Kiss Me And Know My Sorrow

         I dislike small talk. My past consisted of encounters in which I approached a man and made it plain I wanted him inside me. I was new to the gay scene in Tyler, shocked a modest city in the middle of East Texas concealed these gregarious, slightly dim-witted men.

         Marcus had invited me to his apartment before the actual party at Stefan’s house. Plates of tuna-smeared crackers floated among the dozen or so men alongside red wine in clear plastic cups. I made an effort to sip, not gulp. In the kitchen, someone polished dishes and hummed a tune I didn’t recognize.

         His name was Edwin and he’d been stealing glances since my arrival. He was cute, not handsome. Distinct difference. A little plump, but his cheeks had an appealing roundness. His blue eyes sparkled like discovered gems. I feared he might be dumb. Catching him each time, I smiled and stiffly nodded.

         As time passed, I drank more quickly. I asked Marcus for a fourth glass. Were the other men feeling a buzz? I didn’t know them well enough to ask. I peeked down the hall and glimpsed Edwin preening before a mirror. I find gay vanity disconcerting. If a man takes longer to primp than my mother, I cross him off my list. He’s welcome to fuck me, but I consider nothing beyond simple ass-pounding. Still, Edwin’s delight intrigued me. Imagine the joy when a new shirt flatters your shoulders or chest? I stared so intently that a younger man with wispy blonde hair was shouting my name before I heard. He asked if I knew some random local fag. I explained I was new in town. Well, not completely new. More like a refugee from the big, bad city. I needed somewhere safe and familiar. I came home because nowhere else would have me. I didn’t tell the whole sob story to the blond, only some of it.

         No one knew I’d left Houston because some fucking bastard made it clear my reputation would vaporize if I didn’t haul ass out of town. I blame myself. I thought dating a guy so connected socially, who exchanged flirtatious smiles and gestures with a stream of passing men, and who strolled into the newest nightclubs before I knew they’d opened—I was so invested in adoring this power, the fucking bastard became an afterthought. Our relationship derailed, and I simply watched the cars leap the tracks. When he finally sat me down for a chat, I was relieved. I could stop speculating how he’d ditch me. I never expected him to blackmail me into finding a new area code. Tyler was too provincial of a city to spawn a faggot so omnipotent.

         The welcome warmth from the wine bloomed within me as the gathering broke up. The men headed toward their cars, some speculating who might show up at the real party. Most of these men were attractive, at a passing glance. It had been over a month since I’d felt a dick inside me. I crossed my legs and gazed about the room. Only Marcus and Edwin remained, both in the kitchen, giggling and teasing. Feeling abandoned, fearing it an omen, I slid into the kitchen and began laughing with them, as if I knew the joke. Marcus blushed when he noticed me and excused himself.

         Edwin and I stood no more than three feet apart. He was an inch or two shorter than I was. Typically, I prefer very tall men. That fucking bastard was just a breath below six and half feet. It thrills me to tilt my head toward heaven just for a kiss. Edwin asked me if I knew Stefan. Small talk, I hate small talk. I asked him what song he’d been humming but he didn’t remember. He smiled, lips full and moist like a peach slice. My sexual past reads like a sports page, but I still believe in the sanctity of a first kiss. If it goes wrong, you may never establish momentum. I wondered if Marcus had left in order to facilitate this moment. Perhaps Edwin asked him to disappear once I made a move. I advanced two steps, but that wasn’t enough. I refused to move again—he needed to show initiative. His eyelids fluttered and his mouth parted. I feared he might stick out his tongue before reaching my lips. Nothing is worse than a man who can’t keep his tongue restrained until your mouths connect.

         The kiss lasted perhaps fifteen seconds. His tongue slipped across my teeth. I didn’t detect a hint of aggression, no subconscious need to “claim” me as his new property. I wondered if he was happy, not just now but generally. How many weeks before he realized that once I feel secure with a man, I start to forget him? Our lips finally parted. I tasted salt. I’m sure he tasted wine. I had already pledged myself to a man before arriving at the real party. What if I found someone truly handsome, not just cute? Someone thinner? A kiss doesn’t obligate you for the night. Of course, maybe no man would enter my orbit, too timid to approach the new faggot on the scene. Edwin gazed at me with those bright, innocent eyes. I managed a low laugh and suggested discretion in case Marcus returned. Edwin sighed and tilted his head, told me Marcus likely hid behind the door. He listened to us like a mother does as her daughter and her date murmur softly, venturing into the dark.

