RAYANNA CHRISTIAN - POSITIONS OF POWER
Rayanna Christian is a 22 year old philosophy and creative writing major at Appstate. She is a Boone local, eager to leave small town life. In her limited free time she loves singing and DND. Rayanna can be found @good_gal_rayray on Instagram or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Positions of Power
It was between lunch and dinner so the diner was quiet, just the sizzling and clanking from the kitchen. Some kids had put Kung Fu Fighting on the jukebox, a song that had been giving me a six month long headache since it came out. I was in the most expensive suit I owned, hair so gelled it looked nearly blue-black, finished off with superman curl. I spotted Danny from across the room. He sat in the far corner booth, big blue eyes bloodshot, ringed with dark circles, greasy blonde hair. We’d seem like such a strange pair. Danny was terrible at faking it. His elbows we’re propped up on the table, hands tightly clasped, staring at nothing. It had been a month and I’d healed up okay but walking towards him, I felt like I had a limp.
My sister had tried everything to keep me from meeting him: begging, bargaining, threats. I’d even considered lying to her about it but I’d never been good at that. I told her the truth, that she couldn’t possibly understand my need to see him, to settle into the familiar groove of our conversations, tumultuous as they may be. Her and her husband’s biggest struggles were who would pick up the girls from soccer practice, whose fault it was that the turkey burned. Their relationship was uneventful, boring even at times, as she often lamented. She couldn’t possibly know what it was like to carry five years of constant drama, not that she ever had the chance to. She was too strong to tolerate conflict and too mature to engage in drama. Growing up, it left her plenty of time to clean up the messes I created because I lacked that strength.
“You didn’t try to find me at Kimmy’s graduation.”
Danny jumped as I sat down across from him, sitting back with his hands in his lap, licking chapped lips and staring studiously at the table.
“Wasn’t invited.” There were two mugs on the table and he pushed one towards me.
“Like that matters to you.” I sipped the coffee. Two sugars, three creams, like I liked.
Danny’s shoulders rose up to his ears and he ducked his head like he could hide his size in the tiny booth. “Kimmy, she’s… she’s important to you so… so I didn’t want to… you know?”
“I’m sure she’d appreciates that.” I watched my coffee swirl.
Danny clicked his tongue and huffed. “That girl always hated me.”
“Because she knew.” He snapped his head up to meet my eyes and I turned my gaze out the window, taking another sip. “Well, everyone knew but she seemed to be the only person who took issue with it. I tried to hide it from her…” But you made it impossible.
4 years ago, after we moved to that suburban hell, I knelt before the fence and the neighborhood. The sun had set. The summer of 1972 was brutal and heat radiated off the sidewalk underneath me. A flock of little kids flew by on their bikes, rushing to get inside before the streetlights came on. I began slathering white paint onto the graffiti.
Get out fagotts!!
Danny hadn’t wanted to call the police, had lashed out at my suggestion of it. He’d been throwing bricks at cops a year ago at Stonewall so it had been a stupid question. Compounded with the stress of the move, it was no wonder he lost his temper. Keeping stupid questions to myself was an easy way to avoid getting slapped again. Still, the throbbing, burning pain on my cheek was spreading to my eyes and throat.
The red paint wasn’t disappearing, just smearing and turning the fence pink. I could wait for the paint to dry but that would be minutes longer I’d have to stare at it and even then the red would still be there, under layers and layers of white paint. What if it faded? What if it chipped?
I looked up to see my new neighbor. At the time, she wasn’t a willowy, charming young woman. She was a knobby kneed, gap toothed, awkward little girl, shyly rocking from foot to foot with her arms behind her back, red curls pressed against her head with a flowered headband. Her eyes widened in shock and she politely looked away while I scrambled to wipe tears from my eyes.
“Hey! Um… Kimmy, right? Kimmy. What, uh… what can I do for you?”
She bit her lip, letting her hand fall from behind her back, a paint brush bouncing against her thigh. “I saw you painting and thought I could help. Some of the boys tagged our mailbox last week and it was a real pain. But I don’t want to bother you.”
Tears threatened again. “I would absolutely love your company, young lady.”
She grinned and plopped down next to me, dipping her brush in the white paint and taking slow, deliberate strokes. The words were now indecipherable but even if they weren’t, she probably wouldn’t understand. Still, I’d spared her the wondering. We worked in silence for a while.
“Why do you live with that guy? Cause you guys are old so why don’t you have wives and kids and stuff?”
I scoffed, snickering incredulously. “Well for one, I am a spry twenty seven, missy.” I nudged her with my shoulder and she let out a flurry of giggles but still stared up at me, expecting an answer. Danny had made me promise no more closets before we moved. I wanted to ask her parents first, get a read on their beliefs, but I’d promised.
“Danny is my partner. My boyfriend.” I cleared my throat, focusing on the painting, watching Kimmy’s nose scrunch up in thought from the corner of my eye. She pursed her lips and nodded, continuing her work.
“That makes sense.”
Danny dragged his menu across the table under his finger. “I… assumed most of the straights wouldn’t, uh… wouldn’t concern themselves with what happened between us.”
“So you did it because you knew you’d get away with it.”
That wasn’t the answer I wanted and I knew the explanation that would come next. I set my coffee down as he started.
“I can’t help it, Leo. You know that. It was never anything premeditated or anything like that. I’m just fucked in the head.” He knocked his fist against his temple unnecessarily hard, his restrained hissing bordering on pleading.
“That doesn’t make it ok.” My voice cracked and I bit down on my tongue. I shifted in my seat, pulling my back up straight, trying to acquire the posture of someone righteously angry.
“I know.” Danny deflated. “It’s not an excuse, I know.” He picked up his coffee and drank deeply, watching me over the rim of his mug, expecting me to fill the silence. Even when our relationship status was unquestionable he’d never laid a hand on me in public. I stayed defiantly silent.
I was supposed to have stopped smoking when we moved from New York city upstate. But Danny was supposed to have stopped drinking and considering his broken promise had lead to my throbbing black eye, I felt somewhat justified in escaping out into the yard with my stash of menthols while he passed out, sprawled across our bed.
The sky was cloudless, a smattering of stars you never saw in the city above, a cool breeze spreading goosebumps across my skin, signaling summer would be over soon. I propped myself up against the fence, lit a cigarette and groaned as it filled my lungs.
“You smoking in secret too, huh?”
I jumped, turning towards the source of the gravelly, Boston tinted voice. On the other side of the fence, approaching me with a half burned cigarette between his teeth, a stout man, bald with a neat red beard wearing a wife beater and khakis.
“Makes me feel like I’m in highschool,” he chuckled. He leaned against the other side of the fence, staring off into the street.
