Tag Archives: lgbt

Repeat

repeat

 

Something’s bothering Greg but he won’t tell me what it is. I keep asking but all he does is mumble “Nothing.” I’m still in bed when he steps out of the shower, and I watch him shave through the open bathroom door. A towel hangs loose around his waist.

I’m getting a crick in my back but I can’t bring myself to change position. I breathe deeply to keep myself calm. If I turn over the usual gauntlet will run through my mind. I bite the inside of my lip to keep from examining the headboard ten times, once for each fingertip. I need to bring this up when I see the doc tomorrow.

I reach out to touch his arm when he walks by but he moves it out of reach. It’s subtle but deliberate. He’s pouting, which seems to contrast sharply with the gray at his temples.

The hold on me snaps and I’m able to sit up. “Oh, come on. Just tell me what’s bothering you.”

He grabs a set of clothes with a huffy sigh. “I really shouldn’t have to.”

He heads back into the bathroom to get dressed. This is a pretty new thing he’s done the past couple weeks. He bitches that I don’t touch him, but goes out of his way to keep me from seeing him. I get out of bed, tighten the drawstring of my pants, and go to follow. He shuts the door and I knock.

“Christ, babe, how is this supposed to work? Is it supposed to go away if we don’t talk about it? You know, whatever it is?”

I knocked three times, and I’ve noticed. I tap the door with my fingertips, too lightly to make any sound, and that’s barely enough to keep myself under control. I don’t know that the Anafranil is working anymore.

“Just don’t worry about it,” I hear him snap.

“Jesus, something’s been bugging you for weeks now. We’re practically just pissy roommates at this point.”

“Yeah, we are.”

I have to swallow, and my eyes get that heavy feeling like I’m about to cry. I don’t usually cry, actually, but I almost always feel like I’m about to. Maybe I should bring that up tomorrow.

“Honey…”

“Jesus Christ!” He whips open the door and nearly shoves me as he moves past. “Do you really have to fucking whine about it so much?”

I shower a little longer than usual, because the need for a systemic pattern rears its head. Goddammit. Is this because I’m upset?

I decide to skip shaving, and when I’m dressed he’s having coffee by the carport door. He doesn’t look at me.

“I’m probably going to be working late,” he tells me.

“That’s fine.” Now he looks at me, like he’s ready for a fight. “I’m going to be out late with Chanda anyway.”

“Of course you are.”

“Wait. Does Chanda have something to do with why you’re such an asshole lately?”

“What do you mean ‘lately?'”

“You fuckin’ well know what I mean.”

He sighs but doesn’t answer.

“What the fuck’s your deal? Do you have some beef with her?”

“Well, I don’t know, Nate. Should I? Is there anything I should be worried about?”

I catch what he means. “Oh, Jesus Christ. You can’t be serious.”

“You’re always around her!”

“She’s been my best friend for fifteen years. What the hell? You’ve been a huffy little princess for weeks because you’re, what…jealous of my beard?”

“I’m sure Chanda would love to hear you call her that.”

Now you’re worried about insulting her.”

“Nate.” He rolls his eyes and shakes his head. “It’s not like, you know…it’s not like you’re not attracted to women.”

“Are you seriously playing that card now? Are you telling me I’m inherently unsatisfied if I’m not cheating?”

He puts his mug down and grabs his keys. “Forget it.”

“How can I?” He shuts the door when I catch up to him, but I open it again and call out: “You’ve been making such a fucking point of reminding me!

He ignores me and gets into his car.

***

The bookstore kills me today. It’s buyback time, and when I’m not helping with the register I help lug the massive volume of textbooks into the back for inventory. We’re going to be working all weekend just to get everything cataloged. More fuel for Greg’s fire.

I prefer it busy. When I’m busy, scrambling to meet the demands of others, I don’t have time to slow down and wait for the same thoughts to force my attention inward. They’re still there, mind you. They don’t call it obsessive for no reason. But they’re in the back of my mind, not the forefront, and there is no time to act on the compulsions they inspire.

I stay until six, when Chanda calls me. “Look up,” she says, and when I do she’s waving at me from the window by the doors. Her bracelets glitter in the yellow light of the student union.

“Heyo! I’ll be out in a second. Coffee upstairs?”

“Sounds good. I’ll head up! See ya in a bit!”

