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Chapter 6 "True Lies"
Monday. I was sore, a little irritated emotionally and very irritated physically. Jamie stayed very quiet on Sunday night, and was just as quiet Monday morning on the drive back from Seabrook. Fortunately we weren't in the same homeroom, so we had some time apart. On the other hand, Dave was in my homeroom, and when he saw the way I was walking he started to snicker. I knew what the pervert was thinking, but when I gave him a warning glance all he did was giggle more. I don't know what people who saw us thought but I knew what I was thinking then, and if Dave had known he would have gotten busy doing something else.
"So... did you and big Jay have some fun last night?"
I glared at him. "I don't know what you're talking about."
He leaned in confidentially. "C'mon Chris. Jeremy told me about the little game you and him were playing when I was in the store, and he told me about Jamie, too. Plus I've been watching you guys for months now, and I know what's been goin' on. Let's cough up and say it, okay? I'll start. I'm gay, and I know you and Jamie are, too. Plus, you guys are a couple. Okay? We done playin' the games about it?"
I looked around the homeroom, and David and I were safely off to the side. It was still early and there were only a few others there, on the far side of the room. I was starting to wonder if someone had sewn an invisible pink triangle on my clothes. Everyone had me pegged these days, starting with Karen and on to the guy who ran Kip's Video and some asshole named Jack on a half-deserted beach. Did I suddenly lisp or have a limp wrist or something?
David leaned back in his chair, drilling me with those deep brown eyes of his. His look softened, and he glanced around carefully as more people began to filter into the room. "Look, maybe we ought to talk about this more later. Instead of doing lunch in the caf, why don't we head outside where we can talk free? I'm brown baggin' today, and I've got enough for us both. As for me suddenly figuring it all out, I didn't for sure until Jeremy told me about him and Jamie. I'd suspected maybe you guys had something going on, but that was it. Before that, I just wished you were."
I was going to say something about that until a few other bleary eyed seniors silently cursing Monday drifted into the room, and sat a little too close for plain speaking. Dave casually opened up one of his texts and began skimming, but I noticed his eyes drifted off to me now and then. I opened a notebook and made a show of reviewing my calculus homework, but my mind was anywhere but on calculus. Had I heard right? Had David Sciuoto just told me that he wished I was gay?
I looked at him from the side. David was one of the few guys I had ever seen you could easily call beautiful. Jamie was a drop-dead hunk, I was about average, but Dave was beautiful. I'm not sure how to describe him exactly without sounding stupid. Do I say he had the face of an Apollo? Well, I don't know what Apollo looked like. Maybe that he had a nose that Michael Jackson would've dropped cash for if he wasn't determined to look like Diana Ross? The only way I can say it is that he had two eyes, a nose, and a mouth, just like everyone else. But it was all the angles and planes that go into making the features work together that was different. These angles and planes, together with the subtle curves and valleys that go to composing flesh into a visual were just right in every way. Cap it off with black hair that actually reflected light, and a pair of deep brown eyes that were almost as dark as his hair, and you had something. These were eyes that could penetrate to the soul in one instant, then put you in utter ease the next. Top the eyes with incredibly long lashes and you get the picture... or maybe the idea of it, I don't know. I'm just not that good at describing things. I tried to think back to our junior high days. Had David ever even had a zit?
There was more too - a beauty that didn't show. David never seemed conscious of the effect he had on people, or used his looks to get his way. People maneuvered to get close to him. Male or female, David Sciuoto could have picked his partner from any of the kids at school, and he had just told me he had wished I was gay. Me. The summer before I would have been dancing on a cloud if I had known that; today, it just made me nervous. Jamie was very much a fact of my life, and he was going to stay that way. If Dave told me he wanted us to be more than friends, we were going to have a problem.
Homeroom ended, and Dave waved and hustled out the door; he had to make it to the third floor, and we were on the first. I made it half-way to my first real class of the day when Jamie met up with me in the hall. The first thing I did was apologize to him for being such a dick all last night and this morning on the drive back. He clapped me on the back so hard my books went flying, and I just shook my head as the two of us scrambled to pick them up with people parading all around us. We made it into Miss Crowley's English class with only seconds to spare, which was a good thing because the teacher was a flaming bitch about punctuality. We got to our usual seats and I caught sight of Jamie sitting off to my left, just like always. Then we settled in for a nap, because in addition to being a monster about the clock, Miss Crowley was also a screaming bore.
Jamie and I split up after that. I had history, followed by chemistry lab and that would take me all the way to lunch and my session with Dave. My lab partner was Maureen, and she liked to take the lead. I was more than happy to just be the recorder, since I was about as at-home in a chemistry lab as I was in a kitchen. She happily mixed and measured and heated while I stood by with a timer and a pen, writing it all down. Maureen would also take the lead in writing the report, all I'd have to do was clean up the language, type it up and send it through the printer with the right graphs and whatever else she came up with to support her "findings". Maureen had pretty much pegged me as dead weight long ago, but as long as I was willing to do the clerical grunt work, she was happy. She'd also mentioned more than once that it was nice to work with a guy who wasn't staring at her tits all the time. Did I mention Maureen had great tits? She did. She knew it, and so did every straight boy in the class. Hell, even I noticed, though I didn't really care.
The bell went off, and as usual Maureen and I were already broken down and ready to leave while others raced to complete the assignment or just plain gave up in frustration. I wouldn't really know what the hell we just "proved" until Maureen slipped me her notes and the roughest draft of what we had done. Maureen couldn't write a sentence worth a damn and she knew it, which is why we have been pooling our talents since junior high. Maureen was the science queen, and I was good at shoveling the bullsh - - er, I mean, "writing it up."
Jamie was waiting in the hall and crunched my shoulder like always. Maureen just smiled and gave us a wink. She liked Jamie, just like all the other girls, but had thrown in the towel thinking him hopeless years ago. That wink and smile made me wonder if she maybe picked up on something else, too. If she had, she obviously didn't care to make any comments, and I was good with that.