         I drove alone to the party. Marcus offered a ride, but I wanted my vehicle ready in case my uneasiness proved too much. I glanced at the directions on the passenger seat. This section of Tyler was foreign to me, out past the Loop 323, beyond the car dealerships. Not precisely rich, but decidedly affluent. Parking a half-block away, I’d hoped to slip into a crowd perhaps gathered in the backyard. A young man no more than twenty opened the front door after I knocked, took me in with disdain, then swiftly turned his back. The door remained open in his wake. Briefly, I imagined that young man’s appearance once he hit his sixties, his seventies. Lose your beauty and find your compassion, my grandmother often said.

         I looked for Marcus and Edwin. What else could I do? Years of working the bars taught me stealth in appraising a crowd of men as it appraised me in return. Back home, their looks reminded me of a fat child promised a slice of cake. But here the mostly younger men remained in tight clumps of three or four, eyes narrowed to slits, chins lifted and postures stiff. It embarrassed me that I found this surprising. Sure, one might assume gay men trapped in rural hell might band together, make overtures to a new arrival. But these men were East Texans first, faggots a distant second. The clannish instinct sprang forth as if I’d invaded a Sunday sermon wearing hot pants and body glitter. I raised my hand in a pathetic wave, weakly spun around then asked about my friends. I didn’t say their names, forcing these assholes to ponder the fact I’d arrived with moral support. “Marcus and Edwin went outside,” a young man muttered. They must’ve been eager to jump into Stefan’s hot tub, I thought.

         A swank house, a seemingly endless supply of booze, a hot tub—Stefan had to be well into his middle years. I knew this without meeting him. If a homosexual enjoys financial success in his youth, he usually squanders it, keeping younger fags at his command. Thankfully, my demoralizing job Walgreen’s would never burden me with wealth. All gathered upon a wooden deck, over a dozen men circled the hot tub. I couldn’t tell if anyone simmered in the water. I heard Edwin’s voice, however, surprised to recognize it so soon after learning it. He vowed to kiss any man brave enough to hop in the tub naked. No doubt, Stefan’s neighbors heard him, too. Kiss him where, came a smart-ass reply. The men’s laughter muffled Edwin’s response.

         Edwin might be drunk. Stoned, maybe. A joint sounded heavenly. I dreaded the search for a drug connection in this town. Always a tedious chore. After drifting toward the hot tub, I peered between two taller men’s shoulders. Edwin balanced on the tub’s rim, his feet dangling in the water, producing myriad bubbles with each kick. To my surprise, all the men seemed amused by his antics. It hadn’t occurred to me Edwin might be popular, that I might have to fend off other men to keep him beside me. Stroking his arm, Edwin purred for an older man to find him a swimsuit. The older man rolled his eyes but smiled. “Please, Stefan,” Edwin asked again. Aha! I meet our host at last! Edwin continued his spiel. I promise to run behind the house when I change. I made a no-nudity clause with my new friend, he said, and fixed me with his gaze. Edwin had seemed too busy to notice me, but I was now part of the show. Stefan shook his head like an indulgent father and headed for the house. Edwin called out, after him. Get one for my friend, too!

         Stefan returned with two swimsuits, each one with chaotic prints running down its length. Edwin swung his legs over the tub’s rim, swiped the trunks and headed for the property’s back end. I made no effort to accept the trunks Stefan held since I was mesmerized by Edwin’s abandon. He stopped and whipped around, sassy like a runway hopeful. “Hurry up, lover,” he said. “While we’re naked, you can tell me your name.” I studied Stefan’s face as I finally took the trunks from him. He was certainly old, but I could tell he’d once been attractive. Besides, he was rich, so his looks were irrelevant.

         Behind Stefan’s house, the damp ground clung to my sneakers. I didn’t want the filth on my bare feet. Edwin stripped off his cargo shorts with a grace that belied his size then placed his hands on his hips. I had yet to unfasten my pants. Edwin’s cock hung like an evening glove from the hand of a gentleman at the opera. I didn’t know what to say. “You waiting to see me naked?” I asked.

         Edwin chuckled. “Marcus ain’t here to interrupt.” The humor soothed me, snuffed my anxiety with surprising ease. I like a man who makes me smile. That fucking bastard in Houston was celebrated for his wit. I wondered what withering appraisal he’d make now. I peeled off my jeans and held them aloft, unwilling to toss them on the ground. Finally, I slung them over my shoulder. Edwin made no effort to hide his interest in my cock. The only real option left was to reciprocate his attention. We stood silently a whole minute. Edwin never tried to touch me, never spoke. Was he waiting for me to make a move?

