When questing hands found his hips and hot breath blew on the back of his neck, Nathan smiled and shut his eyes to the chaos of the laser lights and strobes. The world slowed down; the techno-house soundtrack faded into the background until he heard nothing but the rush of his heartbeat and the pharmacological cocktail in his bloodstream tangoed with the vodka. He reached behind him and grabbed two handfuls of skinny, denim-clad thighs. Less than half an hour, and Nathan had a taker for the offer he was broadcasting with eyes, mouth, and hips. The interested party was tall and lanky, and that suited Nathan fine. He ground back into the stranger’s groin. Palms slid around to frame Nathan’s fly, fingers pointing south. Nathan’s head lolled side to side on a bony shoulder, and together, Nathan and the stranger began to move.
All around them men and boys jostled for position. It was hard to call it dancing--hard to call it anything but foreplay. A tremulous voice trapped in a corner cage of Nathan’s mind whispered logical nothings that were all but lost beneath the lake of hidden desire and bad drugs. The voice whispered to please, please get out. Please don’t do this. Not again.
“Haven’t seen you around before,” said the stranger in Nathan’s ear. What the hell was that? A pickup? An observation? Fuck that. No talking, no asking, no answering. The only thing worth anything was the doing. Nathan couldn’t have connection, so here, he sought oblivion.
Nathan wondered if he could get through this without seeing the guy’s face at all. Then Nathan was moving, one hand clamped around a narrow wrist as he stalked through the manic throng. He kept his eyes on the easy prize, ignoring the stares, the hazy looks, the licked lips and the bared torsos of glitter gods. The world switch-swayed, and he staggered. Lights and sound streaked by him like banshee ghosts, and Nathan waited until the urge to vomit passed him by. The stranger pressed against Nathan’s side, and Nathan cussed, regaining balance and keeping his death grip on the kid’s arm. He raced for the rear of the club.
Reality slowed again when he found the door leading into the men’s room, and pushed it open with too much force. Wicked red light poured around them. Mirrors ran along the wall, covered in God knew what, and the music was dull so Nathan could hear the sounds of piss hitting porcelain and skin hitting skin in the stalls. He paused, panting and shaking his head. Sweat dripped into his eyes.
“That one,” said the stranger, lower now: a rumble of lust. A finger tipped with a dark-colored nail jabbed toward an open stall, and Nathan got moving, yanking the man along for the ride. A sideways two-step fit their bodies inside a narrow chamber. The slam of a door reverberated in Nathan’s muddled brain. The slide of a lock made Nathan’s cock twitch, and the guy kissed Nathan’s sweaty neck while fumbling to get Nathan’s jeans undone. Standing passive to the onslaught, Nathan read odes to fuckers past written slap-dash on the sticky wall two inches in front of his nose.
“Blow you?” The man got his hand down and around Nathan’s dick, and Nathan’s jaw went slack. His hips started moving of their own accord, and one palm skated for purchase across the grime while the other one reached for his pocket.
“Fuck me,” Nathan ordered, handing back a rubber and single-shot of lube. There was no answer, just breathing and a faster stroke to his cock. The stranger let go and tore open the condom’s packet with his teeth.
“Hurry up.” Nathan rested his forehead on his arm. A moan pierced his ears--from behind him, from next to him, from hell or heaven or who knew--and Nathan shuddered.
The stranger hesitated. “Could you?”
“Goddamn it,” Nathan groused, though he shouldn’t complain. It was just that Nathan was having troubling blinking and standing at the same time. He fumbled but managed to shove his pants down to his thighs, presenting his ass, and his hole spasmed so hard, he bit back a whine. God, he needed this. May not want it. May not like it. But need it, he did.
Spreading his legs and bracing for balance with one hand, Nathan reached back to grab a covered cock. Mr. Hesitant was full and eager, not so large but not so small. An average dick for an average asshole.
