Out

Jess had wondered sometimes what exactly it was about him that made her so quick to adopt him into her inner circle when, about a year into their friendship, the epiphany hit her smack in the face with Lucy pulling her aside during a routine pub crawl and asking, “What do you think of Jason?”

 

It hit Jess at that moment what the attraction of Jason was. Dry wit, heavy reader, a little nerdy-but-cool-about-it, a head firmly in the clouds. He was Lucy’s ideal man, especially when you factored in the fact that she was drawn to the bear-like. Lucy’s singlehood was always a burr in Jess’s sandals, and she had found a solution without even knowing it.

 

Despite the fact that she was swamped with school, Jess took an hour to schedule a lunch date with Jason.

 

“What’s the occasion?” he asked as he perused the May’s Café menu. “You have a big paper due.”

 

“No occasion,” she replied, nearly exploding with anticipation. “I just thought we never get to spend time alone anymore.”

 

The waitress appeared, and he ordered a patty melt and an iced tea, and she ordered a Caesar salad with grilled chicken and a water.

 

“Seriously,” he demanded, “what is it?”

 

“Nothing!”

 

“You’re squirming like you have to go to the bathroom. Spit it out. Why am I here?”

 

She held her breath for a moment and blew it out. “Okay, fine. What do you think about Lucy?”

 

He groaned and slammed his head on the tabletop, which was not the reaction she was expecting. “I’m not asking Lucy out.”

 

That brought her momentum to a halt. “Why not? She’s cute!”

 

“I know she’s cute. I’m …” Something caught in his throat, and he clearly decided to go with the easier thing to say. “She’s not my type.”

 

“What do you mean, she’s not your type?” Jess yelped. “She is the dictionary definition of your type. You guys have great chemistry, you’re always looking out for her, she’s into the same things you are–” And then something hit her. Only one thing would keep a single man like him from a catch like Lucy: a bigger catch. “You’re in love with someone else.”

 

He gave her a look like she had just given him a cookie recipe in Esperanto, and he laughed. “What?”

 

That’s when it all became crystal clear. “It’s me. You’re in love with me.”

 

He laughed again and repeated, “What?”

 

“Goddammit!” she snapped. “You promised! You promised! Were you lying to me when you said you were never going to fall in love with me? Was that pinky swear full of shit? Was that pinky swear just an excuse to touch me? How long have you been hanging out with me, waiting for me to realize that my true love was just under my nose? How many times did you look at me and picture us fucking–sorry, ‘making love.’ How dare you! I thought you were different! I really thought you were different! I trusted you!”

 

“Relax, woman,” he told her, “I’m not in love with you.”

 

“Why not?” she replied. “I’m hot, I’m flirty, I’m smart, I’m attentive, and we are good together. All men fall in love with me!”

 

“Not me.”

 

“Why not?”

 

He set his jaw. “I’m not in love with anybody.”

 

“How could you not be in love with anybody? You’re such a gooey, romantic of a man.” She had more to say, but she needed him to explain himself.

 

He took several deep breaths and studied the complimentary water glass on the table. He turned his eyes to the iced tea when the waitress dropped it off during their silence.

 

“Talk, Jason,” she growled.

 

Without looking up, he mumbled, “I’m asexual.”

 

Jess frowned. “What does that even mean?”

 

“<i>A</i> is a prefix meaning <i>not</i>. <i>A</i>sexual.”

 

She wasn’t buying it. “Nobody’s not sexual.”

 

“What do you call people who are attracted to the opposite sex?” he asked, finally raising his eyes to look at hers.

 

She didn’t know where he was going with this, but she figured if she played along, he’d get her there eventually. “Heterosexual.”

 

“And what do you call people who are attracted to the same sex?”

 

“Homosexual.”

 

“And both?”

 

“Bisexual.” She both did and didn’t know where he was going with this now.

 

“And people who are attracted to neither are asexual. It’s a sexuality, like the others. There are subcategories, a flag, and a whole culture. It’s a real thing.”

 

“You’re lying.”

 

He gritted his teeth and glared at her. He spoke no words, but his expression said, “How dare you?”

 

“I don’t think you’re lying about asexuality being a sexuality,” she said by way of clarification. “There’s a lot I don’t know about how people do or don’t do it. What you’re lying about is you being asexual. I catch you checking me out constantly.”

 

“That’s because your body is a work of art,” he replied.

 

Shyly, she shrugged.

 

“The human body is something I really like looking at,” he explained, “particularly the female body. But I in no way want to fuck it. Yours is pretty amazing, and I’ve always wanted to tell you, buy nobody in this society can separate the aesthetic value of the body from the sexuality of it, and I didn’t want to tell you because I’d have to tell you that I’m asexual.”

 

“Why wouldn’t you tell me? We’ve been good friends for a year.”

 

“Yes,” he agreed, “and I consider you my best friend, but asexuality is weird. Also, I didn’t think you’d believe me.”

