What was Harry pretending?

 

"But me, no pussy for two weeks. I hit on a chick this weekend, but nada. Major fucking blue balls." Hugo said while he slid off his jeans.

 

"Did you beat off your meat?"

 

"Yeah, big time. Can't seem to get enough though. My cock's still fucking ravenous, you know?"

 

I wondered briefly if Harry knew what ravenous meant. He most likely did, he looked educated (or did he just look wealthy?), but I then wondered why Derek would use such a word.

 

"Yeah." Harry suddenly grunted huskily. Apparently, `ravenous' had done the trick. "Well, Derek, it's time to get off. I got you stuff in that bag there. Should help you shoot a nice wad. Just do your thing. Don't mind me or your buddy."

 

"Yup."

 

Hugo was now only wearing a pair of white briefs and black socks, so loosened they seemed too big for his short but wide, strong feet. His body was quite spectacular, to me and obviously to Harry who was watching every inch intently. I knew Hugo worked out ("I need it if I want to be a jock, but Ben, I'm telling you, the only two things I look forward to when I leave this job for good are quitting the gym and masturbating on my own"). His efforts showed. His arms, chest and legs were strong, healthy and filled, in stark contradiction with the sexy yet slightly sickly features of his beat-up face. He only had hair on his hands and feet, on his lower arms, around his navel and crotch and on his calves. The rest of his skin was smooth and pale, with many freckles on his shoulders.

 

He sat on the bed, his back against the headboard, his body slightly tilted as to be half-turned towards Harry. He kept his socks on. If anything he did was done on purpose, I wondered what that aimed to achieve. He slid a hand inside his briefs and started to fondle his dick, half closing his eyes. "You're thinking about that chick you banged two weeks ago, he?" Harry asked.

 

"Yeah", Hugo whispered back.

 

"Big tits?"

 

"Fuck yeah."

 

Harry undid his belt, slowly, and unzipped his pants. He cupped his crotch with his right hand. "She liked that big schlong of yours?" he asked Hugo.

 

"Yeah", Hugo said again. He lowered his briefs to his knees. His cock was now exposed.

 

"Man, she must have loved that monstrous fuckstick", Harry hoarsely mumbled.

 

Hugo's cock was not monstrous by any means, but it was appealing in its own right. Short but very thick, veiny: even half hard as it was then, his cock seemed to tell a story, seemed to be worn, a little damaged and polished by heavy usage, by hours of masturbation, of penetration, of `banging hot chicks' as Harry would have it.

 

Hugo reached for the bag Harry had mentioned earlier, glanced through it and took out a bottle of lube. He generously spread some on his cock and his hand, then glanced up at me, the first time our eyes met since we had entered the room, questioning whether I wished some. Without waiting for my answer, he threw the bottle at me, "Here you go, buddy, let's knock ourselves out." I barely caught the bottle and put it on the desk, since I was still fully dressed. I took it as clue to participate a bit more, to be more actively watching. Harry still hadn't pulled his dick out and I felt I should wait a little.

 

Hugo's dick was becoming quickly hard; it didn't grow that much, but its girth, wrapped in his strong hand, gave it a sense of formidable force. My eyes went from Harry to Hugo and back. And back again. I could see the tip of Harry's own hard cock, sticking out of his Calvins. Hugo was stroking slowly, squeezing forcefully his dick glistening with lube. He was wiggling his toes inside his socks, which were bunched down at the ankles. He used his other hand to rub his chest, stomach and nipples. He then got rid of his briefs entirely, pulling them away swiftly and throwing them randomly. They landed between Harry and me, and we both caught each other looking at them. They looked slightly stained.

 

My own erection was then clearly obvious, easily and graphically outlined by the loose boxers and shorts I was wearing. I rubbed it over the fabric, feeling the surging arousal blurring my focus, realizing that I also had forgotten to ask how long such a session was expected to go on for, and hence, how long I myself was expected to last.

 

Hugo reached for the little plastic bag again and pulled out a bottle of what looked like poppers. Indeed, he sniffed it briskly, twice in each nostril. He quickly screwed the cap back on before going through a short, intense trance: his lifted his legs and shook them a bit, his left arm was flatly, violently hitting the mattress, his right hand was clenching tightly his reddened dick. His head tilted backwards as he groaned.

 

He relaxed, opened his eyes and looked straight at Harry. "Wow" he huskily said, before handing the bottle to Harry. Josh gets the lube, Harry gets the drug.

 

Harry took a hit, let out a long "fuuuuck", and replaced the bottle on the edge of the bed. "How hard did you bang that chick?" he asked.

 

"Oh, man. Real fucking hard. So hard my dick hurt."

 

"You played with her clit too?"

 

"Yeah, I love it."

 

"Show me".

 

Hugo surprised me by lifting his knees up, trying to wipe some lube out of his wet dick and rubbing his fingers gently on his asshole. I hadn't a perfect view, as Hugo was turned more in Harry's direction. But just as if he had read my mind, his legs went a little higher, revealing his plump fingers playing with a lightly hairy asshole.

