New Short: One Night Only [NSFW]

A while back, Riptide had a call for stories about johns, and I started this thing.  I never made it into the sub call because I am slow, but this was too nice not to share.  Graphic depictions of sex.

For some mysterious reason, all the tricks got excited when the second Wednesday of the month rolled around.  The three main streets where they could surreptitiously (or obnoxiously) hang things out to dry (and be picked up, for a nominal fee) vibrated with a special energy.  Boys who usually had nothing to do with each other hopped from one foot to the other and whispered in little conclaves, eyes scanning the corners and the trolling cars.

“They’ll be here,” one of them murmured around a cigarette and ran a hand through his hair.

“Who?” asked someone new, his face still shiny with freshness, his jeans not yet worn at the knees.  You never wore your best ones unless it was snowing—that was an old trick.

“Them,” said another one, a man named Diego, who had been glued to the same corner for three years.  He pointed to the shadow of the department store.  “The guys from Zeitinger’s. Last time I got me a Burberry coat.”

Tiny Twink’s eyes settled on the darkened windows of the store. “They work there?”

Diego sighed and flicked his cigarette out in to the street. “Oh yeah, baby. All day, every day.”

***

“Dammit, Carl!  Stop taking so long!”

“I can’t get this thing on right,” came a mutter from the back room.  Carl appeared, pushing aside the curtain and blinking.  “How’s this?”

“Your head is on backwards.”

“Oh, fuckbears,” Carl mumbled, reaching up to vise his head in both hands and twist, turning it neatly around. Then he swiveled his body and blinked at them again. “Better?” When no one said anything, Carl dived back into the dressing room. “I gotta get better shorts. These make my dick look tiny.”

Bobby rolled his eyes and smeared a little bit of rouge on his cheeks. He didn’t have any coloring at all, and if he didn’t want the trick to think he was made out of plastic (“Fiberglass, man! Fiberglass!”), he had to give his face some contrast. “It doesn’t matter how big your dick is when you pay for it, jackass.”

Carl opened the curtain in mid-change. Why any of them might be modest in the slightest was beyond Bobby.   They were disrobed in public every day. “Oh honey, it always matters.”

Bobby thought that the best thing about Free Wednesdays was that he didn’t have to see these pricks until morning. He stuck a hand into his pockets experimentally, to make sure he could quickly hide his fingernail-free hands if he needed to. Not everything was made real with their bodies, and though he could have wished that he had real hair and not a toupee, he was anatomically correct, and he wasn’t going to look a gift-horse in the mouth. He had things to do.

***

Roger tossed the makeup in the back of the counter and smacked his lips a few times. He looked almost normal. Behind him, Carl grumbled and there was the snapping of elastic bands. Roger pulled on his leather gloves, the ones that made the tricks call him “The Commandant”. Bobby patted his pockets, probably checking that the diamond rings he’d liberated were still in place. You had to pay up front with these guys, and Roger didn’t blame them.

The thing about being a mostly-inanimate object was that money was scarce. You didn’t get paid, and you couldn’t go about lifting wallets. You could, if you were so inclined, take mental snapshots of people’s credit cards and pin numbers as they entered them in the keypad, but that did diddly-squat when you only had about six hours to get out there, get your cock sucked, and get back onto the display table before opening.

Besides, Roger didn’t even know how to use a computer. He spent his days modeling (three piece suits, quite well, he acknowledged with a hum of satisfaction), and while he didn’t know anything about computers or credit cards, other than that they apparently got you everything you could want in the store, they could not buy you a street prostitute.

He had three gold chains from the jewelry department in the pocket of his waistcoat. His hat was jaunty. He had a walking stick and a pair of wingtips. He was the fucking man.

Carl slid into his puffy coat and yanked his trousers up a little bit. “You can see my ass,” he told them, and then turned so that they could both look at his boxers. “Aw shee-it.” He stuffed his feet into Timberlands and waved his nail-less fingers about. “I am getting fucking laid to-nite.”

Though he might not have expressed it in such a fashion, Roger had to agree. He pulled the brim of his hat down just a bit, to secure his hair in place underneath it.

“Indeed.”

***

What Carl liked about Broad Avenue was that the pickings were never slim. Well, they were all slim. Some of them were downright skinny as far as he was concerned. Not that he was some sort of chubby-chaser, it was that they all looked so fucking hungry all the time.

Bobby stuffed his hands into his coat and veered away almost immediately as soon as they left the store. Roger had an appointment, as he always put it. Some regular sex thing. Carl didn’t get that; there were too many pieces of ass out there to settle on one, right? Well, okay, you had to pick one in the end, but you didn’t have to go back to him night after night after night.

Carl strolled down the street, trying out the stagger he’d seen on the music video that looped in the Juniors department every day. It was easy to do if you had to do it to keep your trousers up, so Carl figured he was good to go. The store was on the corner of Broad and Richel, and depending on which way you went, you could get boys or bitches. Bobby thought it was funny that the girls weren’t on Broad, but Bobby thought dumb things were funny.

Carl started the evaluation before he even got to them: Diego was too talky; Can-Can was called Can-Can, for fuck’s sake; Mike had a snaggletooth; Justin had been missing for weeks. There were three new ones since his last visit, and Carl disregarded the first one because he was wearing a pea-coat. Granted, it was a shitty pea-coat, and it looked like he’d spilled nacho cheese down the front, but still.

Number two was currently in negotiations with a Honda Civic, possibly the driver of the Honda Civic. That left the third one, a scrawny jean-jacketed thing with good jeans and bad Keds. His hands were shoved in his pockets, and that he didn’t have a hat on was a sign. His name was probably Mickey or Greg.

“Hey,” Carl said, waving a finger like he would the waitress at the diner. He had to sidestep Can-Can, but that was just the way things were. The boy did that thing people did in movies: look behind them, and then back at Carl before pointing to his chest and mouthing “Me?”

“Yeah,” Carl said, closing the distance between them and shrugging. “You free?”

The boy nodded. “We could fuck–“

Carl held up a hand. “Jesus, slow down, man.” He pointed to his head. “I’m Carl.”

Maybe-Mickey/Maybe-Greg nodded. “Brian.” Perfect. “You from the store?”

Carl threw an arm around his shoulders. Reputation got rid of all manner of issues, especially useful when you had a four-hour window. “I most certainly am. Do you take iPods in the packaging?” He opened his coat and let the plastic box peek out.

Brian glanced at the package nervously, as if he wasn’t sure whether or not he fucked for mp3 players.   Can-Can smacked him on the back. “Honey, if you don’t, I will.”

Brian blinked, eyes on the iPod, as if he was unsure. Yeah, he probably wanted to keep it, right? Carl didn’t blame him. Maybe he’d make a good amount tonight. Hell, maybe lunch hour was his busy time and this was just for drinking money.

“You can sell it to one of these dicks later, if you want,” he said under his breath.

Brian started, and then smiled, as if that had made up his mind for him. “All right. You got a car?”

Carl had considered the car issue many a time before. Even if he did know how to hot-wire a car, he’d have to know how to drive it. It had three pedals, right? He’d only been doing this for a few months. Maybe in a few years he’d get tired of getting laid on his one night out, but that day was far off.

“Naw, but come on.” He tightened his hold on Brian’s shoulder and steered him away from the street and down the sidewalk. He so wasn’t doing it here in front of everybody. Brian seemed to make up his mind, and he fell into step beside Carl when they rounded the corner, turned onto Richel, and towards the busier all-night eateries this way. Carl stopped at the first one, a diner called The Diner, and held the door open for his temporary date.