“I, uh…” I cleared my throat. My good eye was facing him and I turned my head just a bit to make sure it stayed that way. “I never smoked in high school. Picked it up in college. I was trying to quit but…” I chuckled, tapping some of the ash onto the ground and taking another long drag.
“My little girl just started highschool and I told her ‘I ever catch you smoking, you’re living in a shoebox.” He shook his head.
“Your little girl? Kimmy, right? I met her a couple days ago. Sweet girl.”
“Mm.” He nodded, pulling the cigarette from between his teeth. “Yeah, she told me. You’re uh… Leroy?”
“Yeah. Told me you were queer, moved in her with your uh, your buddy, right?”
I closed my eyes and lips around the cigarette, taking a deep pull and realizing I’d burned all the way through it. I sighed, tucked the butt into my pocket and pulled another cigarette and lighter from the other. “Yes, that’s right. I apologize if telling her was-”
“Nah, I don’t give a shit.” He waved a hand dismissively. “Kimmy’s mom and I, we ended up shacked up with some real hippy, free love types when we was broke and Kimmy was real little. Got no problem with it, especially one’s like you. Now those crazies down in Grenich, that’s a different story. But you’re alright, despite the fact you must have rocks in your head to move here.”
I made a sputtering noise, a mix of a cough, a laugh and general shock. “We wanted to get out of the city,” I started once I regained my composure. “We picked here because I got a job with the paper. I thought that by this time in my life I’d be teaching but for obvious reason, that didn’t happen.”
The man clicked his tongue and turned to face me. “You went to school to teach?”
“Yeah.” I snorted. “I know.”
“Think you could tutor my Kimmy?”
“P-pardon?” I turned towards him, brow knotted up on my forehead.
He pursed his lips and nodded. “Yeah, my Kimmy’s just like her mother was. Dumb as rocks and beautiful. Last tutor I got her tried grabbing her breasts but that’s not an issue with you.”
There was no need to correct his misconception if it would open me up to pedophilic acusations. My chest was suddenly light, like when I first assisted in 5th grade class, the exact opposite of how it felt when my advisor begged my to pick a “man’s major”.
“O-of course. I’d love to!”
He smiled and offered me a hand over the fence which I shook vigorously.
“It’s a deal, uh… Leo.”
“Call me, Julian, ok? Don’t make me feel old.” His tight grin faltered as his gaze shifted and I realized it was focused on my swollen eye. I pulled my arm back, turning my face away from him as I face flushed. A snorting laugh knocked me from my shame.
“I lived with a couple of guys when I was young. We were always getting into fights, beating the shit out of each other. None of us even wanted to screw each other! Can’t imagine the kind of mess you people get into.” He shook his head, shoulders bouncing with his laughter. He took one last drag of his cigarette and put it out on his side of the fence. “Come talk to me tomorrow. We’ll set up a schedule. Sleep, well, ok?”
He was already halfway across his yard before the cold, naked feeling subsided enough for me to chirp out “Goodnight!” at his back.
The night’s stillness was oppressive and significantly colder. Tomorrow, I’d throw away all the cigarettes I’d squirreled away. Tonight though, quitting could wait.
Danny scowled into his mug, setting it down and reaching for the sugar.“So um… have you been… you look good. You always look good.” His head lolled to the side as he stared sleepily at me and the exact type of warmth that I didn’t want welled up in my stomach. “Your hair, looks good. I like the uh…” He waved his hand in front of his forehead. I looked away and Danny cleared his throat. “But, uh, have you been alright?”
Everything I wanted to say pooled up in my throat as bruises that had just faded began to ache again. He was dumping sugar into his coffee and stopped when he saw me watching, putting the sugar back like he’d been caught.
“I’ve been staying with Summer. Been good to see my nieces.”
“That’s good. Good.” The cup trembled in his hands. His skin was dry.
“You don’t mean that. If you meant it, you would’ve let me go see her once in a while.”
“I never stopped you from seeing her,” Danny said, lip twitching in a lopsided scowl.
“Everytime I brought it up you’d tell me how controlling and bitchy she is or how her ‘perfect heterosexual lifestyle would mess up my worldview.” The words ached coming out but without the looming inevitability of being behind closed doors with Danny, I couldn’t stop the flow of resentment.
“It wasn’t that I didn’t want you to have a relationship with your sister,” Danny sighed.
“You just… you depended on her. You even told me. You asked her if you thought you should be dating me!”
“She’s my big sister,” I said. “Of course I ask her for advice!”
Danny rolled his eyes and massaged his forehead. “Is it so wrong that I wanted you to depend on me?”
“Depend on you? And only you?” I had to whisper to keep from yelling.
“Yes! I-” He spoke quickly and fell silent when he realized the trap he’d walked into. He turned red as he scrambled to recover. “Leo, I didn’t mean-”
“How dare you?”
Two years ago Danny went on his first college speaking tour, signing books, debating preachers, inspiring young LGBT kids at colleges and receiving daily death threats. Days after he returned, while he was out running errands, I went to the doctor. When I came back I destroyed a path from the door to our bedroom. I tore down paintings, capsized the bookshelf, smashed his favorite beers onto the kitchen floor, knocked everything off of his side of the sink. He found me in the bedroom, illuminated by what little afternoon light pierced through the drawn curtains, lying in a pile of his clothes.
“What the hell?” Danny said, too shocked to be angry yet.
“Who was he?” My throat was cracked from wailing.
“Leo, what the hell are you-”
“Was it one of the other authors or just someone in a bar or what? That why you didn’t call me every night like you said you would?” I’d cried every tear I had and was now dry on the inside, crumbling. For a long time Danny was silent, ruling out the possibility that the doctor had made a mistake.
“How did you know?”
“You gave me gonorrhea! You dirty piece of shit!” I threw the first thing my hands landed on but it was only a shirt. “Tell me who he is!”
“Kitten...” He had his arms crossed, staring at the floor.
“Tell me!” I swore my throat was bleeding.
Danny took a deep breath, pressed his tongue against the inside of his cheek. “At one of the talks… he was, uh… he was a student.”
“A student?” I could feel my body bulging against my clothing. My smile lines tore down to the bone.
Danny swallowed loudly. His fingers dug into his forearm. I hoped they would leave a bruise. “He was… a fan of my stuff… he was maybe, like… 18? 19?”
“So you wanted a fucking child over me?” All those nights in New York’s gay bars I had fawned at the impact Danny had on kids, the way closeted teenagers with their first mesh shirt and a pierced ear flocked around him, shyly offering him copies of his articles and a pen, tearfully asking for advice which he would happily give them while the club danced around them. In the beginning, during these night, I would usually go home alone. I thought he did too.