 

Without thinking, I unbuttoned my shorts that dropped to my ankles, and took my cock out through the boxers. I lubed myself before lightly throwing the bottle back in Hugo's direction. I don't need lube, as I am uncircumcised, but I felt I had to use it if Hugo wanted me to have some.

 

Hugo took the lube and shifted position a bit. He straightened both his arms towards his crotch, lifted his legs, squeezed some lube on one hand, pulled his ballsack with the other. He then applied all the lube on his hole and started to play with it again, using three fingers – not unlike the way a woman masturbates in straight porn.

 

His feet slammed back down on the bed, then were lifted up again. His back was bucking, his eyes were closed, he was moaning softly, almost musically.

 

Harry stood up and got close to the bed. It was the first time he really moved since he had sat down, apart from a slow stroking over his briefs. He buckled his pants back, loosely, as not to have them drop. He grabbed the bottle of poppers, unscrewed it, then gently placed it under Hugo's nostrils, pinching a side of his nose while Hugo, who hadn't stopped playing with his hole, powerfully sniffed with the other.

 

The effect of the hit was quick and astounding. His wet hole, which had seemed somewhat clenched from what I could see, suddenly loosened up and engulfed Hugo's three fingertips. He darted them in and out a few times, with a little frenzy, groaning "Oh man, that's so fucking good. You fucking know how to open my cunt, man."

 

Harry sat back, pleased. He unbuckled his pants again and slid his right hand down his briefs. The fingers of his left hand were tapping the armrest of his chair, nervously or musically. I was disturbed, uneasy at the turn things were taking or seemed to be potentially taking at any time.

 

"Look at your cunt. You beautiful wet cunt. Fuck, man, you got quite a pussy. You need to fill your cunt like you filled that chick's cunt", Harry said, commandingly.

 

To my own surprise, I felt like punching his face. I didn't know whether I could physically stand him using that word again. It was awful. It stank. This guy who sat there smugly in his leather armchair in his stupid fucking five-star hotel, was taking it too far, defiling women, defiling Hugo, defiling my Hugo. But I noticed, with a flash jolt of horror and shame that I was still rock hard. And I wasn't even touching myself.

 

Hugo was now fingering himself with a quivering pace and energy. His body was convulsing, contorting, thrashing about. He repeatedly groaned something, something I couldn't make out, until, gradually, his words became clearer and more audible. "I want a fucking cock. Fuck, I really want a cock in my cunt. So bad. Fuck, Harry, I really need it bad."

 

Harry then, finally, took his dick out of his briefs, which he pulled slightly down, along with his slacks. I couldn't figure out why he had voiced such exaggeration at the size of Hugo's dick, as his own was clearly larger, larger than many in fact. His pubes were all grey and he seemed to have a little tattoo just below belt-level.

 

I wasn't ready to see Hugo get fucked by Harry. I just wasn't. However hard my cock was and whatever that may have seemed to mean. But that wasn't the plan, and I was the last one to understand that. "Josh," Harry said, "help your buddy out." I froze. I barely heard the rest of his request. "Give him his present. It's in the bag". I must have looked confused. I realized that the bag on the bed had been pushed by Hugo's thrashing close to me and too far for him to reach without having to pull his fingers out of his ass.

 

I reached for the bag and saw a dildo in it. It wasn't huge, but it was one of the bigger models, a rubber one, shaped and molded as a fully erect penis. It was in my hand and, as I looked down briefly, I realized my right hand was holding my hard dick, my left one was holding, in a similar fashion, a hard, fake cock. I walked around the bed and handed the instrument to Hugo. "Fuck, thanks, buddy. Awesome," he said.

 

"Lube it", Harry ordered me briskly. Obediently, I took the dildo back from Hugo's hand and smeared it with a large dose. I retreated silently to my original position, realizing that Hugo had barely looked at me. He had watched hungrily the dildo being brought to him and hadn't even glanced up. Or if he had, he had looked at Josh.

 

Harry stood up again and repeated his offering of poppers to an eager Hugo. Again, the hit seemed to make his hole so loose, the dildo went half way in sloppily and swiftly. And Hugo started to fuck himself. And it was fantastic.

 

He seemed all at once to be having immense unadulterated fun, to be surprised at the sensation as if it were his first time, to be panicked at feeling so much pleasure from a forbidden orifice, to be grateful at Harry for showing him this new door to ecstasy. He even seemed to be signaling me that I, or Josh, should really try this too.

 

The sight of him, I uncomfortably realized, was blowing my mind, pulverizing my senses. Hugo, the whole naked mass of Hugo, was just a few feet away from me, thrashing about the bed, all his muscles tensed and shiny with a glint of sweat, his legs dangling rhythmically in the air - his strong, hard legs, with his socked feet drawing circles. His large ass was drenched in lube and a big dildo was sliding in and out of his ass. Or rather was pushed and pulled vigorously in and out of a devouring mouth.

