“No te vayas.”
“What?” Salgo answered. “Hey, I’m not going anywhere. I just want to get us both a little bit more comfortable.”
“No, please! I like it just like this.”
“Okay, sure. Let’s slide sideways, then, huh? so I can rest a little?”
They moved onto their left sides. Salgo’s right hand found itself cupping Johnny’s right shoulder. “It seems so hard for you to take it all. I thought I would just make it a little easier.”
“Well, it was, but now it’s not, and I sort of want to keep it there. Anyway, you might get hard again, and then we’ll be ready.”
Salgo always said that once a night was enough for him, but he found that, in fact, he was getting hard. He was surprised and pleased. He wormed his left hand under Johnny until it came around and rested on Johnny’s left thigh; he pushed with his body. But no. Not yet.
Johnny moved slightly, turning his head to the right. “How did you get to be called ‘Salgo?’ Doesn’t it mean, ‘I go out?'”
“I kept threatening to run away when I was a kid. I used to stand by the door and say, ‘Ya salgo.’ Finally, my folks had enough and started calling me Salgo.”
“But you never got rid of it, when you grew up.”
“I kind of like it now. It’s distinctive, not like anyone else. And I was getting pretty tired of Rosario. People always called me Rosy.”
Salgo tried again, and began a small, methodic push. After a bit, he maneuvered Johnny back into an over-and-under position.
Johnny said, “Put your arms around me. Please?”
Salgo did that, the position gave him more control. Now he didn’t have to worry about crushing Johnny, because his elbows were bearing much of his weight. He let his body rest on Johnny’s, and used his elbows as a fulcrum. He was surprised at how aroused he was. Johnny’s Spanish, too, surprised him. So did Johnny’s desire for him.
“I like your Spanish. That’s a good accent. Tell it to me again.”
“No te vayas.”
Salgo smiled, and kissed Johnny’s shoulder. He reached climax quickly. This time he did not try to pull out, instead going back to lying spoonways. Johnny dozed off. Salgo relaxed; he let his hand caress Johnny’s body.
When he was sure Johnny was asleep, Salgo kissed his shoulder again, withdrew, and walked quietly to the bathroom to shower. He let the hot water wash over him, almost rocking him. He enjoyed the absence of thought, the absence of other people. Only occasionally did stray ideas make themselves known, and they ran away almost as soon as they appeared. What would his girlfriends think? For that matter, what would his friends think, the guys he grew up with, Cheo for example? Well, who cared. Salgo had always gone his own way, and it had been a long time since anyone had challenged him.
Then there was Johnny. He hoped Johnny wasn’t falling in love with him. This couldn’t last long, and he didn’t want Johnny to get hurt. But there was still time.
Salgo turned off the shower, and stood in the steamy room. After a time, he dried himself, and went back to the bed, where Johnny lay in sleep. Everyone looks like a child when they’re asleep, he thought. He lay back down, and put his arm around Johnny. For a few minutes he lay there, but it was no good; he wouldn’t be able to sleep. He shook Johnny gently. “Hey, vato, I’ve got to get you home. Come on, let’s go.”
“Huh? Oh. I don’t need to go. I’m free tomorrow, remember?”
“But I’m not. Anyway, I can’t sleep when someone else is around.”
They got up to dress. Johnny went toward the bathroom. As he passed Salgo, pointed to the scar on Salgo’s chest, close to the midline of his body. He touched it carefully.
“You’ve never told me how this happened. Was it a gang fight?”
“Not that one. Pool game. I tried to collect; he wouldn’t pay. I sure was a crazy dumbfuck.”
“Yeah. Muy chingón.”
Salgo shook his head. “Jesus, man, I’m going to have to watch what I say around you!”
Johnny touched the scar again. He said, softly, “If it had been any closer, you wouldn’t be here.”
Salgo did not know how to reply. Johnny walked off to the bathroom. Salgo got dressed, very slowly. It had been a long time since he had thought about that, how often he had come near death in the gang fights and bar brawls of ten years before. It was strange how easily Johnny excited his more tender feelings. It was something he liked about Johnny, and something he promised himself never to mention.
