Neutral Territory Ch. 12byPS_Lopez©
"It used to be a mattress store," I said, the first time either of us had spoken since arriving. "And before that it was a convenience store."
I hadn't felt like reading today, and Geoffrey had decided to come on my long walk with me. We now sat on the bench in the bus shelter, looking at the once-empty storefront through a rising blizzard. He'd reached over for my hand as soon as we sat down, so I'd wrapped it around his. We didn't wear gloves on our joined hands, but he wore one on his left hand; I'd tucked my right hand into its pocket.
I hadn't originally planned on coming this way; it was a rather long walk to get to this spot, but it was one of my favorite walks on days when he couldn't come with me. It had just occurred to me that it might be nice to share it with Geoffrey.
"How long do you think this store will last?" he asked.
This business's owner had placed sticker letters and numbers on the windows advertising his 99-cent store. Mostly bright pink day glow stickers. Not only had he advertised the price this way, but he'd listed various merchandise his store carried.
"I don't know. The mattress store lasted nine months."
"What about the convenience store?"
"Don't know. It was out of business by the time I found this spot."
We sat in silence for a while longer, and I checked my watch. We'd have to leave pretty soon so he could get ready for work. But not quite yet.
"How often do you come here?" he asked.
"Couple times a week. When you've got a morning shift."
Geoffrey shifted, and I thought he might be looking at me, but I didn't look at him. Someone entered the shop across the street.
"What if there are people here?" he asked.
"I sometimes talk to them. Depends, really, on if I think they'll be into conversation. The people who were here when we got here are regulars. They take the bus every weekday. I sometimes talk to them, but not often. Mostly I come to stand around and stare at the shopfront across the street and think about things."
I glanced at him now, and he was looking at me. I smiled a little and squeezed his hand, then raised it to kiss the back. "You, mostly. Us."
He looked away and sighed. "What about me?"
I cleared my throat a little and watched him as I spoke. "Mostly wishing things were going faster. Then again, thinking that I like how things are going." I followed his gaze to the store across the street. "I push you only when I get too frustrated for patience to work any more. I come here and try to think of ways to make myself more patient."
"Tell me when you're feeling frustrated, okay?" He shifted a little, gripping my hand a little tighter. "I don't know if I'll be able to do anything about it, but if you tell me before you get to the point of saying or doing something wrong, we may be able to work it out before you get too impatient."
"Okay. So you want updates on where I am with this like I'm asking from you?"
He nodded, glancing at me, then looked down. "Yeah."
I saw a bus coming and waited until it got close to wave it on. Apparently there wasn't anybody wanting off this one. This bus didn't stop and it shot the snow into miniature flurries with its passage. Some of the flurries got tossed in at us by the wind and we both winced away. After they died, I rose, pulling Geoffrey up.
"Let's go," I said.
He didn't release my hand, and we headed back the way we'd come. I tucked our hands in my pocket and Geoffrey curled his fingers in my grasp but didn't pull away.
"Um, I have a request, but I'm a little afraid of it," he said.
"I kind of want to meet Drew. But not in private like, at one of our places. But I know that the only time you really see him is at The Henhouse, and I'm kind of afraid of going to a bar."
"Because it's a bar, or because it's a gay bar?"
"Because of both."
"It's pretty quiet. Want me to see if I can arrange a time and other place to meet Drew? He's off weekends."
"I'm mixed, but I think I kind of want to go to the bar. It's hard to explain why." He shook his head.
"Do you think it might make you feel better about things?"
Geoffrey sighed. "I don't know. I rather want to know . . . things. About Drew."
Oh. I just nodded, not needing to ask any more questions. He wanted to put some things to rest. A part of me insisted I should reassure him I wouldn't be repeating that event, but I refrained. I didn't want to protest too much. Considering Geoffrey's confidence level, it might make him think the wrong thing.
"I don't think he'll mind answering some questions." Well, Drew better damn well not mind.
Beside me, Geoffrey sighed again, and I thought there might be some relief in it.
"Are you off Tuesday or Wednesday night?" I asked.
"Wednesday, and I don't have to be in at work until noon Thursday."
"Then we'll go Wednesday, okay? I don't have his number, so we'll just have to hope he'll show up."
