Alex, suddenly cold and awkward in own his skin, clicked play on Jolene. Once Dolly was well into her desperate plea, he moved away from his desk through the leaning doorway, walked into the living room, and took a seat in the only armchair, his back to the wall, facing The Kid. He’d read online that you could ward off unexpected attacks and achieve greater control of your own space and therefore life if you never sat with your back to a door so he’d recently re-arranged his apartment, positioning the living room chairs with a full view of the room, safely away from the door. Success came from cumulative efforts.
Still drunk, The Kid had a knee-jerk, unconscious reaction to the music and stood up, the contents of his bag spilling onto the floor and eyes mostly closed but still staring at his phone. He swayed back and forth to the music, unaware, probably, what he was even dancing to. Alex watched, agitated. It was as though the street light purposefully needled him, reminding him of his failure in the way it shone through the window and illuminated his shabby possessions: the torn, dark blue couch and worn-down painted floor boards and the piles of clothes he hadn’t put away. He was certain The Kid had pretended to be half asleep all the way home so he wouldn’t have to pay the cab fare, and to avoid him. He’d played along and not said anything, the whole time wanting like nothing he had wanted before to move his hand to touch The Kid’s but he had not and it had been humiliating to need that so much. It tended to take a lot of energy to look like he was feeling nothing. The effort had been necessary though; even in a cab they were still in public, but now the questions had begun and he didn’t want to stop them. How could someone be so oblivious? There hadn’t been one point that whole night when he hadn’t felt alone and as though the entire world expected too much of him. Why did someone, anyone, have the right to make him feel so uncomfortable when he needed to be confident and assertive? He had given The Kid so much at this point and received so very little in return. He knew the Omniscient Audience could see that but he wondered if anyone else could.
Just because The Kid, Alex reasoned as he surveyed the wasteland he was now convinced his apartment was, with his perfect 22-year-old, hairless, naturally muscular body, alabaster skin, and his piercing light blue eyes, was attractive to most people, didn’t mean there was no need for him to be supportive. Alex was now certain, at age 46, that beauty and youth were not always enough and, frankly, it had been a lesson he was glad to have learned. He’d never exactly been able to trade on his looks, certainly not like The Kid, and he was glad about it because that was why he was so focused on ideas now. A film of perspiration oozed uselessly out of the palms of his hands and he imagined it soaking into the fabric, funneled out of sight.
As he sat and stared at The Kid’s body, mesmerized by the way it shone in the streetlight, he couldn’t help but feel that if the two of them had sex it would probably solve everything. If they could just have sex everything would be fine. It would concrete everything; they’d be more connected and it would prove he wasn’t so old that no one could want him. Sex was the answer. It would help to, at least, give him the strength to keep him moving at the pace at which he would need to operate the following night. When people saw them together they’d envy him and it was proven that other people’s envy was often a clear indicator of success. Also, The Kid was an unusually high quality score, possibly the best looking person he would ever get, and the regret at losing that alone would be insurmountable. He needed to seal the deal.
Sitting back in the chair, Alex formed a smile and kept it there. He’d start out by making it clear he was paying attention and was just alive in the moment, having fun, relaxing in a chair with the music while this oafish siren was dancing in front of him. The smile bared all his teeth, light flashed off them and The Kid suddenly noticed him from the other side of the living room. The dancing stopped and The Kid looked up from his phone. He turned his whole body and looked Alex in the eye as he stretched himself out of the t-shirt he was wearing, tossed it aside and returned to his swaying and staring at the light blue glow that shone out of his palm. He faced the windows so the street light lit up his face but hid it from Alex’s line of sight.
Alex ignored the ache in his stomach and the sweat that was forming on his forehead and focused on his goal.
“Hey, show me your ass?” Alex said as sweetly as he could, drawing a repeated circle in the air with his vertical index finger. A surge of adrenalin came over him. Almost as soon as he’d spoken, The Kid spun around as instructed, playfully dropped his pants and stepped out of them, his eyes switching between being confidently closed and returning his gaze to his phone.
