Eyes Like Winona Ch. 04byCruel2BKind©
I choked slightly when he started to come. I hated it when they came in my mouth, but I had to bear it. I waited until he released my hair and then I got up to rinse my mouth out in the sink and bring him a washcloth.
He wiped his genitals and zipped up. "Sorry for assuming." He said quietly. He got up and straightened his clothes. I opened the door for him and he handed me my money. The money was folded, but the folds were rounded and it tried to spring open in my hand. These bills had been extracted from a machine, sometime today most likely. The bills were usually like this. Occasionally they were crumpled or creased, but nine times out of ten they would be stiff and fresh like this. Whore money.
He was still talking. "It's just, I saw the two of you on the steps, and you looked intimate."
He said nothing else, cutting off awkwardly and walking in a fast stiff lope out of the building. Very few of my customers were less than awkward.
I walked outside and stretched, popping a spearmint tic-tac into my mouth as I did. Drake was gone, he was always so busy. They were all gone. I sat by myself on the concrete stairs and rested my eyes.
Why did Drake touch me? It always felt so nice, so natural, but he didn't touch anyone else. He didn't put his arm around Kirk, or help Jose to cover up hickeys.
I told myself not to get hopeful. I told myself that he was just being friendly, helping me out because I was the new guy. I didn't want to get my hopes up when I wouldn't see him again after three weeks.
I felt like someone had punched me in the gut. I probably wouldn't see him again in three weeks. My heart hurt, like a physical ache.
I tried to tell myself that it was just infatuation, a crush. I had had them before. On my biology teacher in junior year before I dropped out, on the one construction worker that always came into Mr. Browning's store for a coffee and a kraut dog at about three in the afternoon, and now on Drake.
I was horrible at lying to myself. It had to be more than infatuation. Maybe it was because he was so nice, maybe it was because I knew he was gay, or maybe it was because we knew each other in such a sexual setting, but I knew that what I felt towards Drake was much more than a simple crush.
I propped my feet up to the next-highest step and hugged my legs. Out of nowhere, I wondered if I would ever be able to have normal sex. Sex with a boyfriend, in a nice bed that didn't stink of damp and sweat. Would I even know how to do it?
I jumped as someone tapped my shoulder.
"No sleeping on the job, Ryan." Drake murmured, collapsing next to me with a sigh.
"Hey." I murmured, resting my chin on my crossed arms. I felt caught-out since I had just been thinking about him. I wished that he would call me Neil. I wanted to hear my real name on his tongue, at least once.
"So how are things?"
I shrugged. "My brother is getting out in a few days."
"Cool. Is that why you're leaving?"
I nodded. "He'll be able to get a job and help out. And... And I don't want him to know what I'm doing."
"Hm. Are you gay?"
I glanced at him, confused. Wasn't it obvious? He laughed at the expression on my face, grinning from ear to ear. His grin made his eyes crinkle up slightly at the edges.
"Well then, I guess that look means yes!" He chuckled some more and pushed me lightly. The frown left my face and I started to smile reluctantly. "It's hard to tell sometimes. Believe it or not, Kirk is straight. He never takes blowjobs because this stuff doesn't turn him on. He's comfortable being naked around guys, but he just does this for the money. He has a girlfriend, believe it or not."
Now I was curious. I tried to think of an equivalent scenario for me. I thought about having sex with women for money, and I shivered. I just wouldn't know what to do. "What about Jose?" I asked.
"Bi, I think. He had a girlfriend a while ago but she left him when she found out about this. He doesn't talk much about his personal life."
I felt my breath catch in my throat as I asked. "What about you?"
He turned his head and looked right at me. I felt frozen making eye contact with him. Him and his beautiful dark eyes. I couldn't believe that he was straight. The thought of him with a woman just seemed unfair.
He smiled a little. "First time I saw a grown man naked was when I was six years old. I knew I was gay from then on."
I felt something inside me melt a little bit, and a car broke my concentration. Drake grinned and got up, using my shoulder as a support.
I was left sitting on the concrete step and wondering if something had just passed between us.
The night ended as it always did.
At about 3 AM, Ferdinand drove up slowly to the curb and told us that it was time to go home, and drove off. Jose and Drake still had customers, so I waited for them to come out.