The waitress was a regular who never had a problem undercharging for whatever Carl’s tricks ordered. They could have ordered fifteen open-faced sandwiches and Flo probably would have brought them. The petty cash box in the Juniors department had about fifteen bucks in it at any given time, sometimes more, sometimes less. Not enough for a fuck, but enough to feed one. And there had to be a point where you couldn’t swipe too much from the electronics department, right? Carl went with the cash and wondered if he was supposed to feel bad about that.

It was like the car thing—he knew how to open the door, but not what to do after. So you come to life, Carl. Now what? And really, he stood there all day in his fucking Hilfiger jeans—he deserved compensation.

“Get whatever you want,” he told Brian after ordering a coffee. “My treat.” Flo just winked.

Brian ordered a burger. They always went for the burger. It was like thunder and lightning, smoke and fire. You got one, and the next thing was inevitable. And if you have to get the burger, then you have to get the fries, and the milkshake. And the pickles. For the longest time Carl had thought that it was a rule that the milkshake came with the burger.

“So, how long you been doing this?” Carl asked Brian after Flo left his milkshake there. Carl wrapped his hands around the cup of coffee she’d set in front of him, but he wasn’t going to be drinking it.

Brian looked up then, and Carl could see how blue his eyes were. Jesus he looked like a sled dog. “Uh, I, well…here?” He shifted uncomfortably. “Not long. Before this I was–“

Carl poured a creamer into his coffee. It didn’t do anything for him, but it looked fucking cool. “Nah, that’s cool. Just making small talk.”

That didn’t seem to relax as Brian as much as he had hoped, because the shifting continued. “You know, maybe you should tell me what you want, because I’m not into any of that weird-ass shit–“

Carl pulled a straw from the dispenser and stirred his coffee. “Nah, nothing like that, you know. Just don’t like the idea of fucking on an empty, you know?” He held out the straw to Brian. “Drink up, man.”

Brian paused, eye flitting to Flo moving at the counter, to the jukebox, belting out a tune about a wheel in the sky, and the flurries that started to fall outside. Then he reached up and took the straw. “Yeah, okay, yeah, I get it.”

***

Diego was easy to entice with the lifted rings, Bobby thought. Diego was easy all around, actually. Bobby tried to see different guys when we went out to get his joint copped, but Diego was one of those guys who didn’t mind fucking behind a dumpster and he still managed to smell like cologne.

There was old snow on the ground, but it had been shoveled up into black greasy piles. The cook from the Chinese restaurant had shoveled a walkway for himself from the back door to the dumpster, and it was littered with scraps and sloppy drips of grease. Bobby didn’t eat or drink, but he could appreciate the lackluster quality of the environment back there.

On the other hand, if Diego didn’t feel like kneeling, he’d let Bobby fuck him for the same price, which was good, because Bobby had blown his whole wad on Diego’s services to begin with.

Diego slipped a little on the wet ground, and he whooped, reaching out for the greasy wall to steady himself. Behind them, the street clamored on, boys calling to cars, headlights bending around the dark corners. Bobby put on hand on Diego’s shoulder, heeling the crusty frost in the trimming of the purple faux-fur.

“Don’t die,” he joked, and Diego coughed out a laugh, one of his hands reaching out to Bobby’s arm for balance.

“Fuck this shit,” Diego said, picking through the snow and garbage until they were past the dumpster and into the narrow lane that curved out of street view. The door to the Chinese restaurant was just a few feet away, the storm door open and steam pouring through the screen door into the alley. “I’m gonna get me some lo mein later.”

Bobby wondered if he could make a sex joke about his lo mein, but that was lame, and his pants weren’t going to get any looser if he just stood here. He’d been hard since he woke up. Actually, he’d be hard forever, really. He could fuck Diego’s ass and come and then just fuck again, and then maybe again after that, but apparently that wasn’t normal, actually.

It had taken him a few tries over the months to figure out that dicks were supposed to eventually get soft.

Diego turned to him then, let Bobby push him up against the wall of the building, and smiled. “Been a while, huh?”f

A fucking month, Bobby didn’t say. Instead, he reached down and undid the snaps on Diego’s pants. Diego didn’t wear underwear, which was a fucking relief since that was all Bobby did wear most of the time. Sometimes he just wanted to rip all that shit to shreds in the overnight and leave the fucking mess there for the clerks to deal with the following morning, but that would have taken his entire window of time, so it wasn’t worth it.

Diego undid the buttons and zip of his trousers and laughed. “Always ready,” he snorted, and he didn’t know the half of it. He grasped Bobby’s cock and worked his fist up and down the shaft, digging into his coat pocket with the other. He hand came up with a foil packet, flipping it in his fingers. “You or me?”

Bobby didn’t wonder if he was going to have to negotiate anymore, just snatched the condom from Diego’s hand and turned him roughly. “Ooooh,” Diego said, and it sounded a tinge worried, a tinge bored. Possibly both, though that seemed counter-intuitive. Bobby fumbled with the condom, finally ripping it open and securing it on his cock, and by the time he was ready, Diego’s pants were down at his knees trapped there so they wouldn’t fall into the snow and get all wet.

Bobby had no frame of reference as to what sex was supposed to be like, but somewhere along the line he’d realized that there was a certain “way” things should be. Diego grunted when he pushed into his ass, and that seemed to be okay. The sensation of tightening pressure on his cock was like nothing Bobby had ever felt before—at least it always felt that way. He groaned and wondered what had made him so special that he earned this every month.

“God, move,” Diego hissed, one of his hands bracing himself up against the wall, the other reaching in front to tug his cock. Bobby had no way of knowing if Diego was just doing it for show, or if he enjoyed this. It was illegal, and that seemed to mean that it wasn’t good.

Diego’s breath came in huffs, and he tossed his hair over his shoulder—he always seemed to need a haircut. Or that could have been his style.      Bobby never really thought about it until now.

He pulled out and pushed back in, figuring he’d do this as long as he could until Diego cut it off. There was never a crescendo, just a never ending push to fuck harder and harder. He pressed his fingers into Diego’s hips and steadied him, making sure his own feet were flat on the ground before falling into Diego, who collapsed against the wall and inched up a little bit, so that he was on the tips of his toes.

“Oh, you hit–” Diego started and then bit his lower lip. Bobby ground into him, and then pulled back as much as he could, letting Diego’s feet land fully back on the ground before pushing forward again.

They were hidden from the street, but the sound of boys calling cars, of tires on snow, the high pitched whisshing of slush being kicked up in the treads threaded back to them, bouncing off the brick walls. Closer to them, the door to the Chinese restaurant opened and a hand tossed a dead chicken carcass into the alley. It soared end over end to land in the dumpster with a hollow thud. Diego started at the noise and Bobby reached around to grab his cock, pumping it in one hand. He couldn’t come, but he would know to stop when Diego did.

It didn’t take long. His hand, warmed by Diego’s cock, manipulated the foreskin in his palm. Bobby timed his hand and cock in a fluid movement, rocking back and forth, pulling out and up at the same time, pushing back in and yanking his hand down Diego’s cock at the same time. Diego tightened around him, flinging his hair over his shoulder to slap at Bobby’s face with little hollow clicks when the beads on the end of his braids hit Bobby’s chin.

And then he came all over Bobby’s hand, spattering a little on the wall in front of him. He thrust forward, ass tightening and taking Bobby with him, pitching in. Diego might have been noisy in general, but he was a silent comer, all his sound turning inward in a way that must have been trained into him from all his illicit encounters in semi-public places like this one. For once, Roger wanted to make him howl, but that would never happen here, might never happen ever.

