Bobby scraped up the fallen toppings from his taco and shoveled them into his mouth. Christ, he ate like a child. I shouldn’t have agreed to this “date” with Bobby—Bobby what? Had I not been up late, mindlessly pounding out the pages of my lousy novel, I would’ve never logged on to Adam4Adam. I would’ve never seen Bobby’s profile pic and have been struck not only by his youth, but his beauty.
I turned thirty-four in less than two months. On Facebook, all my friends mourned their descent toward forty. Lines on my face that appeared when I laughed no longer disappeared when I stopped. Now I was at Juanita’s Taco Hut, somewhat repulsed by the table manners of twenty-year-old Bobby Whatever.
“When was your last time with a guy?” I asked.
“Let me think…” he said, his fork raised. “About two weeks ago. Not bad.”
“That’s all? Not bad?” I chuckled. “You need to stop fucking Tyler men.”
Bobby laughed, bits of beef falling from his lips. “Not everyone zips up to Dallas like you.”
Smiling, I lowered my gaze. Unable to recall the precise moment during our online chat that I’d revealed my trips to Dallas for sex, I thought it more prudent to be selective about which parts of my past were available for comment. Definitely excluded: my fondness for the downtown bathhouse.
He wanted to know how long it’d been for me. When was my last man?
“Around the same time,” I said. In truth, my last fuck was a hot stoner just three days ago. “He was only a year older than you.”
“Only a year older, huh? It was probably Marlon.” He rolled his eyes.
The name clicked right away. Weeknights, I rehearsed “The Laramie Project” for the local civic theatre. It detailed the beating death of gay Wyoming student Matthew Shepard. Marlon Waggener played several younger characters. I described the boy I knew, already confident we were discussing the same person.
“You got it.”
“Jesus!” I tossed my fork on my plate. “Every fag in Tyler knows each other.” The clatter echoed through the cramped restaurant. Finding sex in this incestuous setting was treacherous. “Unspoiled” boys like Bobby were rare. “I’m amazed we haven’t met before.” Calming down, I speculated how Marlon and Bobby knew one another—and why Bobby wasn’t fond of him. “I always thought Marlon was rather attractive.”
“He’s fucking infamous,” my new friend hissed. “Everybody knows.”
“Obviously not. I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“He was logged on last night.” Bobby clicked his teeth. “To our website.”
“Marlon Waggener belongs to a hook-up website?” I gulped my beer. “He seems so…”
“Shy.” Memories of Marlon flashed through my head. I hadn’t realized there were so many. “Refined.” I decided to dig the hole a little deeper. “Fuck, I don’t know. Dignified.”
Bobby perched at the edge of the vinyl booth seat. The pointy ends of his knees pressed against my own. He leaned over his crossed arms and narrowed his gaze. His face was stunning: a narrow, sharp-angled monument to masculine late-adolescent beauty. I imagined how his full lips would look wrapped around my yardstick.
Bobby asked how I knew him, with a gravity that unnerved me. I told him, truthfully, that we’d discussed writing a few times. I’d even invited him, casually, to attend the writers’ guild meeting sponsored by East Texas Gays, and as president, I was the only member who’d published anything anywhere.
Panic flashed in Bobby’s eyes. “No, Lionel. You don’t want him there.”
“Buddy, it’s my group. I can invite whomever I want.”
“Not Marlon! You don’t know what he does.”
During this puzzling exchange, I thought about Marlon seated on one of the stools onstage. His script tucked under his arm, he craned his neck to follow whichever actor was speaking. I stood by my first assessment of his appearance: the boy was attractive. His soft, pale face complemented his delicate bone structure. Hazel eyes penetrated whoever stood before him. He held his body loosely, his shoulders slack, his foot swiveling beside the stool. It was easy to imagine him startled. He returned my greetings and goodbyes each night.
“What does Marlon do that’s so goddamn terrible?” Bobby’s pushiness had started to grate.
“After he’s gone out with you, he comes back the next night and just stares through your window, waiting to give you another blowjob.” He simulated a person attempting to see through dark water, eyes popped full. His mockery merely irritated.
“He hangs out in front of windows ready to suck dick?”
“Trust me, Lionel. I’m dead serious.” Bobby smirked and rubbed his foot along my calf. My faithful companion stiffened between my legs, but I kept a cool façade. I couldn’t let this boy know I was easy—easy to have, easier to leave.
“I don’t wanna talk about Marlon anymore,” he said.
I grinned. “I don’t wanna talk anymore, period.”
I knew, of course, I’d never love this boy. No one would believe that ending.
