The opening act had just gone on at the MIA concert and Denny was off getting a drink somewhere, leaving alone me to plot his demise. Last night, bolstered by the confidence afforded the profoundly heartsick and extremely intoxicated, I had actually told him I was in love with him. What was more surprising than the fact that I’d finally gotten the balls to tell him was that he said he felt the same. He loved me, too! I cried and we kissed, half falling off an East Village curb into traffic. After literally years of pining, the narrative I’d spun in my mind had materialized. At last things were as they should be . . .
That is until the sober light of morning used its wretched tentacles to shove Denny off the wrong side of the bi-curious fence he’d been playing Dale Evans on since practically the moment we’d met. It just wouldn’t compute; last night he said he would always love me, and now there was a lot of yammering, apologies, and amendments. What about “forever” didn’t he understand? At least give me fifteen or twenty years so that I wouldn’t immediately notice we’d drifted apart – a twenty-four hour one-eighty was a tad conspicuous. Now I was going to have to get even even if it meant I wouldn’t get my due. Misery is more fun with a plus-one.
The rhythm of my black trance was interrupted when someone suddenly plopped down next to me on the sofa. ”Hey there,” this fellow said. ”I really like what you’re wearing. You have a great look, buddy.”
I whipped my head around, “Thank you,” I snapped. ”I really appreciate that!”
“Sure thing,” he said. ”You have the best look of anyone here. Maybe anywhere.”
“What’s your name?” I asked, sizing up this interloper whose suggestion that I might look better than anyone else on earth piqued my interest. He was wearing a black knitted cap pulled down to his eyes, a black fringe of shaggy hair peeking out around the edges. His ghostly pale skin reflected the blue light from the bar. He wore tight black jeans and a ratty white t-shirt cut in a low V in the front, revealing his smooth, Korova-white chest. He was very skinny and very sexy.
“My name’s Holden, buddy,” he said, content to just called me ‘Buddy’, it seemed. “You’re really beautiful. No, I’m sorry. Handsome. I’m not gay or anything, but you’re really handsome.”
Here was a likely candidate. It had always worked for me in the past: ricocheting myself off of someone else’s body to prove a point, usually to someone who wasn’t even there to bear witness to my fleshly revenge, and whose indifference to my sleeping with other people was the catalyst to my fuckery in the first place.
“Thanks.” I said.
“You gay?” he asked.
“Yeah, I kinda figured.”
“How’d you guess?” I asked.
“I don’t know, I just thought maybe you were. Maybe it’s your gold suspenders.”
I laughed and he smiled at me tentatively, wanting to be let in on the joke I thought he’d made.
“Hey, buddy, would you be okay with buying me a drink? I’ll pay for it and all, but I don’t have one of those 21-and-up wristbands,” he said.
“Sure thing,” I said, willing as ever to contribute to the corruption of a minor. ”What would you like?”
“I don’t know, something with lots of alcohol.”
The bartender filled a gigantic plastic party cup with a Long Island Iced Tea, the official drink of Amateur Hour. Holden tossed it down his neck in under a minute.
“What’s all the shootin’ fer, chief?” I hollered. ”It’s not a race. I’ll be carrying you out of here in a dust pan if you don’t slow down.”
“I’m fine. I just didn’t want anyone to see me, that’s all,” he said.
“I don’t think anyone here really cares what you do,” I replied.
“Wanna go outside for a smoke?”
“I’ve got a better idea,” I said and led him upstairs to a long hallway of single-stall bathrooms. I pulled him into one and shut the door, shielding us from the racket from the MIA concert which had just fired up outside. I lit two cigarettes and was about to say this was just like high school, but decided to skip it since it couldn’t have been that distant a memory for him.
“Thanks, buddy,” he said taking a drag.
“So where do you live, Holden?”
“Allentown, Pennsylvania,” he said. ”With my parents.”
“Oh, that’s so sweet.”
“Do you have a job?”
“Not at the moment, no. I just got out of the mental institution two weeks ago.”
“Oh! Well . . . welcome back, I guess.”
He laughed, “Thanks.”
“Not much, I just tried killing myself a couple of times. But that was just because I was taking too much heroin.”
“How old are you?”
“Heroin? Jesus! How were you taking it?”
“Jeez, how do ya think?”
“I don’t know, up the butt?”
“No, dummy! You snort it or cook it in a spoon and shoot it up! Everyone knows that!”
“I don’t know anything. The most I ever did was eat some pot pound cake and walk around in a circle for three hours.”
“Anyway, who cares? That was two weeks ago, I’m all better now.”
Kids bounce back so quickly.
“Hey, so I was thinking of moving to New York to be a model. Do you think I could? I’ve been working out and my mom says she thinks I can.” He lifted up his t-shirt and I caught my breath. He was perfect; lean and totally ripped.
“That’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever . . . heard. Listen to your mother, kid.”
“So you think I could make it?”
“Definitely. Definitely. You’re gorgeous.”
