1. The Danger of Buying Underwear

Dave comes out of his den when he hears me in the kitchen. We kiss, and I ask about his overnight trip to Fresno. His panel went well, he says. “Five people in the audience, but I’ll get a paper out of it.” He’s up for tenure next year.

As we eat, I tell Dave about helping a new guy at work—Ian—carry his drunk, obese mother to bed after I gave him a ride home because his car wouldn’t start. I’m nervous. I hired Ian in August, and it’s January. I’ve kept Ian a secret because my fantasies about him are so sexy. Maybe I’ll say I hired him in November, if Dave asks. Or maybe I’ll say Jane hired him, and I’ll go off on a rant about how hiring is supposed to be my job.

Dave doesn’t ask.

After we clean up, I sit on the living room floor and listen to sitar music through headphones while staring at a candle. I once thought you had to smoke a joint to be mesmerized by a flame.

Taking off my headphones, I slip to the doorway of Dave’s den. The room is warm from the ceiling light and the high-intensity desk lamp. Stripped to his navy-colored briefs, he leans over his laptop. He’s working on another paper he hopes to get published. I want to kiss his muscular neck or ruffle his brown hair, boyishly full at thirty-two. Instead, I tiptoe back to my music and candle.

When I go to look at Dave again, his den is empty. Seeing light in our bedroom, I lean in through the doorway. He lies on his back atop the green comforter on our high double bed, our only antique. He drapes his forearm over his eyes. His square jaw is clenched.

“You look worried, cowboy.”

As though he doesn’t hear me, he remains still—large unmoving feet, long still legs, tensed torso, his hand behind his neck contracting his biceps into a bulge. He bites his lip.

“Do you want a cup of tea or something?” I say.

Lifting his arm from his face, he raises his legs and pulls off his underwear in a backward S motion and pitches it against the closet door. Like a dog on its back, he displays his egg-sized testicles while his penis sleeps on his belly. I watch it come to life and bounce against his midriff.

“I want you to come here and fuck me, Lenny.”

I am Man. I could beat my chest and roar it. I’m Tarzan, Superman. I’m the naked Olympic fighter with fists raised as I and my opponent step into the ancient earthen ring. We fight with full erections, and the crowd cheers and hungers to see who will have an erection when we finish, which swordsman will still have a sword. I feel it all in my dick, feel every manly thing the word embodies. I am man enough. I am so much man, my manhood hurts with exquisite pain.

We lie kissing afterward. Each whispers more than once that he loves the other. I’m a normal human being again, back from my foray into super manliness. Just me here, folks, Lenny—the guy who’d sooner run than fight.

Dave gets up and crosses the hall to the bathroom. He pisses and pads into his den to work more. I lie listening to the late Thursday evening traffic rush past our house. Living on a busy street isn’t bad. We’re not enmeshed in neighborliness, as we might be otherwise. We exist in a private world, a world that couldn’t be more perfect.

 

v

 

Ian grins at Rosie and chews coconut cream pie with his mouth as wide open as he can without spewing it all over. We stand behind the bookstore’s service counter, Ian’s neat white teeth glistening with saliva and looking handsome to me despite the glob of cream, custard, and crust.

Rosie laughs and makes a face. “Que puerco!” Ian thrusts out his pie-covered tongue, curving its tip to the cleft in his chin. Rosie rolls her caramel-colored eyes to the ceiling. “Gross, Ian! Such a child!”

Ian glances at me from between dark lashes. He looks away, silhouetting the ragged edge of his coal-black bangs. “Lenny doesn’t think it’s gross,” he says.

I’m surprised by his flirting but figure he’s playing the straight guy who knows the gay guy’s attracted to him. Ian’s in the homophobic stage some guys go through before coming out. I have such a mental hard-on for him, I’m willing to play along.

“Lenny’s no judge,”Rosie says. “Lenny thinks you’re so hot, he’d eat out of your open mouth.” Rosie puts her arm around my waist and body-bumps me. A junior at Cal State, she’s large-boned and shapely, with light brown skin and auburn hair piled high in a loose bun. A friend of hers dated Ian and dropped him because he didn’t screw her enough or didn’t screw her wellenough. Rosie became discreet when pressed for details.

I grin and slip my arm around her shoulders. “You’re in a festive mood, Rosie.”

She cackles. “Jane’s daughter-in-law will kill her before their ship gets out of harbor.”

Royal Books’ proprietor, Jane, leaves tomorrow for a Caribbean cruise with Chip and his wife. Chip’s the younger of Jane’s two USC-lawyer sons, the one my age, a fact Jane loves to remind me of when she tells me about the rich and successful things her sons are doing. I could do rich and successful things if I inherited a small fortune from my grandparents.

I glance at Jane to make sure she didn’t overhear Rosie’s remark. Blonder than I, Jane wears a yellow Shetland sweater with yellow skirt and heels. She never wears the same outfit twice, never the same shoes. A small country could eat on the money Jane spends for clothes. She fingers a pearl choker around her scrawny neck as she bends the ear of a greeting card salesman eating pie with us, pie I brought to celebrate Ian’s twenty-fifth birthday.

When everyone says they’ve had enough, I carry a tin with a third left to the refrigerator in the stockroom.

Just past three, I follow Ian’s handsome butt, in gray khakis reaching deep into his crack, to the stockroom and through its swinging door. He takes his time card from the rack and punches out.

“Why don’t we finish the pie before you go, Ian?”

I don’t expect enthusiasm because Ian doesn’t want to appear to likeme. I open the refrigerator and take out the pie tin. With a plastic knife, I halve what’s left and maneuver the slices onto paper plates. As we dig in, Ian leans against the wall with one knee raised, the sole of his black sneaker flat to the Sheetrock.

We watch each other eat. He opens his mouth, exposing a partially chewed mass. I smile and open my mouth, exposing the same. We chew with slow, exaggerated movement and swallow. Ian forks more pie. Slipping his fork into his mouth, he looks at me with purpose. I move closer, and we kiss, our tongues sliding into sweet globs of pie. I straddle his knee, pressing my erection against his raised leg. He shoves me backward. I expect to see someone at the stockroom door, but no one’s there.

We stare at each other as we finish our pie.

I follow him out through the stockroom’s swinging door as Rosie strides toward us with the grace of a big cat, under her arm an oversized gift book, a photograph of the Grand Canyon on its dust jacket. “Dave’s on the phone for you, Lenny, and a woman wants to buy this but doesn’t want the display copy. Do we have another one?”

“I’ll check,” Ian says, taking the book from her and turning around.