He chose then to look at me. “It wasn’t about you, Leo. You weren’t there and-”
“I didn’t go because I already asked off work for two weeks straight to celebrate your birthday! Your fucking 31st birthday, you pig!” I stumbled to my feet, my body trembling as I walked over to him.
Danny threw his arms down at his sides. “Leo, listen! He was a fan, he followed everything I did and I was by myself-”
I stormed up to him, jamming a finger into the exposed flesh of his chest. “I’ve worshipped the ground you walked on from the moment we fucking met and this-”
“Well you fucking shouldn’t!” I knew the type of yelling that was built to rattle me and this wasn’t it. It was the 3rd, maybe 4th time I’d ever seen him cry. There was a pink mark where my finger had been. “I’m a shitty, horrible person and for some reason you decided to stay and I don’t know why!” He pressed the heels of his hands into his temples, pacing away from me, crimson crawling up the back of his neck. “You just… you can’t fucking leave Leo. What would...Fuck!” He wrapped his arms around himself, digging his nails into his forearms, leaving long red scrapes. I closed my eyes, swallowed.
“Make up the couch and leave me alone.”
Danny dropped his gaze to his lap, leaning back in his seat. A thick silence fell over us. The waitress came over, filled our coffees, nodded politely as I handed her the unopened menus.
Danny finally spoke once she had left. “It was just sex. That’s it.”
“And that makes it better?”
Danny shook his head. “No. No it doesn’t. It was wrong but… I thought it was one of those things…” He crossed his arms tightly over his chest. “...I thought you knew.”
I grimaced. A second later, my face fell slack. I tried to cover the surely weak expression behind my mug, sipping the bitter, nearly black fresh coffee.
“How many times?”
Danny took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, his cheeks puffing out as he did so, reaching up to scratch the back of his neck. “None before we moved and nothing in the house.” He looked up at me and I scowled back, lest he think I was satisfied. “Eight different guys. Always while I was out of town for work. Usually only once.”
There was no need to ask ‘who’. I had a clear picture in my head of Danny’s type along with a detailed list of how that picture differed from me that I’d been building for three years.
“You really didn’t know…” Danny’s voice trailed off to a whisper as his hand fell from the back of his neck.
I jerkily shook my head, swallowed and cleared my throat. “I trusted you. It’s what you do when you love someone.”
“For the record,” Danny said. “...I never actually thought you cheated. It was just something that would come out of my mouth when I wasn’t being rational. It only ever seriously crossed my mind once.”
I looked up, fixing my mouth to ask ‘when’ but the flush on his cheek and his pinched mouth confirmed that his embarrassment was fresh.
“Oh God! Danny, come on!”
“I know you didn’t!” He held up his hands, eyes darting around, looking at anything but my eyes.
My face ached with a scowl. He was gonna give me wrinkles far too soon. I wanted to speak but all I had on my tongue were sharp demands of why he thought so little of me, why he would consider such an awful thing. But I already knew the answer to those questions. Asking would only cause a spark of pain and shame that would ignite Danny’s anger.
“You’ve got a fucked up sense of morals.” I picked up my coffee, swirling it back and forth. “And don’t even say it. I get it, ok? I know why but it doesn’t make how you act ok.”
Danny had returned from a tour for his newest book, When The Gays Rose Up: Looking Back on 1969, to a very successful spring cleaning and for the past week, his mood reflected my success. He’d only gone through one twelve pack, spent the evening snuggled up with me and our attention starved golden retriever, Bodie, on the couch, catching up on Charlie’s Angels. For the first time in along time, my body was clear of bruises I hadn’t asked for. I was in the bedroom, scanning over Danny’s newest manuscript with a red pen when Bodie skittered through the door, yipping and whimpering as he nosed at my thigh.
“What’s up with you?” I scratched behind his ear but he continued to jump nervously back and forth. I tried to hold him still to examine for injuries when a sound caught my ear. When it finally registered, my body went cold. It was yelling.
I rushed down the stairs, Bodie following behind me until right before I got to the door, tucking himself in the corner. Danny was out on the porch, roaring in the face of a middle aged man, tall, blonde and broad and red with rage as he yelled back at Danny.
“What is going on?” I stepped between the two men, pressing a hand to Danny’s chest, trying and failing to push him back. The blonde man’s eyes narrowed on me and he brought a finger to my face.
“You’re the one. You sick son of a bitch!” His voice was low and thunderous.
I reeled back, mouth falling open, racking my brain to find out how I’d offended this stranger. Danny grabbed my attention with a tight hand on my shoulder.
“This man says you molested his son,” Danny said with the cool matter-of-factness he used in front of others to communicate a threat to only me. I looked up at him, his eyes locked firmly ahead at the man, nose held high in defiance.
“Sir, I - I’ve never- I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“My son is not a liar!” he spat. “He told me you lured him in without him knowing you’re a faggot, giving him gifts and favors and touching on him. You sick bastard!” He made a move to push me and Danny shoved me back.
“You try that one more time.”
“Stop! Stop! Stop! Let’s calm down!” I cried, once again stepping between the two men. “Sir, your son’s name is Kyle, right?”
His scowl deepened and he nodded stiffly.
“Ok. Look,I’m sorry if I made him uncomfortable but I had no ill intentions with your son. It seems we just had a terrible misunderstanding.” Maybe it was the light but I thought I saw some tension ease from his forehead. “Now, if you’d like, we can sit down and discuss-”
“Don’t grovel to this homophobic piece of shit.”
“You shut your fucking mouth you degenerate!” The man advanced but Danny stayed solid, a twisted grin on his face.
“You wanna get your ass beat by a fairy? Get the fuck off my property.”
The man blanched in the face of the behemoth of a faggot in front of him and turned with his tail between his legs, flipping us off as he did.
“God damnit.” I stormed back into the house, Bodie colliding my legs as soon as I did so, whining and jumping up on me. I knelt down, holding him tight against my chest. “I know, Bodie, I know. You hate the fighting, don’t you? Poor thing, it’s ok.” I pressed my face into his back and groaned. “Danny, we could’ve resolved that like adults if-” I looked up. Danny was staring down at me, arms crossed, eyebrows cocked. It took me a moment to recognize the face and when I did, it struck me hard enough to draw tears.
He relaxed and turned to walk away.
“What the fuck Dany?” I shrieked to his back. He stopped. “A fucking kid? You would even consider…” Bodie whimpered. I was squeezing him too hard. It had been a good week and I’d hoped it would last a little longer.
“I don’t like kids, Danny! I’m not like you!”