         Edwin shook with giggles. He pulled on his trunks, teetered, almost falling. I didn’t move, shocked our stalemate lasted so long and shocked it ended so abruptly. While I remained half-naked behind the house, pants slung over my shoulder, Edwin spoke with the brazen confidence of a prom queen. “If you wanna see more,” he said, “I require sweet talk. Make a boy feel special, you know?” After he left, I glanced at my cock. I should’ve tried to score at least a hand job.

         I spent the next half-hour sitting with Edwin in the hot tub. To my surprise, several of the men made small talk, cracked jokes, flirted enough to make me feel included. Edwin needed another beer and climbed out. Very curious he didn’t pester a pal to fetch it. Of course, I thought. Perhaps Edwin needed to check something indoors. Probably some guy, I thought, unable to keep my doubts submerged. While I zoned out to the bubbles’ chatter, Marcus appeared behind me. He wasn’t smiling. I asked what was wrong.

         “There’s a guy stopping by later,” Marcus said softly, as if I’d asked to peek at presents under a tree. “He’s married. He and Edwin had this thing for about a month before the guy ditched him. He blamed his wife, but coming here blows that excuse straight to hell, ya think?”

         Perhaps Marcus loved Edwin. Perhaps he’d pressed his ear upon the door earlier that night, figuring proximity beats nothing at all. Perhaps he’d confided in me hoping to scare me off. You can’t trust men. Give them a chance to betray you, and they can’t help themselves.

         Marcus withdrew, dismissing me, and remained still. A married man? Was the fucker gay or not? How did Edwin hook up with him? Of course, I’d encountered quite a few closeted men who stayed married while hunting big dick like real faggots. Tyler was too small a community, however, to grant the anonymity such men required. At least, that’s what I’d assumed. I disliked this married man, seducing irrepressible, innocent Edwin and forcing him to live a life of secrets and shame. Marcus gazed about with the solemnity of a bodyguard. I asked him if he’d spotted the loser. He didn’t respond. I sank back into the roiling water. Maybe the asshole wouldn’t show. Maybe Edwin left the safety of his friends for nothing.

         I lost track of time, worried I’d drifted to sleep. A high-pitched cry roused me, brought my shoulders to the surface. The other men heard it, too. We gazed toward the patio door, wondering which guest had caused the commotion. Edwin burst through the crowd and stormed across the backyard, hands clamped over his eyes. His shoulders shook as he moved, and he seemed to have no destination. He neared the hot tub. Standing in the water, I grabbed his arm. “Edwin, what happened? Why are you crying?” His hands fell, revealing eyes already swollen and red. His mouth hung open. “I guess that means Trevor showed his bitch ass after all,” a man behind us muttered. Another guy shushed him.

         Edwin locked my gaze with his. I felt close to him. It seemed only a moment ago he allowed me to behold his plump but pleasant body.

         “He said he loved me,” Edwin gasped, the words barely audible.

         “Who loved you?” I asked.

         “He said he’d get a divorce, let me meet his kids. We had plans!”

         The men circling the hot tub started to migrate. No doubt this gay community was like all others—public outbursts guaranteed you a night alone. Even Marcus had vanished. Edwin still wore his borrowed swim trunks. What an insult, your heart gets broken and even your clothes don’t belong to you. I hopped atop the tub’s rim, motioned him to come closer. He shuffled toward me. I wrapped my arms around him, squeezing more tightly than I intended. This is what gay men should do: take care of the weak, give solace to the wounded. We kissed. Much longer this time. Edwin grabbed my ass with a boldness that surprised me. The other men likely stared, but I can’t recall. We kissed like long-separated lovers, in our borrowed trunks, awkwardly navigating the side of the hot tub between us. When our lips parted, I offered to drive him home. “Take me anywhere, lover,” he replied.

         I’d been convicted twice of drunk driving as an undergrad, so I couldn’t risk the trip after all the wine earlier that night and the booze Stefan kept on tap. I proposed that we get a cab; Marcus would take me to my car tomorrow morning. Edwin assured me his friend wouldn’t object. The married man seemed a distant ghost, vanishing as it drifted toward the moon. When the cab arrived, I opened the back door and placed my hand at the small of Edwin’s back as he climbed in. He acted like this was our routine. As we rode, the cabbie babbled about the upcoming elections and his daughter’s marriage. He stopped mid-sentence, however, when he spied something in the rearview mirror. He peeked over his shoulder. Edwin and I held hands. “You boys are homosexuals, huh?”

         Edwin leaned against my shoulder, eyes closed, either asleep or pretending. “We certainly are,” I said.

         “Ain’t you worried about burning in Hell?” The cabbie continued his impromptu intervention, peppered by my glib retorts. No way Edwin slept through that. Maybe he dealt with misfortune by simply closing his eyes till the unpleasantness reached an end.