I follow Rosie behind the service counter, her hips swaying in a long, brown sweater that clings to her jeans. She stops by the cash register, and I continue into my office and pick up the phone. Dave calls me on Royal Books’ number because Jane forbids staff to use cells.

“Dave.”

“Sorry if I interrupted something,” he says.

“You didn’t interrupt anything.”

“I forgot to mention Robert’s having a party tonight. I figure we’ll go?”

“Sure.”

Robert heads the literature department at Cal State. He’s like a doting gay uncle to Dave and me.

“How’s your day going?” Dave says.

“Ordinary.” I hear guilt in my voice, but Dave wouldn’t. I listen to him blow off steam about the dean insisting he change a student’s fall grade while my mind flits to being sued by Ian for sexual harassment. Through my office window I watch Ian hand a copy of the Grand Canyon book to Rosie. Getting a boner, I turn from the window and gaze at my wall calendar, a snow scene of Yosemite on the page for January. The calendar was among Dave’s Christmas gifts to me.

 

v

 

Pixie-sized Robert spots us from across his living room. His vibrant gray eyes smile from baby-soft mottled skin as he makes his way around and between his chatting guests. “Hello, boys. Fashionably late, I see.” His voice is playful, raspy. His hands dart out from the sleeves of a baggy maroon cardigan, landing on our forearms. He offers a cheek to be kissed. A shock of hair swings out from Dave’s forehead as he leans to oblige Robert. I glance to see who I know among the middle-aged academics, the group nearest us moaning about recent political outrages. I’m startled to spot Ian in a circle of grad students across the room. Ian’s working on an MA in comp lit. I know he took a class from Robert, but I’ve never seen him at Robert’s house. On Ian’s arm is a willowy brunette with hair down to the small of her back. She’s dropped him off at the bookstore a time or two.

Ian doesn’t see me. I look away, but his blue-black hair and long-sleeved red T-shirt glow in my peripheral vision. “What’s the matter?” Dave says.

“Nothing.” I kiss Robert’s cheek.

“I’ll put the beer we brought in the refrigerator.”

I lean down to Robert’s ear. “You know Ian Ryan?”

Robert laughs and plays at making insinuating eyes. “Melinda, my research assistant brought him. She has excellent taste, don’t you think?”

“She does. Ian works for me.”

Robert flicks his silver eyebrows. “Small world. Lucky you.”

Ian sees me, turns his back, and slips his arm around Melinda’s waist. Her sleeveless mint dress looks suitable for a wedding, as though this casual party means more to her than it should. I like her for the needy life that suggests. I figure when Dave returns, I’ll introduce him to Ian and get my nervous moment over. Dave will razz me about hiring a guy as hot as Ian, and my Ian fantasies won’t feel like imaginable realities anymore because Ian won’t be a secret. Good.

Robert pats my forearm and excuses himself to say a word to a couple leaving. I turn and head to Dave, talking to our friend Sandy by the long dining table.

“Hi, sweetie,” I shout over the music as someone cranks up the volume in the family room. Sandy and I peck on the lips. “You’re looking good,” I tell her. She’s short and always fighting weight, her red hair stylishly boyish and framing a pretty face with a clear complexion. As I bend down to listen to her, my back to the living room, Melinda passes from behind me, leading Ian by the hand. They stop at the far end of the table. While Melinda greets two women grad students, Ian picks up a vodka bottle and fills a tumbler more than halfway. I wink when he looks up. He nods hello, just barely, and pours orange juice into his vodka.

Sandy tugs my hand while I’m staring at Ian. “Let’s go out back so I can smoke.”

She leads me through the family room, between dancing couples who look too settled in life, too love-handled for partying hard. Outside, beyond a sliding glass door, the smokers spill from the patio onto the small lawn, made even smaller by dripping bamboo towering on three sides. Sandy and I stop near a round stone table, damp from fog, at the edge of light cast by the house.

A joint comes our way, and I decide one hit won’t hurt. Holding smoke in my lungs, I stare through the glass door as Melinda and Ian join the dancers in the family room. I let out smoke. “You must know Ian Ryan?” I ask Sandy. She’s the literature department secretary.

“I know Melinda better.”

“You don’t like Melinda?”

“She’s all right—a little headstrong.” Frowning, Sandy draws on her cigarette and exhales through small nostrils. “I wouldn’t do Ian any favors, babe.”

“What have you got against Ian? I like him.”

Sandy twists her mouth. “Speaking of people I don’t like, how’s Jane?”

“Away on a cruise, hallelujah!”

Sandy worked at Royal Books when I started there; Jane loved to hate her.

“You’re a patient man, Lenny. I owe you big-time for hooking me up with Robert. He’s a dream of a boss.”

“So, why don’t you like Ian?”

Sandy shakes her head and stubs out her cigarette in a wet ashtray on the table. She looks around at the other smokers and crosses her arms with a shiver. I wear a sweater, but she’s in a sleeveless blouse. I place my arm around her shoulders. “You’re cold, sweetie. Let’s go dance.”

I maneuver us near Ian and Melinda, among the crowd bumping and grinding.Sandy looks more distressed than happy. She needs a boyfriend, I figure. A son in college and a friendly ex-husband aren’t enough. I reach out and brush my fingertips along her cheeks, and she brightens.

Robert joins us as one song blends into another.I pull my sweater over my head and toss it among shed layers on a couch shoved against a wall. Robert’s eyes flit to my gray muscle shirt. In his cups on my last birthday, my thirtieth, he told me he likes thirty-year-old blonds.

“I’m not into dancing tonight,” Sandy shouts. She air-kisses Robert and me and scoots away.

As a new song begins, I face Robert while Melinda, beside me, faces Ian. Judging by Ian’s glazed-over eyes, he chugged all the vodka he poured. He raises his arms on an upbeat lyric, and I mentally trace the contours of his compact torso as his shirt rides above a navel that looks like an etching on his flat stomach.

“People are leaving, and I want to say good night,” Robert shouts to Melinda. “You and Ian dance with Lenny.”

I turn halfway to Melinda. She smiles until Robert disappears, then gives me a look that says she knows I’m admiring her date and doesn’t appreciate it. Fair enough, I think. “I need a beer.”

Slipping between the dancers, I find my sweater on the couch and toss it over my shoulder. I wonder where Dave is.

He’s not in the living room. From the hallway, I glance into Robert’s den and see Dave sitting forward on a black leather sofa, his back to me, his large hands raised in a shrugging gesture. He’s talking to an engineering professor named Brian, a young Paul Newman. Dave’s in the biology department but knows Brian from playing city-league baseball. Brian’s pregnant wife, a lawyer, is with them. I watch Dave sitting erect in a white pullover sweater, his long spine straight, his angular face relaxed and smiling in half profile. He doesn’t know I’m watching him and thinking I made a good decision when I moved to California to be with him. If I’d asked myself whether I was in love in the beginning, I didn’t ask for long.

