Triptychs – Chapter 16
On BART: on the train, running through the Trans Bay Tube, under the Bay, back towards Berkeley, and home; the fluorescent lights streaking past the window, monotonous, cold, rhythmic. Pulse, pulse, pulse, pulse.
So Erik has a few secrets. A few secrets, relating to dating; relating to sex.
Like, who doesn’t?
I have a few of my own. And while some of them are kind of fun . . . some of them aren’t. Some of my secrets, I try not to think about too much. Which means, when I’m in a dark, dark mood, a bad space – they tend to pop up in my head.
Like – well, how about this one.
Every been paid for sex?
Okay; okay, that’s not really fair. The first time, I’d been cold, and not wanting to go home – I was fifteen, by the way – and so, when an older guy, at a street fair in San Francisco kind of noticed me, and came on to me, I’d just thought, ‘what the fuck’, you know - ?
Besides; he’d been kind of cute. I thought.
But then, after, he’d made it sort of clear that I wasn’t spending the night; so I got dressed – without showering, or anything; and THAT was a pretty disgusting feeling, believe it –
And then, as I was leaving, just going out the door, he’d palmed some money into my hand. Not-quite-looking at me. And then, all at once, the door was closed behind me, and I was on the street, alone, and I looked down, and I was holding fifty dollars in my hand.
Two twenties and a ten, actually. I can still see them, in my head.
I can still remember my reactions, too. First the shock, the shock of realization . . . and then, close after, a quick rush of shame; shame, and denial . . .
And then, eventually – the laughter came; as I was standing there, on the sidewalk. I mean, how hilarious - ? How FUCKING clueless can you be, not to realize that you’re not just tricking, but, TRICKING - ? In the classic sense of the word - ?
Well, there was that, my utter ignorance and cluelessness; that was hilarious enough. But then, it also occurred to me . . . fifty dollars - ? What am I, I thought, laughing without much humor. What am I; marked down, or something - ?
* * *
I wasn’t nearly as naive, the second time it happened. I mean – I doubled my price!
It’s nothing to laugh about, actually. It happened during one of the worst times in my whole life, which is saying a lot . . . it was one of the shittiest, darkest times in my life, and I’d done it to myself.
Well, no, that’s not entirely true; part of it wasn’t my fault, part of it was because we were short on money, and I hadn’t been able to find a decent part-time job – hey, I’d been trying, but I was only sixteen; you know? – and I felt really cruddy about that, but I’d really been trying –
But that was just the frosting, on my darkness.
No; no. What happened was, I’d screwed up, I’d fucked up, big time . . . I’d gone and done something behind Cole’s back, that was a totally betrayal of him, a total, fucking betrayal.
And I hadn’t meant to! At least, I hadn’t realized it at the time, that it was a betrayal, but it sank in, after, and I just felt worse, and worse, and worse . . .
No. I don’t want to go there.
The point is – this second time I got paid for it, I was feeling really bad about myself; really worthless.
And that’s why it happened.
“What are you reading?”
A dark, wet afternoon, in March, at the Cafe Flore, in san Francisco; this indoor-outdoor, tin-roofed coffee shop in the Castro.
I looked up.
“You look so sad . . . I am sorry, I shouldn’t have asked.”
He was at the tiny, copper-sheet-topped table next to mine; smiling a little, smooth face, shaven-head balding, nice muscles under a loose, long-sleeved shirt.
“Uhhh . . . oh,” I went, looking down. Embarrassed. I hadn’t actually been reading at all, I’d been thinking. About how I’d fucked up.
He leaned over, just a little – the tables at the Flore are really close together – and looked at what I was reading.
“’The Onion’”? he asked. I felt him look back up at my face, and I knew I was blushing. Feeling like an idiot; usually The Onion makes me laugh out loud. A lot.
“I am sorry,” he said again. His voice had a slight accent; and I looked up at him, looking back at me, concerned. “It isn’t any of my business, I know.”
