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Ken shifted in the cracked vinyl upholstery and cursed the lack of imagination of Amtrak interior designers. Or maybe Northern Pacific designers. If 'design' was marginally the word for what had gone on in the assemblage of this—well, it was an interior at least. A very large, echoing interior. A baby was crying behind him somewhere and the roar of a departing train surged as someone came through the platform doors, and then dropped in volume as the doors closed again.
The station wasn't really hot but the air was damp, and Ken felt overheated in comparison to the winter he'd been in not two days ago. Now he was sticking to the chair and hearing Christmas carols play scratchy and remote through the station speakers, a weird combination. Straightening his back, he pulled himself across the tacky surface toward the edge of the seat, and his guitar case slid along his leg. He caught it before it could knock into his suitcase, the move so practiced he hardly had to think of it.
Too much time in railway stations. The advantage of them all being virtually identical was that he knew where everything was, where the grime built up and the drafts blew cold in the north, what kind of junk food he could get from the vending machines, how to tell which clocks were working and how to sweet-talk the weariest ticket-seller.
If he were that good at music, he'd be Jim Croce, James Taylor and Gordon Lightfoot all rolled into one by now. He rubbed the end of the guitar case, something he used to do for luck and now just did out of habit.
Luck was harder to come by than that. He knew it now.
He stood, checked the clock and picked up his cases. He had time to hit the john before he went to the platform, and as dirty as the station toilets were, he knew the ones in the train would be worse.
He told himself as he balanced his suitcase and guitar on top of one of the sinks that he really should get over this Midwestern, or maybe middle-class, squeamishness. He'd lived on the land for two years in a commune and hitchhiked over a lot of this continent and Europe too, and he'd faced enough dirt in his time to stop worrying about it. But actually as time passed he found it bothered him more. He stood at the urinal wondering about it and not looking down.
Maybe he felt on vacation before. Yes—he tucked himself in and zipped up, and then washed his hands and, since there were no towels, rubbed them on his pant legs—even at the commune. He supposed some of those people had really, deep-down, world-without-end believed that they were building a long-term life there. He'd thought he believed it, but when Vanessa had said she wanted to go back to the city, he hadn't hesitated.
And now she was gone too. There was no home to go to after this tour, not really.
That was why he felt so squeamish and distressed over stuff like junk food and station johns.
He wondered if there was a song to be written about this feeling and then remembered that Paul Simon had already written it. Except he'd had somebody waiting at home for him at the time.
This bar was as dark and dank as any other one Ken had been in. The owner, however, was something new. He'd never met anyone named after a stuffed animal before. He'd never met anyone less like a stuffed animal. The lanky black man moved like a marionette and the goofy puffy hat swayed on his head as he nodded and gestured. Ken almost lost the thread of the conversation even while they were doing a little last-minute negotiating. Perhaps that was the point of the hat.
"Maybe I should get one," he said aloud.
"What, man?" asked the improbably-named Mr. Huggy Bear.
"A hat like that," Ken explained, "to baffle and confound the people I talk to."
Huggy (as he insisted on being called) pulled in his chin, which made the tassel on the hat woggle again, and said, "Think you'd look this good in it?"
"Not even that good," Ken conceded. "But you have to admit it would be funny."
Huggy eyed him, head to foot, and then back up from sneakered feet to fair straight hair. "Yeah, I'll admit that," he said dryly.
Then they went back to talking about money and time and lodgings.
The whole live-music thing was an innovation for Huggy, and Ken gathered that only a few local people had played on the little raised-platform 'stage' in the corner of the bar. He was the first one so far to be deliberately brought from out of town. Thus he was the first to need a place to sleep, and Huggy offered the use of a room upstairs.
Ken thought fast. It was an advantage not to have to argue about how much the hotel tab was. It was a disadvantage to be so near. When he knocked off for the night, he tended to either pick someone up or crash, and neither sex nor sleep would be as easy to get with the noises of the bar coming up through the floor and Huggy not fifty feet away.
Also there was the question of what the room above the bar was normally used for.
"Won't you need it? Or anyone you—know?"
"No, no, you just clean that thought right out of your head," Huggy said sternly. "This ain't that kind of establishment."
He seemed to be serious. Ken couldn't tell if he was truthful as well. He shrugged, not planning to apologize for such an obvious assumption. "Okay, show me where, and I'll ditch my suitcase."
He'd had plenty of time to practice, tune, warm up. Actually it was going well. He had gotten used to performing when he never really knew what the clientele wanted, what the sound system was like, and how much smoke he had to inhale and pretend it was air. He didn't smoke much himself any more, except sometimes after sex or when he had to wait a long time for a train. He got plenty of smoke second hand.
He started with the Simon song because it had never really gone out of his head since he'd thought of it in the Amtrak waiting room.
"I'm sitting in a railway station,
People had begun to sing along by the end of the first verse, and though it was distracting, it was also a good sign that he'd found a song they liked.
A flash caught his eye and he saw a dark-haired man his own age lighting a cigarette. A hard face under soft curls, a melancholy stare out of dark eyes while a strong slim hand waved the smoke away. Gold winking around his throat and dark hair beneath the gold in the open neck of his shirt.
Just the kind of person he was drawn to on a night like this. A little depressive-looking, maybe a little dangerous. Somebody who made Ken think he didn't have anyone waiting at home either.
". . . every stranger's face I see
Well, Ken wasn't, and neither was the stranger, it looked like. Huggy stopped by the table, bent over and chatted a little, then moved on. One of the waitresses took an empty glass away and left a full one.
"Tonight I'll sing my songs again,
Ken could hear the longing in his own voice, and worked with it. The smoker tilted his head back and blew out a gray stream, seeming unmoved but never looking away.
Ken moved on to a song of his own, and then a couple more, and got good applause for them; then he sang "Bridge Over Troubled Water," not really knowing why. Association, he supposed, another Simon song. That got a bigger hand, a good end for the set. He stood up and bowed, then unslung the guitar strap from his shoulder and laid the instrument on the chair. "Later I'll do requests," he bent to say into the mike, "so if anyone has one, write it down for me and leave it in the guitar case. Thanks, you've been very kind." Then he shut the microphone off and stepped down to the floor.
He didn't really have to walk so near the table where the smoker was sitting, but he did. And he wasn't really surprised when the other man reached out and laid a hand on his arm as he passed.
"Buy y'a drink," said the dark-haired man.
"Sure," said Ken. "Thanks."
"How did you end up in California?" Ken asked once they'd ordered a round of beers.
"I'm a native," the man said, so impossibly that Ken laughed.
"No, don't shit me," he said.
The other man's teeth flashed in the blue glow of the neon sign on the wall. "Well, I been here since I was practically a kid. How'd you tell?"
"You're from the East Coast. No question, my friend." Ken wasn't sure why he pressed the matter, and had no idea why he'd said 'my friend.'
"Ya, guess so," the other said equably. "You?"
"Minnesota, originally. Lived lots of places."
"Like any of 'em?"
Ken shrugged. "Some." He reached out for the empty glass across the table and turned it. Light picked up the little remnants of foam on the sides, a few fingerprints. "Listen, what's your name?"
"Sorry. Dave Starsky."
Ken took the offered hand and shook it, squeezing a little, not enough to do the macho strength-test thing but enough to feel solid warmth.
"Ken Strong your real name?"
"No, a stage name," Ken admitted. "Not many Hutchinsons hit the big-time music scene."
"No Ken Strongs either, far as I know."
"Not yet." Ken saw that the dark eyes were still a little skeptical, and said, "It's easy to spell, okay?"
"None of my business," Dave replied. "So this is all you do? I mean, you don't have a day job?"
"Oh, a fan. If I say yes, you going to tell me not to quit it?"
"No, no. I liked your music." Dave leaned forward, his eyes too intense for such a slight conversation, even for most pickups this early in the game. "I like your voice, and the songs were good. Really. Sorry if I gave the wrong impression. I was just making conversation, y'know, the first thing you ask somebody is what they do." He'd reached for Ken's arm again, got as far as his wrist and stopped, fingers resting on Ken's skin. And now, to reinforce the apology, he rubbed a little back and forth, soothingly.
Aside from handshakes, it was the first human contact Ken had had for days, and it felt so good he almost skipped the rest of the conversation and went straight to 'come upstairs with me.' But this was only a break; he had more sets to get through.