I glance at Brian and wonder if Dave’s attracted to him. I’m sure Dave gets a hard-on for as many guys as I do. He won’t admit it. He’s afraid of encouraging me. He thinks I don’t have his willpower. We’re not ready for a big wedding yet, but we wear rings, Dave’s idea to help keep me in line.

I head for the kitchen, a pale green room with dark cabinets and a butcher block island laden with booze and soft drinks, platters of broccoli and cheese glistening and looking plastic under ceiling spotlights. I take a bottle of beer from a cooler on the floor, lean back against the counter, and savor being alone in relative quiet. Ian appears in the doorway, stops when he sees me, and then takes a few unsteady steps to the island, where he picks up a Pepsi.

“Did you down all the vodka you poured, Ian?”

Without answering, he leans against the stove at a right angle to me. His tanned, square-tipped fingers fumble until he snaps the can open and mist rises.

“Where’s the lady you’re with?” I say.

“In the john.” He gulps, his Adam’s apple bobbing. He flexes the can’s thin metal. “You should give me Jack’s hours, Lenny.”

Jack, the bookstore’s evening manager, is quitting. Mai-Ly, who has seniority over Ian, asked for Jack’s hours. Ian knows I told her she could have them.

“You’re drunk, Ian. Why would you want Jack’s hours?”

“So you and I won’t be working at the same time.”

“What? Like I’m the only man you’ve ever been attracted to?”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about, Lenny.”

Melinda comes into the kitchen, and I take a swallow of beer. “Your date’s had too much to drink.”

“Oh, yes.” Melinda shakes her head, tch-tching, and slips an arm around his waist. She steers him from the room.

I finish my beer in no hurry, lift my sweater off my shoulder, and pull it on.

Dave still sits in the den with Brian. Brian’s wife isn’t with them. They’re talking about who will win the Super Bowl, but I couldn’t care less. Dave glances at me as I sit down beside him. He looks back at Brian and keeps talking but holds a hand my way. I take it, lean back, and map the bones in my cowboy’s fingers while he talks to Brian.

Yawning, Dave asks if I’m ready to go.

“Whenever you are.”

“I should find my wife,” Brian says, rising to his feet. We follow him out of the den.

Melinda and Ian sit on the living room sofa, Melinda talking to one of the grad students she greeted earlier. Ian slouches down on the cushions, an ankle crossed over a knee, his head tipped back against the top of the couch. He catches sight of Dave and me and, without lifting his head, rotates it to follow us as we pass. I look over my shoulder from the front door and meet his gaze.

 

v

 

In Jane’s driveway, in the hills above downtown Fullerton, Ian and I strain under the weight of a display table we unload from a van Ian rented on the store credit card. Ian is house-sitting while Jane cruises. We upend the table against the wall in her chilly garage. I wipe my face with the front of my sweatshirt. “We’ll never use this goddamn table in the store again, but Jane can’t throw anything away.”

I follow Ian out to the sunny driveway, and he lowers the garage door, hiding Jane’s Cadillac. Her white Spanish house sits above and to the side, on the highest point of a ridge. Newer houses—elegant ranchers—line the road as it descends in both directions from Jane’s property.

Ian looks up at the cement steps curving to her front door through terraces shored up with wire mesh and planted with ivy and squat junipers. “Have you ever been inside?”

I shake my head. “I’ve heard enough about it. She has a conniption fit picking new shelf paper for her kitchen cabinets.”

“The view’s fantastic from the back. Do you want to see it?”

I follow him up the steps and in the front door. He leads me past a sand-colored living room with a wagon wheel coffee table and out French doors to a terrace. Santa Ana winds have blown away last night’s fog, and the view at our feet encompasses much of North Orange County as it slopes to the ocean.

Ian glances to see if I’m impressed. I refuse to be effusive over anything connected to Jane.

“That’s Catalina.” He points at what appears to be a low, brown cloud on the silver horizon.

I realize he’s right. “I can see why you like staying here.”

“At night, with the lights spread out below, it feels like you’re in an airplane.”

I watch his eye follow a jet, far enough away to look toy like as it descends to Orange County Airport.

“I’ve only flown once in my life,” he mumbles.

“Coming from Ireland?”

“Going to San Francisco. Well, twice, going and coming back. I’ve never been out of California, except as a baby.”

“When did you go to San Francisco?”

“A couple of years ago. This girl I knew took me for my birthday. All she wanted to do was stay in our hotel room and have sex.”

I laugh out loud. “Were you a disappointment to her, Ian?”

“I wanted to go out and at least see something.”

Smiling, I glance down a sheer embankment planted with trailing gazanias. A rectangular swimming pool nestles in a cut on the chaparral-covered hillside, silver green from recent rain. Dark blue tiles frame the pale blue body of water. Weathered redwood lounges with faded green cushions stretch like lizards at odd angles to one another around the white cement deck.

“Want to go for a swim?” Ian says.

I stare down a steep flight of railroad tie steps sunk into the cliff, with a round, rusty handrail on one side. In an arroyo a few hundred yards below the pool, the tops of eucalyptus trees mask the roofs of houses on a snaking road. “Sure, let’s go for a swim.”

We strip off our clothes at the bottom of the steps while the boom of a grasshopper oil derrick, just visible around the curve of the hillside, rises and falls above ragged olive trees. Ian’s light tan body shows a bathing suit line fainter than mine. I watch his backside as he dives into the water, and then I follow. The pool is so full, ripples slosh onto the deck.

We swim laps leisurely. When he swims faster, I stay with him.

He quits and glides to the side, faces inward and watches me. I swim a few more laps before pulling up next to him. He turns and hugs the pool wall, his chest flush to it, gleaming arms folded in the sun on the dark blue tile edge, one hand over the other. I grip the lip and let my upright body sink till I’m submerged to my shoulders. The water undulates from our swimming, and my chest drifts to the wall and away.

“How’d you feel this morning, after all the vodka you drank last night?”

He doesn’t answer. He lifts his arms off the tile edge and drops underwater to his neck.

I let my body drift closer to his. The wind chills my head, and my nose runs and stings from chlorine, all I can smell. “Do you remember coming into the kitchen for a Pepsi and talking to me?”

We’re shoulder to shoulder. I feel his toes caress the arch of my foot. He stretches toward me, and we kiss. I slip my hand under his buttocks, and he kisses me harder. I bend my middle finger into his crack and gently nudge his anus. His buttocks squeeze.