Just that afternoon, he had felt that same unwanted tenderness. A party at the office. They had both gotten promotions and decided to invite the whole office unit over to the bar across the street for happy hour. And Johnny was high even without the alcohol. He sang, joked, made outrageous plans for what he would do to his (absent) immediate superior. Salgo’s eyes had begun to tear, and he had stepped away for a minute, so no one would notice.
Johnny came out of the bathroom already dressed, in the jeans and sweater he had changed into after the office party and before the two had gone to dinner. Salgo had not changed his clothes and now, once again, he was putting on the slacks and button-down shirt he had worn earlier. The absence of a tie was his only concession to the late hour.
Johnny sat for a bit while Salgo dressed, but then wandered into the living room. Salgo thought, Well, at least it’s clean. While the bedroom was strewn with magazines, beer cans, and Salgo’s soiled clothing, there were few clues of any human presence in the rest of the apartment, a unit in a new building up in Albuquerque’s Heights, far away from the house he had grown up in. Salgo was the first tenant in this apartment. He had liked the classy undertone of the wood paneling and wood cabinets. Any visitor could see that the resident was on his way up. Furniture had been supplied by the managers, along with the services of a maid who came weekly to clean.
“I think there’s some orange juice in the refrigerator,” Salgo called.
“That’s okay, I just want water.”
Salgo came out of the bedroom putting on his jacket. He went to the refrigerator. The orange juice was all but gone. He was about to leave when suddenly he realized that he was hungry.
“Hey, vato, aren’t you hungry? Why don’t we make something?”
“Well… sure, if you want to.” But Johnny ambled off yet again.
There was very little in the refrigerator. Some Velveeta, and the squash from Cheo’s garden. Salgo took them out, and opened a can of green chile. He looked back in the refrigerator: there was a little margarine. He sliced up the squash and put it in a frying pan; then he dumped in the chile and slowly dropped bits of Velveeta into it. When it had all run together, he dished out the squash into the only two clean plates.
Johnny came in from the bedroom, and sat where a plate had been put down. Salgo put full water glasses on the table.
“You really like this stuff,” Johnny said. He was smiling.
Salgo did not know what to make of this. Was Johnny mocking him? No, he didn’t seem to be. Salgo sat down.
“It’s easy, man, and it’s fast. What else are you going to do at four in the morning?”
“I’m not complaining. It’s kind of neat to know these things about you. Like, everyone knows what a bad-ass you are, but they don’t know the nice things about you.”
Salgo nodded, eating. “I don’t really want them to know. You know, this afternoon, at the party? When you got all wound up laughing and carrying on? I started to cry. I was just so happy to see you like that. I had to go to the john. I didn’t want them to see me.”
Johnny stopped eating and looked up. Salgo thought he seemed about to say something. When he finally spoke, it was only, “Wow. I’m impressed.”
Salgo wondered why he had let Johnny know that. Did Johnny even understand why it was important? He ate. After a minute, he remembered there was something he needed to ask.
“Boy, was I shocked at Cheo’s place tonight! Here I was worrying about whether or not you’d get along with my vatos, and you already knew them.”
“Sure. I knew Cheo and Teresa. I didn’t know they had moved back up here, though. That was a surprise.”
“We grew up together – you know that – but he’s the only other one in our group who went to college. I forgot that he went down to Las Cruces.”
Johnny said, “Yes. ‘Cruces was great for me. What a change from back East. But you didn’t go there. Where did you go?”
“The army. California after that. Irvine.”
Salgo was quiet for a minute. Then he went on: “Johnny, do you think Cheo knows?”
“About what we’re doing? I think he guessed.”
“Why, what did he say?”
“He asked me if I liked you. ‘Do you like him?’ I wasn’t thinking about it at the time. I just sort of said, ‘yeah, sure,’ or something. Do you think he knows?”
Johnny was using his hands the whole time he was speaking. It was beautiful, but it would look stupid on Salgo.
Salgo said, “Well, when we were leaving he told me to make sure that you washed your hands. Why did he say that? He laughed – you know that laugh he does where he covers his mouth but he shakes so much it doesn’t make any difference? Why did he say that?”