“That’s okay . . . ”
“No, no. I’m sorry. But,” he went on, with a sympathetic look on his face, “if you’d let me, I’d like to buy you another coffee. Maybe that would cheer you up, a little - ?”
The thing you have to understand, is – the Cafe Flore is one of the places in the Castro, in San Francisco, where people sometimes . . . hook up. Meet other people.
Not very often; not these days, with Craigslist and dating sites on the internet, and everything. Dating tends to be web-based, or sometimes bar- or dance-floor based; but mostly Internet-based.
But I’d seen people meet up, by chance, at the Flore, before; and it always made me smile. The obvious awkwardness, the tentative, stumbling conversations . . . It happened.
And, face it; back then, a couple of years ago, I was sixteen. And, there just aren’t that many young people in the Castro; I got attention, a lot of looks, at the Flore, and I knew it.
I knew what this was about.
“Um . . . sure. Okay; if you want. Thanks.” I still didn’t feel like smiling, much, but I tried. “I’m . . . Bryce,” I said, at the last minute; and I held my hand out.
“Bruce?” he went; his face screwing up a little, as he took my hand. I figured he was about forty or so, but he had a nice face, a young face, actually.
“No, ‘Bryce’.” I pronounced it carefully. Feeling another lurch of darkness, for the lie; but I knew what I was going to do, and I couldn’t use my real name.
“Hello, Bryce,” he said; and I could feel the strength in his hand, the strength in his body. “I’m Hugo.”
We talked for a long time.
It turned out, he was from Brazil; which, I figured out, later, was probably why he talked to me in the first place. I mean, to most of the people at the Flore, I was interesting, maybe, but I was also jailbait, potential trouble . . . but to someone from another country, with different customs and laws, I was just a younger guy. You know?
He basically admitted as much to me, after awhile; he’d only been in the U.S. for a few months, and there was a lot he didn’t really understand, yet, about the country. Or about English . . .
“So tell me, what IS it, about your language?” he’d said, grinning over at me.
“What do you mean - ?”
“You don’t have any rules, in your language! How can you have a language without rules?”
“Of course we have rules! What are you talking about?”
I was laughing back at him, as I said it . . . he was easy to talk to, FUN to talk to . . . it wasn’t one of those awkward, uncomfortable pick-up conversations that I’d watched, before.
“Oh, so you have rules, you think? So tell me, how do you pronounce this word?” And he spelled out, ‘b-o-u-g-h’.
“’Bough’,” I said, grinning sideways at him; I could already tell where this was going.
“Okay. So, then, please tell me, how do you pronounce this - ?” And this time he spelled out, ‘t-o-u-g-h’.
“’Tough’,” I went. “So? What’s your point?”
“What is my point? Well, tell me, next, how do you pronounce this word?” He spelled out, ‘t-h-r-o-u-g-h’.
“’Through’” I went; trying not to laugh. “Seems pretty clear to me.”
“Clear - ?” he’s sputtered, laughing with me. “Clear?? So, you have three words in English, they all three end in ‘o-u-g-h’; and they’re pronounced three different ways! And there’s no rule, that tells you how they SHOULD be pronounced! How are you supposed to know how to pronounce words that end in ‘o-u-g-h’, unless you have rules - ?”
“We have rules,” I’d said, tilting my head a little; flirting, deliberately, aware of it.
“You do - ?”
“Uh-huh.” I leaned a little closer to him, aware of his smell . . . some kind of after-shave, or cologne, I wasn’t sure; it was really subtle. “We have rules; we’re just not allowed to talk about them. To, well, outsiders . . . ”
“What - ?” he’d laughed; putting his hand on mine, on top of my table; making my heart beat faster.