 

I couldn't help stroking my dick faster and faster, harder and harder. I noticed one of Hugo's hands was still lifting, holding, pressing his ballsack and limp dick, as if to clear the view towards the stupefying show of his manic self-fucking. I turned slightly towards Harry. And I saw myself. For all our differences in age, appearance, social status, sexual longings, emotional history, or role in the current situation, we were both transfixed, jerking off our long hard cocks, oblivious to each other's presence. I saw his eyes widened and I turned back towards Hugo. He was now slowly pulling out the dildo of his gaping hole and, as it became empty, his hole contracted and loosened, as a huge mouth breathing and calling to be fed again. He pushed the dildo back in, then back out. Once more, the sphincter seemed to have a life of its own and was inhaling and exhaling the moist, musky, heavy air of the room. Everything smelled like sex and sweat, suddenly. It was intoxicating, pungent, and aggressive.

 

I was about to cum, I could feel it. I panicked briefly, not knowing if this was too early, not knowing where and how my own ejaculation would fit best in Derek's and Josh's release expedition. Hugo still wasn't hard and didn't give any sign of cumming soon. But I could sense that Harry was very close, just as close as I was. Instinctively, I moved slowly towards him, to his right, just behind him. He wasn't looking at me but I knew he knew I was about to cum. His stroking got faster, his grip got tighter. So did mine. I put my left hand on his shoulder, delicately, I squeezed him a bit, brotherly and wordlessly alerting him of the imminence of my orgasm. And I came. I shot a few loads straight ahead, the first ones landing on the edge of the bed, the other ones increasingly closer, until the last feeble jet landed on the hair of my left calf and on my shorts, bundled around my ankles.

 

I felt Harry tense up and saw him cumming. He dribbled, like a little fountain splashing drops in circles around his dick and pubes. He was silent, until he abruptly dropped his head back and muttered "Fuck". Then he took my hand, still resting on his shoulder, and tenderly squeezed it. I could feel the slime of his cum on his fingers.

 

Hugo took the dildo out of his ass and dropped it on the bed. He went on all fours and started to jerk himself off, quickly. I felt suddenly worried that I had reached orgasm too fast and had unprofessionally brought the client to a too quick resolution as well. But I didn't have much time to ponder more as Hugo surprised me by getting hard really fast and unexpectedly warned Harry that he was about to cum. This woke Harry back to full attention; he bent forward to be closer and see better, and gleefully watched Hugo spraying jizz all over the sheets.

 

* * *

 

We never really talked about that "session" (as Hugo liked to term the time he spent with his clients), except for a quick, immediate, mumbled refusal to take any money from him when we left the hotel and for a brief, genuine accolade I got from him when we were walking to the subway. "You're a natural. That went well".

 

I made a point not to let myself indulge and wallow in introspective debriefing of the lust and awe stirred by that encounter. My life outside of Hugo provided the necessary distractions: work was going extremely well, Schuyler made repeated charm offensives I found easy to rebuff lightly, and I was a dating a high maintenance video artist who fit all the clichιs I had expected since our first date: struggling (both professionally and emotionally), unreliable, needy.

 

My cool-headedness was soon tested again, however, as Hugo submitted another request for collaboration. He was comfortable asking me this time, as if he expected from me the same detachment from sex work as he himself had managed. He didn't use the phone, he asked point blank as we were taking a walk one night.

 

"I promise it's the last time I ask. Well, I can't promise that, actually", he said, easy and relaxed, a bit mischievous. "It's just, I know this client, he is an easy one to please and he is very generous. He wants someone else by my side. He even asked if I had a twin brother, which I thought was sweet, isn't it?"

 

It wasn't, not to me.

 

"Well, I don't, obviously. But of course, I thought about you," he said, when failing to get an answer.

 

"Why? I really don't get your thing about us looking alike."

 

"We don't look alike, sure. Well, actually, I think we do, a bit. But that's not the point. We're close enough in, I don't know, attitude and general look. It's not much effort to adjust a bit and play the same kind of guy."

 

"Hugo, I don't think I can play any kind of guy. I don't think I want to act at all."

 

"Don't worry, you won't have to. Just dress the way I'll tell you, and for the rest, just enjoy and go with the flow, as you said."

 

"What makes you think I would enjoy it?"

 

He stopped, a little baffled. He looked maybe a bit hurt, as if it pained him to have misread me. He hadn't of course, but I wasn't comfortable with him acknowledging I had had a kick out of my session with him or would again if we repeated it with someone else. I wasn't even comfortable acknowledging it to myself.

 

"Okay, well, Hugo, what would I have to do, what does he want? It's just watching and busting a nut again?"

 

"Well, I think there might be a little more. I'm pretty sure I can set the boundaries you'd be comfortable with. The guy isn't kinky at all. Well, you know, nothing crazy or filthy. He loves to blow. You okay with that?"

 

"Sure."

 

"I think we'll have to play up our best-buddies thingee too."

 

"Play up? I thought we were best buddies", I joked, grimacing hurt and offense.

 

"Oh, but of course", he cooed, visibly reassured by my less guarded tone.

 

"Okay, what else?"

 

"I think that's it. Well, he likes to fuck. But I'll take care of that."

 

"Yes, please do."

 

And so it was arranged. A couple of directions, a joke or two, some basic rules. Baseball hats were not only tolerated, this time they were required (his was a Yankees, mine a Mets – how inclusive).

 

"But...", I asked hurriedly, "like, what are we this time? Are we colleagues again?"

