Michael Holladay ~ Retroactive

2009-10-08 01.57.50cBefore Jake went to Hideaway Lounge, he assessed him­self in his bath­room mir­ror to see if he’d mea­sure up to the younger men. He stared at the top of his head. The glop of gel – a first time pur­chase – solid­i­fied his hair, arch­ing over a bald patch, look­ing like rows of minia­ture wiper blades. Moonlight shined through the cur­tains’ singes from a cig­a­ret­te fire when his dad owned the trail­er, which Jake inherit­ed a few years before a heart attack took his dad away. After lodg­ing it in the same park, Jake hadn’t moved since. But you nev­er know, he thought some­times. Never know when I might pick up and get the hell away, dri­ve off. And he didn’t need much: pair of sheets, a pil­low, a skil­let, a ket­tle for cof­fee, a laun­dry sack, a decade old TV. This would be his fifth time going to Hideaway. He sniffed a but­ton-up to odor check. With his hands he tried smooth­ing the wrin­kles stream­ing along the breast, since he didn’t own an iron. He swigged a beer, gave him­self anoth­er once-over. This would do. He chan­neled the rab­bit eared radio to music, some­thing the bar might play. He need­ed the right mood; he need­ed the courage.

That day his boss Ed had called him into his office. Jake had worked in pack­ag­ing for years. Grunt work, but it’s what he pre­ferred, at least what a high school diplo­ma could get him, and he couldn’t force the smiles to han­dle con­de­scend­ing fast food cus­tomers, the grease stains. The fac­to­ry was chang­ing after a cor­po­rate buy­out. Jake was cau­tious, didn’t know what it could mean for him. On his way to Ed’s office he walked past the­se new posters with let­ter­ing col­or­ful in a ster­ile way, list­ing “com­pa­ny tenets.” Communication is Talking AND Listening. Teamwork: The Lifting of Many Makes Everything Light. Smiles Go Miles. Cheesy crap like that, which was fine, except this new own­er imple­ment­ed pro­ce­dures Jake wasn’t used to. Ed, a man who Jake con­sid­ered a friend, who joined him for fish­ing trips, said to him, “Your num­bers are low.” Stacks of paper piled on the desk, and com­pa­ny logos replaced Ed’s Pulp Fiction poster and Johnny Cash giv­ing the fin­ger. Ed tossed his base­ball cap onto the files, his cheeks loose and pal­lid. “I’m sor­ry about this. But with the­se new poli­cies, they’re mak­ing me enforce the­se stan­dards.” In the assem­bly line a few weeks ago, Jake had pulled a mus­cle in his back, a cut­ting pain, when he lift­ed a box he wasn’t ready for. Ed filed a report but hadn’t heard back from his supe­ri­ors. “I know you’ve had a hard time the­se past few weeks,” Ed said. “Let’s give it a week or two and see where you are after that. I’ll be straight with you because I owe it to you. You may get some work­ers comp for the injury but let go. It’s shit­ty, I know. But god­damn, they’re mak­ing me jus­ti­fy every­thing now.”

He fig­ured he may as well make the most of a steady pay­check while he could, and Hideaway had a 2–4-1 drink spe­cial Fridays. He couldn’t sit at home with late night shows fill­ing his silences. He couldn’t sit on the cal­lous­ness, the betray­al from a job he had been with for ten years, the feel­ing of inad­e­qua­cy over a sim­ple back injury that would heal. He couldn’t sit when there was the pos­si­bil­i­ty of some­one else to occu­py him. He had final­ly been hon­est about the men, about sex with them, or not so much sex as the desire for it. Honest with the peo­ple in his life – his mom in the nurs­ing home and long­time bud­dies. He knew for years and had been all balled up about it until now. He retained the hope of a six­teen-year-old minus the ide­al­ism.

There was the desire and then there was the act, that not-so-blur­ry line he final­ly broke down to become blur­ry. The men he met so far gave need­ed relief, if only tem­po­rary. There was Cooper, who he met online. Cooper’s gaso­line smell lin­gered on Jake after leav­ing the motel. The no kiss­ing Cooper stip­u­lat­ed made Jake stare at his cracked but silken lips the whole time. A week lat­er, Jake rec­og­nized him in the Pick-A-Pack min­i­mart with two kids. The sec­ond time Jake went to Hideaway there was Warren, a boy wear­ing a com­pact polo car­bon copied from his group sip­ping sug­ary drinks in a cir­cle. After spot­ting Jake in the cor­ner, he slinked him to a stor­age clos­et. Make-out and hand­job, cold, then warm while lis­ten­ing to the puls­es on the oth­er side of the door, and when they were fin­ished Warren said, “You’re so sexy. I love an old­er man.” Then he spilled a straw­ber­ry daiquiri and went back to friends. Washing his hands after­ward, Jake couldn’t com­pre­hend his face, dis­lo­cat­ed like he didn’t inhab­it him­self. He met Benny online but a dif­fer­ent site. They drank High Lifes in Jake’s trail­er, and Benny, who was late twen­ties, said he grew up in town but played drums in Nashville. He showed Jake self-inflict­ed scars. Cigarette burns swarmed the meat of his thigh, and slices from a pock­et knife edged his tor­so. Jake touched them, not sure how to respond. Benny made Jake call him a whore and a fag­got while fuck­ing him. “Spit on me,” he said. And Jake did, unset­tled and degrad­ed because Benny made him degrade. Benny slipped on his black Led Zeppelin T-shirt, the sleeves scis­sored off, and stole twen­ty bucks before leav­ing. Jake doubt­ed any of them remem­bered his name. Cooper could return to father­hood. Warren was in his col­lege social life. Benny high­tailed it to Nashville and his band. Jake had the trail­er.