Danny closed his eyes and swallowed,nodding stiffly. “I have… no right…” He took deep breaths in between rehearsed words. “...to be...rough with you… like I have been.”
At first, I was stupid enough to fix my mouth to accept his apology. Then he looked up, showing me those eyes, dumb and desperate.
“Rough with...Why do you think I left? What do you think happened that night?”
He put on a childlike pout, hardened by messy stubble. “I don’t remember,ok? I was wasted! I know I woke up and you were gone and there was... some blood. Look, I know it’s not right, Kitten.”
I put my coffee down, afraid to spill it. The absurdity sitting in front of me seemed entirely alien and simultaneously like my life began and ended with his. He stared at me, the lines in his face growing ever deeper. Silently giving him dirty looks always ended poorly and I dared to test his resolve.
“What?” he finally hissed.
“You’ve been rough with me for five years. And you think that’s the reason Ieft?”
“I don’t know Leo!” He leaned forward across the table. “I’ve been trying to figure out what changed that you’d disappear out of nowhere and I don’t get it. So if you got something to say to me, say it!’
I reeled back in my seat. My jaw was clamped shut. I folded my hands in my lap and considered keeping my thoughts to myself. He was lucky to have been drunk enough not to remember so why should both of us suffer with the memory? And if I said nothing he wouldn’t agonize over the details anymore. He’d simply chalk it up to me being over dramatic and trying to make him feel bad.
But I hadn't told anyone yet. Summer and the doctor has both made assumptions of varying accuracy.The truth still resided in my lungs, pressed up against my chest and had been choking me for a month.
“Summer made me go to the doctor.” I twiddled my thumbs, dragging over torn nail beds. “I had to get stitches.” Danny was seething at my inability to get to the point. He could wait. “There were these med students. I heard the doctor outside my room, showing them my file. He said ‘we can’t forget the severe health risk associated with homosexuality. This is the kind of damage they do to each other co-” I caught the broken word and a sob with a hand clamped over my mouth. If I waited to compose myself, I’d never say it so I sniffed and roughly slapped a tear from my cheek.
After it happened I packed six changes of clothes along with Bodie’s collar and went to the CVS, the drugstore we always went to because of its balance between convenient location and hateful cashiers. Sometimes, when we bought alcohol together, Danny would sidle up behind me and whisper in my ear.
“Think the cashier knows what this’ll do to my little lightweight? Wanna tell him how it'll loosen you up, Kitten?” The whole thing was scandalous. I’d swat him away. People stared. We laughed.
That night I bought a bottle of rose, ibuprofen, isopropyl alcohol, two ice packs, cotton swabs and feminine napkins. The cashier rang me up quickly in order to get the battered fag out of his face.
I got a hotel and constructed a story before I called Summer.
There had been a fight about money. I fell down the stairs. I was lonely.
I knew she didn’t believe me when she said she’d be up the next morning but I knew she wouldn’t dare call me out on it without proof.
She got there earlier than expected. I answered her at the door in a tank top and shorts so most of the damage was visible. She glowed like a goddess, neat and painted with wolfish eyes. I went numb with the strike of seeing her but before I could collect my senses, she shoved past me.
“Summer! Wait!” I tried to scramble in front of her but her eyes were already on the floor. She moved the pair of ruined boxers around with the toe of her shoe. I held my breath.
“I’m going to get your things.” She turned to walk out, already digging in her purse. She’d use pepper spray first, then improvise with whatever she could find in the house. Even when the boys my age began to dwarf her, she was there to defend me.
“Why shouldn’t I kill that bastard? What else am I supposed to do? Why didn’t you tell me?” Summer never cried but her eyes were as red as her lips as she stood shaking before me.
“Because I…” I let out a shaky huff, wrapping my arms around my middle. “Because I needed to deal with it myself a-and… You wouldn’t get it!” My throat ached as he cried out at her. “You wouldn’t understand that h-he… he just...things are complicated and I love him Sissy and I’m so stupid.” I pressed the heels of my hands into my burning eyes. “I’m sorry, Sissy, I’m sorry! I just need you now and I don’t know what to do so please!”
She looked me up and down, weighing her options. In the end, she wrapped her arms around me and my wailing buckled my knees. She sat on the bed and I clung to her, feeling small in her arms but horrified to find I was not as safe as I’d once felt. Summer’s arms weren’t big enough for much more than skinned knees.
I looked up. Danny had gone deathly pale, a white knuckle grip on the table, eyes just barely focused on me. “What are you saying?” he breathed.
I knew it would push him over the edge but I was so close to feeling relief and maybe I deserved to be selfish just this once.
“I never thought that you, of all people… you should know better than anyone how damaging that is. And you did it anyway because you only care about yourself!”
All at once, Danny tore out of the booth, hands clutched over his mouth as he bolted to the bathroom. I bowed my head and tried not to think about him hunched over a toilet, blood vessels bursting across his face, tears streaming down his cheeks. I tried not to imagine my hands in his hair, holding it back when it was long, petting it when it was short. I sat in the booth, staring ahead, sipping my now tasteless coffee.
I’d just started putting my nieces’ artwork on the fridge after a week long trip to see Summer when I heard a hard knock on my apartment door, surely the only person I’d called once I got off the plane.
I threw open the door and barely had the time to crack a smile before Danny lip’s were on mine, grinning and hungry. I threw my arms around his neck and Danny grabbed my thighs, lifting me off the ground and kicking the door closed behind me.
“I missed you,” he snarled against my lips as he stumbled the short distance from the door to the bedroom.
“I was only gone a week,” I giggled. He tossed me onto my bed, the old springs whining as I landed. “You could’ve got plenty of ass in that time.”
It took effort to let the accidentally loving statement pass without acknowledgement but I was too excited to risk ruining the moment. Danny straddled my legs and leaned forward, tugging at my belt. “Whatya want?”
Dizzy with arousal, I reached my hand down, stroking the apple of his cheek and sliding my hand to the top of the head, insisting with a nudge. “You could suck me-”
All at once, Danny was off the bed, his excited grin now a deep, fiery scowl, arms shaking at his sides, muscles bulging in his neck as red creeped up his face.
“No! What the fuck, no!” He stumbled back towards the door. “I’m not your fucking whore!” His voice broke as he screamed, spit flying from his mouth.
“You want some soft faggot to-” He turned from me, rocking foot to foot, grasping wildly at his head and chest. “-to fucking suck your dick and serve you, get someone else but not- Fuck!” He grit his teeth, breaths coming out in harsh, shallow pants.
I sat up, swinging my legs off the side of the bed and waddling towards him, holding my pants up with one hand, reaching towards him with the other.
