How I Saved My
By Jillian Kulp
Also By Jillian
Kulp on Smashwords:
Stories and Novellas
Lessons on How to
Be A Model Student
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light of the computer monitor glares in my eyes. It's starting to
hurt a bit by now, after staring at it for nearly seven hours
straight. But that's the beauty of working from home: you can get to
it when you get to it. As long as it gets done. I decided to put it
off a few hours later than usual today, hence the late hour as I
finish up the last round of deciphering babbled dictation from blokes
in white coats with their heads up their arses – surely that's
where they must be, their speech is always so obscenely garbled over
I'm a fast one, I am – fast fingers on both versions of keyboards,
evidently. One of the people I work for – a female voice over the
phone, a typed name on an email, a disembodied entity which I've no
proof of any actual existence aside from these easily explained-away
instances that could very well be proxies – has commented that I'm
one of the most productive workers they've never had the pleasure to
meet. Seven hours, and I've no idea how many files I've sent back –
but it must be a pretty penny... which I'll never see. I never get to
see it in all its papered glory – just numbers on a sheet of paper
I don't understand, and a few wads of fivers now and then from a
is how I live; this is how I work; this is how I bide my time, apart
from splattering paint on shoddy easels and biting my nails in
nervous anticipation of what the night will bring. It's fairly
routine, if a bit nerve-wracking, especially the night-time bit,
where I'm not sure if it'll be peaceful and quiet, or riddled with
unspoken tension that eventually leads to blinding bouts of cursing
and misplaced fury.
clock in the corner of the screen reads 9:45. He'll be home soon.
Best start to get dinner ready – has to be fit for eating after his
normal winding down habits, yet not too cold to be disgusting once
he's made it to the table. My own stomach hurts so much from hunger
by this point, I can't stand to think of food, but I force myself to
do so after sending off my last correspondence for the day. Normally
I'd join him for dinner, but I just can't tonight. Oh, I'll be
sitting right beside him – can't stray too far
from the norm. But I can't possibly force a morsel down my throat.
messed up last night, you see, so I wasn't able to relieve those
familiar hunger pangs everyone gets when deprived for certain periods
of time. By now, I've reached the point where those twinges have
become almost debilitating nausea – which will abate soon enough.
After I fall asleep, anyway. The kind of stomach issue that never
feels righted until hours of unconsciousness have calmed the natural
confusion of whether a belly can digest or reject something forced
a bit like love, I suppose – starved for so long, the initial
reaction to too much is outright rejection. Feeding constantly on
small portions can make one feel uncomfortable; binging now and again
can bring about the same result. A healthy, regular, steady diet is
what helps make one feel stable and strong. And kept away from it for
so long... Well, sometimes you're not sure what you're
putting in yourself, but when it's pure, untainted, untouched by any
poison or rot, it'll settle in you nicely.
some such nonsense. I suppose. I don't know. I'm just tired of
thinking. I'm tired of everything. Almost too tired to turn the
burner off when I see the slop in the pot is boiling ready. The sight
of it alone makes me want to vomit – but I'm too tired to do that
is a good thing, though. The weakness will lend to my mental time-out
whilst he gets his rocks off or whatever tonight. I won't feel like
riding that wave that's been retreating from my shores for the past
several months, but I won't feel like stubbornly refusing to please
him either; in fact, I won't even feel like pleading pathetically to
stop, too overwhelmed by pain – it never does any good anyway, and
I'd only be wearing myself out more, whilst earning another night
confined to the flat at the same time.
remember a time when I wasn't always so tired. I think. I think I
kind of miss it, really. I could do so much more with a healthy dose
of pure energy. Maybe I wouldn't mess up so often then. If only I
could get it sorted. But it's a never-ending cycle with me. Caught in
this hamster wheel, or like a snake eating itself...