He smiled at me. I couldn’t tell if he was blushing a little or if it was just one of those Suspiria lights from the hallway hitting his face. Either way he looked as sweet as a lamb; a sexy, drug-addicted, suicidal lamb.
“Thanks, buddy, you are, too. Handsome, I mean. I’m not gay or anything, but I can still tell a good looking guy when I see one.”
The nicotine was mixing with the booze in my blood nicely now and something in me decided to kick this party up a notch.
“So, Holden,” I said, leaning on the sink with a predatory nonchalantness, “have you ever kissed a man before?” I felt a little bit odd being with someone that made me feel like a man, but decided to roll with it. It’s easy to give someone your all when you’ve given up hope of getting anything in return.
He laughed a little, this time definitely blushing, “Yeah, buddy. Six times. I mean, I’m not gay or anything, but sometimes when I get drunk I just can’t help it.”
“I know what you mean,” I said. “So tell me, Holden. Are you drunk enough for number seven?”
His lamb eyes narrowed a bit, a wicked little smirk revealed the only line I’d seen on his face. “I don’t know,” he whispered.
The bathroom wasn’t big enough to really warrant the force with which he leapt on me. In fact, he almost busted my lip as he shoved his tongue in my mouth and shoved me up against the wall.
He was breathing hotly in my ear saying, “I wish I could be gay for you, buddy, but I’m just not.”
“That’s okay,” I said.
“Have you ever noticed that guys are way better kissers?” he asked. “They’re just way more into it.”
“I guess they are,” I said. “If that’s what they like.”
“Well I like you, buddy. I like you a lot. I wish I could be gay for you. If I was I would take you home and fuck you and make you mine, but I’m just not. See?” he said, and took my hand and put it down the front on his jeans. “See? I’m not even hard. I’m sorry I can’t get hard for you, buddy.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I said as the major organs in my body began to shut down one by one, “I can work with this.”
“See, normally I can get hard right away.” He’d pulled his pants completely down now. “I’m only about seven inches anyway, though. I guess I’m not that big, so you’re not really missing out on much anyway.”
I had never been diagnosed as an asthmatic, but I made a mental note to ask my doctor the next time I had a check up. “Your penis is beautiful. Anyway, you don’t have to impress me,” I said.
“Thanks, buddy. I really appreciate that. See? Guys are cool like that.” He pressed his forehead to mine as he plunged his hand into my underpants like he was trying to rescue a friend who had fallen through the ice. “What color are your eyes, buddy?”
“Oh, I couldn’t quite tell. I’m legally blind. I get it from my dad.”
“Wow, so for all you know I could be a girl.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” he laughed. ”Except for your dick.”
“Hey, Holden,” I mumbled through his mouth. “Have you ever been blown by a guy?”
“Oh, no way, man!” he said, pulling back a little. Apparently he drew the line somewhere, though his protest would have been slightly more convincing had he been wearing slacks.
“No, I can’t do that. Besides, I don’t even like blowjobs. They take forever and I just wind up feeling guilty ‘cause I know I’m never gonna cum.”
“Well if you think guys are better kissers wouldn’t it stand to reason that they’d give better blowjobs as well?” That’s how I like to roll anyway, getting Socratic about oral sex in a semi-public restroom.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I really like you, buddy, but I can’t let you go down on me. It’s just that I’m in love.”
“Oh, okay,” I said.
“Yeah, you see, I’m in love with a girl from Bethlehem.”
“The Virgin Mary?” I’d met lots of religious types and if anyone can find a loophole in a scripture it’s a Christian.
“No!” he laughed. “Bethlehem, Pennsylvania! It’s right outside Allentown. I’m in love with a girl there named Holly. So I can’t do it buddy, I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay, Holden. You have my word of honor as a member of the Actors’ Equity Association, that I will not go down on you.”
“Although,” I said, “I’m no medical expert, but I’m pretty sure you have an erection now, Holden.” (I could tell because as it happened I had his genitals in my hand.)
“Oh.” He looked down at his boner and sighed like a killer on the stand finally driven past the point of exhaustion from trying to keep all of the details from own sham story straight.
“All I’m saying is I could go down on you, you know,” I said.
“No, I’m sorry.” He’d gone a bit breathy now.
“It wouldn’t be very much trouble for me.” I was slowly starting to crouch down in front of him. “I wouldn’t really be going out of my way much.”
“But the thing is . . . I uh . . .”
“It seems the least I can do, considering you’ve come all the way from Allentown and aren’t wearing pants.”
“I’m in love though . . .”
“Well of course I wouldn’t want to do anything that you’d regret later . . .” I was on my knees in front of him now.
“I’m . . . sorry . . . but . . .”
Yahtzee. He’d clearly lost the trail of his argument and that’s no way to win a debate.
As he stood there before me pantless with his shirt pulled back behind his head like a cheap shawl, I noticed five long, parallel cuts stacked horizontally up the inside of each thigh where the skin is so tender. The jolting sight of these marks choked my mind back to high school and my friend Britney Hulce. She used to cut into her arms with a razor in the hope that someone would notice that she knew no one cared about her, and maybe prove her wrong.