He came to Hideaway’s doors, the con­ver­sa­tion with Ed that day far from his mind. A man out front swayed an orange drink match­ing a tan­ning bed face while shout­ing across the park­ing lot to an angry boyfriend. Jake head­ed for the bar. “What’ll you have hon­ey?” the bar­tender Ray asked him. Honey. Before Hideaway, he hadn’t been called that by a man and rel­ished it. Not the affec­ta­tion of some lady check­ing out gro­ceries. Coming from Ray, it was treat­ed as both sweet­ness and sex­u­al charge.

Rum and coke,” he said. Hideaway was the only gay bar near Jake’s Kentucky small town. When it was built in the 80’s the city board refused the busi­ness license, but the own­er at the time got away with estab­lish­ing it between the Kentucky and Tennessee line, in lim­bo. It was a long dance hall, the pan­eled exte­ri­or erod­ed, and inside spray paint and beer stains dis­fig­ured the walls patched in sca­ly expo­sures like the place was shed­ding itself. “How is it tonight?” Jake asked Ray, who was the cur­rent own­er.

Rowdy one,” he said, wink­ing. Jake had known about this place for a long time. Among some peo­ple in town, it had been the butt of jokes he had always over­heard with a strike of fear and curios­i­ty, but over the past few years those insults had become less fre­quent. On lone­ly filled nights in his twen­ties and thir­ties, he had dri­ven past, once sit­ting in the park­ing lot con­sid­er­ing the name in scrib­bly cur­sive and the men stand­ing out front, and he hadn’t gained the courage to go in. And the first time he did, only a mon­th ago, he talked to no one.

Now he leaned again­st a bar stool in the back. The old­er men belonged to the wall’s fringes. The moment Jake stepped in he felt a col­lec­tive siz­ing up like he was on dis­play but ignored all at once. That time in the stor­age clos­et with Warren had been a fluke. Most of his nights were spent watch­ing, hop­ing it didn’t come off as leer­ing. There were the men with car­go shorts hug­ging guts who did leer; gig­gling col­lege kids mak­ing a stop on the way to a big­ger club in Nashville; drag queens who ran the place; the cou­ples who could be cou­ples; men in their twen­ties who seemed jad­ed – every­one pheromone and alco­hol infused. The reg­u­lars knew each oth­er, and they had a reper­toire Jake couldn’t break into, view­ing him with sus­pi­cion. Sometimes Jake caught sight of a man so beau­ti­ful who he thought about talk­ing to, but what would he say? He stuck to his spot and enjoyed the music. Ray was strict about the selec­tion – Martha and the Vandellas, Patti Labelle, David Bowie, Donna Summer, Blondie, Cyndi Lauper, Pebbles, En Vogue. No cur­rent pop.

A group was play­ing pool after the first drag show when Jake saw him. This man – or boy? – Jake guessed was about twen­ty-one. But he was elu­sive. It was hard to tell. Next to two friends argu­ing, he leaned again­st the table in a flamin­go stance, one leg for sup­port, the oth­er jut­ted out, cradling his drink again­st a shoul­der like a fig­ure in repose. Then he bust­ed through his friends heat­ed­ly as if his pres­ence dis­solved their argu­ment. Jake watched him fin­ish and win their game. His pants, glossy black faux leather, hung low on his waist with hand­ker­chiefs tied around his boney legs like feath­ers – a canary yel­low at the thigh; a pur­ple mar­t­in at the knee; a blue jay at the ankle. He was all hips. He saun­tered like a Persian cat, car­ry­ing him­self in a way that would’ve been harassed and shamed out of him when Jake had been in school years ago, and luck­i­ly that light­ness and ele­gance remained in him. He was part yelling, part jok­ing with a friend. In a high-top base­ball cap tipped to the side, his face was shad­owed, full of round­ness and angles. He wore a grey wife beat­er, and the over­head light illu­mi­nat­ed the arch­es of his shoul­ders, sat­u­rat­ed in freck­les. Gorgeous.

What are you drink­ing?” Jake found him­self say­ing.

He squint­ed at Jake, who felt exposed now. Jake had tak­en an eval­u­a­tion of him­self stand­ing again­st the wall. It was get­ting old, the watch­ing, an observer, lone­lier than sit­ting in the trail­er. But now he felt like he should crawl back. “Whiskey sour,” he said.

The friends were gaz­ing at Jake, giv­ing him up and downs. “Can I buy you one?”

He sat his pool stick to the side and looked down, cheek bones tight­en­ing, hold­ing in a smile, a bash­ful­ness slip­ping out of the con­fi­dence, the show-off atti­tude inter­rupt­ed. “All full,” he said, shak­ing his glass filled with yel­low-brown, the cher­ry eye­ing Jake. He took up that reposed stance again as if to say, what now?

Jake didn’t know how to do this. All he could think to say were clichés he’d heard his straight friends use or lines from a Gregory Peck movie he liked. The rum was heat­ing his face. “Dance with me,” Jake said, com­ing out mixed ques­tion and com­mand. Music pound­ed Jake’s head. Stupid. Too soon. He didn’t even know his name.

He hand­ed Jake his pool stick. “Play me for it,” he said, like a dare. He grind­ed anoth­er stick with chalk for him­self. “You going to stand there? Rack ‘em.”

Jake played pool every week with his bud­dies. He imag­ined how they would see him now in Hideaway. They were prob­a­bly at Fat Bobby’s, a smoky pub near­by. “What’s your name?”

I’m Jordan,” he said, and Jake wasn’t expect­ing the for­mal­i­ty when Jordan held out his hand. Jordan bent again­st the table to break. His pool shot was quick, and he was stripes. He said to Jake, “So I’ve been com­ing here awhile. I’ve nev­er seen you before.”

I just start­ed about a mon­th ago,” Jake said. He sank three, feel­ing bold from booze.

Jordan pushed his hat to the side. His face matched his stride – vel­vety and lean and strong. He put his weight on the pool stick like a cane. “You look famil­iar though.”

