Sure, he’d caught me cheating, but I still thought I could charm him back into my bed. That’s just how much of a prick I was, and he was a soft kid. Or I thought he was. I knew he adored me and so I waited. I let him suffer out some weeks on his own. I mean, really, all the gay friends he’d made in the hood were my friends. Let him realize that. And let the sting fade a bit maybe. That never hurt.
We’d broken up over Christmas, so near the end of January, I texted him—early evening so he’d have all night to think about it. It said, I miss you, and I left it at that. No point in saying I was sorry yet. There’d be time for that later, once I had him in touching distance again.
He didn’t reply. I was a little surprised. I thought he’d at least want to tell me off, and any argument was an opening. Silence was harder to work with. I waited a couple of days. Still nothing. On the third day I figured the chances of him answering were getting lower, so I texted again. Can we go for coffee?
I got an e-mail half an hour later. All it had in it was a YouTube link of this Lily Allen song called “Fuck You.” It was even the version with the lyrics so I wouldn’t miss a word. It was pretty hilarious actually. It had this fluffy little melody with these damning words.
This was going to be harder than I’d thought, but it was still an opening, right? And I was the guy who knew how to work an opening. There was a line in the song I could use, so I called him.
There’s nothing like a good offense, I always say, so I started in right after he said hello. “What the fuck, Sky? You don’t answer my texts and now you’re sending me songs about being a homophobe? I thought you cared about me.” That was really low after what I’d done, but it would be better if he could blast me a bit to start with. It was better if he started mad, and then I could work him around with some hard-won words of regret.
I wasn’t expecting him to laugh.
But that’s what he did. He laughed. I couldn’t believe it. Seriously, the kid had been mooning all over me for like six months. I couldn’t think of once that he’d ever stood up to me. He had these big brown doe eyes for me, and he’d done everything I ever wanted him to do. Well, except when he left the iPhone that I’d given him. I’d wanted him to keep it, but he’d just walked out.
“Excuse me?” I said. “You think I’m kidding?” I really couldn’t think of anything less lame than that.
“Jeremy, you are hilarious. Still working an angle. Nice try.”
“What? I’m the one calling you after you—”
“Oh, cut the shit.” His voice got hard. I’d never heard that before. “I’m so done with your fucking weasel-ass lying.”
“I said shut it! Now listen up, asshole. You set up the rules about cheating and you broke them. You know it. I know it. It’s done. Over.”
Okay, wow. It was definitely time to back track. I said, “Hey, baby, you’re right, okay? I had too much to drink and it just—”
“Save it. I don’t even care. And about that song? It totally suits you. You think you’re all like King-of-the-Gayborhood who knows how the whole thing should be, but you know what? You’re not. All I wanted was to love you. You know that? I wanted to give you everything, my body, my future, my family, my heart, and you just looked at that and thought I was weak. You ARE nothing but a fucking homophobe. You fuck and you fuck, but you never let anyone get close, do you? You never let anyone love you. Well, good luck with that. I hope it makes you real fucking happy.”
The line was silent for a moment. I literally couldn’t think of a thing to say. The kid was still in high school, for fuck’s sake. Suddenly, I wanted him back so bad it hurt. Something in my chest was crumpling like an empty beer can. “Sky, please….” What the hell? I never said please. And my voice sounded weird and needy. That wasn’t me. “I can try and—”
And then he said it.
“I’m with someone else now.”
It was like something crashed into me. I suddenly got it that I didn’t have a chance. Why had I thought he would be suffering it out alone? Just because he’d said it was so hard to meet someone in high school? He was beautiful. Tall, lean—what was I thinking leaving him alone for more than three weeks? I’d played this all wrong, and it just got worse.
He kept talking.
“For some reason, my boyfriend thinks I’m amazing and brave and strong. He thinks that me wanting to share myself with someone is like the luckiest break he’s ever had. So just fucking skip it, okay? Just skip the fucking texts and e-mails and calls trying to work me over for one more lay. You never once came to meet my mom. You never once just held me because I needed it. It was all about sex and what YOU wanted, and you know what? You’re a cold lover and I wouldn’t have your hands on me again, even if my boyfriend dumps me and I never find anyone else. I never want to feel that alone again.”
And then he hung up.