I lightly touched the dark, raised wounds in Holden’s soft, white flesh, feeling like a tracker after a strange creature through the snow. Looking up at him I caught his eyes in the shadow of his face, which pitched forward on his neck. He seemed to be pouring some torment down on me from a very high ledge and my lungs filled with the the images of what led him to the hospital and what had happened to him there.
“You don’t have to do this, you know,” I said.
He flinched a little under my touch and said, in a very small voice that sounded like it was coming from down the hall, “Don’t you like me anymore?”
Crouching there with this mess of a kid’s boner in my face it suddenly struck me that I was holding him up by his scars, which was way more than I’d bargained for. Although, what had I expected? Aren’t we always getting more than we bargained for, really, when it comes to other people? I cringed thinking how often I treated others as blank canvases to Rorschach myself upon, willfully ignorant of the chaotic circumstances that caused them to be momentarily blown into a shared orbit with me.
While I was contemplating this Holden had edged his penis into my mouth. His hips began rocking back and forth and his fingers embedded themselves in my hairdo, kind of messing it up a bit. Eventually a spasm contorted his body. Instinct took over and I pulled back in time to see a hot little comet of his genetic code pass across my field of vision, hitting the swivel lid of the trash can in the corner with the ding of an Easy Bake Oven.
Holden looked down into my eyes, “Wow! I guess I am gay after all!”
“Yeah, I guess I always have been,” he said.
“Oh, well . . . Wow! Wow is right,” I said, standing up and awkwardly brushing the dirt and creases out of my slacks. “I mean, you don’t have to call it anything in particular, Holden,” I said. “Labels are for losers.” I might have read that on a t-shirt somewhere.
“Well, I guess my whole life has changed,” he said matter of factly.
“Come on, you’re still the same wonderful person you always were,” I said. “You don’t have to suddenly become a hairdresser or redecorate someone’s bathroom.”
“That’s true,” he said. “It’s just intimacy after all, right? It doesn’t matter if it’s with a man or a woman.” He pulled his his pants up. “I guess I’d better tell Holly,” he said. “I don’t want to hurt anybody, but I should tell her I’m gay. I guess I always have been. I guess I’ve always known. I should tell my mom, too. I think she knows already though, ‘cause whenever she asks me who I like I can never think of anyone to say, so I make someone up. I really like you though, buddy.”
We left the bathroom holding hands and for the rest of the night he rested his head on my shoulder, sometimes kissing me. Through the gunshot staccato of MIA’s riffs and the haze-filled beams of red and blue light I caught sight of Denny and was surprised to find I hadn’t been thinking about him at all. He didn’t notice me, so I saw him just as he was – a person alone in a crowd without me. The music swelled and shifted and Denny was taken up in the tide of other people’s dancing and even though it wasn’t his idea he went along with it because it seemed to be what the moment called for.
“I’m so happy I met you, buddy. I’m gonna call you this week,” Holden said, his lips brushing my earlobe.
“I have to tell Holly first. I don’t want to hurt anybody, but then I’ll call you. I’ll call you next weekend.”
“Can I call you tomorrow?”
“Holden, you can call me anytime you like.”
“You’ll wait for me?”
I laughed. “Wait for you? What is this, The English Patient?”
“Even if it takes a month for me to call, will you wait for me?”
“And then what?”
“And then we’ll be together.”
Even with a smack habit under his belt, Holden was so sublimely naïve, so beautifully eighteen. Aside from sex I couldn’t really imagine what we’d do together except maybe jam in his parents’ basement or light a car on fire. You don’t just get a blowjob from a strange guy at a concert and then live happily ever after. That’s not how life works.
“Promise you’ll wait for me,” he said.
My mind was a hornet’s nest of a zillion zingers, but I couldn’t bring myself to say anything cynical or glib to that boy. He had just come out of the hospital after all; it didn’t seem like the time to tell him there was no Santa Claus. He was entrusting me, a complete stranger, with the care of his loneliness and pain, asking me to bear witness to it. And the funny thing was that it didn’t strike me for a moment that I couldn’t handle it because I was, in fact, in the midst of handling it already. After all, I myself had been eighteen not too long ago; terribly lonely with the terrified notion that the future existed out there as formidable as the Berlin Wall and that the only way to make a mark on it was to fling myself forcibly onto the present, hoping to make even the slightest indentation. But weaving lazily through the crowd with Holden, the energy and color of the concert beginning to subside, I saw that there was no Wall. There was just the ephemeral graffiti and razor wire behind my eyes, perpetually searching for something to dangle from. There was nothing to force; just the eddying ripples of things done and not done.
“I promise, I’ll wait for you,” I replied.
“And then we’ll be together?”
“Yes, and then we’ll be together.”
“Yes, Holden,” I said. “Forever.”