“Danny, baby, calm down. Let’s-” I placed my hand on his forearm.
With an ugly, animal growl, Danny swung around, shoving his arm into my chest. I flew back, colliding with a gasp against the bed frame. Pain radiated through my back and the breath was knocked from my lungs as I crumpled onto the ground and Danny escaped into the living room.
Nothing was broken, not even sprained. I’d only be a little sore in the morning. Danny was hurting far worse than me, worse than I’d ever seen him. I tilted my head back to keep tears from running and took slow, purposeful breaths until the banging and slamming from the other room subsided. I crept in as silently as possible across the hardwood floor.
Danny was sitting on the couch, back to me, a glass in his hand half filled with what I assumed was my good whiskey, the liquid inside splashing back and forth with his violent tremors. The wood creaked under my feet and Danny sighed.
“You’re not gonna-”
“I don’t want to talk you into it,” I said as I rounded the couch. Danny’s eyes were red, jaw clenched, refusing to look at me. “Not at all. You don’t even have to tell me if you’re uncomfortable about it but-”
“But what?” He finally looked at me, tilting his head back and flaring his nostrils.
I knelt down, placing my hands on his knees. “You’re not just a fuck buddy, Danny. You’re my friend. So I care when something’s wrong.”
His legs tensed but he didn’t push me away, his eyes narrow, searching my face for an eternity until he tilted his head back and exhaled.
“Had to hook for five years when I got kicked out. Sometimes the Johns didn’t think I was worth the money so they took it for free.” His voice was artificially casual, accompanied by a stiff shrug. “I don’t bottom and I don’t suck dick because I don’t have to anymore.”
My heart climbed into my throat to choke me. Danny hated being treated softly but I could help but reach forward to hold his face in my hands. “Danny…”
“Happened to plenty other queer kids…” he grumbled, tilting his head back down but still avoiding my eyes.
“Doesn’t make it any less awful. I’m so, so sorry, Danny.” I searched his face and for all his soft, curved features I couldn’t imagine him young. Maybe that was the worst tragedy of it.
Danny’s nostrils flared. He peeked at me, then back at the ceiling. “Thanks,” he hissed.
I sighed and crawled forward into his lap, snickering at his half hearted protests as he scrambled to set his glass down before I knocked it out of his hand.
“Always crawling up in my space. You’re like a goddamn cat,” he mumbled, resting his chin on the top of my head as I settled against his chest.
“I’m an affectionate man.” I pressed my face into him, breathing in his familiar scent, now somehow lacking it’s usual erotic flavor but no less comforting. “And...it’s good to feel you relax.” I waited for him to push me away. He didn’t.
Danny slid back into the booth, his mouth still damp, pale and shivering. He ran his hands across his thighs, staring at the ground. “I don’t deserve you. I don’t deserve anyone but… especially you.” He rocked back and forth, sucking air between clenched teeth. “I love you, Leo. God I-”
“Stop,” I pressed my palm into my face. “Please stop, Danny. It’s not about that.”
“Then what is it about?” He leaned across the table. “If it’s not about me loving you and you loving me then what’s the point?”
I grit my teeth and closed my eyes. “Even if you love me...” I didn’t want him to see me cry. He’d seen it enough. “You were so cruel Danny. That’s the point.”
“Then why stay?” He snarled, the muscles in his jaw flexing, arms tightening around his chest. “Why be with me in the first place?”
“Because things weren’t always bad!” It came out too easily but he didn’t seem convinced. “You were my best friend! We had fun, so much fun.” I propped my head on my hand, caught his eyes and watched as his tight expression faltered and his arms began to relax.
“I can’t believe they can actually legally evict you for that!”
I thwapped a duvet onto the couch and took to fluffing the pillows unnecessarily. I’d cleaned and cleaned and cleaned the apartment but something was still telling me that everything was wrong.
“Is it stuffy in here?” I turned to him. “I can open a window.”
Danny leaned against the wall, the smallest smile on his lips. He looked me up and down, bit his lip and nodded. “That’d be nice.”
Tearing my burning face away from his vision, I scurried to the living room window, prying the old rusty thing open. I wasn’t exactly humble. When I turned 15, I lost my baby fat, a girl said I looked like Elvis, and my head never fully deflated. But this was the first time since college a man had looked at me this hard and suddenly I was flustered. “I really respect what you did out there at Stonewall. It’s a shame that it had such awful consequences but I really admire you for that, Danny.”
Suddenly, Danny was behind me, hands latched onto my hips, freezing me in place.
“So is respect for my work the only reason you let me crash here?” His scalding hot breath poured over the back of my neck. The women I’d dated had always been coy, never initiating sex or even hinting at it until I did and I was beginning to understand why. I swallowed, still fiddling with the window.
“You’re..” I cleared my throat, took a quivering breath. “...awfully bold.” His fingers crept under the hem of my shirt. “That’s usually my job.”
“Well that’s awkward.” Danny twirled me around, slotting his knee between me legs. He was burning and I hoped he didn’t notice how I was melting. “It’s mine too.”
I’d never imagined I’d be able to touch him and yet here he was, broad and intimidating. I slipped my hands behind my back to hide the shaking and ducked my head in hopes of hiding my assuredly dopey smile.
“What made you so sure…”
“Straight men don’t let gay men crash on their couches. You also haven’t punched me yet so…”
I buried a giggle in my shoulder, bit my lip in attempts to compose myself. Slowly, I brought my hand from behind my back, sliding my fingertips across the veins in his forearms, up his shoulder. “In defense of my innocence, I really did just want to help you out. I didn’t plan for this.” I draped my arm around the back of his neck, pulling myself towards him. His tongue darted out to wet his lips and I held myself back. I may not have had the upper hand but I could still maintain a little control if I made him come to me.
“Well lucky you because I did,” he snarled as he pulled me flush against his body and descended upon me with a wicked grin.
“Yeah, you really fucked my life up.” His lips twitched up at the edges and the warmness of his voice flooded my head. There was little I could do to stop my adolescent grinning.
Danny shrugged and motioned with his chin out the windows. “You think I’d ever consider this kind of life without you? House in suburbia, white picket fence, dog…” His smile fell and he cleared his throat. My dizziness subsided and I was oppressively sober. I lifted my head from my hand.
“I’m sorry about what I said back then. What happened wasn’t your fault.”
Danny shook his head. “No, it was.”
I wasn’t allowed to shower before leaving the gym. Danny was convinced (not incorrectly) that the local gym was filled with closeted men and if I’d been unfaithful, he would know. So I drove home, crusted with dry sweat, dreading the three-times-a-week ritual of stripping naked and maneuvering into various position while Danny examined me for foul play.