 

Yeah, she wasn’t sure if she believed him, but she needed to say, “Sexuality isn’t weird, whatever it is. But how would you know if you don’t like sex if you don’t have it?”

 

He sighed and rolled his eyes. “Jess, I’m twenty-seven years old. I’ve had sex. I just never had much of a sex drive, and it just got less and less. My last girlfriend five years ago blamed herself when it went away entirely. And then she decided I was cheating on her. I really hurt her.” He seemed so sincere in his guilt.

 

While, she wasn’t convinced that his asexuality was a thing, she knew that he believed it. “If this is the way you are, you can’t blame yourself.”

 

“I still blame myself.”

 

“I’m sorry.”

 

The waitress seemed to have been waiting for their conversation to hit a lull because she arrived then with their food.

 

Jason shook his ketchup bottle and poured it onto his fries. “Don’t tell Lucy. Don’t tell anybody. This is between you and me.”

 

“What am I supposed to tell her then?”

 

“The truth,” he replied. “I’m just not into her.”

 

“She’ll assume that means you’re into me,” Jess muttered and speared some lettuce with her fork. “It’s happened twice already.” She shoved the greens in her mouth and chewed. Swallowing, she added, “I’ll think of something. Your secret’s safe with me.”

 

If he really was not sexual at all, that opened up a lot of doors for her. She’d know that he was really listening when she talked and not thinking about how to convince her to love him back. She could flirt with him and not get it taken as invitation. She could go bra shopping with a guy who worshipped her body and didn’t want to stick his penis in it.

 

“I’m serious,” he repeated, “don’t tell anybody. Don’t let it slip out when you’re drunk, don’t make any winking jokes about how I’m not getting any. I’m trusting you with this. I haven’t trusted anybody with this since I realized what was going on with me.”

 

He was genuinely scared about this getting out. He was genuinely scared to trust. This was a lot of responsibility to put on her. He shouldn’t be trusting her. She was a garbage person, especially the way she treated men, and the way she treated her girlfriends when it came to men. Sex brought out the worst in her. This, if true, was an opportunity to remove sex from the table, and without it, she could be the best Jessica she could be.

 

She didn’t stop to consider that the absence of sex was merely another degree of sex.

 

“I promise,” she concluded. “Pinky swear?”

 

“If we touch pinkies,” he asked, “will that guarantee that you will never tell?”

 

“No, Jason, I promise I won’t ever tell even if we don’t touch pinkies. I won’t tell, even if you were to get up and walk out of this diner and never see me again. You promised you wouldn’t fall in love with me, and even though this is kind of cheating, you still kept your promise. I vow to do the same.”

 

He held up his little finger, and they wrapped them around each other. Sighing, he said, “We just broke down my big, scary secret, and we have untouched lunches, and now we have nothing to talk about.”

 

She chewed a mouthful of lettuce while he took a bite out of his patty melt. She asked, “You consider men’s bodies art too?”

 

He shrugged. “Yeah, but there’s not a lot out there for me to look at. I don’t like big muscles, and that’s all there is.”

 

“So you’re into twinks.”

 

Thoughtfully, he frowned off into space. “I guess I do like twinks.”

 

She snorted. “Yuck. Give me a shirtless Blake Miller any day. Like that creek fight in Renegade Master.” She purred.

 

“Hairless caveman.”

 

She sighed contentedly. “Hairless cavemen.”

 

They laughed, not because “hairless cavemen” was particularly funny, but because he’d been sitting on this secret for far too long, and she’d been waiting for a shoe to drop that was never going to, and now both of them were free.

 

As long as they were together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Write Things

The Grind is the meandering episodic adventures of Max Fuentes, a journalist from New Mexico who currently resides in New York, talking his way in and out of situations of questionable legality. The tale begins here with The Darkside, which is a thoroughly misleading title.

Of course, people other than Max have been known to do stuff, and you can also read about these Detours.

Of course, Max and the others had to come from somewhere, and it’s worth checking out these Flashbacks.

I also like to look in on a completely different side of the world, with a number of Urban Fantasy pieces.

It Can’t Be Helped

The Exciting Conclusion of …THE GRIND
(Act I: All Wounds)
(Act II: The Status Quo)
(Act III: Covet thy Neighbor)

***

previously…

The good news was, I got finally the interview with Jack Lagattuta. The bad news was, I was in the hotel room when his bassist tried to throw the nightstand out the window. Since we were on the thirty-first floor, the glass was pretty much shatterproof, and the resulting carnage broke the piece of furniture, her nose, and two ribs. Jack Lagattuta and his rhythm guitarist had heard the commotion and fled, leaving behind several rails of cocaine. The lead guitarist had long ago left the building to find more tequila, but not before vomiting inside every drawer in the room.

That left me, the injured bassist, the illegal drugs, the newspaper-wrapped red snapper I’d purchased on Canal Street in exchange for said interview, and the drummer, who was standing on the bed, trying to work the TV remote.