 

"Nah, we're friends. Good friends." He winked, but I couldn't tell if it was his way to tell me not to overthink the set-up or to acknowledge a beautiful, simple truth that would now permeate whatever situation we would find ourselves into.

 

"Okay, so we're like two straight buddies looking for a good time?"

 

"Yeah, pretty much."

 

"And is he?"

 

"What?"

 

"Straight."

 

"The client? Well, he likes to have sex with men. He likes to have sex with me. He never told me more than that, and I always had enough to work with." After a brief, reflecting pause, he added: "Does it matter?"

 

 

 

A couple of days later, we met yet again on the sidewalk of a hotel, in Union Square this time, went up another elevator, knocked on another door, and were welcomed inside another (quite similarly typical) room.

 

I was introduced to Mike. Dressed as a businessman, which he probably was, in a grey suit, shiny black shoes, white shirt and ugly tie, he was in his mid-forties, short and fit, with a salt-and-pepper neatly trimmed short beard, grey temples and black hair on top. He was cordial and friendly. "Derek, hey!" he said to Hugo, as if meeting with an old college buddy, "glad you could make it. How are things, man?"

 

Hugo hugged him, like guys do in a sports bar, and introduced me as Jimmy.

 

"So you guys play basketball together, right?" Mike asked.

 

Hugo hates all sports, I play soccer; Derek and Jimmy shoot hoops together.

 

"Yeah," Hugo said, "but that's just one way we fool around together." Wink, wink.

 

Hugo and Mike went on joking and winking in a buddy-buddy banter for a little while, leaving me time to try and acclimate myself to an atmosphere completely different than the one I also had to dive in head first when meeting Harry. I couldn't quite bring myself to join their chitchat, though. Then I noticed the same kind of swift, discrete exchange of money as I had witnessed with Harry.

 

Mike sat on the edge of the bed and, with scintillating eyes, motioned us to come closer. "Let's see what we've got here."

 

I followed Hugo who went to stand right in front of Mike, pulling me close next to him, removing both of our hats with a swift movement. Mike went straight to my zipper and opened my jeans like a child opens a present. His hand dove in my boxers, he grabbed my cock and pulled it out. "Dude, you didn't tell me your buddy was uncut".

 

I always cringe when I hear guys beyond their late thirties call each other `dude', but I was more struck by Hugo's brief look of surprise at watching my dick. He obviously hadn't been looking at me, at Josh, during our previous session. "Yeah," he mumbled, before acting like he'd seen my foreskin many times, "pretty cool, huh? I knew you'd dig it."

 

Mike left my dick dangling alone, slowly getting hard, and moved on to Hugo, who I noticed wasn't wearing any underwear. Mike grabbed both our dicks in each of his hands and looked at them appreciatively, slightly licking his lips. He dove on mine first, slowly taking it in his mouth, playing with his tongue interesting tricks on my foreskin, jerking me a little, while stroking Hugo. I got hard pretty fast and when I did, he turned his attention to Hugo's cock, deepthroating it at once, gagging a little, but studiously working on getting a full erection in his mouth.

 

Hugo put his arm on my shoulder, still looking down at Mike's bobbing head. Hugo muttered words of encouragement and appreciation, which led Mike to switch cock again and work on mine with eagerness and dedication. "He's good, isn't he, hey Jimmy?" Hugo asked. "Fuck yeah," I said, as Jimmy would have said it, I think.

 

Mike then tried to bring our two cocks close together, which forced us to move and turn a bit. He brought our dicks close to his mouth. He was now intensely looking up towards us, a dick in each hand, licking, kissing, sucking. His very look had changed a bit; he didn't have the smiling eyes of someone enjoying a good ol' time with his guys, he looked eager and desperate to please us, to please himself by taking in as much cock as he could and by trying to enjoy to the full this fleeting, sexually-charged moment.

 

And that's when Hugo slowly turned towards me, closed his eyes, moved his face gently forward and kissed me, just once and ever so softly, on the lips. He moved back, an inch maybe, then kissed me again, fully, passionately, his tongue expertly dancing with mine.

 

The sensation was exhilarating, heightened by the feel of the head of his cock against mine, and the dynamic tongue-lashing both were receiving from Mike. I felt Hugo's hand squeeze my shoulder tightly and if Mike hadn't stopped to speak, I may have ejaculated in his mouth.

 

"That's hot, guys. That's fucking hot", Mike whispered gravely. I saw Hugo faintly open his eyes to check on Mike's movements, who went back on our dicks with renewed enthusiasm, still staring up at us. Hugo kissed me some more, probably satisfied with the reaction he had gotten from Mike.

 

I disengaged myself a bit, to tell Mike, nicely, to go a little slower, because I might be really close. He let go of my cock and concentrated on Hugo's. Mike hadn't undressed a bit, but I could see clearly his erection in his pants. It seemed rock hard, and I thought I noticed some throbbing.

 

After a little while, Mike said, "I think we're all ready for some more fun, guys, aren't we? Derek, why don't you show off your hot bod for us and lie on the bed." Hugo undressed quickly, throwing all his clothes in a pile on the desk. He then jumped on the right side of the bed, on his back, his hard cock slamming his stomach. He patted the side next to him, signaling me to join him. I kept my clothes on, and my hand firmly on my dick, I sat on the bed, my back against the headboard, facing and looking at Mike who had stood up and lifted Hugo's legs.

