The Angel By My Side


"About what?"

I shrugged my shoulders and stared out the windshield. We were near a park. I looked over at Mason and smiled. "Care to go for a walk?"


We walked around the small lake in the park and settled under a tree. I lay on my back in the grass and motioned for Mason to join me. When he lay back on the grass he started to giggle. I turned to my side to face him. "What's funny?"

"The grass tickles my wings."

"So that's why you laughed in the shower?"

He nodded. "Tell me what you care about."

I shrugged as my fingers traced through the grass and I plucked a few blades out. "People. Feelings. Things." I felt my cheeks heat with a blush and turned away.

Mason turned to his side and ran his hand over the grass. "You care a lot for many things."

"How would you know?"

"I've watched you from the day you were born." He smiled and looked out over the water of the lake. "Would you like me to tell you what I know?"

The word barely came out as a whisper. "Yes."

He turned back to me and smiled. "You found a small, wounded bird when you were four. Do you remember?"

I nodded. "Yes."

"You ran and got your mother, and even though she knew nothing could be done, she helped you pick it up and try to help it." He looked back at me. "What happened to the bird?"

"It died."

He nodded. He watched the people walking around the bike path along the lake for a few moments. "How about the time your friend Alex wanted to know why you were staying in town after you graduated from high school, even though you'd been invited to Florida?"

I shut my eyes and turned away. "That isn't important."

"I think it is." He reached out and touched my arm, sending shivers up my spine. "What did you tell him?"

I shook my head. "No. It doesn't matter."

"Yes, it does."

I sighed and opened my eyes, looking at the sun filtered through the leaves in the tree above us. "Mom and Dad needed me. I couldn't go, because they needed me to take care of them."

"What did he say?"

"Your folks are selfish. Live a little, Michael."

"What did you do?"

I shrugged. "I punched him in the face."

"What did you do when you got home?"

I felt the tears form. I shut my eyes and willed it all away. "I went home and hugged my parents."

"And when you were alone?"


"No." I opened my eyes to see him leaning over me. "What did you do when you were alone?"

"I cried."


I brushed a tear off my cheek. "Because I knew I was going to be alone."

"You weren't angry with your parents?"

I looked at Mason and frowned. "No. Of course not." I propped my elbow under me and turned to face him. "Why would you think that?"

He smiled. "It proves how much you care." He turned and looked out at the lake. He pointed out random people. "That person might have gone anyway." He pointed at another. "That one would have stayed, but been bitter and angry." He turned back to me. "Lots of people would have stayed, but few would have done so without anger or regret."

I swallowed the lump in my throat and shut my eyes to the tears that threatened to spill over. "You understood how much your parents needed you and gave up all your dreams for them." I blinked away the tears and looked back at him. "You have a caring heart, and others often don't see it."

I stared at Mason in silence as he watched a dog play with its master, fetching a stick. I brushed the tears from my face and stood. "We should go." Mason turned back to me and followed. We got in the truck and drove quietly home.

After being home for a few minutes, I felt restless. I couldn't sit for more than a few seconds. I stood and looked at Mason. "I need another shower."

I left him behind and stood under the spray. I braced my hands against the wall of the shower and banged my head into the wall. Why did it hurt so much? Hearing Mason describe my life made the pain come to the surface. I let the tears flow freely. It seemed so unfair, that Mason could see me, the real me, where no one else had seen or bothered to see. I stayed under the spray until the tears ran their course.

I stayed in my room, contemplating everything and nothing for several hours. I looked at the walls; I stared at the slightly swaying curtains. I watched the shadows stretch and bend along the floor. No answers found me. No comfort. No clue. After a long time, I looked at my watch and made up my mind. I threw on some jeans, a tee, a button down shirt I left open, and my boots. I grabbed my car keys and headed downstairs. I found Mason staring at the television, as if in a trance.

"Found something interesting?"

He jumped and turned, giving me a small smile. "Is Homer really this stupid?"

I snickered. "Homer is a cartoon. It isn't real."

He turned back and looked at the television. "He's funny though."

"Yes. He is." I watched with him for a few minutes, steeling my nerve. "I'm heading out."

Mason stood and looked at me. "Where are you going?"

"I was invited to join some coworkers for a beer." Now that I'd said it out loud, I felt the butterflies flutter in my stomach. I'd never done it before. What would I face? "Are you coming?"