I was actually relieved to see the police. They took the bassist to the hospital, the cocaine and the fish to an evidence locker, and the drummer and me to a holding cell.

My photographer, Gretchen, showed up to bail me out the next morning at eleven thirty, because it was Sunday, and she didn’t feel like getting out of bed. I didn’t even bother to put on my belt and tie as I checked out, nor did I even bother to acknowledge her. All the energy I could muster up went into riding the subway home and walking up the seemingly infinite number of steps to my fourth-floor apartment.

The keys fell out of my hand as I tried to unlock the door, and my clumsy attempt to retrieve them masked the sound of someone coming up the stairs behind me.

Dude,” my neighbor’s voice said.

My name’s not Dude,” I replied, forcing myself back to my feet. As the key slid over the tumblers in the deadbolt, I glanced at her and wished I hadn’t.

It started with her hair, which ordinarily bounced in cinnamon curls about her face and neck, but was now restrained with minimal success by a ponytail. This exposed her collarbone, which was glazed with sweat. The sweat made her T-shirt, already formfitting, cling even more to her glorious torso. The curve of her back dipped into the waistband of her track pants, which is where I forced my eyes to stop what they were doing.

Oh,” I muttered, “no.”

“What’s up, d…” she started to ask until she caught sight of my tie and belt, still slung over my shoulder. “You went to jail,” she breathed. “This is very not good.”

I pointed to my door. “I’m going to…”

“Right,” she replied, “because…”

And…”

“Right…”

“Going,” I announced, thrusting myself into my apartment, wherein I braced myself against the closest wall. I inhaled and exhaled carefully in an attempt to bring my heart rate down.

When my id noticed that the rest of me was occupied, though, it steered my body out my door and right up to hers. I didn’t even have to knock before she yanked it open and dragged me inside.

Historically, Emma and I have had a lot of sex with each other, and we were pretty good at it. This was different. Before, there was a playfulness that permeated even the most eager of our encounters, complete with dexterous, appetizing foreplay.

None of this was there today. This time, we didn’t speak at all; we kissed hard and stripped ourselves desperately and efficiently, until we wore absolutely nothing–not even jewelry or hair ties. The only exception to this was a condom, but at this point in our histories, neither Emma nor I knew how to function without one.

I watched her stare at me, and she watched me stare at her, forever, until it was over.

Her head thudded on my chest, and she moaned, “Oh, my God.”

Oh, my God was right. What just happened? How did it happen? How did I let it happen?

“Dude,” she panted. When I didn’t answer, she prompted me, “Your name’s not Dude, remember?”

I let the silence stand.

“Max!”

I whispered, “You and me… this is a terrible idea.”

She giggled, “You and me, dude, is the best idea.”

I stared at the pattern on the ceiling I’d long ago memorized.

“Max?” She shifted herself so her ear rested on my heart. “Max, where did you go?”

“For the first time since February,” I answered, despite myself, “I’m thinking about what it would be like to be with someone exclusively.”

“Are you really thinking that?”

“Yes.”

She rolled off of me and onto her back. “About me?”

I didn’t have to respond.

“Holy shit,” she said. “Holy fucking shit.”

“Should I have kept that to myself?”

This time she was quiet.

“Em…” I licked my lips. “I just said some stuff I can’t take back.” This wasn’t the first time I had taken something this fun too seriously. But back then I was just a dumb-as-shit-teenager. I should have learned by now. “And now that I did, I’m terrified.”

“I’m terrified too, dude.”

“Should I go?”

“Please don’t go.”

“I…” My tongue pressed against the roof of my mouth, ready to spit out a word that began with L, but nobody in the room was ready for it. “I want us to be boyfriend and girlfriend. Like actual boyfriend and girlfriend.”

“When you say that out loud…”

“If not, then this is the last time. For real. No matter how much I want to.” And God I wanted to.

She breathed for what could have been days. “You’re not worried about being my rebound?”

Yes. “Are you?”

“A little.” She swallowed. “This won’t be easy.”

“No kidding.”

“If we go through with this, things are going to change, whether we like it or not,” she said. “Like, you’re probably going to tone your lifestyle down a bit.”

“Honestly,” I told her, “I won’t miss it that much.”

“And you can’t just keep disappearing like you do.”

“What if I get arrested?”

“Then your one phone call will have to be to me.” She propped herself up onto her elbow and looked at me with an earnestness I’d never seen before. “Because I worry, dude. I worry so much, even when I was with Tyler.” After letting that sink in, she concluded, “And you have to sit through the movies I like without complaining.”

I groaned. “Fine. But if I agree to your terms, I have a few of my own.”

“Keep talking.”

“You’re going to have to get a real job at some point,” I said. “It doesn’t have to be a permanent career–just something with a little security and some benefits.”

“That’s a pretty big demand.”

“Not this instant,” I clarified. “But if this somehow lasts, it’s something we should talk about.”

“That’s fair.”