Here it came. Jake could know his par­ents or broth­er or some­one in town. “Maybe you have seen me here the past few weeks. I usu­al­ly stick to the bar. You from here?” Jake asked.

No. Passing through. I live in New York.” Jordan’s aim, while con­fi­dent, was hur­ried. Still, he man­aged to sink one. He was bet­ter than Jake expect­ed.

But you said you came here a lot,” Jake said and thought he shouldn’t have said this.

I’ve been vis­it­ing a friend. He lives in Nashville, and we’ve been com­ing here.” He sipped his sour drink. “What about you?”

Born and raised,” Jake said.

I’m sor­ry.”

It’s all right. It’s what I know.” The music cranked loud­er, and he heard him­self say the words. “I’m a man­ager at my fac­to­ry. I do pret­ty well.” He didn’t know why he said it until he said it. He was try­ing to impress Jordan. All those nights play­ing pool or drink­ing with his bud­dies, hear­ing the mar­ried ones talk about their wives and sin­gle ones pick up wom­en, and years of no one inter­est­ed in him, no one to come home to, sti­fling small crush­es on straight men while nurs­ing those feel­ings at the same time. Jordan was some­one dif­fer­ent, final­ly. Someone for him. He want­ed Jordan but didn’t know how or what he want­ed. This lie felt good. Hideaway became a place to escape his dai­ly life, to try on a new iden­ti­ty. He want­ed Jordan to believe him. He want­ed to believe him­self. After watch­ing Jordan drain his whiskey, Jake hard­ly thought of sav­ing mon­ey when he said, “Go get your­self anoth­er,” hand­ing Jordan cash. They were tied, down to two and the eight ball. Jordan strut­ted past Jake like he knew he would make the shot. He hit with too much force, car­oming his stripe the oppo­site way. The eight ball spilled into the pock­et. “Damn it,” Jordan said, crouch­ing down, hands over his head, embar­rassed.

Jake said, “Hey, we can play again. I know I tech­ni­cal­ly won, but it’s a cheap win.”

Jordan turned to him, mor­ph­ing from play­ful to seri­ous. “Come on.” He took Jake’s hand. “A win’s a win.”

The DJ spun the next song, Black Box’s “Ride on Time.” The cut up and war­bled vocals syn­chro­nized with Jordan’s stomps while hold­ing a drink in the air, lead­ing Jake to the mid­dle of the floor. This was a first for Jake. He didn’t dance. He thought briefly of his injury, the pulled mus­cle, but he could already feel it heal­ing. Jordan faced him, rip­pling like a twirled rib­bon, and when Jordan pulled closer, like the rib­bon held taut. Jake nev­er felt more watched, and he tin­gled: aware­ness of his body – this love han­dle, this paunch of a stom­ach, this skin of the back – unlocked when Jordan clasped his waist.

They left the bar togeth­er in Jake’s Oldsmobile. While wait­ing for a train, Jordan blared rap music. Farmland flashed past them, a silo the end point, mark­ing the begin­ning of the trail­er lot. When they came to his trail­er, Jake opened the door, and Jordan stuck in his head, unsure. “So emp­ty,” he said.

I’m between places right now,” Jake said. Jordan threw his hat on the floor, and chin length hair spilled out, messy. Jake poured a glass of water and hand­ed it to him, but Jordan grabbed his oth­er hand, pulling him into his body. Jake was hard, the sweat dry­ing under his shirt sweat­ing again as Jordan kissed him. He undid the yel­low scarf from his leg and tossed it down. One by one pieces of him fell away. He was nim­ble and sinewy, and Jake was grate­ful. Afterward, they fell asleep, and Jordan’s body next to his was com­fort­ing. The trail­er rat­tled when a train came by, shak­ing Jordan awake. He shot up, star­tled.

It’s okay,” Jake said. “The trains come through the most at night.”

Jake was sur­prised when Jordan nes­tled again­st him, so close he could feel the vibra­tion of Jordan’s voice when he said, “You know, I’m not real­ly from New York. I grew up here, too.”

Jake could come clean at this point, but he only nod­ded. His lie had come out in the club, so unex­pect­ed, the moment he said it, ques­tion­ing, why did I say that, but he now came back to that ques­tion – the why of it, the why of Jordan, the why of him­self – and as he felt Jordan’s breath on his chin, he found the answer, how he want­ed Jordan to make him feel bet­ter than he thought he was. “That’s okay,” he said.

Jordan said, “I also would’ve danced with you whether you won or not.”

Jake held him dur­ing the quak­ing he had got­ten used to sleep­ing through, and the strange­ness of anoth­er body kept him alert through the night among crick­et chirrups, the hitch­es of an old win­dow unit, the undu­la­tions of Jordan’s breath­ing.

For years Jake had watched men he knew, first start to date wom­en in high school, tak­ing them to greasy din­ers and movie the­aters, and they bragged after­ward but cov­ered up how vul­ner­a­ble, fright­ened, and dis­joint­ed con­nect­ing to anoth­er body made them feel. They went to col­lege or got jobs in town while dat­ing more, even­tu­al­ly end­ed up com­mit­ting, and Jake was a grooms­men a few times, and then the whis­per­ings of divorce, and all Jake want­ed, observ­ing them, was to know that orig­i­nal feel­ing, the one they felt in high school he was retroac­tive­ly feel­ing now as a forty-five year old. Jordan had kissed his bel­ly, telling him he want­ed it while lead­ing Jake into him. This is the act. Jordan breath­ing, push­ing his hair back, slick in sweat, inch­ing Jake in, Jake falling out and need­ing Jordan’s hand to guide him in again, Jordan pre­tend­ing not to notice Jake’s inex­pe­ri­ence, and feel­ing Jordan, the warmth inside, his face soft but wrin­kled up, mouth held open, wait­ing for the yield of pain to plea­sure while Jake rocked again­st him. Jordan’s skin tast­ed like a salty nec­tarine. He wrapped his arms around Jake’s back, his legs slen­der again­st Jake’s hips, and Jake felt for the first time like some­one want­ed him close.