Jamie had a different lunch than me, so we separated at the main stairwell and he went off to his Advanced French. I'd see him again in the afternoon for our last two periods, plus our 'chance' meetings in the hall. I headed down to the parking lot exit rather than the dining room and saw Dave waiting. We'd taken a lunch for private discussions before but that was school stuff. The picnic tables outside were as likely to have too many extra ears around as the dining hall, and today's discussion was going to be a tad sensitive. We'd chow in his car, a little black Jetta. Hell, his car was so new it didn't have any rust on it yet, which put him at the head of the pack in our school. It was also meticulously clean inside, a reason we never ate in my Tercel. I wash the windshield when I just can't see anymore, and regard the passenger seat as the most convenient of trash cans.
Dave broke out the food, and there was easily enough to feed four. "My Gran's up from New York," he said when I stared at all the food. "She's typical Italian grandmother. She takes one look at me and goes 'Mangia, EAT! Too skee-ney.' She won't be satisfied until I look like my Uncle Louie - 275 lbs and 5'6'."
"What's your dad like?" I asked, as I unwrapped a sandwich.
"Tall and thin - 5'7" and 250," he said, taking a bite. "Damn, I do not want their asses, thank you."
I tried to picture a blimped-out Dave, but didn't want to go there. Important things were on my mind, and since the gay card had been played, it didn't matter. "You got a great ass," I said. "Even Jamie thinks you got the hottest ass in school."
Dave grinned. "Now you tell me that you been checkin' out my ass! I've been sticking it in your face all summer and never got a reaction. For awhile, I was starting to think you really were straight."
I fell silent for a moment, and we both sensed that the subject was going to be a little more sensitive.
"You said something back in Homeroom, Dave. You said you wished I was gay."
We both let it hang there, and he shifted a little uncomfortably. Then he just shrugged and gave me an oh-well look. "Might as well get it out in the open. I always thought you were cute, Chris. Plus I just plain liked you. Maybe it's because of that wise mouth of yours - it's like a razor slicing the air, and I want to duck when you get going. You say all the stuff I think sometimes, and that's what I like. You don't hold back."
I was turning a little red, and he gave me that dazzler smile of his. "This is weird," he said, shaking his head and looking away, almost embarrassed.
"Dave, are you telling me you have a crush on me?" I asked.
He said it with such force it was almost a slap in the face.
"That didn't come out right," he quickly added. "I'm sorry. Yeah, in a way I do have a crush on you - but not the way you think. I know you and Jamie are a couple, and I'm not about to do anything to screw that up. I mean, if you came on to me last summer, I'd have run with it and never even thought twice. But I can see you guys have got something pretty good together, and I don't want to be a wedge or anything like that."
He bit into an apple, and sat there looking thoughtful. Then he fixed directly on me. "Would you say we're friends, Chris?"
I shrugged. "Well, yeah. I've known you since middle school, and we've always been pretty good with each other."
"And two minutes ago I had to describe my father to you. You've never met him or any of my family. Do you even know where I live?"
I started to squirm a little as I thought about it. "No."
"I know where you live, though. But only because I used to pass your house on the way to my piano lesson and see you in the yard."
"I didn't know you played piano."
"I don't anymore. I stopped when I was about fourteen. I kind of turned away from a lot of things when I was fourteen..."
He trailed off, and I saw a sad, worried look pass over his face. Without thinking I reached out and just touched his hand, more to bring him back from the strange, distant place he had gone to, but when I touched him he drew back like I passed him an electric current. I saw a sudden furtive look, and anger. Then it was gone, and Dave had this tired smile.
"Sorry about that," he said. "I'm - sometimes when people touch me unexpectedly, I act kinda funny. Nothing personal, Chris... I just wasn't expecting it."
"Hey, it's ok," I said. "Really, I understand." I didn't, because it wasn't like I had touched him any place a person wouldn't normally touch another, but I didn't want to put him off any more than I already had.
He shook his head. "No, its not ok. It's part of my problem. It's all tied in with why I don't really have any close friends. Dammit, Chris, you're probably the closest friend I got, and you don't know shit about me. I don't... well, I don't let people get close. No one gets inside...ever."
He looked at me directly now, and his eyes were almost begging me. "I just want to be friends with you, Chris. Not a lover, or a toy like I am with Jeremy. It's like I said - I always thought of you as a good friend even if we really weren't that close, just because I always liked you so much. I just never let myself get too attached or close to anyone. I'd like to be close to you. Not close like Jamie and you, but just close. Seeing you Sunday told me we had a shot at that, because we didn't have to have any walls between each other because of the gay stuff. In fact, maybe it could bring us closer."
I thought of my own self-imposed isolation - the need to keep a lot of people at a distance - and understood. It's not easy thinking of yourself as the different one, and trying to hide that difference. It's damn lonely, and a loneliness born from the fear of discovery.
"That's true," I said. "It'd be nice to have someone else besides Jamie to talk about stuff with, especially if I had to talk about Jamie to someone." I paused, looking at him closer, my voice softening. "Is that why you don't have any real friends? You were afraid someone might find out you were gay?"
He swallowed, and rubbed his hand over his chin. It was a while before he went on. "That's part of it. Not all of it, but part of it. I guess I don't have to tell you how much tougher it is... thinking you're all alone."
I shook my head. "No, you don't have to tell me about that. So... what's the other part? What's the other reason you don't let people get too close?"
He reached over and took my hand, the one he had slapped away only a moment before. "Hey - a little bit at a time, ok?" He paused. "I don't really want to cut you out like that, but this is hard for me. I haven't had an open conversation with someone in... well, I don't know how long. The only one I've even talked about being gay with is Karen, and that's only because she brought it up."
"Karen?" I said, astonished. "Karen knows about you being gay?"
