Playing With a Full Deck

I run across the cement parquet courtyard, the unexpected wind whipping into my t-shirt.   When I get inside the university museum, I call out, “Kelly!” and run up to her to whisper, “It’s so cold my headlights came on!”

She puts her hand up my shirt and, sure enough, my nipples are standing straight out; she laughs.  By this point, her co-workers are staring.  They’ve barely gotten used to her being a lesbian, and now they’re seeing her feel up a man.  “Why is it so cold?” she whispers back to me.  “It’s only October.  This isn’t New York, it’s New Mexico!”

“I don’t know.  Some storm front.  I’ve gotta get back home; I need a coat.  Are you leaving soon?”

“Yeah,” she says, “I’ll drive you.”  We run the fifty yards to her car like sprinters, laughing at this turn in the weather as if it were a clever prank.  Newspapers and tumbleweeds are flying in the air.  The sky is filled with clouds, though the “shadows” of clear patches show up on the mountains to our east, that rise so high above our little desert valley.  We get into the car shivering, and Kelly even turns the heater on, something she hardly ever does, but by the time the car gets warm, it is already at my door.

“Do you want to borrow a sweater?” I ask.

“Forget it.  I’ll be home soon.  Thanks …Listen, what about Kevin?”

“What do you mean?”

“Are you going to do it?” she asks.  “Move in together?”

“I haven’t figured it out yet.”

She groans.  “Bullshit.  We’ve been all over this.”

“Well, I’m still not sure.”

“What are you not sure of?  That he loves you?”

“That it’ll last.”

She groans again.  “It sure as hell won’t last if you keep on killing it!  What are you waiting for?”

“He’s just so cute,” I tell her.  “How long will it be before some knockout catches his eye?”

“You think he’s cute.  He used to be, way back when.  And maybe there was a time you’d have to worry.  His wild-oats days are long over, Jonathan.  I can see it in his goo-goo eyes; all he wants is you.”

“Well, I wish I could believe that.”

“Well, you could if you weren’t trying so hard not to.”

Now I groan.  “Yeah.  Not everyone is as experienced as you are.  Give me a break?  I’m just not sure.  Anyway, he’s such a redneck.”

“Let me put it to you this way,” she goes.  “Again.  You have nothing to lose but your constant lonely complaining.  What you just might, maybe, gain is  Love.  Happiness.  Bliss.”  She holds her hands palms up like the balance pans of a scale.  “Get it?”

“Okay, I get it.  But…”

She screams.  “Out!  Get out of the car.”  She actually pushes me out of the car.
I run to the door; unlocking it is so hard while I’m shivering.  Even after getting inside, I’m just so cold.  I put my down coat on and run around in the living room, jumping up and down.  And the whole time, I’m thinking of all the nasty things I should have said to Kelly.  Like how rigid she is, how unkind.  Like who the hell is she to even know, much less tell me, when I’m ready to
try out something as scary as moving in.

While I’m fuming and jumping around, I see there’s a message on my machine and, wouldn’t you know it, it’s from Kevin:  “Hi, Jonathan, it’s me.  Is it tonight or tomorrow, the dinner?”  I call Kevin; he picks up after three rings, just as his machine starts.

“It’s tomorrow, Kev.”

“Oh, shit, Jonathan.  I have to work after all.  What about tonight?”

“What?  Am I supposed to re-arrange my whole schedule?  You know, my dance card is so full.”

“Jon-a-than,” he sing-songs at me.

“Yeah, yeah, sure.  What time?”

“Eight,” he says.

“Sure, dude.  Let’s get something really hot.”

He chortles.  “After.”  We hang up.

I didn’t think I’d be getting a lover this late in the game, certainly not someone so attractive.  I’m — well, this is how old I am:  If we all got playing cards for each birthday, then I’m playing with a full deck.  I look  younger — everyone says so — but I feel the whole fifty-two.  Arthritis, prostate, you name it.

When I hit fifty, it was like the warranty had run out on my parts.  But I’ve got my hair, most of it, and its color, most of it, and I’m not too fat. I keep wondering whether there’s some Dorian Grey picture of me somewhere looking the way I really feel, older and older.  Anyway, for the past three months, I’ve been actually ‘involved’ with someone, for the first time in more years than I’m willing to relate.