         After we exited the car, I walked off without paying. The cabbie bellowed after me, threatened to call the cops. “You’ll find all sorts of boyfriends in county lock-up,” he hissed. I’m an honest person. I never intended to stiff the bigot, just wanted him to sweat it out. I tossed him a twenty and recommended he invest the change toward charm school. As the cabbie pulled away, Edwin asked why some people weren’t nice. “It’s not that hard,” he said. He looked into my eyes as if expecting an answer. I smiled and ruffled his hair. That’s how I’d handle his disappointments: pretend he was a dumb dog needing a moment’s affirmation.

         We made out on my couch for a few minutes. I would have felt sleazy ushering him directly into my bedroom. He made no move in that direction either. Before long, we’d stripped down to our underwear. I have a fetish about underwear. I buy from only one store, a boutique in the queer neighborhood of Dallas. I’d blown twenty-five bucks on a single pair. The one Edwin found after shucking off my jeans featured a vertigo-inducing pattern of hockey sticks, stop signs and crayons. Edwin, on the other hand, sported a simple pair of pale blue boxers, likely bought in a pack with two identical pairs. Probably from Wal-Mart or some other terrible place. Laughing, I ordered him to strip off the offensive garment at once. As he stood naked before me, again, I questioned myself. What did I actually want from him? More importantly, what did he want from me?

         “Follow me,” Edwin whispered and disappeared into my bedroom. He entered as if he knew its layout by heart. This drove me wild with desire. I tugged off my underwear and scampered after him. Either I hadn’t made the bed or Edwin had turned down the covers. It hardly mattered. What snuffed my desire as quickly as frigid water was the position he assumed. He lay face down, nose buried in my pillows. Somehow, his excess weight had found a way to announce itself in the most lamentable places. He tilted his ass upward, hips an inch or two off the mattress. Why not dig a hole in the dirt and order me to fuck it while he naps? The passionate, impulsive boy from Stefan’s and Marcus’s was gone, and this blank-faced supplicant awaited me. I stood and stared. Edwin turned his head, the pillow muffling his words. “You still want me, don’t you, sexy?”

         I did not. I wanted instead to fade into the crowd of smug bastards. There was no crowd, though. Just a lump plopped upon my bed. I couldn’t remember why I chose him. Perhaps he’d chosen me. The one thing more treacherous than my current situation roared through my mind, replayed in my imagination. That fucking bastard in Houston always insisted I take the submissive role during sex. After a few weeks, I learned what moves drove him wild, what whispered vulgarities intensified his thrusts atop me. I hated myself, but I hated him a little more.

         After claiming I was too drunk to get hard, I joked that cuddling could be fun, too. I focused so strenuously on falling asleep, I never noticed if Edwin fell asleep first. It spooks me to know a man watches me dream. Marcus arrived shortly after nine the next morning. I didn’t bother asking Edwin for his number. We rode in silence to Stefan’s house. My car greeted me, still parked five houses from the party site. Stefan’s house seemed plain, unremarkable minus the pulsing crowd of young men. I thanked Marcus. He promised to call before his next cocktail party. I smiled, not certain Marcus had my number. Edwin stared out the windshield. I said goodbye. I said I had fun.

         Edwin looked at me through the window. He reminded me of a used light bulb, a black void behind glass. Depressed beyond words, I backed away in long, graceless steps. Edwin’s gaze followed me. What did he want now? “Sorry you saw me cry,” he said. I swallowed. He continued. “I’m not stupid. I know men hate watching another guy carry on like that. I’m such a goddamn sissy.”

         I called out that he shouldn’t worry. I waved like a damn moron.

         Edwin ran his hand through his hair, looked away for a moment then back at me. “You’re a good guy,” he said. “I keep track of good guys.” He smiled weakly. “Some guys don’t stick around too long, you know?”

         I watched Marcus and Edwin disappear down the street. I made sure their car turned the corner before entering my vehicle. I sat before the steering wheel, hands wrapped around it as if balancing myself. For an indeterminate amount of time, I would be the man who made out with Edwin at some party. The men would learn my name only to utter it in conjunction with his. Maybe I should’ve fucked him. I tried to imagine it. My groin stirred. I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t want to collapse upon the bed and remember how Edwin’s voice cracked calling me sexy.

Thomas Kearnes is a 35-year-old author from East Texas. He is an atheist and an Eagle Scout. His fiction has appeared in PANK, Storyglossia, Night Train, SmokeLong Quarterly, Word Riot, Eclectica, wigleaf, JMWW Journal, Verbicide, 3 AM Magazine, Knee-Jerk, LITnIMAGE and several gay publications. He is a columnist for Flash Fiction Chronicles and a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee.

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