"I didn't know if you'd want me there."

"You'd fade out if you weren't there." I grabbed a jacket and tossed it at Mason. "Let's go."

I drove down the highway, the radio turned on loudly, so there would be no conversation. I followed the path I'd followed many times, but this time, I wouldn't drive by, I'd force myself to go inside, to confront my own fears and shyness. When we got there, I pulled into a parking spot, and not wanting Mason to see my fear, I hopped out and marched inside, with Mason trailing behind me.

Once the door opened, I was slapped in the face with a wall of cigarette smoke. Somewhere beyond the curtain of smoke, someone was skinning a cat, gutting a sheep, and murdering Helen Keller, otherwise known as karaoke. I wended my way through the tables, searching for a familiar face. I found Jim Shipman, like a King holding court, at a group of ten tables. He spotted me and called me over.

I walked up to Jim and shook his hand. He pulled me down and gave me a brisk, manly hug that consisted of a hard pat on the back. I introduced Mason around as a friend from college, and got us a couple of beers. I sat back in a chair and overheard some of the conversations. Talk about nailing chicks, talk about work, horror stories on the oil refinery platform, and so on. I watched over the lip of my glass as Mason tried the yeasty brew, sipping tentatively.

I leaned in and spoke in his ear. "Not like the soda, huh?"

He looked over at me and smiled. "No. But it's not bad."

I grinned before taking another long drink. I can't say I was overly comfortable in the group. I didn't have much to say. I spoke when spoken too, laughed with everyone else, but still felt like an outsider, someone looking in the window, nose pressed to the glass, wanting what was inside, but unable to find the door.

After a bit of time, Jim got up and headed for the bathroom and the bartender came calling out for new singers. I had to go, and left Mason behind. I walked down the dim hall to the restroom, opened the door, and stopped dead. Jim was leaning against the sink, his jeans around his ankles as another of the crew was on his knees, sucking Jim like mad.

Jim's eyes met mine and he smirked before taking Bill's head in his hands and began ramming his cock fast and hard into his mouth. "Suck it, Bill. Just like that."

I couldn't move. My cock hardened painfully behind my zipper. I could only stand and stare, my mouth open, panting. I saw as Jim's face tightened, his lips compressed against his teeth as he thrust one last time, hard, and shuddered. "Oh yeah! Fuck yeah."

Bill pulled away and stood, spitting into the sink. "God damn it, Jim. I hate it when you cum in my mouth."

I swallowed as Jim shot me a grin and pulled up his pants. "Stop your whining, Bill. You love it."

Bill rinsed his mouth out and turned, seeing me for the first time. His eyes went wide then he frowned. He came up to me and grabbed me by the shirt. "You saw nothing. Got it?"

I nodded dumbly as Bill walked out of the bathroom. I tried to straighten my shirt and realized my hands shook. Jim walked up to me and took my chin in his hands. He stared me in the eyes before he covered my mouth with his. His kiss was hard, almost punishing, as he shoved his tongue into my mouth and tasted everything. I gripped his arms with my hands, and pulled away, gasping for breath. As first kisses went, I was expecting a bit more. Not quite sure what, but more than what I got. Jim stared into my eyes and smiled. "Liked what you saw?"

I nodded mutely and tried to smile. "Yeah. I did."

Jim turned away and headed towards the door. "Wanna blow this place? We could head over to your house."

I had to swallow three times before I could speak. "I'll let you know. I have to talk with my friend."

Jim nodded and adjusted himself in his jeans. "Don't think too long."

I nodded as he left and went to the sink. My cheeks were flushed as I splashed water on them. I couldn't believe what had just happened. My every waking fantasy just hit on me. I grinned and took care of business before I headed out into the club again. When I rounded the corner, the only noise in the place was of someone singing. I looked out over the crowd and saw that every person was almost entranced. I looked on stage and saw Mason with a microphone in his hand, singing "Earth Angel." It would have been funny, if he didn't sing so beautifully. His voice was clear and resonant, carrying out across the room, compelling everyone who heard to strain harder for every last note.

When the song ended, everyone sat, as if waiting for more. Mason left the stage and walked towards me, his cheeks flushed and a big smile lit his face. When he got to me, the crowd erupted into applause. He ducked his head and I grabbed his arm and took him outside. Once out in the cool, clear air, I took him towards the truck. "What happened in there?"