“Oh baby,” Diego murmured, cheek plastered to the brick, “why don’t you come around more often?”

Bobby watched his breath dot the air in front of him and wondered what that felt like. Did he feel wet inside? How did Diego not drown from all that moisture inside him? “Wishes and horses, baby.”

 

“What do you do with these? Pawn them?” Bobby asked as Diego slipped the rings on his fingers, making a fist and pretending to punch the air. Bobby leaned against the brick wall and tucked himself, still hard, always hard, back into his trousers.

Diego laughed. “Pawn shops want your fingerprints and shit. Naw, this is my four-oh-one k, as in K-A-R-A-T, baby.” Then he smiled. Bobby laughed with him, even though he had no idea what Diego was talking about. He followed Diego out of the alleyway, watched him from behind so that he didn’t slip on the snow, and stuffed his hands into his pockets when he reached the street again.

“See you again, dreamboat,” Diego warbled, patting his shoulder and turning away. Bobby wanted to call out to him, but instead, he just watched that purple fur float away, one hand waving in the air to a few people down the sidewalk, Diego’s new bling twinkling in the streetlamp.

A quick check of his watch told him that he had about two hours left before he had to be back to the store, so Bobby shoved his hands in his pockets because they looked less creepy when he walked, and ambled off in the opposite direction. He would have been good for another fuck in another hour or two, but he’d given Diego all his currency in a moment of, well something, and now he was without. It was just as well. The pickings, as Carl had mentioned when they had walked to the street, had been slim.

He wondered if he might not be able to sell himself, and wouldn’t that be a lark. He’d picked up enough of these guys in the past two months to figure it out, right? You flag them down, talk terms, then go off somewhere, right? And what a thrill to be paid for it!

Well, maybe not. What if he was arrested? What would happen to him in jail;? What if the john kidnapped him? Tried to kill him? Wants him to do something he couldn’t do? Bobby wasn’t sure what that might be, but based on the long list of things Diego rattled off, there were tons of things that he wasn’t even sure what they were, let alone if he could do them.

No, that would have to wait for another day. Besides, the idea of selling himself sounded too much like work. Bobby chuckled. “Work.”

He hit the deserted street that belonged to another row of shopper’s paradises, store after store with shiny glass windows, still faintly lit so that even the night passerby could see what was offered. Perhaps some people even took note of what they saw so that they could return later when the store was open. Bobby didn’t know. He liked to stare at the displays out of a sense of familiarity, not unlike inspecting someone else’s house and comparing it to one’s own.

Bobby stopped in front of a window and studied the mannequin in the display. Her face was blank, slightly contoured with the impression of features, but never quite getting there. Was that what he looked like the rest of the time? He tried to see past her clothes, to the body underneath. Her bare feet poked out of her open-toed sandals. One of them, maybe the middle one, was broken off. People probably weren’t supposed to look at the feet anyway.

What a poor thing, he thought, standing there all night. Or maybe tomorrow she would start awake and head off into the wild world to get her rocks off. Maybe she’d go to a movie, hang out in a bar. Dance at a club. Just think of it, really, that he would be as stiff as she was this time tomorrow and she could be out there experiencing things.

He drew a heart that no one would ever see on the window, flipped her off, and then checked his watch. Time to go. Time to kill.

***

“So, what about this one?” Bo asked, shaking his hips so that his cock waggled back and forth.

Roger smiled. “Scandalous. Roll your hips.”

Bo complied, swiveling on the balls of his feet so that he gave Roger his profile. He raised his hands from his hips to above his head, gripping the steel bar embedded in the upper part of the doorway. Whoever had this room had once installed a chin-up bar, apparently. Roger was pretty sure that it hadn’t been Bo, but he had certainly availed himself of it, judging by the way his tank outlined his abs.

“Show me your ass,” Roger said firmly. It didn’t do to sound half-hearted. Take charge right out of the box. Tell them what you want, right?

Bo wasn’t a stranger to the demand, and he spun a little bit, faced away from Roger. One ass cheek twitched on purpose, and Bo’s face turned so that he could regard Roger with one eye. Little coy thing, tongue peeking from the corner of the mouth. One comma of hair flipped down into his face, stringy, as if he hadn’t washed it for a few days. That was okay with Roger. He drummed his hands on the ratty sofa that probably had bedbugs and tilted his head.

“You’re not hard,” he commented.

Bo’s hands lowered from the ceiling, and he slid them over his ass, spreading his cheeks a little. “Are you in a hurry?” He shimmied, then raised himself up on his toes and bent at the waist.

“Get the lights,” Roger said, unbuttoning his shirt and waistcoat. Bo slapped his hand on the wall by the doorjamb in his way back up, and everything was bathed in the red glow of the neon sign right outside the room’s one window. He leaned back against the door frame, giving Roger his profile again, holding his hard cock and smiling.

“Problem?”

Roger laughed. “Smart ass.” It was a phrase he’d learned a year ago and still liked the sound of.

Bo played with his foreskin, pulling it over the head of his cock, and then as far back as he could. Roger watched and wondered what it felt like—the warmth of a hand closing on him. He wanted to stick the tip of a finger in the slit, and Bo might let him. Someday.

Instead, he slid out of his shirt and waistcoat, inched forward on the couch so that he could toss them away, and crooked a finger. “Come here.”

Bo paused, one hand on his dick, the other reaching for his balls. His eyes were glued to Roger’s, and it was hard to tell if he was going to do it. Of course, Roger was going to pay him, that was the deal, always had been, but a year of the same Wednesday night had made something start to snap inside Bo’s eyes when Roger gave him an order.

All eyes on me in the center of the ring just like a circus, came from the bar downstairs. Bo had told him that there was a gap in the flooring between the top and bottom floors, and all the sound from the jukebox came up into his bathroom. Now, Bo treated it like his soundtrack, grinding his hips into the air and pulling on his cock. When I crack that whip, everybody gon’ trip just like a circus…

It would have been alluring if Roger didn’t have three hours to get back. “I pay you for something, right?”

Bo shrugged, sauntering towards him, his cock out like a diving rod. “Ain’t paid me yet.”

“And I won’t, if you don–“

Bo fell on top of him then, his knees sliding over his thighs and to either side. Roger leaned back into the couch cushions and tilted his head up. Bo’s mouth descended on his, and it was the same as it always was, the best thing ever. He bit at Roger’s lips, plunged his tongue in, pulled back, and dove back in as if this was the most normal thing in the world. Maybe it was. Roger’s whole scope of sexual being, something he’d never told Carl or Bobby, was limited to Bo, to his tongue, his lips, his chest, his cock. The moment he’d seen him rocking from the balls of his feet, back and forth, that first night, Roger hadn’t ever gone anywhere else.

He threaded his hands in Bo’s hair, tipping his head back, and the hair fell from his head, onto the back of the sofa. It wasn’t as alarming anymore, and Bo didn’t seem to care. The first time it had happened, Bo had just picked it up, than licked a stripe down Roger’s head.

“Oh come on,” Bo whispered, unbuckling Roger’s belt, making the leather slap the back of his hand with a crack. He flipped the button on the trousers open with a thumb and forefinger, then snaked his hand into Roger’s shorts.

“No,” Roger said, pulling Bo’s hands away, shifting up to close the gap in his shorts made by Bo’s hands.

“It’s not too small,” Bo protested.