Back at my apartment, Bobby and I tossed around the bed a couple of hours, fulfilling all the lewd promises we’d made online the night before. After I returned him to his parents’ house, I collapsed before my keyboard, taking a moment to click my browser over to Adam4Adam.
In the car, Bobby had revealed Marlon’s screen name from the website, so I looked up his profile. The primary picture that popped up when trolling for a fuck didn’t look like him at all. It even cropped off half his face. Another picture, however, looked precisely like the Marlon I knew. The same abashed smile, the same grey eyes. Before I realized it, I was writing him a brief message saying hello along with a friend request.
I’d known Bobby less than twenty-four hours, but if he knew about this, we’d never speak again. If the guy you’re fucking denotes any exception to the etiquette understood by all fuck buddies, it’s only polite to take heed. What did I hope for? Marlon might not respond at all.
After writing a couple of hours, I settled onto my sofa. I reviewed the scenes our director was blocking that night. I had a small part, barely five minutes of speaking time. This was fine with me. I’d auditioned because it would be a blast to bring one of the quintessential “gay shows” to conservative East Texas. More importantly, though, I needed a reason to leave my apartment. A writer’s life is one of solitude.
I arrived at the theatre just before seven. The stage and seating form a theatre-in-the-round, and I found a seat across from where most of the actors sat waiting. They gabbed and sipped coffee. Marlon wasn’t there yet. I checked my watch: two more minutes before call.
Speculating where my co-star might be, Bobby’s seductive tenor thrummed through my mind with its accusations: Stalker. Freak. Maybe it was all true. Right now, maybe Marlon stood defiant before some poor bastard’s window, waiting to suck him stupid. I glanced behind me as he slinked inside the theatre. Looking distracted, he wandered onto the stage.
The assistant director, Paula, deemed him late.
Marlon rolled up his script and bowed his head. “Won’t happen again.”
“That’s good to know,” she responded.
Like me, Marlon rarely joined the main crowd of actors before rehearsals. I eased up to his side, eager to justify my curiosity. Whatever I learned wouldn’t be made available for Bobby’s ridicule. I asked if he got my message. Our shoulders touched, and Marlon turned his head my way. He asked whether I’d called. I explained that it was a message from a social-media site. I didn’t want to mention specific names, unwilling to embarrass Marlon—or myself.
“I’m online a lot. Which one did you—?”
Paula shot her hands above her nest of black curly hair and clapped. Actors took their places. I had less than a moment left with Marlon.
“Adam4Adam,” I whispered harshly. “That website.” I hoped no one heard me.
To my surprise, he held firm beside me, not migrating with the cast. “Yeah, thank you,” he said. “We’re friends now.” Then he was gone, shuffling to his seat. The sweetish odor of peanuts I’d detected on his breath hung in the air.
“Lionel, you’re not in position. Chop-chop!” Paula popped her fingers.
I blushed, dashing across stage to a bench where I waited out the rest of the act. The spot beside me remained vacant until Paula instructed Marlon to sit there. He drifted toward me and plopped upon a stool, never looking my way. I didn’t speak to him, either. I knew what I wanted to know. While Paula assisted a costar through an emotional monologue, Marlon signaled me.
“I’ve been thinking about that writing group,” he said in a low voice.
“We meet this Sunday. Two o’clock.”
“Should I bring anything?”
“Whatever you’re working on. Everyone reads aloud.”
He returned his attention to braying Paula. I realized I was grinning. I couldn’t articulate how pleased I felt that Marlon had accepted my invitations, both online and face-to-face. If Bobby’s claims were true, Marlon’s work might offer a glimpse into his twisted psyche. It would be nice to find a local artist whose demons might dwarf my own. To be honest, I felt a little cheap and opportunistic—I wouldn’t have pressed so hard for Marlon to join our group had I not learned of his alleged perversion. For this reason, and several others, it never occurred to me to share this conversation’s substance with Bobby.
I sat in the Barnes and Noble café waiting for Marlon. Also, I expected the group’s only regular members, Zeke and Wilbur. In truth, I hoped Marlon might ignite our sad little trio. Zeke wrote didactic poems about political issues, and Wilbur was convinced he could sell a memoir about his twenty years as a hairdresser. If these bouffants could talk… The two men arrived together, already in animated conversation as they bumbled through the tables and scattered chairs, nearing the back.
“How’s the novel going?” Wilbur asked.
“At least the pages aren’t unwriting themselves,” I said.
“I’ve got a good one for ya this week,” Zeke wheezed.
“Let’s wait just a few more moments. We have a new member coming.”
Zeke scraped his chair across the tile floor, scooting close. “Who is it?”