I do my usual routine for coming home from work:  jerk off, nap, dinner.  I’ve been doing it for fifteen years now, since even before I came to New Mexico.  Like I said, it’s been a long time since I had a lover.  Only after I’ve finished washing the dishes do I remember our date.  I shouldn’t have eaten.  And I shouldn’t have jerked off!  I go to the bathroom and stick my finger down my throat.  I haven’t done that since before I came out.  I went through a weird phase then, screening the labels on anything I ate, vigilant for additives, artificial colors, flavors, thickeners, preservatives, enhancers, antioxidants, emulsifiers.  If I decided after eating that the food was somehow dangerous, up it came.  That all stopped when I came out of the closet.  This time is very different.  I just want to make sure I can eat when my pretty redneck comes by to pick me up.  If I could unjerk off, I’d do that, too, but I can’t, so I take a few zinc lozenges and a vitamin E, and some lecithin.  We all have our superstitions.

It’s seven-thirty by now, so I take a shower, shave around my goatee, and put on my best — my only — suit.  Even a tie tonight; he likes me all decked out.  I turn the porchlight on.  When Kevin’s pick-up appears in front of my door, I’m as ready as I’m going to get.  He steps out and dazzles me:  A bright blue western shirt I’ve never seen before and pressed black jeans are stretched impossibly tight around his compact five-six frame.  He’s got a white hat on, and his favorite belt and boots.  The boots have silver tips, and so do his shirt collar and belt.

As he comes up the walk to my door, I say, “Turn around,” and make a circle with my finger.  The sidewalk turns into a runway; he struts away, and when he turns back to me he takes off his hat and bows, and his blond hair spills out towards me.  I applaud.  I don’t think to ask where we’re going, and I’m surprised when we end up at the new vegetarian restaurant, the only one in town.  Neither of us has been here, but I’ve mumbled about wanting to try it out, so it’s his way of letting me know he pays attention.  I don’t need the reminder; he pays attention so avidly I sometimes have to choke down a desire to push him away.  Being alone has been as wonderful as it’s been horrible.

Dinner is, let’s say, experimental.  Neither of us has ever had whatever it is before.  We may not ever again.  Afterwards the waitress suggests dessert, whole-wheat brownies.  Kevin snickers and says, “Let’s go to my place.”

I say, “Sure,” and notice his eyes.  Something is up.  His place is a good ten miles out of town, in Organ — yes, that’s really its name.

Our mountains are the Organ Mountains, and the town, or village, maybe, sits just below them, guarding the pass that leads across into the next desert over.

When I first got here to Las Cruces, it was a lot smaller.  Now there are lights almost all the way to Organ.

When we get to the stone house he lives in, he’s got dessert laid out, a cake and some wine.  It’s not fancy enough to justify asking what’s the special occasion, but something is definitely up.  I take off my jacket and tie, sit at the table, and, following his lead, doff my shoes as well.  He lights some candles and turns off the overhead.  I have to admit the living room is quite comfy now, and he sees it in my face, I know.  He smiles and pours the wine.  “L’chayim!”  Like I said, he pays attention.

“L’chayim,” I say, and we clink glasses and drink a little of the wine.  While he is running back to the kitchen for a knife for the cake, I play with the top of the glass, making it “sing.”  “You do this to me,” I say, when he reappears.  He smiles.

I take the cake he offers.  It is moist.  It reminds me of something.  “Son of a bitch!” I say.  He laughs out loud and claps his hands.  “Son of a bitch!  You weren’t even going to tell me, were you?”  I recognize it because it’s my own recipe — dope cake you can’t taste.  I haven’t made it in twenty years.  He shakes his head; he’s trying to chew cake while he’s laughing.

“Now, look, Kev, you don’t need to get me stoned to seduce me.  So what’s going on?”

“Later.  I want you to promise me something when you’re under the influence.”  He bobs his eyebrows up and down.