***

Jake was wide awake come sun­rise. He hadn’t shared a bed with some­one for years and wasn’t good at adapt­ing to small con­sid­er­a­tions. When he woke, the blan­ket cov­ered only him from hog­ging all of it while he slept. He looked to Jordan sleep­ing, and he was sur­prised for a sec­ond, like he had to remem­ber the fact of him all over again. He tugged part of the com­forter over Jordan to even it, mak­ing sure he was warm. The times he could sleep, it was half sleep, and he sensed him­self drift­ing to the mid­dle of the bed, but Jordan didn’t take up much room.

The cof­fee spoon clanks must’ve wok­en Jordan up. From the kitchen, an oil-crust­ed coun­ter filled with take-out bags and a plug-in elec­tric stove, Jake heard him groan­ing like a kid upset at get­ting up for school. He brought two mugs to the bed, and Jordan moved his legs back and forth, try­ing to set­tle him­self. “It’s so ear­ly,” he said, lac­ing the crook of his elbow over his eyes. Jake took note of his patchy armpit hair peek­ing out.

It’s going on eleven.”

Early.” He groaned like any­thing before noon was tor­ture. He bright­ened at the sight of cof­fee and took the cup. “You always get the guys who stay here up this ear­ly?”

Jake looked to the stained car­pet, not know­ing if he should let on his inex­pe­ri­ence or if he should be hon­est. “No, not usu­al­ly, no.”

Jordan blew steam and laughed. “You mean you don’t get many ‘gen­tle­men callers?’”

No,” Jake said. “No, I don’t.”

I’m kid­ding with you.” He took a sip. “Ew. I can’t do instant.”

I’m sor­ry. I know it’s not the best. It’s all I got, that 2 for 1 Great Value.”

How can you drink this? It looks like tea. I need some­thing stronger.”

Fried bolog­na crack­led on the grill. Jake took Jordan to Munchie’s Diner, which spe­cial­ized in ribs and break­fast. When he was by him­self Jake took the paper and got a Hearty Man spe­cial. The wait­ress­es – high school girls with wispy pony­tails – bus­tled with a busy crowd. Everyone in there knew about Jake. He con­sid­ered alter­na­tives, a gas sta­tion cof­fee or the McDonalds at the high­way exit. He thought this would be okay but start­ed regret­ting it when he looked to Jordan with him, still wear­ing the same clothes from the club. Jake didn’t know what peo­ple were say­ing behind his back. When the hostess showed them to their table, Jake’s usu­al booth, the reg­u­lars scanned Jake with Jordan, sharp glances and back to sweet teas. Here he was on dis­play. People only knew about Jake in a vague, unspo­ken way, as an ambigu­ous con­cept, but here he was with Jordan, mak­ing the intan­gi­ble tan­gi­ble. A wrist band braid­ed around Jake’s arm from the bar. He tugged to remove it.

Those things are a bitch,” Jordan said.

With a final pull, the neon band col­lapsed on their un-wiped table. “It was too tight.”

I don’t know why that place start­ed charg­ing a cov­er,” Jordan said. “It’s a hole.”

I kind of like it.”

It can be fun, I guess. I like how retro it is.”

Is it retro?”

Yeah, that’s the thing. It’s so out­dat­ed it’s acci­den­tal­ly retro but not self-aware.”

Jake said, “That’s what I like about it.”

It’s not worth that cov­er,” Jordan said. “Maybe for Louisville or Nashville or hell, even Paducah. Not Hideaway.”

Jake hadn’t been to the out-of-town clubs. “Ray tries hard. His damnedest.”

Well, he’s got to try hard­er.”

Jake sensed Jordan’s knees under the table. Jordan pressed his leg again­st Jake’s thigh, rub­bing. He saw this wom­an named Tammy watch­ing. Two con­struc­tion guys named Mike and Bobby tried not to watch, chewed their bar­be­que under bushy mus­tach­es. Jake imag­ined the worst: men jump­ing them in the park­ing lot, beat­ing them, string­ing them for dead. He imag­ined the best: a nice wom­an say­ing they would make a good cou­ple. What hap­pened was in between: pre­tend­ing not to watch but whis­per­ing. He didn’t want to care about what they were say­ing, but he cared. He with­drew his leg from Jordan’s. Caffeine addled him. Jordan pricked his over-easy egg, sopped toast in yolk, the white peeled back, skin over a scab. Jake saw Ed come in for a to-go order. He remem­bered last night, the feel of Jordan’s body. Now Jordan sat across from him, every­one scru­ti­niz­ing. He smelled their bod­ies togeth­er, acrid and crisp.

He made eye con­tact with Ed and tried to look down, but Ed approached. His thoughts were rapid-fire: What will Ed think of me with Jordan? What if Jordan finds out I lied? Don’t ref­er­ence work. “Hey,” Ed said. “We missed you at Fat Bobby’s last night. You should’ve seen Old Bill. He had the­se two young things believ­ing he was in Nam. Making up wild sto­ries.”

Oh damn. Sorry I missed that,” Jake said.

Jordan said, “We were at Hideaway.” Jake looked between them.

Ed crin­kled his fore­head, let­ting the fact reg­is­ter. “Oh right,” he said. “Right.”

I’m Jordan.” He dust­ed toast off his hand and shook Ed’s.

Ed exam­ined the two of them, com­pre­hend­ing Jordan with Jake. He didn’t men­tion work or Wednesday pool night. “Well, I’ve got to get this to Norma,” he said. “See you Monday?” Jake nod­ded, a firm hand­shake, and he was gone. Good thing Ed made it brief.

