John is back home where he's confronted with Ben --- Ben, last week's conquest and this week's backbone of the newfangled A-level Escort Service. For more context, read here how Ben got tricked into this by Alex, and here how he discharged his duties during his first A-level assignment.
Ben has a very long shower at the moment and my feeling is that he’s going to depart from my life pretty soon, the way he shot cursory glances at the bedstead and then at me---which was still okay, especially under the circumstances---but then he asked whether he could use the shower, and his next step will be to ask whether he can use the bathroom, and then he’s gone.
We shouldn’t belabor the obvious here, but if you’re in the pay of one of these outfits that use “family” as code against gays, and you’re tasked to produce the definitive ad, the ad that ends the culture wars, you could do much worse than to tell the story of a young, handsome Afro-American who has options, obviously, when it comes to sexual preferences, and who falls into the hands of this homosexual assistant professor of French who’s only option is a tangled ménage with a rape victim and a suicide victim and pimping handsome Afro-Americans to high-strung Valkyries---not to mention Ray, the murder suspect whom he hasn’t met yet.
Now Ben’s back from the shower, and this is my last chance. He’s wearing these graffiti briefs that look so great on him even when not quite fresh, and he's just standing there, the precise model of ebony perfection, unconscious of his own skin, one more second before he’ll ask whether he can use the bathroom. So you say: “Ben.”
And then you take both his hands with both your hands (we ran out of options). He’s a bit embarrassed, possibly, but you hold on to his hands and don’t let go. And you don’t say ‘let’s talk.’ Instead you say…
(We’ve won a few seconds now.)
Real quick: (1) You can assume that Alex & Maurice will tell him everything anyhow, or have done so already; (2) you want to know what---really---happened yesterday night, why he was so exhausted, and whether they paid him and what your cut would be; (3) you want him to become your friend, a real friend, despite Alex, or because of Alex.
You could go the melodramatic route (“Don’t go, Ben, don’t go!”), or try the casual approach, enter a sideways dialogue and hope that somewhere in between the lines he’ll come around. You’re still holding on to his hands, this can’t go on forever. How to start this, ‘Funny you were so exhausted.’ No. ‘Did they pay?’ No. ‘You like Alex?’ Time is up.
“Don’t go Ben, don’t go.”
He has various options now, like (1) un-clutching my hands, getting into his wears and departing for good; (2) talking about this ad on the Family-Channel; (3) entering a sideways dialogue until we get tired of this; (4) everything else.
“Luke no longer needs me,” he says. (That’s sideways in an encouraging way. Better, for instance, than to say: ‘I have no place to stay.’)
“I have no place to stay,” he adds.
“You can stay here,” I say.
“On your bed, couched between you and Alex?” (Couched is a bit overwritten.) À propos “couched”— not even sure Alex would mind given his recent approaches to Albert and Godehart (or Amy-Lou). Anyhow, it’s too late to tell lies about Alex.
“We need a larger bed anyhow.” Writing copy, deadline approaching.
“Your bed wouldn’t be large enough,” (he answers).
I laugh lightly.
Says he: “We’re uses to narrow beds, ain’t we.”
Good. No denial-thing. “We’ve been lying with each other twice,” I say---he’s the son of a minister, he should have a sense of the euphemism. “
“Alex won’t like it,” he answers.
(So you liked it?)
“We can ask him,” I say (we).
“You ask him.”
What going on? Perhaps he’s trying to be funny. Or he’s read some piece in The New Yorker about metro sexuality.
“I’ll ask him,” (I say).
“I need another cup of coffee,” he says and drifts off to the kitchen. His head reappears in the door: “You want a cup, too?”
(Did we win this?)
He’s back with the coffee, sits down on the bed. What is there to say? He’s not going to discuss his sexual preferences now, let’s hope not. How would this work? We would need a nod from Alex, plus the exemption from most rules of social space. Let’s look this up on the internet, do they spell ménage with an accent or without? We definitely need a larger bed.
So I say: “Yesterday…”
He snorts again. “Yesterday,” he says. “You were sleeping, right?”
“Yes,” I lie. Alex isn’t going to out me on this, his fingerprints are all over the case.
“Well,” he says, “I messed up. There’s this trip, the woman that came over to buy chocolate and talk about ABBA, Elsa, or Tamina, but she was with this lady I didn’t know, Jane. They’ve barely seen me and get all jittery and high-strung and stuff. There’s some commotion and this ho next to me ends up with spilled wine over her skirt. Jane flashes her check book to pay the bitch off, and then they started to liquor me up. That’s basically it.”
“That’s all you remember?”
“Jane drives an Audi A8, I remember.”
“I swear,” he says. He raises his arm as if I he’s been asked for an oath. He even lowers the other arm in an inverted gesture as if he’s taking oaths both ways. “She gave me this…” He fumbles in the pockets of his jeans and hands me a slip of paper. It’s a check made out to the A-Level Escort Service Georgia Beach. Two thousand bucks.
Are you still there? Then you'll possibly like the GREEN EYES the Lambda Literary Award novel. It's out now, available as Kindle book on Amazon, under this link: