There’s a certain amount of resignation to each encounter, the protagonist comes to find. Night after night a string of men he’d never date. But he lets them in, gives them glasses of ice water that they sip cautiously. They look out at the view of the city from his bedroom window. Sometimes he lights candles, a ridiculously romantic gesture, given the circumstances. Kind of Blue on the stereo. They don’t know where to set down their glasses; wood furniture everywhere. He places someone else’s memoir on the desk, a New York Times bestseller he had read recently on the plane. He sets his own glass on the book, gestures for the other man to do the same. Then a suspended moment as they come together with a kiss or an embrace that would suggest they know each other better than they really do. But the kissing is important; most of them are pretty good at it. The one or two who can’t kiss well are the ones most easily forgotten later. The protagonist finds kissing to be the key that opens the other doors. He finds it to be his drug of choice, he returns to it over and over during the sex because it takes him the furthest away from his body and the body of the man he’s with; a body usually softer than the man had claimed. But to dwell on that disappointment would be to see the situation clearly, and the protagonist doesn’t want to see it clearly. He wants it rose-colored or lit by smoke and mirrors. He wants it to be a murky mess of limbs, mouths, tongues, cocks. He finds that the softer they are, the less beautiful they are, the better they are in bed. He finds they know better, faster, what makes his pulse quicken. They talk to him the right way, call him “boy” or something that implies they’re in control, which they’re not. The protagonist is handsome, they say, they say he looks like his picture. They all call him sexy. The protagonist gives them what they want, and in doing so he gets what he wants. And with each passing minute, with each encounter he peels back the layers of hesitation and caution, the layers of shame or prudence, uncovering a hot little ball of lust and need. He lets them finger it, stab at it over and over as if by touching it they could extinguish it. But it never cools, never fades. As each encounter thrashes its way to closure, as they lay gasping and wet on the sheets he’ll have to wash again, the protagonist knows the need only grows and grows. They curl around him or throw a leg over his hip and he wonders how long he should wait before grabbing a towel. He looks over at the desk and sees the ice has melted in the glasses of water, and through them the pine tree outside the window is magnified; glasses of green calm. Almost always they leave within fifteen minutes, and with their departure comes relief.
For the last of his encounters the protagonist goes out. The man’s house is a ten-minute drive, and after five minutes the protagonist, as agreed, calls the man. “I’m on my way,” he says, breaking his own rule about cell phones and driving. “I’m at O’Farrell.”
“Great,” the man says.
They hang up. After five minutes the protagonist pulls up in front of the apartment building and, as the man had promised, finds a spot right away. The protagonist waits a minute in the car after killing the engine. He listens to a woman crooning sweet love over the stereo, looking out at the dark and quiet street. He keeps the man waiting a moment longer than necessary. He gets out, shuts the door, presses the lock button on his key set. The car beeps, lights flash and it falls silent, safe and empty behind him. At the building’s entrance he presses #3, as agreed. He sees the man’s last name printed on a white slip of paper next to the buzzer, but he promptly forgets it. The door buzzes, he pushes it open, closes it quietly behind him. He climbs the first set of stairs and, as agreed, goes through the door on the first landing. The building is silent. A phone rings somewhere behind one of the doors. At #3 he stops, leans his head toward the door, listening for a minute. If the phone ringing is in #3 he might wait longer. But there’s only silence and, as agreed, he turns the knob, slipping into the apartment. He stands in the living room, his pulse thundering. The hall stretches off to his left. The place is silent. As agreed he walks down the long hallway. His footsteps echo off the hardwood floors and he imagines the man waiting for him in the bedroom is listening with fear and trepidation; that the protagonist is not handsome, that he’s not who he claimed to be. The protagonist wonders the same and as he turns the corner into the dark bedroom for a moment he thinks no one is there but then, in the far corner, he spots the man standing, waiting in his underwear. Of course he is ten pounds heavier than in his pictures. The protagonist walks around the bed to where the man is standing. In those seven steps he reconciles the real man to the fantasy so that when he reaches the man the protagonist, as agreed, drops to his knees. Neither the man nor the protagonist meet each other’s eyes. The protagonist presses his palm against the man’s cock, which is soft. He pulls at the man’s waistband, drags the underwear down his legs. The protagonist doesn’t give himself time to think, he just takes the man in his mouth and after a moment or two the man moans above him. The cock hardens and it’s smaller than his own. Which makes it easier to make the man moan. It’s no great feat taking the entire thing, feeling it at the back of his throat. The man loves that. The protagonist, without the kissing, cannot escape his own body. He is aware of the carpet under his knees, aware that he’s still fully clothed. Aware of his hands that run over the man’s thighs, up, skimming quickly over the man’s stomach, finding the nipples and twisting them. Aware that his cocksucking skills have improved dramatically in the last couple of years. The man’s moans increase; his legs grow unsteady and he sits heavily on the edge of the mattress, the protagonist following. For a moment he releases the cock from his lips; he straightens so that his mouth reaches the man’s throat, where he plants a soft, quick kiss. He glances up and the man would only need to bend down slightly, a few inches, to kiss him. The man had said he liked kissing. But the man looks away, his hands laying flat on the protagonist’s shoulders. The protagonist returns to the task at hand. He returns to his efforts, the man’s moans the only reward he’ll be giving. The moans intensify, they grow louder and the man holds the protagonist’s head as he drives again and again into the mouth before him, the protagonist’s nostrils closing so that he can no longer breathe. The sounds are wet and frantic and the man thrusts forward two, three times and the sudden slick sweetness pours forth. The protagonist holds the cock still and though he doesn’t have to, he swallows. The moaning quiets, the man sits there breathing heavily. The protagonist lets the man’s cock fall from his mouth and he sits back on his heels. The man won’t meet his eyes. He points at a door; the bathroom’s through there. The protagonist closes the door behind him, flicks on the light, turns the faucet. He blows his nose into a Kleenex, splashes water over his face. He sips from his cupped palms. Back in the bedroom the man is dressing, though they had agreed to do more. The protagonist stands there in the dark bedroom as the man pulls his shirt over his head.
“Are we done?” the protagonist asks. The man laughs uneasily, gestures at himself, at the bed.
“Well, I, uh…” he says.
“Okay,” the protagonist replies. He walks past the man, out of the bedroom, down the hallway, with each step gaining speed. He feels the man following him from a distance. The protagonist laughs to himself, he says “Nice place” and the man goes “uh, thanks” and then the protagonist is at the front door, opening it quickly, yelling “see ya” behind him, the door punctuating the silence in the empty hallway. As he descends the stairs he hears a click as the man locks the door behind him.
The protagonist drives aimlessly through the dark streets. He pulls into the Safeway parking lot. He wanders the brutal fluorescent aisles. He looks at each person he passes, wonders if they can see it on him. He wonders how many of them have swallowed. He wonders how many of them have walked away, disappointed. He buys coffee and pudding and soymilk and microwave popcorn. At home he splits the popcorn with his dog while they watch James Bond on network television.