He chuckled. "Yeah, Karen. She spotted me with my eyes following you all over the store and asked me one time why the hell I didn't just ask you out."
I shook my head and laughed.
He cocked his head with a curious expression on his face. "What? What?"
"She told me maybe I should ask you out one time," I said. "I guess she had me pegged, too. 'Cuz I was always checkin' out your ass and stuff."
He grinned. "You were checkin' out my ass? Why?"
"It's the best ass this side of a Kodak commercial," I said, laughing, and told him about the one I meant. He liked it. "Anyway, she said I should ask you on a date, but I told her if I did and you were straight, the word would be all over school and I'd wind up dead meat."
"Pretty much the same answer I gave her. Dammit, why didn't she say anything?"
"Prob'ly figured it wasn't her business to push too far - that if any one was going to say something, it had to be one of us. Then I guess when she saw me pair off with Jamie... well, who knows."
We fell silent for a few seconds, and the tension began to relax. I wondered if Karen knew the rest of David's dark secret, the part he wouldn't tell me yet... but again, she would never tell me about it unless David told her it was okay. Karen might sound like a nosy gossip, and in some ways she was, but betraying really confidential stuff was another matter all together. Well, true, there was the part of Mr. Prendegast I didn't know about, but his being gay wasn't much of a secret to anyone. His being in a relationship was, but it also wasn't like she told me who it was. When I pushed it with her, Karen had been very up-front in telling me it was none of my damn business, that I already knew more than I should and to keep my yap shut.
"So, what do you think?" he asked, looking at me expectantly.
He looked a little pissed. "Jesus, you're slow. About us being friends, dumbass! Real friends - not just guys hangin' at school."
I smiled. "Dave, that was carved in stone the minute you said it. I can't think of anyone else I'd like to have as a close friend."
We both did a quick check of the parking lot. The coast was clear, and we leaned in to give each other a big hug. For a little guy, Dave had a grip on him almost as firm as Jamie.
He looked at his watch. "That's it, Chris. Back to the grind. See you in sixth period."
"Yeah, and at work tonight."
The two of us were behind the counter, peeking at the magazine and giggling like a pair of naughty kids who'd just found their father's old stash of Hustlers buried under some junk in the garage. David and I were leafing through a copy of Freshman, thinking we were pulling off the greatest thing ever. I was on the register, and Dave was supposed to be straightening up the periodicals section. It was after 9:30 and the store was closing at 10:00pm, so there was no one in the store to speak of and Dave had finished up. The other two part-timers were going through the store and straightening up the book racks and the idea was we were all out of there by 10:02 - even Karen, who was the manager on duty tonight.
"What are you two up to?"
Dave shoved the magazine under the counter and we both turned around real fast. Karen eyed us suspiciously. I'm sure we both looked as guilty as a thief caught red-handed with diamonds bulging in his pockets as he tumbled into the waiting arms of the cops.
"Ummm... nuthin', Karen," Dave tried.
She stood there, arms crossed, peering up over the frames of her glasses, slowly tapping her foot. Karen will make a good mother. "Right. Now, why don't I believe that?"
"Ah, because you're not that dumb...?" I mumbled.
"That's right, I'm not. And I'm not deaf, either. Step out, guys."
We slid out from behind the counter and Karen stepped in, fishing underneath. She pulled out the glossy magazine and slowly began leafing though it. Both David and I were turning red.
She shook her head. "Guys... all of you. Guys and their magazines. Between your two hard drives, you probably have enough pictures and vids to launch a thousand wet dreams, but you still have to look for more. What is it about guys and porn?"
"A complete lack of a sense of morality or good taste," I threw in, hoping it was what she wanted to hear.
Karen rolled her eyes. "Wise-ass as always. Some day, that mouth of yours is gonna get your tail bounced out of here." She glared at both of us. "Okay, I can see the dynamic between you two has changed. You both have been as thick as thieves all night. And now I find you both checking out porn mags - and gay porn mags to boot. So, when did you two find out about each other?"
I felt my face flush slightly. "This weekend," I said, sheepishly.
"Well, I was on a date with Jeremy, who happened to be an ex of Jamie's, and then we ran into Jamie an' Chris."
"Right. And of course we both talked to our boy - I mean our friends, so we got that out in the open and..."
She held up a hand. "Okay, I get the picture. So now you two are like a couple of twelve year-olds who just found you can do more than pee with it. Well, that's fine. But get your gutter jollies without breaking out the store stock. These things are supposed to be in sealed plastic bags to keep anyone under twenty-one from doing what you two are doing, and unless my records are way out of date, neither one of you qualifies. So from now on, get your giggles on the net like all the other high school kids." She took the magazine and threw it into her drawer, and locked it. "And if I see any more scratch marks on the lock of that thing, I know who to talk to. Got it, boys? You," she said, pointing to me. "Where's Jamie tonight?"
"He only had to work 'til nine, so I guess he's at home by now. He had a bunch of stuff to do so he said he wouldn't be stopping by."
She nodded. Then she pulled something out of the paper section and flopped it on the counter. It was Bay Windows, the Boston area gay newspaper. Karen began leafing through it. "I saw this at a friend's house the other day. It's something I think the both of you will like." She got to a half page ad and tapped a red talon on it.It was for a club called "The Front Runner" in Manchester, New Hampshire, about thirty miles north.
I'd flagged through the paper before, even stopped and visited their web site to see what was going on in the gay scene in Boston. Not that it mattered, but I just liked to see what was going on.
"Okay," I said. "So Hicktown has a gay bar. Even New Hampshire has to have something going for it."
She closed her eyes and shook her head. "The two of you work in a bookstore, for chrissakes, and neither of you can read. Look at it!"
There was a calendar of events for the month, announcing everything from a motorcycle afternoon tea-dance on Sunday to a NH Bears meeting on alternating Tuesdays. About half way down was - -
"Kewl," said David.