Ten minutes later I’m sitting by the Starbucks kiosk, sipping lemonade while Chanda blows on her tea. She reads me like a billboard and immediately asks what’s wrong.

“Greg. He’s…still Greg, I guess.”

“And that’s a bad thing now?”

“Lately?”

“You think New Greg is Permanent Greg?”

“I think it’s safe to say he’s shades of permanent.”

“So what’s his deal?”

I sidestep the direct issue. “He thinks I’m stepping out, I guess. He gets in these moods if he sees me talking to women. The bisexual thing doesn’t sit well with him.”

“Well you are kinda flirty.”

“Wait, what?”

“Not…not like, consciously. Okay, I mean,” she straightens up, concentrating. Her words here need to be precise. “Okay, so, you come off as flirty, is what I mean, even if you’re not actually flirting. And…and you act differently around women than you do around men.”

The faint Indian accent she got from her parents makes her sound almost English.

“Like…” She pauses, looking up and to the right. She sets her tea down, and raises both hands, palms up. She sits cross-legged in her chair. For some reason the pose makes me think of the Bharatanatyam she danced when we went to her cousin’s wedding. Even now she slides her neck while she considers what she wants to say. The image of her writhing jade choli starts playing in my head. It’s preferable to the day-long replay of Greg shutting the bathroom door in my face.

“Like, when you talk with women, you’re very masculine, but then you practically bat your eyes around men.” She leans her head to the side. “You’re all ‘come hither.’ And with chicks you’re like…”

She lurches forward, creep-staring me, and cocks an eyebrow. She drops her voice an octave or two and grunts “DTF?”

“Are you fuckin’ serious?”

She shrugs. “S’what I’ve noticed, anyway.”

“Well.” I lean back in my chair. “Son of a bitch.”

***

Greg’s asleep when I get home. I decide to crash on the couch after my shower, and in the spring heat my mind goes back to Chanda dancing at her cousin’s wedding. Her date…I can’t remember his name now…he’d been affectionate all night, and I remember being a bit surprised at the naked desire in his eyes. When he looked at her, they almost seemed to sparkle in the light of the silver jari in her skirt. He didn’t seem to mind that she danced so much with me. I was already with Greg by then. She and I could’ve fucked in front of her date and the guy probably still would’ve assumed I was just “the gay friend.”

I remember wondering what it was that he wanted so badly from her, from this woman I’d known since I was ten. When I thought of Chanda it was with memories of middle school acne and baby weight that hung on through high school. But when she danced then I saw the fine-tuning ballet had finally worked on her body. She coiled her arms above her head and slid her neck from side to side. Her curling lips were dark like plums, and her stomach twisted like a python.

When I finally go to sleep, my mind is stuck on the image of her lehenga. I see its delicate hem billowing against her ankles, like a sail caught on a river wind.

***

Dr. Hale is a very fatherly guy. Soft voice, direct speech, always encouraging. Ideally fatherly, I guess I should say.

“So how are ya, Nathan?”

“Ahhhh.” I twist my hand from side to side.

“What’s up?”

“My thoughts are turning more obsessive lately. Repeated imagery, mostly. Some anxiety.”

“Any compulsive behavior?”

“Not that I can’t control.”

“Is it getting harder to control?”

“A…a little, yeah.”

“How’s the Anafranil working?”

I shrug. “I mean, I’ve been pretty stressed lately, and you know how bad it used to be if I was stressed.”

He knits his brows together. “What’s been bothering you?”

“I think Greg and I are gonna break up.”

“Why do you think that?”

“He’s mad all the time. He won’t talk about it. He’s been getting real jealous of Chanda lately.”

“Of you spending time with her?”

“Of just being around her at all, really.”

“Now, Greg knew you weren’t exclusively attracted to men when you two got together, right?”

“Oh, yeah. I made a big point of making sure he knew that.”

“Okay. Now, and please don’t take this the wrong way, but have you given him any reason to think you haven’t been faithful?”

“Not that I can think of.”

Dr. Hale is quiet for a minute. “Is there any possibility you’re attracted to Chanda?”

“Hold on. Why are we getting into this?”

“Trust me, there’s a point to it.”

I’m quiet for a long while. The silver jari in Chanda’s skirt sparkles behind my eyes, over and over. “Yeah. Yeah, I think I am.”

