THE first time Kevin and I had sex, he followed me in his Camry to the Holiday Inn Express where I was staying. I watched his headlights in the rearview mirror, checking to see…. I don’t know what I was checking. What did I think he was going to do—stop, jump out, and shout, Look at us, we’re fags? But his car remained steadfastly, securely behind me.
Usually I would have gone to one of the rooms in the back of the bar with him; it was so much safer. But I’d gone without for months. It was late, I’d been drinking and dancing since I’d walked into Good Times hours before, and I was desperate for a warm, male body to stand in for my own hand. I needed more than a stand-up quickie, and I was willing to take risks I shouldn’t have. My judgment evaporated with my need.
I’d told him my room number, and he came up to the third floor five minutes after I’d let myself in. We didn’t talk. I didn’t want to talk. I barely knew his name. When he’d given me the eye and the last dance of the night, he’d passed the test. He looked healthy and clean, if unexpectedly good-looking for someone who would be willing to go with me; he talked like a sensible on-the-make gay man and not an ax-murderer on the prowl for unsuspecting homos; and he was shorter and lighter than I was by three inches and thirty pounds. I thought I could at least hold my own against him if things turned nasty.
I got down on my knees right there in front of the door, pulled out his cock, and got to it. He was hard even before I slipped him into my mouth, and it didn’t take long to suck him off. When he gripped my shoulders and erupted against my working tongue, I moaned. He was real. Whoever he was, he was real and he tasted like a man, and half of what I’d come to Houston for slotted into place.
We stayed like that for a span of seconds, each of us fighting for breath, and then he hauled me up and kissed me. I hadn’t expected that, didn’t want it, didn’t often get it from my pickups, but in my surprise, I didn’t fight it. His arms went around me too, strong for all he was slender, as if he knew me and cared, and I clutched at him mainly to keep from falling full against him. I thought he might have liked tasting himself in my mouth, that he got off on it. His tongue in my mouth was sweet, like he’d been drinking bourbon and Coke.
Kevin pushed me backward until I sprawled on the bed, and in a sex-drenched, raspy voice, he growled, “Get undressed.” A shiver of unease swept through me at being told what to do; I don’t go in for that sort of thing. I’m an ordinary man with ordinary tastes. But, God, I wanted him on my cock, and so I did it, got my clothes off while he took off his. And though I hadn’t expected this either and wouldn’t have asked him to get naked just for a suck-off in an anonymous hotel room, it was great to see his whole body revealed along with the sturdy-looking cock that had been in my mouth.
He wasn’t buff; with his long legs, he looked more like a greyhound who could run sprints. A black-haired sprinter with a generous sprinkling of chest hair. He was very masculine in a controlled, clearly defined sort of way, just the way I liked my men. When he got on the bed and moved forward to taste me, my eyelids fluttered at all that man-skin bent in service to my needs.
It was a good orgasm, what he gave me. What I took from him.
Afterward, without asking, he flopped down onto the bed next to me and closed his eyes. I thought about asking him to leave, but I didn’t have the energy. We fell asleep next to each other.
Around four o’clock, I got up to take a piss, and on my way back to the bed I put out the light. We had sex again in the dark, where I couldn’t see him and he couldn’t see me, just right, humping against each other until his hand fumbled down between us and held us together. He smelled of the smoke from the club. When he rubbed against me with his thumb, I jetted within a few seconds, not giving it up loudly, only sighing, and he followed me not long after that.
The clock showed eight-thirty when I woke up. Kevin was coming out of the shower with a towel wrapped around his hips. He looked good to my eyes, though maybe a little pale, as if he didn’t see the sun often. I eased my left arm under the sheet where it couldn’t be seen.
He picked up his briefs from the floor and pulled them on, then sat down on the bed and started working his socks on.
“Good morning,” he said in his hoarse voice.
He finished with the socks and twisted around to look at where I was still flat on my back. “What do you say we go get some—”
“I have to leave soon,” I said.
His eyebrows rose. “Leave?”
“Deadline to meet. Sorry.”
He got the message: I wasn’t interested in anything else. His name was Kevin and he gave good head, period. If I’d given him a false message because we’d gone to a real hotel room and not some rent-by-the-hour dive or the backseat of a car, well, I was sorry. My life was punctuated by infrequent one-night stands, driven by my free choice and forced through hard experience, and that was just the way it was.
I watched him dress the rest of the way and put his wallet in his back pocket. He paused and looked down at where I lay with his spunk crusted dry on my belly. Then he came closer and leaned over me, and I tensed. I was surprised when he kissed me, a closed-mouth kiss with nothing much behind it, merely a brief pressing of lips. He had more to give than I did, that was for sure.
“So long, Tom,” he said. And then he left.
I took my time after that and started the hours-long drive home at noon.
There wasn’t supposed to be a second time when Kevin and I had sex. When I went back to Houston five months later, he wasn’t on my mind. Getting my rocks off, yeah, that was on my mind, and the only reason I ever went to Houston. Work had been stressful, I hadn’t been sleeping well, and the walls of my small house were starting to close in on me. So I’d taken off for the weekend when normally I would have been able to hold off for another month or two. As always, I went carefully, alert to those around me as I walked toward the bar, and I would always, always be careful of how I left it.
I was at the bar, working on my second beer. I’d already walked around, seeing what was on display that night and figuring what my chances were of getting somebody to suck off a middle-aged man without much to recommend him. I didn’t have any illusions about myself. Next to the youngsters strutting their stuff, next to the gym-queens, next to the noses that’d been fixed with surgery and the skin that’d been coaxed and creamed, I was nothing. I was an unassuming man with a degree, a passion for my job, and a need for sex. Before I entered the meat-market fray again, I needed another drink, and so I was up on a barstool, staring without really looking into my glass of Miller Lite.
That was when I felt a tap on my shoulder. My eyes flew up to the mirror behind the bottles of Jack Daniel and Jim Beam, and I saw a familiar face behind me. Blue eyes, a definite chin, close-to-the-skull short hair, heavy eyebrows….
It took a few pounding pulses of the music for me to remember who he was. When recognition dawned and I moved to swivel around and face him, he said, “I’m Kevin, remember?” in the husky voice I’d heard before.
“Tom. With the souped-up Mazda.”
It was my only indulgence. Everything else I kept reined in tight, but I did enjoy driving that car. “Right,” I said. He looked like he’d come from a late night at work. His long-sleeved, button-down blue shirt probably had been accented by a tie a few hours earlier, and his pants were of a fine weave that went best with a suit jacket. Kevin, I guessed, was a businessman who worked in downtown Houston.
“Mind if I….” He nodded to the empty seat next to me, and I realized he was remembering how we’d parted before. He was quite obviously trying not to push and, just as obviously, inexplicably wanting to spend some time in my company.
I don’t know why I said, “Okay.” Maybe it was that almost sixteen years had passed since I’d been twenty-two. Lately I could feel a sort of weariness all through me; I was always tired. The way I lived made me tired. Maybe it was the easy way he’d left me before, not making a fuss. Maybe it was the nice smile he had.
Or maybe I was flattered. What the hell, I thought. A beer wasn’t going to change my world.
He sat and ordered a Michelob, and for a while neither of us said anything. The noisy activity of the bar went on behind and around us, and I wondered how far outside my boundaries I was willing to go. Kevin looked good in the remains of his work wear. He had neat, capable hands.
He was halfway finished with his beer when he asked, “You have a football team you support?”
In the heat of a Texas spring, football season was long gone, but it was the perfect safe subject. We talked. The words came from me in fits and starts at first, and both of us were impeded by the music, which wasn’t designed for two late-thirty-somethings to talk over. But eventually we got into a rhythm. We ripped the Cowboys and destroyed the hapless Texans and paid homage to Bill Belichick and the Patriots. Kevin knew his sports way better than I did, but I held my own as we argued the merits of the three-four defense and whether Ben Roethlisberger was worth the contract he’d gotten. By the time we’d exhausted football, the bartender had us on our fourth drinks. On the TV set up high in the corner, an ad came on for Hillary Clinton, and that got us started on her and the presidential race. Kevin was a Democrat, but then again, I doubt there were many gay Republicans around us looking for action that Friday night.