“And you should probably tidy up in here a little,” I added. “I’m tired of tripping over your shit all the time. And finally, I want to read one of those comics you’re always working on.”

“Not a chance,” she replied.

“Oh, come on!”

“You’ll hate it!”

“Even if I do,” I told her, “I’ll lie about it, because I…” Again, I caught myself just in time before I said that word. “I’m intrigued by you.”

“Maybe we should wait until after we get married,” she said. “And have kids. And retire. And one of us dies.”

“No deal.”

“Okay, dude,” she conceded, “you win.”

The End


… But first, an epilogue …

Tumbler

Another Exciting Adventure in … THE GRIND
(Act I: All Wounds)
(Act II: The Status Quo)
(Act III: Covet thy Neighbor)

***

previously…

The cell phone going off in my pocket couldn’t have possibly timed it any better. I’d realized a while ago that Ursula, the gorgeous Eastern European I’d been hitting on, was more interested in my friend, suspected artificial life form, Sean McCoy, but I’d still been forced to uphold the conversation for all three of us, given their shyness and their tenuous grasp of English. How this man had been married was beyond me. The fact that he’d been married at least twice defied all reason.

The vibration in my pants presented me with my means of escape. As soon as I made it to freedom, I said to the caller, “Thank you, thank you!”

“Dude?” asked the caller, whose use of the word dude told me it was my neighbor, Emma. “Can we talk?”

“Of course! We have lungs and larynxes and mouths and lips and tongues and…” Thinking of Emma’s lips and tongue, as I often did, I had to take a deep breath and fan myself with my hand. “Sorry about that. I’m baked clean through, and I have a beer somewhere I haven’t touched in at least fifteen minutes because I’ve forgotten about it.”

“You know what,” she told me, “don’t worry about it.”

“Wait,” I said. “What if I want to worry about it? You sound pretty serious.”

“I am serious.”

“Let’s do this in person,” I suggested. “Where are you?”

“Sixth Street, between Second and Third.”

“I’m on First Avenue, at the International Bar. Want me to come to you?”

“No,” she said. “I’ll be right over. I need the air.”

“Do you even know where–?” I started to ask, but she disconnected before I could finish, leaving me a little baffled.

For starters, I have no idea why she’d get in touch with me. We’d fallen out of each other’s lives over the past month or so, which was understandable, given her preoccupation with her boyfriend and my preoccupation with staying the fuck away from her. Also, where the hell did she get my number? Did I give it to her? Did she give me hers? I checked my contacts, and there was indeed an entry for Em. Who else’s number did I have that I didn’t know about? I scrolled the list and found Gretchen, whom I never wanted to call, because she annoyed the hell out of me. That made sense, though, given our professional relationship. Further investigation revealed Amber, which was even weirder. I didn’t know any Amber–okay, I didn’t know any Amber well enough to keep in touch. I called her and announced to the woman who answered, “Hi, I’m Max.

“Of course you’re fucking Max,” growled the person I assumed was Amber. “That’s what it says on my phone: ‘Fucking Max.'”

“I’m listed as ‘Fucking Max’?”

“You have ten words to tell me what the fuck you want, Max,” she demanded, “aren’t something to the effect of ‘Your son is in the hospital; prognosis is not good,’ I am changing my number.”

“Right!” I smacked my head. “Amber McCoy.”

My name,” she exploded, “is not fucking McCoy! Do I have to put it on a fucking billboard? Yoshida! Not McCoy! McCoy is an asshole’s name!”

“Your son is named McCoy.”

“I never said he was perfect.”

“Touché.

“Listen,” she explained, “I’m in a room with a bunch of assholes in the middle of a deposition.”

“I don’t like your tone!” said one of the assholes in the room.

“You have the tone of an Australopithecus,” she told him, “which I don’t particularly like either!”

The asshole tried to ask, “What is an–?”

“Shut the fuck up!” she snapped, before returning her attention to me. “Could you tell me what this is about?”

“I didn’t know who this Amber in my contacts was.”

“See?” she said. “Ten words. Was that that hard?”

“Surprisingly, no,” I replied.

“Amend your address book to include my proper surname, add a note that I am Sean’s mother, and stop smoking so much goddamn marijuana,” she suggested. “And while you’re at it, stop getting my son so high all the fucking time. A little here and there is fine, but Jesus, you guys.”

“Could we just get on with this?” asked one of the assholes from earlier. “It’s after eleven and I just want to go home.”

“You’ll go home when I think you’re ready to go home, you pussy!” she yelled. To Max, she said, “He’s right, I do need to get this shit over. Are you joining us for Thanksgiving?”

“With bells on.”

“Don’t wear goddamn bells.” She hung up, and I edited my contacts as she’d advised.

I then scanned the avenue for cinnamon hair, until Sean emerged from the bar. “Your mom says hi,” I told him.

“I find that improbable.”

“She didn’t really say hi,” I admitted.

He grunted. “I’m curious as to the reason she might have phoned you so late in the evening.”