He nods. “Yeah, I think you are too. And I think this is a recent thing. Dollars to doughnuts, Greg is picking up on that.”

“Well, fuck.”

“Now remember how obsessive thought patterns can artificially inflate feelings of attachment and attraction? Now, that inflation can become compounded when you take into account existing feelings of platonic affection. You with me so far?”

“Yeah. Her being my friend complicates things. Makes ’em…like, bigger than they are.”

“Substantially. Now, I think you’re surprisingly adept at appraising your own perception. So, bearing all that in mind, would you describe yourself as possibly being in love with Chanda?”

I honestly consider it. Jangling bracelets. The Bharatanatyam.

“I think…I think I might be on the edge of that, yeah. Not yet, but…close.”

He gives me a comforting smile. “Well, there you go, kid. Your symptoms are flaring up because you’re stressed. Love, breakups…that stuff hits all of us pretty hard. And you work in a college bookstore. April is a shit storm for you guys.”

“So what do I do?”

“I couldn’t say, professionally or personally. Those are things you just have to manage on your own. Your boyfriend…I think you already have a course of action in mind in that regard, so I won’t add any input.”

“What about Chanda?”

“What about her?”

“What do I do?”

“There’s nothing to do.”

“Should I tell her?”

“I’m a clinician, Nate, not a life coach. That’s a question you gotta figure out by yourself. I…”

He pauses, then puts his pen and pad down and leans forward, elbows on his knees, hands clasped.

“My wife and I were close friends for a decade before we began dating, and there’s no doubt in my mind whatsoever that she’s the love of my life. But…I’ve seen plenty of beautiful, loving friendships fall apart because of the presumption that attraction has to be consummated. Some friends can date, fall in love, fall out of love, and be friends again. Some can’t.”

“I would suggest…” and he points right at me, “…that you consider exactly what Chanda means to you. Not how much. That’s a meaningless measurement. Consider what she means to you. The what is important. What space is her best fit, and yours?”

He looks at the clock. “Alright, kid. I wanna see you in a month. I’ll forward my notes, but I still want you to tell your psychiatrist everything you told me. Off the record, I don’t think there’s anything clinically significant to the increase in your symptoms, but see her anyway, alright? From what I understand, side-effects from Anafranil can be sneaky bastards. They like to play the long game. She might wanna do some blood work.”

I have a weird urge to hug him when I leave, but of course I don’t. Still, though, the image of us hugging replays over and over in my head until I get a text from Chanda, asking if I wanna meet up when she gets off work. After that, the only thing I can picture are the white jeans she wore when we met last night for tea.

***

Greg stays out all weekend, fuming. While he’s gone I ask Chanda if she knows anyone who can help me move. She comes over in mom jeans and a baggy tee shirt, her friend Rebekah in tow. Rebekah has a sharp, curving nose that almost seems to pin down her extra-wide grin. She has frizzy blond hair that she keeps tied back.

Abhay swings by once everything’s boxed up, and he packs the U-Haul trailer like he does it for a living. He’s tall and athletic and I try not to feel too competitive. He’s a nice guy, eager to heft the heaviest items and joking around while he works. He never seems to sweat or lose his breath. I can see why Chanda likes him so much.

They’re clearly in love. They’re not engaged but obviously they will be one day. Their families would love it if they wound up together. She pretends otherwise, but tradition is important to Chanda. Both are first-generation kids, both have family hailing from the same province. He gets her in a way I couldn’t.

When we take a lunch break Abhay rides with Chanda to pick up food. Rebekah and I sit on the porch, drinking light beer and arm wrestling. She beats me every time. I want to keep going, long after the break is over and we’ve all eaten. I’d like to focus on anything other than the private jokes Abhay and Chanda share.

***

The apartment looks a lot more spacious now that everything’s arranged. Chanda had to do most of it. Greg was always the housekeeper when we were together.

I get an excited text from her before I head out: “TELL. ME. EVERYTHING.”

Rebekah’s already ordered a round when I find her at a back table. Her hair’s down. It’s less frizzy than I remember it. She has glasses on, thick black-framed jobs. Her huge grin gets wider as we drink. Hours later, while we’re playing darts, I think over and over about us drinking light beer, and her beating me at arm wrestling. I’m still thinking about it that night, when I go to sleep.