God... Eating... Bloody hell...
can't think of food; it makes me feel ill. Then not eating makes me
tired. Then I don't think of what I'm doing or saying and end up
earning another hateful glare. Or worse, if I don't give up and let
him have his way – physically or argumentatively. That thoughtless
slip leads to another day of punishment. And he'll know if I cheat –
he keeps track of what we have in the cupboards. He'll know if I've
eaten, or if I've gone out – he knows every scrap we have, every
cent in his wallet. Mine only comes to me by his hand. So he knows.
But I have to do this right tonight. Except for last night's slip-up,
I've been good all week. Earned myself a night out. Well, so long as
I'm home at the appropriate time to have supper ready for him.
only good thing is that he works over an hour away, so it takes him
this long to get home. That's why we have dinner so late.
God forgive me... I wish he'd go farther.
groan when I see where my company-appointed guide is dragging me.
Trust my boss to set me up with a freak who's convinced I'll "dig
jazz" when I mention in passing that I have a severe adoration
for music... failing to mention what kind of music,
of course. Not that I can't appreciate this particular form of it –
it's just not my scene.
there an opera house somewhere nearby?"
hopes are squandered – he just stares back at me dumbly, like I've
just asked what's so important about this "football" thing
these Brits are always going on about.
But it's got loads a' gay blokes in it!"
Trust Steven to set me up with this guy... He's done
it just to annoy me, I'm sure of it. He knows my tastes; therefore he
knows this will aggravate me to no end. Where I'd go for a simple
glass of red wine and a stimulating conversation, he's constantly
pushing me to take a step further – or, in my mind, skid ten miles
down a sixty-degree cliff towards oblivion – into his world.
Fuck, going to Jacy’s, one of our favorite clubs back
home, is just about my limit anymore; I'm comfortable in my
predictability and content in my happiness... which bears a striking
resemblance to "boring" to the rest of the world.
I sigh, resigning myself to the fact that I'll be bombarded with
depressing – but not melodramatically wrist-slashing, as I prefer
it – music and too much smoke for the next few hours. At least the
guy with me isn't completely an embarrassment to be seen with. Even
if he is straight. It'll give the impression that
I'm taken, so I won't have to worry about finding someone to hook up
with. Or, more accurately, I won't have to deal with the pain of
being rejected by much younger British gentlemen who have the wrong
idea as I wile away the time trying to make conversation...
it's not like I'm here for any recreational purposes, no matter how
much this company guy who's escorting me insists he's trying to show
me a good time in London. I've been sent here by my friend – and I
use the term loosely, and prefer to call him my "boss,"
though that's also very loose – to help get this newly acquired
branch of his ad agency up and running in England. A few months, he
said at first; then maybe half a year. By the time I got on the
plane, he was yammering to me on my cell that if things kept going as
they seemed to be heading, I could be there long enough to raise my
own little family. (Nevermind that I can't procreate, being gay and
six months, he said, six months at least. And after many
of our friends went off to pursue their own dreams, Steven decided
that he wanted to go travel the world. But... there was this little
matter of his business to deal with. Since my own
small interest in love quickly fizzled out – for the umpteenth time
with that specific individual, whom I still love but simply
can't be with, in general – and I was caught too
many a time moping around my desk while fussing over why the one
wasn't a two and the two wasn't a one in the cents column of the
agency's account books, Steven came to a decision: the new branch of
the agency was getting ready for launch, and I was
going to be present and responsible for its success.
he would live vicariously through me as I, and I quote, "party
that old-fart ass off and get a life again."
else was I going to do? A fully paid and
accommodated, extended business trip to another country after living
in Philadelphia for too many years than I'd like to count, all on the
company's tab? Better yet – on Steven's tab?
week and a half into this misadventure of mine, I'm beginning to see
the flaws in the plan. Steven planned it, after all.
He's the one who set up my initial meetings with the overseas
managers and executives, as well as some potential clients and such.