“No—”

Bo sighed, lowered his head again to kiss Roger, and his hands focused instead on Roger’s nipples, pulling at the sensitive skin there, twisting and tugging at the same time. Roger thrust his hips in the air, his own hands finally reaching out for something to hold.

Roger grasped Bo’s cock in his hands, one at the base, and another on the tip, rubbing his thumb along the slit. Bo rocked in his lap, rubbing his chin on Roger’s head, over and over, some large scent marking cat. From here, Roger could see the veins in his neck, purple under the pale skin, the way they pulsed up when he ground himself into Roger’s front.

“You want a condom?” Bo whispered, though there was no one there to hear them.

Roger licked Bo’s neck, marveling that there was no moisture left behind. “No.”

Bo chuckled and bent then, spine curved out like a floppy zip tie. “Just the usual, then.”

Roger released Bo’s cock with one hand, looking for his hip, and guided him to the angle he liked, let Bo hump against his front, press against him through the undone flies, the loose shorts. He thrust up with his own hips, milked Bo’s cock with his hand, trying to gauge by sound what was working.

Bo’s eyes closed, his Adam’s apple bobbed, and a little crease appeared in the center of his forehead, as if he was searching for something in the darkness of his own mind and couldn’t find it. Roger could see the movement of his eyeballs behind the lids, darting back and forth, scanning for something back there. Did he see the mechanics of what they were doing there? Did he have some sort of plan written out in his head, like First we grind, then I come, then I get paid? That wasn’t giving Bo any credit, he knew, and Roger wanted to give him credit.

He felt so guilty that he grabbed Bo’s cock with both hands and worked it, pulling on the foreskin, running one finger up the underside, and then reached around to find his hole, thrusting his finger in. Bo bucked for a moment, and Roger worried that he’d done something wrong, until Bo’s muscles slackened and he sank down on Roger’s finger little by little.

“That’s…new,” he panted.

Roger felt himself smile, but it was something plastic, hard, like him.

 

“What do we have tonight?” Bo said, coming back from the kitchen with a warm bottle of Coke. It hadn’t escaped Roger’s notice that he didn’t have a fridge. Did most places have them? All the houses and apartments on TV did.

Roger fished the gold chains from his pocket and held them up to the light. In the red light, they looked orange. His hands seemed pale and unreal, smooth fingers rounded and identical on both sides.

Bo didn’t care. He took the chains and smiled. “These’ll work.” He stuffed the chains into the inner lining of his jacket and tossed it on the floor by the front door. “You know,” he began, “if you ever want to make this happen more often—”

Roger shook his head and reached for his pocket watch: three-seventeen. “Can’t. This is it.”

Bo ran a hand over Roger’s chest. It seemed too authentic, both the chest and the gesture, Roger. But the chest didn’t have hair or nipples for that matter, and Bo was, well, Bo was what he was. “Whatever your other ones do for you–“

Roger sat up and searched for his shirt. “There aren’t any others. Just you.” He stuck his arms in the sleeves and pulled it over his head, reaching up to button the front.

Bo flopped back and laughed. “Yeah.” He grabbed Roger’s tie from the floor and tossed it to him. “I bet.”

Roger pulled the tie over his head, and settled it onto the shirt collar, but he didn’t tighten it. He’d be changing when he got back to the store anyway. He yanked on his trousers and pitched himself to standing, looking for his shoes. “Don’t be like this,” he heard himself saying. “we’re not–“

Bo shrugged. “No big,” he mumbled. “Just saying. Fiscal sense and all that.”

Roger found his hair and slapped it on his head. His fingers felt stiff, as if he’d worn through the whatever-it-was too quickly. His hat was here somewhere. “I’m not into that shit,” he said disapprovingly.

Bo stared at him until the light dawned in his eyes and he laughed into his can. “Fiscal. Fis-cal. Money-wise. Not–“

Roger grabbed his coat and gloves and headed for the door. “Next time.”

***

Brian had eaten two burgers, a plate of fries and two pieces of pie, giving more credence to the starving waif boy-whore myth than it needed, Carl thought. While he had been eating, Carl had gotten to study his face quite a bit, and the top half of his body. Well the top third anyway.

Brian had dirty blonde hair. It was that unmemorable blonde that wasn’t yellow, or strawberry or white, but ‘meh’ blonde. It wasn’t very well-managed either. His face was pale, just a little shade too unhealthy, and Carl wondered if he was sick, not that it made a difference to him, anyway, but still. He wondered if his dirty jean jacket and t shirt with the gaping hole just between the ribbing and the neck material cost him any potential customers.

What he did learn was that Brian had a high school diploma from some place called Sloeeokee High School. He’d played lacrosse. He didn’t like pickles. He didn’t care much for professional sports, and thought reading was ‘kinda boring’, which was just fine by Carl, who could only read three words: Sale!, Clearance! and Juniors.

He asked all kind of questions, and Brian must have thought he was crazy, or some psycho, because they were things like, When was the first time you ever saw snow? followed by What’s your favorite smell? Brian was a good sport, though, answering all of these things with relative ease, never really letting on that he was mystified by Carl’s line of questioning. In fact, as the snow melted and dried in his hair, and the damp spots dried on his jacket, and his belly filled with food, he seemed to relax further, until he rather slouched in the booth. Now Carl could only see the top quarter of him.

When Brian scraped his fork across the last plate and then mashed the times into the crumbs of pie crust, Carl nodded to Flo, who nodded back, waved his check and tucked it in her breast pocket. In turn, he took the cash he had, less than his bill this time, more than his bill last time, and tucked it into the napkin dispenser.

Brian followed him back out into the slush falling from the sky. “Don’t you have to pay?”

Carl shrugged. “Already did.” He stuffed his hands in his pockets and sauntered out to the curb, looking both ways for cars because that was what you were supposed to do, not because there were any cars. Brian trailed along behind him until they came to a less busy part of the street (less-less busy), and then he tugged Carl’s sleeve, sending them both into a little shielded doorway. He pressed himself up against Carl, hands reaching for Carl’s zippered jacket.

“So, what do you want?”

It occurred to Carl that Brian hadn’t thanked him for dinner. They usually thanked him. Then again, he was paying them for a service. Was he supposed to thank them? Was thanking a thing?

He grabbed Brian’s hands and brought them to his face, breathing into them and remembering that his breath didn’t exist. Hopefully, Brian wouldn’t notice that either. Or the spit thing. Carl had wipes in his pocket to make believe the wetness.

“Look,” Carl said into his ear, “anyone ever asks, I fucked you so hard you felt me tomorrow, okay?”

Brian’s eyes widened as Carl drew back, and he nodded quickly. Carl could smell the ketchup on his breath, and when his fingers closed over Carl’s, there was barbeque sauce under his nails.

“Good,” Carl huffed, breathing out and wondering what that breath was like—where it came from. Brian’s breath curled up into the air in visible wisps. Carl’s was invisible. Those clouds stuttered from Brian’s mouth when Carl reached down and unzipped his jeans, reaching into the waistband of his shorts to grasp his cock. It was hard and warm against his palm.

“You can—you can fuck me–” Brian stammered, thrusting into Carl’s hand. His breath was a never ending ellipses when he spoke, a smoke signal saying Go on go on go on. “You paid–“

Carl squatted in the snow; wet knees gave it away. “I know what I paid you for, so shut the fuck up.”

And when he sucked Brian’s prick into his mouth, the sound Brian made didn’t sound like talking.

***

It was four in the morning before Roger got back to Zeitinger’s, tugging on the emergency exit and slipping in. Behind him, there was a call.