I kept telling myself to get up off the barstool and go circulate, that Kevin was just shooting the shit and that’s it, but I didn’t leave. Talking with Kevin was like the safe conversations I had at home, where I was plain, unthreatening, unsuspected Tom, and it was curiously nonsexual. That was all right. At least for a little while, I could avoid an everyday reality of my life: that I lived alone and had to travel across the state to find someone willing to have sex with me.
That curious bubble of unreality that I stayed in for a few hours with Kevin—drinking and watching the TV and talking—didn’t burst until I got up to take a piss. On my way back a line dance started, one I knew, one I liked to dance to, and when a stranger’s hand reached out to pull me onto the floor, I didn’t resist.
I looked over at where Kevin was, and though he was looking at me with his chin up, he didn’t make any other kind of move. Fuck him, I thought, only then realizing I’d issued a challenge that he wasn’t about to meet. If he wasn’t interested, fine.
Fifteen minutes later, though, the music changed to the occasional slow and sultry number that caught jeers from the crowd at the same time that it drove most of them to the floor. One of the much older men who’d been dancing near me took a step in my direction, but then it was Kevin who was right in front of me.
“May I have this dance?” he asked, perfectly serious. He stood there with his arms out, poised as if to embrace me.
Even in a gay club, I didn’t like to cause a scene, and I would have moved closer to him for that reason alone and not because I wanted to. But I did want to. There was something appealing, even arresting, in the tilt of his head as he asked and didn’t insist. There was sweet seduction—something I’d always been able to resist before—in the way I knew him when I didn’t know anybody else around me. His arms closed around my shoulders, my hands rested on his trim waist, and it looked like we were dance partners. I was suddenly blazingly conscious that we’d had sex before. He moved the same way he had in bed, with a certain grace that seemed to come from the confidence I lacked. Fred Astaire he wasn’t, but he didn’t need to be. All he needed was to touch me the way he was doing, with a man’s surety and a sense of claiming that he didn’t deserve and I wasn’t willing to give, but that nevertheless had me hot in seconds.
We moved slowly to the notes of the song, and his eyes asked me if we were going to have sex tonight. I guess he read the answer in my face and in how our steps in the dance matched. Even though I never repeated my sex partners, at least not since I’d entered the working world, I was going to this night. I tore my gaze from his, looked around, and cynically thought that there wasn’t anybody else waving their hands, asking for the privilege of getting me off that night, was there? So Kevin it was going to be. I looked back at him too soon, within seconds, and watched while a sort of sigh escaped his lips. He pulled me closer and I flowed into him; I could feel he was getting hard. I was too.
We stayed together for that dance and every one after that.
We went back to his hotel room a little past one a.m., me following him through the humid coastal air in my little Miata with the top down. The city-flavored wind felt good on my face and helped me focus through the booze-fog as I drove. I was surprised when we arrived at a Marriott Courtyard hotel not too far from the La Quinta where I was staying that time, but if he was as cautious as I was and didn’t want to take strange men back to his house, I had no place to complain.
Being with him that night was good. Basic, uncompromising sex between two men who wanted it and wanted it right then. I’d forgotten some things from our first encounter—for instance, how he liked to kiss. How he hitched in his breath right before he flooded my mouth and then again when I filled his. How afterward he acted totally comfortable next to me, as if it weren’t awkward at all between us, two mostly-strangers in bed together with the sharp taste of jism against our tongues. Watching him adjust the bedding over us so naturally, hearing him say You don’t have to leave. Let’s go to sleep, made me suddenly remember the things I used to want, and I fell asleep not-quite-satisfied.
