Before 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.
“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?”
“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?”
“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?”
“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.