Johnny looked up. He had a silly grin on his face. “He’s got us figured out, man! It’s about one time when I had dinner with him and Teresa. It was the first year I had been out West, and they invited me over for enchiladas. I had a really good time doing everything with them – peeling chile, cutting up the onions, frying the tortillas.” Johnny looked down at the meal they were just finishing. He smiled again. Salgo stopped eating. He liked it when Johnny smiled. He stood up and took the dishes.
Johnny went on, standing up to follow Salgo to the sink. “It was a great meal. And we had lots of wine, and other stuff. You know. We sat around listening to Judy Collins for awhile, and then Teresa went to bed. So Cheo and I just sat around bullshitting for… I don’t know, a few hours, maybe, drinking wine, of course, and then Cheo said he was going to sack out. He said I should sleep in their spare bedroom. I was pretty wasted by then, so I did.
“But I couldn’t get to sleep. I just lay there, tossing and turning. Well, what do you think about when you’re in bed by yourself?” Here Johnny’s hands helped to tell the story. “That’s what I did. In about one minute I discovered that I hadn’t washed my hands after peeling the chile.”
“Oh, no!” Salgo said, laughing. He turned around and stood with his back to the sink.
“Exactly!” Johnny’s arms were making exclamation points now. “So I run into the bathroom to wash it off, and Teresa walks in! She doesn’t even know I’m sleeping over. And there I am with nothing on but soapsuds!”
Johnny and Salgo burst out laughing again. Johnny went on, “So Teresa says to me, ‘Jonathan Shapiro, what the hell are you doing here at five o’clock in the morning!’ And I couldn’t say anything. I just stood there.”
Salgo was staggering around the room by this point doubled over with laughter. Johnny was giggling. Slowly, Salgo quieted down: Yes, certainly Cheo knew about this affair.
“Hey, do you think Cheo would say anything? About us?”
Johnny said, “Cheo? Never! I trust him completely. But you know him, Salgo. What do you think?”
“No. He wouldn’t. Anyway, what the hell. I’m not ashamed of anything.” He went back to the sink. Cheo was the closest of the group he had hung around with, and certainly the one he trusted the most. Cheo wasn’t likely to tell anyone. Still, there was something Salgo didn’t like about it, about other people knowing. And how had he figured it out? He rinsed off the dishes in the sink, but let them stay there.
They left the apartment, down a carpeted hallway and a flight of stairs, out to the parking lot. Salgo stopped to take in a loud breath of the night air, and sighed as he exhaled. They passed by his bright new sedan and walked to the old pickup with the 1976 Bicentennial plate in front, the one that told anyone who did not already know that the U.S.A. might be two centuries old but New Mexico was working on five. Salgo went around to the passenger side of the pickup, and unlocked the door. By the time he reached his own, Johnny had unlocked it from the inside.
“I’m awful glad you’ve kept this old thing,” Johnny said. “It feels like the real you.”
Salgo laughed. “Okay, I’m keeping it, but I think I’m going to use the new one for work.” The pickup did seem like something close to Salgo’s soul. But the comment also bothered him. Would people, would he himself never forget his background?
On the way to Johnny’s apartment, Salgo drove slowly, the speed well under the limit. He felt easy. There were few cars on the road at that hour. He said very little, his mind chewing on the realization that Johnny really wanted him. He kept hearing the no te vayas and the urgent tone of Johnny’s voice when he said ‘please.’ Salgo was becoming aroused again, and took hold of Johnny’s hand.
Once Johnny had asked him, back before they ever had sex, why he drove so slowly. Salgo had been offended. “Where do you have to get to so fast?”
Now, though, Johnny said: “The streets are empty. We’re the only ones here to see how the sky is just beginning to turn pink. There’s something almost sneaky about it. And it’s kind of nice not to be worrying about having to get somewhere.”
Salgo squeezed Johnny’s hand but said nothing. Johnny talked on about how much he liked being up at that hour. Salgo half-listened. He was happy that Johnny felt so mellow. Maybe he should ask Johnny if he wanted to go another round. Not really ask; he would press their linked hands to Salgo’s crotch. He felt himself get harder just imagining that.