 

"I know you like a nice tongue bath, Derek, don't you? That big ass of yours looks fucking good to me." He started rimming Hugo, very slowly at first, increasing his speed gradually. I was still, and again, a little amazed at how some guys use the lamest and most tired phrases and language they've picked up from porn. Yet I knew I did too, sometimes, and felt a little self-righteous for thinking I used them better and more sexily than Mike did. Mike was hot, in his own way. Mike was having great fun, he was a great cock sucker and apparently (if Hugo's moans could be believed) a great rimmer. Mike was enjoying himself, so who was I to get snarky at his choices of words, of set-ups that turned him on? I would have liked to suck Hugo's cock myself, I would have liked to rim him. Some fucking was likely coming next and I would have liked (in another room, in another context) to fuck Hugo myself. He was paying for it, he had decided to make it happen for himself. Good for him, I guessed. I should (yes, Hugo) go with the flow and enjoy myself.

 

Mike stood back up. Without unbuckling his pants, he pulled the zipper down and fumbled a bit before pulling out his hard dick. It was glistening with some precum; it was a rather average dick, yet attached to very large, hairy balls. It struck me as odd (or interesting) that he wouldn't undress at all, he wouldn't even pull his pants down. He looked like a photoshopped picture from a Brooks Brothers catalogue, where a hard cock had been cut and pasted on a random model's crotch. He opened the drawer of the desk, took out a condom, ripped it open and slid it hurriedly, but expertly, on his cock. "Man, I really want to fuck your ass."

 

He spit on his hands and rubbed it on Hugo's hole, already wet, I guessed, from his extensive rimming. Hugo lifted his legs, grabbed his ankles with both hands and gymnastically pulled them towards him. Mike positioned himself correctly and, holding his dick, pointed it towards Hugo's ass, before pushing himself inside. He was completely in within a few thrusts. Hugo expressed a little pain, with a faint smile and eyes half closed.

 

Mike used both his hands to spread Hugo's asscheeks even wider. He swung his tie over his shoulder and fucked Hugo rhythmically, dedicatedly, forcefully. His eyes were moist, as if peeling onions; he grunted softly, glanced at me occasionally, as if ascertaining from my look the excellence of his fucking. I reassured him the way I could, by jerking off intently and dynamically, with an open mouth and a stuck-out tongue.

 

Mike then grabbed Hugo's hard cock like a joystick, putting his other arm behind his back. He looked like a rodeo rider of some strange sort, but Hugo responded well to the pulling and stroking of his dick. Hugo looked up towards me, turning his head around. He looked happy and amused, but also pleading. For what?

 

Mechanically, I moved and got closer to him. He still had the same begging look. I lowered myself and kissed him.

 

I felt his surprise and startle, which froze me for a second. Then I thought I needed to go through with the kiss, if I had decided to start it in the first place. He finally opened his mouth and let my tongue inside. Our kiss, our second kiss, had to be brief, as I felt I had made the wrong move; Jimmy probably wouldn't have tenderly kissed Derek. But Hugo lingered on, I think, I'm pretty sure, I don't know.

 

It is Mike who interrupted it. "Hey buddy, move over a bit, will you? I like to watch Derek's face when he's taking a good pounding", he said amicably, but firmly. And he seemed to start fucking Hugo with more force, more brisk slamming. It looked like he wanted to hurt Hugo a bit. "Take this!" he grunted repeatedly. Hugo seemed in pain – Derek certainly was.

 

I was still shaken by my misguided spontaneous burst of tenderness and I felt a surging loathing for Mike. I wanted to kick him out of Hugo's ass, to punch him away from the bed where we two were lying so close together. Or else I wanted him to be gentle and warm towards Hugo, towards my friend.

 

I had quickly and efficiently fought off a similar burst of anger when dealing with Harry. My mind raced to find back whatever soothing ailment I had intuitively prescribed myself in these split seconds. But a seeping, sad, confused, imploring rage was choking me inside. I wanted to smash his bland, faux pornstar face. "You're fucking 45 and all grown-up and rich, you have a lost kid right in front of you who needs care and attention and praise and warmth and understanding. Be a man. Be a fucking human. Be a brother! Cut off your fucking dick for once. Have a fucking heart!" I was yelling inside but was actually blank and muted, gazing over Mike's banging, screwing, slamming of Hugo's ass, getting whatever worth he felt owed by his fast exchange of cash.

 

"You're about to cum, aren't cha, Jimmy?" Hugo said, snapping me out of my seeping rage. His voice sounded understanding, welcoming. I wasn't about to cum, but he may have (he must have) sensed that I was drifting away. He was reaching out. He was signaling me that the end could be close if I wanted to, if I needed it to be. I took his cue and starting jerking more intently, bucking my hips a bit so that my cum would fly to my face and chest. I didn't care whether it'd hit and soil my t-shirt, I just wanted to get out of there.

