The following Thursday, a week
Did you catch that? I stood at the desk?
Kenny had been more right than he knew -- I couldn't sit down at all. Purple and red and swollen, Max's bite was a butt disaster. Evan said my ass looked like a baboon in heat. It hurt to walk, especially up or down stairs, and I could only stand up or lie down. Sitting, even on a pillow, was out of the question, and I had to take a shit with one hand on the seat to keep my left cheek from touching down. Driving the Jeep with its less-than-plush suspension damn near brought tears to my eyes, so Evan had traded cars with me until the worst of it was past.
"You ready?" I asked him.
He grimaced, then nodded. "Do it."
We lifted our glasses, Evan
ceremoniously tapped the `enter' key, and the screen dissolved into the warm
browns and tans of the Center's homepage, live for all the
world to see. We grinned at each other as we clinked
glasses in a toast to the unofficial start of the
"There's your first hit," I said.
"Really?" Evan was startled. "That quick?"
"Well, it could be somebody in
As we watched, the counter rolled over to 0,000,002, then 0,000,003. Evan watched it like a deer in the headlights, mesmerized.
"I'll come back and check email after we eat," Kathryn said, "in case people are asking questions."
We adjourned down the street to brunch, again passing the gym I'd stopped into that day the three of us had lunch together. I sat on the right side of my ass and listened to them. They were excited about finally getting the Center going and spent the whole time speculating about their first client. Would it be a mother and children needing assistance to get into a shelter? A messy divorce requiring a restraining order against an abusive husband? Or something positive, like an adoption? Whatever it might be, they were ready. Evan had absorbed an astounding amount of information since he'd gotten the go-ahead from the board and was chomping at the bit to put it to use. Kathryn was a little more reserved, but Evan's enthusiasm was hard to resist and I could tell she was a little wound up, as well.
After we ate, they went back to the office while I stopped into the gym. The same bald guy as before was behind the counter, nodding at me in recognition when I came through the door. The membership plans were posted on the wall behind the desk and they were pretty simple -- you could pick from month-to-month or yearly.
"Sign me up for a year," I told him.
He looked me up and down for a long
moment before sliding an application across the counter. I filled it out,
tossed my Visa on top of it and slid it back to him, looking up to catch him
staring at me from dark eyes that seemed somehow familiar. Friendly
fucker. He took his time looking over my application, and when he got to
my address, he glanced up. "
I looked at him closely for the first time. The resemblance wasn't real strong, but I could see it now around the eyes. "Yeah, I know him. We're a couple properties down." I stuck my hand out. "Jeff."
"Tomas in Wop-speak, Tom in English." As he shook my hand, he asked, "The gay dudes, right?" His voice was neutral, his face expressionless, just those dark eyes gazing at me.
"Yeah." We had a brief stare-down. "That a problem?" I asked, lifting an eyebrow as far as I could to give it an edge.
He slid the credit card slip to me, along with a pen. "Just askin'."
"Is it gonna be a problem in there?" I asked, jerking my head toward the doorway to the weight room.
He shrugged a shoulder. "Not unless you make it one." He handed me a laminated membership card. "Lockers in back, bring your own lock. Somethin' ain't workin' right, let me know so I can fix it. There ain't no fuckin' maid, so pick up after yourself."
I gave him an amused nod, tucked the card into my wallet, and headed through the doorway into the world of heavy weights and sweaty men. On this Monday morning, the place was pretty empty, only five or six guys using the equipment, and one ripped dude with a towel over his head doing endless crunches. His ankles were crossed and he was touching an elbow to the opposite knee each time he curled up, really working his abs, which already looked like a washboard. I got a couple nods and one appraising stare as I walked around looking at the set-up, getting a feel for the place. I was wandering through the locker room, impressed with the cleanliness of the showers for a place that didn't have `no fuckin' maid' when a sardonic voice behind me spoke.
here. If it ain't the boy with the sweetest ass this side of
A chill skittered up my spine as my gut tightened and the hairs on the back of my neck rose. Still facing away from him, I caught my breath as a rash of old memories hammered through me, followed hard by the tangled emotions those memories stirred up. With some effort, I turned to face one of my recurring bad dreams, standing there in the flesh.
"Conrad. What're you doin' here? A little far from The Dungeon, isn't it?"
He lifted a shoulder, his full mouth widening in the same confident smile that had sucked me in a little over ten years ago. "You remember, huh? They finally shut that place down couple years after you split."
