“What? Are you kidding?” Jackson Frost stared at me from across the small table, his jaw slack with disbelief.
“I’m so sorry, Jax. I don’t know why I said that. I wasn’t even planning to! It just…slipped out.” I shook my head. Hell, even I’d
been surprised by the words that had just spewed from my mouth as if with a force all their own. They hung in the air between us: This isn’t working for me. I think we should break up.
We sat at the mall food court. It was mobbed, teeming with a throng of holiday revelers. Retailers had already enjoyed Black Friday. Judging by the amount of packages and shopping bags cluttering the aisles, and with four full weeks left before the arrival of jolly Saint Nick, the stores would no doubt enjoy a Black Christmas as well.
I should have been happy about the crowd and
their spending since my new shop—Heroes’ Battle Grounds: Comics, Coffee, & Memorabilia—had suffered a rocky start and a volatile year. No one believed it would work, least of all my ex, and most said a comic book shop at the mall was unheard of. It wasn’t
a formula for success. It shouldn’t
have worked. And yet, here I was, celebrating a one-year anniversary, reaping a portion of the reward that came with consumer confidence.
But instead of basking in the knowledge that I was making money sooner than expected, might break even at the end of the year, and would finally start pulling in a bit of salary in the months to come, I stared into a lukewarm, barely touched cup of hot chocolate. The whipped cream had already dissolved.
“You can’t be serious,” Jackson replied after a moment. “This is…some kind of joke. Right?”
Lacking the shopping crowd’s spirit and cheer, I looked up at Jackson. His thick dark hair, usually full of product and spiked in all directions, was mostly covered beneath a gray knit cap. He wore a long-sleeved thermal top beneath a washed-out tee emblazoned with a stylized spider. It was the handsome young man’s homage to the recent incarnation of his favorite web-slinging superhero.
“If it’s a joke, then it’s a really bad one, huh?” I tried to make light of the situation, but it was an epic fail.
I gazed into Jackson’s startling ice-blue eyes, watery with the threat of tears and buggy behind horn-rimmed glasses, and knew that once again, I’d opened my mouth wider and shoved my foot in deeper.
His lower lip quivered, and in his vulnerability, he looked lost. Pained. A sweet puppy who’d just discovered he was being abandoned by his master. I wanted to hold Jackson in my arms, tell him I didn’t mean it, that I was mistaken. But all I did was jump from the pan and into the fire.
“Listen. You’re a great kid and all, but—”
“Kid? Did you just call me…kid
?” Jackson was both stunned and insulted.
I groaned at my own big mouth. Why don’t I stop to think before I speak? Why don’t I ever learn!
“I don’t believe this.” He closed his eyes briefly before opening them again. A single fat tear rolled down his cheek.
“C’mon, Jackson. Don’t—”
“Tell me why.”
I was silent a moment.
“I…I dunno. It’s just that I… Uhhh…” Jackson’s stare made me more even more uncomfortable. “Listen. I want you to know it’s…it’s not you. It’s—”
“Don’t you dare
give me that ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ crap.”
“Don’t be like that, Jax. This can’t exactly go anywhere. I mean, look at me. Look at you! The age difference alone—”
that doesn’t matter to me.”
“What are people going to think?”
“Who cares what they think? Are they paying your bills? Are they paying mine? Will they be at your funeral when—”
“I didn’t think this meant all that much to you. I thought this was…that we were just…”
Jackson blinked furiously. Another tear streaked his face. He glared at me while an awkward silence filled the air between us. I sat back in my chair, focusing on the cup before me as if I’d find answers there.
“You thought we were just…what
?” Jackson glared.
I took a deep breath.
“You’re not really
going to make me say it. Are you?”
“I need to hear—” he croaked in an attempt to choke back his emotions—“exactly what you thought we were.”
I leaned forward and reached out, placing the tips of my fingers barely an inch away from his clenched fist. Even then I still wanted to touch him. Yes, I knew it was wrong. I knew it from the start. Within weeks of hiring Jackson—after jerking off in the darkness of my bedroom, imagining him on all fours, begging me to fuck him harder, to go deeper—I eventually found myself in the back of my cramped and littered car, balls-deep in his ass, fucking his sweet hole.
I was his first. Or so he said.
Now almost nine months later, here we were. Had he been a girl, he’d be giving birth in a matter of days.
I let out a heavy sigh and whispered as if that would make the delivery that much less painful. “I thought we were just…you know. Fuck buddies.”
It sounded horrible, even in my mind.