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Long Hair

old man

 

The nurse is very pretty, with a curly ponytail that spins above her head at the slightest movement. She has dimples and she smiles a lot, and nurse’s training has given her an ass that Jonah wills himself not to notice.

“Is this your regular job?” she asks him, as he arranges the meal brought in for Mr. Jeffries.

“Part-time,” he shrugs back. He’s in a polo shirt, a garment that either makes you look fat or chiseled. “All I can find, really. You know,” he smirks, “put my degree to work and all.”

She laughs. “No one ever ends up doing what they planned, I think. I was gonna be a singer.” She laughs again.

“I can tell,” he says, hearing her.

She’s tan enough he doesn’t see her blush. “Call if you need any help,” she tells the babysitter. “His daughter says she’ll be back in a couple hours.”

“I promise not to murder the man.”

“Well let’s not make promises we can’t keep.” A wink, and she’s gone.

Jonah pulls the tray closer to Mr. Jeffries, who pushes it back. “You sure you don’t want any?” Jonah asks. The beef stroganoff is fragrant with hopeless seasoning.

“No.”

“There’s soup. Chicken and broccoli.” Jonah tips the bowl to show him. Jeffries tilts his head as high as the neck brace will let him. His eyebrows dart up in appraisal, looking like defensive porcupines. Finally he shakes his head.

“You want me to at least open your Dr. Pepper?”

Jeffries chuckles, an act reliant on silent jerks. “I hope you don’t earn your living in sales.”

Jonah nods. “You and I both, Mr. Jeffries.”

“I knew a guy in sales,” Jeffries says. “Back in Murfreesboro. Real good at his job. Brought home good money for the day.” He stares up at the blank television, nods. “Nice hair, too. You hardly see nice hair anymore.”

Jeffries reaches for a blanket near his chair. Jonah wheels the tray away, out of the way.

“You got pretty good hair,” Jeffries tells him. “Long.”

Jonah consciously touches his ponytail. “Oh, yeah. Had it like this since high school.” He grins.

“I used to keep mine pretty shaggy.” Jeffries settles into the blanket as Jonah draws it to his shoulders. “But back then men didn’t keep long hair. I guess mine got a bit too long for people’s taste.”

“Oh yeah?”

Jeffries nods, or maybe just has brief trouble keeping his head up. “Yup. Guy threw a bottle at me over it once.”

“No!”

“Yup. You know, it just wasn’t how men wore it then.” He smiles. “My wife liked my hair long. That was before we dated, though. Time she told me, fellas were growing it out long as they like.”

“You too?” Jonah asks.

“No. No. I never did. Just let it get shaggy that one time”

“I see.”

“It was different back then, ya know. Weren’t like it is now.”

“True. Those were volatile times, it sounds like.”

Mr. Jeffries straightens, huffs a laugh. “I don’t know about that. Just different. Weren’t bad times. Met my wife.”

“That sure counts for something.”

“It sure does. Counts for a lot.” The fall left Mr. Jeffries’ face bruised and swollen. When he smiles his lips curl back off prominent canines. With his face so puffy looks like a cat with no whiskers when he smiles. The smile slips, though, after a minute.

“Weren’t easy, being married to me,” he mumbles, eyes closed. His head bobs. “Weren’t easy.”

He’s quiet a moment, then jerks up, blinking, waking back up.

“How’d you meet your wife, Mr. Jeffries?” Jonah asks. He’s fair-skinned, milky in the sunlight from the window. His blond hair shines like gold.

“We were at a bar.” He weakly throws his hands in the air, as if to say “What do ya want?” “I was trying to buy drinks for her sister and I spilled my beer on her.” They both laugh. “She let me clean her up, and then a few years later we met up again. I asked if I could spill another drink on her. She told me I didn’t need excuses to get at her. And, you know…eventually I did.” He winks. “That alright to say around you?”

Jonah shrugs and smiles. “Sure, Mr. Jeffries. You won’t get any judgment from me.”

“You’re a good kid,” Jeffries says. “You’re alright.”

“I appreciate that, sir.”

Jeffries smiles his cat-smile. “Yeah, we touched a lot for a while. Then I figured, you know, I wanted to marry her. And she kept me. Couldn’t have been easy.” He winks at Jonah again. “But she liked my hair a whole lot, so maybe that helped.”