We repeated ourselves in the morning, only more deliberately. Before I came close to the end, he flipped around and presented himself to me, his cock a couple of inches from my face, and though sixty-nine isn’t my favorite, I did that. We weren’t even close to coming together, but Kevin kept working on me once he’d finished.
Like each time before, he flopped over onto his back when we were done. A few minutes passed while my breathing evened out, and then the room became silent. Someone down the hall left their room and the door slammed shut, like a small explosion. I followed the sound of their footsteps in the hallway as they came closer, passed the room I was in, and then went down the open stairwell. Outside, someone leaned on the horn of their car, and from further away came the wail of an ambulance siren. I took a cleansing breath and licked my lips. Time to get up and start my own day. The big, anonymous city was all around us, an impartial judge who didn’t blame me for my weakness in how I’d spent the night.
Next to me Kevin stirred and turned over onto his side. Even in the dim light I could see the twinkle in his eyes.
Lying there next to me, naked, he extended his hand in an unmistakable gesture. “Hello,” he said. “I’m not sure we’ve properly met. I’m Kevin Bannerman. Pleased to meet you.”
I took his hand and shook it because I was smoothed out, at least for the moment, still riding the echoes of my coming, and because I was amused. “Hi, I’m Tom.”
He was pushing, but I answered anyway. “Tom Smith.”
There were those skeptical eyebrows again, rising. “Really?”
“Really. My forebears had no imagination.”
“Okay, Tom Smith it is. Not Tom Jones.”
“Nope, neither one of the Joneses.”
“I can guess you’re not a libertine.”
“Or a singer. You wouldn’t want to hear my voice.”
“What do you do, then?” he asked easily. “I’m a banker. A commercial lending officer.”
I stiffened, and he noticed. I didn’t give out personal information.
“Tom,” he said gently, “I’m only making conversation.”
“I’m a teacher,” I admitted, shocked at myself for saying it. “A high school teacher.”
He nodded, understanding changing his expression to sympathetic. “Oh, I get it. That’s a tough one when you’re queer.”
“You’ve got that right.” I rolled over and sat up abruptly, pulling the sheet around me, trying to get it over my shoulders. I was on the left side of the bed, as with all my encounters. With the air conditioning on, it was cold in that room now that we’d stopped going at each other.
Kevin stayed where he was. “You must like what you’re doing to stick with it.”
“I do. The kids make it worthwhile.” Fierce pride raced through me in a second, there and then gone. I was a good teacher.
“I make loans to small businesses, usually with revenues less than twenty million dollars.”
“Those are small businesses?” I said without turning around.
“In this economy they are. How about you?”
“No, I don’t need a loan.”
He sat up next to me. I thought he might have wanted to put a hand on my arm, but he didn’t. “What is it with you, anyway? Why are you running scared?”
I wasn’t going to explain anything. Besides, most of it was pretty obvious. “I just prefer to keep things compartmentalized. Each thing in its own place.”
“You might be taking it too far, but I guess I won’t argue with you. Look, unless you’ve got another deadline to meet, how about we grab some breakfast?”
I wasn’t immune to his charm. His passing reference to how I’d lied the time before to get rid of him was said gently, without rancor and without blaming me. I stretched under the expanse of white that covered me and nodded. “IHOP?”
“I think there’s one a few miles up the freeway.”
“Over by Rice University, right.”
He gave me a speculative look then, as if trying to figure out if Rice was significant to me.
We showered and got dressed in an awkward dance, carefully not intruding into each other’s space. I wasn’t happy to be putting on the same clothes again, my work clothes from the day before, but I thought I’d have the chance to change soon enough. Kevin got into a pair of crisp, expensive-looking jeans, the kind with a crease to them that I couldn’t afford on my salary. A light blue golf shirt with some sort of crest over the breast pocket and a brown belt finished him off. He looked like he was ready for a tee time on the most exclusive country club course.