"What," he said, and swallowed, looking at those moving fingers, "w-what do you do?"
Evidently the wrong thing to say. The fingers withdrew and Dave sat back in his chair. "Stuff."
"Stuff," Ken repeated. "And how is it, doing stuff for a living?"
"Gets boring. So I come here, listen to the music." Dave looked up as the waitress bent over his shoulder to set the drinks down. "And flirt with all the pretty ladies who work here," he said to her, and patted her hip. "Thanks, schweetheart."
"All flirt and no pay," said the waitress, stepping back a little and bumping the same hip into his shoulder.
"Don't want to be a dull boy." Dave reached into his back pocket and pulled out a full money clip, teased a bill out of it and dropped it onto her tray.
"Ooooo!" she said, faking it. "I'm so impressed!"
This time he swatted her rear. "Just take it to Hug and clear my tab, Diane," he said.
"Yes sir," she answered.
Ken's first impulse was to say something like 'Stuff pays well,' but he reminded himself that Dave could mean anything by 'stuff.' So he went no nearer the topic than, "I hope Bogie impressions aren't your day job."
"Didn't you like it?" For a moment, Dave looked as completely cast down as if the impression had been a gift Ken had thrown back in his face.
"It was funny," Ken relented, and Dave brightened, almost smiled before recovering the tough, intent expression Ken had first seen.
Ken took a sip of his beer and watched Dave watch him drinking. It didn't matter what they said. Dave could get up and walk out of the bar now and Ken would still be confident that he'd be back, that they'd fuck before the night was through. It was like some sort of cord connecting them, a line of energy so strong that Ken was surprised he hadn't felt it the instant Dave had come in from the street.
Huggy appeared near the mike; Ken hadn't seen him approaching though with his focus on Dave that wasn't really surprising. The black man gestured and Ken knew his break was over. "Sorry," he said to Dave, "got to get back to work."
"I'm not sorry," Dave grinned; "I said I liked your music."
"Got a request?" asked Ken as he stood up.
Dave shook his head. "You already sang my favorite."
Ken knew which song he meant.
Dave knew all about the room upstairs, something Ken didn't want to dwell on. The bed was around the corner from the door and they went straight there, as if both of them had to see it, stand next to it, before they could touch each other the way they had known they would. Ken had expected to be stormed, overwhelmed, but actually Dave seemed to move in slow motion, resting just fingertips against Ken's face and drawing it down until their mouths barely touched. "Ken," he said, so close that Ken could see the stray hairs between his eyebrows, and the long lashes seemed close enough to brush his skin as they fell, as Dave looked at his mouth. "God damn. You're gonna burn me up." And then the hands tightened and the warm dry lips met his and Ken thought, who's burning?
Ken couldn't get enough. Beer and smoke and another, subtler taste he pursued into every place in Dave's mouth, buried fingers in his dark curls, slid back and around his moving tongue. Found a ticklish place on the roof of his mouth and played it while the solid torso twisted in his arms. Broke the kiss at last to breathe and felt Dave still everywhere, tasted Dave still while his head was back and the sweet mouth was on his jaw and his throat and back up to his ear. For a moment after it stopped he could still feel it. Then opened his eyes to meet Dave's blazing ones. "I knew they were blue," he murmured, "couldn't be anything else," and kissed him again, nibbling and sucking from one side to the other of the lips that lengthened as Dave smiled and parted as Dave took control again, moving into Ken's mouth as if it belonged to him.
Ken wanted him naked, now, and he put both hands into the open collar and followed it down to the dark-furred chest, but then Dave stepped suddenly back. "Hey, I like this shirt. No ripping it off." Ken stood for a second and Dave reached out and tapped his cheek. "Undress," he said. "So will I. Find your lube."
It was sensible advice, and after a moment Ken was able to be sensible. If he didn't turn away now to find his suitcase, he never would. He even remembered where he'd left it, and he knew the K-Y was in the left side pocket. There. He turned back to the bed and froze, watching Dave's ass emerge from the black jeans. He hadn't had the chance to look before—even on the staircase the dark cloth had merged into the shadows and he got just an impression—now the round cheeks and dark hair mesmerized him. He moved before he thought, reached out and ran fingertips down Dave's spine and over his tailbone and into that dark cleft, then over the high curve. "Amazing ass you have," Ken murmured while Dave shivered under his touch.
Then Dave twisted round and held Ken off, hands tight on his arms, shaking him a little. "Get. Un. Dressed. Or should I do it?" and then the long fingers were at his belt buckle, opened it but instead of moving on to unzip, only pressed down over the hard-on Ken felt he'd been carrying since afternoon. Anyway since he'd seen the lighter flare. He pulled up on the sides of his own shirt, couldn't wait to unbutton and anyway had pulled it over his head before, so he did now, and Dave laughed a little even while he moved his hands up to bare skin, stomach and ribs, leaned in to take a nipple in his mouth, and Ken gasped and grabbed at Dave's shoulders with the shirt still hanging from one arm. Dave's arms went around him and warm hands slid into the top of Ken's pants, rubbing above his tailbone and reaching farther in. "Not so bad yourself," Dave said, voice low and still amused.
They got Ken's pants off somehow. Dave threw the pink chenille bedspread and gray blanket on the floor. Ken grabbed him and tipped both of them onto the sheets and they rolled back and forth, too worked up to try anything much but rubbing against each other, hands and mouths and cocks and as much skin as they could bring into contact. At one point Ken was underneath, Dave's hands braced and elbows locked, dark head bent as he humped, Ken's hands on the tensing muscles of his ass and their cocks sliding against each other. "Where'sit . . . the lube?" Dave grunted.
"Dropped it," Ken said unrepentantly and rolled them over again, catching himself with one foot over the edge of the bed before they both fell, tugging Dave into place under him and rubbing his face down the sweaty, musky body until he could take Dave's cock into his mouth. Yes. All night he'd wanted this. Longer. Hot, wet, bitter, salty, straining, pulsing, nothing else like it. He loved them big like this, cut like this, and he loved to tongue just here below the head and make a man jump, yes, like this.
"Yes, like that," Dave echoed Ken's thoughts, "there, yeah, there, more," and Ken licked and nibbled up and down the shaft to hear the broken music of Dave's voice: "Ken! God! Do it!" and gulping breaths, and the tense hands grabbing Ken's head, fists clenching in his hair, so Ken finally took as much as he could, rode with the pumping hips that he held tight but could not still, sucked and moved his tongue and then Dave gave it up, his whole body rocking with the force of his spasms. Ken rubbed his own cock against the hairy leg under him and rode into orgasm right afterward, arching up and opening his mouth and letting Dave's fluid dribble down his chin.
His arms trembled, and he looked down at Dave, who lay absolutely limp but looking back, his eyes still burning with a feeling neither would dare to name. Ken collapsed to one side but couldn't roll away, couldn't stop touching Dave, and so he rubbed circles with his palm on the damp hairy stomach and just looked into those eyes, bluer than any he remembered.
Dave reached out, hand wavering a little, and wiped the semen from Ken's face with the backs of his fingers. Then, slowly, as if moving at all was a tremendous effort, Dave rolled toward Ken and kissed him, and though he hadn't been one lately for clinging to his bed partner, Ken gathered Dave close and they held each other, kissing lightly over and over.
"You're not leaving this morning," Dave said much later.
"You need to stop ordering me around, buddy," Ken answered.
"It's not—" Dave was obviously startled—"it's not like that."
"No?" Ken picked up his shirt from the floor and began to untangle it. He didn't look at Dave. "How many people do you employ doing 'stuff' while I go from gig to gig with most of what I own in one suitcase?"
Dave's hand closed around Ken's wrist, took the shirt away and dropped it on the bed next to where he still sat, naked. His eyes were pleading—amazing how expressive they were—and Ken conceded and put his free hand on Dave's shoulder.
"Here's what it's like," Dave said, wagging Ken's wrist up and down, never looking away from Ken's eyes. "It's like . . . spinning out of control. It's like driving along all normal and then getting into a skid, you know how you're pulling on the wheel and the car just goes where it wants and your mind is racing and there's maybe a wall coming at you or another car? And you're so alive then and scared so shitless." His pupils had actually dilated and he was breathing faster. Ken gripped harder on the tense shoulder. "You know? You know what that's like?"
