© by The Lavender Quill, 2003
Warning: the following story contains graphic descriptions of male/male sex between consenting adults. If that sort of thing bothers you, or you are a minor, or it is illegal for you to read this type of content under the laws of your area, dont read any further.
This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to actual people or events is purely coincidental.
What? I asked.
My name isnt Lance. Its Larry.
Yeah, I heard you. I just dont get it. Youre not shy if you take your clothes off on camera. Why change your name?
Its like an act, being on camera. The name is part of the act. I thought that Larry sounded too lame. Lance sounds sexier.
What? he asked.
I brought my laughter under control. When Vishal called me and told me about you, he made a comment about your name. Lance sounds like a porno name.
Exactly. Thats why I picked it.
We both chuckled.
Okay, um, Larry, then, I said. I was actually somewhat relieved. Knowing that his name was really Larry made him seem somehow more ordinary. So tell, me Larry how did a Texas boy end up with a web cam pay site?
Well, I used to have a cam just for fun back in high school. Like I told you before. I started out just chatting with guys on line. Sometimes Id come across someone with a cam, and I thought that was really hot. I mean it isnt really like porno well, it is and it isnt. Guys would jack off, sometimes do kind of a striptease; one guy even played with a dildo. But they were doing it because they got off on it, and they got off on me watching them. You see?
Not really, I said. I smiled to let him know I knew Id just made a bad pun. But partly I was serious. I have no idea what it is like to watch someone jerk off on camera.
Oh. Sorry. I guess you wouldnt. Um, well I could tell he was uncomfortable now. Like, everyone jerks off, right? he asked somewhat hesitantly.
Being blind does not impair my ability to jack off, I confirmed, jokingly.
Well, watching someone do that, live, for me, was a hell of a turn on when I was in high school. I lived in a very rural part of south Texas. There are no such things as gay student groups. Coming out was absolutely not an option. My only contact with other gay boys was through the Internet. Seeing another guy jack off was as close to being there as I could get.
Oh, I said. I supposed that made sense. Being out of the closet on campus was relatively painless, especially compared to what he described.
So I bought a cheap little camera. I wanted to reciprocate and boy, did I! It really got me off. I got into it, going real slow, rubbing my body, putting on a show, stroking myself so they could see the best angle.
Okay, okay, I said. I get it. I did not want to admit that his description, especially in his deep voice, was really turning me on. I did not want to be turned on, though. I wanted to move on.
He laughed. At first it was private, just the other guy and me, sending the stream to each other. I was horny all the time, and my parents were gone a lot, so Id do it two or three times a day sometimes. Different guys. The ultimate safe sex. He laughed. But it wasnt just the sex. It was a real ego boost too. All these guys telling me I was good looking. I never really had people tell me that before. So when I left home and started college, I decided to hook up my cam through a website, so more than one guy could see it at a time.
In your dorm room? I asked, incredulous.
Yeah. He laughed. I knew my room mates class schedule, so I just used it when he was out. He never had a clue.
We both laughed.
I cant believe it, I said.
It was a mess, though. It was fun, but the more guys that got on simultaneously, the more bandwidth I used. I couldnt run it through the campus server, or theyd start wondering pretty quick what was going on. I had to keep moving around to different providers, trying to find one that I could afford. The connections were terrible; slow and unreliable.
Is that why you started charging?
Sort of. It wasnt really my idea. Around the end of my freshman year, I got an email from this guy in California. He runs a company that does a pay site with a bunch of web cams on it. His names Chet. He invited me to San Francisco to see how the operation works. So, I drove down there after the end of the school year. He runs his own commercial server, sets up these cam sites, takes care of all the finances, and splits the income with the cam guys. Everything works great. All I need to do is send him the feed. It sounded like I could make a bunch of money, so I said yes.
There was a slight edge in his voice at the end of that. Did something go wrong?
Yes and no, he sighed. I thought it was going to be a lot more money than it was. The way he was talking, I was figuring five grand a month. I went out and bought a new computer, and a new camera, a really nice one. I rented a nicer apartment off campus, and got a high-speed connection. At first I just thought it was taking a while to get started, but Ive been doing it since before the start of school this year, and it isnt paying off. I got almost three thousand one month, but most months its less than two. Way less.
Is Chet ripping you off?
Not directly. I mean, he has an auditor verify his financial records twice a year, so hes not cooking the books. I just think he misled me about how much money I should expect to make. I emailed around to some of the other cam guys Chet has signed up, and theyre not making all that much either, some a lot less than me.