Jackson’s cheeks flushed, his nostrils flared, and although more tears threatened to fall, there was now a glint in his eyes. It was as if an invisible mask had just been lowered. This was a look I recognized on him. I’d seen him get pissed before, and it wasn’t pretty, especially when it was directed at me. A shiver ran up my spine as a blast of cold air washed through me.
“Fuck buddies.” A bemused smiled played with the edges of his mouth, already forming smile and laughter lines. He repeated the words as if trying them on for size. “Fuck buddies.”
buddies.” He spoke with a calm fury. I gulped, suddenly acutely aware of my surroundings. At the far end of the food court, a child screeched with glee at his ability to pierce eardrums. At the other end where an endless stream of people flowed blindly in and out of shops, a group of carolers dressed as if they’d just stepped out of a Dickens story sang by a large ornamented tree.
“Don’t make a scene, Jackson. Please. Not here.” I didn’t want anyone to know the salacious details of a graying, fifty-year-old comic book shop owner and his twenty-four-year-old employee.
“Not here?” A derisive snort escaped Jackson.
I shook my head.
“Then where, Michael?” He continued, his voice rising. “Where would
you like me to make a scene? In the back of your crappy little car? Behind the dumpster at the back of the mall? How about in some sleazy motel room like the one we were in last night?”
I sucked cold air sharply into my lungs.
The couple to my left stared openly—the woman with a look of disgust, the man with an arched eyebrow.
To my right, two men who might have passed for brothers sneered. Their frumpy camo attire, unkempt long beards, and unappreciative stares made it obvious they were decidedly not
Directly behind Jackson, a cute, slim black twink with glasses, dressed as an elf, approached, tray in hand. I’d made googly eyes at him in the recent past, watching him work his shift at Santa’s Workshop as he helped crying children onto Santa’s lap. Since then, it seemed he went out of his way to stop by the shop at least once a day and flirt, but only when Jackson wasn’t there. The two didn’t like each other, Jackson having called him out for flirting with me.
The twink beamed when he saw me, then frowned and quickly walked away.
Jackson turned sharply and looked over his shoulder. When he faced me once more his face was contorted and ugly with jealousy.
the reason why you’re breaking up with me?”
“What? No! I don’t even know him.”
Jackson’s anger came at me in waves, and his icy glare cut through me. I felt as if I were coming down with a fever all of a sudden, and I struggled to keep my focus.
“Jackson, think about where we are. Take a look around. A really
good look. This is not the place.” Despite the tolerance—if not acceptance—of some, many were still funny about public displays, and this was
still the Carolinas, after all. Even if they’d just legalized same-sex marriage.
“I don’t need any more altercations in my life. And I don’t think you do either,” I added. A nervous chuckle escaped me.
Jackson banged his fists on the table unexpectedly and spoke through clenched teeth. “Then tell me why. You
. Are breaking up. With me
I searched my brain for an answer.
Jackson was young and smoking hot in a way even he
wasn’t aware of. Beneath the usually wrinkled, baggy clothes was a slim and perfectly toned body, an ass that was deliciously ka-chow
even in the baggiest of khakis, and an enormous cock, thick, uncut, and spongy. There wasn’t a man I knew, straight or gay, who wouldn’t have envied his endowment. If offered the opportunity, many would have gladly switched places with me to be with Jackson. I saw the way women and
men stared at him when we were together, with lust in their hearts and hunger in their souls.
He was sweet, attentive, and devoted.
And yet, for all the qualities he possessed—physically and mentally—Jackson was still a geeky, nerdy dweeb who hid behind college books, lived in the sci-fi/fantasy world of superheroes, and yearned for one man with whom he could mate for all eternity. He believed in that sort of love. He believed it was magic. He believed I was “the one.” But I wasn’t. As much as I wanted to be, I simply did not feel “it.”
I still loved another.
?” Jackson hollered. “What the fuck are you waiting for?”
I gawped at the outburst, unable to avoid the sudden rush of heat to my face, the cold temporarily forgotten.
“Tell me why
…if it’s not because of that twink or…someone else. And it better not be because you’re getting back together with that…that asshole
of a man you call a husband or I’ll—”
“Hey, buddy!” It was one of the camo-wearing Duck Dynasty
“What the hell do you
want?” Jackson exclaimed.
Oh, fuck. Here we go!
“You need to shut your mouth, boy.” It was the second of the two men.
think you need to mind your own fucking business!” Jackson snapped. He brought his attention back to me, ready to continue with what I had inadvertently started.
In unison, the men stood. Without thinking so did I, the warmth of adrenaline flowing through my veins, pushing aside the frost in my limbs.
The second man shoved a hand inside his army jacket, and I instead of having visions of sugarplums, I suddenly had visions of the shootings that had been taking place in public spaces across the country.