“Yeah.” I’d looked around, theatrically, right and left; aware of his hand, warm on mine, of what it meant. Then I’d leaned closer in to him, still, my shoulder touching his. “Executive Order, by the President. Department of Homeland Security. You understand,” I’d said, looking at him as straight-faced as I could manage – which I didn’t think I pulled off too well – until he snorted his own laughter, and I broke up, too, and he actually lifted my hand, and he KISSED it, I swear he did –
Like I said, we talked for a long time. Long enough for the gray day to turn into dark, and for the lights inside the Flore to come up . . . the Flore’s always had the best inside lighting, wild displays against the dark wood, the dark glass wall-panes . . .
He bought me dinner. And because it was in character with what I was going to pull, I let him.
I almost didn’t go through with it, though; he surprised me.
“And so, what is this - ?” he’d asked; reaching out to touch my face, to run his thumb, very gently, underneath my scar.
You have to understand – my scar was a lot more vivid, a lot more noticeable, back then, when I was sixteen; it was red, livid, and you could still see the suture marks, if you looked close.
Yeah, I was surprised; I just kind of shook my head, a little, and looked down. There was absolutely nothing I wanted to say about my scar, right then.
“I am sorry again,” from Hugo; and his hand went back to resting on top of mine, on top of the table.
I didn’t say anything for a second; then – “No, no. It’s nothing, really.” Still looking down; off-balance.
“Nothing. So, well, good.” He said it gently; and the hand resting on top of mine squeezed, just a little. There was a pause, one second, two, three; then – “Would you like to come home with me tonight, Bryce?” His voice was soft.
I almost, almost just gave in, because I really DID want to go home with him . . .
But remember, I was going through a dark, dark time, and I was kind-of not liking myself at all, right then, and being reminded of my scar, of what it meant, came at the worst possible time for my self-confidence . . .
“Yeah,” I’d said, after that pause. “Yeah, that would be great.” And then I’d turned a smile on him, that felt pretty fucking fake, even to me. “Ummm . . . could I ask you a favor?”
“Yes, of course,” he’d said, blinking a little.
“I’m actually a little short on money, right now. Is there any way you could loan me a hundred dollars?”
Understand – I was trying to say it in a kind of obvious, knowing way . . . to make it clear, it was my price. But at the same time, in a weird, dark, existential kind of way – I thought the whole scene was hilarious, twisted, ridiculous, all at once . . . so I was almost-giggling, right on the verge of busting out laughing.
Hugo wasn’t laughing.
“Oh, Bryce,” he said; looking over at me, and his eyes were so sad. His hand stayed on mine, still squeezing, still comforting. “Oh, Bryce, no, no.” He shook his head, and looked down, then back up at me. “This isn’t who you are. You do not want to go do this to yourself, believe me.” His eyes looked sadder still, as he said it.
I grinned over at him, out of my darkness, the hell where I was, just then. “Maybe not. Probably not,” I went. “But . . . I could still use the money.”
“Tell me. Do you really want to come home with me? To be with me?” he asked, after a pause; looking me in the eyes, close.
“Yeah,” I’d said, in a breath, softly; the feel of his warm hand on mine, the awareness of his body, so close to mine . . .
And so, we left. Without settling anything about the money.
Yeah. I’d make a rotten whore. In that sense, anyway.
It was a fun night. REALLY fun, and in a whole lot of weird, contradictory ways, it was exactly what I’d needed, right then.
I’d called my Mom from my cell, and told her I was going to spend the night at Jason’s –
All this happened after my dad was gone, but before he started crazy-stalking us. God; looking back, it’s hard to believe such luxury, such FREEDOM ever existed for us . . .
I’d phoned my Mom as Hugo and I walked uphill to his apartment – he didn’t live far from the Flore – and then, we were both quiet after I closed my phone, him saying nothing about this dangerous, edgy hustler phoning home to his mother, to let her know he was okay –
And then we were in bed.
Like I said, it was FUN.
Gentle, really, is what I’d call it; playful, and gentle, with a lot of laughter.
Part of the laughter was because, he was my Very First Uncircumcised Penis; and so, I had to look at it up close, play with it up close, right? I mean, wouldn’t you - ?