He's the one who told Ricky here, my studly but strictly unavailable
hetero guide, that I would enjoy a bit of the nightlife London had to
offer – conveniently "forgetting" to mention that I'm not
up to par with Steven’s own idea of "fun." And he's the
one who calls me on my cell every few days and asks, "Did you
get laid yet or what? Well, get moving, you pathetically dull mope, I
told you to get a fucking life!"
boss. Sometimes I feel like I should be the one with the leash.
expected, the club is packed with sweaty groups of... unfairly
attractive individuals... and plenty of smoke and booze. Luckily, as
I've decided (against Steven’s most heartfelt wishes, of course...)
to remain as sex-free as possible while I'm here. I want to
concentrate on work, and after the last unhappy ending,
I'm more than eager to dive headlong into working late nights at the
office, shouting senselessly at virus-riddled computers and trying to
force mathematical laws to reinvent themselves to my liking.
first, Ricky needs to feel like he's actually of some use to me as
far as entertainment goes. I feel like telling him the most
entertainment he could provide me with is a striptease, but I'm
afraid that would just scare the poor boy off. Besides, I couldn't
possibly say that to anyone I'm not steadily dating
– that's Steven's style, not mine.
let him buy me (on Steven's tab, of course) a few
rounds of drinks, as strong as I can handle, and slink into a
comfortable slump in my seat as Ricky yammers on and on in his thick
Cockney accent about all the possibilities in front of me for the
"pleasure" part of my business/pleasure stay here in
England. Somewhere around ten-thirty, his face becomes wobbly and
wavy, and I'm smiling stupidly back across the dimly lit table at
him, too amused by the fact that he's so sure I'm listening to
actually laugh at the jokes he's telling.
then I hear it. As the live jazz band on the small stage at the back
of the club slips out of a tune I think I may have heard here and
there throughout my life, the small but lively crowd applauding
appreciatively at the effort, there's a pause in the room – surely
time and space continue as they're meant to, but for a split second,
it's as if the atmosphere in the entire bar gasps (or maybe that's
just in my mind; maybe the gasp is only from me, in fact, and that's
why I seem to be the only one who hears it), and the once
unnoticeable piano which had been playing along to the previous slew
of miserable, upbeat, or dance-like songs breaks out suddenly in a
dramatic flourish of arpeggios and pounding, breath-taking chords...
blink several times at the gesturing man in front of me, who doesn't
seem to hear the music at all over his own voice, then snap my head
sharply to the side, as if the alcohol in my system has delayed my
startled reaction, giving my physical actions time to catch up to my
mental processing of the melody reaching my ears.
when I see him. Sitting at the nearly dilapidated wreck of a piano is
a small, hunched lump of a thing – man or boy, I can't quite see
from this distance, perhaps even an androgynous woman for all I can
tell – nearly being swallowed whole by a plain black sweater and a
blue beanie cap over long tresses of black hair that creep down to
just under his neckline. The torso sways gently in contrast to the
flailing arms, which fly up and down the length of the keyboard,
spitting out the sounds as gracefully as the body is moving – even
if the hands are nothing but a blur to my drunken eyes... though,
knowing my stuff about classical composers and the like, this kid
isn't just fooling around, and those hands would still be blurs if I
were completely sober.
good. He's better than good. He's...
blink quickly several times, silently cursing the smoke in the bar
for making my eyes well up, not wanting to miss a second of this
impromptu performance. And as the other musicians on the stage huddle
around and mutter to each other, probably discussing what to offer to
the crowd next, the pianist ignores them, ignores the rest of the
bar, probably ignores the entire world itself while continuing to
play. The song is familiar to me, yet isn't – the style is one I
know, but the song that originally caught my attention has morphed
into something new, something apart from the composition written by
someone else, but similar in a way. I can instantly tell the vivid
influences as a few measures of one style gives way to several more
of a different one. An improvised medley of bits from classical
pieces, an amalgam of clearly classically-inspired originals, and
finally ending with a humorously minor-chorded, Doomsday rendition of
– of all things – Chopsticks.