My breath caught. It seemed hugely important to describe Marlon with precise and proper words. “He’s in the gay show that’s happening at the civic theatre. He’s young, maybe twenty.”
“Fresh meat.” Wilbur slicked back his eyebrow with a damp finger.
“Behave yourselves,” I warned. “This group is on life support. We can’t afford to alienate anyone.”
We filled the next few minutes discussing the possible career paths of the most recent loser on The Voice. Every time Zeke laughed, it curdled into a hacking cough. When I left to grab some napkins from the front counter, I glimpsed Marlon. A display of new hardback novels partially obscured him. Had he been watching, deciding whether or not to join? I hoped those two no-talent blowhards didn’t scare the poor kid,
I waved and called his name. Marlon mumbled a greeting from across the cafe. I asked the two men to scoot and make room for him. I made introductions. He smiled shyly, clasped a black plastic binder to his chest. “He writes…” But I didn’t know how to finish that sentence. “What do you write, Marlon?”
“I wrote a story,” he said, voice flat. He seemed a bit spooked. It was difficult picturing such a tentative boy offering blowjobs to any man stepping outside his front door.
“Why don’t we let our new arrival read first?” I felt like a flight attendant, all grins and outsized gestures.
Zeke and Wilbur nodded their encouragement, shifting upon their rickety chairs.
“Right here in front of everyone?” Obviously, Marlon wasn’t familiar with how a writing group worked. His ignorance charmed me. I couldn’t remember the last time I anticipated hearing a new story this much.
“Oh, don’t worry,” I said, gesturing to the dozen or so calmly chatting parties in the café. “They’re not listening to us.” Marlon hunched his shoulders, seemed to survey a few: two old men in cardigans playing chess; a teenager on her cell phone, flanked by two girlfriends; and a businesswoman sipping a steaming cappuccino. Finally, he looked at me, his eyes pleading—but for what? Confused, I simply said, “If you’re ready, go ahead.”
Marlon cleared his throat, opened his binder and began to read. His voice was deep and rich, somewhat at odds with his slender, petite frame. The words rolled out in a soothing melody. He spoke in full, resonant tones. I shouldn’t have been surprised; his acting during rehearsals was captivating. Indeed, I was so bewitched that it took me a moment to focus on his actual words.
The tale concerned a young man named Andy who drove to his ex-lover’s house in the woods. He didn’t know if the ex-lover was home. He lit a cigarette and climbed out of his car, crossed the front yard and stopped before the bay window at the front of the house. He began to rub his crotch. Then he unzipped, the result both erect and unavoidable.
At that point, Zeke and Wilbur sat spellbound. Of course, it likely had been quite some time since either man experienced anything remotely as sexual as the situation Marlon described. They weren’t attractive. I nervously glanced over at our neighboring café patrons, particularly the trio of teenage girls two tables away, one of them still gabbing on her cell phone.
The story continued. The house wasn’t empty. The ex-lover had been asleep in the back when something woke him. Wearing his bathrobe, he lumbered into the living room. It took him a few moments to notice Andy, pants sagging around his hips, himself hard and quivering. The ex-lover stared through the window, stunned, but he finally gathered the composure to charge outside and demand Andy leave. The semi-nude man refused, even as the ex-lover strode toward him, arms waving and voice raised. The two men were alone in the woods, no neighbors for miles. Andy proclaimed his undying devotion to the ex-lover and insisted he would not leave until the man confessed that he loved Andy, too. They stood inches apart, gazes locked. During this, Andy again stroked himself, moaning with pleasure. Flustered and afraid, the ex-lover whipped off his robe and threw it around Andy’s shoulders, escorted him across the lawn toward his front door. When they reached the porch, Andy cried tears of gratitude. Just as he’d hoped, his ex-lover had been unable to turn him away.
The story done, Marlon cast furtive looks at Zeke and Wilbur. A faint, enigmatic smile bloomed across his face. My pulse quickened, my foot tapping a rapid beat against the floor. “And that’s the end,” he announced, closing his binder with an authoritative smack. His sheepishness had vanished. He sat proud and composed, as if telling this story of sexual audacity were a noble act.
Zeke and Wilbur gaped at one another. Zeke tucked his own notebook far, far beneath his crossed arms. I wasn’t sure what to do. Frankly, I’d long ago given up hope this group would produce work of any true worth. But Marlon’s story was captivating, stark and erotic. His sentences were rich and sprawling. His imagery was seductive, his metaphors almost too apt to bear. I gazed into open space, trying to formulate an intelligent response. When I shook myself out of this trance, I discovered Marlon’s grey eyes penetrating me. He was indeed a handsome boy. The silence had lasted far too long.