Salgo’s girlfriends always told him how sexy he looked. Johnny never did, maybe didn’t know how. The blues singer at the club on Central: She had come over to Salgo and Johnny’s table after her set, and asked him to bed, right out of the blue. Johnny had sat there wide-eyed.
Salgo knew that he could not rely on his looks to attract people. He was visibly strong, but no taller than Johnny, starting to go bald, and he had himself remarked ruefully on his ‘love handles.’ But the fire in his eyes excited people with its promise. And it was a promise that he kept.
Salgo wanted to hear Johnny tell him he was sexy. He asked, “Why did you let me do that tonight?”
“But I thought you wanted to!”
“Yes, but it isn’t easy for you, is it? Why did you do it?”
“Well, look. Everything we’ve done so far has been great; why wouldn’t I do it?”
Salgo thought, that’s pretty half-assed, dude. In fact, though, Johnny never put up any resistance when Salgo put his arm around Johnny’s neck at work, or even outdoors. Salgo could never contain affection in words, but most men, white men especially, would throw off any physical show. Johnny, though, would just stand there, the way a dog did when someone scratched its belly, frozen to the spot. And that time he had seen Johnny on his bike, way up in the Heights: Salgo had started in talking, and suddenly realized that he was running his hands over the handlebars, back and forth. Johnny had said nothing, though he seemed embarrassed.
It had been Salgo’s idea to visit Cheo this evening out in the South Valley, to get away from the tie-and-jacketed Anglo colleagues at the bar. Later, in the car, it was Salgo who had decided to come back to the apartment. He did not say anything to Johnny, only holding his hand, as now. This affair was actually rather lazy, the friendship steady but the sex sporadic, at Salgo’s whim. Yet Johnny had not seemed surprised by Salgo’s renewed interest this evening.
Now, Salgo asked, “You seemed to know I was in the mood tonight, even before I said anything.”
“Oh, yeah. In the car. Whenever you’re turned on, your breath odor changes. It smells a little like garlic.”
Salgo did not ask what Johnny smelled now.
When they got to Johnny’s door, Salgo dropped his hand and gave him a bear hug. Salgo sat in the truck afterwards watching, turning on the ignition only after seeing Johnny shut the door behind him.
He drove off slowly, still thinking. Usually, Johnny had given Salgo a blow job. Tonight was the first time in the six months of their now-and-again affair that they’d really gone all the way. Salgo still felt fired up at that. This Eastern intellectual sonofabitch has got everybody talking about him. He’s smart, he’s funny, and he’s got the balls to talk back to the higher-ups. And he has the hots for me. In his own half-assed way, he’s said so: no te vayas.
Suddenly, he realizes that, for all Johnny’s bravado, he is inexperienced in sex; it is Salgo who has the knowhow.
Salgo continues in his reverie, driving slowly down the long, wide, straight streets in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights. Any minute now, the streetlights will wink out.
He and Johnny became friends almost from the time Salgo walked in the door of their workplace, the two of them both a little too direct, a little too tactless, a little too young at thirty to be accepted socially by their colleagues in the business. But both had won respect, however grudging, for their intellect and imagination. Salgo liked that immensely; he smiles about it now in the pickup.
The firm had been hired by a state legislator to survey the Albuquerque area to see if he could win the race for governor. If he couldn’t win Albuquerque, he wouldn’t win the state.
The project was assigned to a committee of six, including Salgo and Johnny. The committee planned the routine sort of market survey that the firm had been doing for years, but neither Salgo nor Johnny was satisfied with that. One night after work, the two went across the street to the bar, and talked about their dream survey, doing it the right way.
They crossed over to a liquor shop, bought a bottle of Bacardi, and walked back across the street, though alcohol was taboo in the offices. They drew up detailed plans: stratified sampling across ethnic and class lines, a core questionnaire to be used on all groups, and additional questions targeted at each stratum. Then run a check by phone to counter any sampling bias and self-report errors. The night became electric; he and Johnny fed off each other’s ideas; sentences were never finished as each responded instantaneously to the other. They joked, yelled, laughed in the otherwise empty building.
