That's how I found myself on a plane to Tampa. I landed in the late afternoon on a Monday, three days after I'd been ordered to take vacation, and took a cab straight to the resort.
The room was nice. It was actually a suite of two rooms, one a combo kitchenette/living room, the other a bedroom with a king-size bed and huge bathroom. It rivaled my little Lower East Side one bedroom in size. Everything was painted salmon pink or palm tree green, but it was Florida. I figured if I had to stay somewhere for two weeks, I could have wound up in a worse spot.
I got settled, took a shower, then went down to the restaurant for dinner. I spent most of the meal ignoring the very attentive waitress and flipping through the travel guide I'd bought at the airport. I hated myself a little bit when I looked up to make sure no one saw me flip to the gay/lesbian section in the back (demarcated by a purple tab, of course) and look at the names of the bars listed. I was never really one to hang out in gay bars--Josh and I had met through a mutual friend--but I needed something to do. The prospect of spending my first night in Florida alone in my room was not a happy one.
After I ate, I got a cab into downtown St. Petersburg and had the cabbie drop me off a few blocks from a place called Shanley's, which, according to the travel guide, was a well-established gay bar with a mellow atmosphere. That sounded about my speed. I knew I couldn't handle dancing and Europop, but mellow I could do. I figured I'd go in, sit at the bar, have a beer, and observe the wildlife.
I hadn't had sex since before Josh died, and I was itching for it, but I told myself I wasn't going to the bar for a random hook-up. I was just going to look.
And I'll admit, as soon as it became clear that Caffity wasn't going to let me out of this imposed vacation, the thought had occurred to me that in Tampa, I could
go out to the gay bars. The few times Josh had dragged me out in New York, I'd been incredibly nervous the whole time, terrified that some other cop would see me and share my secret with the rest of the force. The thing with cops is that a lot of them are homophobic assholes. It didn't seem worth it to me to try to sort out who thought the gay jokes were funny and who laughed to stay part of the club. So I kept my head down and got my job done, and hardly anyone ever asked about my personal life anymore, tired as they were of my cagey answers.
There'd only been one incident, when a beat cop I'd once worked with came into a gay bar in Hell's Kitchen to arrest a drunk and disorderly. And I'd said, “Oh, I'm just here with my friend Josh
”--you know, as in I'm here in the bar
, not I'm with Josh
. The beat cop nodded and ignored me. Josh sometimes chastised me for not being honest about who I was, but he got it. I think that, coming as he did from a family that to this day chooses to adamantly deny that Josh was anything but the straightest man who ever lived, he understood my need to keep my personal life private.
So I'd kept to myself in New York, but there was not a goddamn soul in downtown St. Pete that night who knew who I was. And I was a little horny. Josh was gone. I wanted to look at least.
I walked up the street from where the cab dropped me off and realized that I must have stumbled into a little gay pocket of St. Pete. I passed a bus stop with an ad showing two men embracing. On closer inspection, it seemed to be an ad for a cell phone company; I guess the service provider knew its audience. There were even gay couples holding hands in the streets. I shoved my hands in my pockets.
I went into Shanley's and was immediately greeted with atmosphere so thick with testosterone, you could smell it. Something about that woke up my senses. I smiled to myself as I sat on a stool. While the bartender poured my beer, I looked around. The place seemed crowded for a Monday, and mellow was a pretty good word for it.
Everyone acted pretty laid-back. Four guys played pool in the corner, drinking beer and laughing, a smattering of couples sat at small tables, and there was a lot of checking out and long gazes going around. A lot of attractive men too, I couldn't help but notice. And it was Florida; it had been muggy and in the upper eighties that day, and everyone was wearing as little as possible. I heard the bartender put a mug down on the bar, so I swung around. He grinned at me, then went back to helping other customers. I took a healthy sip of the beer and just sat there for a moment, trying to make myself relax.
“Fancy meeting you here,” said a baritone voice to my right. I figured he was talking to someone else, but I turned my head to glance at him and realized with mild horror that he was talking to me.
Chatting up some guy in a bar was okay in theory, but in practice it was panic inducing.
I took a deep breath and turned my body to get a better look at this guy. He was vaguely familiar, but in that same way that everyone is once enough of your life has passed. He was tall and rangy, with messy dark hair and unnaturally light blue eyes.
At my blank expression, he smiled and said, “Well, you're new.”
I tried to laugh, but I think it sounded more like I choked. “I'm here on vacation,” I said.
He nodded. He ordered a single malt on the rocks, then sat in the stool next to mine. “And how are you enjoying lovely Florida?”
“Fine,” I said. “For the three hours I've been here.”
He laughed. “Well, you didn't waste any time, did you?” Then he glanced around and raised his eyebrows, like he wondered if I understood the reason there were no women in the bar.
“Didn't want to spend the night alone in my hotel room.”
The man looked surprised. “Really? No wife and kids you're hiding from? No boy toy back in your room?”
“Just me,” I said. I smiled, hoping to demonstrate that I did, indeed, know exactly where I was and exactly what I was doing there.
“A solo vacation?”
“My boss thought I was burning out.”
He nodded and didn't pursue it further, for which I was grateful. He looked around, and I thought he'd give up on me. I peered into my glass and noticed that, because I'd been sipping all through this exchange, the beer was nearly gone. I finished the rest in one gulp.
“Can I buy your next round?” the guy asked.