“Excellent work, Marlon,” I said. “You should consider publishing that.”
As quickly as a light switches off, he devolved back into the shy college boy that had entered the café. His shoulders slumped as he absently drummed his fingers against his binder. “You really think so?”
“I know some websites with comprehensive market listings.”
“Is that shit true?” Wilbur crossed his arms like a father confronting his wayward son.
“I thought it was a little pornographic,” Zeke said. He whipped out his notebook and flipped it open. “Now, I’ve got something you guys should hear.”
I gestured for him to wait. “I think you need to apologize, Zeke.”
“What the hell for?”
“You shouldn’t accuse artists of being pornographers.”
Zeke did a double take, pivoted his head a couple of times between myself and Marlon. His jaw hung in disbelief. But, after a long moment, he mumbled his regrets. The boy bowed his head and caressed the edge of his binder.
Watching this modest gesture, a realization struck me: Marlon’s story was quite similar to the one Bobby had told me about him. Was it not fiction? Was this boy brazenly confessing his depravity to an acquaintance and two strangers? Zeke and Wilbur read their pieces, but I didn’t pay attention. My mind raced with images of Marlon rooted before an ex-lover’s house, stroking himself, face contorted in ecstasy. I did not find these visions arousing, but I also found them impossible to dismiss.
After the meeting, Marlon milled outside the bookstore. He took a deep gulp of air and approached me, hands in his pockets. Shy, again? These shifts in demeanor seemed…arbitrary.
“You said you had some websites I might need?”
“What? Oh, yes. Um…let me borrow a sheet of paper.” The boy ripped a page from his notebook, and I scribbled down three URLs. I couldn’t gauge his business savvy, but I suspected Marlon Waggener was a quick and eager study. Those eyes: always watching you.
“Listen,” I said as Marlon turned away. “That story you wrote—most beginning writers borrow extensively from their own lives. Did you…?”
He grinned like I was the plump mouse under the paw of a puss. “What makes you think I’m a beginner?”
“I’m sorry,” This was more awkward than my date with Bobby. “I shouldn’t have assumed.”
Marlon retreated, stepping off the sidewalk into the lot. A pickup blared its horn, skidding to a stop as he idled past. As I’d resigned myself to botching our farewell, he spun around and called out, “It’s just a story, Lionel. I’ve got lots of them.”
While I was at rehearsal, Bobby sent me a text message asking me to drive him across the county line for beer. He offered to pay. While I considered his offer, I gazed at Marlon delivering a monologue upstage. We hadn’t spoken that night, just exchanged a quick wave when he arrived. My skin prickling, it became imperative I slip Bobby between my lips. I often neglected work whenever a beautiful boy beckoned.
Later that night, Bobby and I eased down the highway. Looking at my latest lover, I couldn’t stop smiling. He would never know I wished to mentor his stalker.
“You’ll never guess who chatted me up last night,” he said.
“You’re right. I have no plans of guessing.”
“I blocked his profile, but he created a whole new one and messaged me again.”
“Jesus. What did he want?”
“He trolled me. Asked what I was doing. Same ol’ shit.” He chuckled and shook his head.
“I’m getting quite an education on dear Marlon.” I remembered how I laughed at desperate men when I was Bobby’s age, how freely the sounds fled my throat.
“What? You’ve heard from other guys?”
“No,” I said. “Just you.”
“If I go see your play, Marlon will try something.”
“Ooh, look who thinks he’s important enough to stalk,” I teased.
The wind streamed through the window, relieving the silence. All I could think about was Marlon’s story, the one he’d written, and whether hearing it would make Bobby recall the sordid rumor he’d disclosed at the restaurant. I couldn’t mention a word, of course.
An hour later, the two of us arrived at his house and stocked the three cases of Budweiser in the garage. Bobby reminded me to remove my shoes before stepping indoors. Even with his parents out of town, rules were rules. I popped open my first beer. He grabbed my face and kissed me. As splendid as it felt, I wondered how Marlon would react to learn I fucked his schoolboy crush. He had trusted me with a story, perhaps a personal one. Then again, isn’t every story under the sun personal?
After a few beers, Bobby and I made our way to the tiny twin bed in his cluttered bedroom. We kept kissing beside the glow of his computer screen. The room was otherwise dark. The air conditioner rattled and whined, overtaxed on a hot August night. Bobby tossed about beneath the sheets. I couldn’t take any more thumps and jabs, so I staggered down the hall to the living room. I’d slipped on my cargo shorts and T-shirt, finding it rude to wander naked through a strange house. I stood at the picture window overlooking the front lawn and gazed into the night. Bobby lived in a quiet neighborhood. The cars resided in garages.