“Hello! Hello!” a woman shouts from above. “I’m here!”

We look up at Melinda.

“Be right there,” Ian bellows, his voice deep.

Ian hoists himself out of the water. I watch his curved, bruise-colored erection as he walks around the pool to the side where our clothes are. Melinda’s out of sight when I look up again. I climb onto the deck. Ian and I shiver in the wind, letting it dry us some as we shake droplets off our limbs. He kicks into jeans, grabs his T-shirt, sweater, socks, and shoes, and hustles up the railroad tie steps.

Letting the air dry me more, I gaze around the hillside in the low sun’s gold light. A jackrabbit emerges from the brush, and we watch each other as I pull on my pants and sweatshirt. It scampers away. I pick up my old deck shoes and leisurely climb barefoot up the steps.

Melinda’s in the kitchen. Her pink sweater, black jeans, and white tennis shoes remind of a three-tone ’50s Dodge I saw at an antique car show. Her hair is pulled back in a knot, her face bare except for pink lipstick. I smell coffee and hear a shower running.

“Do you want some coffee? You must be freezing.”

“Thanks.”

She fills a large white mug with a bright yellow ring around its lip. Behind her, a curtain billows at one side of the window over the sink.

“Milk or sugar?”

“Black.”

I take the mug and sit at the kitchen table of Shaker simplicity, thin wood top on broomstick legs that angled out. The kitchen is cream colored.

Melinda leans back against the counter. Her light blue eyes watch me as though I’m an experimental mouse about to exhibit an important reaction. I swallow a little coffee.

She raises her eyebrows. The sound of the shower stops, and she glances at another part of the house, then sips from her mug. She lowers it and pinches the bridge of her nose. “You wouldn’t be here if…”

“I’m not your rival, Melinda.”

“I’m not yourrival.”

“I’m in a relationship.”

Areyou?”

A timer goes off, and she sets her coffee mug down to slide a casserole dish into the oven. “Ian and I are friends,” she says, picking up her mug and leaning against the counter again. “I care what happens to him.”

I watch her stare at the floor until Ian pads into the room in tan shorts and a black T-shirt, his head damp. I gulp the last of my coffee, wiggle my feet into my deck shoes, and rise from my chair. “Time for me to go. See you at work, Ian.”

He follows me to the front door. I let myself out and hustle down the curving steps through the reinforced terraces. My hatchback sits by the rented van. Starting my engine, I pat my steering wheel as though my car were a faithful dog. Melinda arrived just in time. I’ll keep plenty of distance between Ian and me, I decide driving home.

I’m only the second man Dave’s had sex with in his life. I wasn’t ready to settle down when we met, but I made the mistake of getting an apartment with him when we both lived in Washington, DC. He moved out after he caught me on the living room floor with our long-haired neighbor who looked like Jesus. We had dinner a few times over the next several months, and then he moved to take his job, ABD, at Cal State.

 

v

 

Sitting on the washing machine, holding my phone after a Sunday afternoon talk with my mom in Galveston, I recall something she said before Dave and I were together.

“If you want to squeeze out of those jeans, Lenny, honey, I’ll fix that stuck zipper. To tell the truth, I’d rather fix your other pants so they don’t unzip so easily.”

My mom’s a tall, wiry woman with frizzy gray hair. She never wears much makeup. On the phone, she said it’s cold in Texas, so she’s probably wearing a sweater and slacks. She asked how her other son was. She loves Dave for making me settle down, among other reasons. I love Dave for making me settle down, among other reasons, too.

I put on shoes, grab my car keys, and drive across town, past Cal State. In a discount store, I buy underwear for Dave and me in navy blue, forest green, and burgundy. Dave’s working in his office on campus and won’t be home until suppertime.

It’s dark outdoors when my car bumps up the driveway of a doughnut shop near the college. I want a cup of coffee. I pull into a parking space facing the plate glass of the bare-bones eating room. As I shut off my engine, I glance through the lighted windows. Ian sits in one of the pastel booths in the bright glare. He’s leaning forward and grinning, holding a bent drinking straw, wrapping the straw around his index finger. Sitting across from Ian is Dave, also leaning forward and grinning, holding a crumpled paper coffee cup, crushing the cup with his fingertips. I watch them gaze at each other.

They rise from the booth, and I start my car. They walk to the door, laughing and talking, and I back out of my parking space. I roll quickly down the driveway and out.

At home, I pour a glass of red wine and take chicken breasts out of the refrigerator, coat them in olive oil, and season them for the grill. I take lettuce and tomatoes out of the crisper.

What could be keeping Dave? He and Ian ran into each other on campus, recognized each other from Robert’s party, and went for a cup of coffee. Simple.

The sound of Dave’s car idling in the alley behind our house tells me he’s raising the garage door. Taking broccoli from the refrigerator, I pare off the stems and drop the florets into an old, tarnished steamer. The kitchen door opens and Dave appears, dressed in a gray pullover sweater, painter’s pants, and blue running shoes, sockless. His battered, fat leather briefcase dangles at his side. He kisses me and looks at the chicken on the counter. “Good. I’m hungry.”

“I’ll start the grill, and we can eat early. How was your afternoon?”

“Okay.”

He carries his briefcase into his den and goes into our bedroom, then returns to the kitchen with his sweater and shoes off, his white T-shirt webbed with gray fuzz.

“Did you get a lot of work done?” I say.

“I looked up some stuff in the library, finished a draft of my article. What’d you do this afternoon?”

“Read. Talked to my mom. Went to buy underwear. I’m making coffee. Do you want a cup?”

“I had coffee just before I left the office. Should I throw together a salad?”

“If you want to. Maybe I won’t bother making coffee.” A small red ant crawls across the faded beige countertop, toward the toaster. I crush it with my index finger and rinse my hand under the tap. “Are you sure you don’t want coffee, Dave?”

“Positive.”

“Maybe I’ll have more wine.”

After refilling my wineglass, I set it and the plate of chicken breasts on a tray and flip on the outdoor light.

A pink block wall hides our backyard from the alley and from the backyards of our neighbors, a Vietnamese family who bought just before we did and an elderly widow from Missouri who moved in with her husband in the fifties, when the development was new. A jade tree hedge grows against the wall at the back of the yard, and at the side, against the garage, a bougainvillea. Dave and I planted a palm tree in the middle and birds-of-paradise and agapanthuses near the house.