"Yeah," said Ken and pulled him close, bracing one knee on the bed. Dave pushed his forehead into Ken's stomach and went on pulling in those fast, short breaths. "Calm down," said Ken, rubbing his back.
"You got another gig tonight?" asked Dave after a time.
"Please?" Dave didn't look up or finish the question, and that was even more powerful than his begging eyes had been.
"Yes." How could he say anything else? He hadn't wanted to leave. "Do you know, would it be okay to keep the room?"
"I'll talk to Huggy. He's an old pal of mine." Dave sat back, and his voice was almost normal. "In fact, actually . . . I'm a sleeping partner. It'll be fine."
"Ah, so this is part of your stuff!" Ken made a joke of it. "I'm your employee."
But Dave was still too wired, too intense to take the joke. "No," he insisted.
"Okay, babe, okay," Ken said, stroking his hair. They looked at each other for a long moment.
"This is crazy." Ken spoke at last. "We've both got it so bad. What are we going to do?"
"Do? What're we going to do?" Dave grinned, higher on one side than the other, and Ken felt as if something in his chest had burst, overflowed, bloomed. "We're gonna fuck like bunnies!"
"No, afterwards," Ken said, laughing, as Dave pulled him down onto the bed again.
"Afterwards . . . " Dave growled into his ear, "we fuck some more. And more. And more."
With the best will in the world, which both of them had, nobody can have sex all day long. Dave in Ken, Ken in Dave, blow jobs, hand jobs, they did everything they could and smoked and napped together and woke and tried again. It seemed each of them was trying to make this an encounter the other would never forget. But eventually they could not coax another sexual response out of their sore and sated genitals.
Perhaps, Ken thought, they had both been trying to wear out this insanely intense feeling. Return after this interlude to a realer world, to ordinary life. Perhaps that was what Dave wanted. For all Ken knew, Dave had a wonderful ordinary life, maybe a family; maybe his 'stuff' was a great job. Maybe . . .
Ken looked at Dave, who lay on his side with one arm folded under his head, the fingers of his other hand just woven in the ends of Ken's hair. One leg bent so that the knee and shin and foot touched Ken's leg. Eyes open, gazing at what had been Ken's profile before he turned to look.
"What's in that blond head of yours?"
"Wondering," Ken took a breath and then said it, "when you'll want to go home."
"I am home."
For a moment he believed it, the voice was so quiet and certain. Then he got hold of himself, forced a small laugh, said, "Come on."
This galvanized Dave, who rolled up and over Ken before he could move, pressed his body heavily over Ken's, grabbed the sides of his head. "Oh, you think you know? You know where I am and what I want and when I'm telling the truth? Tell me then, blondie, tell me where I should go to be at home."
This position would have felt much more pleasant a few hours ago. Right now Ken was aware that he had more bites, scratches and hickeys than he'd had the night before and that his cock and his mouth were both raw, so when he didn't answer and Dave began to lower his mouth Ken was not sure he wanted the kiss.
And Dave probably felt the same, because after just brushing their lips together he skimmed his cheek past Ken's and rested his forehead on the pillow, breathing near Ken's ear, just breathing. "I want to crawl inside you," he said at last. "I want to never ever stop touching you. I want to find out what makes you laugh and keep you laughing, really laughing. I want to find out what you want and give it to you."
"It's too soon," Ken said, leaning his head against Dave's, closing his eyes. "It's too much. Your eyes are too deep. Your voice is too sweet. Oh, God, I don't know if I can. Can do this. Love anyone like this."
And now the word had been spoken and they lay silent, listening to it.
"Dave, get off, let me breathe," said Ken after what seemed a long time, when he really couldn't lift his ribs any more under Dave's weight.
Dave slipped over, ended up leaning on Ken's arm but not actually pinning it down. "I want something to eat," Dave said. "How about you? Hungry?"
"I must be," Ken answered without conviction. "I can't remember when I last had a meal. Wait, yesterday afternoon, four-thirty or so."
"Yeah, I'd say it's time," said Dave, grinning. "You really do need taking care of." He hitched up on one elbow and patted Ken's stomach, which in this position was a bit hollow. "Didn't your mama tell you to eat three square meals a day?"
"I think she left me a note to that effect sometime," Ken said, the light tone a little flat to his own ear. "Maybe in a birthday card."
Dave tilted his head to one side and looked as though he'd heard the old, bitter memories, but didn't ask. "Okay, so, I'll get you something to eat downstairs."
Ken realized that choosing his battles with Dave wasn't going to be easy. In the end he just nodded and sat up.
"I did it again, didn't I?" asked Dave. "What do you want to do?"
"Shower," said Ken. "Shave. Dress and eat." He pushed back his tangled hair. "The sandwich yesterday was fine. Yeah, let's eat downstairs." He stood. "You can keep an eye on me."
He hadn't looked around, but he knew exactly how Dave reached for him, expected the touch that fell on the back of his arm, brushed down to his elbow.
"Time's so short," said Dave.
"I know," Ken answered, still not looking, but not moving either until Dave's fingertips left him.
Huggy grinned broadly at Dave as they reached the bottom of the stairs. "Hey, the honeymoon couple greet the light of day," he said.
"Shut up, Hug," said Dave, good-humored. "Got anything around that's fit to eat?"
"For you, man, anything. 'Cause you eat anything."
They sat at the bar, and Ken found it something of a relief not to face Dave directly. Though he did keep catching his eyes in the mirror behind the bar. Dave lit a cigarette, and Ken used the mirror himself, captivated all over again by the smooth motion. This time Dave caught him. "Want one?" he asked.
"No, thanks," Ken said.
"Want me to put it out?"
"No." Ken couldn't help but smile.
Huggy was in the kitchen; the rest of the bar was deserted. Ken picked Dave's nearer hand off the bar, and kissed the fingers that gripped his. "Don't worry," he said.
Dave pulled their hands over so that his knuckles brushed Ken's cheek. His eyes held Ken's. When at last Dave said, "Okay," Ken had almost forgotten what he was replying to.
"I'd say 'get a room,' but you already got one," said Huggy's voice.
Ken looked away with an effort, then down at the plate clattering to the bar in front of him. He picked up the hamburger and bit into it, and was surprised at how good it tasted and felt inside his mouth. He was hungry after all.
"Dave," Huggy lowered his voice and reached across the bar as if to pull his friend away. "Dave, my man—"
"Don't start," said Dave, not moving.
"Can't help it, man, I never seen you like this."
Dave shrugged. Huggy paused. Then he said in a different, though still quiet, tone, "Got someone waiting to talk to you."
"Later. Called, and I told him, when the bar opens."
"Leave a name?" Dave began to eat, mouth not quite closing as he chewed.
"Didn't leave it."
"That'll be the car. Damn." Dave swallowed and put the sandwich down.
Now when Huggy put a hand on Dave's arm, it lay there soothingly. "That don't sound like you, my friend. Don't be down 'cause one lead goes dry. If it is dry."
"Maybe. Maybe not." Dave shook his head, eyes on his food. "I don't want to take the time today."
Huggy's hand fell and his voice rose. "You droppin' out? Over a blond boy singer, 's in a new town and a new bed every night?" He glanced at Ken angrily, then back at Dave.
Dave grabbed the front of Huggy's paisley shirt. "I said don't start."
Ken stood up, dropped his napkin beside his plate, and walked out of the bar.
The California winter sunlight was blinding. The air moved past him as warm as breath. He ducked his head under the hanging sign and walked a few steps away from the door. The truth was he had no idea where to go, so he stopped and put one hand on the painted concrete below the high-set window, pressing his palm on its uneven slickness while his eyes adjusted to the light. Early afternoon. An ordinary street, narrow, storefronts and signs, a hotel, a few parked cars, crumpled paper and dry mud in the gutter with the glint of a pop-top and a few cigarette stubs. He breathed in the city, heated concrete and exhaust and a remote tang of garbage. Turning, he leaned his shoulders against the ledge and folded his arms. He needed to feel the world around him.
Dave's swift fall into what looked like total commitment was almost too frightening to recognize, yet the more Ken let it go the deeper it seemed to get. He hated being this helpless. His own feeling he thought he could deal with; it must be just a stronger version of the longing he'd often felt before. The payment for freedom. He'd written a song about that though he had not sung it last night.