“Yo wait!” Carl hissed, grabbing the edge of the door just before it closed. He stomped the snow from his boots and yanked his hood off, shaking his head. “Damn! My kicks are fucked.”

“They aren’t our kicks,” Bobby said from the darkness of the supply room. Roger reached around the door and ripped the tape from the side, releasing the latches so that the door could lock behind them. They were all in. “And it’s almost four-thirty, dumb-ass.”

They shed their clothes and dumped them in the bin in the backroom. No one seemed to be able to figure out where the three sets of dirty clothes came from Thursday morning, but they rather shrugged their shoulders. One of these days some knucklehead would do more than look at the security cameras (that was a mystery in and of itself, that they never registered on the cameras, but Roger wasn’t the kind of person to think too hard about that.), but until that day came, they continued to dump their clothing in the corner and go back to the neat piles on the jewelry counter.

Roger watched Bobby as he tugged on his jockey shorts. His cock was long and solid, a thing that never seemed to be soft, but it was there in between his legs. It was generous, something that he probably enjoyed using, Roger thought, sliding into his own trousers and tucking his shirt into them. Not like his small cock, just there to show men what pleated trousers could do for them.

“See you bitches.” Carl grabbed his clothes from the counter, waved and sauntered off. Roger watched him go—still in boxers. Not even dirty from the night, whatever he had done.   He’d never seen Carl without them, actually, now that he thought about it.

The alarm clock they set on the counter chirped. “Fifteen minutes,” Bobby said, more out loud to nobody than anyone in particular. The store echoed with his voice, and the dim light of the night fluorescents limited their view of the department floor.

Roger sighed, tightened his tie, twisted in his cufflinks and snapped up his suspenders. Bobby was tinkering with the alarm clock, hiding it so that they’d have it next time. Not that alarm clocks were hard to come by here, but they didn’t like to waste time looking for one every time, plus, finding the needed batteries was a pain.

Waistcoat: buttoned. Jacket: donned. Loafers: slid on.

Roger was never sure if he imagined that he was becoming stiffer as the clock counted down, or if it was actually happening. Bobby waved to him and headed to the other end of the men’s department; Roger heard the thud of his feet as he got up on his pedestal, wondered if he ever considered making a different pose. They’d discussed it once, decided that it wasn’t a good idea. Still, one of these days, Roger expected Carl to revert back to stiffness flipping off the junior’s department.

He tightened his tie and imagined Bo’s hands on his neck, on his scalp. In the dim lights, he saw shadows of gold chains gleaming in a neon sign. He almost tapped his foot when he took his place between the suit-coats and the racks of folded button-downs.

Don’t stand there watching me,” Roger sang under his breath as he turned his head and stared at the checkout counter across the store, body falling into the same pose he’d been born in and would probably die in, he mused. “Follow me, show me what you–“

***

So there you have it.  The john story that never was.  There was gonna be more.  Roger and Bo were going to find love, Carl was going to get a prick in a leather shop, and Bobby was gonna something, but I don’t remember what it was.

 

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Start of new short story.

In the interests of trying to make myself write, I dusted off a few exercises.  A few nanos ago I decided I was gonna do one short story a day for November, and every one was going to begin with a fortune cookie fortune and word.  I dutifully started them all, but never followed through.  So here we go.

You cannot run away from yourself; you’re always right behind you.

(LEARN CHINESE – Chicken. ji ròu)

 

Gaspard and Carl found the bay in the emergency room easily enough. There were only five of them in the unit, and Maman’s was the only one that was occupied, they could tell from the screaming. The blue-green curtain ruffled and something flew out into the hallway. Carl glanced at Karl and shrugged.

“Je vous voyais prendre les assiettes! Je vais vous le rapport et cracher sur ta carcasse!”

“Ah,” Carl said, “she’s in good form.” It was no secret that Carl wasn’t fond of Maman. Even now his smile was that wan sort of cross between dental pain and the smug satisfaction that comes from being right despite the tragedy of the situation.

Gaspard sighed and watched the billowing curtain as the medics behind it most assuredly tried to tie down his eighty-eight-year-old mother and probably insert a catheter. Some day in the future, they’d have that hypospray like in science fiction shows, and they could just blast her in the neck with an aerosol and knock her out. It was funny how ethics started to erode the louder and more violent someone got.

“Jesus, Gus, get her—ooghf!”

“Enculé!”

The curtain opened and a nurse poked her head out. “Nancy, call Roger up in—” “—I got it!” came a voice from inside the bay. “Never mind!” The nurse disappeared behind the curtain again, and the room quieted.

“Are you gonna restrain her?” came seconds later.

“Are you gonna reinsert the catheter when she yanks it out?” answered someone. The room fell silent, but there was still noise issuing from it—rustling, the occasional squeak of a shoe on the lino, tubes clacking against hollow metal, and the ever-present beeping of machines. Gaspard figured that if one stayed in the hospital long enough, the beeping noises faded into the background, just like how he no longer heard the chickens clucking when he cleaned out their coops.

Carl shoved his hands into his pockets and whistled under his breath. Gaspard stared at an open box of donuts in the nearby nurse’s station. Most of them were only halves.

The same nurse whose head had appeared earlier drew open the curtains long enough to exit the bay, and turned to them with a little jolt of surprise. “How did you get back here?”

Carl thumbed behind them. “She sent us back, for Marguerite—”

The nurse waved her hands. “No no, not yet, back to the waiting room. She needs an EKG.” She cast about for something, possibly a chart, possibly a magic exit. “You’ll have to wait until the techs are done.”

Gaspard was about to argue, but Carl simply grabbed his arm and began pulling. In reality, Carl was the one with more experience in hospitals. Both of his parents had been in and out of them before they had died, something Gaspard had remembered all too well, though then, he’d been the second fiddle. This time was his first time, and he wasn’t sure what to do, when to argue, when to listen.

Carl waved a pointed finger at two doors. “The cafeteria?”

The nurse didn’t look back at them. “Follow the blue line.”

An hour later they made their way back to the bay, sated with bad coffee and stale Tastycakes extracted from a vending machine that asked for too much and gave too little. They approached the curtain and were met by a short, rumpled man in blue scrubs and a lab coat. He didn’t introduce himself, but when they mentioned that they were here for the lady behind the curtain, he flipped open the chart in his hand.

“She’s sedated,” the doctor, whose nametag read ‘J Jones,’ said. “We had to restrain her in order to place the catheter, and to keep her from pulling her leads off.”

Gaspard frowned. He knew that Maman was slightly senile, but he didn’t understand the fighting. Carl might have made a snide comment or three about her behavior, but for the most part, Maman was a gentle creature.

“I don’t understand why she’s being so…so…”

“Combative?” Dr. Jones suggested. “She’d not quite fully cognitive, right now. She presented with blue lips and rapid breathing, so we’re going to wait until her bloodwork comes back and probably admit her to the CCU for a while.” He shrugged. “Her circulation is poor, and she might not be taking her medicine.” He raised his eyebrows. “She does have assisted living, right?”

Gaspard squirmed. It was one of the things that they fought about quite a bit, the only time he ever saw his mother get so angry she’d thrown something. It had been a pot of geraniums, and he’d cleaned them up, but still. “We’re trying. She’s not too keen on having strangers in the house.”

Carl coughed something under his breath, and Gaspard didn’t even bother to decipher it. It was plain as day what he thought about Maman.

The doctor flipped the chart closed and slid it into a slot on the wall. “Well, like I said, she’s sedated for now. And we probably are going to admit her. Adjust her meds.” He shrugged. “I’d suggest looking into someone who will care for her, at least make sure she’s taking her medication.”