“Uh.” I briefly panicked again. If he was buying me drinks, did that imply something? That he wanted to have sex with me? If I agreed, would he think that I wanted to have sex with him? Maybe I did. Was I ready for that? “Sure, okay.”
I was definitely attracted. He was a little taller and more wiry than the type of man I usually went for--although, who was I kidding? It wasn't like I'd gone for anyone since Josh--but he had a well-sculpted face, and he obviously put some effort into keeping up his appearance: trim body, nice clothes, deliberate-looking stubble. And I couldn't stop looking at his eyes. They were so pale and strange looking, particularly juxtaposed against all that dark hair.
I can't deny that I was intrigued. Then he leaned in close, and I smelled him. It's not a smell that's easy to describe, just something raw and masculine, sweat and musk and, I think, Old Spice. Something about the proximity of his body to mine made me want to touch him, and I felt all those months without Josh acutely, like I'd gone for over a year without even basic human contact.
He got the bartender's attention and ordered us another round. When my second beer was in front of me, he said, “Well, if we're at the drink-buying stage, I feel like we could be on a first-name basis. I'm Harry.”
“Nick,” I said. I was attracted, but I also didn't completely trust this guy.
He extended a hand, and I shook it. He had big hands, hands that made my hands seem small, and his handshake was warm and firm. “It is fantastic to meet you, Nick.” He grinned. “Of all the gay bars in the Tampa Bay area, I'm glad you picked mine.”
I didn't respond. I just drank my beer.
“So what do you think? Should I bring you home, or do you want to just do it in the men's room?”
This prompted me to sputter, although I had already pretty much decided that I wanted to have sex with Harry. The prospect of it both excited and terrified me. “Excuse me?” I said.
Harry laughed. “Oh don't be so prim and proper. A man on vacation alone only comes into a gay bar for one reason. I figured I'd just cut to the chase.”
“Oh,” I said. “Efficient of you.”
He swiveled on his stool so that he faced me. “You're from somewhere north, right? You've got the skin of someone who doesn't see a lot of the sun.” He reached over and touched my face, letting his fingers trail along my cheek. “Mmm, very smooth. Like a peach. Where you from, peach?”
“New York,” I said, thoroughly under his spell now. I looked into his eyes, those weirdly light eyes, and I liked the way he was looking at me, as if I were the best-looking man in the room.
His fingers were still on my face, and he said, “Yeah, it would be somewhere like New York. You have nice bone structure too.” He let his hand slide away.
God, just the lightest touch and I was hard. Or hard up, at least. I'd been so busy trying not to feel anything for the last eighteen months that I'd nearly forgotten what it was like to desire, to be desired.
He had a grin that looked like pure evil, and he shot it at me then. “I am a lifelong resident of this area,” he said. “I always kind of liked New York, though.”
I raised an eyebrow at him. “Are we making small talk now?”
“We'll do whatever you want to do, darlin'.” He took a long sip of his drink. “I've made my intentions clear. You seemed to need some buttering up.”
“Men's room,” I said.
He smirked. “That's what I'm talking about.”
We both downed the last of our drinks. He didn't even try to be coy about what we were up to, just took my hand and led me to the back of the bar.
The men's room was empty. It was surprisingly clean too. Three stalls, three urinals, a row of sinks, and of course, a condom vending machine. Harry dropped a quarter into the machine, then held up his purchase. He grinned at me again before shoving me into one of the stalls.
I turned away from him, trying to work out the best way to use the small space, but he beat me to it by pushing me face-first against the door.
“I want it hard and fast,” I told him. I wanted him badly, and I wanted it to hurt. This was not tender lovemaking. This was fucking in a bar bathroom. I figured it should be quick and dirty.
Without saying anything, Harry stood behind me and reached around to undo my jeans. He pushed them down to my knees. I pushed my ass out, making it available to him. He stood close behind me and put an arm around my torso. His lips pressed against the space where my neck met my shoulders. I felt him inhale. The stubble on his face was scratchy but welcome, and when he exhaled, his breath was hot against my exposed skin. I could feel the rough fabric of his jeans against my bare ass. I pushed back a little to encourage him to get going. He slid his free hand over my ass. “Your skin is soft here too,” he murmured. Then he took it away, and I heard a plastic clicking sound. A moment later he touched me again, this time with something cool and slick on his hands.
It occurred to me to comment on his preparedness, but the truth was that I really didn't care. I pushed back at him again, my hands braced on the stall door. He took away the arm that had been around my stomach and put it on my hip. The slippery fingers of his other hand slid down the crack, and then he slid a finger inside me. It had been so long since anyone had touched me there that it felt strange at first, like an invasion. I was surprised by the intimacy of it too and surprised at myself for letting this man I didn't know get this close. It quickly changed into something wonderful, the sensation of Harry's hands on me, his fingers in me, making me lose my ability to think straight. I moaned and threw my head back. And I was so hard that I worried that if he so much as touched my cock, I'd come all over the stall door.
Harry bent his head and went back to nuzzling my neck. We'd both started to sweat, and the slick mixture of our combined perspiration with his sandpapery stubble rubbing against my shoulder made me feel present, made me acutely aware of his body behind me. I was there, we were there together, and I was surrounded by the scent of sweat and sex and Old Spice. I groaned. He murmured nonsense love words against my skin as he added fingers slowly. Too slowly. I didn't want careful preparation; I wanted him to fuck me.
“Do it,” I said.
He laughed. “Hold your horses, peach.”