Geoffrey stopped walking. I did as well, perforce, and turned to look at him. He regarded me with an expression of surprise on his face.
"Why don't you have his number?"
I considered that. "Just haven't thought of getting it." I waved my right hand a little. "It never seemed important. We aren't that kind of friends."
"What kind of friends are you?" Now he sounded suspicious.
I sighed and propped my hand on my hip, trying to find words to describe it. "The kind who don't push into each other's lives very much." I knew it wasn't adequate and sighed, exasperated with my inability. It shouldn't have been so difficult to explain things, and I resorted to explaining my feelings. "I just don't want to get too close to him again. We talk there, and we dance, and that's all I want from him. I don't want him to be calling me to chat. I want our friendship to end at The Henhouse's door, and I really don't care if he wants more. I think one big mistake like that is enough, and I don't want to risk it happening again. The closest I've gotten to it is him driving me home the night I got drunk, and that was too close for me."
Geoffrey averted his gaze, frowning a little. "Are you that afraid of it happening again?"
"I'm afraid I'll go after the solution that seems easiest instead of sticking it out to deal with the better solution. And Drew is easy. I don't know if he'd really go for it a second time, but I don't want to find out."
Geoffrey glanced up at me. "What's the better solution?"
Since he'd averted his gaze again, I tilted his head up to look at me and waited until his gaze rose to mine. "Working things out with you. Facing things instead of running and trying to hide or giving up."
"What if--" he heaved a sigh and glanced away but didn't try to shift his head. His gaze met mine again. "What if I never get that far?"
"Do you want to?"
"Yeah. Sometimes even when I'm uncomfortable with it. Silas, there are times I want you so much that it blocks out everything else I can think about. Everything else, and I'm frustrated at the same time, because I'm afraid that I'll never get that far. I can barely even think about it most of the time, and there are times when thinking about what you did New Year's Eve, that--that . . . It blocks up my thoughts because I want it again, and I want more but I can't think past all the shit Dad said." He waved his left hand and slapped his thigh, then stomped his feet before turning his head out of my grasp and looking at the sidewalk.
I didn't consider whether it would push him when I pulled him into an embrace. He didn't retreat or lean away, but leaned against me and rested his head on my chest. I pulled our hands out of my pocket so we wouldn't break his wrist, and his fingers grasped mine again. His left arm wrapped around my waist. I rested my cheek on his head, my eyes closed, wishing I could wring his father's neck.
"We need to get back," he said after a short while.
I nodded but didn't release him immediately. He didn't pull away. Instead, his arm tightened around me. Only when it loosened, about a minute later, did I kiss the top of his head and pull away. His grip tightened around my hand and I tucked our hands back into my pocket. He stayed very close on the way back, his arm pressed up against mine, as if he didn't want to stray too far.
"I'll see you Monday," I said in the elevator. He had a morning shift tomorrow.
"Okay." He shifted closer, then quickly kissed the corner of my lips as the elevator stopped.
When his hand pulled away from mine, I felt bereft, and I turned to face him, backing out of the elevator. I waved a little. Geoffrey waved back, expression somber, then the doors closed. I stood there for a minute, not sure what I felt any more. Then I dug in my pocket for my keys. I had to get ready for work, too.
I felt like wrapping my arms around Silas and clinging to him as we entered the bar. It took a lot of effort to keep my head up, but I couldn't find it within myself to act comfortable. I hooked my fingers in the back belt loop of Silas's jeans and he stopped walking, turning his head to look over his shoulder at me.
"Is he here?" I asked.
Silas looked around. "On the dance floor." He nodded in that direction.
I looked. Someone danced by himself, hands in his pants pockets. The dance floor was better lit, so I could see he wore a light-colored sweater, but I couldn't determine what color it was. Could have been blue or green.
Silas's hand came back to grasp mine and he pulled it away. I shuffled up to stand next to him, giving the rest of the bar a better examination, and saw several patrons seated at tables, some at the bar, and a couple bartenders. Aside from that, the place looked dead, and I wondered how it stayed in business.
"Is it like this on the weekend?" I thought that had to be the money-making time.
"According to Cindy, a little busier, more dancers on the floor, but this isn't a club, and it's still pretty far out of town, so it doesn't get too much busier than this. She says most of the people who come are regulars like me."