Jake had known Ed since high school. Before he became Jake’s boss, they had worked in the same fac­to­ries. He host­ed pool nights. When Jake came out to him, Ed didn’t say any­thing to any­one, but word spreads faster than Kentucky rag­weed, so the next night in Ed’s base­ment game room, their friends regard­ed Jake dif­fer­ent­ly. Handle with cau­tion. Don’t say any­thing wrong. They looked at him like they were try­ing to say they under­stood, but under­neath were the marks of uneasi­ness. After they left, Ed fixed him bour­bon, and said, “You know a man’s busi­ness is his own,” mean­ing keep it to your­self, and you’ll be fine. Then he ref­er­enced some cou­ple – two men – he and Norma saw on America’s Got Talent like it had any­thing to do with Jake. This is no big deal, Ed meant, but Jake had revealed part of him­self he hid for years.

Jake want­ed to get out of Munchie’s. In the car, Jordan asked, “Who was that?”

My boss.”

I thought you were the man­ager.”

Jake thought of his lie. “I am. But he’s my supe­ri­or.” He didn’t know why he kept it up. Jordan would think he was an idiot if he didn’t now. It was root­ed in some kind of truth. It’s true the fac­to­ry post­ed a new man­ager posi­tion. It’s not true Jake con­sid­ered it.

Jordan for­got his wal­let, so Jake took them back to the trail­er. Here it was in sun­light now: the rust-flaked trail­er, weeds up the sides. Jake went in to get the wal­let, and when he came back, Jordan was stand­ing next to shrubs at the lot’s periph­ery. “Honeysuckle,” he said.

Yeah, it just sprout­ed.”

I think it’s ear­ly for this time of year. It blooms in May.”

Same time as last year.”

Jordan leaned close to study the branch. “This is, shit, what do they call it? An inva­sive species.”

What do you mean?”

Honeysuckle is inva­sive. It’s bad for oth­er plants. For the bio­di­ver­si­ty.”

Growing up, Jake’s mom air dried laun­dry in the back­yard near a hon­ey­suck­le bush, and the scent clung to the sheets. “It doesn’t seem like much harm.”

It pro­duces bad berries or some­thing. And their shade. It suf­fo­cates oth­er species. It spreads quick and crowds out oth­er plants.” Jordan sucked a stem, the nec­tar smear­ing his lips. What if he kissed Jordan, right there, no pri­va­cy of Hideaway or his trail­er? The neigh­bors’ kids weren’t screech­ing in their inflat­able pool. The Budweiser men weren’t stand­ing around their grill. Jordan had half-fad­ed freck­les on his cheeks, Jake noticed.

Jake’s neigh­bor, Ms. Bunch, banged out of her door. “Jakey,” she shout­ed, hold­ing the ends of her moo-moo. She was crab­by except when some­thing broke. “Glad I spot­ted you. I got a leaky faucet. Needs fix­ing.” She had known his dad. Jake pre­tend­ed not to hear her. “Who’s your friend there?” He waved her away.

When they were back in the car Jake said, “How did you know all that back there?”

Jordan hugged his bent knee. “I love stuff like that. I want to study Biology. I’m sav­ing up for col­lege. Who knows? We’ll see.”

Jordan direct­ed him to where he lived, a shared house for cheap rent, unkempt, a rat­ty couch on the porch, a shut­ter flail­ing off the hinge. Jordan got out of the car, about to slam the door. Jake said, “Hey.” He didn’t know what he was going to say, but he didn’t want Jordan to leave his life so eas­i­ly. He didn’t know if a one-nighter was all Jordan want­ed, if he was cross­ing a bound­ary when he said, “Want to go to a movie with me tonight?”

Well lucky me,” Jordan said. When Jake returned to the trail­er, he saw the mul­ti­col­ored scarves extend­ing his room.

***

Jake was as ready for the movies as he told him­self, which wasn’t much. He sprayed cologne he got from Walgreens, mouth washed, con­sid­ered three dif­fer­ent but­ton-ups, and debat­ed about his only pair of khak­is, Dickies, but no, too for­mal. Jordan’s hair was thrown into a mussed bun when Jake picked him up. While com­plain­ing about his room­mates, he imi­tat­ed one of them play­ing video games instead of doing dish­es, mock­ing a stoned voice. Jake noticed his fin­gers, so slen­der, when he changed the radio sta­tion. Jake pre­ferred his coun­try, only pro­grammed two pre-sets – the one that played Roots N’ Boots and the oth­er, local traf­fic – but he liked the idea of let­ting Jordan lis­ten to what he want­ed, to fill his car with some­thing oth­er than him­self and an air fresh­en­er with­out scent. Jake took him to the old the­ater show­ing clas­sic movies. That night was Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Jake bought their tick­ets, the teenager tick­eter glanc­ing between them, smirk­ing, try­ing to fig­ure out who they were to each oth­er.

Jake walked them to his favorite spot, the mid­dle aisle, and their shoes hummed with the unstick­ing of cola-spilled floors. Jordan said, “Dirty and dingy. Just how I like it.” Jake felt hot­ness in his face, the prick­les of embar­rass­ment. Jordan nudged him. “I’m kid­ding with you. I like this place. It’s got charm.”

Jordan hadn’t seen the movie before. The lights went down, and Paul Newman graced the screen. Jordan leaned into Jake. He could smell the cool­ness of Jordan’s deodor­ant, and in the slope of his shoul­der, Jordan said, “Damn, he’s sexy.”

Jake grinned at what he had thought for years, a rea­son he had watched the movie since his child­hood, now spo­ken aloud and pin­point­ed by Jordan. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, he is.”

Jordan moved closer – is he going to kiss me here? Jake thought – with his mouth so close to Jake’s ear the tip of Jordan’s lip grazed his lobe when Jordan said, “You’re sexy.” Aware of Jordan’s hand grip­ping the arm rest, Jake scanned the dark the­ater: an elder­ly wom­an behind them and a teenage cou­ple in the row ahead, the girl cush­ioned into the boy’s arm. The flick­ers on the screen poured over Jordan’s hand, and Jake could almost feel the balmy sweat and heat of his palm with­out feel­ing it, imag­in­ing those fin­gers inter­twined with his. A dad with a gut and a leather vest and a son came in late and sat in their row. Jake stared ahead, left Jordan’s hand untouched, glimps­ing his face lit by the screen, and the moment passed as Jordan munched on stale pop­corn.