He ducked his head. "They asked me to sing."

"Did you enchant them?"

He started to laugh, but didn't look comfortable. "Ever heard of 'choir of angels'? Guess where the term comes from."

I groaned. "Oh man. How bad is this?"

He shook his head. "Not at all. They'll just think I'm some unknown talent."

I nodded. "Good."

I saw Jim step out of the door into the parking lot. I looked at Mason and fidgeted. "Um… Mason?"

Mason looked over at Jim, then back at me. "Yes, Michael?"

"Jim wants to come home with me… and…" I was at a loss for words. He didn't understand what jerking off was. How would I explain sex? "Well… he wants—"

"He wants to have sex with you."

I stared in astonishment at Mason. "How did you know?"

He looked towards Jim, but not at him. "He has an angel watching him, too."

"He's a martyr?"

He shook his head sadly. "No. Angels watch every human." He turned and his eyes bored into me, as if looking right through me to my very soul. "Jim Shipman's angel watches over philanderers, adulterers, and the lecherous."

I swallowed and looked over my shoulder as Jim said his goodbyes to some friends. He turned and winked at me. I turned back to Mason as he continued to talk. "He is married and has four children with his wife." He looked to Jim. "There are six other children he is father to. He knows of two of them." He looked back at me. "If you go home with him, he will come to your house every Thursday night, when he tells his wife he's out bowling with friends from work."

I shook my head. "Don't tell me this."

Mason grabbed my arm. "I'm telling you this because you aren't the first. You won't be the last." When I opened my eyes to stare into Mason's, his voice gentled. "Do you want your first time to be with someone who cares nothing for you? Who will use you for his own pleasure and then leave you unfulfilled?"

I put my hands over my ears. I shook my head. Then I got pissed. I pushed Mason's hand off my arm. "What does it matter? I'll be dead in a few days anyway."

Mason took my face in his hands and stared at me. I heard the faint music again, like the other time he touched me with both hands. "I know you. You'll regret it." His voice grew faint and I swore I saw tears in his eyes. "Until the second you die, you'll regret it."

I stared into Mason's dark, soulful eyes and lost myself to thoughts. Thoughts of regret. Thoughts of loneliness. But nothing could make the truth of his words dim. When I felt Jim's hand on my shoulder, I turned to face him.

"So, Michael., follow you home?"

I shook my head. "I'm sorry, Jim. But no."

He looked between Mason and me. "Hey, your friend, if he wants to join us, I'm okay with that." He grinned endearingly. But now I saw it for what it was; an artful glance to entice. His luster had faded in my eyes.

"I'm sorry, Jim."

Jim shrugged. "Hey, no skin off my nose. Catch you around."

He walked off and called out to Bill, meeting up with him. I watched as Jim hopped in Bill's truck and they left the parking lot. I shook my head and turned back to Mason. "Get in. Let's go home."

We drove home in silence, not saying anything, both of us lost in thoughts. When we got back to the house, Mason got out of the truck and I shut off the engine. When the light turned on when I opened the door, I noticed something white and shining on the passenger seat. I picked it up. It was a feather. I tucked it into my breast pocket and went inside. I didn't say anything as I went upstairs and crawled alone into bed.

During the long, sleepless night, I came to several depressing conclusions. Some things I would die never knowing, always wondering about. As the dawn began to bleed out the darkness of night, I decided not to let every dream die with me. There were still some things I could do. I got up and went down to make some coffee. I found a pot already made and found Mason sitting on the sofa, watching early morning religious programming. I stood and sipped my coffee as I watched him. He seemed less alert, slightly drooped. I'd never seen him at anything less than perky before. After a few minutes I cleared my throat. Mason turned and smiled.

"You told me you didn't know when I'd die. But can you tell me if I at least have a week?"

Mason cocked his head to the side and stared off into space. He nodded. "Yes. You should have at least that long. Why?"

I smiled as I set my coffee down and sat on the coffee table to face him. "I have some vacation time coming to me. There are some things I'd like to do."

Mason sat up and smiled. "Like what?"

I grinned and picked up the phone and called my boss. Even though it was Sunday, I got him and explained that I wanted to take advantage of his offer for time off. Once it was settled that I'd have the next week off, I put the phone down and smiled at Mason. "We're going on a road trip."