We went out to eat, getting the morning’s issue of the Houston Chronicle outside the restaurant and sharing the sections between us over eggs and pancakes. He ordered Rooty Tooty Fresh and Fruity—I think deliberately, to get a rise out of me. He sure looked at me devilishly over the top of the menu as he gave the order to the waitress. Kevin could put a world of meaning into those eyes of his.
Breakfast was easy, and I found myself relaxing. We finished and paid and then stood outside on the sidewalk under the cloudy haze that so often is the sum total of Houston’s spring weather. The cars and trucks on Highway 59 whisked by, stirring up a continuous artificial breeze, making me thankful that I didn’t have to contend with the pollution and the traffic of Texas’s biggest city all the time.
“So, you headed home today?”
I shook my head. I’d planned to stay over; Good Times would be hopping on Saturday night.
“Me, neither,” Kevin said, and that was the first time I had confirmed what I’d begun to suspect, that he really wasn’t from Houston after all. He didn’t quite have a Texas accent. His was a bit softer, more rounded, I thought. Maybe Louisiana?
He waited until a family with two little girls walked by us and into the restaurant, and then he said, “Listen, tell me if you’re not interested but… I thought I’d do the tourist bit today. I’ve never actually seen much of the city. Would you want to join me?” He jammed his left hand into a pocket. “It’s not much fun being alone.”
I could vouch for that: not much fun.
I hovered on the edge of saying no, but I didn’t. Maybe because I was tired of my own silences. I had nothing special planned for the day. I would probably just grade some papers and then surf the net from the La Quinta until dinner and going back to the bar.
Kevin noticed my indecision. “I thought I’d go down to the San Jacinto monument, read about the independence of Texas and all that. Maybe keep going south to Galveston and get some good seafood for lunch.”
I’d taught the Texas History course to sophomores, and I knew the story well. But I’d only visited San Jacinto once, when I was twelve.
“If that doesn’t float your boat,” Kevin went on, “there’s the Menil Collection of art that’s open this afternoon…”
I’d always heard of the Menil, though I’ve never managed to get there.
“…and I’ve finally decided now’s the time I’m going to Brennan’s for dinner. You want to come with me there?”
He’d finally hit on something that wouldn’t commit me. Commit too much of my time or my attention. I’d already given more than I wanted to, than I ever had before during one of my weekends, but…. Much as I’d resisted, I liked Kevin. This I could give him, and it was with a sort of relief that I said, “Brennan’s, sure. I haven’t been there in forever.”
“And I’ve never been there. I already have reservations for two.”
“For two? You were expecting to meet….” I left the question hanging.
Kevin answered me with a quick frown. “I wasn’t expecting to see you again, if that’s what’s got you bothered. Come on, Tom, lighten up. I’m not going to turn you over to the loose-dick patrol. I’m like you, remember?”
“You are a suspicious guy. I was hoping to meet somebody to go out with, okay? Nobody specific, only…. I get tired of the club, how it’s hard to have a decent conversation there, how you never meet anybody real, how artificial it is. Don’t you get tired of it too?”
He was talking in a low, intense voice. Even so, I looked around to see if there was anybody around to hear him.
He made a pointed, exasperated sound. “If you’re not interested, fine. Forget it. I can—”
“No,” I said. “I mean, yes. Yes, I do get tired of the club.” It was a permanent feature of my existence, but I was sick of the way I had forced myself into living, how I never connected on any deep level with anybody. Living where I did, I couldn’t keep my job and my safety and change that, but that didn’t mean there weren’t moments when I regretted it all, everything. When I let myself think for a little while about living a normal life.
And here was Kevin offering me a small slice of time when things could be different. He wasn’t running off into the dark, four a.m. night, or into the cloudy morning either. He wanted to spend more time with me.
I looked away, tempted beyond belief. “I guess I….” I shoved my hand into my pocket too, my right hand since it’s easier for me than my left, and there we stood, two gay men who were mirror images of each other, trying to find a way to connect within our comfort levels.
There wasn’t much comfort in any of my levels.
Kevin went off to see the Houston area on his own, but with my promise to meet him at Brennan’s at seven-thirty for drinks before dinner.