I just sat there on the edge of my bed and blinked. I couldn’t think. I had this spooky numb feeling, like you know when you cut yourself and you don’t feel it yet, but you can see the blood pouring out and your heart starts to hammer because you know that the pain is coming? Yeah, like that.
I set my phone down on the bed. No, there really was no point in calling him back. All I would get was more of those words, and I really couldn’t stand the thought of hearing him say anything else. God, if I could just unhear the things he HAD said. But I couldn’t. I looked down and my hands were shaking. Shit. I was like an accident victim with no CPR and no ambulance to call. I had no clue what to do. I have to get out of here! I stood up and flung open my bedroom door.
Kodi looked up from the couch, and his face changed. “What?” he said. Kodiak is massive, like double-door-fridge massive, and his face defaults to tough as shit, but now it looked wide open and concerned. His hair is receding a bit and shorn close like his salt-and-pepper beard. The rest of him is furry as well—there’s a reason we call him Kodiak—and aside from having to deal with his pube-like body hairs in the shower every day, no matter how hard he tries to clean them up, he is the world’s best roommate. Clean, quiet, and he doesn’t judge.
But that didn’t mean I wanted him to see me this fucked up. I went back into my room to throw on some running clothes. Exercise, yeah, that’s what I need. He came and leaned in the doorway. “You okay?” he said.
“Uh-huh, fine.” I pulled up my shorts and adjusted my balls. Kodi saw me naked all the time, so it wasn’t weird. God, Kodi had seen more than my naked ass when I had my guys over. He called them the Fuck Squad, and yeah, we didn’t meet up to work on our crochet projects. I grabbed my phone and edged past him. He sighed as I slipped out the door.
I went for a long run, and it was good to be out in the cool night air in the West End. The rainbow-striped crosswalk at Davie and Bute and those little rainbow telephone pole banners all along the street had always felt like MY neighborhood, my real home. It still did, right? Of course it did. I was just having boy trouble. This was normal. Sure, not normal for me, but someone was bound to get under my skin eventually. Right?
I turned off Davie Street pretty quick, though, because it was crowded and ran downhill towards the beach through some low-rise apartment buildings, pushing my body and blanking my mind. The seawall wasn’t packed because it was February and drizzling, but there are always some people there. The seawall pathway has lines to keep the bikes and the runners in their own lanes, and tonight there were enough people to make the lines useful. I set off towards Stanley Park and ran with my tunes cranked and just tried to enjoy looking out over the ocean. The big freighters are always parked in English Bay, like toy battleships in the misty air, and the gut-deep sound of their foghorns stretching out two long notes did something to calm me.
The good thing about running is your mind gets freed up.
The bad thing about running is your mind gets freed up. And it did, of course. I thought about the night I’d first picked Skyler up at Celebrities, his innocent face wide open as he took in the oldest gay dance club in Vancouver.
“Enemies” by Hannah Georgas blasted into my earbuds talking about cuts too deep to mend and making enemies. Is that what me and Sky are now? I ran a little faster.
I thought about the way he’d learned to dance without holding back when we went out together, him with his cute fake ID. God, he was just a sweet kid, and I’d taken him. Yeah, he was in grade 12 and I was only four years older, but they were big years. I’d figured it all out—how to style my hair, how to dress, how to talk, how to smile, when to grind up against someone and turn them on. Had Skyler really had a choice in the face of my onslaught?
And I loved that, didn’t I? The power of knowing I could seduce and take what I wanted? Wasn’t that the best feeling?
I ran harder, wanting to sweat him out of my skin, wanting to stop picturing his smooth skin stretched out on my bed. I hadn’t cared about sharing him. Sure, I didn’t want him to play around without me, but why hadn’t I worried about losing him? Was it because I just assumed he was mine? Some couples played around because their love was so strong that nothing could shake it. That certainly wasn’t it for me. I think I just had this morbid fascination with finding out where his boundaries were. God, what if he’s with a guy we hooked up with! Wouldn’t that just serve me right?
I blinked hard, and when I opened my eyes, there was a guy I knew running beside me. We’d danced together before, but I’d never taken him home. I didn’t know his name. His tank top was tight, the wet wrinkles clinging to his hard-muscled frame. He looked over, and his eyes flicked down my body. He raised an eyebrow and picked up speed. It was a challenge, of course, and I was more than happy to chase him. Sweet distraction!