 

Mike noticed me and voiced his preference: "Cum on your buddy's face, Jimmy". I tried really hard not to think, reflect, consider, or reason. I just tried to focus on what I was, after all, doing there in the first place, I just tried to focus on Hugo's raspy encouragement ("Yeah, fucking cum on my face"). I stood on my knees, bent over a little and fiercely sprayed his face. I had heeded Hugo's professional advice ("Don't jerk off for two days before that session, if you can") and I regretted it. I wished I could have just trickled out a few drops of pale semen on his neck, missing the mark. Instead, I soaked with white goo his disheveled hair, his sweaty forehead, his big nose, his freckled cheeks, his long thin open lips and the stubble on his chin.

 

It was frighteningly, shamefully beautiful.

 

He shut his eyes tight in response and spit some cum out of his mouth, then exclaimed "Yes, fuck, yes". Hugo had told me he was pretty good at timing his orgasm ("part of the job"); he chose that moment to cum. Hugo's cock was still being jacked as a joystick and he came like a hose maneuvered by Mike, who seemed intent on spraying around the quite impressive volume of junk. After a couple more forceful thrusts, Mike emptied himself in Hugo's ass, theatrically tilting his head backward and groaning loudly.

 

He seemed to take a few seconds to recuperate, pull out his limping dick and take off the filled rubber, which he delicately put on the desk behind him, right next to Hugo's pile of clothing. Hugo jumped back up, his face still dripping with my cum and raised his hand to high five Mike. His hand was met enthusiastically, gleefully by Mike, who went on to try and high five me. It took all the little emotional strength I had left to reciprocate - the final act of this fucked-up charade.

 

* * *

 

During our brief walk towards the Union Square subway station, I felt the need to address, somehow, what had happened, whatever it was that had happened to me – and, possibly, to us. I did so in the safest way, easily too, thanks to Hugo's fixation on pleasing his clients.

 

"You think he was satisfied? I didn't make this shorter than he had wished for?"

 

"Nah," Hugo said, avoiding my eyes, "he was fine. I'm pretty sure the high five at the end was just the right touch. You know, I do believe that whatever sex stuff goes on, it's really the way you exit the stage that sets the right tone and caps your performance neatly".

 

So his professional expertise had saved the day and my implicitly acknowledged emotional blunder had been adroitly corrected. Fuck you.

 

"All right, good," I said, making my voice sound more tired than I actually was, "you go take your subway uptown, I'm just gonna walk back. I feel like a little stroll."

 

I saw a brief glimpse of panic in his eyes. "You don't want to grab a drink? Some food? I could fix you something at home, if you want. Caroline's away for a couple of days. We could just hang out."

 

"I'm good. I'm beat. I'll talk to you later". I hugged him briefly, perfunctorily, and headed back to my place. I did need a drink; I actually needed to get really drunk, alone and at home, I needed to drink myself into the stupor required to crash asleep without thinking about him, about Mike, about Harry. I did and it worked. It wasn't before the next morning, while the coffee was brewing, that I realized Hugo hadn't bothered, this time, to bring up the subject of my share of the money.

 

I concentrated hard in the following days, trying to brush aside any more thoughts about what had happened and how I had felt. But I wasn't as successful as I had been after seeing Hugo in professional action for the first time. I reached what I thought as a satisfying level of awareness when I managed to lay down the facts, in my head, during a lunch break at work. I do not love Hugo, I do not wish him to be my boyfriend. I am sexually attracted to him but, yes, this too shall pass. Hugo is my friend and I care deeply about him. Hugo's profession is not good for him, whatever his elaborate musings may claim. It pains me and saddens me, but it is Caroline's job to lift him out of it, not mine. I am not my brother's keeper.

 

And yet. Despite my self-professed resolution to uphold my friendship for him in all the ways it had so far blossomed, a change in my attitude soon became obvious to us both. I was a little less easily available for our meetings, I was a little less inclined to work my schedule around his, I was a little less comfortable with the recurring long silences that had typically punctuated our walks. I was a little less easily persuaded to get a third or fourth last beer before we parted.

 

After a time, Hugo became visibly nervous and tentative around me, as if trying to find the ways to appease a brooding spouse. He started to suggest new things for us to do together, new set-ups for our one-on-ones. "Isn't there an exhibit or something that you'd want to see?", "Why don't we go to Coney Island this weekend?", "I wish I had a car and we could just drive off to Atlantic City right now!" Still sulking, I declined all his increasingly imaginative propositions.

 

I took some time off and went to California for a couple of weeks, visiting friends and family. Hugo didn't like emailing much, but he did, even if sporadically – which suited me fine as I couldn't help being put off by the brevity and the spelling horrors that characterized his messages. I felt neither proud nor happy with my own behavior and attitude, but I knew, with a sense of building uncertainty, that I felt little joy about seeing him again when I'd return.

 

"I missed you, man!" he said enthusiastically when we did meet on my doorsteps, a couple of days after my return in town. When my feeble "me too" failed to meet the reaction he had hoped for, he repeated, more softly, "I really did miss you, you know."

 

We decided to walk down to Seward Park and sit on a bench, enjoying the last days of August. I felt wretched. Ungrateful and undeserving of his attention, his solicitude, his eagerness in the moment we were sharing.