gawk at the back of the figure's head, utterly oblivious to Ricky's
continued raving about the various clubs I can check out later, and
try to muster some kind of telepathy to make the pianist turn around.
message seems to reach its goal, and I can't help but blink yet again
when I see, even from thirty feet away, a large set of clear blue
eyes caught by the light from the stage, glancing furtively out
toward the disinterested audience before turning further to catch the
attention of the other musicians. There are a few words exchanged
that can't be heard, and as the young man with the brightly-lit eyes
and striking, pale face nods amicably while turning back to the
piano, it strikes me as odd that no one's applauded him for that
wondrous display of... well, more talent than the rest of
the musicians have showcased so far.
a whim – probably because I'm so inebriated that I don't think of
how stupid I may seem – I thoughtlessly and loudly start clapping
my hands, nodding my approval to his seemingly ignored (and now
forgotten) in-between solo enthusiastically.
musicians on the stage look out into the crowd, as the people in that
crowd turn their heads this way and that, everyone looking a bit
confused, trying to find the source of the apparently misplaced
display of appreciation.
catch Ricky staring at me oddly, and I only grin, nodding more
fervently. "D'you hear that? That's some fuckin' music,
man!" I slur obnoxiously, my claps increasing in energy and
volume. I kick at Ricky under the seat, urging him to follow my lead,
and after a few embarrassed casting of his eyes to others nearby for
help, he finally relents and joins me. I let out a high whistle and
am glad to hear that, gradually, if a bit half-heartedly, some others
have picked up on it too and follow suit.
the pianist himself looks perplexed, I notice as I fix my gaze on him
again; he has a funny look on his face, like he's not sure if he's
hearing correctly, and scratches absently at the hair hidden
underneath his beanie.
the slight clapping dies down, one of the other musicians is kind
enough to step up to the microphone and blurt out something so
garbled that I can't possibly translate it accurately – something
about thanking an audience member on the stage, and I realize he
means the pianist himself.
my half-delusional mind pieces together slowly, the pianist
isn't really part of the band, then, huh? Well, he's
still damn good...
I notice drunkenly when the slight form stands to shift the seat a
bit before launching into the next jazz-infested ditty, got a
damn fine ass on him, huh...
that's when I black out.
Good thing Steven's paying – I can't imagine ever being able to
cover that much liquor in one sitting.
been trying hard for a long time. Trying to make this work in my head
and in my general life itself. Can't recall when exactly it became a
chore to be in this relationship we've had for so long. It's never
been "easy," whether it was external circumstances – or,
as now, an internal struggle to mean every sentiment I know he needs
me to say. To assure him.
it's no longer an assurance of my devotion; it's now only come down
to an assurance that he won't be left alone. An assurance as strong
as the occasional ropes – a promise I wish I'd never made. They're
just words, really. But the meaning behind them, which I've washed
out so I don't have to feel them every time I say it, is far heavier
than anything I can carry.
he's right. Maybe I am a liar. I don't think I was
all the time. Before, it was so overwhelming, all I felt. There
wasn't a doubt inside me at all. But it just... went away. After a
while, it just went away. Not even after the first time
he startled me with the other side of himself I hadn't been prepared
for – even after the first several times... I
sought any shred of honesty in his pleading; and I believed it all.
Hoping was the next stage, when belief began to fade. Before I knew
it, even that had vanished. Yet, even when these nights had become
the norm, even when these things were no longer surprising, even when
this was known, expected, just after letting one thing
slip out or making one stupid mistake – still, I remained.
still felt it. That was why.
that... even that was a long time ago. These last few years have been
less an attempt to keep together something I so preciously want,
rather an inability to move. While I used to just want this to work
so badly, to prove to myself, to them, to everyone, that
it could work – it wasn't "traditional"
or "normal," but I'd so wanted it
became so adamant about this one point, this vague principle, that I
completely ignored the fact that... it was actually destroying us.
Even worse, it very nearly destroyed me – literally.