Jonah smirks. “And you never grew it back for her.”

“No, no. Never did. Couldn’t, you know. Folks might find out.”

“Yeah,” Jonah nodded. “Long hair was kind of radical in those days, I guess.”

Jeffries raises his eyebrows and nods. His blanket falls to his lap as he shifts in place. Jonah pulls it back up for him.

“It was hard then. And…I wasn’t good to her. I loved her, though. I really did.” His eyes get watery, but he doesn’t actually cry. “She’s been dead now twenty years,” he says, more to himself than anyone.

“I’m sorry.”

“Me too.” Mr. Jeffries just looks at his feet, the poly-cotton blanket bunched around them. “I did love her, though. Just not like I shoulda. She should’ve had better.”

Jonah is tactful enough not to comment.

“It was different then, though. You couldn’t say anything. Not about that.”

“It’s hard to say how you feel,” Jonah sympathizes. “I’m sure she knew.”

“She did.” Jeffries nods. “Eventually she did. Stayed with me anyway, though.”

The quiet moment is a turning motor.

“You couldn’t say it out loud back then,” Jeffries says again. “Not like it is today. You couldn’t tell anyone. You just…had to feel something else. Something alright to say out loud.”

He looks over at Jonah, at caring muscle tempered by cooling generations.

“I loved her though. Not the way I shoulda but…eventually.”

He runs a hand over a head covered in patches of gristly gray hair.

“Man’s name was Tom.”

“Who?”

“Fella from Murfreesboro. The salesman.”

“Oh, yeah.”

Jeffries nods. “He had nice hair too. Said he really liked mine. Back when I had it.”

He looks over at Jonah. “That alright to say around you?”

Jonah nods, and fixes his blanket. “Yeah, Mr. Jeffries. It’s no problem.”

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Summer Dress

summer dress 2

 

She and I have both gotten kind of drunk, and we spend most of the walk back to my place stumbling against each other. We do our best to navigate the sidewalk out of the corner of our eyes while we kiss. Her blue-green summer dress feels smooth against my hands. In the heat it makes me think of water.

We stumble through the front door, and I have to stretch out my arm to set the lock while she pushes me deeper inside. I very nearly fall on my ass as we make our way down the hall, and a couple of times she steps on my feet. She’s already undoing the buttons on my shirt, and when we fall onto the mattress I pull my arms from my sleeves and yank down the straps of her dress.

We roll over, and I peel the dress off her, kissing my way down as I go. Her pale thighs clench and shake as I make my way down her legs. The dress slips past her red flats with a whisper. I reach overhead and slide her panties down until they join the dress.

Her fingers are working their way through my hair. She runs one leg back and forth against the crotch of my pants. I tease between her legs with the tip of my nose. She gives a small moan through her heavy breathing.

The gaff is such a small, thin thing. The strings that hold it in place are so fine they’re almost invisible in the dark. The patch at the front is a slim rectangle of black satin. The garment holds tight to her, so tight it’s practically a tattoo.

When I pull it down everything stays in place. She’s turned on but she’s had practice keeping everything under control in case of arousal. Now she reaches down and works a lavender nail inside, slowly rocking her wrist until her finger is in to the middle knuckle. She hooks it and pulls it back out, and her cock and scrotum unfold from her. It’s almost like it’s blooming. I think of rosebuds, and the imagery makes me smile and give a small chuckle.

I feel her tense up. “What?” she asks.

“Oh, just,” I grin and chuckle again. “It made me think of a flower.” I laugh and imitate the motion with my hands. I lower my head to go down on her but she slides away from me, crawling backwards until she’s on the edge of the bed. Her thighs are crossed, and the gaff hangs between her knees.

Now it’s my turn to ask: “What?”

She just sits there, looking hurt. She covers her chest with one arm, and scoops up the bra she threw off with the other.

“Maybe we shouldn’t,” she tells me. She runs a hand across her face, down each cheek.

“Why not?”

“If you’re not comfortable.”

“I’m totally comfortable.”

She looks unconvinced. “No. We really don’t have to. It’s okay.” She slips the bra on and fastens it, then runs her hand across her face again.