"Oh." I looked around again. "How does this place stay open?"
"The jukebox," Silas deadpanned.
I looked at him, but he looked entirely serious. When I really listened, I heard "Blue Bayou" playing. Silas smiled a little.
"For the past several months, someone's been getting here pretty early weeknights and crams the jukebox full of quarters to play the one damn song that's playing now," he explained. "I've been here from five until closing on a few occasions, and that's the only song I've ever heard playing. It costs fifty cents a song."
I nodded a little and checked the place out again. It didn't look like things got too bad here. Still, I clutched at Silas's hand as he led me across the room to the bar.
A redheaded woman came over as we reached the bar, and she smiled, placing a short glass with a drink in it on the bar. "Hey, Silas, there's your usual."
"You can read my mind."
She laughed. "I didn't think you were feeling broody enough for beer." She glanced at me.
I looked at the stool I stood behind.
"What would you like, cutie?"
I stared at her, mortified at being referred to as cute. Not that I was unfamiliar with it, but because I was just so uncomfortable with the whole situation. I didn't know how I'd expected her to address me, but "cutie" had been furthest from my mind.
"I don't know," I said.
"Make him one of your specialties, Cindy," Silas said. "Something gentle. He's just turned twenty-one."
"I know just the thing."
She departed. I looked at Silas; he stood behind another stool, hand on the back, apparently willing to wait for his drink until I had mine. He looked at me and smiled.
"Her specialty drinks are good. I think I've tried nearly every one over the past year and a half."
Cindy returned and set a tall glass next to Silas's drink before me. "There you go. Half price because I stinted on the alcohol, but I made the easiest one I have."
Silas released my hand and passed her a card from his wallet. "Thanks, Cindy."
She took his card and darted away to run it through her card reader. When she returned, she winked. "Have fun." She passed his card back.
Silas put his card away. "With this depressing tune repeating?"
Cindy laughed. "Hey, I've tried."
"Can you ask him to stay away for one Wednesday night?"
Her expression fell. "He's still hurting, Silas."
He sighed a little. "Okay. If it soothes him, I won't argue about it."
He nodded a little, putting his wallet away then picked up both our drinks and passed mine to me. I hesitated, taking the glass in both hands.
"What is it?" I asked.
"It's called The Hen's Pecker," Cindy said.
I gazed at the drink as if could save me from my embarrassment. Silas chuckled, apparently recognizing my condition, and gently turned me around.
"Come on, let's go sit down," he said.
I went with him, carrying my drink as if it were some object I'd rather not have touched at all. Half of my mind protested the idea of drinking it, and the rest was just curious. Silas took us to a table near the dance floor and indicated I should take the only chair already present, so I set my drink down with unnecessary care before perching on the chair.
I looked around again, but no one seemed to care that I was here. I wasn't sure whether I should be relieved about that or not. If these were all regulars, they had to have taken notice of me at some point. Silas pulled a chair from an unoccupied table over and sat next to me while I put my palms together and pressed my hands between my knees.
He wasn't sitting very close, but it seemed too close. At the same time, he was too far away. I wanted to scoot closer to him and huddle against his side, but felt too much aware of where I was. It may have been a gay bar, but it was still in public, and being here had ramped up every negative thought I'd ever had.
It made me want to go back to my parents and slam Dad's face into the wall, and that was pretty useless. Even if I found enough courage to get to the front door, I'd end up chickening out upon seeing Dad.
I almost asked Silas if we could leave, then I glimpsed Drew on the dance floor. He was still dancing by himself, and I was now close enough to see that his sweater was a very pale blue. He wore jeans and what appeared to be boots and he seemed oblivious to his surroundings.
Silas leaned towards me. "How are you doing?"
I looked at him, and I probably looked like I was terrified, but he didn't say anything. "I'm not sure." I spoke quietly, caught between the negative thoughts and the fact that I was actually in a gay bar.
With my boyfriend.
I looked at the table, but that put my drink in my view, and I didn't want to be reminded of it, so I looked up. Drew's dancing caught my gaze and I watched him for a minute, trying to decide what I thought of him, but couldn't with all the other things going on in my head. It made me wonder if I'd be able to do what I'd planned on doing. Maybe I could just ask for his phone number and ask my questions that way.