Dave burst out of the door; saw Ken; stopped in his tracks. It was so physically exaggerated that it was comic, or would have been if Ken hadn't been thinking of just walking completely away.
The dark curls gleamed and the sun found the blue in his eyes. Dave stood still and Ken just looked back.
"Give me a cigarette," Ken said at last.
Dave dug into his shirt pocket, pulled out the pack, held it out. Ken took one, and put out his hand for the lighter. Eyes on the cigarette, he drew on it as it caught, handed back the lighter, blew out, drew in. Dave lit up too.
Ken smoked until he had enough ash to knock off, and did so with a flick of his wrist. Then he asked, voice neutral, "Looking for a car?"
Dave had not moved closer. "For a woman. She was driving it when she left her apartment."
"Not reported. It's her ex looking for her. I knew him a little, so he came to me instead of somebody out of the phone book."
Ken leaned his head against the edge of the window, grinned at Dave, and said, "You're a private dick."
And Dave relaxed too. "Damn straight my dick is private."
Ken let his eyes drop down Dave's body, looked up again and said, "Not in those jeans, it's not."
Dave laughed as if the joke surprised him, smoke puffing out his nose.
"Can you call this Mickey?" Ken asked.
The dark gaze was wary. "I got his number."
"Do it. I'm taking a walk, getting a meal somewhere. Talk to him."
Dave didn't answer. Ken dropped the cigarette and stepped closer to touch Dave's arm. "I'll be back. I need air."
Dave stared, his mouth a straight line and his eyebrows down. Then he said, "Hug'll be hurt, you didn't like his special."
Ken snorted. "Console him." He shook the arm still in his grasp. "I'll be back."
Still that level, consuming look. Then it shifted a little and Ken felt the stare on his mouth, swallowed and completely without intending to, licked his lips. Dave's eyes widened and he grabbed at Ken's wrist, holding it so hard Ken felt his bones rub together.
"I'm not," Dave grated, "playing this scene on the street next time." He almost threw Ken's wrist away and stalked back into the bar.
Ken looked down at his reddening skin and knew that there was no setting that would make seeing Dave walk away any less painful.
When Ken made his way back to Huggy's, Dave was not there. Huggy was behind the bar racking up glasses; he looked Ken up and down with disdain.
"Find a better restaurant?"
"No." Ken stood in the middle of the floor. "Looks like this is the best one in the neighborhood."
"Don't usually sell food while the bar's closed."
"No, I did eat." Ken really didn't want to play this game. "You know that's not why I left and not why I came back."
Huggy didn't reply right away, or rack any more glasses. Then he said, "You got stuff upstairs."
Ken was abruptly angry. He walked over to the bar and slapped both hands on the edge of it, leaning in. "Say it," he rasped, "say it!"
Huggy's dark, sharp-edged face was even with his and not eight inches away. "Dave Starsky is my best friend," he said, each word a separate statement. And then, faster, as if he couldn't contain the words any more, "A good man, a feeling man. He be carryin' this a long time, when you gone."
"So will I!" Ken hadn't meant to say that. He clenched his teeth.
"You gon' hurt him," Huggy insisted.
There was nothing Ken could say to that. This hurt like hell already, and where was a way out? The only alternative he could think of was if they had never met at all.
He looked down between his hands, jaw aching. He had a life. So did Dave. It was nothing but sheer, cruel bad luck that those two lives crossed only now.
He couldn't possibly explain all that while his throat hurt like this.
Then Huggy touched him on the arm, as he had touched Dave over the lunch plate. "I see," Huggy said quietly. "Okay." He patted twice and stepped back. "Humanity sure can be one big tangled mess."
Ken cleared his throat and did manage to speak. "You can say that again."
"Something wrong with your ears, white man?" Now Huggy was putting him on, elaborately acting irritation, head wagging and hands on hips. "You didn't hear the first time?"
A half-smile tugged at Ken's mouth.
"Now what you doing with your big blond self while Dave's talkin' to Mickey?"
Ken shrugged. "Practice, I guess. Got some chords to work out."
"Here? Or upstairs?"
Ken recognized the offer but didn't want to stay in the darkness of the bar. "Upstairs."
For a while now he'd had a few lines floating around his mind, a new song forming, and he sat under the stained glass window at one end of the upstairs room, music book on the table, chording and singing, reaching over the guitar to jot down or erase.
"There's an empty place in my heart
Wrong chord there. He played the line again, tried it with G flat, sang it over:
"And I can't breathe in enough air
Good. He wrote that down, sang it through again, went on:
"Just a word I've said so often,
No, that wouldn't work. Too graphic and too hard to sing. He needed a different rhyme.
"Just a word I've said so often,
No, damn, those s and th sounds were murder and it was too many syllables. "Never felt it so bad?" Then the rhyme would be 'sad,' too predictable. He played the chords and hummed, abandoning the lyric for the moment, but even when he'd gone back and worked out the introduction, his mind was still blanking on the words.
And then he heard someone coming up the stairs, fast. He slammed the music notebook shut just as the doorknob turned. Dave swung the door open as if he wanted to catch Ken at something, and then stopped as abruptly as he had outside the bar. He'd changed clothes at some point and was carrying a dark leather jacket slung over his shoulder.
"Come in," said Ken.
Dave finally closed the door and hung his jacket on the knob. "Were you singing? I didn't hear."
"Working out chords." Ken got up and put the guitar on the table. When he turned back, the dark-haired man was already moving, and they met in two steps and pressed against each other. Dave's arms tightened and Ken bent his head and kissed him, slowly and with his lips just barely parted, and again, and again just the same, as if he were taking breath from Dave's mouth.
"Tomorrow," Ken said, the word a rasp in his throat, "tomorrow I have to go to San Diego. Tonight I want to spend pretending I never have to go."
"Then," said Dave, holding even tighter, "let me take you out."
"No, let me take you. Okay? Somewhere you always go, so I can remember you there."
Dave bent his neck, put his forehead against Ken's collarbone and then turned his head slowly into Ken's throat. He felt the soft brush of Dave's lashes and then the quivering eyelids. He felt, separately, each of Dave's fingers; the hard curves of muscles; the solid, unaroused cock; the edges of Dave's belt buckle and the side of his shoe pushing into Ken's. Their pulse seemed the same and they rocked just perceptibly in the rhythm of their rushing blood.
"You smell good," said Dave, sounding almost sleepy.
"So do you." The aftershave was a little heavy but beneath it was the natural scent of Dave's hair, a tang of sweat and the honeyed musk that Ken couldn't breathe enough. Like growing things in sunshine, sweetgrass, tree-pollen, like the fields of Ken's childhood.
"There's a restaurant I like in Venice," Dave said, "but it's hours till dinnertime."
"I think," said Ken, "we can occupy ourselves until then. Somehow."
"I could track down my next lead."
"I could work on my arrangements."
"If you come to my apartment, I could show you my model train."
Ken began to laugh. "What, no etchings?"
"Why, should I get some?" Dave sounded so guileless that Ken drew back to see his face. The grin he saw told him he'd been had. Then the intense stare came back and Ken knew exactly what Dave would say: "Or we could stay right here tonight."
"We tried that," said Ken, "we tried burning it out."
Without a fraction of an inch of movement, Dave withdrew. "Is that what you were doing?" he asked slowly. "While I was making love?"
Ken felt the desperate inadequacy of silence and yet could not find words. "I was trying to cope," he said after several moments had scraped by, almost drawing blood. "Trying not to crash and burn. Remember, you said, spin out of control."
"You turn into a skid," Dave said absently. He stared at Ken, as he had outdoors, grave and hurt and intent. "You're going to fucking kill me. Your fear. Your holding back. What am I going to do."
Ken thought he knew what to say. "Do? What are you going to do?" Something shifted in Dave's eyes though he didn't smile at the echo. Ken put the fingers of one hand against the solemn face, reproducing as closely as he could the way Dave had touched him before their first kiss; then he pulled his other arm free and completed the gesture, moving his fingertips in tiny circles to remind Dave where they were. He felt the roughness of stubble, the tiny knob of a mole, the soft creases at the corners of his eyes. "You're going to show me," and Ken tried to turn into the skid, "why I don't need to be afraid."
