I know we met in the library, but the first thing I remember clearly was the shape of your hair across my pillow. You had planted yourself there, somewhat exaggeratedly, mocking an extreme tired you could not have felt. You'd already told me you had woken up at noon and it was only four when I looked at the clock in my bedroom.
I remember asking, "What are you so tired from?" But I don't remember what you said. Your hair was in a near-perfect oval around your head and I concentrated on that. Conversation with strangers has never been one of my strong suits. I remembered also that while you were lying there I had a few thoughts about Kate, who had had her head on my pillow a few weeks before. That time nothing came of it and we both went away distracted and unhappy. Her hair was short, dyed a kind of reddish-brown, nothing like your long blonde hair I was absently mesmerized by. I could have noticed your breasts then, the way they were perfect and small. I know I noticed them later when you were lying down again, but not whether I noticed them just then.
We started talking about books again. This was probably what you used initially to pick me up, though as I said I don't remember that part of things. You told me Hemingway had no heart and I said "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" was the best short story ever written in English. And then we started to kiss. I thought about Harry with his rotting leg and how he always went for women with money, how he would die without writing everything down. Then my roommate, Craig burst into tears in the hall.
He'd been fighting with his boyfriend on the phone again. This I had heard when we first came in. I chucked my keys on the table and heard the muffled sound of one-sided conversation and that let me know he was on the phone and not with the boyfriend. I knew the conversation was no good because he was playing house music, which he seemed to always play when they were fighting. The cycle went: they fought, he cried, he went out dancing with his friend Danielle. Danielle was a lesbian but didn't know it yet. She liked to dance with fags who told her she'd do very well as a boy.
I knew it was a bad conversation, but I hoped he would either resolve it or leave quickly to meet Danielle. If he did neither I knew there would be too much noise.
"What is that? Is he okay?" you asked.
I got off you, turned on the stereo, held up one finger to let you know I would be back in a minute, and stepped into the hall. By this time Craig had gone into the bathroom, stripping his clothes off for a shower. He stood in the gathering steam, staring at himself naked in the mirror and crying. "Philip says I've put on weight."
"That's absurd, Craig, and you know it."
"Philip says he wants to be with a hairless boy."
Because I couldn't stop this train of thought when it got going, I didn't try. You and I went out to dinner.
"This wasn't supposed to be anything," I said. "This wasn't supposed to be dinner, was it?"
I still had the idea of you lying down.
"This is fine," you said. When I tell this story, depending on who I'm talking to I sometimes say I don't remember your name.
We had three beers apiece at the O. We had cheese fries under the neon lights. I'd never eaten there, but had been in a few times to pick up a pizza. And a few other times when I had time to kill before a night class and just wanted to get a good look at a few strangers. It was mostly frat boys. You didn't talk about your boyfriend. You didn't talk about anyone, which is how I know you had someone.
"What are you in school for?" I asked.
"It doesn't matter," you said. You looked at your watch. "I want to fuck you," you said. By this I know you meant it the other way around, but I didn't correct you. I knew how this would play out.
"I have a friend—" I started to say.
"Yes," you said. "Let's go there."
I had no idea if Kate was still out of town, but I knew I had a key to her apartment on my keychain. I had looked when I went into the bathroom. I noticed the key because I was thinking about her. The idea of going there didn't occur to me until just when I said it.
At this point it started to get dark outside. This meant more boys in the O drinking and more standing in line. They looked at us together sitting there. Our knees touched. I had my hand on your leg under the table. Because Will & Grace didn't exist yet and Ellen had just come out, it wasn't usually safe to be obvious in this part of town.
The boys tried to get your attention. You looked back a few times, maybe to see if there was anyone you knew, maybe to see if there might be anyone you'd like just then better than me. You didn't seem nervous the way girls like you often were.
When you checked the time on your watch, I looked at you. The side of your face was red, then blue, then red again in the blinking of the I.C. Light sign over our heads.
When we got outside, you asked where she lived, this friend.
"Southside," I said.
"This is becoming more complicated."
"Listen, it's all right," you said.
We waited for the 71B for ten minutes, but it never came. The snow started then. It wasn't cold really, so it was okay. The flakes were large and wet the road and sidewalk as they melted. People brushed it out of their hair.
"Are you cold?" I asked.
"Let's walk," you said. You picked up your bag and stepped off the curb against the light. Two cars stopped for you when you turned to let me catch up.
We walked and things began to get less and less sexy. I started thinking how easy boys have it, just fucking or whatever in bathroom stalls. Even Hillman Library where you found me is one of those spots. This wasn't the only time I've wished I was a boy.
There was a bar right before the bridge I'd never been in. Rumor had it killers and out of work steelworkers hung out in there. "Can we get a drink?" I asked you. You shrugged and so we went in. You hadn't said anything for the last eight blocks or so.
I ordered two gins, neat. That's what I ordered when I wanted to sound adult. I ordered gin even though I didn't like how it tasted. They didn't check my ID. I was nervous because most places didn't, but with a new place I never knew if they would or not or if they'd give me a hassle because the hologram wasn't quite right.
"How old are you anyway?" you asked.
I didn't answer. I drank my gin. You lit both of us cigarettes, both of them in your mouth at once. I wanted to kiss you. The gin went warm down me. I breathed into your neck and then kissed you there.
You put out your cigarette, which you had only taken two or three puffs of. The bartender stared at us, watching disinterestedly from across the bar, arms crossed over his chest. Disinterestedly like he'd seen everything already, but we were different, we were new. We were not gray like most of the men in the bar. We were not painted like the few women.
In the bathroom you stood against a stall. The paint was dirty, peeling, there were numbers and obscenities written just next to your head. I kissed you. You laughed. I didn't know why, so I kissed you again and you started to get more into it. There didn't seem to be a way to lock the bathroom door so I stayed a little distracted. I couldn't fully hear the sounds you were making for listening to the sounds just outside the door. Someone took a shot in the game of pool, a man yelled, "Oh."
I thought about taking you into one of the stalls, but didn't want to be near the toilet. If I was going to have to keep track of whether or not someone came into the bathroom, I didn't really want to have to keep track of a dirty toilet as well. But you dragged me in there.
"What do you want?" I asked you.
You had your hand on my zipper and it had been there since we got into the stall. You put one foot up on the toilet seat, l heard your shoe clink against it. You pressed into me.
"I don't know what I want."
You moved your hand away from where it was, but continued to kiss my neck and ear, which is what you had been doing all along. I think maybe you knew you did this well and that's why you kept at it. I was a little bit ticklish there, but didn't want to say so. I put my hand in your pants. You were shaved in a neat line and it was under my palm. You moaned and a woman came in to wash her face. She started crying. I had a little trouble deciding then if I wanted to get my hand a little lower or to stop it altogether and get out of the stall, get out of the bathroom. I thought about not making it to Kate's house. I thought about you giving up, not wanting to cross the bridge in snow. I thought if you were to give up I wanted to at least know what you smelled like. I moved my hand and you whispered, "no," and then stepped out of the stall. You left without washing your hands.
Outside the bar there was a dead bird on the sidewalk. A man, who stood smoking against the wall, said, "watch for 'im" and pointed at the bird.
We walked across the bridge in the dark. The headlights whizzed beyond the iron ribs of the walkway. The light flickered, striped against our legs, against our arms. The river rushed black and silent far below.
At Kate's I fumbled with the keys. The sex was mediocre but long. In the moment, I think you liked it. In any case when you called me Jesse I didn't mind because you weren't who I was thinking of either.
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