I hunched where I sat and forced myself to pick up my drink--with both hands. They gripped around the glass without my conscious thought about it, and I sipped. It tasted like cherry cola, or at least very cherry-flavored. Maybe Cindy used flavored syrups or there was some liquor that was cherry flavored, though it couldn't account for the strength of the taste if she'd really dumbed down the alcohol content. It burned a little when I swallowed and I had to clear my throat to make sure I'd be able to talk, not that I had anything to say.
When I looked up again, I saw that Drew had vacated the dance floor. I started to look around for him, remembered my drink, and looked down at it, afraid of spilling it. God, it would be so embarrassing to return home smelling like cherries. I couldn't explain this to Grandma. She'd probably assume Silas was trying to badly influence me.
"May I join you?"
The unfamiliar voice made me jerk my head up. My drink sloshed, but only a little splashed out.
Silas leaned over again. "It's Drew."
I nodded. "Okay." I was unable to raise my voice past my uncertainty.
"Go ahead," Silas said, and he sounded wary, his voice almost flat. As Drew sat down, Silas indicated him with an open hand.
"Geoffrey, this is Drew. Drew, my boyfriend, Geoffrey."
I glanced at Drew. He had a face I could only describe as regular. Nothing spectacular, though I'd half expected him to bear some similarities to me. That he didn't made me wonder what had attracted Silas to him on a superficial level. However, I knew I was probably thinking in stereotypes. It wasn't like Dad hadn't trained me to.
None of us spoke for the first five minutes. Whenever I glanced at Silas, I saw him gazing steadily at Drew, and not in a lustful kind of way. More as if he was daring Drew to do something wrong. Or expected Drew to do something wrong.
Drew just gazed into the drink he'd brought with himself. He sat with his left leg slung over his right knee, his left arm on the uppermost leg, the glass with his drink in that hand. I couldn't tell if he was feeling uncertain. His position indicated he was comfortable, but the fact that he wouldn't look up indicated that he was at least nervous about something. When he did look up, he met my gaze square-on.
"It's good to finally meet you," he said.
I looked into my drink. "Really?" I could well imagine what Silas had said about me to this man. Probably little of it good, but then, I'd done little to encourage positive conversation.
Drew sighed a little. "I don't condemn Silas for what he did."
This was an opening I'd been wondering how to create myself. It took me a few seconds to find the courage to follow it, and I set my drink on the table before leaning toward Silas.
"Can you go to the bar?" I asked.
He opened his mouth, gaze flicking to Drew, then nodded. "Going."
I watched him go, relaxing a little. In a way, I'd have left him out of this whole thing if I'd been able to. It bothered me having to send him away, but I didn't want him to overhear what I said to Drew. I wanted to have the conversation first, then decide what to tell Silas.
I bent my knees further, so my feet were under my chair, and placed both hands on the table.
"What do you really think?" I asked.
Drew shifted, lowering his left leg. He rubbed his right hand down the corresponding thigh and frowned a bit. "What do I really think of what he did to me?"
I nodded. "Yeah. And of Silas." I looked up at him. "And I want you to be completely honest, no matter what."
Drew nodded and sipped his drink before setting it on the table. He didn't let it go, and I watched his fingers tighten around it.
"Well, I knew what I was getting into that night. Not completely, but I knew enough. I wasn't sure how hooked into you he was, and I thought he's attractive--still do think that--and was pleased when he was willing to go home with me."
I nodded, gazing at my drink.
"He was gone when I woke up. That pissed me off, but I've tried to shrug it off. I had no real claim on him, and I knew it before he followed me home, but I still think you're not man enough for him. Nothing I've heard about you has given me the impression that you're worthy of a man like Silas. You drag him down. He hasn't gotten drunk again, but he's rarely happy when he comes here."
I flinched a little, but didn't protest what Drew had said. I'd asked for complete honesty, and I was obviously getting it.
"I feel like I'm watching another friend destroy himself over someone who isn't even worth the trouble of telling the time to." Drew took a swig of his drink and when the bottom of the glass met the table, it knocked hard, causing the liquid and ice within to dance. "And I can't help but think that I can give Silas everything he wants and needs in a real man if all he does is ask."