Now, I can't remember when it was that I last spoke those words of
assurance with a heart-felt emotion. It had all become routine
– all of it. Expected. But he still
made me do it, still made me assure him. Still made me carry out all
the actions, speak all the endearments, feel all the guilt over the
hardships we'd overcome to be like this, together – and what for?
For me to abandon him? Over what?
wasn't even the pain that began to frighten me. It was the
utter lack of anything else. No friends. No money.
No life. No worth. No interest. At times, I didn't even feel
the pain anymore. That was one of the few things
that frightened me, whilst still drowning helplessly in my apathetic
fallen out of love. And that was years ago. Fallen out of love –
and into an exhaustive, numb role of one going through the motions,
like washing your hands until they bleed. It's a trap, pure and
simple, and I've nowhere to go – and my tunnel vision keeps me from
seeing any options.
he has me right where he wants me – afraid, alone, clinging to him
for my life... when all I want to do is run.
night, I skip stopping at home and head directly to the bar I've
discovered is straight across from the building my fully furnished
rented room is in. It took me two weeks to notice it there, but that
goes to show you where my headspace was. By Monday night, having had
enough of Ricky's nagging to go out again since Thursday, I had to
come up with some excuse and decided to tell him I'd found a
comfortable little bar to hang out in during my off time. While I
searched desperately in a phone book for the name of a random place
that seemed to be nearby, I lifted my eyes to the window beside me
and saw the sign across the street. It was one of those names that so
obviously screamed "gay bar." So I told him – and then,
hearing the tone in his voice when he said "oh,"
invited him to come along. He seemed to know the place; he politely
then I decided on Monday night to live up to my self-proclaimed
prophecy and went inside. The bartender – a transsexual named Judy
who was quick with her wit and just as fast with her service – was
incredibly friendly and noted plainly that she'd never seen me around
there before. I told her the circumstances which brought me to
London, and as she slid my drink to me, she asked, "Shall we
call this `the usual,' then?"
gazing out over the dance floor, which was spaciously separated from
the bar area, and taking in all the familiar aspects of the place
that I could liken to Jacy’s or Hardy’s,
including all those muscled, inevitably full-of-themselves,
unreachable guys making out blatantly and unapologetically in front
of others such as myself who were clearly alone and desperate for a
partner, I knew I was home.
for old time's sake, I went up to five separate guys who didn't
exactly spark my interest, but whose superficial images made my dick
give a little hopeful cheer (it still hasn't learned), and was not
disappointed with their flat-out, undisguised reproach at the mere
thought of standing within half a foot of me.
retreated to the bar area after the final rejection with a huge grin
on my face and said to Judy, "'Nother usual, please..."
found my home.
Tuesday night, I was almost eager to get out of work
to go treat myself to more mind-numbing torture. I must be a
masochist – things just aren't right when people fail to cringe or
look away, pretending they didn't hear me.
God – is my sarcasm eating me alive or what?
Judy was a big pull for me – she was one who didn't cringe;
but then, she no longer had a cock either, so even if she threw
herself at me, I wouldn't be able to make the "attraction"
connection in either of my heads.
I sit at the bar, my back to the crowd of dancers and lovers, and I
smirk at my own misfortune – even in another country, I think to
myself morbidly, I can't get a date. I almost can't wait for Steven
to call again so I can brag to him that my strike-out record has now
spread to a second continent.
as I said, I'm not here for that. I can do without it. I've gone for
longer periods without sex. Hell, I've been through rehab – it's
fucking forbidden until you've cleaned yourself up for more than a
year. I think I've actually reached a type of nirvana where the
libido can be activated by a manual switch. I'm quite proud of it,
really. It's an accomplishment – for a man, anyway.
from out of nowhere, after sitting there for nearly an hour, on my
second "usual," I lift my head and my eyes fall on a
certain figure crouched over a table in the corner of the bar area –
the corner closest to the actual bar I'm sitting at, no less. And
when I take notice of the familiar beanie, I do a double-take... and
then I'm practically turning around on the stool before I realize
just how conspicuous I'm being and whirl back.
head raises faintly as I study the reflection in the mirror behind
the bar; the eyes remain cast low, and I crane my neck to make out
what's so interesting on the tabletop. I realize he's holding a
pencil in his hand, very obviously sketching some unknown form into a
can't believe I've been sitting here all this time and I didn't
notice him! What the fuck have I done since I came in? Oh, hopefully
nothing too embarrassing... Oh, why am I even worrying about it? So
the boy's a cutie, so what? As if he'd even notice me...