“She didn’t call me,” I replied. “I called her.”

“Suddenly my curiosity has increased immeasurably.”

“Long story,” I said. “I thought you were talking to Ursula in there.”

“I found that conversation to be barren.”

Of course you did.”

Emma chose that moment to arrive, which was just fine with me. “Hey, dude.”

Her flushed cheeks and blank stare prompted me to ask, “Are you okay?”

She shook her head, and a slow epiphany widened her eyes. “No, I’m really not, am I?”

“You’ll have to pardon my intrusion,” Sean said, “but I’m not familiar with your identity.”

Whatever had overcome her fled immediately. “You must be Sean.”

“This is Emma,” I told him. “Everybody calls her Em.”

Nobody calls me Em,” she replied.

“Ah.” Sean smiled. “I have been awaiting this introduction–“

“Dude,” she asked, “can we talk alone?”

“Perhaps,” he advised, “given Max’s level of intoxication–“

“Get the fuck out of here!” she shouted.

“Sean,” I sighed.

Without another word, he shuffled off to the bar.

“Emma,” I said, “what’s going on?”

“Don’t call me Emma,” she replied. “It freaks me out.”

“Fine.”

“Tyler and I just broke up,” she told me.

I gasped without meaning to. “When?”

“We. Just. Broke. Up.”

“Why?”

“Commitment shit,” she said. “Somebody said the L-word prematurely.”

“Yikes,” I commiserated. “Who?”

“Does it matter?”

“It does not,” I replied. “Want to talk about it?”

“Not really.”

“Want to sit down and just be quiet?”

“No.”

“Do you want me to escort you home?”

“No way.”

Clutching at straws, I asked, “Should I come over and check on you tomorrow, then?”

“Definitely not.”

“Then what do you want?”

“I just…” she whispered. “I want to be alone for a while.”

Even though the following question was inappropriate, it happened anyway, because I was getting kind of frustrated. “So why did you even call me?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know. I felt like I had to.” In conclusion, she told me, “Anyway, I should go.”

“Right,” I agreed. “See you around?”

“Not for a while, dude,” she replied. “Please.”

I watched her go, and finally exhaled. And then, with a frown, I remembered the beer I’d been neglecting, and resolved to drinking it, along with as many of its friends I could get my hands around.

to be concluded…

The Elephant in the Room

Another Exciting Adventure in … THE GRIND
(Act I: All Wounds)
(Act II: The Status Quo)
(Act III: Covet thy Neighbor)

***

previously…

The best part of my schedule is that its irregularity allows for naps during the business week in an apartment free of roommates. Were it not for these naps, it’s likely that I would die from cumulative sleep deprivation. October was particularly hard on me, because there weren’t enough hours in the day for all the drinks that needed drinking, marijuana that needed smoking, and, alas, all the paychecks that needed earning.

And there weren’t enough hours in the day for all the sex that needed to be had with as many different women as possible. Don’t get me wrong–I didn’t accomplish these goals every single one of the past twenty-five days. That would be absurd, not to mention unhygienic. As far as I knew, no one in real life who wasn’t a celebrity could pull that off, especially without cheating. By cheating, I am referring to intoxication or deception, both of which are beyond unsavory. The challenge and satisfaction of my first three weeks as a twenty-eight-year-old came with meeting and seducing mostly sober women who didn’t mind a lack of follow-up.

This one-and-done streak ended officially last night. My fingers still ached from overuse, my scalp still throbbed from all of the yanking, the scratches on my back still burned, and my ribs chafed just a little from being rubbed so enthusiastically by the garters and fishnets of her French-maid Halloween costume. Best of all, the reason my quivering legs could barely make it home was that I’d decided that her being naked and sweaty was more important than her arriving on time to work, and she’d agreed.

Her name was Darla, and I was definitely calling her again–just as soon as I had a chance to sleep her off.

I’d almost drifted off into pleasant afterglow when my bedroom door thumped. “Are you there, chico?” asked my roommate Mitchell.

I smothered myself with a pillow, hoping that my lack of sound would answer his question.

The door creaked open, casting his shadow over me. “Are you sleeping?”

I held my breath.

He shook me anyway.

What!” I shrieked.

He lost his balance and fell to the floor. After he recovered, he told me, “So Cameron and I were hoping we could have a conversation.”

“I hate to disappoint you,” I replied.

“It’s really important,” Cameron said from outside.

Sitting up, I grunted, “Fine. Lead on.”

“Aren’t you going to put on pants?” Mitchell asked.

“No,” I said as I followed him.

“You should probably sit down,” advised Cameron from the loveseat, where Mitchell joined him.

I moaned. This was not going to go well. Still, there was no point in standing while having this kind of conversation. Besides, my knees had yet to stop shaking, so I sank into the easy chair. “Let’s get this over with.”

“What makes you think this is going to be bad?” asked Mitchell with forced, but sincere optimism.

“Please,” I said. “I’ve had a long night. And morning. Your tone is not promising.”