Okay. So maybe I went a little far, in that department.
As in – making him lie back, still, in bed, while I played with his dick; just fascinated, entranced with the thing, rolling his foreskin back up over his glans, then back down again, just marveling at how SOFT his foreskin was, how delicate and smooth it was, how DIFFERENT his dick looked, compared to my own dick, or Cole’s or anybody else’s I’d played with . . .
And of course I had to taste his dick, too; duh. Feel it, with my tongue; run my tongue inside his foreskin, taste the precum, while I slowly jacked him with my hand –
“Uuuuuurrrrghhh - !” from Hugo, as his bare body jerked a little, underneath me.
“Shhhh!” I looked up and grinned at him. “Lie still! I haven’t finished playing with it yet.”
“Pffffftttt - !” Stifled laughter from him. “You are driving me crazy - !”
“Just a little more,” I said; and I slowly, wetly licked up the underside of his dick, and then I took the head of his dick in my mouth, and I played with his foreskin with my tongue, really deliberately –
Hugo muttered something in Portuguese, and his body jerked, again.
“What - ?” I asked, innocently, blinking at him; enjoying the role I was playing.
“You are going to make me come,” he said, after a second; half-laughing, again.
“Good,” I went, softly; and I licked around the crown of his dick again, just quickly, and I jerked him a few more times, once, twice, my eyes locked on his beautiful dick, and he made some noises that are universal in any language, and his back arched on the bed and he SPURTED, once, twice, three times, more, getting his stuff all over his chest, his stomach, my hand . . .
My turn came next.
We snuggled and kissed for a little while, while he got his breath back – and I was curious, REAL curious, to see what he looked like, soft, but he never did get exactly soft, and after a few minutes, he went back to full-on hard, his dick lengthening, his glans poking out of his foreskin, again –
I loved watching that. It was absolutely fascinating.
While that was happening, Hugo was snuggling against me more and more, romantically, sensually, his hands roaming over my bare skin, and it felt SO good . . .
“Mmmmmm,” he murmured, as he did it; then, “Beautiful . . . beautiful . . . ”
I needed to hear that, right then.
And his hands went lower, and lower, and his fingers ran, gently, into my crack, that most intimate part of me, and the noises I made and the way I moved must have told him everything he needed to know, because in a flash his tongue and mouth were working over my nipples, and his hands and fingers were tickling me down there, pressing gently in the right places, and I gasped, and opened my legs wider . . .
As fucks go, it was a gentle one. Caring, and gentle.
Maybe just a little TOO gentle, to be honest; it was driving me a little crazy, actually, I kept trying to hitch myself back on his dick, some, to get that feeling, to get myself closer to COMING . . .
I think he was kind of afraid of hurting me. He was a lot bigger and stronger than me, after all.
And more experienced, it turned out.
After a while, he did something with his dick, with the angle of his penetration, with the way he moved his hips and MOVED inside me, and his pace picked up, and I was just, so, completely in his control –
“Unnnnhhh . . . UHHHHnnhhh . . . ” then, “Fuuuuccckk, I’m COMING - !” I hissed out –
And at that his mouth was on mine, his tongue was slick against mine, his big, smooth body was so HEAVY against mine as I squeezed down on his dick and I spurted between us, over and over again, as his slick dick kept moving inside me . . .
The shame didn’t really hit until the next morning.
And to be honest, the shame is why I keep coming back to that night, thinking about that night. I mean, it SHOULD be a pleasant memory, right? Hugo’s sure a pleasant memory, what we did was fun, and warm, and touching, and human . . .
But I was starting out from a really, really dark place. And I’d deliberately made it worse, and it all came crashing down the next morning.
Well, I guess that’s how we learn, right? I just wish I could make peace with it, remember it for the right reasons, and not the wrong reasons . . .
When I woke up, that next morning, I was alone.
Which wasn’t all that surprising; if he’d been in bed with me, I wouldn’t have been sleeping, I don’t sleep very well with other people, except Cole; I’m used to Cole.
But, I was alone, and I’d been sleeping, really soundly; and I woke up slow.
Remembering, first, where I was, and what had happened, the night before. Meeting Hugo, coming home with him . . .
Remembering next, with a kind of sickening rush, what I’d tried to pull with Hugo; remembering asking for money, remembering exactly what that made me, by definition –
Which led, inevitably, to what I’d done to Cole, what I’d pulled behind his back, and the rest of the darkness just rushed back in on me, despite the morning sunshine streaming in through the bedroom windows, and for a few, long moments, all I could do was bury my face in the soft pillow and wish to God I was somebody else, anybody else, why the living FUCK did I have to be me - ?
I didn’t magically turn into anybody else, though; so eventually, after a few minutes, I figured I had to get up.
So I did get up; slowly, cautiously, feeling the soreness from last night; wincing, when I saw the mess we’d made on the sheets.
‘Oh, well, ’ I thought to myself; ‘Another day, another dollar.’ And I almost, almost actually smiled, in the middle of my darkness, but it was a bitter thought, and it would have been a twisted, bitter smile . . .
Hugo’s apartment was on a steep hill up above Castro Street; the windows were big, and they faced east, and they let in a lot of light. Squinting out, I could see the Bay, and Mount Diablo behind that, looming up huge over everything . . .
Fuck, it was late. And it was a school day; I was going to miss half of it.
I walked naked down the short hallway, a little tentatively, looking for Hugo.
I found his note in the living room; on the little marble-and-glass coffee table. I kneeled down onto the shag carpeting to read it.
‘Dear Brise –
I am sorry, I had to go to work. I didn’t want to wake you up, so I will shower at my gym.
You said last night that you needed some money, and I think that is true. Here is all the money I have with me. Please take it, as a loan? I know that you will pay it back.
Please call me? Here is my number. I want to see you again. I want to get to know you. Please?
Below the note was a rumpled pile of bills, and coins. I poked at it a little, holding my breath . . . it was a lot more than a hundred dollars. It was a lot more than two hundred dollars, actually.
I blinked, and my eyes began to fill up a little, and the world began to look a little watery –
And as I looked up, blinking, I began noticing things, in Hugo’s apartment. Things like, the new iMac, standing neatly on the glass-topped table in the dining nook, off the kitchen; the flat-screen TV, the artwork on the walls, the subtle, beautiful pieces of pottery on the shelves, in the built-in bookcases next to the fireplace –
Noticing, that Hugo liked nice things. That Hugo had good taste, expensive taste.
That Hugo’d left me alone with all of it.
My eyes finished brimming over, then, the bright crescents along my lower eyelids spilling over into tears rolling down my cheeks, and I read his note again, and I made a noise in my throat . . .
It hit me, so hard.
I mean, think about it; there I was, one of the two worst times in my life, maybe, everything just so utterly black . . . and I’d just tried to sell myself, because it fit me, it was what I deserved –
And then, this.
Out of nowhere, somebody believed in me. Hugo believed in me; trusted me, with a lot of cash, with his possessions, with his HOME –
He believed in me.
I cried, then, for a little while; crouched naked on his shag rug, holding one hand over my face, trying not to make noise, but I couldn’t help the tears, they just kept coming . . .
In the end, I pulled the sheets and blankets off the bed, and I found where he kept the clean sheets, and I made up the bed really neatly, and I dumped the dirty sheets in the clothes hamper . . .
And I did the few dirty dishes in the sink – his morning coffee mug, a couple of glasses we’d used, the night before –
And then I cleaned myself up in the shower; being really careful not to make a mess, really careful to hang up my towel to dry, to use the little plastic scraper to scrape down the glass shower doors, that kind of thing . . . and then I got dressed, and left.
But before that, I kneeled back down on the carpet, and added to his note.
‘I’ll never forget you.
Trevor (real name)’
And I never will.
I left the money, untouched, on the glass-topped coffee table.