But Dave shook his head. "I can fuck you, but I can't show you what you won't see. Look." He swallowed, said again, "Look. The sex was good, wasn't it? For you?"
"'Course," Ken said, surprised at the question.
"Better than doing yourself?"
He rolled his eyes; Dave dug in his fingers and frowned. "Better," Ken said, humoring him.
"Than the last warm body you fucked after a gig?"
As it happened, that was no contest: the last had scraped him twice with her teeth without meaning to. But Ken knew what the question meant and the answer was still easy. He couldn't remember the last time he'd even spent a whole night with a pickup. "Better."
"Than," Dave's lashes fell, then he looked up again, "than the last time you were in love?"
That was Van, and a harder call. He'd certainly had some good nights with her. But he'd never gone past fatigue, never kept kissing when his mouth grew raw, even when they were eager kids. He'd never counted up each moment in his memory, he looks like this when the sweat blooms on his skin, like this when he opens his mouth and no sound gets out, like this when he arches his back and comes, each one too precious to let go. "Better."
Holding Ken's gaze, Dave raised his brows, turned his head a little—a kind of 'so, don't you get it?' expression. But Ken still didn't.
"The sex was great, Dave. No news there. The sex was amazing. Couldn't you tell I was loving it?"
"I don't know," said Ken in desperation.
Dave took a deep breath and stepped away. He didn't meet Ken's eyes. "Let's go down to Venice, hang out there for a while. Then we could go to the restaurant. Sound like a plan?"
Ken nodded. Not speaking seemed safer. All his words were wrong lately.
"This is your car?" Ken looked, disbelieving, at the object in front of him—so bright a color that it would practically glow in the dark. "Don't you ever have to follow anyone?"
"Nobody can outrun this baby," said Dave, putting his hand on the car as if it were alive.
"That's not what I meant." Now Ken came to think of it, a man who wore his shirts that far open, not to mention gold chains, would probably not immediately grasp what he meant. "You do know everyone in the neighborhood takes one look and says, 'there's that PI in his cherry-tomato red car.'"
"It's candy-apple red."
After a moment, Ken said, "Oh, well, that makes all the difference."
Dave looked at him, then shrugged and pulled the driver's door open, leaned across and flipped up the lock on the passenger's side. "Get in."
He drove fast, not slowing on the turns, pulling up hard at lights. The tires complained. Ken folded his arms and said nothing.
Eventually, Dave did slow down a bit, and they slid along among houses and businesses, passing the traffic they found. "Ever seen the canals?" he asked.
"No," said Ken, "I've hardly been in LA at all. Never down here."
"The beach is great," said Dave, looking at the car ahead, changing lanes. He grinned. "Had nude sunbathing 'til last year when it got too much media play."
"I did hear about that."
"Huh. Well, it was a better show before tourists from all over were stripping off to prove something."
"Depends on the tourists, I would think."
Dave laughed. "Yeah." He paused on Dell Avenue just before a hump-backed bridge. "Take a look."
The water was dark, green or black, edged with algae and flotsam, no wider than the street they were on. A stagnant smell came in the car window. "Good grief. People live here?"
"More all the time, more big houses being redone or built. The whole area's changing." Dave started the car again.
"I suppose it's still better than the real Venice. That really stank."
"You been there?"
"Just briefly, in the summer, and we got out quick. I did, Van, our friend Mandala . . . the other people we were traveling with stayed. They said we had no sense of romance."
"No romance, huh? I'll remember that." Dave's eyes were on the street and Ken couldn't tell how serious he was. They crossed two more bridges and left the canal area. "Couple good places around here to put the car. Can't park too near the beach; even this time of year it's busy. Anyway, this way we're nearer Hélène's."
"I have had 'em," Dave said with a sidelong glance at Ken. "But no, that's the name of the restaurant. Chez Hélène."
"Yeah, well, I eat my share of tacos and pizza, but I didn't think that was what you meant by a place I always go."
Ken looked down, smiled. "No, you're right," he said—then they veered into a small lot and he looked up as they sped into a space, the remnants of the smile still on his mouth and a little clutch of panic in his throat as the wall of a building jumped closer. Then suddenly the car was still. He turned to Dave.
Dave smiled back and gripped his shoulder. It was a semi-public smile, more ordinary than any Ken had yet seen on Dave's face, but the heat of the bedroom version still lurked in Dave's eyes and made Ken take a deeper breath. The hand on Ken's shoulder lifted, brushed lightly across his cheek and jaw, and then Dave said, "C'mon. I'll show you."
For a moment Ken's lips parted in anticipation, but when Dave turned and got out of the car, Ken pulled himself together and followed.
Dave walked with his hands in his jacket pockets, sauntering. Ken found himself matching step for step and tucking his own hands into the front pockets of his cords. Their elbows bumped and their heads inclined slightly toward each other, though they didn't speak.
The street they walked in was like any other, especially in a part of town that had recently been depressed and was only slowly reviving. Vacant lots and papered-over display windows alternated with residences, small grocery stores with hand-painted signs, clothes stores, a tiny art gallery. They crossed the street and walked another block or so, passing a big square house, a white-painted church, a bungalow, a closed dry-cleaners, and an empty quarter-lot filled with a big bush and a mess of litter, and then stood under a red cloth awning looking at lace-curtained windows lettered in gold, 'Chez Hélène' and in black, 'restaurante a la carte.'
"See?" said Dave.
Ken looked up the stone face of the building to its decorated top. 'Venice' and 'Place' were carved in relief on either side of a stone coat of arms. Ken asked, "Wonder what this was originally. Store, you think? A bank? What?" He peered in the upper, uncurtained part of the window nearest him, but could see nothing except a few table-tops as pale as paper.
"I don't know. Right now Hélène's the only tenant. There's a couple apartments, I guess, up there, but that level's a real dump now. Needs remodeling bad."
"You could say that about a lot of these places," Ken said, as they started to walk again.
"Oh, yeah, most of them. There's this big old warehouse right on the beach, terrible eyesore. Sometimes I think I'd like to try buying in down here, before it all gets too expensive, redo the place."
"And then what?"
Dave laughed a little, his head back, the line of his throat into his collar and leather jacket a perfect shallow s-curve. Ken rested his eyes there as Dave said, "I don't know. I'm not a storekeeper. Or a chef. A landlord. Or a fast-food manager. Y'know? I don't know what I'd do if it wasn't what I do do." Ken's gaze slid up to Dave's eyes, warm and such a bright blue in this light that they seemed unreal. "Is that how it is for you? With music?"
"I did other things. None of them lasted."
There was an oddly disappointed look on Dave's face. Ken replayed his response in his mind, decided he'd sounded dismissive, and added, "I was in my father's business for a while. He wanted that . . . I didn't. It was office work, financial, administrative. I can do paperwork, but exclusively? It was soul-killing. Tried college and went through a dozen different majors. Went abroad and bummed around Europe but I didn't see anywhere I'd want to stay. Lived on a commune for a while and chopped down trees and built log buildings. I don't know, at the time I loved it but after a while it just . . . wore out . . . felt like a huge game of Let's Pretend. I came back to the city with Van: she was my girl then. That was Seattle. I got a string of jobs I never intended to do for long, and she found somebody who could keep her in a style she wanted to get accustomed to. I started playing places on the weekends about the time we were breaking up."
"And now," Dave stared up at a hanging sign he must have seen often before, "you're in a new town every night."
Ken remembered what Huggy had said in anger, and couldn't really deny it. "And in a new bed," he said softly, owing Dave the truth.
"Think I haven't slept around?"
Ken wasn't sure what he had expected, but this matter-of-fact acceptance wasn't it. Dave stopped and put a hand on his shoulder, faced him with that openness that had grown between them so quickly. If there were other pedestrians on the street, they didn't bother Dave, and Ken could spare no attention for anything else. Dave said, quietly, "When you sang your first set, I thought, sure hope he is, 'cause that's who I want tonight. And you sang 'Bridge over Troubled Water,' your voice making all those promises, and it . . . touched me. I knew it was only a song. But still. When we talked it felt like you knew me already. When we went up the stairs it felt like we'd done it a million times."
"Being with you," Ken said very slowly, "is like leading another life."
"Yeah," Dave said easily, "that's right." And began to walk again.