When I parked in the driveway Bodie wasn’t immediately at the car door whimpering for me. I opened it, peeking around for him as I stepped out. It was only 8, early for Danny to bring Bodie into the house. I shut the door and started towards the door. The street lights illuminated something in the corner of my eye, shimmering gold.
Bodie was lying on his side, motionless, a puddle of vomit around his head, an empty bottle of antifreeze next to him.
I through myself forward onto the ground, gathering him up into my arms. He didn’t wriggle for more attention or lap at my face. He wasn’t warm and pulsing with energy. My throat suddenly ached. I must’ve screamed because soon Danny was standing over me and several porch lights down the street had turned on.
“Holy shit, Kitten. I’m so sorry.” Danny’s voice grew closer and closer.
“Get away from us!” I shouted, jerking away from his voice, squeezing Bodie’s body to my chest. “This is all your fault!” I’d just wanted to be kind, to make friends in a new town with the man I loved, to be a good influence and a safe place for kids like I needed so badly when I was young. “I hate you! It’s all your fault!”
“No! No! No! Daddy!” From past the fence, Kimmy’s voice rung out. “Daddy! Give me the keys! It was Kyle or his Dad or his brothers or someone! I know it was! I’m gonna go kill him! Give me the keys!”
“It ain’t our business, Kim.” Julian’s voice was low but forceful. “People are gonna believe what they believe! Those are grown men over there. They know that.”
I pulled my face from the pillow of Bodie’s fur and looked over the fence, catching Kimmy and her dad’s eyes. Kimmy’s eyes were red, tears streaming down her face, shiny under the streetlights and I hoped those tears were only due to the drama of the situation and had nothing to do with me, that she would run off to her room to sob the night away, that she wouldn’t throw away a highschool sweetheart because of the choices of her tutor.
She turned to her father, pulled her shoulders back, transforming from a girl to a woman for a brief and beautiful instant. “I hate you.” She tore away from him, running onto the sidewalk and through our fence, barreling through the yard to throw herself across my back, arms tight around my neck.
We both sobbed “I’m so sorry.”
“If I wasn’t an asshole, it would've never escalated like that.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Hell, if we’d never gotten together you would’ve stayed with that girl, popped out a few babies and never experienced any of this shit.” He huffed a humorless laugh as he ran his fingers over his eyes.
“We weren’t ever gonna work out.” My coffee was hot and full again. I took a long sip. My ex was a sweet girl, a girl I probably would’ve stayed friends with. But her breakdown after she found out I was dating a man had ruined her for Danny and thus for me. “You finally admit I’m not just a tratorious, self hating gay man?”
“I just didn’t want you to leave me for a woman!” He ran a hand through his hair. The few greys there were hidden by the bright blonde. “Do you see how humiliating that would be for me?”
“Well you’re welcome for being a good prop for you activism,” I spat and felt immediately guilty. Then guilty for feeling guilty.
The day before, a hulking blonde man with an earing had collided with me on the way out of my office. He had been fresh from a screaming match with my boss and now he was coming over to my apartment. I was beginning to see why everyone said I was “too nice” for New York City and had warned me against moving. I leaned back on my hideous green futon, holding up the manuscript he’d given me. Queer America: A Collection by Daniel Mathers. I had promised him I’d read the first couple stories and give general feedback but that quickly turned into me devouring the thing over night. I was heavy with sleep deprivation but still buzzed with energy awaiting his arrival. When I heard a hard knock at the door I bolted to the door.
“Daniel! You made it. Come in, come in!”
“If you’re gonna call me Daniel, I’m gonna call you Leonardo.”
“Danny. Come in.”
He mosied in, eyeing my apartment that was impressive for New York, garbage anywhere else, hands shoved in his pockets. I didn’t own a TV, only the futon, 6 overflowing bookshelves and a stack of records nearly touching the ceiling. I waited for him to say something, cleared my throat when he didn't.
“I’ve been really excited to meet with you today!” I gingerly lifted the manuscript off of the futon, running my hand over the cover page. “I have a few questions but-”
“Whose this?” Danny picked up a framed picture of Summer and I from a beach trip a year ago. “Doesn’t look like that girlfriend of yours.” He set the picture back down, scanning slowly over the rest of my photos. “Got a lot of her here.”
“She’s my older sister,” I chuckled, walking up next to him, admiring the pictures I usually overlooked. It was the only proof I had that Summer did anything but sunbathe at the beach. We were both dripping wet, her blonder hair slicked against her head. I was grinning, squeezing her around the waist and gazing at her while she stared through the camera. “Girlfriends tend to be pretty… transient for me so I don’t put up many pictures of them. No offense to my Shelby! Shelby’s great.” She had countless polaroids of the two of us at her place so why would I need any?
“Hmm.” Danny nodded to himself, playing idly with a long blonde curl by his ear. “I’ve got 7 siblings, all older. Don’t really talk to them though.”
“So. My manuscript?” Danny turned towards me, pulling his shoulders back so he towered over me.
I grinned, squeezing the stack of papers to my chest. “Before I say anything else, this is… incredible. But as far as your struggles to get it published… I hope you don’t take this the wrong way-”
“Only if you mean it the wrong way.”
“What’s your highest level of education?” I asked slowly, shrinking into my shoulders as I kept his eye, gnawing my lip. “Only because some of the grammatical issues would suggest… again, let me say you are a talented writer but-”
“I never finished high school.” He said it cooly, though his eyes drifted from mine. “Got kicked out when I was 15.”
My heart shuttered. The manuscript felt heavier. “Incredible.” He looked at me with a furrowed brow and I cleared my throat, shaking myself back into composure. “Anyway, I can help. This type of editing is right up my alley.”
“Oh yeah?” Danny crossed his arms over his chest, the muscles in his forearms bulging and veiny. “And how much is that gonna cost me?”
“Consider it a passion project.”
“I know you think I’m just some pandering, mainstream conformist…” My face and chest burned, my hands quivered. “...who doesn’t care about the gay community or being progressive…” I wasn't a particularly strong man but I wondered if the mug in my hand might shatter under my grip as I struggled to suppress my pride and get out what I actually wanted to say.
“I never regretted coming out of the closet for you,” I said through my teeth. “Never.”
“Even after everything?” Danny scoffed. “You’re soft, Kitten. You’re not built for hate.”
I opened the door to find Kimmy on the porch with a splitting grin, flanked by an entourage of 5 high schoolers, 3 girls, 2 boys, shyly peeking at me over her shoulders.
“What is this?” I asked, crossing my arms.