“Hey, what is this?” I crawl across the bed to her, but she turns around. I scoop her hair off her neck and kiss her shoulder. She slides away from me a bit, tucks herself, and pulls on the gaff before getting up. The strings are so fine she looks bottomless from behind.

“You’re clearly not comfortable,” she says as she walks over to her dress.

“Of course I’m comfortable. Babe!” I get up to follow. “I wasn’t laughing at you, I swear! I was just happy. I was enjoying myself!”

She slides on her panties and picks her dress up. Earlier the feel of it made me think of water. Now, in the moonlight, it looks as though she’s dangling a small wave from her hands.

I come up to her and try to pull her close, but she squirms away from me. She flicks the dress, then slides it on overhead. She runs a quick hand across her face again, and it’s only just now occurred to me why she’s doing that. She’s checking.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you self-conscious.”

“I’ll just call you tomorrow. It’s okay.”

“No, it isn’t! You know that doesn’t actually bother me, right?”

She finishes adjusting her dress, then squints and dabs at each eye with her fingertips. Her breath hitches and she ducks her head so her black hair hides her face. She bounces on her heels in frustration, the flats making a hollow slap against the wood floor.

“I just…” She takes a moment before finishing her thought. “Can I please just have a second?”

I leave her to it, closing the door and making my way to the kitchen. It’s probably best I leave anyway. I’m boiling mad now, and feeling, as most bullies do, like I’m being treated unfairly. I need to cool off before I make things worse.

I’m halfway through a glass of ice water before she comes out. She finds her clutch by the sofa, then turns and finds me sitting in the kitchen. She’s quiet for a long moment.

“I’m sorry,” she says, and she sounds so small when she says it I just want to jump off a bridge.

“You don’t have anything to be sorry for,” I admit.

She runs her fingers through her hair, touching her cheek each time. “Can I call you tomorrow?”

“No. I’ll call you.” Because I just can’t resist the urge to be a victimized son of a bitch. Of course the comment hurts her, worries her. I can see her eyes widen a little, her pout deepen a little. Jesus Christ, haven’t I hurt her enough already?

I let the quiet hang there until she lets herself out. I wait a few minutes before slamming down my glass and grabbing my keys. I run out after her, racing to where she’s walking, already a block away. I have this half-baked idea to offer her a ride, but it’ll probably devolve into me just begging her to come back inside. I’m still in my undershirt. I never closed my fly. I see her under a streetlight. The image of her walking alone makes me want to stop, fall down, and cry, but instead I wave my arms and I call her name. I’m desperate to catch her, and even more desperate to hold on.

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Queer Exchange

fuzzy crash screen

 

We’re scrambling tonight. An idiot coworker changed the register password. I can’t blame him for that. The system forces us to every three months as a security measure. What I can blame him for is the hopelessly idiotic neglect he’s shown by not telling a single fucking person that he changed the password. No one can reach him, and the owner texts saying he’s on the phone with IT.

“I’m on hold now,” is what he actually texted. Then another text, forty minutes after the last one: “Still on hold.”

One poor woman with a cart full of groceries patiently waits for us to tally her amount by hand, and pays with cash. She’s extremely cool about it. Our apologies are answered with a casual “It’s no problem,” and she tells us she’s just grateful we let her in through the back exit, sparing her a walk through the alley to the front door. She ducks back out the same way on her way back to her apartment.

The next guy isn’t so understanding. I hate this guy, and lately it’s gotten harder for me to hide my displeasure whenever he’s in the store. He’s a fucking throwback, one of those gays who insists on endorsing every effete stereotype that society likes to hoist on the rest of us. He’s whiny and rude and self-absorbed. We’re a small produce shop but he complains when we don’t carry prices or merchandise found at Kroger. He’s a twelve year old in a gay fat man’s body, and I can’t stand him.

I think he can read my disdain on my face. I tell him our system is down and ask him if he’s comfortable writing down his card information. He tells me he’s not, which is understandable, and I apologize. What throws me, though, is his attempt to hand me his card immediately afterward.

“So, you want me to write down your info?” I ask him.

“No! No, I’m not comfortable with that.”

“Oh. Well, I’m sorry, sir, our system’s down…”

“Well WHEN IS IT GOING TO BE UP?” He gives me a glare I would almost call evil, but he’s such a priss I can’t help but think of it as bitchy. It’s weird, how prissy he is. The guy’s a head taller than me and outweighs me by a good seventy pounds.