“Come on,” Nathan said, pulling and guiding. Mr. Hesitant slapped his palm next to Nathan’s hand on the partition. Dark hair covered the stranger’s skin, and he had nice, well-formed fingers, short nails with chipped polish, and the stamp for the club was smeared on his wrist, right below a bracelet made of skulls. Mr. Hesitant was a young, goth-geek type. Excellent.
“Jesus.” A grunt and Mr. Hesitant’s tip was against Nathan, a gasp--his, theirs, Nathan didn’t know--and hips rolled, pushing. The latex was slippery, and Mr. Hesitant took it easy on Nathan. The film of slick and the caution were enough, but Nathan stared at the concrete floor and made a horrible noise of pain behind pressed lips. It had nothing to do with what Mr. Hesitant was doing to his ass and everything to do with what Nathan’s craving for destruction was doing to his mind.
“All right?” Mr. Hesitant panted.
Nathan snapped a sharp nod. He shifted, adjusted, accepted at a high price, and a hand steadied and smoothed over his lower back to rest on his side.
“Shit, tight.” Mr. Hesitant’s forehead dug between Nathan’s shoulder blades.
The music changed, and a riff of dissonance rendered it nearly impossible to hear Mr. Hesitant at all. Nathan thought the stranger said something else, and murky voices deep within Nathan wanted to make the douche stop speaking and start slamming, but the length inside Nathan finally sank, and the shadowy desires scattered.
“Oooh, fuck off and fuck me.” Nathan must have said that louder than he thought, because someone on the other side of the stall cackled.
“Go to hell,” Nathan said, too quietly for anyone to hear, and then nothing mattered because the guy behind him started to give Nathan what he craved, and Nathan didn’t give a shit about anything but getting off with another man’s cock inside him.
Fingers dug into Nathan’s flesh. “Oooh, yeah,” the man moaned, angling and making Nathan want to let go of the noises he held trapped in his throat. Nathan turned his head and bit into his own arm, muffling breath and need, and he reached to palm his dick and stroke. He couldn’t help the shudder, and Mr. Hesitant rubbed Nathan’s flank, touching and teasing. It made Nathan want
more than he knew he could, so he grunted and pitched himself backward, meeting the strokes and making them both gasp. Nathan wanted it over, wanted it to last forever, wanted for once not to be such a contra-fucking-diction.
“Harder,” Nathan ordered, voice so rough that it sounded like he’d been crying. He hated and burned at the same time, but Mr. Hesitant obeyed the command. With a sigh of relief, Nathan stroked himself faster, and on it went: gasping, cursing, holding air, letting it go, bodies meeting one another. Urinals flushed, the music changed pulse, and Nathan’s breathing hitched.
“Fuck,” choked the man behind, inside, against him, and Nathan wanted to kill Mr. Hesitant for getting off so easy and so fast. Like this was a piece of cake, a normal night. For a second, Nathan saw himself from the stranger’s point of view: Nathan’s broad back, wet blond hair, straining form. To the other man, Nathan was a sweet offer in a dirty room after a quick round on the dance floor. Simple. So damned simple.
Then there were lips on Nathan’s neck, dampening the painful longing and fueling the greedy kind. Teeth bit his earlobe, and the stranger put a hand over Nathan’s on Nathan’s cock. Mr. Not-So-Hesitant-Now slapped Nathan away, and Nathan whimpered when his flesh registered a stranger’s touch and rhythm, helping the light at the end of the tunnel burn brighter.
Nathan almost turned around, but he stopped the impulse. “Shut up,” he wheezed.
“You’re so fuckin’ hot.”
“I said...” Nathan moaned.
The strokes sped up. “Come on.”
shut the fuck
up,” Nathan begged, the words cutting like glass shards in his heart. Self-hate swelled, aimed for Nathan’s underbelly, and threatened to overtake him, but then his dick trumped his brain again, and his eyes squeezed shut.