“You’re aDORable, you know that?” Alex said, confident that a flattering comment would commandeer The Kid’s attention. “Did you know you’re aDORable?”
The Kid giggled and rolled his eyes, possibly unaware he was doing so.
“You like my ass?” The Kid asked, not watching Alex, still looking at his phone.
Alex watched himself stand up and take two steps towards The Kid whose eyes were closed and who hadn’t noticed he had moved, and he stopped in the middle of the room. He wasn’t sure what to do now; it was like he was stuck in limbo. He wasn’t going to smack The Kid down and demand sex but he still had to make sure it happened. He considered dancing too but couldn’t muster the right confidence so he stood there, unsure how to play it out. He smiled again and scratched his neck with his right hand. This all felt pointless; The Kid was lost in his phone, or at least pretended to be, not to mention drunk. Maybe he needed to be more playful and energetic and clearly unafraid of being alone. That was the best way to accomplish everything. He tried to imagine he was a tornado of potential and excitement and that he was just going to gather The Kid up and carry him on his way through the world. People always responded well when he was clear and dynamic and optimistic; they loved it when anyone did. Maybe it was because it was 3am and he was tired or maybe it was something else but he just couldn’t find the energy to build any tornado momentum. It felt as though this might actually work better if it wasn’t about thoughts and was just about actions.
Shutting down his brain, Alex reached out, wrapped an arm around The Kid’s waist, and lifted him off the ground. The lack of clear resistance gave him a real sense of relief; he wasn’t being rejected. But what was he going to do now? Spin around? Throw The Kid in the air and catch him on the way down like people did with small children? Lifting The Kid wasn’t an effortless maneuver either, so it wasn’t exactly as though he could just carry on doing other things with this compliant, somewhat inert body under his arm. The Kid had gone motionless and had ceased all acknowledgment of the music. Instead, he looked out the window with a dead smile forced upon his face, his hand still gripping his phone, and mumbled incoherently for a moment before burping. Alex remained certain, however, that if sex could happen, The Kid would understand and wouldn’t be so indifferent, so transaction-centric about the two of them. With The Kid in his arms, he took a few steps towards the bed. Perhaps The Kid would feel things he didn’t know he could feel as a result of what was happening. Perhaps this would all be a nurturing, learning experience. When they reached the bed, Alex threw The Kid and laughed slightly as he did to make sure it was clear that there was no malice intended – this was all just fun. The Kid landed on his stomach, lifted his shoulders and propped his chest up with his elbows, looked out the window briefly, let out a sigh, and rested his forehead on the mattress for a moment. He then turned onto his side, resting on his elbow, and resumed staring at his phone.
Alex stood over the bed, watching The Kid, waiting for recognition, still on the outside of where he needed to be. He wondered if it was even possible to make a union like this, between two people who were more than twenty years apart in age, evolve beyond something that resembled parent and child. Something prevented him from just diving on top of The Kid and taking what he wanted; it felt like that would make The Kid into a meal and that wasn’t what he wanted. He was unavoidably attracted to The Kid, there was no way around that, but being unsure of whether he was really wanted in return numbed his groin and his penis, it pained him to notice, was not erect yet.