***

Jordan spent the night again. While wait­ing for sleep, Jake won­dered why Jordan was inter­est­ed in him. He decid­ed to push that thought aside. There was no use in it. He would be grate­ful for Jordan. Jake held him closer. In the morn­ing, Jordan left to get ready for a part time job as an ice cream scoop. Jake lay in bed the next night with­out him, think­ing of those freck­les. He put the scarves on his bed­side table. He didn’t know if he would see Jordan again. He went to work in the morn­ing. Then, that Monday night, and over the course of three weeks, Jordan showed up on Jake’s doorstep like they had a stand­ing date. “Aren’t you going to invite a girl in?” he said each time, remind­ing Jake of clas­sic movies. Jordan would touch his stom­ach, pull him in for a kiss, and Jake made sure the door was closed. He wished his mind wouldn’t go there, but it did. A grown man and scared of get­ting caught, but caught by who? By the sec­ond week, the neigh­bors had to know, espe­cial­ly Ms. Bunch who kept tabs on every­one, but who cares who knows? Still, there was that door, each time con­firm­ing it was closed.

First, Jordan brought over movies – rom-coms and indie flicks. Each time he left the DVD copies. Then, he brought a duf­fel of clothes, his bright­ly print­ed shirts and tank tops stuffed in Jake’s tiny clos­et. Jake made room for him. All of it was at Jordan’s insis­tence. He brought can­dles and import­ed cof­fee beans, show­ing Jake how to French press. “It’s like 100 times bet­ter than that instant crap, right?” he said. Jake agreed, tast­ing the dif­fer­ence. Movies at night, then sex, and cof­fee in the morn­ing before work, the week­nights. Jake was get­ting used to Jordan’s body, his inden­tions and grooves, know­ing what turned him on the most, which made Jake more com­fort­able. They went to Hideaway togeth­er on week­ends, and the reg­u­lars start­ed think­ing of them as a cou­ple.

One night, Jake met some of Jordan’s friends: a scrawny young thing named Kevin, a mus­cu­lar stone slab named Dave, ear­ly thir­ties, who wore Army T-shirts, anoth­er who had blue hair and sar­cas­tic quips for every­thing.

Jake returned with a round for Jordan’s friends. The blue-haired one said, “Jordan, your daddy’s back.” Jake cupped the drinks so they wouldn’t spill into each oth­er. He had con­sid­ered the age dif­fer­ence before, but he didn’t think about how it looked in Hideaway, not until now, he the old­er, Jordan the younger, when it real­ly felt like the oppo­site. This label unset­tled him. Daddy. Jake had final­ly placed Jordan in town. He knew his dad, or knew of him. He was a mechan­ic. The way Jordan talked, it seemed like his dad had a bad time after he came out. Jordan fought back. His dad tried to beat him. Jake didn’t know the details. Jordan didn’t want to talk about it. The blue-haired friend, sunken smoker’s eyes and jut­ting col­lar bones, eyed Jake until Jordan took the cups to pass around. Jordan gave Jake a kiss, his lips minty with chap­stick. Jake was get­ting used to pub­lic kiss­ing in Hideaway. His nat­u­ral instinct, so engrained in him, was to keep it pri­vate. Jordan slung his arms around Jake’s shoul­ders and kissed him again, ignor­ing his friend’s com­ment. Or was he con­firm­ing it? Daddy. It’s true he want­ed to take care of Jordan. He also looked up to him in a way, wish­ing he could be as com­fort­able with him­self. Jake sat out and watched Jordan, Kevin, Dave, and Blue Hair play pool.

As they were ready to aban­don the game and dance, Jordan clenched again­st Jake, close to his face, dar­ing Jake to kiss him instead of the oth­er way around, his breath smooth and pun­gent with rum. “My drink’s gone,” he said.

I’ll get you anoth­er.” He was always get­ting him anoth­er, a small way of pro­vid­ing for him, and he liked that feel­ing. Some new song played they all loved and Jake didn’t know. It sound­ed harsh and elec­tron­ic, think­ing, is this real music? It wasn’t a Ray reg­u­lar. Jake got Ray’s atten­tion at the bar and asked him about it.

Gotta keep them com­ing back,” he said. “This is what they’re into now.” He shrugged. “That fuck­in’ new place in Nashville.”

What new place?” Jake remem­bered one of Jordan’s friends men­tion­ing it.

It’s called Wet. Big new two sto­ried club. Opened a few weeks ago. It’s like a two hour dri­ve, but it’s still tak­ing away busi­ness. Hard to com­pete with pop remix­es and go-go boys in show­er stalls. I’ll do what I can.” Hideaway was get­ting less crowd­ed. Ray mixed his drinks and said, “On the house tonight for you and your boy.”

Thanks,” Jake said and threw down a dou­ble tip.

Ray nod­ded toward Jordan. “So, how’s that going?”

It’s good. It’s real good.”

Oh hell. I know that look. He’s got you head over heels.”

Yeah, I like him a lot.”

Listen.” The elec­tro music thumped in Jake’s ear. Ray said, “Be care­ful.”

What do you mean?”

All I’m say­ing is, I know his type. Be care­ful.”

Jake looked toward Jordan with his friends. “What type is he?”

The young ones who go for old­er.” Ray put his hand on Jake’s shoul­der. He must’ve come off so naïve, inex­pe­ri­enced, des­per­ate. “Be care­ful. You’re a good guy. I don’t want to see you tak­en advan­tage of.” Jordan was doing a dance for his friends, exag­ger­at­ed moves, jok­ing, but he bent again­st that guy Dave, the one with the army shirt, and that look on Dave’s face, god that look, like he want­ed Jordan, too, the same way Jake want­ed him, and Jordan was milk­ing it, or was he? Or was all of this the drinks in Jake’s head mixed with Ray’s warn­ing?