It announced an Eighteen-Plus Night for Wednesday, the seventeenth of October. A week from now. You needed an ID of course, and you would be shut out from the bar, but there would be dancing and a buffet.
"Unless I'm mistaken, I read that Haverhill High faculty would be at a teacher's conference and the school would be shut down on Thursday that week. Seems to me that a couple of cute gay boys who aren't going to be scheduled for Wednesday night that week could have a pretty good time for themselves. Plus I could be sure that the stock would be safe from raging hormones."
I pouted. "Jamie's still seventeen. His birthday isn't until next month."
"Too damn bad. That doesn't mean you two can't go. Your birthday's this weekend, right David?"
He nodded. "Sunday."
"And besides, Jamie works every Wednesday no matter what. I know how Sammy schedules over there. And since its mid-week and both your parents are bound to be in the way, it's not like the two of you could get together or anything. So, what do you boys think?"
I could see the gleam in David's eyes.
"I think two Haverhill Kweer Kids are gonna hit Manchester and light up the under-twenty-one scene. Talk about your hot birthday bashes!"
I argued that I shouldn't go, but Karen grabbed Jamie when he dropped by on his break a few nights later and told him what the deal was. Jamie thought it was great that I had Dave to kick back and talk with, and thought it would also be great for us to go out and have some fun together. I insisted that I should stay home Wednesday and that he should come by after work for a little visit, but he just blew me off. "Your parents'll be right upstairs, so all we could do would be to watch TV and maybe cuddle a little. Besides, we got all day Thursday we can... well, get together on... you know? Go ahead, babe - go have some fun."
"You really don't mind if I go with Dave?"
"Why the hell should I mind? Dave's a good guy. And you're better for him to be around than that asshole," he said. I didn't have to ask who he meant when he said "that asshole". "That asshole" was his term of endearment for Jeremy. One day I would really have to dig the dirt out on what happened between them. Maybe I could get Dave to do a little snooping for me on the Jeremy end. I even asked him if maybe he would want to go with Jeremy instead.
"I'll save my breath," he told me. "Jeremy doesn't do dates."
I shook my head. "What is it with Jeremy? He doesn't do friends, he doesn't do boyfriends, and he doesn't do dates. What the hell does Jeremy do?"
Dave shrugged. "Stands around and looks pretty. And he is pretty, when he doesn't have that scowl on his puss."
I looked at him hard. "How'd you meet Jeremy, anyway?"
He shuffled uncomfortably. "Same way Jamie met him. In a chat room."
"Dave, that's crazy. Meeting some guy in a chat room - Jesus, he coulda been a serial killer."
Dave just dead-panned me. "And I suppose pulling into a rest area and offering myself to a total stranger is a good plan? At least I had a chance to talk to him for awhile and sound him out, and I arranged for us to meet in a very public place just in case he wasn't who he claimed to be. Beats the hell out of planting my ass on the hood of a car waiting for Mr. Right to pick me up."
I turned red, and wanted to kick myself for telling Jeremy how I met Jamie. Well, actually I hadn't. I was feeding him this beautifully romantic bullshit story when Jamie just broke in and put it in plain, basic English. Dave thought the whole thing a great laugh. He really got off on the trash can thing and me leaving rubber with my Tercel. Jamie tells the truth too much. At least he knew better than to bring up the Sunday night we spent at the hospital.
"So...what happened if Jeremy doesn't do dates and stuff?"
Dave shrugged. "Well the first night we met, we had a little dinner and then went back to his place - so that we could 'talk' a little more free in private, you know? Well, don't ask me how but before I know it my legs are wrapped around his neck and I'm screaming 'MORE! HARDER!' just like a guy in a porno movie. Even better, a half hour later it's Jeremy's turn for the same thing. Man, does that dude like the bottom!"
I looked Dave over, and tried to imagine him and Jeremy together. "I just don't see him being into that."
"He loves it that way, believe me. Looks are deceiving."
I pictured Jamie at Seabrook, ankles tucked up in the iron bars of Paul's bed and me in the leather outfit. "Yeah, I guess they can be..." I trailed off.
He caught the expression on my face and knew there was a lot more to hear, but understood that it wasn't going to be any time real soon. "Well anyway, the next time we were supposed to go out it was the same thing - except this time I went to pick him up at his apartment and we just plain never made it out. Ditto the next time. Then that Sunday it looked to be going the same way so I just told him - either we went out, or I go out. That's why he looked so pissy that Sunday. Bastard didn't even offer to help with the bill at Ciro's, and that place ain't cheap. After that it was back to his bedroom and he came alive again."
I wrinkled my nose. "Doesn't sound like much of a relationship to me."
Dave sighed. "That's the point, Chris. It isn't a relationship. With Jeremy, it's just sex and that's it. Far as he's concerned, I'm a Playstation - a joystick with two inputs."
"So... I guess you won't be seeing him again."
David shrugged, and I saw the sadness in his eyes. "Not everybody has someone worshiping him for three years. Maybe I'll meet someone soon, but if I don't - well, it beats my right hand, y'know? I'm not deluding myself. I don't have to be in love to get laid, any more than you were looking for love the night you met Jamie."
It was pretty clear David didn't want to discuss Jeremy any more, so I let it go. "Now we got to get into the important stuff. How the hell are we supposed to dress for this thing?"
Dave was sitting next to me behind the wheel of his Jetta, and we were both wondering what to do next.
Strange place for a bar, I thought. Tucked way down on an obscure side street I could understand, but the club was the anchor of a fairly new but hard to find office park. We'd seen dire warnings all over the parking lot about "Space reserved for..." and towing notices, but it was after nine-thirty and all the offices were dark, so we didn't worry about them too much. Still, we were able to make out the big glass door with a pink triangle on it. It was the only thing lit up down this dark street. The notice on the door called it the "Manchester Social Club," but the triangle was a pretty good indication of what it really was.