So how come you still do it? I asked.
Well, it isnt as much as I thought Id make, but its still better than flipping burgers. Im gonna jack off anyway, and this way I still get to have a little fun and make a little money.
He said it in an upbeat way, but it wasnt convincing. It sounded more like he was trying to make himself believe it was still worthwhile. I didnt say anything though. I decided I didnt really know him well enough to pry.
We walked in silence until reached my dorm. I stopped at the door to the building and held out my left hand.
I can take the Coke up from here, I said, subtly not inviting him up to my room.
You sure you dont want me to come up?
His tone said he wasnt pressuring me, but he wanted to make sure I knew that he wouldnt mind being invited up. We had agreed that this wasnt a date, though, and I meant it.
Maybe another time, I said, trying to turn him down gently. I didnt want to hurt his feelings. I really did think he was a nice guy. Thanks for coming to the store with me, though. Going with a friend is a lot more fun than going by myself. I slightly emphasized the word friend to make it clear that friendship was all I wanted. He handed me the Coke.
Okay. Sure, he said. Well, it was nice seeing you again.
* * * * *
The next day I had lunch in the cafeteria with Octavia. Octavia is a somewhat militant lesbian whom I met at the Gay Student Union; the same place Id met Vishal. I cant really explain why we are friends. She is short; I can hear her voice at about my chest level when were standing, so she has to be, like, a foot shorter than I. What she lacks in stature, she makes up for in toughness. That is one of the things I like about her. She steadfastly refuses to put up with any shit from anyone. From how Vishal describes her, she is thin, but wiry. She never wears makeup and keeps her hair really short. She is almost boyish, except that she has enough of a rack to prevent mistaking her gender. That and the fact that she is prone to wearing black tee shirts that proudly proclaim Dyke in huge bold letters.
She drives around in a Land Rover; it has been described to me as an old one of the variety that one would expect to see in the African Bush. It is not one of these newer, decorated, city SUVs that pretend to be off road vehicles, but which neither the manufacturer nor the owners ever truly expect to leave smooth pavement (though both would deny this loudly). It sits high enough off the ground that Im not quite sure how Octavia actually manages to climb into it. When she gives me a ride in it, it is loud and feels like we are driving in a tank. She bought it cheap from her brother when she was in high school. He had tried to restore it, but he could never get it to run right. She then rebuilt the engine herself. And the transmission and suspension. I teased her about it once, saying that she probably did it just to prove that she was more butch than her brother. She never denied it.
Though she has a short fuse, and practically dares straight men to give her any shit by her appearance and demeanor, she is not a stereotypical man hater. When I really need a friend, she can turn off the super-dyke routine and become a very sensitive listener.
Whats the matter, Ben? she asked when I was almost through eating.
You havent paid any attention to a fucking thing Ive said since we sat down, she laughed. I know you cant stare off into space, but you look like youre staring off into space. Your mind is totally somewhere else, dude.
Its nothing, I sighed, waving a limp French fry.
Watch that thing or youre gonna get ketchup on yourself.
Like that would be something new.
Well at least try to keep the ketchup off me, she said.
I flicked the fry in the direction of her voice.
I will kick your ass, she said, mock angry.
Wouldnt that be politically incorrect to beat up a defenseless handicapped person?
Fuck you. Youre avoiding the subject.
Fuck moi? I said, feigning shock. That seems unlikely.
Very, she agreed. Youre still avoiding the subject.
The subject of what planet your mind was on while youre body was here having lunch with me.
Yes that. She placed her hand on my forearm. You can tell me to mind my own business if you want, but if somethings bugging you, you know you can talk to me.
I sighed. I met this guy, Lance, uh Larry. Larry.
Yeah. Vishal found him on line, I explained. He gets naked on a web cam. Only he goes by Lance on-line, not Larry. So I went to chaperone Vishal when they had a date. They didnt really connect, and Vishal got the hots for some Starbucks barista instead. Later on, Larry called me. He went grocery shopping with me last night.
Do you like him?
He seems like a nice guy. He has this voice. Its, like, a really deep baritone. Very clear. Its not gravelly or breathy or anything. Its clear, like a note from a French horn, only deeper. That kind of quality.
Oh, you got a thing for this guy, dont you.
Yes you do. The only other guy you go on and on about their voice is Captain Picard.
Yeah, that guy. You should see the way you lit up when you were describing Larrys voice. You think hes sexy, dont you?
No Well, maybe. But I just want to be friends with him.