“Like a home,” Carl said, glancing pointedly at Gaspard.

The doctor waved a hand. “Whatever is convenient for you.” Then he paused, looking past them at something, eyes unfocused, as if he had remembered something unpleasant.

“Your mother,” Dr. Jones began, and then paused. He tilted his head sideways and reached up to scratch his neck a little, and then glanced at the curtained area. “She—I don’t know what…it’s not my place.” And then he shrugged. “You can see her. You sister is in there with her, I think.” And then he scuttled away, but not before reaching into the nurse’s station and grabbing half a donut.

Carl and Gaspard glanced at leach other, shrugged, and then approached the curtain. Should they knock? How did one knock on a piece of material? Gaspard settled for shaking the material up and down and saying, “Knock knock!” and waiting three seconds before pulling the curtain open just enough to slip in.

The bed was angled towards them, with the foot right in front. Maman was small and skeletal on the bed, tubes and wires attached to places, snaking through the blankets like mystery plugs.

The most startling things weren’t the bright yellow bag of piss hanging from the side rail, or the orange IV fluids pumping in to Maman’s arm, but the thick leather restraints that anchored her wrists to the frame of the bed.

Laure was already there, fully made up, hair and nails immaculate, yoga pants hugging her ass in that Mommy & Me way. Gaspard wondered who was watching the kids until he remembered that she had an au pair.

“She’s not awake,” Laure said, her lips pursed. Gaspard didn’t precisely dislike his sister, but she did have the tendency to make him feel as if he was five. He did have eyes. They saw Maman, right there in the bed, eyes closed, breathing. Her white hair had come undone from the standard crown of braids she kept it in. Maybe that was because they had brought her in the middle of the night, when her hair was down.

“Oh, she looks horrible,” Carl said, cutting to the chase. Laure’s lips tightened further, as if they could squeeze together enough to implode and leave nothing behind.

“She’s had a rough night,” Laure told them, as if they hadn’t been here for over an hour waiting, and she had gotten there later. She gave them the accusing glare that daughters were allowed to give brothers when matters of parental care were at hand in their society.

“They’re going to admit her,” Gaspard said, hoping that they could have a conversation about what to do with Maman. Carl had been arguing for assisted living for a while, and Gaspard was beginning to agree. There was a distinct possibility that to get Maman in there, they’d have to assume power of attorney, and that was something he would prefer Laure to have. Daughters were better at this, right? If his time came, he wanted Clara making decisions for him, and not Robert. That might have been because Robert was a junior congressman, and Clara was a kindergarten teacher, though.

Laure sighed. “They said she kicked a doctor in the groin.” Her nails clicked on the railing and the charm bracelet on her wrist jangled when she reached out to smooth some hair from Maman’s forehead. Maman, for her part was silent on the subject. All subjects, actually.

Gaspard shifted from one foot to the other. Now that Maman was stable, and they were all in the room, it was as if the evening had come to an end, and his job here was done. A whole case of hurry up and wait had led to this moment, where he was apparently just supposed to stand there and stare at his mother’s sleeping form. Were they waiting for more doctors? Were they waiting for a bed to free up in the CCU? It was difficult to tell.

“Do you want to stay and we’ll come back?” Carl suggested. “We can bring you stuff.” Something in Maman’s visage must have softened him, because usually he and Laure had a tense relationship. They had for thirty years. Nothing turned civility into sympathy like a sick parent.

Laure shrugged. Gaspard noticed for the first time that she looked tired. The makeup wasn’t doing enough to hide the dark circles under her eyes, and the set of her frown had drawn out wrinkles in her cheeks that he wasn’t used to seeing.

“I suppose,” she said. “I’ll call you when she gets settled.” Laure met Gaspard’s eyes, and exchanged the promise of impending conversations. “Tell Clara I’ll try to make the shower, if I can, but I’m sorry.”

Gaspard nodded. This was one of those things that was more important than Clara’s bridal shower. She would understand. She was good like that.

“One thing,” Laure said as they turned to leave. “Have you ever seen this?” Laure asked, pulling aside the bed gown to show them Maman’s hip. Carl put a hand in front of his face.

“Oh, I don’t want to see that,” he groaned, eyes shut.

“You idiot,” Laure grumbled. She reached over Maman and pulled his hand away. “It’s on her leg, asshole.”

Carl bitched and closed his eyes. Laure rolled hers. But Gaspard just stared at the small expanse of skin Laure had carefully laid bare without revealing anything titillating.

Right there, high on her hip, old and faded, spread the bent arms of the swastika, tattooed on her skin like a spindly birthmark.

“Holy shit,” Carl said. Gaspard couldn’t have agreed more.

#

 

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Happy Guilty-Relief Day

I was trying to think of things I am thankful for, and then I was trying to figure out how to list them. Then I had a sip of coffee.  Then I thought about how thankfulness is innate sometimes, and I feel worse for stating my thanks. Then I had a sip of coffee.  Then I wondered who I was thanking.  Then I decided I was more grateful.  Then I realized that I’m appreciative.  Then I had a sip of coffee.

Then I realized I am lucky.  I am lucky to have been born here at this time, and in this country, especially being a girl.  I am lucky that I had parents who believed in education.  I am lucky that despite being poor, both my mother and father managed to get us through childhood healthy and safely (despite a near miss with a car, Dad, you know what I am talking about). I am lucky that I have a modicum of intellectual ability that got me into a reasonable position for my career.

I am lucky, very lucky, that Vi was born healthy.  I am lucky that we got social security.  I am very lucky that my parents were near to take care of me and Vi after Tianyu died.

I am lucky to have great friends, and the luxury to pick a good school district for Vi.  I am not so lucky that she’s so pretty, though that will help her when she’s older and pretty much make me fucking insane. I am lucky that she is well-behaved, relatively illness free, and doesn’t seem to have any developmental learning issues that would make life more difficult.

So yeah, I feel very lucky today. And because I am lucky to have all these great things, I feel relieved and guilty.  And that’s a pretty good thing to be, all things considered.

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…in which I am obvs an adult and kid is right.

Viv: I want to be a mailman!
Me: Really?
Viv: Yeah! A MAILMAN!
Me: Well, I am sure that’s a fun job.
Viv: I will deliver all the mail!
Me: Well, I hate to break it to you honey, but by the time you’re old enough to be a mailman, that job might not be available anymore. Not like it is now.
Viv: Whaaaaaa?
Me: Well, see since the start of email, people just don’t send as much mail, and the post office has been having money problems, and so they have to downsize and make themselves smaller so that they can stay in business.
Viv:
Me: I imagine that they won’t ever truly disappear. Maybe they’ll privatize, or something.
Viv: (holds up envelopes) I was just going to play mailman on my bike when we get home.
Me: Oh.
Viv: The valentines are for the kids, and the bills are for the people.
Me: Oh, so grown-ups don’t get valentines?
Viv: They’re fun.
Me: I see. Well, why don’t the kids get the bills?
Viv: Because they have scary things in them.
Me: This is hard to deny.

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Short Story: Registry

Title: Registry

“It’s not like there’s a Chinese gay kama sutra,” Wei Min says, leafing through the pages in the book. “Seriously, how is that even possible? We invented noodles.”

I can’t even look. It doesn’t matter because I have three ties slung over my shoulders and I have no idea which one I’m supposed to wear. They all look the same although Wei Min assures me that they are not.

“I’m editing the drawings, and then we can wrap it,” Wei Min says. I can see him in the mirror, Sharpie in hand, doing something intently to the pages.