But then, he is sitting alone, in a bar, on a
Tuesday night, practically surrounded by dozens of hot, sweaty, horny
gay men... and he's... drawing in a notebook...
clear my throat and wave to get Judy's attention. When she comes to
ask if she can fetch me a third, I shake my head, then gesture
curiously to the reflection of the pianist in the mirror.
Jude, you see that guy there?"
follows my gaze, then redirects it to the actual man sitting only a
few feet behind me. "Who, him? Yeah, what about 'im?"
lean in closer, trying to be confidential and wishing Judy's voice
was a bit higher and softer... like a real woman's...
(God, when will those hormones fucking kick in?)
you know who that is?" I ask, my voice barely above a whisper.
asks me to repeat it, and when I do, only a touch louder, it takes
her a moment to process my voice. Finally, realizing I'm trying to be
subtle, she huddles in closer and lowers her own voice (thank
you), "Oi, yeah, I seen 'im 'round. 'E's in 'ere once or
twice every coupla weeks or so."
you know who he is?"
shrugs nonchalantly. "Dunno 'is name. 'E's the red wine an'
sometimes voddy. Thassall I know 'bout 'im, mate. Oh, an' 'e always
sits there in 'at same booth, scribblin' 'way at 'is book."
nod slowly as I take this in, glancing furtively to the reflection
again before coughing slightly and asking, "Do you know if...
um... he's... y'know..."
smiles broadly and snickers, "'E's in here, ain't
'e? I'd say it's pretty safe to assume 'e's queer..."
wince, feeling like smacking myself in the face, then cover for that
by feigning exasperation: "No, obviously I
knew that... I meant... You know... Do you
know if he's, um... attached?"
snorts and waves at me. "I said I dunno 'im. I ain't never seen
'im wif no one, but he's gotten calls 'ere sometimes from a bloke.
Guessin' he may be."
give her an odd look. "If you don't know his name, how does he
get calls here?"
shrugs. "Guy on the line just asks for the little bloke in the
blue hat. I asked what name I should call 'im, but the guy on the
line just gives a description an' 'at's it. I dunno, some couples're
nod again, feeling myself deflating a bit. "Thanks, Jude."
grins again, a twisted, knowing grin, and smacks me with her
wipe-down cloth. "Anytime, mate – now don't go gettin' shagged
wifout settlin' the bill, though, eh?"
roll my eyes and down the rest of my drink in one go, gathering my
courage. I don't care – straight or gay, single or taken, there's
at least one thing I know I have to do right now. I just need to find
the guts to do it – and honestly, despite my age, let alone my
offensively long history of rejection, I still feel a bit nervous as
I slide off the stool and force one foot in front of the other –
the whole three steps away – until I'm standing at the head of his
so absorbed in his drawing that he doesn't even seem to register my
shadow over the table. I hesitate for a moment, suddenly wondering if
he'll mind me coming up to him like this, and for a moment I'm sure
I'll turn and take those three gaping steps back to my own stool.
my mouth seems to have grown a mind of its own, and it wants to speak
up about whatever it's thinking...
a slight pause, the scribbling hand freezing instantly when he
registers a voice so close to him. But he doesn't lift his head.