“They didn’t believe me that my tutor makes the best lemon meringue,” she said with an innocent pout. “Really, I was helping your reputation so you’re welcome.”
I snorted, pinching the bridge of my nose. “What am I gonna do with you? Alright, let’s see it!” I extended my hand. “Lemon meringue is for A students only.”
Kimmy thrust a piece of paper into my hand, bouncing on her toes as she watched me look over it as torturously slow as possible.
“Kimmy… how do you get a C in gym?”
Her smile fell and one of the girls leaned over her shoulder. “Because she’d rather look cute then wear gym clothes!”
I folded the sheet back up. “Fair enough. You all-”
“You have a dog!” One of the girl squealed, lurching forward past Kimmy.
Bodie let out a yelp from behind me as the girl approached, forcing his way between my legs, tail between his. The girl reeled back with a guilty frown.
“It’s ok. He’s just so skittish.” I knelt down, burying my hand in the golden fur around his neck. “It’s ok Bodie. They’re nice.”
Kimmy smiled, making her way towards the door with the others in tow. I stuck my arm out to block them. “Hey, hey, hey! I’m doing spring cleaning and I don’t want any grubby fingerprints. Stay out here.”
Twenty minutes later, the kids has taken up the porch steps, watching one of the boys stumble through a magic trick. Kimmy sat next to me in a rocking chair, inhaling her large slice of lemon meringue while I sorted through a box of records, intent to have the task done by the end of the day. Out in the yard, one of the boys, a tall, broad blonde, was sprawled out playing with Bodie who had decided the boy was the least threatening of the bunch.
“That blonde boy, is that the one you’ve been talking about?”
“Shut up! Yes…” Kimmy pursed her lips together and flushed pink. “His name is Kyle.” The name dripped off her tongue like she couldn’t bear to part with it.
“Graduating is a good time for a love confession.”
She wrinkled her nose, hiding her red face in her shoulders. She took a deep breath to regain her composure, looking around. “Where’s Danny? I’m sure he wouldn’t let you have a bunch of kids on his property?” She picked up her coke and took a deep swig, probably to wash the acid from her mouth.
“Book tour.” No need in arguing and riling her up or making the mistake of telling her not to bother with adult business.
“Mr. Leo, sir.” Kyle trotted up the stairs, Bodie at his heels. “Your dog is so nice!” His eyes narrowed on the stack of records collecting at my sides and suddenly widened. “Whoah! Is that Grateful Dead?”
I lifted the record up. “You like them? I’m culling my record collection. Want it?” I offered it out to him and he pulled his hand back, shaking his head.
“Oh no sir! I-I mean, I love them but I don’t have any money-”
“Then just take it.” I thrust it towards him. “I don’t have the patience for yard sales.”
His hands fell to his side and he licked his lips. “That’s...I don’t even know you, man!” He flashed an awkward, lopsided smile and looked to Kimmy.
“He’s not going to take no for an answer,” she teased.
I stood, thrusting the record into the boy’s chest. “I’ve got 6 more inside, come on.” I waved for him to follow and headed inside. After a moment a set of quick footsteps followed behind me. I lead him to the record shelf, locating the other records in my alphabetically organized collection, running my fingers against them.
“They’re all yours.” I stepped back next to him. He stared nervously ahead and I finally gave him a small push on the back towards the shelf. He took the records as if they were made of glass, holding them to his chest and grinning in awe.
“How can I repay you, sir?”
I snorted, placing my hand on his shoulder and walking him back towards the door. “First, you can stop calling me sir like I’m an old man. And if something else comes up, I’ll let you know.”
“That’s why-” I looked up. His eyes were big and blue and sparkling in that particular light. I looked down at my lap. “That’s why I admired you so much. Even before things got bad, even before we were together, you were always so strong. I looked up to you.”
Danny snorted and I snapped my head up. A harsh smirk that didn’t reach his eyes sat on his lips. “You don’t mean that.”
“Yes I do.” I held his gaze until the smirk fell.
Danny picked up his coffee. “I only did what I did for you.,” he said, barely audible as he muffled it into his coffee.
“For me?” I shifted in my seat, a hand slipping over my tumultuous stomach. Now wasn’t the time to feel light and young and silly.
“Anarchist rebellion is way more fun....” He set the mug down and ran his finger over the rim. “But then you came along and you wanted all that classic American dream type shit. So I thought if I could help be a part of normalizing gay life you could, ya know… you could have that. That wasn’t always my goal, you know that.”
Danny cleaned the mess I made the night before, slept on the couch and left before I woke up. On the kitchen counter was a sticky note.
Picking up the anti-biotics. Be back around noon. I love you.
I tried to get dressed. Most of my clothes were old man clothes though and the others looked like a poor attempt to look hip. I sat on the couch in my pajamas, put a splash of whiskey in my coffee and sat in front of the TV until I heard a commotion outside.
Out in the yard, Danny was facing away from the house, towards a jumping, giddy Kimmy.
“Leo’ll probably wanna keep him in the house. Depends on how big he gets.” Danny’s voice was tight and awkward but kind and Kimmy had forgotten her distrust in him. She looked over his shoulder and beamed, waving me over.
Danny turned around as I made my way down the porch steps, shyly offering me a bundle wrapped in a yellow blanket. I tried to keep my hopes down as I approached. Surely it couldn't be what I thought it was. Danny never wanted to care for anything.
“Hey, Kitten.” Danny held the bundle out to my expectant arms. A tiny, golden, almost white retriever puppy gazed up at me, latching its tiny teeth into my hand and nibbling excitedly. I stared in disbelief between the puppy and Danny as I delicately held him to my chest.
“Danny….Danny, you… Oh my God.”
He stepped towards me, wrapped his hand around the back of my neck. Instead of trying to shove his tongue down my throat however, he pecked me on the forehead, and walked past me inside.
I pressed my hand tighter against my stomach. Danny’s thick blonde lashes fluttered against his cheek as he took a slow breath. He pulled his hand from the coffee, his tongue darting out between his lips to lick some of the wetness of his index finger. “My best work, I did for you. Everything in the last 5 years, I never planned for, never imagined. It’s all been you, Kitten. All you.”
My throat went dry. I brought my hand up to massage my tight chest. “And all the bullshit? That was me too?”
“My...issues...aren’t your fault.”
“Then why did you always blame me?” My voice cracked and I leaned back from the table, crossing my arms and looking out the window, biting down on my tongue.
“You always told me how I nag you and push your buttons or start drama-”
“Yo-” Danny lurched as he cut off the start of a yell, eyeing the other tables out of the corner of his eyes as he forced his anger into a whisper. “You knew I couldn’t help how I am when we got together.” He bit his bottom lip, screwing his eyes shut and shaking his head, the red in his face beginning to slowly subside. “You got me, you know? That’s why I love you. But you knew from the start.”