Jake swerved through dancers to get to Jordan, in the mid­dle of every­thing. Jordan swayed again­st Blue Hair. And here it goes. Jake cut between them, and Jordan had a relaxed look on his face as Jake maneu­vered him into his arms. Jake want­ed him so bad­ly he was bust­ing at the seams. Jordan was drunk, he could tell. He hat­ed think­ing this but thought it: I’ll show them he’s mine. Strobes orbit­ed in a fuch­sia-neon-mid­night haze, clus­tered stars, dilat­ing eyes, dwarf plan­ets, open-close, close-open. Jake felt the small of Jordan’s back as he clutched him close, and then slipped a hand into his pants. His skin was moist down there. And here it was: Jake slid a fin­ger into him as Jordan reclined into his shoul­der, giv­ing in eas­i­ly. Maybe his friends were watch­ing, may­be not, but this means mine, this mean you’re mine. Eventually they stum­bled to the park­ing lot. The smell of Jordan on his hand, he liked – musky earth­ed and tangy.

They got back to the trail­er, and Jordan slurred when he called Jake dad­dy. This was not affec­tion­ate. This was not the gen­tle­ness of their first time a few weeks ago. But after­ward Jordan lay again­st him like always. This inti­ma­cy Jake was get­ting used to expe­ri­enc­ing. Jordan had brought over his lap­top with a music playlist to lull them to sleep over the trains, the instru­men­tal becom­ing a rit­u­al for Jake, so he couldn’t imag­ine sleep­ing with­out it, and with­out Jordan. He thought of what Ray said. It was hard to believe, that Jordan was tak­ing advan­tage of him, while see­ing him curled again­st his chest. Jordan was here with him, and that was all he need­ed to know.

***

Jake stared at the application’s first line ask­ing his name. He filled out each sec­tion duti­ful­ly and dropped it into the envelope in front of Ed’s office with the rest of the new super­vi­sor appli­ca­tions. That night, Jordan lay on the bed drink­ing cher­ry wheat beer and peck­ing the laptop’s key­board. When Jordan went to the bath­room, Jake saw the appli­ca­tion for a Biology pro­gram at the com­mu­ni­ty col­lege thir­ty min­utes away. “I didn’t know you were apply­ing to school,” Jake said.

Yeah, it’s a shot in the dark. Plus, I’m not sure I can afford it. My dad won’t pay for shit after I left their house. I may have to take out a bunch of loans.”

Jake thought of Jordan leav­ing his home and imag­ined what that must’ve been like, to feel so in dan­ger liv­ing under the same roof as his dad, and to have the nerve for hon­esty Jake nev­er had in his teens. Jake’s own dad would’ve kicked him out, too. He want­ed to help Jordan, and not just buy­ing his drinks at the bar. “I could help pay for some of it,” he said.

Are you sure?” Jordan was bare-chest­ed, and he wrapped his arms around his upper body like he was try­ing to pro­tect him­self.

Jake thought about the man­ager appli­ca­tion, the dot­ted line for his name. “I can pay for it.”

We’ll see. I don’t even know if I’ll get in.”

Jake pat­ted the sheets for Jordan to sit down. “You’ll get in,” he said, rub­bing the top of Jordan’s head. Jordan was look­ing up to him, expec­tant. He liked the idea of Jordan going to school, liv­ing a life he nev­er did, and he thought this was a father­ly way to feel with­out being a father. “I’ve also been think­ing,” Jake said. “We should go to Lake Cumberland for the week­end. Rent a cab­in. Get the hell away from here for a lit­tle bit.”

I’ve nev­er been,” Jordan said. “What do you do there?”

We can rent a boat. Have a cab­in to our­selves. Do what­ev­er we want.”

Before Jake’s dad cheat­ed on his mom, before the divorce, before his mom’s Alzheimer’s robbed her, they took him to the lake one sum­mer. It was his only vaca­tion grow­ing up when his dad’s rail­road income was at its peak, and they had expend­able sav­ings, if only mea­ger, for that one lux­u­ry. Jake pic­tured tak­ing Jordan. They could bring the trail­er. Buy gro­ceries. Jordan could swim, exquis­ite and wet in the lake, hair flow­ing, next to Jake, and even­tu­al­ly Jake could save enough to buy a small ranch home for them, and he thought what he had been afraid to think. This could be the start of a future.

***

Hideaway was clos­ing. It had been a mon­th since Jake met Jordan. “It had a good run,” Ray said the night Jake found out. Ray had made efforts to bring in more of a crowd: pop hits, a go-go dancer he paid out of pock­et, con­tests with prizes. It only worked for so long, and Jake knew Ray was com­pro­mis­ing what he want­ed the bar to be, what it was in the past. “This place used to pay for itself,” Ray said. “I could see it com­ing. I’ve tried what I can, but I can’t make it work any­more.” There was one more week­end though, a final farewell night. Jordan was get­ting ready at the trail­er, spritzed spicy cologne, curled his hair, the waves cir­cling his face, and he said, “We’ll have to try that new place in Nashville. Wet.”

That doesn’t feel right some­how,” Jake said.

It’s sup­posed to be fun. Dave said he loves it. Maybe we can go next week­end. Or were we going to the lake?”