“Yeah,” the man whispered when Nathan sprayed the wall. The softened cock slid out of Nathan’s body, and Nathan’s legs trembled. They breathed together, frantic and otherworldly. A stall door banged, a high-pitched voice bitched about the price of shots, and in a flash-fire second, Nathan wanted to be home, in bed, with someone he knew and could hold. The ache scorched, the truth incinerating the last shreds of Nathan’s buzz, and then, thank God, Nathan crash-landed on charred, metaphysical earth. Time sped up to match Nathan’s racing heart, and he licked his lips.
“Get out,” Nathan said, forehead pressed against the bend of his elbow.
“Get. Out,” Nathan repeated but with more volume.
Nathan held it together until the door smacked into his side, and he slammed it shut and locked it. Turning and holding up his jeans, Nathan barely managed to catch the back of the commode before he threw up his guts, most of the vomit making it into the bowl.
“Fucking mix.” Nathan spat. He stood hunched and blinking at his own mess, the sequence of events that got him here blurring by his eyes. Standing in his shitty apartment, staring down the temptation of another silent Saturday night, and all be damned, but it hadn’t even been Nathan’s conscious choice to grab his gym bag and throw in some clothes. Pulling open the sock drawer, lifting the false bottom, and snatching up the plastic baggie full of pills he’d sworn a thousand times never to use again, Nathan was out of body, checked out, thank you much, and then he was driving west on I-40, heading out of Knoxville, Tennessee, and aiming for Nashville. It was no New York, but it was bigger and easier to become a random guy checking into a Holiday Inn Express. Another sucker looking for a high, Nathan broke open pills and snorted lines off the granite bathroom countertops. Under the flickering fluorescent, Nathan’s blue eyes had been demon clawed with red.
Then there’d been driving he shouldn’t have done, parking that’d been a miracle of mechanics and straight lines, getting through the door, and sitting at the bar with Reason and Better Sense, who made piss-poor companions. He had no defense. Sometimes the urge to escape beat him down so hard that there was no other option but to curl into the fetal position and promise anything if only it would stop tearing open his insides.
He hated himself for giving in, but he hated the hatred too. Being crazy felt like the real Nathan. The Nathan who went to work Monday through Friday, sat in his office, took meetings, went to the gym with his friends, and waded through the bullshit of the mundane--that guy was a pussy. That guy was an illusion built on habit and practice, and he was getting more indistinct by the day.
The Nathan curled up between a stall wall and a toilet in some club while high and recently fucked by a kid who might or might not have been even legal? Now that
guy was obviously the better man. Nothing said upstanding, righteous citizen like emotional repression, illegal drugs, and meaningless sex.
Nathan spat, shivering now. Someone banged on the door, and Nathan ignored it as he wiped his mouth on the shoulder of his too-tight T-shirt. His ass felt raw and his dick sticky. His body ached, and his stomach churned. He could always lie down right here and sleep forever. They could mount a sign on the wall over his head:
HERE LIES NATHAN THE ASSHOLE. LAST FAKE STRAIGHT MAN STANDING
Yeah, well, more like crawling, but maybe they’d give him the benefit of the doubt. Nathan weakly chuckled and got his clothing together. He snorted when he thought about how Laura would kill him for taking such risks. Nathan’s laughter became manic as he unlocked the door and wove his way through the bathroom and beyond. He staggered through the rippling tide of bodies. The youth in the faces startled him. God, when had they all turned into children?
Nathan got past the bouncer and greeter at the front door, and a chilly, autumn breeze licked his skin once he stepped into the after-midnight air. It took him entirely too long to find his black Corvette coupe, longer still to make the key work. He had no idea how long he sat in the seat with the doors locked, fogging the glass with his breathing.
The panic started to set in. That swift wave of, Oh God, what have I done
always followed Nathan’s anonymous nights on the town. He was getting less and less careful. Sure, he was in another city, but Nathan remembered when he used to do this shit only after a flight out of state. His job often sent him alone and packing for long weekends, and Nathan would take advantage. He’d lose control once every quarter, not once a month, and never so close to his own turf. If there was one thing Nathan knew for sure, it was that the world was always a smaller place than one thought, especially if one had something to hide.