 

After a long, painful silence, he slowly turned his look towards me and asked, mournfully, "So, what's wrong, Ben?" He placed his hand on mine and tried to lace my fingers with his. His gesture was clumsy, inadequate. He didn't even know how to hold hands. He knew how to have his sphincter gape for the lewd enjoyment of frustrated lonely men, but he didn't know how to hold my hand.

 

My face hardened, I could feel it. My whole body was forcefully refusing to follow him into a conversation that would inevitably expose what a stupendous mess I really was, and would batter to death the frail flesh of our relationship.

 

"I don't know, Hugo, I really don't." I said.

 

"Bullshit."

 

He seemed to quash pain and anger before resuming: "Say something. Try. This is fucking cruel. Don't do this to me."

 

"I'm sorry. I really am. I honestly don't know what to tell you."

 

"You're so fucking lame sometimes. What is it? Is it about that session we had? It is, isn't it?"

 

"I guess, yes."

 

"It was fine, you know. You did well. The guy was happy. I don't know why you got so worked up about whatever you think you did wrong."

 

"What do you think I did wrong?"

 

"I don't know. You tell me. What got you so worked up?"

 

"I shouldn't have kissed you." I blurted out, trying to reach for something, for a thread to pull that would help me, help us, get to the bottom of it all.

 

"I kissed you."

 

"No, the second time."

 

"Oh. Well, that doesn't matter. It just felt like the wrong moment, the guy had moved on to other stuff, that's all. But no sweat, it really didn't matter in the end."

 

"Will you stop talking about your client's fucking satisfaction? About my fucking performance? I'm not a pupil, trying to impress his master. That's not what I'm talking about. I shouldn't have kissed you, because it was all wrong. Because you didn't kiss me back. And when you did, you weren't kissing me, you were kissing whatever dumb jock I was supposed to be that day."

 

"Jesus, Ben." He seemed hesitant about his own reaction. Then he settled on anger. "Fuck, Ben, what are you talking about? You're blaming me because I don't want to bloody kiss you while I'm on a job? And what the fuck is this whole kissing stuff about anyway? Where does that come from?"

 

I didn't know that, so I couldn't answer. Instead of aggravating him, my silent gazing away seemed to calm him, at least briefly. He asked, slowly, as if this was the most important thing to be asked that night (and, indeed, it probably was): "Please, Ben, don't tell me you're having, like, feelings for me."

 

"I'm not, not really, not the way you mean it. And I'm just as mortified as you to hear myself talk like a fucking thirteen year-old girl."

 

"Ok. Then... what?"

 

"Then, I don't know. Maybe I can't be friends with a straight guy after all."

 

"Of course, you can. You are."

 

"Well, maybe I can't be friends with a hot straight guy. Maybe it's too confusing.", I said with a tentative smile.

 

I thought I had struck the right, simple words, I really did. My argument was still a little elusive, of course, but I felt I had touched what was at the heart of our problem, and removed a considerable amount of drama from it. Sex makes things complicated and a little ridiculous, but, hey, what can you do?

 

Well, I was wrong. After a failed attempt at breathing in his anger, Hugo erupted, like a wounded animal: "Fuck you, Ben! What do you want from me? Do you want to screw the shit out of me? You want to sit on my fucking face? You want to call me your bitch, to slam my ass, ram your big dick down my throat? You want me to make you feel like a big fucking macho man? Because I can do that, Ben, I can do that well. I'm a fucking professional."

 

He was trying to maintain a somewhat low voice - our agitation had already provoked some curious, worried or reproving stares from a few passers-by. I noticed, when I finally managed to glance up from my shoes, that he was also struggling to keep tears within his rapidly blinking eyes.

 

"No, no, no. Stop it," I implored him. "It's just... I don't know, sometimes I have this urge to share some physical affection with you, I guess."

 

"You can. We do. Ben, you know how much you mean to? Are you too stupid not to see that? You're one of the most important persons in my life, you know. I love you like a brother."

 

"Well, I don't. I don't want to fuck my brother's brains out." I regretted those words right away.

 

"Is this what it would take for you to love me, to fuck me hard?" he lashed out. "But which is it, Ben? What is it that you want: you want to fuck me, or you want to kiss me? You want to dump your big load on my face or you want to give me sweet fucking sugar?"

 

He now had a couple of actual tears rolling down his freckled cheeks. Me, I reminded myself, I just don't cry, ever. My lack of tears, my failing of matching his own display of emotion made me feel inadequate, cruel.

 

"Is any of it going to bring you any satisfaction, you think", he asked, his eyes piercing through mine, "any sort of fucking resolution? Believe me, it doesn't for all these guys. They always come back for more. To fuck me harder, to use me in a shitload of new ways they or I are able to come up with. Until they reach the point when I'm not bringing up what they need and they move on to a new face, a new stupid thug that might, just might, finally screw them as hard as they've longed for since fuck knows what trauma. They leave, but a truck full of brand new ones always unloads itself, right at my feet."

 

"But you're fine with that, because you love job so much." I cursed myself for this low blow, which he seemed too engrossed in his own torment to even pick on.