You do see the irony in this, dont you?
A blind guy falling for a guy who jerks off on camera.
I am not falling for him, Tave. I was one of the few men who are allowed to use her nickname.
Denial isnt just a river in Africa, Ben.
Okay, I said, exasperated. I dont deny there is a certain attraction there. But I really dont want to sleep with him. I just want to be friends with him.
Does he want to sleep with you?
Hes young. Hes gay. He says I look like Ashton Kutcher.
Yeah, he wants to sleep with you all right. You dont look much like Ashton Kutcher at all. I think he just said that so youd know he thinks youre good looking.
I know. I told him we were just going grocery shopping, though. It wasnt a date. But he hinted that he was interested in more. I turned him down nicely.
So he wants to sleep with you. You think he has a sexy voice. But you just want to be friends, she said, her voice skeptical. You think that can work out?
Gay guys are capable of being friends without sleeping with each other, Tave. Vishal and I are great friends.
Yeah, but Vishal doesnt want to sleep with you.
Larry doesnt need me for sex. He has a hundred guys watching him jerk off every night.
Doing it by yourself aint the same thing, Octavia pointed out.
Thank you, Dr. Ruth.
* * * * *
Over the next couple of weeks, Larry took it upon himself to become my grocery-shopping buddy. We made several more midnight excursions to Safeway. We had a friendly argument over Salsa. I prefer mild, which Larry claimed tasted like ketchup. Having grown up very near the border of Mexico, he preferred the hottest variety. I wondered if he would try to trick me. He could, if he wanted to, put a jar of spicy salsa in my cart. I wouldnt know the difference until I got back to my room and actually dipped a chip in it. He didnt though.
Have you always been blind? he asked as we were walking back to the dorm one night. Is that a rude question to ask?
No, its okay. Everyone asks eventually.
Actually, it sort of depends on the circumstances. It does annoy me if someone I hardly know asks. Parties are very strange for me. Everyone makes mindless chit chat, wanting to talk to people, checking them out, deciding if someone is interesting enough to pursue a friendship with, but not wanting to launch into something deep with a total stranger who might end up being a total jerk. Safe subjects are the perpetually drizzly winters, the latest college football, basketball, or sport of choice, professors that everyone loves to hate, choosing a major, or changing a major, the latest outrageous editorial in the campus newspaper, things like that. With me though, perfect strangers seem to think nothing of delving into the most personal aspects of the causes and effects of my blindness. Until they get bored and move on to the next person. I end up explaining it over and over again, or politely putting them off. I dont go to a lot of parties.
People I am becoming friends with I dont mind, though. They ask because they care. It is naturally a part of my background and it plays a part in my personality. And of course they are naturally curious. I could hardly expect a friend never to ask.
I could see fine until I was nine, almost ten years old, I said. I started getting headaches and my vision started to deteriorate, first in my left eye. At first they thought I just needed glasses, so they didnt catch it right away. It turned out to be retinal cancer. I hardly remember the surgery; it happened very fast. The four months of chemotherapy was worse. I thought I was going to be sick forever. Four months is a very long time when youre nine.
When I first met you, you said your parents were overprotective. Is that why?
Oh yeah. When I first started college, they called practically every day, just to make sure I was okay. They almost couldnt handle me going off to college by myself. They arranged for a chore worker to come by my dorm room twice a week to help keep it clean and make sure I wasnt starving or whatever. I tried to get rid of the chore workers, but my parents had a fit. They cant imagine me actually living on my own without any help.
You seem to do okay to me, he said.
Mostly, I do. But Im still their little boy, and I realized as I grew up that they feel guilty, like the retinal cancer was their fault, or that they should somehow have been able to prevent it. Theyll probably never stop trying to make up for it. So we compromised. I allow the chore worker once every two weeks.
Was it hard to get used to being blind?
You mean after I first had the operation? I asked.
Not that much. At least not physically the sight part of it. It would probably be harder to deal with if it happened when I was an adult. But I adapted pretty quickly. It didnt take me long to learn to get around using the cane, and learn Braille, that kind of thing. Emotionally, it was pretty hard. No more riding my bike or soccer. It took me several years before I was willing to give my bike to my little brother I just didnt want to let it go. The hardest part was getting used to how people treated me.