My father had purchased a car long before I was born that sat in our garage, hardly used. It was a 1955 Ford Galaxy, convertible, powder blue, with all original interior and parts. In fifty years, the car had only amassed thirty thousand miles. It was a gas hog, but roomy and comfortable. Mason and I set out early that morning and headed east.

By unspoken agreement, neither of us mentioned the events of the previous evening. By ten, we were both loosened up, and talking freely. We stopped for a breakfast of biscuits and gravy, fried eggs, bacon, and cheese grits. Mason ate all of his and nearly a third of mine. When we got out of the roadside diner, I peeled the top back on the car and we headed out again.

Even though we didn't talk, there was no awkwardness in the silence of the passing wind in our hair, the slow, mellow music on the radio, and the occasional pointing out of sights along the Gulf Coast. By four, we'd arrived on the outskirts of New Orleans. Although I'd lived within hours all my life, I'd only been there once before.

I got us lost only once as I found my way into the Quarter. After searching around, I found a little Bed & Breakfast on Chartres. When we climbed up the stairs to our second floor room, I felt a sense of peace wash over me, taking the last of my worry and, though I was sad to admit it, regret over last night.

The room overlooked a courtyard garden with a fountain, a few tables from the restaurant behind the hotel, an intimately lit bar, and a place for dancing. Out the balcony doors there was a view of the bustling streets of New Orleans. But the courtyard behind the hotel was what drew me over and over. The quiet intimacy, the hush that just a few feet offered over the rowdy noisiness outside lulled me, calmed me.

We had arrived in the late afternoon, before it was fashionable to have dinner. Mason and I left the hotel and walked along the streets, looking in windows and observing the people we saw. We passed a clothing store and looking down at the mostly jeans and tees that we wore, and since I knew it was all we had back at the hotel, I motioned for Mason to follow me inside.

"We need something a bit dressier for dinner tonight."

He cocked his head to the side and smiled. "Okay. But why?"

I smiled, but I figured it looked sad, because Mason put his hand on my arm. "That list of regrets?" He nodded. "I'm trying to mark a few of them off."

His smile was slow as it slid across his face, bringing his dimples out. "And this would be?"

I shrugged, feeling embarrassed. "I want to have a nice dinner out, dress nicely, have some wine." I shrugged again and turned back to the store. "Nothing too special, just out."

"Let's get some clothes then."

A rather nice woman helped us, fitting us with jackets, shirts, pants, and all the other trappings of a nice, but not too formal outfit. We left shortly after the fittings, with a promise that all would be ready the next evening. Mason and I walked back to our little hotel and went around the corner to the restaurant that we could see from our hotel room. We sat down and I stared at the courtyard around us, lit with candles on the tables and Chinese lanterns hanging within the star jasmine and other vines along the walls.

A slow, steady jazz came from the band playing along one wall of the courtyard. I looked over the menu as Mason read his. I chose to have jumbo prawn étoufée. Mason couldn't make up his mind.

"What looks good?"

"I can't read, remember."

I ducked my head and grinned. "I'm sorry. I forgot."

I read off some menu items until Mason picked the jambalaya. We decided to have a crawfish and sausage pie for an appetizer. I sat back and listened to the music once our drinks were delivered. Mason took a sip of his iced tea as I watched couples dance on the small floor.

"Is dancing difficult?"

His words snapped me out of my rambling musings and I turned to him. "I don't know. I've never really danced before."

Mason nodded and smiled at me. "Your parents used to dance. You'd sneak downstairs to watch them."

The memories made me smile, no longer saddened by their loss. "You're right. I did." I took a sip from my drink and looked at Mason. "There was so much love in their eyes."

Mason nodded. "Yes. There was."

We ate dinner leisurely, enjoying the spicy food, good ambience, and bluesy music for over an hour. Once done, I paid the bill and we left. When we got back to our hotel room, I went into the bathroom and showered. I came out wearing a pair of boxers. Mason sat in a chair, watching the television. I sat on the dresser, by the window, and listened to the music playing in the courtyard below.

"I'm going to take a shower, too."

Mason's words shook me out of my trance and I smiled at him. I turned back to the music once he had shut the bathroom door. I watched as the candlelight flickered along the vine and flower covered walls below, illuminating the architectural nooks and crannies, adding a surreal atmosphere to the quaint courtyard. I heard the shower stop, but didn't turn around until the door opened.

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