 

"Get your shit together, man. For all our sakes, get your shit together," he said commandingly. "Am I just the jock you fancied a friendship with, because of some sort of rich boy fantasy you had? Am I worth anything to you? Can I give you what you want?"

 

"I thought you could. That is, I thought I could be the friend you wanted. But, maybe I can't. I'm stuck, Hugo, I don't know how else to say it. I'm stuck because, yes, I guess I do want something more from you. Something you can't give and it's not your fucking fault. And, no, I'm not talking about love. I'm talking intimacy, I guess, or something like that."

 

"You already know my most intimate thoughts, you fucker."

 

"Yes, and you know mine. But you can't blame me or shout at me because I'm sexually attracted to you. That really isn't helping anything. Either we can both just live with it and wait for it to just go away, or... I don't know."

 

He seemed to think.

 

"Why did you break up with your boyfriend?"

 

"What?"

 

"Your boyfriend, the stupid artist. You mentioned before you left for California that you broke up with him, but you never said why."

 

"It just wasn't going anywhere."

 

"But the sex was good at the beginning, right, you found him hot? You told me that much."

 

"Yes. What's your point?"

 

"How was the sex at the end?"

 

"Boring. Hugo, what are you talking about?"

 

"I'm talking about the fact that your attraction to him made it appealing to date that idiot. It made it bearable to stay with him for a while. Then, when the sex and novelty were both gone, what was left? Nothing. And you just moved on."

 

"You're being ridiculous."

 

"I'm not. So I'm sexy to you, I'm weird and interesting and different. When all that will be gone, when I've let you fuck me in the name of our friendship, then, you know, what will be left? Are you going to be friends with a hooker who didn't go to college? When will you get tired of our walks or our times at the bar? You already are."

 

"That's fucking unfair. Please don't compare yourself to him. Or to anyone."

 

"Don't talk to me about unfair. Look at yourself and then look at me."

 

I didn't know what he meant. He was losing me.

 

"How are you around other people?" he continued, breathlessly. "What kind of man are you outside our little bubble? What are you running after? With me? With your stupid artist? With your straight dickhead preppy guy from Connecticut? What are you doing with your life? What are you doing with your dick?"

 

I had heard enough. I was already shutting down, like I know I can, like I often do, ignoring most of what he was throwing at me.

 

I placed my hand on his shoulder, a gesture meant to convey everything I felt, everything I wished: it will be alright, we'll sort this out, you are a friend, I will love you like a brother, it will really be alright, just hold on a bit. Just hold on.

 

But he shook his shoulder violently, like casting off a nasty bug that had dropped and landed on him. He stood up. His dark eyes seemed to be screaming of bilious anger and vociferous pain. "Don't touch me."

 

* * *

 

He was never much of a talker, that's how I remember him. I don't know why. In the two most significant moments of our friendship, he had in fact been doing all the talking: when he tried to draw me in, sharing everything he knew to be true about male sexuality and about his own worth in the world, and when he pushed me away, locking me out for failing to meet the reasonable expectations with which he had built our private refuge.

 

Yet, overall, and looking back, these turning-points might have been little more than mileposts, road signs welcoming you into a town and waving you goodbye out of it. Or that's how I like to think about them today, probably for fear of and unease at the alternative. Hugo is someone I drank and walked with. And it was splendid. It was quiet, and slow, and touching, and lightly exhilarating.

 

Today, I like to think that I did pay attention to and took in the wisdom of this Man-of-few-words. Like a trail of pebbles and crumbs, Hugo left me with scattered, random bits of understanding, dispersed between his searching pauses, buried within his agitation or fury, dropped casually between two sniffs or two shakings of his t-shirt (Hugo was always feeling warm).

 

"Can't a guy just buy a beer for another guy?" Yes, Hugo, one can. And one should.

 

"Don't fucking judge them, Ben. Ever". I wasn't, not really. I am not today. I watch, observe, empathize. I can cringe, but I try to understand. We're all humans, we all have dicks and hearts, we ache and we wander, we hurt and get hurt, we make fools of ourselves, we let go, we reach out, we shrug off. We're all brothers, Hugo, I do get that.

 

"Get your shit together." I did, I tried. I'm better – with me, with people too, I think. In the few weeks after Hugo and I parted, I had sex one last time with Schuyler, giving and telling him all I had to say. I broke off all contacts. If what I hear is true, he is now in the middle of his second divorce. I also took up the offer my boss made me to be shipped out to London for a 10 month contract with one of our clients. It was a great professional opportunity, but one that also lifted me out of an impending lethargy of self-absorption and self-pity.

 

"Which is it that you want: you want to fuck me, or you want to kiss me?" That, I still don't know, even if I've often asked myself the same question since then, about Hugo and about other men.

 

"We're all chasing ghosts, you know." Yes, Hugo. Indeed we are.

 

 

 

 

 

***

 

All comments, suggestions, reactions are always welcome: benashtonvilla@yahoo.com

 

If you're interested and what to know more about Schuyler and Ben, read "Hunter Mountain, Winter 1997", here on Nifty: http://www.nifty.org/nifty/gay/college/hunter-mountain