Yeah. Until then, I was a completely average kid. I got mostly decent grades in school, played soccer and liked to swim. I had learned to play my moms piano a little bit. I had a typical social life at school and friends around the neighborhood. After the surgery, though, everybody treated me differently. Adults pitied me, other kids avoided me, mostly, or treated me like a pet. It was very weird. Junior high was a nightmare. Kids that age can be pretty mean, and they were positively vicious to me. It got better in high school, but about that time my little brother hit junior high. It was like living with Satans spawn. I realized I was going off on a bit of a tirade. Anyway, it was a relief to go off to college.
But people still treat you different, even here, dont they?
Well, yeah, I said. But Ive gotten used to it, finally. And by now, most guys have grown up and are past the stage of picking on the blind guy, unless theyre really drunk. Mostly people here are just aloof to me. They feel sorry for me and dont know how to act around me.
I dont know how to act around you half the time.
Maybe, but your response is different. Most people when they dont know how to act respond by avoiding or ignoring me. You at least take the effort to learn, to ask when you want to know something or how to act. Youre one of only, like six people who has ever volunteered to go grocery shopping with me just to hang out with me since I started college.
Oh. I never thought of it like that. Thats just the way I am, I guess.
And for that, I decided, I was glad.
* * * * *
I cant see anything, said Larry. Do you know where the lights are?
We had decided to broaden our friendship beyond grocery shopping. He thought it was interesting that I was a Music Major, and he wanted to hear me play something. So I had invited him to come along with me to the music hall where I practice.
After my first year, I had made an arrangement with the dean of the music department to give me a key and permission to practice at night. Since day and night make no difference to me, my body functions on a somewhat different cycle than sighted people. Sometimes I am at peak functionality in the middle of the night. So, just like grocery shopping, I sometimes practice at night. No one else is around, except occasionally the janitorial staff, so usually have the place to myself.
I guessed there probably wasnt many lights on at night, but had never realized it was completely dark. It makes no difference to me, of course.
Welcome to my world, I teased. Wanna borrow my cane?
Ha, ha. Seriously. You dont know where the light switches are?
Why would I know where the lights are, Larry?
Oh. Duh. Sorry.
Dont be a wuss! You dont need light for anything. Youre just going to listen anyway. You can hold my elbow. Ill make sure you dont run into anything till I get you to a chair or whatever.
Yeah, alright, he said.
He sounded kind of hesitant, but I had challenged his manhood, and shamed him into experiencing darkness. He could hardly say no. I felt his hand grasp my elbow.
Itll be fine, I said. Trust me. Ive done this before.
Ha, ha. Youre so funny tonight. Did you plan this on purpose?
No. Honest. I didnt even think about it. Nobodys ever come down here with me at night before. I slowed down, feeling for a door with my cane. Were turning right here, and going through a door. Then up the stairs one floor. I found the door, opened it, and we walked through. I slowed to a crawl when I felt the first step with my cane. The first step is just ahead of us.
Yeah. I see it. Theres actually a little light in the stairwell from the exit signs.
The building contained a performance hall, and the rest of the building had a bunch of smaller studios for practicing and recording. Most were sound proofed, and had no window, which I guess is why it was as dark as it was. We eventually made it to a piano room. I found a folding chair and pulled it over next to the piano bench, and directed Larry to it.
What would you like to hear? I asked.
I dont know whatever you want. You can just practice whatever you were going to if I wasnt here if you want.
I thought about that. Lately I had been practicing a difficult Chopin piece that I had to perform by the end of the semester. It was still pretty rough, and probably not very exciting for Larry to listen to.
Maybe later, I said. I dont want to start with that. What kind of music do you like to listen to?
Country. I grew up on a steady diet of Willie Nelson, Whaland Jennings, and Johnny Cash.
I laughed, and then stopped. Sorry. Im afraid I really dont know any country western. I thought for a minute. How about some Mozart? Some of Mozart is pretty familiar to most people, and entertaining to listen to.
Uh, sure. Like I said, whatever you want.
I slid the bench forward and felt around for the right position on the keyboard. I launched in to Piano Concerto number 21 in D minor. I learned to play in high school and could play it well. It was lively and I figured hed recognize it. Its been used enough in movies and television, even if he wasnt familiar with classical music.
I had been slightly nervous to have him listen. I dont know why. It wasnt like this was the first time Id performed. I do it all the time. All my friends had heard me play. I like this piece, though, and as my fingers danced over the keys, I quickly relaxed and got into it. Pretty soon, as usual, I had completely forgotten anyone was around as I was completely absorbed in playing.
When I finished, the silence broke me out of my music trance. Still, I was slightly startled when I felt Larrys hand on my arm. Once he made contact, he squeezed and let go.