"Think of it this way," he said, and I could hear the nervous edge on his voice. "It's a gay club, so the only people in there are gay or at least gay-friendly. When you figure in all the shit gay people have to deal with in everyday life, how the hell could they possibly be nasty to one another?"
I thought of Stanley and his little band when David said that, but decided it probably wasn't the best time to bring it up. Think positive, I told myself and mentally colored in the voice of Mr. Wood, our senior guidance counselor. Mr. Wood was one of those 'Power of Positive Thinking' types. He always had some clichéd phrase for us, and these little stories about one of his relatives who... and then he'd trail off into one of his pointless parables that basically encouraged brown-nosing and ass-kissing of whatever power there was. You knew it was all bullshit, but you had to sit there and pretend that it was some sort of revelation. I was waiting for graduation day when I could finally look at him and just tell him to plant it up his no-brain ass. Or at least until I had a copy of a college acceptance for a place I wanted to go.
I glanced out the window. "You think it'll be alright?"
Dave shrugged, sitting next to me in the dark. "What've we got to lose? I mean, I can't be sniffing in the chat rooms and all that, and I'm not about to try your route along the highway. At least at something like this, you can get a chance to see who you're talking to and size 'em up. I mean they can't all be like Jeremy - out for a quick hump, and that's it."
I giggled. "I was right. You do want a boyfriend."
"I just want to be more than a sex toy. He don't have to love me... just like me. I'll be happy to have that for now."
I rubbed his shoulder affectionately. "Hey - I like you."
"Uh-huh. And you got two hundred pounds of muscle to play with, who'd kill me if it ever started to turn into more than just 'like'. I need more than a shoulder rub now and then." He nervously glanced at his watch. "Damn, if this doesn't work, I'll have to call Jeremy again."
"The guy's an asshole. I don't know why you bother."
He shrugged his shoulders. "That's easy - he's a lot better than a hand-job."
We sat staring at the door. Another car drove slowly by, and I saw another guy our age peering at us, probably hoping we weren't from his school or someone that knew him. He parked as far from us as he could in the crowded lot.
"Enough," said Dave, and he jerked the door handle and we stepped out, standing in the glow of the Jetta's dome light. He slammed the door and I followed suit and the two of us tried to make a brave show of walking nonchalantly across the parking lot. Then another car caught us in the headlights and we sprinted the rest of the way to the glass doors of The Front Runner.
"Think they saw us?" I asked nervously.
"Jesus, I hope so. That's what we're here for - remember, dumbass?" He struck a crazy pose. "We are here to see - and to BE seen!" he said grandly and threw the door open with a flourish. "Prepare to enter the Emerald City, Toto!"
"Hey, no height jokes!" I whispered.
It was an off-white corridor, leading to the left, lined with dull, worn carpet. I was disappointed. Somehow, I had expected something fabulous. Not just special, but fabulous. This looked more like the entryway to an HMO. We turned to the right, and sure enough, there was the reception desk dead ahead. The charge nurse was interesting. We both stopped cold, and I grabbed Dave and pulled him back around the corner.
"Dude," I whispered. "That's a drag queen."
"Ugly one, too. Jesus, he must put the make-up on with a paint roller and detail with a sash brush. Did you see those tits?"
I winced. "You mean the traffic cones? And what do they call that stuff the dress is made of? Lame`?"
"And the wig," he giggled. "My gram got a better one at K-Mart when she went to the hospital."
We took the corner again, and did our best to close the last ten feet without breaking up. Then his (her?) face split in an enormous smile. "Oh, my brave ones! Welcome, welcome to you both - that is here, and, if I may say, you are lovely... lovely and bold on this fine night. Do not be afraid, for, you are not - as it were - alone anymore! This fine community of brave souls welcomes you to their breasts!"
"Yo, Blanche," said a tall, thin guy standing next to her. "Just check the ID's ok? Let the bartenders do the welcome wagon bit. Check the little guy's real close, I don't want any fifteen year olds sneaking in. The cops are tough enough when we do a Romper Room."
We gave up our driver's licenses. Dave got a quick pass, but they kept on looking at mine, making sure the holographic imaging was present and that everything was absolutely intact.
"Well, my brave darlings," the diva said, extending her left arm theatrically. "You shall pass! Onward - and I believe, upward - in this place of happiness! It has been my distinct pleasure to have met you, my dear, Chris. And should you not know, I , as always, am just Ju - "
"Shut up, blowhard," said Mr. Thin, behind her. "Quit cruisin' the tender cuts in the meat rack, ok? This is Twink Patrol tonight, not Crotch Watch. Ten bucks, guys. Each."
We paid up and hustled away as the two bickered at one another.
"Jesus, can you imagine if everyone talked like that?" I whispered as we walked down the corridor.
"Could be worse - they might write like that, too. There's something familiar about that guy though... shit! I swear, it's the guy who painted our house last summer."
We passed the coat room, and got our first look at Oz through glass doors.
The room was filled with men, and even outside the doors we could feel the music more than hear it as the bass rattled the walls and floor around us. I could feel every beat rumbling through me, and when I looked at Dave's face, I could see that it had grabbed him, too. I had never seen him more alert or alive. We stood looking at a room filled with men, men of every age and look. When the door opened and the music hit us full force, you could smell them, feel them getting into you. Gay men, aroused and alive, prowling in their private world, looking for love or lust or whatever. Eyes went over you and appraised what they saw, accepting or rejecting in the blink of an eye. It scared me, but it set a fire in David I knew. He was hooked.
"We made it, Chris, and I ain't ever going back to Kansas," he yelled over the din. "And right now I want to do the one thing I think is the sexiest thing guys can do with each other." He looked at me with crazy eyes and a quivering smile as he took me by the hand and pulled me out to the dance floor. "Come and dance with me. Fast ones and slow ones, don't matter. Just dance with me."