We studied each other for a long moment. He had to be mid-forties now, still good looking, but with gray turning his dark hair to salt-and-pepper and crow's feet at the corners of his intense blue eyes. His body, though... his body was still tight as a drum, and I realized he was the guy who'd been doing crunches. Large brown nipples peered from the hair on his chest, the ripped eight-pack I used to lick the sweat from was as defined as ever, and his crotch was a serious bulge in his black Lycra shorts. He chuckled softly as he caught my look, and then he walked a few steps closer.
"Keep away," I said, but I had to lick my dry lips before the words would come, and they weren't as steady as I wanted them to be.
"You're lookin' good, Jeff," he said in a soft voice, ignoring my words as he circled me. "Real good. Put on some weight in all the right places, I see," he added as he got a look at my ass.
I stepped wide around him to the center of the locker room, not turning my back on him - the last thing I needed was a boisterous slap or even a friendly pat on my sore ass cheek. Plus, I just didn't want him to touch me -- not anymore.
"Listen to me, you fucker. I'm done. I left, remember?" My voice was vibrating with emotion, so I took a deep breath before I continued. "I've been outta that for years and I'm not goin' back. Just leave... me... alone."
It took everything I had in me, but I turned around and walked out of the locker room, through the weight room and the office, and out into the fresh air of the street. I made it a couple stores down before I slumped into a doorway, braced my hands on my knees and tried hard not to puke right there on the sidewalk.
That line from
A woman gave me an odd look as she walked past, so I straightened up and went along to Evan's car, getting carefully in before starting up the engine and driving slowly through town. What the hell was I gonna do? Conrad belonged to a part of my past that I hadn't thought about in years, a short part, but one that I didn't particularly want to revisit. And I especially didn't want to drag it all out for Evan to look at.
I went to Kenny's and tried to get some work done, but I just couldn't concentrate. The third time he caught me staring through the screen instead of testing code, he pulled me around by the shoulder until we were facing each other.
"You're a million miles away this afternoon. What's up?"
I stared at him, unsure whether to dump it all on him and ask his advice, or keep it to myself and hope it went away. But I knew that wasn't gonna happen, so I took a deep breath and started talking, except that I couldn't sit there and look him in the eye while I did it, so I wandered around the office, picking things up and putting them down again.
"Right after I turned twenty-one, I
God, was that the truth. I bet I wasn't sober three nights the whole nine or ten months I lived there.
"One night a few months after I moved there, a guy came into the bar. Conrad. He had a fuckin' hot body, blue eyes that felt like they were lookin' at my soul, and a... a way about him that I just... couldn't resist. Not that I tried real hard, I guess."
I glanced at Kenny, but he was just watching me calmly. I felt like I was babbling, but now that I'd started talking about it, I couldn't stop.
"I went back to his place that first night. Nothin' slutty about me, nooooo. He had a house, which was cool cause everyone I hung with had apartments where you had to worry about the neighbors complaining if you got too loud. And he had a basement." I stopped again as I remembered Conrad guiding me down the steps, down into his playroom, as he called it. I walked over to stare out the window, unaware of the pencil I was twiddling between my fingers at ninety miles an hour.
"I never passed out, but I was pretty fucked up cause the next thing I knew I was cuffed to a table, one of those massage tables that tilt, and he was... he was..."
My nuts crawled up into my belly at the thought of what he'd been doing, and suddenly talking about it like this in the bare light of day was just too weird.
"Fuck it. See you tomorrow," I said as I grabbed my keys and headed for the door, but Kenny rolled into my path and grabbed my wrist hard, pulling me to a stop.
"Jeff... Jeff. Calm down, man. Whatever happened was at least ten years ago. Who the hell cares anymore?"
I leaned down until we were eye to eye. "You don't understand. This guy's right here in town. Conrad. I ran into him at that little gym down from the deli."
Kenny released my wrist, but didn't move out of the doorway. "Ok, so he's here. So what?"
So what? I hadn't been able to say `no,' is what. Every time Conrad crooked his finger at me and smiled that smile, I had followed him down those stairs like a lemming off a cliff, down to the table and the handcuffs that bit into my wrists and all the other stuff he used on me over the next six months. I sat back down in my pillowed chair and dropped my face into my hands.
"I liked it," I mumbled between my fingers.
Kenny was quiet for long enough that I finally looked up at him. "That was a long time ago, Jeff," he said softly. "You were young and... whatever... curious, maybe. The guy's not dangerous or anything, is he?" he added with a look of concern.