The Kid looked up at Alex briefly, their lines of sight colliding, and immediately went back to scrolling through his phone, letting out another burp that blurred into an exhaled laugh at whatever was on the screen. Suddenly infuriated with being ignored, Alex shoved everything in his mind aside, forced himself to stop thinking, lifted his t-shirt over his head so that he stood there, bare-chested and exposed, and watched himself dive onto the mattress. He focused on smiling the whole time to make it clear that this was all just light, inevitable fun. The Kid didn’t shift to accommodate him but he didn’t flinch or move away either. Encouraged by that distinct lack of rejection and increasingly mesmerized by the sensation of his arm touching the smooth skin and muscular ridges of The Kid’s torso, Alex’s penis began to swell. His body was reacting. Something about this was therefore true. The mattress sank lower on his side because he was heavier than The Kid but that was probably just because he was more muscular. He stole a glimpse of his own arm; the bicep’s bulk and tone enhanced by the fact that his arm was bent. The two of them just had different body types and differences were what brought people together. He usually experienced a persistent low-grade annoyance at the weight that hung off his waist, just above his butt on either side and at the way his back skin rolled when he leaned sideways or backwards but he knew that from the correct angle his chest was well proportioned just like his arms. The two of them were different and now they would converge and become one complete whole. Making this happen right now was the perfect solution to everything difficult. It felt like he may never, in his life, have been clearer about a goal.
Alex lurched toward The Kid, burying his head in The Kid’s armpit so that The Kid was forced to rest the hand he was using to hold his phone on Alex’s head and back. Alex was now hiding in a cave, which was fine because even at his most confident he found it excruciating to meet someone’s gaze. All the movement and contact between them also distracted him from the background threat that was his somewhat thinning dark brown hair and the creeping baldness on both sides of his scalp. Since he had addressed that problem a month prior by beginning an expensive regimen of Propecia, he’d felt less pending doom when it came to hair loss in general but right now it felt like that problem had never even existed in the first place. He could no longer see the rest of the room and felt as though he might stay there forever, safely hidden from confrontation and difficulty, methodically breathing in The Kid-scented air.
Alex unfurled his hand from its folded position between his chest and the mattress and gradually reached towards The Kid’s neck and jaw. The smooth, vulnerable skin of The Kid’s muscular throat was deeply alluring in the way it twisted to help him face the window. They’d spent that evening in dark bars, with loud music in every room and whole crowds of people distracting them from each other and they’d both had different amounts of alcohol. That would explain the lack of synchronicity he felt at the moment. People in relationships sometimes had to fight to remain in sync. He ran his fingertips over The Kid’s chest and neck, being sure to keep his face completely buried in the cave. He couldn’t be held totally responsible for his actions if he couldn’t see what he was doing. The Omniscient Audience, which now somehow included Dr. Phil, would see what he was doing as rational and reasonable. Because look at what was happening: all he was doing was working within his limits and attempting to connect. As his hand re-tread the smooth, firm ridges of The Kid’s torso, Alex felt as though the way was clear for him to move things forward so, focusing his mind on synchronicity, he emerged from the cave, moved back, eyes still closed, sat on his feet, and dove forward gently pushing his face down hard into The Kid’s underwear-covered crotch. Again, The Kid didn’t move away or stop him so he peeked up, attempting to make eye contact. The Kid’s hand was now behind his head. He had no smile; his mouth hung open and his eyes were closed although it wasn’t clear if he was asleep. Alex stared at the way The Kid’s lips looked when he wasn’t consciously masking the secret flaw of his mouth. He’d noticed that The Kid had trained himself to suck in his over-full lower lip slightly and push out his almost non-existent upper lip at the same time, achieving a kind of balance to the imperfection he was born with. His disproportionate lips along with the slightly twisted eye teeth that sat behind them formed two of his three most noticeable flaws. The Kid was evidently aware of them both because he had gone to such lengths to smooth them away. His tendency towards a feminizing sibilant “S” was the other flaw but he must never have considered it a flaw as he never did anything to hide it. All three of his flaws definitely detracted from his perfection but Alex didn’t mind any of it. The Kid’s mouth with all its uncontrolled humanity was, to Alex, suddenly the most beautiful part of him and that was a clear sign that this was probably the person he would love for all eternity.