C-Could I, uh... bother you for a second?"
another pause, then his head slowly raises, and in an instant, I'm
caught straight in the line of fire of his startlingly wide blue
eyes. And for a second, I can't speak – the kid's even more
striking up close: high, sharp cheekbones and small, red lips, a
long, slim neck craned out of the collar of a shirt that seems three
sizes too big for him. His expression isn't exactly the typical glare
I get from people who are disgusted by my presence, but it's not
completely open and kind as Judy's is either. There's something
sweetly innocent, yet vaguely guarded to his alert, clear gaze.
feel downright uncomfortable in my own skin when I realize I've been
standing there for almost half a minute without saying a word, just
staring down at him stupidly and trying to figure out what the hell
it was I meant to say...
catching my breath, I blink quickly and regain myself, going on in my
typical stuttering, choppy fashion, "Um, hi there, uh... I don't
mean to disturb you, or, uh, distract you from... whatever it is
you're, uh, trying to do there... Your drawing, I suppose it is...
But, uh, I promise I won't take long, I just..." My mouth is
rapidly losing its moisture the longer I go on; the more he continues
to just sit there staring back at me, unflinching and unblinking, the
more unnerving I notice that stare is...
saw you sitting here, right, and, um, I couldn't help but, um...
Well, you see, I-I don't want to give the wrong impression or
anything," I add hastily, realizing how I must seem to him – a
desperate older man who's just spotted a very fresh green lunch. "I
mean, I know it's a bar and I'm sure you'd much rather be approached
by, er..." My gaze flickers momentarily out to the dancing crowd
before landing back on him. "Well, by someone else, but, uh...
um... I-I really don't do this very often," I admit honestly,
deciding that it's best to just come clean. "I swear, I really
don't even like to – well, it's not that
I don't do it, or never have done
it, though I'm sure you probably think I haven't, with how well it's
going... I just – not that that's what I wanted to
do anyway, truthfully, it's not what you think, believe me..."
hesitate again, amazed by how his face hasn't shifted a millimeter
since he first looked at me. That steadiness is uncanny... and a bit
creepy, too. Still, I find I'm unable to look away .
if I had the guts like I had when I was... well, your age,
I guess, I still tried even when I knew I'd get shot down, but no,
I'm not here to, like, do that. So, um, you don't have to
worry about me doing that. But I couldn't help noticing you, and I
really feel like I need to say something, despite the fact that
normally I wouldn't – not that you're someone not to
approach, you know, but, like... um..."
waits patiently as I struggle blindly towards something akin to a
"point" – his easy silence is commendable, but then, he's
probably just eager for me to get to that point, too.
he be disappointed?
sorry," I chuckle lightly, rubbing the back of my neck
self-consciously. "I'm messing this all up already." I sigh
and let my arms fall back to my sides, continuing, "It's just
that, well, I've seen you before. Not in here, obviously, 'cos, well,
it's only the second time I've been in here and I didn't see you the
first time. And, well, I would've remembered if I'd seen you here
before – but I mean, that's not why I wanted to come, uh, talk to
his eyes shifting for a second before meeting mine again, he asks in
a voice so quiet that I have to lean over slightly to hear him, "D-Do
I... Do I know you?"
I blurt out quickly, shaking my head vigorously. "No, no, don't
worry, we haven't met or anything like that, but I... I wanted to.
Not to, uh... come off as an ass – as I'm sure I am,"
I toss in with a snicker. "But no, really – it's just that...
I'd ask if it was you, but I don't need to because I know it's
you, but I don't really know of any other way to approach someone,
especially in bars like this, without seeming like I'm trying to, uh,
get something out of you, like, well, um... What people usually come
to bars for, you know..."
eyes me up thoroughly before gesturing to his empty glass, offering,
I assure him – then have another thought fight that one out. "Well,
yeah, okay, there's that. But, no, I didn't mean that. I mean, like,
um..." I sigh again, already getting tired of myself. "I'm
not trying to pick you up, is all I'm saying, so you don't have to
worry, though I'm sure you're not someone who gets passed over a
lot," I couldn't help throwing in.
eyelids flicker slightly at this, but he makes no other perceptible
I just... I just don't want you to get the wrong idea of my intention
by asking you if it's you."
purses his lips, then squints his eyes at me. "Um...who?"
gasp when I realize that everything I've just let tumble out probably
made no sense whatsoever to this poor guy.