Only a few weeks ago, right after we buried Bodie, I sat in the window sill, wrapped in a musty cotton robe, matted with snot around the sleeves. Outside, Kimmy was talking to a boy on a motorcycle with a leather jacket. I could see butterflies in her stomach as she rocked back and forth on her toes. Her Dad would be home any minute and her curfew was in two hours so as long as she was back before then, I didn’t need to tell him.
“So my agent fucking calls and another god damn conservative, bullshit, ignorant publisher rejected my pitch!” Danny stumbled through the bedroom door, flopping himself against the wall next to me.
“Quiet down, Danny.” I felt like I’d had a hangover for a week now. He growled, dropping an empty beer bottle. It hit the carpet with a soft clink.
“You don’t fucking care?” he snarled into my ear.
I shivered, pulling my robe tighter around my chest and stood up, shuffling past him towards the door. “My dog was just murdered so forgive me if I don’t want to join in on your pity party.” Maybe if I didn’t show him any weakness he might retreat, at least until he sobered up.
It didn’t work and the first blow was to my head. The rest was fuzzy.
He left me on the kitchen floor and passed out on the couch, leaving me, I thought, to lick my wounds alone. I went through a few exercises in the shower to confirm nothing was broken or sprained. I fell asleep in our too big bed, numbed by a handful of ibuprofen. I woke up to the stink of beer, hands tugging at my pajama pants.
“Danny, no. Come on...” The negotiating was always the worst parts of these nights, though usually I could get away in less then 10 minutes without removing a single item of my own clothing. But for my own pride, I would make him paw and tug for a few minutes before I rewarded his patience.
Without warning he got a hold of my waistband and yanked it down, scratching me as his did so.
“Ouch! Danny, seriously, no. Not tonight.” I tried to wriggle out of his grip. In a flurry of motion, I was pressed onto my stomach, Danny straddling my back, the whole of his body weight pressing into me.
“What the fuck?” I cried, muffled as I pulled my face out of the pillows. “Why are you being such an ass? Stop!”
Danny leaned down and slurred into my ear. “...gonna show you what you’d miss if you left. Ain’t nobody better than me. Gotta remind you.”
For a moment, my body was numb, my head empty. Then I heard the rumple of fabric above me and the numbness gave way to panic. I couldn’t fight Danny but I knew him and knowing him had to be enough.
“Just get off of me we can do something else, ok?” When we’d first gotten together, it had been like this. He’d pinned me down by the small of my back with an almost violent passion.
“I’m sorry, ok! I’m not leaving. Just slow down, ok? Stop!” Sex with Danny had never been gentle but there was something something loving about his roughness, the excited reverence with which he groped and bit and scratched, attentiveness in the way he demanded full control, never wanting to receive, only to give.
“Danny, I love you. Please don’t do this.”
That night, though, there was none of that.
“So that’s just how it is then?” I sat back in the seat and shrugged. “You’re just never going to change?”
“No, Leo! That’s now what I’m saying!” He leaned forward, his hand creeping across the table. We watched as it shyly approached my hand, the tips of our fingertips brushing. “You’ve made me better, Leo!” He grabbed my hand, his jaw quivering.
“No I didn’t. And I can’t.” His grip wasn’t tight. I could pull away if I wanted to. “You have to be better on your own.”
“And I will!” He held onto my hand with both of his. “I’ll do it for you, ok? I’ll stop all this and it’ll never happen again so just please give me a chance, Kitten.” Slowly, as if it might burn, he brought my hands up to his face, pressing his cheek into my palm. Danny hated his soft, pink, chubby cheeks that obscured his cheekbones and jawline. The diner was busier now. Surely people were staring, though that wasn’t what was embarrassing him.
“You’re probably happier without me now but that doesn’t mean…” Danny’s voice trickled off. He scrunches up his nose, gulping. With a hard sigh he pulled my hand back, depositing it back onto the table.
Danny sat up, legs on either side of my waist, wrenching his belt off, grinning down at me like sex with him was a threat and not a promise. The words came out of my mouth thoughtlessly.
“Would you be my boyfriend?”
Danny’s brow furrowed. He tossed his belt and leaned down into the crook of my neck, peppering pink bruises that would be purple tomorrow. “Why?”
“Well we’ve been having sex for nearly two months now.” I ran my hands under his shirt, across that wide muscular expanse, over long stripes of scars. “It would make sense to- Ah!” He always went after the same spot between my ear and my jaw when he wanted to shut me up.
“That’s hardly a reason.”
“God, you’re dense,” I giggled into his shoulder, trying to wriggle away from his tongue. “Mm… Danny… I wanna keep you... really like you... Might even love you.”
Danny froze, leaning up with his hands on either side of my head, unamused by my joke.
“There’s no pressure to say it back or even feel it,” I cooed, draping a hand over the back of his neck. “I just wanted to be honest.”
He blinked once. Twice. “I’ve never... dated like that before.”
“You’re a fast learner.”
We stayed there, silent, sizing each other, waiting for the other to break. He finally laid his weight upon me, mumbling into my shoulder.
We began our dance again, too eager to get under the covers. Danny was a clumsy, juvenile kisser, all clicking teeth and bumping noses. He loved to tease me for my lack of experience with men, loved to praise me for my willingness to try and enjoy. Then though, he said nothing.
“Have you ever made love before, Danny?”
“What?” he laughed, half blowing a raspberry onto my bare stomach.
“Not sex or fucking.” I reached down, turning his head up to face me. “Making love?”
His lips pursed and he frowned, flushing pink as he shook his head and rested his chin on my chest. I ran my thumb over his lips, his soft, stubbly cheeks, grinning like a teenager.
“That’s ok. I’ll teach you.”
“Why did you agree to meet me here if you thought I was better off?”
Danny pursed his lips. He reached up, scratching the back of his neck “I, um… I haven’t been sleeping. Nothing helps. Nothing.” He sniffed and thumbed his nose. “Before you, you know, I’d never slept in bed with someone else and now…” He tipped his head back, scrubbing his hands over his face. His adam’s apple bobbed. I examined his neck for bites, bruised, scratches and found nothing. He cleared his throat and shook his head. “I uh... found some of your stuff.”
“No, you didn’t. You kept it instead of mailing it to me like Summer asked.”
He bowed his head. “Ok. Yeah. Leo, you… you don’t owe me anything but please… please Kitten… just so I can sleep… just give me one night.”
I’d borrowed Summer’s concealer so Danny wouldn't know I hadn’t been sleeping either.