I step barefoot along the cold, narrow walk from our kitchen door to the alley and stop by our three-legged barbecue grill, in moist grass near a wood gate through the block wall. I dump charcoal into the bowl, squirt on lighter fluid, and toss in a match. A ball of bright orange flame lights up the night air like a small sun. Staring into the flame, I tell myself things aren’t always as they appear. The earth looks flat and doesn’t feel like it’s moving. I try to remember at what age I learned the earth is round and rotating.

We eat in front of the TV, and Dave works in his den until bedtime.

Did he avoid me at Robert’s party? Did he and Ian avoid each other? Is that why Dave sat in Robert’s den for most of the two hours we were there?

In bed, he’s tired—not unheard of on a Sunday night. We had sex before we went to Robert’s party Friday, and again Saturday morning and Saturday night. We kiss, and Dave falls asleep. I fall asleep eventually, an uneasy sleep fret with dreams.

I wake gasping, soaked in sweat. After shoving down my half of the covers, I take deep breaths until my heart stops racing. In a slow motion nightmare, with air as dark and sticky as molasses, I drove head-on toward another car with Melinda at its wheel. Sandy was in the car with Melinda, and they were both silently screaming at me.

 

 

2. You Deserve Better

Gray light seeps around the closed curtain. The radio will come on in two minutes. Dave sleeps facing me, his knees raised, taking more than half the bed. I see his thick head of hair more than his face burrowed into his pillow. Pulling with me my edge of the sheet and blanket, I scoot down, askew to Dave’s zigzagging body. My feet stick off the mattress near the foot. Watching his twitching erection point at my waiting mouth, I wonder whether he’s dreaming. Our radio comes on, a female pop singer.

I nose beside Dave’s cock and stick my tongue into his navel, as textured as a halved walnut husk with the meat removed. I slide my tongue down the fuzz below his belly button and lick my way out the length of his shaft. I wrap my lips around his head. He gently pushes in and pulls out. His big toe caresses my calf, his fingertips churn my hair. His thrusts become more intense but remain smooth, controlled, never violent.

“I’m gonna give you my love, Lenny,” he breathes softly. In and out, in again. “Here it comes, Len. I love you.” Once, twice, three times. His semen tastes like bread dough. Craving it like air, I’m glad I’ll go to work with it in my stomach. His bone softens to a fulsome penis, the archetype of every husky wiener I’ve glimpsed since boyhood. I love it as much this way and keep it in my mouth until I come.

Dave pulls me up, and we kiss. The radio plays ads. A second song hasn’t started yet. Sex is so simple between two men.

 

v

 

I wait for Ian with a taste for blood in my mouth. Mai-Ly clocks in at ten, when Ian’s due, and walks behind the counter. Mai-Ly is petite, in a powder-blue dress and a small white unbuttoned sweater, her long, straight black hair parted in the middle, framing her delicate features. Mai-Ly’s ex-boyfriend taught her about honesty in bed, she told me. After their breakup, she said he’d told her he couldn’t go to bed with her anymore because he sometimes thought of other women. I listened and considered the moments my roving mind flashed on other men when I’m in bed with Dave. Mai-Ly took comfort in her boyfriend’s rationale for breaking up with her, so I didn’t tell her there wouldn’t be any long-term relationships if everyone was as strict as her boyfriend about where his mind wandered in bed.

“Ian had to take his mother to the hospital,” Mai-Ly says.

“The hospital?”

“Not an emergency—some procedure.”

I pat the oak veneer counter a few times, as though I’m a bongo drummer. “Don’t you have a class now, Mai-Ly?”

“I told him I could miss this once.”

“Don’t let him bully you.”

“He wouldn’t.”

“Don’t be so sure.”

Mai-Ly settles on the stool by the register. Drumming the counter a few more times, I think of what I’m going to say to the son of a bitch when he gets here.

From the stockroom I carry an empty box to a revolving rack of wall calendars and begin pulling them. Opening a dog-eared display copy of a baseball calendar, I leaf through a few glossy pages and stop at a picture of a batter leaning over home plate. In a drawer at home are pictures of Dave as a shortstop for Georgetown and for the Wisconsin Rapids Twins. Near the end of his first Twins season, he made the mistake of thinking a mutual spark existed between him and his best friend on the team. In his second season, his teammates kept him at a polite distance, and his so-so playing suffered. Before the season ended, he left to start grad school, an option he’d kept open.

I stare at the ballplayer in the calendar, a man attractive enough to keep me from flipping to the next month. He could be anyone, for my knowledge of baseball. All I know about him is that I’d like to see him come, to experience his body at its peak. However many men I’ve had, I want more. No one expects less of a straight man in his craving for women, do they?

Near noon, Ian breezes through the bookstore’s clean glass doors in a black T-shirt, bone-colored pants, and flip-flops. He carries a small doughnut sack and a worn paperback. From my office, I watch him disappear into the stockroom and wait a minute before following.

He sits on three stacked boxes and eats a jelly doughnut, straddling the corner of the top box, feet dangling, flip-flops hanging away from his heels. Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Roomlies tucked under the curve of a buttock. He’s read most of Woolf; we’ve talked a lot about her.

I lean against the wall, facing him. “How’s your mom, Ian?”

“In good shape for the shape she’s in. Everything’s wrong with her.”

“I’m sorry.”

Shrugging, he pulls another doughnut out of the sack and bites into it. Red syrup oozes onto his fingers, and he licks them.

“I enjoyed the pool Saturday,” I tell him. He fixes his dark blue eyes on the doughnut. I glance at the work schedule posted beside the bathroom door, to the right of his head. “Do you have plans for Friday night?”

“Do you want me to stay and close up?”

“I want you to come to our house for dinner, with Dave and me.”

Ian wads up his doughnut sack. “Sorry. I’m tied up Friday night, come to think of it.”

“Saturday night?”

“This week’s bad. I’m trying to finish my Dostoevsky paper. The next few weeks are bad. Thanks, though, Lenny. I should clock in and get out there.”

He hops off the boxes, tosses his wadded sack in a small plastic trash can, and turns to the time clock. I glance at the door to see if anyone’s coming, move behind him, and curl my hands around his biceps. “You like me, and I like you. I know you’ll like Dave, and he’ll like you. I don’t see a problem.”

“Let go of me, Lenny.”

I squeeze his muscles and let go. He punches in, and I follow him from the stockroom to the counter.

I watch through the interior window of my office while he takes over the register for Mai-Ly. She heads across the store and outdoors carrying a small can of tuna and an orange.

I mosey out to the counter and hoist myself up onto it, sit more or less facing Ian on his stool by the register, Jacob’s Roomopen on his lap.

“What’d you do the rest of the weekend, Ian?”

“Nothing much.”

“Nothing? Everybody does something.”

“Worked on my Dostoevsky paper.”

“In the library?”