Cameron got to his feet and began to pace. “Look, Max, we’ve been… Mitchell and I have been… I mean. And you’re a great roommate…”

Oh, fuck. I knew where this was going. Darla faded from my heart as I wondered what the hell I was supposed to do without a home. I just moved in! Okay, so it was eight months ago, but it only felt like last week.

“I mean… you pay the bills and the rent on time…”

I wasn’t even on the lease, so they could throw me out today if they wanted.

“… and you don’t make a mess and you always buy the toilet paper and you cook for us sometimes…”

Then why the hell were they evicting me?

“But… there’s this thing that… um…”

Just tell me what this thing is!

“You’re straight!” Mitchell exploded.

Well, this was inevitable. “No, I’m not.”

“Yes, you are,” agreed Cameron.

“It’s ludicrous how gay I am,” I told them.

“Chico,” Mitchell said, “you’re not even a little bit into men.”

“I fuck men all the time!”

“No you don’t,” he insisted.

“Just now I was resting up so I could go out and fuck some more men. Like I do. All the time.”

“Max,” Cameron sighed.

“I could fuck you right now, you know.”

“No, you wouldn’t,” he said.

“Not with your boyfriend here,” I clarified. “That would be rude.”

“Actually…” Mitchell stared off into space. “I’d kind of like to see that.” He cleared his throat. “But I won’t, because you don’t want to have sex with Cameron–“

“Says you,” I mumbled.

“–because you’re not gay.”

“Why would you even think this?” I begged.

“Max,” Cameron explained patiently. “We’ve known for a while. I mean, you spent most of the summer sleeping next door.”

“How would you know that?”

“Because we’re not stupid,” Mitchell replied.

“We had our suspicions,” Cameron agreed, “pretty much since you moved in, but we let it slide because we liked you.”

“Then why didn’t you say anything sooner?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Cameron said.

“Well,” admitted Mitchell, “it was kind of funny.”

Cameron snorted. “Remember when you tried to convince me you didn’t hear Emma getting it on because of noise-cancelling headphones?”

“Oh my God, I, like, peed my pants when he told me that one!” Mitchell giggled.

I frowned. “It gave you a bladder infection?”

“Laughing!” Mitchell said.

“Ah.” I considered this entire exchange for a long moment. “So… you’re not kicking me out then?”

“Why would you think that?” asked Cameron.

Mitchell shrugged sheepishly. “Yeah, I could see why you’d think that.”

Cautiously I clarified, “So… we’re okay then.”

“No,” Cameron replied, “we’re not. I think you owe us an apology for lying to us for months.”

“Yes, I do,” I agreed, “and I am genuinely sorry. I was desperate, and I don’t have a lot of morals.”

“You should cook more,” Mitchell told me. “Then we’re okay.”

Well, shit, that went better than I expected. Relief deflated the tension from my shoulders, and I said, “Deal.”

to be continued…

The Winner Takes It All

Another Exciting Adventure in … THE GRIND
(Act I: All Wounds)
(Act II: The Status Quo)
(Act III: Covet thy Neighbor)

***

previously…

The light-emitting diodes filling my living room dried out my eyes. Well, to be fair, the marijuana wasn’t doing a very good job of lubricating them either, but I preferred to blame the television, which drained my soul and showed me nothing useful. I probably would have died there had it not been for my neighbor emerging from my bedroom, announcing, “Your window’s open.”

Blinking in gratitude, I mumbled, “It’s a beautiful night.”

“Anybody could come crawling inside,” she told me.

“Anybody’s welcome.”

Emma squinted at the screen. “Is that the Oscars? I thought those were, like, six months ago.”

I looked at my watch. “Three years ago, actually.”

“You know they have those every year.”

“I have to review those too.”

“Why?” she asked.

Hours ago, my editor, Myron, had the answer: “Jack Lagattuta.”

“Nobody talks to Jack Lagattuta,” I’d reminded him. “Last time I tried, I ended up smeared all over a movie set.”

“You’re going to have to try harder.”

“There are more humane ways to murder me,” I told him.

“Max,” he said earnestly, “we need to do something about your friend, Allen Dean.”

Allen Dean is no friend of mine,” I replied.

“Regardless,” Myron said, “he’s eating our lunch.”

“Well, I hope he doesn’t a peanut allergy, because I ordered Thai.”

He glared.

“Actually,” I added, “maybe it would benefit us if he did have a peanut allergy.”

He ignored me and paced behind his desk. “Up until this little twerp came out of nowhere, we had the best entertainment coverage in town. It’s up to you to turn this around.” With a whole lot of gravitas, he stopped moving and turned to me. “We need to scoop him on a grand scale.”

“Did you say scoop?” I laughed. “Does this mean I get to wear a fedora with my press badge sticking out of it?”

“No, you do not.”

“You never let me have any fun.”

“Nobody’s having any fun until we fix this!” he barked.

“Your plan is flawed,” I said after giving him a second to cool off. “He lives in Bel-Air, and he won’t take my calls.”