There’s a part of me that wants to stop right there, the part that’s just happy with the way I’ve managed to make a life for myself alone, the part that says, Don’t fuck up a smooth if not entirely satisfying life.  But that part isn’t in charge right now.  I say, “Okay.”  I feel myself let go. “You know, we shouldn’t be eating too much of this,” I say, pointing with the cake in my hand.  “If you made it the way I told you.”

He nods.  “So how much do we eat?”

“How much did you put in it?”
He shows me a baggie and shapes out how much marijuana had been in it before.

I laugh out loud. “I think we’ve had enough.  Too bad, though.  It’s tasty.”  I haven’t had marijuana in almost twenty years.  That scared part of me wants to put my finger down my throat a second time tonight, but I don’t.  I remind myself it’s my duty to have a good time.  I start playing footsie under the table, feeling the height of his arch, imagining I can feel his long second toe.  It’s been so long since I’ve done anything like that. Kevin is the real drug here.

He picks my wineglass up and hands it to me.  “More?”  I shake my head no.

“How long is it till we get stoned?”

“About an hour, more or less.”  I feel myself smiling at him. I know he wants me to talk more, but right now I am wallowing in just being here.

“Where were you when the cold front hit?” he asks.

“I was walking home.  It really got me when I was going past the museum.”  I tell him about my headlights, and Kelly; he giggles.  We toy with each other’s fingers.  He always tells me how much he likes my long skinny fingers, but I get absolutely turned on just feeling his meaty short ones.

I get up and walk over behind him, and begin to massage the back of his neck, then his shoulders and his chest under his shirt.  “This is great,” I say.  “I could do this for a long, long time.”  Everywhere, the skin is smooth, and I can feel the hard muscle underneath.  I move my hands to his face, letting my fingers trace over his eyes and down his cheeks.  “You know what?”  I say, “I thought I might never get the chance to do this again, until you.”

“Oh, man!” he says.  “What a waste!  I’m so glad I saved you from such an awful fate.”  He giggles again, and I think that the dope is beginning to come on.
I know it, because I am getting lost in the sensations of my fingers over his body.  I’m hard now, but it seems so far away.  I find myself kissing the top of his head.  Then he leans back and we’re face to face, my hands under his neck, his pulling my head down.  “Now, is this when you’re supposed to ask me about that promise?”  I laugh; it’s as if I’m in collusion with him when he’s supposed to be luring me into something.

“Nuh-uh.  Not yet, my dear,” and he laughs again, the full-throated laugh that he knows I love to hear, and I discover I’m laughing with him.

“You know what?” I say, “we’d better put that fucking cake away, or we’ll eat the rest of it when the munchies come on.”  I take the cake off the table and march with it into the kitchen.  Kevin follows me, holding on to my belt loops.  We put the cake in Tupperware.  I turn around to face him, and we’re in an embrace, and I smell his body smell, and kiss his neck.  Everything is in slow motion, which I’m grateful for.

I undo the pearl snaps on his shirt, and kiss his chest.  “Baby,” I say, as if I’m about to come up with a whole sentence, but nothing else comes out.  We kiss again, a very slow kiss.  I get acquainted with each lip individually, and his tongue, and the taste of his mouth.  There’s definitely something hard between us, but I don’t know whose it is.  “Baby.”

I try not to start any new moves, because I want this to last forever, but I can’t help it, my hands are all over his body.  He lets me get to know him again for a second, and then his hands are on my back, sliding down to my butt.  We’re slowly waltzing through the kitchen.  “It better not be now, my man,” I mutter, and he says, “Don’t worry.”

We move into his bedroom; I can hardly wait till our clothes are off.  In the bed, I start over again with my hands, and he is amazingly compliant.  I make him lie still on his belly while I massage his whole body.  I love tracing the length of his back, or his legs, arms.  From time to time he groans or says something I can’t understand.  At some point he turns over, or I turn him over, and I start using my mouth instead of my fingers, tasting everything, those broad thick fingers, his shoulder; tracking with my tongue the veins that stand out on his arm.  I leave hickeys on his thigh, bite his instep.  Just as I think to lie down body over body, it’s Kevin who pulls me down onto him.  It feels like every skin cell in my body is having sex with every one of his.  I hear myself moan.
We roll into a side-by-side position, facing one another.  I take his cock in my hand, then warm his balls.  I put one finger on the middle of the shaft and press down, moving the cock ever so slightly and evoking another moan out of him.  Then it’s a push just to the side.  He grabs my hand and puts it on the cock, and I slide my fist slowly over the skin that is so delicately smooth and so hard.  Kevin meanwhile, is running his hand over me and sucking on my earlobe, my shoulder, that nipple.  “Your headlights are on,” he whispers.