Nathan gulped and thanked God that he had no idea who’d just fucked him. If a strange kid cornered Nathan on the street and tried to say anything to Nathan at all, Nathan could be genuinely confused. Say I don’t know you
and mean it.
Because Nathan didn’t get wasted, lose control, or fuck guys.
Oh no. That wasn’t like Nathan Hunt at all.
* * * *
Nathan’s cell phone started to ring at almost the exact same time as the alarm clock started to screech. To add insult to injury, the hotel phone lit up and clanged with his scheduled wake-up call, and Nathan flailed at the sheets and got tangled in the covers. He was naked, his belly was splattered in dried patches marking masturbation of yesternight, and the adrenaline rush sent him straight across the hotel’s floor and into the cubicle of a bathroom to dry heave.
“Awesome,” Nathan croaked to the porcelain god.
Mercifully, the ringing noises stopped after a couple of minutes, and Nathan sat sprawled on the tiles until he could stand. His head felt like it’d been repeatedly clubbed with a spiky board, and everything hurt like he had the flu. Sweet baby Jesus. What the hell had Duke given him this time?
Not wanting to contemplate the trickster tendencies of drug dealers, Nathan began the second phase of his morning-after routine: the shower. He climbed into the tub, shivering, and took a deep breath. He turned on the water, leaving it icy cold, and let out a whispered scream of protest. He endured, cock and balls trying to sprint to warmer climes, and slowly but surely, he warmed the temperature until it was scalding. He tore open two bars of hotel soap and used up both of them, scrubbing his skin. He paid particular attention to his hind end, trying to wash away both any microscopic traces of guilt as well as the haunting memory of how good the guilt had felt in its making.
When the scouring was finished, Nathan gave himself another blast of frozen water and got out of the bathtub entirely too awake. He dried off, threw on clean clothes, and was shoving his feet into his shoes when his cell rang again.
It was Laura. Shit. This likely wasn’t good. Nathan answered the phone. “Hi, honey.”
“Don’t you fucking honey
me,” Laura snarled.
“Would you prefer sugar?”
“Where are you?” Laura demanded, ignoring Nathan’s poor humor. She usually did.
“Running errands,” Nathan said in case Laura was standing in his empty apartment and noting his absence.
“Errands? You have got to be-- Look, drop whatever it is you’re doing and get over to-- Oh, is our table ready, Daddy?” Laura’s voice changed midstride from Satan Woman to Angelic Cherub.
“Yes, this is Nate. He says he’s not feeling well.” A pause and then Laura’s tinkling laughter scraped Nathan’s raw nerves. “Daddy says you’d better be in top shape by Monday morning for your meeting.”
“Tell him I’ll try to explain to my guts that they can’t slither out my asshole while I’m on the clock.”
“Aw,” Laura cooed. “He says, ‘Yes, sir!’” Laura reported to her father, and Nathan knew Gregory Moore had moved out of earshot and on to the readied table because Laura’s voice regained its normal, cut-the-nonsense tone. “You owe me, bitch.”
“Usually,” Nathan said, but Laura had hung up. Nathan flopped onto the bed. He stared at the ceiling trying to connect the dots and finally gave up. He picked up his phone, slid through screens to get to his schedule, saw an alert, an alarm, and a notation. It read: LUNCH WITH FAMILY MOORE, RIDGES CLUB, SUNDAY, NOON.
“Well...shit.” Nathan covered his eyes with his hands. He pressed the heels into the sockets until he saw white, and then he got up. There was no way to make good on his mistake today, and the fact that he’d made such a grave oversight was more disturbing than he wanted to contemplate. It occurred to him that he might not be coming
unhinged. He might already be unscrewed, taken out back, and set on the burn pile waiting for the match.
Checkout was a breeze, and Nathan opted to keep the radio and his iPod off and make the drive in silence. He stopped and got himself a ginger ale to soothe his guts, and as the miles flew by, the urge to rush back to his other life dwindled. A flashback of the night before rose like bile to haunt him, but it wasn’t of the sex or the dance or the drugs or drink. He remembered being curled up and dying to be at home with someone who wanted to take care of him. With someone for whom Nathan wanted to return the favor.