Kirk just waved and walked off. I watched him walk away and I had to tell myself that he was straight. The information just didn't rest easy in my skull, it was so incongruous.
Drake walked out onto the steps and looked down the street as his client hustled away. "Night's done? Why are you still here?"
That was a good question.
"Just wanted to say goodnight." I said softly. That wasn't the truth! I forced myself to speak up.
"Um... and... I was wondering if..." I took a deep frustrated breath. I didn't want this to sound wrong or weird, but I couldn't even get the words out of my mouth.
"I was wondering if you wanted to hang out sometime." There it was. It sounded a little juvenile, but at least it didn't sound too clingy. I hoped.
He looked like he was lost for words. "Well... I have class tomorrow, and then I have a shift at McDonalds..."
I started to stumble over myself. "Well you don't have to..." I was slinking away. "I guess I'll see you tomorrow, g'night."
I quit my guilty sneaking away and he walked down the sidewalk to me. He smiled and put his hand on my shoulder.
"We don't start work here until eight. Maybe you could come down at six this Thursday?"
A grin split my face wide open. "Sure! That would be fun." It took a real effort to downplay how excited I really was.
Drake gave me a brief hug, and I flinched away, jumping a foot in the air as a glass bottle exploded at our feet. Drake swore.
From a window four stories above our heads, a drunken voice slurred. "Fuck off, Faggots!"
I shrank, Drake flipped his middle finger, and then reached out to grab the back of my head. I gasped with surprise as he pulled me in and pressed his lips hard against my lips. It was so sudden, so hot and close.
"Fuck you, too, Sweetheart!" Drake bellowed, turning around and promptly dropping his pants to moon the bottle-thrower.
The drunk was incensed, slurring at the top of his lungs, but Drake just laughed. He was so brave. My lips burned.
"G'night, Ryan. Be safe."
"Night." I whispered, turning to walk away, and replaying those few seconds over and over again in my mind.
Everyone was preparing for Toby's return, mostly in small ways.
I dragged the army cot out of the closet and furnished it with a foam pad and coverlets. It was a two-bedroom apartment, and privacy was always a joke, but I thought that he would prefer to sleep alone. And hey, if he wanted the bed, I could always sleep on the cot.
Ben reorganized all of his things. He was borderline compulsive when it came to things being tidy, but the line was drawn at his things. He rarely cleaned the house unless something was in his way. He would wash dishes, but only if nothing was clean, and only the dishes he needed. It was a very frustrating habit of his. He was getting a little better. I gave everybody chores that they needed to do, and for once, everyone was listening to me.
Ben and I had always had a little bit of an authority problem. He was three years older than me, and all day he was with other college students. Most of them were entitled fucks that had their parents paying their way through. Ben was in college on a scholarship that completely covered his living costs and textbooks. It was just the tuition that we were desperately behind on paying.
Calvin and Celia were behaving for once, but I was worried about both of them. Ever since I had told Calvin the abbreviated version of events, he was quiet and seclusive. He did his chores, but he didn't spend time with the family, and was moody and silent. He didn't even have much of an appetite. If he had been acting up, I would have dealt with him, but this silence was worrying, and there was nothing I could do about it. I couldn't just tell Calvin to stop being polite and productive.
Celia was quiet too, but with her, I could tell she was nervous. She tended to snap at people more. If Calvin wasn't being so unresponsive, they would have been bickering constantly. She was acting up, for the first time in ages, when normally she was so sweet.
She hadn't said a word to anyone. When I tentatively brought it up, she just glared at me and spat.
"I didn't tell anyone Neil! Just leave me alone!"
Ben was irate as well. All of the tension just made me more anxious then ever, and I started getting bad stress headaches. It was getting to the point where the calmest hours of my day were during my factory job. The mindless labor of lifting the heavy sacks of minerals was soothing. There was no room to think. No need to think.
The only member of my family that wasn't giving me stress was Lisse. Sweet little Lisse. Those had been the hard times. Mom had died when Lisse was less than a year old. We had fought so hard to keep custody, to prove that this was a safe steady home. To keep our family from being torn apart.
On top of everything else, there was lack of sleep. On the average night, I got around five hours. Sometimes less. I found myself dozing at dinner, at the steps with Drake and the others, at my convenience store job. It definitely contributed to the headaches, and the stress.