“I already put the slow cooker on the gift table,” I mumble. The second tie looks good. It’s gold with little flecks of something in it. Or are those grease spots? Did I wear this in the kitchen at work? That one’s out then.

“We bought them a slow cooker?” Wei Min asks, and for a second I can just hear the squeaking of the Sharpie on the glossed paper. “Laaaaaaaame.”

It’s possible that this could be the start to an argument, but on the other hand, probably not. Wei Min doesn’t care about the gift, not really. He just likes weddings, especially when he’s not related to the engaged. This time it’s my side of the aisle, and since this is the first wedding we have been to in three years that we have not been in (or worked), we are enjoying a busman’s holiday.

Though being in it would have been better at this point, because then at least I wouldn’t have to figure out what tie to wear. I turn and toss them both at him. “Pick the right one.”

He does. He always does.

Three minutes later, Wei Min closes the door and slips the hotel key into his inner jacket pocket. “We get to share a table with Tai Tai,” he says. “I told Greg we’d take the same shuttle to the church.”

“You can’t call her Tai Tai,” I say to him. “Really. “Don’t.”

His smile is electric, and when he kisses me it’s a wonder that my shorts don’t catch fire. “Stop me after I’ve had about three beers,” and I know that the evening is going to end in glares and possible shunning forever.

There are worse things than being excommunicated from my sister’s life, I think, when we get to the elevators and I look at her very unhappy husband trooping down the hall behind her. His tie is very tight and straight. He gives us the baleful look of the oppressed dog when they pass us. Wei Min waves with both hands, and I have to kick him in the back of the leg.

“Don’t do it,” I warn, and he flips a hand like he’s ineffectively swatting at gnats.

#

Sometime over the course of our fifteen years together, I must have decided that there was only so much I could do to protect myself from the generous wave of humor-filled trouble my partner surrounds us with like so much static cling. In fact, I must have welcomed it, because through numerous family vacations, outings with friends, and work-related soirees, I have only attempted to hush him once, and that was because he was screaming about Grindr whilst we sat behind a table of nuns at a local Applebee’s.

It just doesn’t seem right, like owning a big dog in the city where there’s no yard to run about in.

So when the wedding is over and the reception starts, Wei Min downs one imported domestic micro-craft brew after another, and by the time I realize the three bottles on the table are his, it’s too late.

Craig and Ben are happy and dancing, and cake is cut, and the DJ has already gotten the obligatory YMCA out of the way so that no one has to address it again. Wei Min and Greg spend the sit-down dinner portion of the evening arguing about whether or not school vouchers would improve the education system. I don’t have anything to discuss with my sister except for the fact that we have to do something with Dad in the next few months. I’m pushing for a retirement community. She’s pushing for a live-in Swedish nurse named Urs, but that’s just because she doesn’t want to sell the house in this shitty market.

She keeps shooting mournful looks at the adjacent table filled with married heteros.

“Laaaaaaame,” I murmur under my breath.

Wei Min uses his pocket-church-key to flip the cap off his latest beer. “I knew you’d regret the Crock-Pot,” he tells me. His tie is loosened, and his face is red. But he’s taken off the suit jacket, and he’s wearing those adorable and yet useless sleeve garters. I don’t know when he decided that they were cool, but he’s right–they are.

“I was just thinking about what it would be like to get married for real.”

Wei Min lays his forehead against my shoulder. “I guess we’d have a lot of Crock-Pots,” he drawls. One hand creeps across the table, fingers interlacing with mine. The music is something slow and plodding, something for beginning dancers, which we most certainly are. I pull Wei Min to his feet and back up to the wooden dance floor.

I can see Craig and Ben doing something showy in the center of the floor, and as the crowd pushes back to give them more room, we are confined to a very small corner of the square surface that the hotel probably put down just this morning, along with the twinkle lights and red bunting.

We take turns shuffling each other about, and by the time the song is over, we are stuck on the same two-by-two feet of temporary parquet. Both our shoes have been stepped on so many times that the shine is completely gone.

Something canned and horribly similar to the Backstreet Boys starts, and I bury my face in Wei Min’s shoulder.

“I always thought this song was about anal sex,” I mumble.

“That makes Burger King’s choice of it to use in their ads slightly more hilarious,” Wei Min says with such seriousness that I wonder if we haven’t magically switched blood, and I am wasted instead of him. I sway a bit, thinking that I might just get a little drunk myself. It’s not every day that you can go to a real gay wedding in New York, except that this is just the first of many, right? We went to a dozen that first day, standing across the street and cheering when they came out, but never grabbing each other’s hands and running towards the door ourselves.

And now that enough time has passed for lavish things to be legally planned, for hotel deposits to be made and the paperwork to be changed to, ‘party of the first part/party of the second part’, the full weddings, planned ones with a band and caterers and giant cakes are rolling out onto the social scene.

Craig and Ben must have been on hold with the caterers that whole first day, watching the married couples spilling down the steps on the telly.

“So, are we going to get married?” I ask Wei Min, softly.

“Oh, I dunno, all the cool kids are doing it now, so I suppose we should.” He spins me out so that I fall into Craig’s sister in her groomsmaid dress, then pulls me back into his arms. “Then again, just because we can, should we?”

I shrug. Craig’s sister bumps into me in a mirror image of what I just did, and her curls flip in my face. She smells like Shalimar. Possibly Jägermeister.

“Is this what it feels like to be straight?” Wei Min asks, slowing and swaying from side to side as he mock-thinks. “I thought it would be so much more centered on martinizing and vag–“

His mouth is soft when I press against it. He tastes like the fifty million beers (re: four) beers he’s had. His hands tug on my waist and I am aware that we have stopped dancing, which wasn’t too much of a trial since we hadn’t really done more than tip back and forth for a few minutes.

Like most things, I have long given up on trying to keep him. That’s not my job. My job is this.

Wei Min bites his way to my ear and sticks his tongue in the hollow of it. “Ha ha,” he says when I pull away. “I killed the romance.”

“Muchly,” I say, but it was just as well, because I was going to propose, and this was not the place. And he would want to remember it, so now is not the time.

And not when Maroon5 is playing. What would we tell the children (oh dear god children excite excite excite)?

“I see Junie,” Wei Min says, and his grip slackens. I have just a few seconds to register that we’re spinning around and around across a quickly vacating floor.

Wei Min’s arms fling wide as he dances towards my sister. “Don’t–” I warn.

“MAI TAI!” he says loudly. “Come dance with me, you gorgeous Grecian goddess!”

Junie freezes, as if she’s not sure what she should do. She doesn’t like Wei Min, for many reasons, but she lives with it because well, that’s what we do with our in-laws.

She lets Wei Min whisk her away, and when Greg and I shrug and swing by the bar for vodka tonics, I imagine that I hear her laugh out in the fray. Just a little.

#

Downstairs out by the pool, someone is playing old John Lee Hooker songs. The fall wind is sucking the curtains against the screens in the open windows and then blowing them out into the room. There’s a splash and a little giggle, and someone from the after party has fallen into the pool. There’s a clack of heels on the cement, click click-click, click click-click, a dance move on repeat.

“Last call…for alcohol,” comes a voice from the carpet on the side of the bed. Wei Min is on the floor, where he has been banished since I am afraid he’s going to boot again. I sit on the bed with the reading light on and page through the book.

“I think we should give this to them,” I say.

“Craig will love it,” Wei Min moans. “Coffee table book.”

“You know like over half of the people in these drawings are women,” I tell him.

Wei Min’s face is pressed into the carpet. “Pec implants.”