Did all men secretly want that, or was it only his sorry ass?
It wasn’t exactly the desire expressed in locker rooms or road trips with the buddies. No, those wants had less to do with the cuddle and more to do with the cock. Nathan wasn’t immune to those demands either, as the evidence definitely would show, but damn did feeding that beast sometimes feel shallow.
That was probably the come-down talking.
Nathan wasn’t even sure what he meant by “take care of” anyway. He knew it involved holding. Beyond that, though, Nathan was at a loss. All those chick flicks he’d watched over the years, and none of the lessons had stuck.
Nathan had never been the closet queer who dreamed of weddings. He had a hard enough time admitting he was gay at all. Thirty-one years of living, and he had no idea how to deal. Most days he tried to ignore it; the tactic had worked for a long time. Sure there were battles with depression and anger, but didn’t everybody have those? In Nathan’s experience, most people were pretending to be something they weren’t. Hence the rising demand for Prozac.
Mood-altering drugs hadn’t done anything for Nathan, though. His self-hatred had gotten worse and worse. It was especially bad after he finally caved in to the inevitable man-on-man fuck, and Nathan had read enough self-help manuals to know succumbing to his needs made him angry because it reminded him that he couldn’t meet them all the time. Or, maybe even worse, that he was choosing not to meet them all the time. Talk about a recipe for feeling powerless and weak.
The whole nasty spiral was responsible for the wreckage Nathan had made out of his life, but the longing he’d been feeling lately wasn’t like the one that came with wishing for the probably-not-simpler straight, clean life. It wasn’t a straight-versus-gay thing. Maybe all people craved a kind of forgiving affection. The kind that wouldn’t condemn anybody for making mistakes, even if someone made them over and over again. Every time a person would swear he’d learn, and the person who loved him would believe it.
Nathan’s mama had been like that on her good days. When Mama had found Nathan and a boy from Sunday school at First Revival Baptist Church in the bathroom with their cocks out, but not for pissing, she’d hauled him out by the scruff of his neck and shaken him until he promised never to do anything like that again. Nathan had sworn, his mother had hugged him, and she said they wouldn’t bother Nathan’s dad about the incident.
But when his father had caught Nathan and a boy from the basketball team in the driveway out back behind their trailer, forgoing the task of changing the oil in Daddy’s Thunderbird for a little tongue action, he’d put Nathan’s head through the double-wide’s siding.
Mama and Daddy always did have a difference of opinion on what would make Nathan more of a man.
After Nathan’s ears had stopped ringing and the concussion subsided, he’d promised his mother, yet again, that he would stop trespassing into Satan’s garden of temptation. He’d also promised himself he’d stop getting caught by people who’d rather see him dead than see him honest.
Maybe that was the crux of it: truth. The special sauce in the holding, sex, forgiveness thing that Nathan could admit he wanted when drugs and circumstances tore away all his shields and walls and left him bare-ass up to the search light. Scary stuff, truth. All it’d gotten him so far in life was his brains knocked around, his jaw unhinged, and his whole body once very publically fired from a high school fast-food job. Turned out, the manager’s innuendo had been rhetorical in nature. The guy was even farther in the closet than Nathan, and he had made an example out of Nathan in front of a dining room full of Nathan’s classmates.
Perhaps he was doing it wrong, this truth business. Telling it to the wrong damned people. Nathan chuckled. Well, obviously, but in his defense, it wasn’t like he had much by way of recent comparison. Nathan couldn’t remember the last time he’d opted to tell the truth instead of a lie.
Such thoughts led him straight to Laura and Monday’s meetings at the office. Nathan was glad for the drive. It gave him time to get all this crazy thinking out of his system so he could get back to surviving his life.
Nathan came out of the mountains and merged onto the roads toward home, his foot heavy on the accelerator and his radar detector working overtime.