A shadow quivered over the grass.
Holding my breath, I drifted forward. My hands rested against the glass. The shadow stirred. Clueless about how to handle an intruder, I hesitated. If I waited, the figure might reveal itself.
Bobby called out from down the hall. “Where did you go?”
“Just getting another beer,” I said. “Go back to sleep.”
“I’m horny again.”
I chuckled. Wasn’t this what I wanted, what gay men my age dream of: the insatiable, gorgeous young buck? I grimaced speculating the number of months (weeks?) before Bobby grew bored. As my thoughts threatened to shift into self-pity, a sudden ping echoed through the room. I looked down and saw a small chip in one of the windowpanes. Had someone thrown a pebble? I returned my gaze to the yard. The curious shadow twitched again. I opened the front door but remained at the threshold. Crickets chirped. An ambulance siren promised trouble—but elsewhere.
“Who’s out there?” I called, remembering too late that Bobby might hear. I wanted him to stay in his room. Quietly, I repeated myself.
The figure emerged from behind a tree. “What are you doing here?” a voice demanded.
I’d know that deep, rich vibrato anywhere. The shadow inched closer toward a clearing, but a security floodlight from a neighboring house fell upon him. The mystery vanished. The reality proved far more stubborn.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” I barely choked out the words.
Marlon Waggener still wore his clothes from rehearsal. With great relief, I noted his jeans were securely fastened. “I came to see Bobby,” he muttered. His eyes wouldn’t meet mine. Myriad questions sliced through my head. If the story Marlon had read was true, did that mean he and Bobby…? Were Bobby’s dire warnings about Marlon just camouflaged personal history?
“Bobby doesn’t want to see you.” Already, my voice edged with panic.
“I need to talk to him.”
“He’s sleeping, Marlon. Go home!”
The boy moved closer, anxiously balling his fists. Tears glistened in his eyes. The first one streamed down his cheek. “He said he loved me.”
“He can’t stand you!” I whispered harshly, still conscious of Bobby two walls away. This wasn’t a time for cruelty or heartlessness. I had a heart. It was thumping inside my chest.
“Is that what he told you?” Marlon’s voice strained. “He’s ashamed of me.”
“You haven’t slept with Bobby.” I admired the new certainty in my voice, but it was a bluff. If Marlon kept confessing, I might start believing. Our voices rose, loud enough to wake a neighbor, surely loud enough to capture Bobby’s ear.
“That’s bullshit,” Marlon said. “He’s lying.”
“That story you read in the café? It happened here, didn’t it?”
He grabbed my shoulders. “I need to see him, Lionel. One last time. Please!.”
“Why did you write about this? That’s..I don’t know what that is…”
“Whenever I write a new story, the memory that inspired it…the pain subsides. It becomes safe to think about it again.” Marlon wouldn’t release me. I stood there, held in place inches from a shameless stalker. What he said, however, made perfect sense. That’s what compelled me to write: the desperate need to flush out the damage before it poisoned my heart and mind.
“I won’t tell Bobby you were here. I promise.”
“I want him to know I was here!”
Across the street, a yellow light flashed to life through a window. A dog started barking, soon joined by a second and a third. Unlike the wilderness that surrounded Andy and his ex-lover, at least a dozen neighbors resided on this block.
“Someone might call the police,” I said.
“I don’t care anymore.”
“Marlon…” I looked into his mournful grey eyes.
His beauty was more ephemeral than Bobby’s. This trusted visage demanded you reveal your soul. I couldn’t recall wrapping my arms around his waist.
I kissed him. I was amazed I’d resisted so long. Our hands explored one another. Our tongues moved in defiance of discretion. We didn’t part till we were out of breath. Marlon looked at me with such vulnerability that I imagined how we would spend the next forty years. So many stories to tell—we would tell them to each other. Neither of us noticed Bobby standing on the porch, fully dressed, his hands on his hips.
“What the fuck is going on?”
“Marlon came to see you.” I wrapped my arm around the intruder’s shoulders. “Now I’m taking him home.” Bobby gaped at us, dumbstruck. Without a goodbye, I guided Marlon across the lawn into the dark, serene street. The disturbed dogs still barked. More bedroom lights glowed with curiosity.
Marlon included these details in the stark, haunting story he wrote the next morning. I asked him to read it while we lay naked in my bed. No, he said, handing me the notebook, open to the story’s first page. His words falling from my lips—for twenty minutes, we were a single soul.
I knew, of course, I’d soon love this boy. It was the only ending that made sense.