“Some.”

He looks up from his book, stares across the store, and cracks his knuckles. “This paper’s turning out to be as long as my thesis.”

“Is the campus fairly empty on weekends?”

“Fairly.”

“Dave works in his office a lot of weekend afternoons.”

Watching Ian stare ahead of himself, I give him a chance to say he ran into Dave in the library, recognized him from the party, and they went for coffee at a doughnut shop.

He cracks his knuckles again.

From my counter perch, facing my office, I look over my shoulder, in the direction he’s staring. There’s one customer in the store, a woman browsing the self-help medical section. “You seem nervous, Ian.”

“I’m not nervous.”

“Did anyone introduce you to Dave at Robert’s party? I meant to.”

He shakes his head and rises off his stool. “That woman’s having trouble finding something. I’ll go help her.”

“You do that. I’ll wait right here for you.”

He hustles around the counter. I hop to the floor, turn, and watch him walk to the medical section. He talks to the woman and brings her to the service counter, where he searches our online inventory. In my office, I swivel my chair so my back’s to him and try to concentrate on invoices I need to send to the bookkeeper. But I’m too pissed to do anything but leave for the gym.

When I come back after a long workout, Rosie stocks magazines near the door, her orange-lipsticked mouth open in a cavernous yawn. Ian’s at the register. “Bored, Rosie?”

“Not enough sleep. This guy I’m seeing is an insomniac. He smokes joints and marches around the apartment imitating Mussolini.”

Mussolini?Lose him.”

“He’s doing a master’s thesis on Mussolini, querido. And Alan’s good in bed.”

“Oh, well, if he’s good in bed…”

She cackles. “We’ll forgive a man his insane delusions if he’s good in bed, eh, querido?”

“Damn right.” I wink.

Heading to my office, carrying a sub to eat at my desk, I stop on the customer’s side of the counter, across from Ian on his stool. He looks up from his book, and I lower my gaze to his smooth black T-shirt.

“I like seeing the points of your nipples in that shirt, Ian.”

“Lenny, back off.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m telling you to.”

I know you’re fucking Dave.

He stares past me, out the windows to the parking lot. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I saw you guys having coffee in the doughnut shop near the college.”

“So, I ran into a guy at a doughnut shop and had a cup of coffee with him.”

“Bullshit. You’re a lying bastard.”

“Here comes a customer, Lenny.” He hops off his stool. “I’ll ring those up for you, ma’am.”

I walk around the counter into my office and grab my old leather jacket from the door hook. With it slung over my shoulder, I wait behind Ian while he finishes ringing up books. The woman pays and leaves. I glare at Ian. “I’m giving myself a few hours off. I deserve it, don’t you think?”

“Sure, why not?”

He climbs on his stool and picks up Jacob’s Room. He sits erect, staring ahead. I keep my eyes fixed on him until he glances at me and shrugs. “I won’t tell Jane you left early. I never tell her anything.”

“You can tell her whatever you want, bastard.”

I hustle out of the store, climb into my car, and slam the door.

At home I open a bottle of beer. It’s seventy-five degrees outside, and the late afternoon sun shines into the back of our small house. I’m used to getting home in the dark. After stripping off my shirt and shoes, I carry my beer out to the patio. With the sun on my shoulders, I pull weeds out from around our birds-of-paradise and agapanthuses.

Opening cans of corned beef hash for supper, I’m so absorbed in thinking about Dave with Ian I don’t hear his car. He startles me when he comes in our back door. Salad is ready. We eat on the guestroom sofa watching the news and carry our dirty plates to the dishwasher.

“I need to finish writing the test I’m giving in 202 tomorrow. Do you want coffee, Len?”

“No, thanks.”

Dave fills the teakettle and crosses to the stove. I lean against the counter and watch his lats stretch his T-shirt as he reaches for a coffee jar on a top shelf. He drinks instant when making coffee just for himself.

“I know you’re fucking Ian, Dave.”

He looks sideways at me, his mouth open.

“I thought I should tell you I know. I don’t want to talk about it.”

He turns his large body my way and freezes, like a big buck caught in the headlights of an oncoming car. I slip out of the room.

I start a cassette of Renaissance music in the living room. With headphones over my ears, I sit on the wood floor with my legs folded and stare into the fireplace as though the artificial log is blazing.

Dave comes out of the kitchen. He sits on the floor beside me and puts his arm around my shoulders. I consider knocking it off. He lifts the headphones away from my ears and holds them on his lap.

“I didn’t know who he was, Len. You’d never mentioned a guy named Ian. He didn’t know who I was. He thought I had a wife. We saw each other jogging and in the weight room.”

“I said I don’t want to talk about it.”

“What do you want me to do? Can you give me a little time?”

“I can give you the rest of my life. Go write your test.”

I take the headphones from him and put them over my ears. He kisses the back of my neck. I let him kiss me on the mouth—maybe then he’ll go away and leave me alone. And he does.

In bed, I’m surprised when I can’t stop kissing him. I pull him on top of me and raise my legs, wrap them around him. When I think of Ian doing the same thing, my erection throbs so hard it aches. “Fuck me, Dave,” I breathe.

He rises on his knees on the bed, his back erect. He gets KY from the nightstand. “I want to kiss your balls first,” I whisper. Despite myself, I crave showing him my respect for his manhood. He could have all the guys he wants but chose me, and he’s tried to be faithful.

Dave stares into my eyes as he straddles me, inching his way to my head. He eases a large testicle into my mouth and watches me suck on it. I know that even with his pangs of guilt he feels cockier than ever right now, because he’s having his way with two guys. Two of us are blowing him and raising our legs for him. I tell myself to let him savor his manhood. I savor it. Why shouldn’t he?

He pulls his testicle out of my mouth and inserts the other one. While I squeeze it between my lips and watch his chest swell, he dabs KY on his head and presses my hand to it, to spread the gel along his shaft. He kisses me and hooks my ankles over his shoulders. I take him easily, despite his size. “Fuck me, lover,” I whisper. I imagine Dave hearing Ian whisper the same words. I picture Ian below him.

“I love you, Len. With all my heart, I do.” He comes and collapses on me. I stroke the back of his neck as he cries.

“I’d break it off right now if I could, Len,” he says when he can talk. “Can you understand that?”

“Understanding doesn’t mean I like it.”

“I’m the only man Ian’s ever had sex with. We haven’t done anything unsafe, but you and I can go on a prescription if you think we should.”

“Not as long as you use condoms.”

“If you want me to move out for a while, I will.”

No.I don’t want you to move out. You’re infatuated, Dave. It’ll pass. I’m pissed off. That’ll pass, too.”