It dawned on me that we were going to do more than flirt when he turned into the tall trees of Stanley Park instead of sticking to the seawall that wrapped around the huge chunk of forest.
A lot of guys come down here to get blown or laid. There used to be a whole “hanky code” thing where wearing a handkerchief or bandana of a certain color meant a certain preference, but that was a bit passé these days. Sure, I’d done it when I’d first moved here. Graduated out of my small-town high and gotten a job bussing tables. The West End had been like Mecca to me four years ago, a thriving, vibrant gay community full of amazing restaurants, hot bars, and every shop you needed within walking distance. Sure, I’d gone through some shitty roommates and some slumlord-no-heat-silverfish-infested apartments, but I hadn’t gotten bedbugs yet, no one had tried to beat me up, no one had yelled, “Hey faggot!” out their car window as they drove by, and most importantly, everyone had checked me out.
It had been my paradise, even when I’d had to couch-surf just to avoid having to turn tricks in the park. My pretty face and my tight ass had been well received, and I was grateful, thank you very much. It was a big fucking change from the town that had never felt like home. To be considered desirable, to command men’s attention, and oh, to be touched! To be licked and sucked and groped and prodded and fucked and goddam manhandled. I LOVED it. I wanted it ALL. I fucking worshiped at the gay altar every day and sprayed it with cum every night.
Okay, so a lot of nights I was busting my ass schlepping a never-ending stream of dirty dishes until the wee hours and covering for a fuckwad lame dishwasher who liked to call in sick thirty minutes into his shift, but I still saw a lot of action that first year. My high cheekbones and blue eyes, full lips and black hair that had seemed to make small-town guys want to pound my face in had just the same effect here, but these men wanted to pound my face in a new and wholly marvelous way. Or maybe that’s what the boys back home had wanted too, and it freaked them so bad that the only option was to break that face before it tempted them out of their straight little pants.
I don’t know and I don’t care. I am never going back there and that’s the end of it. I’d found my place and anything that existed here in this Mecca, I wanted. It was like an all-you-can-eat buffet and I was some kind of eating contest champion.
I met Kodiak sometime after that first year. It was at a Bear Party, full of huge hairy bearded men and their younger bear cubs. They were a part of the gay rainbow I’d never even heard of before I moved, and I loved them. I just stood there staring at the bears and the leather daddies in their jackboots and tight leather pants with these leather straps across their thick bare chests, and I know my mouth hung open.
Kodi’d laughed at me and slung an arm around my neck, introducing me around since the friend I’d come with was MIA and probably sucking cock somewhere. Kodiak had kept an eye on me throughout the night, told me gossip about who liked what, brought me water when I’d drunk too much, and walked me home once I’d had my fill of all the lovely free samples available.
We hung out a lot after that, and for a while I’d thought maybe we were dating. Then there’d been that lamest of lame hookups. It actually took me a while to get over the blow to my ego, but Kodi just kept coming around and teasing me until I could laugh about it and we were friends again. A year later when he’d scored the penthouse apartment in a decent building, he’d asked me to room up, and I’d given my notice before I’d even hung up the phone with him. We’d been living together for two years, and he had become some kind of cross between a lifeguard, an uncle, and a best friend.
I could picture him as the park got more and more dark and foresty and the trail got less and less populated. He’d have his arms crossed over his enormo-chest if he could see me right now, watching with his serious face on, like I was swimming out into rough water again and he might just have to dive in after me.
The weird thing was he didn’t scowl. He didn’t look over my shoulder at my fuckups and shake his head. God, even when I brought home five guys and we all got drunk and naked and fucked like circus freaks in the living room, he’d just get that calm serious face on and make sure people got water and condoms and a warm hand on the back of the neck if they got upset or sick or whatever. He could always see when someone needed pulling out.
Was I drowning?
Maybe this random hookup guy would be like a rock sticking out of the ocean. He was tall and there was something solid about how big and strong he looked. Maybe I could just grab on and get above the waves for a bit. It’d be so nice just to feel good, but my stomach was kinda pinching. What was that? Sure, I got butterflies before a hookup, but these were hovering more like wasps. They hummed too low to hear, but I could feel the unsettled vibration.