Dave was a great dancer, and one of the few things I could ever thank my older sister for was teaching me some good moves. The floor wasn't packed, but it was busy, and we went non-stop for almost a half-hour. The DJ was pumping out one solid dance mix after another, working the lights and keeping us all off-base. We felt the heat from the bodies around us, took in the free flesh show as men tore off sweat-drenched shirts and moved wildly on the floor. There was a small stage in front of the DJ booth and a couple of guys were just short of having sex in front of the whole club... and no one cared. Oh, they watched, and some leered, but no one was going to stop them. Then without warning, the thunderous music around us stopped, and the lights were gone. Slowly, the sounds of an old slow dance cautiously crept from the speakers, and all around us arms slipped around a partner, even just a partner for the moment, and the bodies pressed together and heads were leaned on shoulders, and the crowd slowly moved along the floor.
Dave and I were no different, and in that moment I knew what it was like to be close, truly close, with a friend. Dave's cheek was close to mine, and I could smell his cologne and his sweat mixed together. I could feel his arms squeezing around my waist, and I locked my arms around his neck. Our crotches rubbed, but it wasn't about sex; it was about a moment between us, one I don't think either of us had ever had before or maybe ever would again. This was a first for both of us and we were sharing it, doing that dumb imitation of a slow waltz all people do, just shuffling around in small circles with our bodies pressed against each other.
Finally I just pulled Dave closer into me and he gave me a hug and kissed my cheek as we parted. I slipped an arm around him and we left the floor as the last strains of the slow song trailed off, and the lights came on again and the thundering began again. It would have been nicer if it were Jamie beside me, but things were different between David and me now, and we relaxed more and actually enjoyed the feeling of being touched by a friend in a public place. It really felt good next to him, and we were sipping cokes and checking out the crowd as we leaned against the rail that surrounded the floor. We were both clapping wildly when this guy jumped on top of one of the speakers and tore off his shirt and started a wild set of moves. I thought the security people might come after him but this didn't seem to be an unusual thing here, and the waiters just nodded and took orders.
We had to retreat from the music a little, so we leaned against the wall that separated this section from the bar room. Dave's eyes still glittered as he looked 'round the room, and I wasn't much better. We both scanned the 'Competition', and at least Dave was checking the 'Possibilities'. Well, so was I. One drew my attention, for no better reason than he was openly staring our way. He was in a loose fitting rugby shirt that showed off a great upper body, and a pair of pants carefully tailored in the seat and crotch to show off everything else. From a side view, he had an ass that was at least as nice as Dave's, maybe even better. I tried for some direct eye contact, but it was hard to tell with the flash of the lights, but his head was nodding and he was looking my way. I was doing my best to see how interested I could get him. Pretty interested, I thought, and then he pushed off from the rail and was headed our way. "Got a live one," I told David, and he turned to see what I meant.
"If Jamie only knew," he called over my shoulder.
"I'm Evan, and you are one sexy guy," he said, sliding in
between us and promptly turning his back on me. He leaned his arm against
the wall and rested his head on his fist, all eyes and smiles for David.
"Er, I'm Chris," I said, leaning in.
"Wow - David. It means beloved in Hebrew, you know."
"Did you meet Chris?" he said, pointing to me.
"God, you've got gorgeous eyes." He paused, then eyed me for a moment. "Hi, Chris."
Before I could answer, he turned back. "So, David - wow, that is so much better-sounding than just 'Dave'! I haven't seen you here before. Your first time? In for, like, chicken night?"
He grinned. "Guess so. Might say I'm one of the chicks. Um, Chris is with me."
"Kewl. Nice for a hot hunk to bring a little friend along. So, you in college? I go to UNH. Just a sophomore, but I come here on the weekends with a doctored up ID. Heh, don't tell the Dragon Lady at the door, ok? Hey, like, I might be able to get you one if you want - a fake ID I mean. And hey, my roommate's gone tonight. Nice, huh? Got the room at the dorm all to myself, like. Wanna dance?"
"Um....." David looked around Evan at me, helplessly.
I sighed and rolled my eyes. "Go ahead, don't pay any attention to me. He certainly isn't."
David shrugged, and if Evan heard me he didn't bother to acknowledge it. Evan pushed off the wall and took David's hand and lead him off to the floor. David looked back with this half-confused, half-laughing look on his face, and the two spun off into the mix. I dropped against the wall and went into sulk mode.
Suddenly, we were plunged into blackness as the strobe-lights began to whirl around on the dance floor, and it was tough to make things out as the laser beams pulsed with every beat. I blinked once or twice to get my bearings, but the room seemed out of kilter. I felt someone standing close behind me. "That was plain mean," he said, in a soft, quiet voice. "Cut you off, like you didn't exist." At first, I wasn't sure I'd heard it. I turned. He was about David's height, with a slender build from what I could see.
I shrugged, squinting as I tried to make out his features, but it wasn't any use.
"Don't let that arsehole bother you," he said. His voice sounded slightly foreign, but I couldn't quite place it. He smiled at me. "You seem like a nice guy, and he's just too blind to see it. I'm Jade," he said, and offered his hand.
"I'm - " I started.
"Yeah, Chris - I heard. Wish I could stay, but I can't. Maybe I'll see you again. I hope so."
Then he leaned in and gave me just the quickest kiss on the cheek before giving my hand a squeeze and whirled away. The lights went off from the dance floor for a second as he stepped into the hallway that led to the main bar. He turned to wave, but he was so heavily back-lit, all I could make out was his silhouette. Then he was gone.
I tried to go after him, just to thank him for making me feel better about being snubbed. Was I attracted? Yes. I was attracted because he was just a nice guy, and he actually seemed to care that a stranger could have his feelings hurt. I'd come here hoping to make some friends, not to line up a date. Sure, I was flirting with Evan, but that was just for a little fun. I thought maybe we could dance and laugh a little, but I never intended to lead him on. Being edged out by David in the looks department was no big deal - I expected that. What I didn't expect was to be treated like I didn't exist.