Jake was run­ning low on mon­ey. He hadn’t heard back about the job. That Friday, the pre­vi­ous day, he rapped on Ed’s door, and Ed looked at him like he was scared for a min­ute. “I was sur­prised you applied,” he had said. Jake explained how it only seemed log­i­cal. It was the best way to save his job, less stren­u­ous man­u­al labor while his back healed. Ed had said, “I know, and I’m gun­ning for you, but you know that Harlow kid applied, too.” Larry Harlow was in his mid-twen­ties, four years with the com­pa­ny, and a new father. Jake was afraid Ed would pick Larry instead, the log­ic being that he need­ed it more because of a wife and baby. Jake remind­ed Ed he had over fif­teen more years’ expe­ri­ence on him. He want­ed to tell Ed about Jordan, how he was try­ing to start a life with him, how he need­ed the posi­tion, the mon­ey to do it. “Do you remem­ber? A few weeks ago. Munchie’s Diner. That guy I was with. I want to explain.”

No need,” Ed said quick­ly. “You know it’s none of my busi­ness.”

What was none of Ed’s busi­ness stood in front of Jake now, believ­ing in Jake and what he could provide. “We’ll go to the lake soon. Real soon.”

Ray hung ornate red cur­tains, dis­card­ed the pre­vi­ous ploys he tried, made it Millie Jackson night. Jake struck up a con­ver­sa­tion with Ray while Jordan danced. Jake learned the city board had it out for Hideaway, had been mak­ing charges for years, and the cops came around rou­tine­ly. The board claimed there were too many instances – sneak­ing in out­side liquor and drugs – and chal­lenged the liquor license. Ray didn’t have the pow­er to fight it, and along with the finan­cial trou­bles, he let it go. Jake couldn’t see him­self at Wet. He may go to please Jordan, but only once or twice.

Then Jake couldn’t find Jordan any­where. He must be out back bum­ming a cig­a­ret­te, which he did while drunk. Jake opened the door to the smok­ing patio and saw what he didn’t want to believe. Jordan grop­ing Dave again­st the brick wall, kiss­ing like Dave could con­sume Jordan whole.

On the ride home Jake didn’t ask how long it had been going on or if this was one time. He said, “What was that?”

Nothing,” Jordan said.

Ray’s warn­ing a few weeks ago. “So, is this what you do? Get with old­er men or some­thing? Try to get what you can?”

No,” Jordan said, his face down. “You know that I know, right?”

What?”

I know you’ve been lying to me. I know you don’t make very much mon­ey, that you’re not a man­ager. You don’t have to keep pre­tend­ing.”

Jake couldn’t find words to explain him­self. He final­ly said, “I’m going to get a pro­mo­tion soon. I know I am.”

Will you stop it?”

I am. I know I lied before, but I put in an appli­ca­tion, and I’m hear­ing back soon. I can take care of you, help you out like I said.”

Look, I stayed with you for as long as I have because you’re nice. It was cute at first, but you have to stop promis­ing what you can’t.” Jake took a look at what he told Jordan – pay­ing for school, the lake, start­ing to envi­sion a life with him – and saw how Jordan was right. Jordan said, “Are you ashamed to be with me?”

No.”

I’m not going back in the clos­et for you.”

I nev­er asked you to.”

It’s like you’ve want­ed to keep me a secret. You won’t even intro­duce me to any­one you know out­side the bar.”

***

The next morn­ing when Jake woke up, Jordan wasn’t next to him. He found the mug Jordan used on the coun­ter. He had tak­en some of Jake’s instant cof­fee before he left. Jake wait­ed through Jordan’s Sunday shift. The sun set. A knock on the door came. It wasn’t Jordan. Ms. Bunch’s face a night­mare on the step, com­plain­ing about her clogged drain. He slept with no music to lull him. He went to work the next morn­ing, wor­ry twist­ing his stom­ach.

He got the man­ager posi­tion that day, bear­ing the con­grat­u­la­tion pats on his back. When he clocked out, he returned to the trail­er, cleared of Jordan’s things and the spare key on the coun­ter. He could be in Nashville with Dave. All Jake knew about Dave he found out from Ray a few weeks before­hand. Dave lived in Nashville. He wasn’t in the army and only wore the shirts because he liked the look it gave him. He worked in real estate and lived in a sub­ur­ban house that prob­a­bly had a back­yard hot tub Jordan was soak­ing in now. Or Jordan was at his own place, putting up with the room­mates. Or he could be scoop­ing ice cream at work. Jake could go through the dri­ve-thru to check. It crossed his mind, but he didn’t.

His trail­er was bare again – the laun­dry bas­ket full of Jordan’s scent, the fluffy com­forter, the movies, the scarves, gone. Jordan removed all traces of him­self so com­plete­ly that Jake now saw how much he didn’t have. He would wake up to cor­po­rate train­ing the next day. Opening a bot­tle of Ancient Age, he filled a plas­tic cup and let the burn coat his chest. He remem­bered this cou­ple he saw at Fat Bobby’s once: both drunk, the wom­an in a thigh-slit skirt all over the man, grab­bing his crotch and mak­ing out in front of the whole place, uncon­cerned, no wor­ries about what any­one thought, no con­cern about what some­one might say to them, no con­sid­er­a­tion that it might be unsafe. He remem­bered meet­ing Ed’s wife for the first time years ago, new­ly engaged, their hands fold­ed togeth­er on a din­er table, proud of them­selves. Those teenagers dur­ing the Paul Newman flick, she in his sweat­shirt with head rest­ing on him, and on the way out in the lob­by, giv­ing a peck with so much ease, not hav­ing to think twice about it, their young love on dis­play for any­one to see and approve. As Jake opened his trail­er door to the out­side, a rush of cool air hit his bour­bon-heat­ed face, catch­ing the smell of hon­ey­suck­le sweet­en­ing the night, the petals in the dark white like Jordan’s hand flick­er­ing at him in the movies, bush­es ignit­ed with the first light­ning bugs of the year, blink­ing, and he took a walk along the train tracks because there wasn’t any­where else to go.

~

Michael Holladay was born and raised in Kentucky and cur­rent­ly lives in Arizona. He holds an MFA from Arizona State University. His fic­tion has appeared or is forth­com­ing in North American Review, The Saint Ann’s Review, Paper Darts, and Fiction Southeast.