That week, the only thing that kept me going, (other than Toby's release) was knowing that in three days I would be able to hang out with Drake. It was still a stressful thought, because I just couldn't sort out how I felt towards him. But just because it was stressful, didn't mean I wasn't looking forward to it.
Ben stopped me on the way out.
He frowned. "This is early... Aren't you going to stay for dinner?"
I glanced at the old clock on the wall and felt like gnashing my teeth. I was going to be late. Drake wanted to hang out at six, and it was already five fifty.
"I had something to eat." I tried to move past him but he was firmly in the way. I yawned. "Move."
He was looking at me intensely, and I started to feel worried. Had Celia told him? Had he finally caught on to our money situation?
"You should eat dinner with us, take a night off from your friends. You're exhausted."
"No I'm not!" I fought to stifle another yawn.
He rolled his eyes. "Yeah, you are." But he moved aside anyway. "You should take a nap if you can, you're not getting nearly enough sleep."
Part of me was touched that he noticed. The rest of me was worried. Toby was getting out in three days, and he was a lot sharper than Ben. Ben was the smartest guy in the family for sure, but Toby was sharper. Toby would notice the money. Soon, if not right away.
I slipped into the hallway and started the long jolting journey down to the ground floor. I hustled, because I wanted to get there somewhat on time.
Huffing and out of breath, I reached the corner at about ten after six. It seemed strange to be here when the sun was still up, and when the traffic was still thick. It wasn't a very good neighborhood, and for the first time I noticed how well Ferdinand cleared away the crowds at night.
This area was full of people. Men and women walking home from their jobs, restless young men with hand-me-down clothes and expensive shoes. Bums and loiterers. I saw a huddle of five men, and I saw small packets of powder exchange from hand to hand. I shrank slightly, and was very glad that I was wearing my street clothes, and not my whore clothes.
There was an overweight black woman curled in a sleeping bag on the steps up to Drake's apartment. It felt so strange to be on the corner without them all. I buzzed room one, gingerly stepping around the woman's frizzy grey hair.
"Drake? I'm here."
Drake ran to the door from the inside and opened it up. "Come in."
I was surprised to see him. Every time I had seen him before, his long white legs and arms had been bare. He had been dressed to attract. Now he was wearing baggy jeans and a band T-shirt and a baggy sweatshirt on top of that. The clothes made him look bigger than he really was.
I followed him and it was the first time I had been in his apartment. Ferdinand rented the odd numbered apartments 1 through nine, and for a small fee, Drake actually lived in the first apartment. We avoided it out of courtesy, and we took our customers into the empty rooms.
His room was furnished. He had a softer coverlet, and several band posters decorated the walls. I saw a battered acoustic guitar in the corner, and he had a few extra pieces of furniture. An end table, two chairs, and a very old armchair. He had a clunky old computer monitor on the end table, and a blue phone. The phone was one of those old ones, with the long curled cord and the dial pad on the base.
I kicked off my flip flops, and my feet sank into a soft shag rug that he had rolled over the worn tan carpet. He had turned this dingy miserable little room into something resembling home. It was very neat, and he had covered up the old smell with what looked like a tiny forest of car air-fresheners hanging from the ceiling, the lamps, the bed-board, and the walls.
"Wow... It's really nice in here."
He chuckled. "Well, here's the dime tour." He moved his right arm in a sweeping gesture, and let it drop. We both laughed.
He flopped down on the bed. "Well, it's home. And for now, I don't have to entertain in here. I did for a while when we had five."
I sat on the bed, bouncing lightly. I saw a familiar stack on the end table.
"College books? Whatcha studying? I mean, you said Nursing, second year, but what classes?"
He tossed the stack over to me, and I caught them with a grunt. They were very solid and heavy. I saw Human Anatomy, a book called 'Ethical Theory' that sounded as interesting as dust, a book called 'Chemistry of Life Processes' and a geography book.
"Everything there is either necessary or a gen ed. We got to cut open a cat today in Anatomy."
"Aw, I love cats."
He sat next to me, so close that we were touching at the hip. He took his book from me and flipped through it mindlessly. "The human body is an incredible thing. It's more complex, more beautiful, more intelligent than anything man could hope to create."