The two worked on into the night, mapping out the city into regions, estimating time and personnel costs. They finished at dawn, Salgo remembers, the same time of day it is now in the truck. They left a note on the supervisor’s door with a copy of the battle plan attached, along with the promise to be back in the office by noon. The bottle, half empty, was in Johnny’s office.
It took from noon to five to convince the supervisor to endorse the plan – too expensive, too much computer time, too “cute,” even despite the enthusiasm of the rest of the committee. It was only, in fact, their filibustering and the boss’s desire to go home to dinner that finally gave them the go-ahead.
As the project went on, Salgo began to talk nonstop about Johnny’s abilities, but Johnny always seemed ill at ease with his praise. One night while they were alone again at work, Johnny told Salgo about himself.
“Listen, I need to let you in on something. If you’re going to be bragging about me like this, you need to know what’s going to happen. Someday, you’re going to mention my name and someone’s going to say, ‘Oh, Johnny, yeah, he’s that faggot. You’re really sweet on him, aren’t you?'”
Salgo said he was unconcerned. Johnny’s being gay wasn’t a total surprise, but he had never been flamboyant on the job; who actually did know? They continued working that night. When they quit again at dawn, he asked if he could drive Johnny home and pick him up for work later in the day. He came into the house with Johnny; it was the first time they made love.
That was six months ago. The candidate pulled out of the race, largely because of the survey results. He would put his money and time into a future race, and promised to hire the firm again. Johnny was rewarded with a promotion, but Salgo was not. Johnny became angry, and pounded on the doors and desks of the company’s executives until he got them to agree to giving Salgo the same promotion.
One of the partners had been particularly resistant, and had called Salgo a “dumb Mexican.” He mentioned that he had found a bottle of “Mexican liquor” in one of the offices. That had enraged Johnny even more. He walked back to the vice president’s office, repeated the insult to him, and said that he wouldn’t work in a place that treated its employees like that. The vice president gave in, and Salgo was promoted.
In the truck, Salgo is angry again, just thinking about that bastard. But his feelings for Johnny are harder to place. He smiles when he pictures Johnny shouting at the brass. But he does not like admiring someone, and he doesn’t like to owe anyone. The incident that got him the scar that Johnny noticed tonight, for example. Salgo had gone to college on the GI Bill and his pool winnings. Now, Salgo touches the scar. He has paid for what is his.
By now he is a long ways away from his apartment. Yet he drives further up, to where he can look out over the city growing bright. The mountains are well defined against the oncoming dawn, the Sandias, looming high. Salgo again thinks of Johnny on his bike, and also talking to Cheo bragging about Johnny’s bicycling, how he might enter the race to the Crest, pointing out how trim he has become. They were embarrassed, Johnny quiet, and Cheo softly laughing. But Johnny is, in fact, losing those love handles that Salgo hates in himself.
Now Salgo is hard yet again. Dammit. He knows he won’t be able to get back to sleep. He cruises the streets. He drives back to Johnny’s house and parks. He walks up to the door. Maybe Johnny is still awake. But Salgo backs off, gets back into the truck to sit and think. He will not ask Johnny again. He does not want Johnny to think that he is stuck on him; it would be too much of an encouragement.
Not that he is unsure about the whole idea of having sex with Johnny. No, he has never been with a man before, and might never again, but this is what is here now, and he doesn’t do things halfway. He doesn’t withhold his arms in public, or his kisses in bed. After this and whatever affairs he might have with women, he will at last get married and raise a family. This time of his life will remain a nice memory, one more adventure, one of the better ones. What he does with Johnny is no different from how he conducts other affairs – giving affection, providing excitement, and keeping control. Which means, among other things, never asking if the answer might be No, and never showing need. He does not need Johnny, however much he likes him. He does not need him.
Salgo drives off again, slowly, his erection painful in his slacks. Who else is likely to be awake at this hour, or who might be willing anyway? He’s not too far from Sonia’s neighborhood now, just a mile or so. He hasn’t seen her in a few weeks. He parks and goes to the door. There is a light on behind the frosted pane. Maybe she is getting ready for work. He rings the bell. He can recognize in the glass her body coming toward him. Just before the shape gets to the door, he feels his hand quiver as it remembers Johnny’s smooth shoulder. And he hears it again. No te vayas.