"But don't you see," Ken said, following, "that's what's . . . that's why . . . ."
"The question is," said Dave, crossing the street, "would you mind another life?"
"The question is can I start another one."
"The question is do you want to."
Ken reached out and took hold of Dave's wrist, pulled him into the alcove of a door, glanced back to see that the sidewalk was still empty, and then down into those sky-bright eyes. "I do want to." And kissed him.
Ken was half-aware that Dave's hands were under his jacket, and that his back was to the street, screening Dave from view. But under his lips, Dave's were opening, the smell of aftershave and sweetgrass was in his nose, and the taste that had made him drunk last night was there, just a little further into Dave's mouth—all he had to do was reach for it. Dave held him tighter, held him up, and he bent Dave's head back. The warm puffs from Dave's nostrils were all Ken wanted to breathe.
An explosion, like a firecracker, banged somewhere nearby and tore Ken away a step.
"Car backfiring," said Dave and tightened his grip at Ken's waist, drawing him closer again. Ken, resisting the pull, laid one hand against Dave's solid jaw and stared at the reddened lips. It was stupid to kiss in a public place, but he didn't know whether he could stop himself. There was a small wet patch to one side of Dave's mouth and Ken wanted so badly to suck there that his own mouth watered, and he swallowed. Mischief flared in Dave's face and he licked across his upper lip. Ken lowered his head, giving in, but Dave said, "Payback," and twisted away, around him, and was back out on the sidewalk while Ken was still turning.
"Besides," Dave said jauntily, waiting for Ken to come out of the alcove, "I said I wanted to show you the beach."
Against the gray-blue of the ocean the yellow sand blazed, almost too bright to look at. Ken squinted against the full-faced glare of the afternoon sun, hanging in his peripheral vision as they walked. Dave pressed something into his hand; when he looked, he found it was a pair of sunglasses, the ones Dave had tucked inside his jacket as they walked away from the car. "What about you?" he asked but put them on anyway and felt immediately relieved.
"I'll let you know," Dave said.
They were on Ocean Front Walk, buildings of every age, size, and type patchworked along one side and the open beach on the other. Palm trees dotted the sand and a wide, curving asphalt path bore swooping bicycles and the occasional roller-skater. Ken felt the ocean wind, a little sharper than he'd thought, but still warm enough; Dave, however, settled into his leather jacket. The locals on the beach wore sweaters and windbreakers. Ken even saw a few down vests and hats.
"It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas," Ken said conversationally as a roller-skater went by with a long scarf like a banner behind her.
"Everywhere you go," Dave agreed, and then called out, "Hey, Sugar!"
Ken had seen the frantic waving on the other side of the street but had not imagined it to be directed at himself or Dave. But the figure in white crossed immediately to meet them. The pants were bell-bottomed, the shoes were platformed, the wide, flaring collar was some white fur—and on Sugar's head was a big trailing Santa hat.
"David, sweet, I thought you were snubbing me." The voice was a tenor; Ken looked again, harder, and saw a man's aging face under the hat.
"Would I do that?"
"We-ell," Sugar drawled, "that depends. Who's your handsome friend?"
Ken stepped forward and offered his hand, having no desire to be talked around. "Ken Hutchinson," he said. Sugar's hand wafted into his but gripped firmly as they shook and held a moment longer than Ken would have.
"Ken's a singer," Dave said, and this seemed to tip Sugar over into full camp mode. The tasseled end of the Santa hat was flipped over the fur-covered shoulder as a woman might flip her hair; one slim hand waved in counterpoint to Sugar's words.
"But darling, we're colleagues! I'm an all-around entertainer myself at my own little club—comes cheaper that way." Sugar's eyelashes fluttered and that expressive hand reached for Ken's arm, rested there confidingly. "I sing and dance and do impressions. You must see it. I was going to ask Dave to pay us a visit anyway. But now—!"
"What's up, Sugar?"
"Oh, honey, do you need to ask?"
Dave rolled his eyes. "Just tell me what the problem is."
The Santa hat inclined toward Ken; Sugar blinked, then looked back at Dave and dropped several mannerisms. "It's John, John Blaine. He's been in every night for a week, soaking up the juice and then staggering out. Alone. Not good, my dear. Reminds me of how he was . . . you know, just before I met you." Sugar glanced to Ken's face and then back to Dave's, meaningfully. "So I was wondering if you could drop on by tonight, if you'd rather not take it to his home turf."
"No, I . . . I think you're right." And then Dave looked at Ken, brows down, thinking hard or coping with some disappointment. "I'll see, Sugar. This isn't the best night."
"You mean," Sugar pouted, "my little club isn't good enough for your friend here?"
"No right answer to that." Dave smiled. "You just love getting me into a corner, don't you?"
"Honey, you know I'd love to get you into any corner at all." Sugar's head tipped back, mouth opened in a soundless laugh. "I'm just so glad I ran into you. I've been calling and calling your place."
"Yeah, well, I haven't been home much the last day or so."
"Hmm." Sugar's little smile and look from Ken to Dave spoke volumes. "I'll leave you two together, then . . . ah, young love . . . ." Sugar stalked off like a silent-movie femme fatale, one hand trailing behind. A pair of tourists with cameras around their necks turned completely around to look.
When Sugar was safely away, Dave covered his face with his hands and shook his head, and Ken began to laugh. Dave wiped down his face and tugged the bottom of his jacket, and they walked on, a reluctant grin on Dave's mouth and Ken still chuckling.
"That didn't . . . bother you at all?" Dave asked after a few minutes.
"I'm not big on camp, but no, it didn't bother me." Again Ken felt the obligation to say more, explain himself. "Sugar's obviously your friend. And I don't—" Ken smiled again—"mean 'friend' the way Sugar used it."
"No," Dave said, and then seemed to be a little embarrassed by the force he'd used. "No, I just . . . did him a favor. Sort of."
"Was it a case?" Ken found he wasn't making conversation, really wanted to know, though usually he had little interest in other people's jobs.
"Ya." Dave put his hands in his pockets and looked at the ground as he walked, scraping his feet through the sand that drifted onto the sidewalk. This memory evidently affected him strongly. He looked up at Ken, and relaxed visibly, and spoke. "My first big one. I'd found a lost Pekinese and done some divorce work for a guy from out of state, and looked up some paper for some people too lazy to do it themselves. And I was beginning to think this was just a hobby, y'know, better get a day job. Was home visiting my aunt and uncle—where I lived since I was twelve—dropped by next door to see John Blaine. He was all upset about somethin' but wouldn't say. Well, I didn't think nothin', I knew he thought I was just a big kid. None of my business, but—well, Johnny and I were always close. Like I was another son, or at least a cousin. Bothered me that I couldn't do nothin'."
Ken's mouth was curved in a half-smile as he pictured Dave in a little suburban house, swinging over a fence into the next yard, eating at a dining room table like in some family TV show. "And?" he prompted, nudging Dave a little with one elbow.
They'd come to a hot-dog stand with a garish painted sign, and a few scattered chairs and tables with red umbrellas over them. Between the eating area and the beach was a railing made of two-inch pipe that stretched six feet or so beyond the nearest table. Dave stopped, got out his cigarette pack, and leaned his forearms on the rail as he lit up; Ken stood back a step or so and watched him against the panorama of sand and tourists and sky and sea. Low in the sky was a cloud bank, a gray smear that darkened the water at the horizon and blended with the shadowed and scarred leather Dave wore, the smoke that trailed upward from his lips.
"Well, a week later I was doing a pickup for Huggy. He gets his stuff from everywhere. I don't think it's illegal, or not very." Dave sucked again on the cigarette. "Anyway this time the story was that another bar owner had a case and only wanted a half-case. And I saw Johnny coming out of a hotel, and he saw me and stopped dead. Dead. I thought he'd faint. I mean he leaned against the wall." The hand holding the cigarette gestured, and Ken could almost see the wall, the street, the red car with its trunk open. "And I couldn't figure it out but I still thought, he's been such a longtime friend. If he wants to tell me, he will, and if he doesn't, it's none of my business anyway."
"When did you find out?"
"I got a call a couple days later." Dave dropped the cigarette and stepped on it, grinding it out. "It's like, he just remembered what I did for a living. It was weird, having him hire me, because he's a cop and he always tried to get me to be one too."
"Is being a PI so different?"