I was a little in awe of him. I felt so shy suddenly. "Do you want to be a doctor?"
He closed his book. "Yup, a surgeon. But, the tooth fairy didn't get me five hundred thousand dollars for my baby teeth, so I'm here, selling my ass for a nursing degree."
I was shocked into giggling, and I yawned.
"I know, getting sleep can be a bitch. I'm just glad I get to sleep in, tomorrow."
I shook my head sleepily and rested on his shoulder. It felt natural, and he didn't shrug away or flinch. "I never get to sleep in." I whispered. "Got a factory job at eleven, and I gotta walk there. Toby'll be out soon, and he can get a job. That's why I'm leaving."
Drake sighed. "I need to save up for college. As soon as I quit, I'll have to pay for my own apartment, and college, and everything else. I don't think I could handle it yet."
He sighed moodily. I wanted to cheer him up.
I pointed to the guitar. "Want to give me a show?"
He looked at me, and I realized with a small pang how close we were. Kissing distance, as my mom used to say. Only now, that expression was even more appropriate. I could feel his breath on my chin.
He grinned and bounced up. His lean body was alive with energy, like a wire. The moment was over, and I couldn't tell if I was disappointed or relieved.
He picked up his guitar and started playing chords that seemed familiar. I let out a surprised and delighted burst of clapping when he started singing 'Walk all over you' by AC/DC. It was an acoustic version, but his impression of Bon Scott was perfect.
I started singing with him. First soft, because I wasn't very confident and I didn't want to ruin his impression, but he nodded at me, encouraging me without missing a note.
The next time I checked the clock, it was seven twenty. We had spent over an hour putzing around and singing. My voice was tired, and he said his fingers were getting sore.
He set his guitar gently, almost reverently, into the small upright stand in the corner. "Do you wanna go get something to eat?"
I heaved to my feet. "Well, sure. But you're buying." I wasn't serious, and he knew it. He laughed and pushed me lightly.
It was empty outside. A chill cut through my windbreaker and into my skin. It was a wet cold. It wasn't raining or misty, but the air was damp, and the wind was sharp.
It was quieter now, and I found my hands creeping to the bulge in my front pocket, the little canister of pepper spray. It was almost like a totem now, touching it made me feel safer.
We stepped into a Wendy's that was open for the night and sat down at a booth. I suddenly felt shy again. Was this a date? I honestly had no idea, and I was afraid to ask.
"I had a great time." I murmured, dipping two fries with ketchup and popping them into my mouth.
He nodded and flicked his head to the side to move the hair out of his eyes. He looked at me with his incredibly dark eyes. "We should do this again. You sing really well."
Now I felt embarrassed. "No... You sing way better."
He shrugged me off. "I can do AC/DC, Guns and Roses, Avenged Sevenfold, bands where the singers have growly voices. You have a really sweet voice, and you have an ear for harmony. Voices can be improved, but you either have an ear or you don't, and you have it."
I grinned, melting a little. Everybody loves flattery, and I was no exception. "You play really well, were you ever in a band?"
He rolled his eyes. "Incredibly briefly. We called ourselves 'Infamy', we practiced in the high school gym on weekends, and we quit when I was seventeen. We mostly did bad covers for eighties hair bands. My mom taught me how to play guitar when I was twelve."
"Sweet." I murmured, sipping from the large coke that we had bought to share. "My mom taught me how to sing. I joined the school choir for a bit, but then I had to drop out after junior year when she died."
I realized how dark the conversation had turned, so I tried to lighten the mood by shrugging and taking another bite, feeling stupid.
Drake sighed. "It's tough. I never knew my dad, and it was really tough when my mom died."
I looked up at him, surprised. "You, too?" I asked softly. He nodded, shrugging.
"I don't really like to talk about it, but I know about you, so I figured you should know. She died in the hospital when I was seventeen, but I was on my own a year before that." He looked down at his hands, speaking in a very soft monotone. "She had AID's."
He looked up and he had a little smile on his face that nearly broke my heart. "I don't have it, she got it way after I was born, from one of her boyfriends. We couldn't really afford any medicine or treatment, so it ate her up pretty quickly. I ran away when she was taken to the hospital because I didn't want to become a foster kid."