I move his cock between my legs, and hold my legs tight together.  I’m proud that I still have some strength there.  This is what we do most often, between the legs.  We’ve promised each other that we’ll go further when the relationship is a “for-really,” as Kevin puts it.  I wonder if that’s the promise he means tonight, but it doesn’t seem like it.  I stroke the underside of his penis while he moves back and forth, his hard cock sometimes knocking on that door where it will enter soon.  My other hand strokes his back, feeling the muscles move as he moves.  I realize that he is stroking me, too, as much as this cramped position will allow.  I lick everything I can reach.

Soon enough — too soon, though I have no idea how soon — he comes, and then ever so slowly he turns his back.  I pull myself close to him, placing my hands on his thighs.  While I work myself up to it, still trying in vain to slow things down, I put one hand on his belly and trace it up to his lips, till he bites it just hard enough to give me yet another jolt.  Afterwards, still locked together, me still half-hard, I discover that I’m still running my hand over his side and back, cupping his butt or his balls.  Now, I realize, is the time he had in mind, the schemer.  “Okay, what is it?” I whisper.

“Mmmmmmm.  I want to move in.  With you.  I want you to say I can.”  He exhales.  He’s asked this one before.  Maybe Kelly has been at him.

“But this is such a neat place,” I say, stupidly, “and mine is so decrepit.”

“It won’t be when I’m there,” he says, and I can see the martinet in him making sure the place is clean.

“Oy!” It comes out involuntarily.  My apartment has been the place where I hide away from the world.  Kevin knows this.

“Anyway,” he is saying, “my lease is up in another month, so I figured it’s time to decide.”

Of course he’s right.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with what he’s saying.

And of course the other half is that I’m scared out of my wits.

“Oh, shit, Kevin!  I mean, we’ve been together such a short time.  You haven’t seen me at my worst, you know.  I don’t want to lose you.”

He turns around and takes my head in his hands, and kisses me.  “Jonathan, you are so full of shit.  I know exactly who you are and what you are.  It’s what I want; you’re what I want.”

“Well, let me think about it till morning.”

“Nope,” he says, “I want your answer right now.”

“Or you’ll throw me out into the cold night, naked, miles and miles from home.”  I know he won’t do that; otherwise I wouldn’t dare to say it.

He laughs and plays with my hair.  “No, there isn’t an or-anything.  You just say Yes and then we go to sleep.”
“Oh, shit!” I say.

“No, that’s not the right word.  Say Yes, Jonathan.”

“But…”

“Just say Yes.”

“Yes.”

“Yes, what?”

I take an extra breath.  “Yes, you can move in with me.”
** ** **
I wake up in the dark, and slowly sit up out of the bed, making sure I don’t wake Kevin.  In what little light there is, I can see him wrapped in the sheet — it’s the cold that has awakened me.  He is beautiful in the sheet, but he is beautiful in anything.  I rest my hand gingerly on the curve of his butt, then stand.

Kevin didn’t like my getting up nights at first.  I had to reassure him so often that I didn’t want to leave, just walk around a little.  I’ve done it almost every night for as long as I can remember.  I like the solitude.  When it was warmer, I went out into his backyard, or mine.  Now I go to the window.  The moon is out, and the stars are so much brighter than from my own window in ‘Cruces.  I remember how I fell in love with the town way back when I moved here from the East.  Then these same stars were just as bright in town.