I made it into the main bar and was about to sprint to the coat room to see if I could find Jade when I slammed into a solid chest that sent a drink flying and me bouncing back to the floor. I sat there, dazed, hearing the laughter pointed at me and I blushed. I felt like an idiot, sitting there covered with something dark that was more than coke. Great, I thought. If my parents were up when I got home, I'd get the third degree for sure and a lecture on teen drinking no matter what I told them, and I wasn't about to tell them that I was doused in a gay bar having an underage night chasing a mystery kisser out the door. Good thing I wasn't driving, either. This was the perfect time for a tail light to burn out and get pulled over by an over-ambitious cop who had nothing but time on his hands. I'm not on real intimate terms with rum, but I know what it smells like, at least.
I sat back, looking at a pair of denim-clad knees, and followed up to... well never mind what I followed up to next. But from there, my eyes followed up a snug-fitting red sweatshirt. Then I saw this big happy smile wreathed with dimples and clear gray eyes, topped off with a long cascade of shiny brown hair. He wasn't as big and tight as Jamie, but this guy was a wet dream in the flesh. And unless he had a second pair of sox on him that night, God had been very good to him.
"Dude, ya gotta watch where you're goin'!" He was laughing, and held out a hand to help me up. He pulled me up off the floor, then twitched his head to the right so his hair flipped back over his shoulder. I noticed he had one of the green wrist bands on, which meant he was over twenty-one. He nodded, reading my mind. "Yeah, guy. It was a rum and coke, and I just bet you live at home with your folks, right?"
"Uh-huh," I said, nodding. "And with luck they'll be sound asleep when I come sneaking in."
"I'm real sorry, but you came out of nowhere and my hands just went out in like a reflex. I guess I'm about as responsible as you." He was still smiling, and one eye was half-covered by a wave of hair. I found the look incredibly sexy. I may have thought of Evan as hot-looking, but I never intended to try to do more than get him out on a dance floor. I found myself staring at this guy and fantasizing as if Jamie never existed.
"Hey, I'd offer you a drink but the best I could get you is a coke... er..."
The big easy smile again. "No sweat. Name's Ken. Tell you what - I'll get us both something, but you gotta promise to go over to that table and sit real quiet while I walk back, okay? I don't think either one of us wants an encore... um, uh..." he wiggled his eyebrows at me like they were big question marks as I stood staring at him, my mouth slightly open. He still waited expectantly, and he opened his eyes wide. "Hey, you got a name?"
Oh yeah, St. Jacques. Real smooth. "C-c-chris," I stammered. "Sorry, uh, Ken...heh... guess I'm a little on the shell-shocked side... heh heh." Jesus, I even sounded stupid now.
He looked me over with more than casual interest. "Looks like something else is a little shook up, too," he said and went for the bar. I didn't realize what he meant until I was suddenly aware of the fact that I had a thumper and was tenting the front of my pants. I scuttled for the seats Ken had pointed out, then nervously pulled my pants around me to give me a little slack, just to help camouflage my excitement. Jesus Christ, I thought. Next time, I'm wearing briefs. My hands were sweaty and my throat felt dry. What's the matter with me? I've got my own hunk back in Haverhill who's every bit as hot as this guy. Why am I acting like this?
Because, I told myself as my own devil's advocate, you're not the only one who's turned on, and you like the attention...
Ken came back with two bottles of flavored sparkling water and handed me one. "AJ says he won't serve me liquor since he knows I'm sitting with you. The Manchester cops are usually pretty cool about this place, but when they have an under-age night, they watch it pretty close. They're afraid I might slip you something."
"But..." I protested, "if I were in the other room and you came out for a drink..."
"They'd never say a word, even if I bought two and handed you one on the other side. Dumb rules, but I don't make 'em. And not getting served a rum and coke 'cuz I wanna talk to a nice-lookin' guy ain't exactly the worst thing that ever happened to me." His smile made me feel like the temperature in the room just went up 20 degrees. "So, where you from? And you're in high school, right?"
"I guess my kid face makes that pretty clear."
Ken snorted. "Well, if you got by Godzilla and Martin at the door you gotta be at least eighteen, so I know I won't get hauled up for statutory rape."
You couldn't rape me, I thought. You can't rape the willing. Noooooo, play it cool. "Making some assumptions, aren't you?" I said, grinning.
He reddened and shook his head, but his smile staid intact. "Oh man, sorry! I didn't mean to sound like that. No man, really - I was just kiddin'. Actually, I have to leave here soon. I got a date with a guy who's gettin' off work, and we're meeting at my place. I got an apartment in Lawrence, that's just across-"
"The Mass border. I know, I'm from Haverhill."
That got me a happy face. "Wow, Haverhill! You're just down the highway from me. That's where my date's from, too. He's a senior at Whittier Tech. You go there by any chance?"
I sighed with relief. Whittier Tech was the vocational school in the regional district. I didn't know if I wanted to find out about any more gay kids at Haverhill High right now... or have them find out about me.
He stood up. "Look, Chris - you seem like a nice guy, and I'd like to get to know you better, so here's the deal," he was digging a stub of pencil out of his pocket and began scribbling on a cocktail napkin. "I know you're in high school, so that means living at home... so, here's my number. I know better than to ask for yours." He handed me the paper. "Give me a call sometime, and maybe we can work something out. And I'm talkin' just a date, not, well... yeah." He grinned. "We can get to know each other better."
I picked it up and folded it, still looking at his face, and liking what I saw more and more from the deep laugh lines around his mouth to the wave of hair that kept falling in front of his left eye. A lot of guys look like hell with long hair, but Ken wasn't one of them. I leaned back and sipped my fizz water. "What about your boyfriend?" I asked, trying not to think of mine.