“And this one here where she’s being impaled in two different–“

“I’m sorry I called your sister a useless married woman,” he groans. “Please stop asking me dumb questions.”

“Actually,” I say, peering at an illustration that Wei Min has made into gay Chinese kama sutra by drawing coolie hats on everyone’s heads. “You called her a Mai-tai. Not the most rational thing, I admit, but you know, better to be a tropical drink I suppose.”

“Please, no–“

“What’s in a Mai-tai? Gin?” I flip the page and stare at the flat coronet hat he’s drawn on one man, and wonder if that’s offensive or not. Craig would probably like it. I could always blame it on Wei Min, which, actually, isn’t remotely not the truth. “Maybe vodka? Or that grain alcohol stuff that’s illegal–“

Wei Min lurches to his feet and staggers into the bathroom. I smile and uncap the Sharpie, choosing an unabridged page to draw a Fu Manchu mustache on a man pleasuring himself in a way that I covet. Outside the click click stops with the music, and something softer takes its place–a few people softly singing ‘Yesterday’.

“You better not be drawing Asian shit in that book,” Wei Min says from the bathroom. “You’re not allowed unless you are one.”

Sharpie doesn’t erase, so I slam the book shut and toss it on the overstuffed chair, also home to our suit coats and ties. The fan is on in the bathroom, but it doesn’t disguise Wei Min’s dry heaving. I wonder if we have any of that anti-nausea drug left, the one I used for my chemo. I rummage through the toiletry bag and find a dusty foil packet. It expired three years ago, but it will still work.

The bathroom doesn’t smell that bad, because he’s showered since we got back, and he’s pretty good at hitting the toilet. But he’s kneeling in front of the bowl, head pressed into his arms as he leans on the seat.

“You do this at every wedding we go to,” I say, sitting on the floor next to him. He lifts his head from his arms and wipes at his lips with the inside of his t-shirt collar. He watches me peel the foil from the plastic and hold up the small foam disk. “Under the tongue.”

A minute later, mouths are rinsed, washcloths are pressed to foreheads, and the light is off, so that the only illumination is from the pool patio outside. ‘Yesterday’ has become ‘Hey Jude’, and then a very slow version of ‘Hard Day’s Night’. The fan is off, and now we can hear them better, a mix of voices, indeterminate to the point where it is difficult to tell how many men or women there are.

“You drew on a mustache, didn’t you?” Wei Min asks suddenly, half in my lap, long legs stretched out into the hallway. I scrunch my legs up a little and pull him up towards me more, so that I can cradle his chest a bit. My leg is going to fall asleep in about five minutes, I can tell.

“Yeah.”

“White people,” Wei Min laughs. “You go right for the mustache.”

“What can I say,” I drawl. “I have a thing for Ming the Merciless.”

“You’re going to hell,” Wei Min tells me, rubbing his cheek against the bend of my elbow. I lean down and kiss the top of his head.

“Marry me,” I whisper into his hair.

His fingers slide along my forearm, and I can feel the huff of his breath on the hair on my knuckles. “Every day,” he says. “Every damn day.”

END

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Got the phat brew on the reel.

Firstly, let us all take a moment to appreciate the fine lyrical genius of Salt N Pepa’s 1993 masterpiece, “Whatta Man”, the Bechdel-strangling powerhouse ballad performed with nineties flash-paper early Destiny’s Child predecessor, En Vogue:

What a man, what a man, what a man what a mighty good man
What a man, what a man, what a man what a mighty good man…

That said, I recently tried Caribou Coffee’s offering, called Mahogany.

I want to take a minute or two, and give much respect due
To the coffee I been drinking in the morn.
And though most blends are suck
I just had some good luck,
Cause this coffee is a dark roast form of caffeine porn.

And indeed, the best thing about the coffee is the description, which is made of LOL:

Mahogany is a dark roast coffee that offers dry spice notes, woodsy accents and hints of vanilla and flowers. Expect bold, dry spice along with heady, aromatic wood and leather flavors. Look also for the hints of floral, vanilla, molasses and semi-sweet chocolate.

Or possibly the picture on the front:

So, yeah, I made three pots: well, sort of. The first time was in the French press, but I let it sit too long because I was reading porn, and if you have ever let a dark roast brew for 20 minutes, you know what you get. Things did not bode well for Mahogany.

I did an autodrip, because I know people scorn the auto drip, but for consistency in timed brewing, it’s great, and I don’t use filters, so I’m not as complete philistine, assholes. I’m drinking more right now, actually. The scent is strangely dry, like you smell it and say, “yeah, I get the dry part.” Like wine. Or laundry. It is rougher in some ways, like I can see non-coffee drinkers not liking it. On the other hand, it doesn’t have that bitter edge that a lot of dark roasts seem to get the SHEER SECOND THE GROUNDS SENSE THAT YOU ARE NOT A TRAINED BARISTA AND REBEL RIGHT IN THE POT. I am serious, I hate dark roasts because while I love the aesthetic kick of that first cup, I am first and foremost a junkie, and I’ll drink the whole pot over the course of an hour or two, well after the time when it should be pitched. Dark roasts can sense that. I open the bag and they see my face and they get out their little red white and blue bandannas and ring a rousing chorus of “Red & Black” from Les Mis.

So anyway, this coffee is not bitter, but what I was excited about was that OTHER THING. You saw it. “LEATHER FLAVORS”. Who drinks coffee and says, “You know what this needs, Bob? Some leather.”

Bob: I’ll go get the gimp mask.

ANYWAY, if by “leather flavors” they mean the general sense of rugged…preppy…hipster…uh…cowboy…ness that I get when I smell the coffee and drink it, then yes. Or the way that after about two cups I get a bit of fur in the back of my mouth as if I have been ball gagged for a while, then yes. On the other hand, I might be somewhat relieved, because we all know that Red Bull’s brief flirtation with the “Leather Couch of Love” flavor for their new line of energy drinks was a complete disaster.

Yeah, it’s got woody notes, and yeah there’s dry spice, but not in that North Carolina dry rub way, if you’re asking. But what sells this coffee is the nice oil content, that gives it a bit of a smoothness, and the lack of bitter, even after it’s been standing for a while. The Brewmaster says that this is coffee for light roast drinkers who want to delve into a dark, and I agree.

Also, I feel like I’m in Masterpiece Theatre when I drink it.

I haven’t tried it in the vacuum, but I never do dark roasts in the vacuum. For why, see Marius and Enjolras over there waving that red and black flag on the battlements.

OMG SIDE NOTE: Trader Joe’s makes a coffee called “Wintry Blend” that has beans and red and pink peppercorns and cloves and shit in it. YOU CAN ONLY GET IT AROUND THE WINTER HOLIDAYS. GUESS WHO IS DUMB ENOUGH TO ORDER RED AND PINK PEPPERCORNS AND MAKE HER OWN? THIS BITCH RIGHT HERE.

And in closing:

Like engine-engine number nine
I got the rump-shakin’ flavor with the nasty rhyme
So if the crowd can move with me, move with me
Salt-N-Pepa said groove with me, groove with me.

That is all.

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Sleepus interruptus.

Scene: fair Verona Amanda’s room, 3:36 am

Me: (snore)
Vi: (entering) mumble mumble mumble
Me: snggegeeegerrgrrg–what?
Her: mumble mumble mumble bees.
Me: (sits bolt upright) THERE ARE NO BEES. (flops over. back to sleep.) Snggegeeegerrgrr….
Her: Okay…(shuffles back to bed)
Me: (snore)

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