“I don’t know, buddy. It crashed.” I sigh, and tear off some receipt paper. “You can just take your merchandise, and we can take your phone number down and call you to settle the difference at your earliest convenience.”

He notices my irritation, and his mood shifts to apologia. “I’m sorry, I just had an issue lately with my information, and it was a nightmare…”

“I don’t care, sir,” I say, too honestly, of course, but there it is.

“I’m sorry,” he says after a moment, “but do I irritate you?”

“No,” I lie, unconvincingly.

Later, after we close, I stroll down to a bar and get a couple beers. He’s there, of course, because God was the kind of kid who liked kicking puppies.

I sit beside him without realizing it, and it doesn’t dawn on me that he’s there until he notices me and starts talking.

“You seem disapproving of me,” he pushes. “I’m not trying to be catty, but…”

“From one queer to another,” I tell him, hoping to shut this down before I take a few more shots, “you fucking embarrass me. And if somehow you’re not queer, then I still find you embarrassing on a human level.”

“How DARE you call…”

“…myself queer? Fuck you, prissy-pants, you don’t own that goddamn word. You’re a shitty, pampered little asshole, and I don’t want to fucking talk to you.”

“I’m friends with your boss,” he threatens.

“Everyone’s friends with my boss. My boss fucking loves me.”

“And nice play trying to pretend you’re gay. That’s the lamest shield for gay-bashing I’ve seen in a while.”

“I’m not gay, I’m bi,” I correct him. “But I don’t care if you believe that, either. I’d never fuck you, you fuckin’ whale.”

I’m being meaner than is necessary, but fuck him. Fuck him for appropriating me into his definition of himself. Fuck him for using a defining aspect of my humanity as a fucking shield. Fuck him for never carrying cash.

I down two shots of Cutty Sark, one two in a row, and ask for another beer. Something hoppy, something that’ll boil the way my blood is right now. Right now I hate this fucking kid the way I hated the redneck last week, who went on and on about how much he hated queers and Jews, a bizarre double-hitter for a guy like me. In a way I hate this kid more. At least the asshole last week was bold enough to display his evil transparently. This shit hides behind shields. He’s a coward who uses persecution as a blank check to be an asshole. He probably sells it as being “brave.”

I turn to the friend I met there, another bi guy. I kiss him. He’s initially surprised but he gets what I’m doing, and he rolls with it. I hold the kiss a little too long, long enough that the pissy tub of aggravation to my right knows I’m not bluffing.

“I don’t fuckin’ like you,” I tell him when we break. “In point of fact I might fuckin’ hate you. You’re a prissy bitch and you’re every reason I got beaten up every week in high school. You live in the lofts upstairs, and I have to card you when you buy wine. So I know you’re rich, and I know you’re younger than me. I would bet a week’s pay you never got a tooth knocked out in a public school’s locker room because you like kissing boys. I got two fake teeth because my tastes weren’t limited to pussy. So fuck you, and fuck your false outrage.”

I was going to take another shot of Cutty Sark, but I let my temper get a hold of me and I sling it across the asshole’s shirt. The bar has my card in the system and the bartender knows me, so I make peace with the automatic gratuity they’ll charge and I leave, hugging my friend as I go.

“Later man!” he calls, then dives into a conversation with his current girlfriend. Girlfriend, by which I mean he and she fuck now and again.

Outside I come across a young woman I saw earlier in the evening, an attractive kid, a college student. “Oh hey, you work at the store down the block, right?”

“Sure, yeah. Whenever I catch myself behind the register, I mean.” I smile to indicate I was joking, but drunk as I’ve gotten it might just look like a snarl. She smiles a little but she clearly doesn’t get it.

“Hey, um, I actually think you may have rung something up wrong when I got apples there earlier…”

I sigh, and reach into my pocket for a cigarette. There’s a handful of small bills beneath the pack, and I pull them out and throw them on the sidewalk.

“Take the difference out of that,” I say, and walk to the bench on the corner. I light my smoke. My ears are burning and my face feels hot. I sit on the bench and wait for the end of the race between my blood and the booze. The prize goes to whichever burns its way out of my system the fastest.

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