He grinned. "Well, for starters, he ain't exactly my boyfriend. He's, um, well... We sorta get together now and then, even though I haven't seen much of him since the end of summer. I get the feeling he has a girlfriend or something - I mean, I don't have to tell you what high school is like. But, um... well, we get together now and then... just sorta friendly and all. But to tell ya the truth, I wouldn't mind having him to myself. Big guy, drop-dead gorgeous - all the things you dream about. Damn smart for a voc guy. His name's Rob, and..."
David was back - and without Evan, I was happy to see. Instead, he had a new guy in tow, about the same height as Dave, but a much stockier build. Not fat, just a big-chested guy. Light brown hair and blue eyes, and if he wasn't Irish with that upturned nose of his and rosy cheeks, I don't know who was. He had a shy look to him, like maybe he was a little uncomfortable being here, something I could understand. David had fit himself into the rush real well, but I was still more than a little nervous. Ken was being a nice guy, and while he made it clear he was interested, at least he wasn't being pushy or a pain in the ass about anything.
Dave gave Ken the once-over, then grinned at me. "Well, I see you've been busy."
"Don't be smart, David. What happened to Evan?"
"Evan found out not every guy likes having his balls played with on the dance floor or wants to see the ceiling of his room at UNH. Then I found Mr. Shy here hiding in a corner. This is Eric - Eric, this is my friend Chris, and..." he looked expectantly at Ken.
"I know Kenny," Eric said with a big smile, and he extended his hand to me. "Nice meeting you, Chris. Hey Ken, I thought you had a date with that big stud from Haverhill?"
"Master of timing, Eric. Just when I had Chris ready to take a walk to my car. Oh, Jesus - don't go all red now, I was just kiddin'! Really, I just told Chris I had to run, and he knows all about Rob, so you can forget the gossip once I'm gone." Kenny stood, and took my hand in his giving me a gentle squeeze. Our eyes locked, and his voice dropped a little. "Seriously dude - you got my number, so give me a call and we can do somethin' sometime."
Oh, yeah. I had his number all right.
He turned to David. "Good move losing Evan, by the way. He's bad news. And me - I gotta make steel fly and get thirty miles in twenty minutes! David, nice almost meeting you. Always good seeing you Eric, and Chris..." he gave my cheek a quick brush with his lips and squeezed my shoulder. A flick of his head to clear the hair again, and a wink. Then he was gone.
Eric watched Ken's back as he passed through the doors into the hallway. "If it's worth anything to you, Chris, Ken's a great guy."
"Looked a little old for an 18-Plus party," Dave put in.
Eric shrugged. "He just turned twenty-one a couple weeks ago. He's been coming to these things since he started at Merrimack College, and he likes seeing the people he used to hang with that can't go clubbing on a regular night. I met him about a year ago and he's great."
Dave leaned his chin into his cupped hands, and looked directly into Eric's face with a dreamy smile. "So, tell me about - "
"The guy from Whittier is named Rob? He come in here?"
"Nah, tell you the truth I think he's under age but you'd never know it. Big guy, over six feet, beautiful blond hair and--- "
I felt something grab me in the chest. "Really deep blue eyes?"
"You got it. And built! He's so damn big he has to drive this big clunker of a Ford."
Whatever grabbed me was squeezing harder. "Like a Crown Vic?"
"Yeah, I saw it a couple times and it's a gas guzzling oil slurper."
David was staring at me, and I could hear his mental message. "Don't go there. Stop before it's too late. Don't."
"I don't suppose he has this really husky kinda dumb-jock voice does he?"
Ken thought for a minute. "Yeah, he sounds like Dauber on the old 'Coach' series."
I sat back, all hope lost, defeat in every muscle of my body. "Wonder where they met..." I trailed off.
Eric leaned forward, mischief in his eyes. I wondered if he knew how much I hated him and his gossip at that moment. "Ken doesn't make any bones about how he stops for a little 'roadside assistance' every now and then. I mean... a guy has needs, you understand."
I felt so tired, I wanted to be out of this place so much. "Yeah. I understand. Do they see each other much?"
Eric shrugged. "Way Kenny says it, they were all hot and heavy for a while last summer, nothing serious you understand - not a big deal romance. Just, you know, physical. But then it dropped right off just before school started, that's why Ken figures the guy has a girl friend stashed or something. You're in high school, you know what it's like. I think this is maybe the third or forth time they've been able to get together since September. Always during the week, never on the weekend." He sniggered. "The guy's been pretty lucky so far, though. He's gonna get spotted sooner or later."
"Ken has this little thing of his - he always likes leaving a mark. Nothin' big, just a little hickey where his guy can't see it real easy. Usually just under the shoulder blade or something. If Rob's got a girlfriend, she's gonna spot it one of these days."
Dave had the Jetta cranked up to warp speed as usual. I didn't react, just stared out the window into the darkness, wishing I was home.
"You haven't said anything since you doused Eric with your drink. I suppose you're pissed at me too?"
"Why would I be pissed at you?" I said, quietly.
"Same reason you were pissed off at Eric - no reason at all. You asked questions, he answered 'em. Wasn't his fault you didn't like the answers."
"You've got no idea what it's like. I trusted Jamie, and he's screwing someone behind my back. He's prob'ly screwing him right now."
"Hey, I know something about being screwed over, Chris," David said flatly. "And you. If I fished in your pockets, would I find Ken's name and phone number folded up neatly in your wallet? I saw you tucking something there when I came around the corner. And I saw that 'come do me baby' look you had on your face."
"It's not the same thing!" I snapped. "Dammit, Dave, you make me sound like a friggin' hypocrite!"
"That's 'cuz your acting like one."
Happy Holidays everyone. See you in 2002, maybe
sooner but it doesn't look that way.
All comments always appreciated to Boilooker2001@yahoo.com
Special thanks to my friend Marc for his hard work on this chapter.