“You’re in luck,” he told me. “He’s going on tour soon, and he’ll be hitting New York around Thanksgiving.”

“A press tour?”

Myron shook his head.

“Then what kind of…?” It hit me. “Oh, shit. He’s one of those middle-aged white actors.”

“He’s one of those very wealthy middle-aged white actors, so he can front a blues band if he wants.”

“A blues band?” I moaned. “Oh, fuck.”

“While he’s here,” he continued, “I want an unscheduled one-on-one.”

“How?” I begged. “He’s locked up tighter than the president. Last time, his people actually pressed charges. Nobody presses charges, Myron. I was in jail for a week.”

“That’s why I’m giving you a month and a half to come up with a plan,” he concluded.

This is how I found myself immersed in talk shows and award shows, probing for the slightest weakness in the armor of Hollywood royalty. “Homework,” I told her. “Boring, pointless homework.”

She settled into the love seat beside me. “Last time I watched the Oscars, I got so bored I ended up seducing the guy I was hanging with.”

I picked myself up and moved to nearby the easy chair and attempted to fill the air with small talk. “Your boyfriend?”

“Not up to that point,” she replied.

My imagination started acting up. “You should probably go home.”

“Relax,” she assured me. “I was twenty-four. It was a different time.”

Ancient history or not, the subject needed to change. “And what brings you here this evening?”

“I had a really bad day, and when that happens, only two things make me feel better.”

“And?”

“I think you know what the first thing is.”

I froze.

“And Tyler’s working late.”

I bit the inside of my cheek. “What exactly are you trying to tell me?”

She exploded with laughter and covered her mouth to hold back what was left. “No, no, no, dude! My TV’s broken.”

“Since when?”

“Remember when we knocked it over?”

It came back to me. “After Gretchen and I had that blowout…”

“When you assaulted me with that amazing…”

I bit the inside of my cheek again, this time drawing blood. “But I thought you said it was okay. The TV, I mean.”

“It was only mostly okay,” she told me. “And it just now quit for good.”

“Crap,” I said. “Sorry.”

“It was totally worth it,” she replied. “But when I don’t have sex to turn to, I watch movies to unwind, so you owe me.”

“You know what?” I shrugged. “I could use the break anyway. What’s the name of the turd in question?”

On & On.”

“What’s it about?”

“It’s a period piece set in the eighties–a sort-of satire about the Cold War,” she told me.

“And?”

“Lots of running,” she admitted.

“Car chases?”

“Just one,” she replied. “At the end of the first act.”

“Explosions?”

“Not as many as you’d think.”

“Punching?”

Her eyes rolled before they closed, and a grin spread across her face until she interrupted it by biting her lip and sucking in a lungful of air with a helpless squeak. “Oh, God,” she moaned. “So… much… punching.”

I shook my head to dislodge the thoughts forming there. “You are a sick person.”

I can’t help what turns me on.”

We coughed and averted our eyes from each other.

“Look,” I told her after taking a deep breath, “I can’t talk to you about fucking anymore.”

She sat up. “Sorry?”

“You heard me.”

But that’s all we have in common,” she replied defensively.

“Em,” I told her, “I am as surprised as anyone by what I’m about to tell you, but I honestly think you’re one of the coolest people I’ve ever met, and I actually enjoy being around you with all your clothes on. Plus, you bailed me out of my little birthday breakdown last week. I mean, you listened to me. No one else really does.”

“You’re not making any sense.”

I cleared my throat and said slowly, “I’m okay being friends, but please no more talk about fucking.”

She frowned. “Why not? I thought you said we were friends.”

I grunted. “Because I miss it, Em.”

“You miss fucking?” she asked breathlessly. “You, of all people, haven’t been fucking?”

“Are you kidding?” I snorted. “I’m on a roll!” This much was true. Ever since she gave me the pep talk that night, I seemed to have developed some kind of homing system for women looking for one-night stands. “I miss fucking you.”

“This is awkward now.” She stood and sighed. “I think I should go home and watch this on my laptop.”

As she left, I whispered, “Yeah.” I rubbed my eyes and resumed my research with renewed vigor. I was going to find a goddamned victory somewhere.

to be continued…

Glory Days

Another Exciting Adventure in … THE GRIND
(Act I: All Wounds)
(Act II: The Status Quo)
(Act III: Covet thy Neighbor)

***

previously…

From my fire escape, I stared off into Manhattan with eyes that didn’t want to stay dry. This took a lot of concentration, which popped when my neighbor burst outside.

“Happy Birthday, dude!” she shouted.

“Thanks, Emma,” I replied.

My name’s not…” she started to recite, until she noticed that I had gone off-script. Before she could react, I slipped back inside.

Emma called after me, “Where are you…?”

She couldn’t finish her thought because I slammed the window shut and drew the blinds.

About three minutes later, somebody knocked on the front door. Against my better judgment, I answered.