Kinda depends what you meant by dangerous, I guess, but I said, "No, I don't think he's dangerous like you mean, like he'd attack me or something, but... fuck. Evan doesn't know anything about all that shit. We sorta never got that far back in my history."
"Then tell him."
"I can't! God, he'll think... I don't know what he'll think. He's so not into stuff like that..."
Kenny picked Elvis up as he patted Chewy, who was whining at my upset tone of voice. "You think Evan's never heard of whips and chains, for Christ sake?"
"Hearin' about it and finding out that someone you love was seriously into it are two different things, don't you think?" I asked harshly.
"Jesus, take it easy." He shook his head. "He's not gonna freak. As wound up as you are, he's gonna know something's up anyway. Just tell him."
Easy for him to say, I thought, as I drove home. Evan wasn't there yet, so I got a beer and stood out on the back steps, watching the horses graze as dusk settled, trying out different ways of telling him and wondering why in the hell I was reacting like this. I figured it was mostly just the shock of seeing Conrad like that, so unexpectedly, when I'd thought I'd never see him again.
And also... since I'd met Evan, since I'd been exposed to him and his friends and their way of life, I was less and less comfortable with the person I'd been in the past. Having good old Conrad show up brought that feeling home with a vengeance.
As I was watching Linda and Max frolic around the field, the back door squeaked and Evan stepped up next to me, bumping my shoulder affectionately. "Hey, baby, how they hangin'?"
I snorted out a laugh. "God, I haven't heard that in years. We used to think it was so dirty to say that when I was in junior high."
"Yeah, everything's dirty when you're fourteen and horny as hell all the time."
We stood there for a bit, enjoying the end of the day. The sunset was one of those pink and gold ones, the kind that glow for a long time, getting more and more pale until they fade to dark. When the show was over, we went inside to do something about dinner. Evan stared into the fridge with a frown. "There's nothin' to eat."
"I know -- we need to go shopping. Ribs? Pizza? Chinese?"
"Mmm, Chinese sounds good. That ok with you?"
I nodded and ten minutes later we were on the way to town to pick up vegetable Lo Mein, beef with broccoli, cashew chicken, and BBQ fried rice. In the dark of the car, I took a deep breath and said, "I need to tell you something."
Evan glanced at me for a second. "Shoot."
"I lived in
Evan digested that for a moment before asking with a smile, "Like what? Hand cuffs or water sports or something?"
"Yeah, like... all of the above."
Evan's smile faded as he blinked a couple times. "And you were into it, too?"
"Yeah, for a while. Not very long."
He took his eyes off the road long enough to give me a good look. "Why're you telling me this now? What happened?"
"Remember I stopped in the gym this morning? He was there."
Evan pulled into a parking spot in front of the Chinese place, staring out through the windshield as he turned off the engine. I studied his profile, trying to figure out what the hell he was thinking, but I couldn't tell if he was disgusted or what. Finally, he opened his door, and without looking at me, said, "I'll get the food."
Then he was out of the car and all I could see was his back as he crossed the sidewalk and disappeared into The Golden Dragon. I dropped my head back against the headrest with a sigh and closed my eyes, cursing Conrad for showing up here and throwing a monkey wrench into the works of the life I had come to love here in Patterson. If he fucked it up for me, I'd... well, I wasn't sure what I'd do, but I wasn't gonna go down without a fight.
For a moment, I thought about the way I'd handled Mark after he'd beat Evan up in the bathroom of the bar last summer. That had worked out ok, but this was different. So, so different that my gut hurt just thinking about it.
Evan's door opened and he handed over the bag of food as he got in. "Wanna stop by the store real quick?"
I grabbed a cart as Evan breezed through the aisles, tossing items in the basket with an abandon that suggested his mind was elsewhere. I kept my mouth shut while he chose a brand of chips we never ate and bought chunky peanut butter, which neither of us liked; but when he picked up a case of light beer, that was too much.
"That for you?" I asked him. "Cause I'm not drinkin' that swill."
He looked at the beer like he had no idea how it had gotten in the cart. Shaking his head, he clunked it back on the shelf and grabbed a case of Heineken. We made it through the check-out line and to the car before either of us spoke again. As Evan slammed the trunk lid on the groceries, he met my eyes with a look that was part anger, part fear, and I realized that this was gonna go way worse than I'd hoped.
"So you're wantin' to get together with this guy? Is that why you're telling me all this?"
I stared at him, momentarily at a loss for words before they burst from me in an outraged shout. "No! Jesus! What the fuck gave you that idea?"
"Well, why then?" he shouted back.
We were faced off across the roof of the car, yelling at each other right there in the parking lot of the A&P. When a woman with a kid in her cart shot us a dirty look, Evan flushed and motioned me into the car, but he didn't start the engine right away. Both of us were breathing hard and looking everywhere except at each other, but the sting of Evan thinking I wanted to go fuck around with Conrad prevented me from saying something to calm the situation down. Finally, Evan turned the key, and when we were back on the road out of town, he took a deep breath.
"I'm sorry, Jeff. I don't believe that you want to screw around with someone else." Another deep breath. "I didn't... You never said anything about him, so it was a surprise, you know?"
I barked out a hard laugh. "Imagine how I felt."
We were silent the rest of the way home. I was trying to decide how much to tell Evan without disgusting him to the point where he'd never touch me again. I don't know what Evan was thinking because he kept his eyes on the road, and it was dark by now, so I couldn't see his expression. We carried dinner and the groceries into the house, put things away, and sat down at the table to eat. Evan toyed with a cashew until I reached over, scooped it up with my fork and shoved it in my mouth. When he gave me a startled look, our eyes held.
"Evan, I..." I began. "I'm not gonna
apologize because I didn't even know you then." He started to speak, but I held
up my hand and he closed his mouth. "But I am
sorry that it's coming back to hassle us now. I never would have figured I'd
run into someone from
He nodded, and we finished eating in strained silence. After we cleaned up the kitchen, I took Evan's hand and led him to the couch in the living room, sitting sideways to him and close enough to keep a hand on his shoulder. He studied his fingernails as I tried to get started explaining to him some things I hadn't thought about in a long time and wasn't real sure I understood myself.
"I was real drunk the night I met him. He was one of those older, good looking guys, really confident, which I think is what appealed to me most, you know? Like he just knew I couldn't resist him. Which I couldn't... we ended up back at his place."
Evan had stopped fiddling with his nails and although he wasn't looking at me, I could tell he was listening carefully. I thought about how to explain the attraction someone like Conrad had held for me back then. Conrad had been a lot of the things that I thought were cool. He tossed twenties around from a seemingly endless supply in his left pocket. He drove a nice car. But most of all, it was the confidence that got me. Since I had almost none of my own at that point, the allure of someone who knew what he wanted and assumed he'd get it was too much to resist. That, and the things he did to me in the playroom.
"You know when you're blowin' me and I like you to squeeze my nuts?" Evan nodded. "Well, I used to like it about five times harder."
Evan's head came slowly around until our eyes met. "Really? Cause I feel like I'm hurting you already."
My turn to nod. "Exactly."
Evan stared at me for a long moment before his expression changed to bewilderment. "So this guy -- Conrad -- he hurt you? That's what you liked about him?"
I think that unless you have that little bit of kink in you, there's just no way to explain the thrill of being helpless, of following orders, of knowing that even if you follow those orders correctly, it'll hurt before it's all over, before you're allowed to blow your load from nuts strapped so tight they're purple.
I sighed. "Yeah, at the time that's what I liked about him, for a few months, anyway." Evan was still staring at me, but his expression had softened to something I couldn't read. "Please don't... It was a long time ago, and once I realized that it wasn't good for me, I split."
Evan nodded. "And now this guy's here in Patterson? What do you think he's gonna do?"
I lifted a shoulder. "I don't know. That's why I wanted you to know. In case we run into him or something."
"Does he know about me, that you're in a relationship now?"
I thought about Conrad's `come hither' comments in the locker room. "I don't think so."
"Why didn't you tell him?"
Why indeed? Why hadn't those been the first words out of my mouth? Conrad was a lot of things, but I thought he might respect the boundaries of a committed relationship. The edge in Evan's voice woke up the guilt I'd been trying to ignore, and I answered quick and sharp.
"Cause he surprised the shit outta me, ok? I just had to get out of there." I took a breath and lowered my voice. "If...when... I see him again, I'll tell him."
Evan sat there another minute or two before he slipped out from under my hand and got to his feet. "I, uh... I'm sorry, but I need to think about this. I'm going out for a while."
He grabbed his keys off the little table and was out the door just as the old cherry clock struck nine, and I wondered how long it would be before he'd come back home. Or if he'd come back home drifted through my mind, but I pushed it away. There was no fucking way I'd let that happen.