"Yeah." Leaning on the pipe again, Dave shook his head, smiling to himself. "Yeah." He looked at the empty nearby table as if to reassure himself that they weren't being overheard, and then said more softly and gravely, "John was being blackmailed. He had a room at a hotel, a new one every so often, and he'd go to Sugar's bar, The Green Parrot. Somebody'd seen him, somebody had pictures, and they were gonna send 'em to his captain. He would've been fired."
"And you fixed it." Ken grasped Dave's arm above the elbow, let go quickly. An acceptable public gesture. And then, after a moment, "Hey, let's walk in the sand."
"It'll get in my shoes," Dave complained, but followed when Ken walked around the rail and down the slope of the beach.
The advantage of being with a woman, Ken thought, was that he could have put an arm around her waist or held her hand, while now he just put his hands in his pockets and kicked sand up a little in front of him, near enough almost to feel Dave's body heat but not touching. In the gusts of wind from the water there were too many smells to distinguish, but every once in a while he caught a little of Dave's aftershave, the remains of the smoke, or the faint scent of his hair, and the sun slid an outline of light around his head and down the collar and arm of his jacket. If Ken fell behind a little, he could see Dave's little swagger as he walked; if he fell behind more than a step or two, Dave looked back and waited for him to catch up. The waves hissed and coughed in front of them and the people on the sidewalk seemed far away. There weren't many sunbathers, this late in the day and with the clouds moving in. It felt a lot more private.
"What did Blaine's blackmail have to do with doing a favor for Sugar?" Ken asked.
"It's not a good thing if there's surveillance going on in the bar. If it got around, the place would've been empty in a week. I found the guy. That wasn't really the hard part once Johnny was straight with me."
Ken cleared his throat and Dave looked over uncomprehending for a moment, then shrugged and said, "Okay, once Johnny told me what I needed to know. It was another cop, the bastard. And I thought, how did he know to go to the Parrot anyway? Because he was there on his own? And that was it. So it wasn't hard to scare him off." He bent down and pulled a stick of driftwood out of the sand, looked at it, brushed off the wet sand that clung where it had been buried. Then with a flick of the wrist he threw it into the water. "No. The hard part was finding out about John. I was seriously freaked out. I mean, I grew up next door to his family. I always thought he and Maggie were the ideal couple. And, well . . . ." He glanced at Ken, shrugged again, and went back to looking in the sand. He picked up one stone, then another one.
Ken found himself disappointed at not hearing the whole story about someone he didn't even know. Strangest thing. He looked at the stones in Dave's hands, found a similar one and handed it to him. "We used to skip stones like these."
"I don't think you can unless the water's quieter."
"No, probably not. I wonder if I still could anyway." Ken pushed back the whipping ends of his hair, looking out at the undulating water and the dimming sky. "Seems like forever ago. I learned how from a camp counselor, and my friends and I spent weeks doing it at the lake there."
"Doing it?" Dave was grinning.
Ken remembered those long summer evenings, silver and shadowy under pine trees where this was the shocking contrast of leaden gray and fiery gold. "Actually . . . " and now he matched Dave's grin. "I meant skipping stones, of course, but we jerked each other off too."
Dave laughed. "Did'ya have a crush on the counselor?"
"Doesn't everybody? That's got to be the great summer-camp experience."
"Hey, c'm'on," and Dave punched him in the shoulder, not too hard, "some kids are straight."
"Then they fell for the girls' counselors."
Dave flipped a stone into the shallow water as a wave swept in. Plunk, went the stone. Ken took another one out of his hand and did the same. Plunk.
"I never went to summer camp," Dave said. "Maybe that's why I took it out on Johnny."
"Ah." Ken squeezed Dave's shoulder. "I thought so."
They stood for a while just like that, Ken's hand resting on Dave, both facing the water. The sky was definitely graying, the murky stain leaching the colors of the sunset into itself and not reflecting them back.
"The guy he'd been photographed with was younger than me," Dave said, and Ken squeezed harder again.
They did have sand in their shoes, and Ken's hair was a windblown mess. Dave said he wanted a tie to wear to Hélène's and would lend Ken one. So they were going to Dave's apartment to freshen up.
Ken didn't believe it but didn't object. In fact it was all the sweeter anticipating touching Dave, taking his clothes off, seeing him lost in sensation, when they were just walking back to the car, not even flirting with each other. Or barely flirting. They were moving fairly quickly and the air had cooled, gusts of wind from the ocean reaching farther back into the streets and the sky dimming with evening or cloud or both.
While they drove back across town, it began to rain, though it was still only drizzling when Dave pulled up across one door of a three-car garage.
They went up the glistening white-wood staircase on the nearer side of the building, Dave leading the way and Ken admiring the view, as staying a few steps behind put Dave's working thighs and ass right in front of him. Dave half-turned in the roofed nook of the landing, digging in his pocket for the key and smiling slightly, but when they stepped inside he said, "Let me get that tie—sit down anywhere," and walked off, threading his way past the coffee table and through an archway. The apartment was full of stuff, pottery, wall plaques, a blinking traffic light, metal shapes dangling from the ceiling . . . Ken felt a bit overwhelmed, crowded. He had a hard time believing Dave was nervous, but the alternative seemed unlikely too. He followed through the archway and past a little dining set to the bedroom, but hesitated in the doorway as he saw Dave opening a dresser drawer. Really getting the tie, then. "I think I misunderstood," Ken said.
Dave put the roll of fabric he'd pulled out of the drawer onto the top of the dresser as he faced Ken. "I thought you said," he began, but Ken was already halfway across the room.
"I know what I said, every stupid thing I've ever said . . . ." Dave's hands at his waist held him steady, and Dave's mouth fed him. Dave's rain-damp head was between his hands. The spot he'd wanted to taste before was wet again under his tongue, and he mouthed along the upper lip Dave had licked to tease him. Dave stroked Ken's lower lip with his tongue and pulled their hips together with bruising force.
"Don't tease me," one of them said, and Ken realized belatedly that it was Dave. "Not any more."
"No, don't," Ken answered, and kissed him again. "Let me," against his neck, "let me in."
"I can't keep you out." The rain hissed against the window. Dave's breath fell against Ken's skin. It felt like there was all the time in the world to undo the buttons of Dave's shirt, to find the skin and hair and the ripples of moving muscle and kiss each new discovery. Ken knelt, unbuckling the belt in front of him, unbuttoning the fly, unzipping, and Dave watched with lowered chin and eyes like dark stars. Hands on dry skin above the sagging top of the jeans, Ken looked up, saw how light caught in the tiny beads of water still resting on Dave's hair, and couldn't force his eyes away, pressing his chest against his lover's body. Dave cupped Ken's face in both hands and stroked his temples, through his sideburns, into his tangled hair, and the slim fingers caught there. Ken loosened the arms he'd wrapped around Dave's hips, leaned back just far enough to let the erection spring up against the fabric of Dave's briefs, and then licked the cloth. Felt the body above him sway, heard a desperate swallow, saw the dark-shadowed jaw clench hard.
Ken slid both hands into those briefs, rubbing back and forth against skin as familiar now as his own. Carefully he pulled the layers of fabric out of the way, down to Dave's calves, then reached under to grab the back of his shoes. "Step out."
Dave did, hands braced against Ken's shoulders. "Get up," he said.
Ken was unbuttoning his own shirt as he got to his feet, and went on doing it while Dave undid the cords and slid them down his legs, held his shoes as he stepped out of them. Just in case they really were going to the restaurant later, Ken put his clothes on top of the dresser, while strong arms reached around his waist, a smooth forehead pressed between his shoulder blades, and a warm, tense cock settled against his ass.
The hug grew tighter and Dave kissed Ken's spine. "I want you in my bed," he said, mouth against skin.
"That was the idea," Ken said.
Dave's bed was a dark-wood box, a canopy without drapes, with a mirror above the headboard and corner supports heavy enough to hold little triangular shelves inside. Ken half expected a waterbed, but the mattress gave no more than usual when they came down on it. A velour bedspread in a patchwork print wrinkled sensuously under them. Ken lay back and saw that the canopy held three more long mirrors, a large central panel and two narrower ones flanking it, in which his own image and Dave's floated weirdly. "Mirrors?" he asked. "Dave?"