I shuffle slowly through the lovely stone house, marvel at the play of light and shadow on the roof beams.  It’s so quiet.  It’s a large house, Kevin’s brother’s, and Kevin has said he wants to buy it.  That crap about his lease being up — it’s just that: crap.  At first he asked me to move up here; I said it was too far from work, I wouldn’t be able to walk it.  He’d drive me, he said, but I didn’t want to be dependent.  Eventually, he stopped pleading.  So now he wants to move in with me.  He’s willing to move out of this fine building into my little shack.

I sit down at his desk, and it’s then that I realize that I’m holding his dirty t-shirt.  More accurately, I’m stroking it, cradling it like a baby in my arms.  It’s probably the one he wore to work today; full of his stench.  I don’t mind his stench.  I always hate body odor, but I don’t mind his.

I can just make out the color of the oncoming sunrise above the mountains.  Soon I’ll be having to wake up, really wake up.

**      **       **      **
The first time I saw Kevin, we were standing in line at the supermarket, him behind me.  I started chatting him up.  I used to do that a lot, but I never took it anywhere.

I suppose Kevin was no more gorgeous than the others.  Usually I go for darker hair, and skin not so pale.  He was forty, in a dirty denim jacket without sleeves, dirty jeans, probably on his way home from work.  Suddenly I realized that I was laughing with him, getting chummier much more quickly than usual.  And then I knew why.  I had become aware of that body odor, very
strong and yet not annoying.  Body smells are markers for men: This Is My Territory!  They’re supposed to be repulsive, to tell people to back off.

But Kevin’s was like a telegram from my unconscious: “This one isn’t a stranger.”  I didn’t even know if he was gay, but for the first time, I just pushed ahead.

I’d been letting my diamond-sharp rational mind run things up till then, and I’d been batting zero.  Time for a change, so I asked if he’d give me a lift home; I made up some excuse like I was afraid of some gang fight in town.  He said, “If you’re going to play Mr. Ecology and not have a car, you can’t expect everyone else to pollute the air just for you.”  I didn’t know he was
joking, and I took off my glasses and gave them to him.  He looked through them, and must have realized what a favor I was doing to public safety by not driving.  He seemed about to say something, then just gave the glasses back to me, and took my grocery bag out of my hand.  “I’m over this way,” he said.

On the way home, he tried to apologize.  I wouldn’t let him.  When we got to my place, I asked if he would come in.  I knew he couldn’t refuse, under the circumstances.  The joke was on me:  he knew who I was, that I was a faculty member, that I was gay, but he didn’t tell me that till much later.  He worked full time putting in heating and air-conditioning, but he also was taking classes part-time the way a lot of people do in Las Cruces.  To tell the truth, the older ones are sometimes my best students — they know why they’re in school.

So he came in, and I set out some drinks, Mexican rum, on the rocks, and he let me seduce him.  I chuckle now; it must have been fun for him to watch me try to coax him into doing something he was wanting to do.

It’s getting light.  I like the sharpness of the mountains’ edges against the sky.  Even on the moon, the sky isn’t any clearer.  I take another turn through the house.  There are one or two empty rooms, hardly any furniture to speak of.  Kevin likes clear spaces.

Kelly is right, damn her.  I can’t keep Kevin hanging this way.  And I can’t keep worrying about what other cutie he might meet.  Maybe, maybe not.  The question is a lot simpler.  Do I want Kevin or don’t I?

I’m sitting in a chair in the living room, holding, caressing his t-shirt.  It’s that unconscious voice, whatever it was that slapped me upside the head when we were standing in line is telling me again, “Do it!”

It’s funny, I feel like I want to throw up.  I don’t understand.  It doesn’t matter, though.  I’ve got to follow this out to the end.

I come back to bed.  He’s awake, lying on his back.  I take a blanket from the shelf over the bed and spread it out over him, but then I pull it and the sheet back.  I sit down by his side and put my hand on his belly, as if I’m about to swear some kind of oath.  “What I said last night?  It wasn’t quite what I meant.”

He starts to sit up, alarmed, but he lets me pin his upper arms to the bed.  I kiss his armpit, something I have somehow avoided doing all these months, and have an erection like I’ve not felt in years.  “Do you think I could move in here with you?”

About In a Former Time

This blog is meant as a vehicle to publish my literary work.
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