Wow. That was fucking amazing, he said. How can you do that?
What? Play without seeing the piano?
Can you type without looking? I asked.
Well, this is sort of the same thing. Most pianists dont really have to look at the keys much after a while.
Oh. Still, that was so cool.
He sounded kind of reverent. Im used to it in a way. Many people seem amazed that I can play at all, but Larry seemed more impressed than most.
Do you play other things too? he asked.
Sure. I play saxophone pretty good, and can pretty much muddle my way with most reed instruments.
No, I meant other songs, he laughed. I wasnt even thinking of other instruments. How many instruments do you play?
Mostly I just claim piano and Tenor Sax. I had to get a waiver because Im also supposed to be able to play a stringed instrument for my degree, but I cant.
Have you ever played guitar, or violin or something? I asked.
The only thing I know how to play is the skin flute.
Phhht. I dont think the dean of music would count that. We laughed.
I tried learning violin when I was in high school. The problem is that if you play any stringed instrument for a while, you start to develop calluses on the fingers you use on the frets. In fact, you need to. But if I get calluses on my fingers, I cant read Braille. I need to be able to feel with my fingertips.
Oh, that makes sense. I could almost imagine seeing him nodding in the dark. How do you learn new songs? Can you read music by Braille?
No. I have to learn by listening, and then memorizing it. I had to get a special waiver for that too. Normally they require you to be able to read music to get in to the program.
So everything you can play you have to memorize? All of it?
Yes, I said.
How can you do that?
Because I want to play, and that is the only way I can do it. I have to study a lot, and it takes me more time to learn a new piece, but once I have it, I have it.
I decided I wanted to show him, rather than explaining any more. So, I launched in to Elton Johns Saturday Nights Alright for Fighting, just for something completely different. It is a fast and rousing song that is fun on the piano, and I thought Larry would like it. Like the Mozart piece, I had learned it years ago, and could play it easily.
Larry was excited and laughing when I pounded out the final notes.
In some ways, I like to think it makes me better, I said. Once I have a piece memorized, I am free to embellish it as I like, to give it my own voice. Im not constrained to following along the notes on a page.
I started the same song again, only this time I switched to a minor key, and played it slow, like a dirge, using lots of pedal action to outrageously draw out the funereal notes. After only a moment, of this Larry was laughing again. I abruptly sped up, moving into a higher register, sounding like something played by an over-hyper five year old. After a few bars I slowed again, and started playing it very softly and precisely, like a shy introvert completely the opposite of Elton Johns flamboyant style. I stopped when it sounded like Larry was going to fall off his chair laughing.
Oh oh, Ben, said Larry as he brought himself under control, I think they should give you a degree just for doing that. That is too fucking funny, dude.
I wish. I have to perform Chopin by the end of the semester. Thats what Ive been working on lately.
Well go ahead and practice then. Dont let me stop you.
It isnt very good yet, I said.
Thats okay. Im sure its better than I can do. You said you need to practice more to learn, so go ahead.
Okay. Dont say I didnt warn you.
I started in again on Chopin. I worried at first that it was not as lively as Mozart, and it might be boring for him, but I soon got absorbed in what I was doing, concentrating on remembering it all, placing my fingers in the right places without fumbling them, struggling for a clear sound. Silence filled the room again when I finished.
You still awake? I asked.
Yeah. Um, that sounded pretty good to me. He didnt sound enthusiastic, but I thought he sounded sincere.
I smiled. Like I said, I still need lots of practice. But this was the first time Ive been able to get through it all without stopping. Its still a little rough, and it has no subtly at all, but I think I can clean it up in time. I just have to keep practicing.
I felt his hand touch my back, as he sought me out in the dark. Once he located me, his hand moved to my forearm. He gave me a gentle squeeze.
I bet youll be the best in your class, he said.
His hand stayed on my arm. I tried to draw comfort from it. Im sure he was trying to give me encouragement or show his approval. But still, the touch made me nervous. I sensed there was more than simple encouragement in his lingering touch. This had been happening more recently. He was never too pushy, but he was also subtly clear that he would welcome something more than the arms length friendship I had been willing to share with him thus far.
I tried not to pull my arm away. He was willing, but was I? Could I give him more than simple friendship? If I couldnt, would he eventually pull away, unsatisfied?
I reached forward, softly dislodging his hand, and busily closed the lid over the keyboard, a completely unnecessary procedure. This was a heavily used practice piano. Dust was the least of its problems.
I, uh, think thats enough practice for tonight, I said.
(To be continued.)
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