“Can you handle this for a time?”

“Do I have a choice?”

He doesn’t answer.

“I fucked around when we were first together. You’re fucking around now. Our timing’s off, but we’re good together.”

 

v

 

At work over the next two weeks, Ian and I pretend to ignore each other. At home, Dave and I pretend Ian doesn’t exist.

 

v

 

Locked in the bathroom on Saturday night, I use a flashlight and a magnifying mirror to exam the inside of my mouth for sores, not that I’m aware of any. My gums are exemplary, no bleeding. A hygienist’s poster boy, me. If I’m going to suck off someone other than Dave tonight, my mouth needs to be safe. I’ll want the guy’s cream.

In a gay dance bar, I taste my first hard liquor in five years—this after downing two beers, my normal limit. Dave comes out of the head and sees me with a rocks glass in my hand.

“What are you doing, Len?”

“Minding my own business, which is better than what some people are doing.”

Earlier we met Robert for dinner at a coffee shop not far from the university. I talked to Robert and ignored Dave while we ate. When we left the restaurant, I got into Robert’s car and let Dave drive alone. I’d swallowed my bile well enough until four days ago, Valentine’s Day, when silent fury overcame me at the thought of Dave serving double duty.

I down my bourbon and signal the bartender for another. Someone tugs on my T-shirt, tucked through my jeans belt loop. “I mustfeel that sweaty torso,” JT says in my ear. Small and effeminate, JT brings out the alpha dog in me, like Michael, my high school lover, did. All through senior year, I fucked small Michael, with his long, dark hair down his back. JT moves in front of me and presses the heels of his hands to my rib cage. He fans his fingers out across my pecs, avoiding my nipples. I’d like to squeeze the small waist under his purple shirt, bury my face in the long, brown hair beneath his bandana.

JT’s shy lover, Billy, stares at the floor. A crew cut, tattooed albino, skinny in an oversized gray T-shirt and fatigues, Billy has the bass voice of a bullfrog and an uncut dick as big, limp, as a good-sized cucumber. At a Halloween party, Billy and I, both dressed as vampires, ducked into a closet and snuck a kiss.

Moving from me to Dave, JT splays his fingers around Dave’s large nipples. Dave likes the flattery but doesn’t have my eclectic taste in men. I give Billy a chesty hug. We both start to get hard and back off.

Turning to the bar, I pay for my double bourbon while JT and Billy take turns shouting in Robert’s ear over the music.

Dave moves beside me. “Just don’t drink too much, Lenny.”

A late thirtyish man I noticed earlier walks to the men’s room, brushing back his shaggy black hair, his hirsute olive-skinned chest thrust out. He sees me watching him, and he’s curious.

I down my bourbon and follow him through the john’s propped-open door. Stepping up next to him at the trough urinal, I watch him pee. He has a stout dick with a plum-sized head. “You have a nice bulbous cock,” I say, affecting my Texas accent, as he tucks his plum through the fly of his jeans. He laughs. Piss streams from my gracefully arched member, which I hold between thumb and index finger. “My name’s Lenny.”

“Mine’s Cleve.”

“If I keep flirting with you, Cleve, I’ll get a boner.”

A couple of guys snicker. “No boners at the urinal,” one of them says, in a mothering tone. Smiling, I shake dry and turn from the trough. I’m starting to get erect, so I make sure Cleve gets a glimpse before tucking myself away. We rinse our hands at the sinks and exit through the open door. “Let’s dance,” I shout.

I take his hand and lead him onto the floor, smile and ogle his chest, turn around and wiggle my butt. He’s restrained, not much of a dancer.

After a few numbers, we move to the bar, where he orders a light beer and I my third double bourbon. Dave appears on my side opposite Cleve and shouts in my ear while he pulls on a green T-shirt with a coiled snake on its front, a souvenir he bought at the Cincinnati Zoo when we visited his folks last summer. “Robert’s gone to JT and Billy’s for coffee. I said we’d be along.”

“Go ahead.”

JT and Billy have a house twenty minutes away. I glance into my drink and swallow what’s left.

“We don’t have to go if you don’t want to, Len.”

“Go. I’m getting my own ride home.”

“You’re drinking too much.”

“Fuck off, Dave.”

I turn to Cleve. Staring at men dancing, he leans against the bar. Dave moves a couple of steps and resumes shouting in my ear. “Don’t do anything crazy tonight. If you have to do something, make it safe.”

I watch two shirtless, sweaty guys walk off the dance floor holding hands.

“Promise me, Len.”

Christ!

“I love you. Nothing’s changed about that.”

I lean close to Dave’s ear. “I won’t do anything unsafe! Go home. I’ll get there.”

“If you’re sure you want me to leave without you, I will.”

“I’m sure.”

“Should I get your jacket from the car?”

Go, goddamn it!”

I face the bar, my back to Dave. He kisses me on the cheek. His mouth hovers near mine until I turn and kiss him. “Now go.”

He backs away, does an about-face, and walks to the door, his tall body swaying in its unself-conscious gait.

I glance at Cleve, looking up to a suspended screen showing two men feeling each other’s nipples. “You guys are married?”

“I don’t know what we are.”

“You wear wedding rings.”

“You’re going to take me home and feed me cock anyhow, aren’t you?”

“If that’s what you want.”

“That’s what I want. Let’s have a nightcap and get out of here.”

I order my bourbon neat. Cleve orders a Coke.

We down our drinks and wander bare chested out into the well-lit, cold parking lot. I pull my T-shirt out of my belt loop and slip it on. Cleve unlocks the passenger side of a big metallic green American sedan and picks up a silver bomber jacket from the front seat. As I slide into the car, I watch his hairy arms and chest disappear into the jacket.

We float down the Costa Mesa Freeway with a fluid motion that reminds me of lying on a raft in a gently undulating pool. The new car smell and the blowing heater make my stomach queasy.

“You have a big-ass new car.”

“The company I work for leases cars for us. I’m a pharmaceutical salesman.”

“A pharmaceutical salesman? I like drugs. I like grass, anyhow. I don’t smoke much anymore.”

I pick up a business card from beneath my pant leg and squint at the embossed printing of some physician’s name. A wave of nausea causes me to lay the card down. “I don’t need the heater on, if you’re running it for me.”

Cleve turns off the heater fan.

“How much farther?”

“Fifteen minutes.”

We reach the end of the Costa Mesa Freeway, continue along Newport Boulevard, and stop at a red light. I spot a gas station a block ahead, on the right.

“I hate to tell you, but I’ve changed my mind about tonight. Would you mind letting me out at that service station?”