After the sound of his car died away, I wandered around the house, restless with apprehension. What was Evan thinking? Was he just trying to get his head around it, or was he working up to a decision of some kind? I tried to read, but I couldn't concentrate at all and just lay there staring at the ceiling. I wondered how to lessen the damage between Evan and me, but the more I thought about it, the more pissed I got that Evan was holding it over my head. I couldn't change the things that had happened in my life before I met Evan, and he shouldn't be making me feel like I needed to. I finally got off the couch, yanked on a jacket, and stomped down the front steps to try and walk it off before he got home.
Otherwise, I was pretty sure one of us would be packing his bags before morning.
By my third trip down the drive, I was still mad, but starting to get a knot in my gut - worried about where he was and wishing he'd get his ass home so I could yell at him some more, or apologize, or whatever it was gonna take to get us past this in one piece. I was moodily kicking a stone along in front of me when his headlights scraped across Bill's organic corn and lit me up. I lowered my head against the glare, halfway expecting him to drive right on by me, but I heard him drop it into park and open his door, and then he was in front of me, his eyes red from crying, his hands gripping my upper arms, holding on like he thought I'd try to get away.
"I'm so sorry," he said in a tight voice. "I don't know who the fuck I think I am, judging you like that. What you did before you met me is your business and you don't need to explain it or justify it or any other fucking thing, ok?"
His face was about a foot from mine, shadows from the headlights making his bloodshot eyes look wild, and he gave my shoulders a shake with his `ok.' We looked at each other for probably a full minute, searching for forgiveness, for understanding, for reassurance. Especially for reassurance, it seemed, because when I finally lifted my hands to his waist and pulled him to me, he grabbed me and choked out a harsh sound as he pressed his face into my neck. I held him tight, my heart banging in my chest, looking over his shoulder to where the lights of the house shone through the trees.
After a few moments, I pulled loose. Evan was home and I figured we were probably gonna be ok, but we still had some talking to do. I opened the passenger door and waited until he got in before closing it and climbing in the driver's side. After I parked in front of the house, we both got out of the car, but when Evan stood at the bottom of the steps looking at me uncertainly, I held out my hand to him.
"Come on, let's go in. It's bedtime."
I led him down the hall and into our room, where I tugged my shirt over my head and stepped out of my shorts while Evan was still unbuttoning his shirt. As he reached the last button, I lay my hands flat on his chest, spreading my fingers out and back through the light wedge of almost straight black hair between his nipples. He stood passively and watched me as I worked his shirt off his shoulders, following it down his arms with my hands until I was holding both of his.
"I love you, Evan. You know that, right? You believe it."
He nodded, holding my eyes, a very slight smile curving one side of his mouth. "I know that," he repeated. "And I believe it."
Still locked onto his gaze, I undid his belt and pants, dropping them into a puddle around his ankles before hooking my thumbs into his boxers and sliding them slowly down his hips. I had to move my thumbs to the back to get them over his butt, then around to the front to lift them over his filling cock. As they landed on his trousers with a soft `plop,' Evan closed his eyes with a quiet moan and dropped his head to my shoulder.
"Why can't we just stay in here forever? Just me and you... just like this."
I wrapped my arms around him, pressing our dicks together between us. "With Callie to bring us cinnamon rolls every morning."
I could hear the smile in his voice as he said, "And Raf to bring us beer."
I grinned into his neck. "And Kenny to bring us pizza."
Evan chuckled softly, but as he straightened up to look at me again, his face was serious and his eyes searched mine. "I... I thought you wanted to leave."
I shook my head at him as I traced my fingertips down his cheek. "How could you think that, Evan? Where the fuck could I go that would be half as good as this?"
He didn't reply - in words, anyway. He began to kiss me, working my mouth with his lips and tongue as he backed toward the bed. When his knees hit, I kept going, putting my hands on his chest until he fell over backwards; then I crawled further up the bed, bringing him along with me. We lay on our sides, face to face, legs intertwined, hands on each other's bodies.
For a long time we just kissed and touched, letting our rising passion slowly replace the tension between us. I let Evan set the pace, needing him to want this as much as I did, and when he rolled onto his back, I moved over him. I was ready but hesitant, and he saw it.
"It's ok, Jeff," he whispered, pulling me down to him. "We're ok."
I nodded and made love to him with a deeper sense of our relationship than I'd had before, and with the sure knowledge that Evan and I were stronger together than we were apart. It would take a dozen Conrads to so much as scratch the surface of this amazing thing that we had created from the ashes of his broken heart and my broken dreams.
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