With that realization, Alex freed The Kid’s penis by grabbing the sides of his underwear and yanking them down. Eyes closed, head hanging back, still clearly incoherent, the Kid propped himself up on his elbows and moved his legs apart slightly to accommodate Alex. He did nothing to stop what was happening and Alex continued to interpret that lack of resistance as a sign that The Kid was finding his way to the emotional frequency they were destined to share.
Burying his face between The Kid’s legs so the soft skin of The Kid’s balls rested on his upper forehead, once again Alex couldn’t see anything and expected to feel safe again but instead the anxiety escalated in him as he noticed his own penis had deflated. With this sudden virility crisis unfolding, Alex couldn’t bear to look up at the real world, not until everything was playing out the way it was supposed to. It wasn’t clear if The Kid knew that had happened but he quickly went into overdrive trying to will it back, laying flat on his stomach in the hope that the pressure between the mattress and his body would facilitate some kind of arousing friction that would, in turn, prompt his triumphant return to being a complete man. Still nothing happened. He moved back slightly, glanced up, and saw The Kid was now laying flat on his back, eyes closed, oblivious to the effortless erection that protruded from the front of his underwear. He hoped desperately that something would suddenly change in him but he felt no stirring at all. He was being undermined by the panic of extreme need. He could tell it was just his mind working in overdrive, that was all it was, but that was enough to end him. He began to sweat. He was running out of time. The Kid opened his eyes and looked down at him, stared for a moment and pushed his erect penis back into his underwear. He lazily dragged his fingers over the bulge from the outside, let out another puffed laugh, picked up his phone and stared at it, the blue glow illuminating his face before letting his arm flop down onto the bed again. It was at that moment that Alex knew the entire world had moved on without him.
Still with terror, he became suddenly furious with his body. Everything he needed was here, about to happen, so why couldn’t he go through with it? He had to. He had to go through with the whole thing. This was his one big chance to secure the future he wanted. He felt numb from the waist down. Something drastic had to be done. He slid back over to The Kid’s side and moved so that their faces were aligned. He wrapped his legs and arms tightly around The Kid’s torso and nuzzled his face into The Kid’s shoulder. Dolly was now singing Here You Come Again. Was the Omniscient Audience using Dolly to mock him? Everything important was slipping away. He held on tighter, and closed his eyes. If he couldn’t see The Kid in front of him it might be possible to achieve the same outcome, the same connection, by saying what he felt and by obtaining a similar verbal response. There seemed to be no other way to do this. Besides: sex, no sex, words, no words, it was all just part of the same truth. His body seemed content to fail him, what else did he have now besides words? Perhaps if just the right words were spoken, the yearning could end and his new self could emerge and he would be alive and normal. He had to take the risk, so he spoke.
“We love each other, don’t we?” Alex asked quietly, his eyes closed, stomach in a knot.
The Kid snorted and made what, to Alex, sounded like an “umm” followed by a quick breath of laughter as he reared his head quickly and the let it flop backwards. Alex looked up: The Kid’s head was resting on the mattress, his mouth open, his eyes closed again.
Alex wondered if he should repeat the question or just wait. Sometimes people had to process things, The Kid hadn’t shifted away, and he hadn’t tried to escape. Maybe, when you orchestrated the collision of two souls, it took a moment for the information to settle and be understood. He waited. The Kid seemed more awake now because he moved so that he lay on his side, his back to Alex, face staring at the now unlit phone although it was unclear if his eyes were open. If he pushed it more at this point he would look desperate. He wanted to say something but couldn’t; this moment was over. The Kid had probably not heard him; that’s what had happened. The Omniscient Audience would have seen that, it was so obvious. Still, either way, there was no way of avoiding the clear fact that neither the Omniscient Audience nor the universe itself was prepared to offer him any further reassurances about his future tonight.
Matthew Phillp is originally from Sydney, and moved to New York City in 2003. His writing on popular culture has been published in the Village Voice, Gay Times UK, and DNA Magazine. He was awarded a fellowship to attend the Lambda Literary Foundation’s Emerging Writers’ Retreat.