We were running pretty fast and suddenly he slowed and then turned to smile at me. There was no one around where he cut off the trail into the trees, and I followed, pulling the earbuds out of my ears. The ferns trailed a hundred wet fingers over my naked calves, and the ground was soft and mucky under my feet. A big raindrop went right down the back of my shirt and I shivered, even though I was breathing way too hard to mind the cold.
When there was nothing but trees all around us, he stopped and turned towards me, grabbing my waist and pulling me to him. Oh, that was nice, to be held in those firm hands. I angled in to kiss him, but he pulled his face back. “Turn around,” he said, pushing on my hips. “Hold on here.”
The tree trunk was rough under my hands as he pulled my shorts down. Suddenly, I really just wanted that kiss. I wanted him to wrap his arms around me and kiss me and tell me how much he wanted me. Was this what Sky’d felt when he was with me?
“Mmm, look at that ass!” He slid his fingers down my crack and pressed in. Yesterday, I would have been rock hard and loving this. Today, it felt like those wasps in my gut were starting to land and sting my internal organs. My dick stood up but my butt clamped tight, and I just wanted… what? To ditch and run? Wasn’t this rough touch just the thing to pull me out of my nose dive?
He pressed up against me from behind, grinding his pelvis into my ass. I could feel how hard he was through his shorts. His thick thigh slid between mine, muscling in and pushing my legs apart as he tilted my hips back.
Normally I felt a lightness like a rush come over me at times like this. Like giddiness and power flowing through me all at once. I’d done some drugs, sure, but my hookup-high was more like the buzz I’d gotten when I’d shoplifted a couple times up north. I’d saunter out of the store with that giant Mr. Big chocolate bar up my sleeve, already salivating about eating it, and I was smug because I hated the asshole rednecks that owned that store and there I was sticking it to them and they didn’t even know it. Getting action from guys had always been like that. Like I was getting away with something and no one could stop me. It was my stolen chocolate.
But this time, it felt off somehow. I looked over my shoulder, and he was ripping open a condom foil with his teeth and whipping out his smallish dick with the other hand. I had this moment of oh well, how bad can it be? and then he was spreading my cheeks and spitting on my hole and pushing a finger into me. It hurt. I mean, I’m the first to admit that my ass should be collecting frequent flier points, because hey, butt-play is god’s secret art form as far as I’m concerned, but this just felt….
He pushed his cock into me and pumped for a while. I just took it. I didn’t move or make any noise. That wasn’t like me. Sure, my dick was hard, but even that didn’t feel good. It was still crammed in the front of my shorts at this awkward angle, and I couldn’t bring myself to pull it free and get off. He grunted and came, pausing a little after each shooting thrust, and then he made this little mmn noise, like you’d make after you took a bite out of a good burger or something. Then he smacked my ass cheek and slid his dick out. I saw the used condom fly into the underbrush, and I started pulling up my shorts. I hate it when people throw condoms on the ground. I never do that.
I turned around and he said, “Thanks, man. See ya round,” and then he was gone.
I just stood there for a second, a hollow void of numbness. Then I started moving, walking out between the trees, rubbing my hands over the rough bark just to feel something. He hadn’t even noticed that I wasn’t into it, or maybe he just hadn’t cared one way or the other. It was like he’d been needing to take this big shit and I was a stumbled-upon porta-potty. How lucky for him. He looked so relieved, like he’d dropped off the load he’d had to carry around and had a new spring in his step now as he jogged away. But I couldn’t even hate him for some reason. Sure, not taking care of your partner’s needs was just plain rude, but there’d been so little between us, it was like partner wasn’t the right word at all. We were hardly even acquaintances.
I always made it good for my guys, didn’t I? It was a point of pride. Was that why Skyler’s words haunted me? I wasn’t cold like that asshole, was I? I wasn’t oblivious to other people like that. I fucking wasn’t! I watched for clues, dammit, I was sensitive. God, who am I kidding? I’m not sensitive. I’m good at reading people. I know how to work them. And Skyler had come hard for me every time. I thought that was proof that I’d made him happy, but he’d felt alone and shitty as he cried out? God, that hurt. How could I not have seen that?