“You need to learn to speak in a civil tone, faggot.”
Jackson jumped out of his seat.
“Who are you
calling faggot, you stupid, ignorant, backwoods, country hick?”
The couple to our left cleared out. The people immediately around us had taken note as well and moved away, only to watch from a safer distance. I was reminded of ripples in a pond, and we were the stones.
The men took a menacing step toward Jackson. I slid between them, forcing a laugh despite the fact that my insides felt as if they’d turned to pudding and I desperately needed to pee.
“Whoa! Easy, easy. Why don’t we all just relax, hmm? No harm done here. Right, fellas? After all,” I continued, “it’s Christmas. And you know what they say…peace on earth and good will toward men?”
The two stared at me, then at each other. I might as well have spoken to them in Arabic. I’d never felt so…Northern
. They burst out in laughter, and I laughed along with them, as if I were in on their private joke. “Seriously. Let’s all walk away from this and relax. My…uhh…my buddy
“Buddy?” The first man scoffed.
I ignored him and continued speaking.
“Didn’t mean what he said. Did
“Like hell I didn’t!” Jackson replied.
“Jackson, please. You’re not helping.”
“You need to calm your little friend down before we
calm him down for you.” The second man spoke slow and deliberate. “I don’t think you want us to do that. Ain’t that right, Burl?”
“That’s right, Earl.”
“Now, why don’t you…boys
…simmer down,” the man called Burl kept talking. “Take your filth somewhere else. There are children and God-fearing Christians here, and we’re not gonna put up with your dis-gust-
ing choice of lifestyle anymore than we have to.”
He pulled his hand from his jacket in an exaggerated manner. There was something shiny in his hand. The world suddenly seemed to stand still for me. My throat went dry, and all I kept thinking was that the man would soon start shooting. Given the political climate and looser gun control laws, despite the temporary truce over the holidays, virtually any situation could turn into a powder keg. More brazen acts of violence were occurring across the nation than usual, and I simply could not let that happen. Suddenly filled with a hot and burning anger, I rushed at the man. Together, we slammed onto a table.
I was vaguely aware of people scattering, of their cries, screams, and cheers. Louder still was the dull roar that echoed in my head as the electric current of adrenaline seeped into my blood and coursed through my body.
“Get off me! Get off!” Burl cried.
“Kick his fucking ass, Michael!” Jackson hollered.
“Get off him! Get off!” cried Earl.
I heard someone bellow “Somebody call the cops!” while someone else shouted back in reply, “Mall security’s coming!”
Hands were suddenly on me, tugging and pulling. I struggled, and although separated from Burl, I managed to kick. My booted foot connected. From the way the man rolled over and curled up into a ball like a dying bug, I knew I’d scored a hit.
Then everything abruptly returned back to normal.
For the briefest of moments I was disoriented, yet keenly aware of the crowd as it murmured like an angry hive, the sound of my own heavy breathing, the insipid holiday mall music.
And Burl moaning as he clutched his balls.
Earl bent over, picked up something a few feet away, then handed it to his friend—and possibly, brother.
My heart sank.
A cell phone? I rushed this guy for a fucking cell phone?
“But I thought… Didn’t he have a gun?”
“Ain’t nobody got a gun, mister,” one of the guards said. “Ain’t nothing but a cell phone.”
“But it looked like a gun. Jackson, didn’t it look like he had a gun?” There was no answer. I glanced about. The boy was nowhere to be seen. “Where did he go? Where’s Jackson? Anybody see where he went? He was wearing a Spi—”
I never got the chance to finish.
I drank in the sight of two big and burly North Carolina cops, one peppered gray with experience, a trimmed sexy scruff on his face, while the other looked every bit like a fresh Georgia peach straight out of the academy.
“Christ almighty.” The taller, beefier of the two groaned in dismay, his baritone voice full of disappointment and bemusement all at the same time. “Out of all the malls in the entire tri-county area…”
“Hello, Beauregard.” I managed a grin but what I really
wanted was to disappear. The overwhelming humiliation washed over me like bathing in a warmth ocean. My limbs were limp, but horrifyingly, my cock stirred.
Standing before me at six-two and weighing in at two hundred and forty pounds was my ex, Beauregard Isaiah Guilford, built like a linebacker. He shook his head as the second cop busied himself officiously interrogating eager witnesses from the crowd and taking notes.
I turned with a sigh, hands behind my back the way I’d done when Beauregard arrested me seven years ago for the first time. And each time after that.
“Tell me, Michael,” Beauregard said as he cuffed me. I could feel the exasperation rolling off him in waves. “Why is it always you? And why am I
always your arresting officer?”