"I like them," said Dave. He pulled Ken closer, guided him down again to lie diagonally on top, looking up. Ken let his head fall back onto Dave's collarbone, and felt his hair brushed tenderly away, then petted. "Look at us," said Dave, voice soft. "Look at you." He stroked Ken's arms and lifted his head to kiss the point of Ken's shoulder. "When I'm with someone as beautiful as you are, I want to see them."
In the mirror, the darker patterns of the coverlet swallowed Dave's hair, and his eyes looked black. His skin was a dark gold like some of the rippling squares of velour. Ken looked up, and reached out, along the muscular legs, then bent his arm to pet back up to Dave's cock, dusky and full and delicious. Ken's own body seemed pale and big in the mirror, ghostly. But then he never had thought he was so very good looking.
Dave's hand cupped the side of Ken's head, worked into his hair while Dave was kissing the other side near the ear. "Beautiful," he said, breath hot and as loud as his voice. One arm slid around Ken's waist and the hand caressed his ribs. Trailed across his stomach. Brushed past Ken's own erection to pet his thigh, and then back up to the ribs. Ken twisted a little and the arm tightened around him.
"No," he said, "let me move," and Dave let go. Ken turned over and kissed along Dave's throat and over to his shoulder, up the slope of the pectoral to a nipple already firming up. Dave's hands kneaded and combed across Ken's skull and he made small sounds of pleasure, so Ken moved back to feel those vibrations with his lips as he went on kissing, licking, sucking at Dave's skin and rubbing himself against Dave's side and leg.
Dave's hands pulled out of his hair to trace the muscles and bones of his upper back. "Beautiful," Dave said again, so quietly that Ken didn't think he was really meant to hear.
He gulped back the swelling emotion and said "you," against Dave's skin, "you," sliding his own hands between the sturdy body and the soft velour, "you," pulling one knee up under him and lifting, suspending Dave's tensing weight in his arms.
"What're y—" Dave began, but obviously realized that Ken was pulling them both up until they were sitting on the spread, Dave's hip snug against Ken's cock and both twisted so their chests and lips met. Now Ken held Dave's head and searched his mouth again, finding every slick, rough, hard, yielding texture only more inflaming, and Dave pressed back as hard, played as wetly with his tongue, pushed as deep between Ken's teeth.
A clap of thunder outside just shook them closer together.
Ken raised his head to find himself facing the back mirror. He caught his own bemused eyes. Dave's face, pressed against Ken's, was obscured in the shadows of the canopy and the storm. The back of Ken's hand stood out against the dark hair but the pale fingers vanished into it. Ken looked harder for the definition of Dave's muscles, their movement under his skin. "I do," Ken murmured, "I do want to see you." Dave kissed his jaw and then his neck. Ken lifted his chin and opened his eyes again to watch the movement of Dave's head reflected above, while he felt Dave's lips, his tongue and his teeth, all the touches sweeping through his body as the rain swept across the roof, as the wind rattled the window-glass.
Ken knew what he wanted. He pulled gently back on Dave's head until he could look into his eyes, and said, "Let me fuck you. Let me watch you while I do it."
In the dim yellow lamplight Ken could not read the rippling expressions that crossed Dave's face, though he thought one would be amusement. "Yes," Dave almost whispered, as though it were a secret, and then louder, "Here," and pulled away. He reached for the lowest left-hand shelf and handed Ken a tube of K-Y, then gathered together all the pillows on the bed, sweeping them into a pile. "Sit there."
Ken sat, his back against the pillows, and Dave turned around. He sat between Ken's legs and leaned back, his spine against Ken's chest and his head on Ken's shoulder. Ken put both arms round him and Dave said, "Look up."
When he did, Ken could see why Dave had chosen this position, which allowed both of them to see the mirror and showed Dave's whole body. It would be strenuous, though. "Okay," Ken said, then kissed the side of Dave's head, quickly. "Okay."
Ken pushed at the warm taut shoulders and Dave went easily to his hands and knees. But the bow of his spine, the curve of his hips, were too distracting: Ken felt and tasted them, up and down, back and forth, until the body under him was quivering and writhing and Ken could not stop smiling even while he kissed the moving skin. Dave shifted his weight and pulled Ken's hand away from his ribs. "Do it," he said, "use it, come on."
Ken pulled away slowly, dragging his forehead down Dave's back. At the last moment he grabbed that sweet ass with both hands and gave the top of the crack a long, wet kiss. Dave's hips bucked. "All right, all right, all right," Ken muttered and picked up the tube again.
He squeezed too hard and a big glob of the oily stuff spurted into his hand, which was unsteady anyway. Scraping some of it off with his other hand, he coated himself quickly and then gave his attention back to Dave. Ken had to keep telling himself this wasn't the first time they'd done this, but even so there was a wild novelty to it—perhaps that mirror—that kept him on edge and unable to keep still or plan ahead. His hand dived as if of its own volition into the crack of Dave's ass, stroking back and forth, round and round the puckered ring he was supposed to be lubricating and loosening, but this felt so good that Ken was mesmerized. Forward until his fingertips nudged Dave's sac, back up to his tailbone, in and down again, pausing to circle where the anus clenched and opened. Dave pumped back and forth, flexing his spine, and Ken groaned and kissed the small of his back as it rose and fell, reached around to take Dave into his other hand and feel the pulsing velvet slide back and forth through his palm.
Ken finally managed to put a finger into Dave, stroking in and out, but could hardly breathe himself and couldn't stand to take his lips from Dave's skin.
The thunder had been going on in the background, but now came a crack so loud it sounded as if the bolt had hit the roof. Both men jumped. Whether Dave reared back or Ken pulled him up was unclear, but they found themselves in the dark, sitting almost upright, skin flat against skin. Ken's hand was still on Dave's cock, and Ken's cock was almost exactly in position. Dave's breath puffed out, not really a chuckle, and he shifted his legs to straddle Ken's thighs, then lifted himself.
"Now," he said, voice strained. Ken fumbled at his own cock, the head sliding against yielding skin to a place even more yielding. Another crack of thunder, farther off, and the lamp blinked back on. Dave settled onto Ken with a deep, wordless sound. So right that Ken couldn't reply.
At first he held the hard biceps in his hands, but that left him pushing up Dave's full weight and a few strokes showed how unworkable it was. Then Dave thrust his hands down against the mattress, Ken pulled his knees closer together, and they re-braced themselves so they could both move. Ken held Dave around the ribs and they rocked smoothly, worked together, breathing in rhythm, united. Dave's head fell back on Ken's shoulder again, and he murmured, "Look."
Ken looked. His own hair was silvery in the mirror, and Dave's black. Their faces were side by side. Dave's chest glistened and moved with his breath. Ken watched his own hands travel across that damp warmth, tangle in the hair, circle the tight knobs of Dave's nipples. He could see Dave's teeth glint, his thighs strain and relax, his eyes as they blinked shut and opened again to meet Ken's reflected gaze. Ken reached again for Dave's cock and watched him arch into the touch, eyes tight shut now, mouth soundlessly open. Ken's hand mimicked the clutch and slide of Dave's ass and they both cried out, suddenly frantic, working faster and arching higher and losing the feeling of the bed below, as if they were up in the mirror, or beyond in the eye of the storm. Then, yes, that moment of stillness, swelling larger in each other's hold, and then shuddering in long moments of release. Together.
Ken opened his eyes and gazed up again. Dave's bronze hand half-vanished into the tangled pale hair and Ken hugged him so tightly he felt the breath labor in his grip and had to will himself to be gentler. Dave turned his face toward Ken, his neck stretched farther than looked possible. Ken stroked the throat and kissed the damp face and heard his own voice without making out the words.
Then he registered them: "lovedavedave, love, Dave," he was murmuring over and over. They moved, turned, until Ken had pulled out and they lay face to face and looking into each other's real eyes. Ken said, soberly, meaning it, hearing himself, "I love you. David. I am in love with you."
Dave's eyes looked huge, as full of light and darkness as the night sky. His lips were not quite steady but his gaze never moved. Ken stroked his face and hair and said, "Yes. I mean it. I love you." He ran fingertips along the full lower lip. "Tell me," he whispered.
"Yes," Dave whispered back, and then closed his eyes. Ken gathered him closer still and they neither moved nor spoke for what seemed a long time.