“What the hell, dude?” Emma asked.

“I’m going to close this door in your face now.”

“Really,” she dared me.

“Fine,” I grunted.

She slipped past me and headed straight for my bedroom.

“I’m surprised you can find it from this angle.”

She brushed an unruly, cinnamon curl behind her ear, smiled her crooked smile, and, for just a moment, I almost forgot why I was so glum.

“Why did you call me Emma?” she asked after I closed the door behind me.

“That’s your name.”

Dude,” she insisted. When I didn’t react, she folded her arms. “Dude.”

I groaned in defeat. “Do you remember when you and I first met?” I asked.

At that horrible party.”

“After that.”

When I threw up?”

“After that.”

“Screwing on the couch?”

“Right before that.”

“I’m lost,” she told me.

“You said that I was treating you like a rebound, whatever that meant, and I said you were crazy, and that’s when I threw you on the couch, and the conversation kind of stopped.”

She sighed. “When you’ve been with enough guys, there’s this… way they get the first time after a long relationship. Like they forgot how. For a second there–“

You were right.”

Her eyes went wide. “Seriously?”

I shrugged.

“So what does this have to do with…?” She started to ask until understanding took hold.

I shrugged again.

Dude, what happened?”

I gave her another shrug.

She reached a comforting hand toward me, but froze. “Is it okay to touch you right now?”

“I don’t know.”

“Is there anything I can do?” she asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Anything I can say?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well,” she asked, “what do you know?”

“I know that I’m stupid.”

“Stupid I can work with.” Dramatically, she cracked her knuckles. “So what makes you stupid?”

“Everything.”

“I’m gonna need you to narrow that down, dude. Can you do that for me?”

I shook my head. “If I get anymore specific, I’m going to fall apart and lose it and cry… and there I go… anyway…” I couldn’t continue because attempting to talk would only result in spastic sobs. These tears were a lot further along than I’d intended to get in the first place.

Emma put her arm around my shoulder, but I pushed her away.

“Not… help…” and here came the sobbing. It took a while to die down, and the whole time she sat in the corner and didn’t make a sound. When my body was too tired to cry anymore, I finally got a word in. “You should probably go.”

“Do you want me to go?”

“I don’t know what I want.”

She took a deep breath, drawing as much patience as she could from the air around her. “I’ll tell you what I want,” she said. “I want to stay in this room until I’m sure you’re okay. Is that all right?”

“I’m probably never going to be okay again.”

“Then I’m never leaving this room.” There was that crooked smile again. “If that’s okay with you.”

“What if you have to go to the bathroom?”

“There’s a window.”

“Then you can stay,” I told her.

A few minutes of comfortable silence passed. When she felt that enough of it had gone by, she asked, “can you tell me her name?”

Cariño,” I replied. “She used to be cariño.”

She frowned. “Why ‘used to’?”

Cariño is a Spanish affectation,” I explained, “like honey or darling or dear; and now…” Shit. Here’s those tears again. “Now she’s just Carissa,” I managed to get out before the sobs took over.

She reached for me again, and this time I didn’t push her away.

“Three months,” I said when I’d calmed down. “That’s all we had. That’s all it took. It’s a barrier now. I can’t turn around and look back at my life without her getting in the way. I can’t look forward, because then I have to look at the past.”

“Dude,” she told me gently, “you have to start making some sense.”

“I just ignored her so I could stay in the here and now,” I tried to explain. “That’s the only way I can keep going: one step at a time. And she snuck up on me on my fucking birthday–that day when everybody thinks about their past, present, and future. And now that’s all I can think about–that I don’t have her anymore. I haven’t had her since February. And it’s fucking October, and I’m just now remembering that.”

“Back up, dude,” she said flatly. “What do you mean by have?”

I blinked in surprise. “What?”

“Because if you have some kind of possession thing,” she clarified, “then I’m not going to feel a whole lot of sympathy here.”

A little insulted by the implication, I tried to explain, “I mean have as in having a friend or a partner or someone who cares if I make it home safe. She was the first person I would have called when I got this apartment, or when I got mugged, or when my oldest friend came into my life again.”

She didn’t say anything while I marinated in my own words for a while.

Eventually I added, “I go out every other night and make friends with everyone. Do you have any idea how lonely I am? What have I got to show for any of this?”

You got me,” she replied.

Do I?”

She leaned forward and kissed me tenderly on the lips. Pulling away, she told me, “That’s all I can spare, dude.”

“I know,” I said. “Boyfriend and all.”

She checked the display on her phone. “Speaking of whom, I’m late to dinner.” She opened the window to exit, saying, “Look, dude, you’re not even thirty yet. Birthdays before that are supposed to be fun. Go out and make friends with everyone. Get wasted and get laid. You can worry about all this other shit some other day.”

“Promise?”

She shrugged.

As she left and blew me a kiss, I called after her, “Thank you.” Thank wasn’t the first word that came to mind, but it would have to do for now.

to be continued…

But first…