The light turns green, and we cross the intersection, drive another block and pass the station without slowing down. I point back with my thumb.

“You’ve changed your mind?”

“I’m sorry.”

“Come to my place. We don’t have to do anything.”

“Maybe some other time.”

We pass another gas station. I feel like I’m going to throw up.

Cleve pulls into a left turn lane, and we stop at a red light. “Where are we going?” I say.

“Where do you want to go?”

“Home.”

“You’re sure I can’t talk you out of it?”

“Positive.”

“Where’s home?”

“Fullerton.”

The light changes, and Cleve makes a U-turn around a center island. “You can drop me anywhere.”

“Will you call the guy you were with?”

“I’ll get a ride. Only I forgot my phone when I left home. Maybe I could use your phone?”

“I’ll take you home.”

“You don’t have to.”

“I’m apparently doing nothing else.”

I see another gas station ahead. “Could we stop at that service station so I can use the men’s room?”

“Are you feeling okay?” Cleve glances at me.

“Not entirely.” I force a smile.

He moves two lanes to the right. “I’ll gas up. Otherwise, they won’t give you the key.”

He pulls into the station and parks by a pump. I open the car door, lean out and heave. My barf splatters the cement as though flung from a pail. I heave a second time and a third. Slime hangs from my mouth as I fumble into my jeans pocket for a handkerchief. I taste and smell bourbon, almost as pure as it went down, along with partially digested chicken, fries, cherry pie àla mode.

After wiping my mouth with my handkerchief and mopping off the car door threshold, I look over at Cleve and smile.

“Feel better, handsome?” he says, grinning.

“Like a new man.”

“Do you still want to use the bathroom?”

“Maybe we should shove off. People don’t like you throwing up on their property. I learned that in college.”

Cleve starts the car, and I close my door. We pull back onto Newport Boulevard and move into the middle lane.

“What do you want to do now?”

“Go home. You don’t have to take me. I can call Dave—he’ll come and get me.”

“Did you guys have a fight?”

“Not exactly.”

“I’ll take you home. I feel like a drive.”

We ride several blocks, past motels and bright fast-food joints, past a car repair shop, a tire outlet, a paint store, and other businesses closed for the night.

As we accelerate onto the freeway, I glance over at Cleve.

“Are you pissed at me?”

“No.” He leans toward the dashboard and pushes a button. The country classic “Stand by Your Man”comes on.I smile as he looks aggravated and turns it off.

We roll up the Costa Mesa Freeway and over the interchange to the Santa Ana. I scoot down in my seat, lay my head back, and close my eyes.

“Are you feeling sick again?”

“A little. I’m okay. I was thinking about what a nice guy you are.”

“Will you remember I’m a nice guy if things don’t work out between you and what’s-his-name?”

“I’ll remember.”

I reach over and place a hand on Cleve’s leg. He covers it, squeezes my fingers, and then eases his hand into my lap.

He’s massaging my erection through my jeans as we drive up Brookhurst. In the middle of our block, I tell him to make a U-turn and park in front of our house. I don’t see any lights. Dave’s in bed, I figure.

“Do you want to come in, and I’ll make coffee?”

“Are you sure it’ll be all right?”

“Dave’s easygoing.”

Unlocking the front door, I wonder if Dave’s home. Inside, a dim light shines from the hall on the other side of the living room.

Cleve follows me into the kitchen, and I flip on the ceiling lamp, pull the coffeemaker forward on the countertop. The room smells of ant spray. “Have a seat.” I motion to the washing machine. Everything in my vision revolves slowly. Cleve leans against the dryer and unzips his jacket far enough to show a lot of curly black chest hair. I fill the coffeemaker and turn it on.

Dave appears in the kitchen doorway, dark green bikini underwear separating his muscled torso from his muscled legs. He glances at Cleve and then stares at me.

“This is my friend Cleve.” I slur my words. “I got sick on the way to his house, and he brought me all the way back from Newport Beach. Stay up and have coffee with us. Cleve, this is Dave.”

From a cabinet, I take three unmatched mugs and hold one after the other under the spout as coffee drips down. I slide the glass carafe under the machine to catch the rest.

“Cream or sugar, Cleve?”

“Black.”

“Here you go.”

The odor of coffee and ant spray makes me want to throw up again. “Let’s go sit in the other room,” I mumble, motioning before I follow Dave and Cleve into the living room. Dave switches on a black metal floor lamp at the end of our gray couch, sets his coffee on the arm of a matching chair, and goes into the bedroom. Cleve and I sit apart on the sofa, angled toward each other. Sipping coffee makes me feel sicker.

Dave comes out of the bedroom in jeans, pulling his zoo T-shirt over his head. He sits in the armchair and picks up his coffee mug.

Smiling as well as possible, I rise on shaky legs. “You guys get to know each other. I need to go to bed.” I lean over, reach inside Cleve’s jacket, and rub my fingers in his chest hair. “You deserve better than you got tonight.”

“I’m not complaining.”

I stagger through the hall into the bedroom, where the covers are pushed down on our bed. With my clothes on, I climb onto my side of the mattress and kiss the sheet on Dave’s side, warm from his body. In college, I learned to lie on my back with one foot on the floor to keep the room from spinning, but our bed’s too high. Bringing a knee up to my chest, I untie one of my retro black-and-brown saddle oxfords. I pull off the shoe, hold it out from the bedside, let go and listen to it thump on the wood floor. I raise my other knee, pull off my other shoe, and let go.

Light from the living room shines through the hall into the bedroom. Dave and Cleve talk. I don’t listen to what they say, only to the murmur of their voices. I’m glad to be home in my own bed, with Dave no farther away than the next room. I don’t want Dave to be farther away ever.

I drift off to sleep and wake when Dave comes to bed, however quiet he tries to be. “Are you all right?” he says. He kisses my forehead and helps me out of my T-shirt. He gets up and pulls off my socks and jeans and underpants. “I love you, Len,” he says, after he lies back down.

“Want your biceps,” I mutter, half-drunk, half-asleep. He understands and flexes an arm. I crawl on top of his chest and caress the mound of one of his biceps with both hands, running my nose and then my tongue over it. I nuzzle his armpit without letting go of his muscle. He strokes my hard cock and keeps flexing his biceps, making his arm pulse, until I come in his hand. Staying on top of him, I slide down to tongue the nub of his nipple and to raise my knee under his balls. I press my knee hard between his bulging bag and his anus, and he rides it as though he’s sitting atop a post. He writhes against my knee, cups the back of my head with one hand, and hugs my face to his nipple. I stroke his cock. I look down and catch as much of his cream in my open mouth as I can.

I fall asleep on his chest, his arm around me.