I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I don't think I – did I? No, I didn't – I'm
so sorry, I thought I did but my brain's a little, um, on overdrive
right now, so I thought I did but I didn't – I... I just mean I've
seen you before – you played the piano at this club a few miles
from here last week – right? I mean, I know I'm
right, I knew it was you, but that's where I saw you before, and now
that you're right here in front of me..." I laugh out loud,
shaking my head to indicate my ultimate all-time low, my stuttering's
gotten so bad. "Well, I guess my urge was just to come make sure
it was you, even if I was already sure it was – but... Oh, I'm
making a jerk of myself, when all I really wanted to say was that I
really enjoyed your playing... At the club... Last week."
I trail off uncertainly, he tilts his head to the side. "Uh...
see, for me, that's a big thing, because you see, um... Not that I'm
an expert, but I have my specific tastes, and generally the kind of
stuff you were playing wasn't what I'd call my taste in music – I'm
not much of a rock or blues man myself. But I absolutely adore opera
and classical, and I noticed how you'd improvised some Rachmaninov
and Chopin into the music you guys were playing, and
I was really incredibly impressed. You're a very
talented player - "
know Rachmaninov?" he cuts me off suddenly, his tone full of awe
do another double take, startled by his question. "Err... What?
Y-Yeah, yeah! Oh God, yeah, I love his work. And your playing was
just amazing, the influence there was obvious, but clever as well..."
eyes grow even larger as he hunches over a bit more, as if trying to
get closer to me. "You heard it? Um... W-Wow... I-I guess I just
never thought... well, people usually don't even notice the
similarities – if they listen at all, that is. But you
well, yeah – brilliant musician, if you ask me. I'm not exactly a
music connoisseur, but I love listening to those pieces...
Anyway, I just felt the need to – I had to tell
you that, well... you're really..."
trail off again, too bemused by what I'm about to say for all its
inherent cheesiness, but force myself to say it anyway: "I'm
sure you get this all the time, but you're really a very gifted
pianist. And, um... Well, that's all I wanted to say really. But I
just had to say it, officially, from me – not that that really
counts for much, but um... I've said it, so, that's what I wanted to
say, and I'll leave you to your... um..." I gesture to his
notebook and nod knowingly. "...your own devices now..."
as I'm turning away, stuck in a ravine of endless self-torture and
automatic rejections – like I could just stick a quarter in one of
those bubble machines and one's bound to come out – he suddenly
stops me with a soft voice that just barely reaches my ears:
wanna sit down?"
believing what I hear, especially after that perfectly jumbled
fiasco, I slowly turn to face him again. "Sorry?"
gives me a sheepish smile and glances down at his notebook, which
he's just stopped scribbling in. "Um... No, I am..."
it's my turn to be surprised. "Er..."
he clarifies. "I'm not very good with people, really," he
admits with a staggered chuckle. "Kinda... not used to being
approached... at all... So I'm sorry if I came off a bit too cold...
Not very good with, er, talking, but... Well, if you're alone...
y'know... on your own... If you wanted to sit..."
realize that he's asking me to sit with him... and I swear I hear a
choir of angels in the background – but I refuse to let myself
become too lost in the hallucination.
Sure, sure..." I easily slide into the booth across the table
from him, biting my lip and trying to think of what else to say...
give him a weary smile. "Thanks. I'm still a bit rusty going up
to people myself, y'know," I confess, letting my embarrassment
shine through openly. "Spent a lot of time, uh... away from the
he agrees quietly. "Me too."
allow a beat to pass before moving onto something else. "Um...
Do you mind if I ask you something?"
raises his eyebrows in question, but doesn't say a word.
I go on, assuming that to mean Ask away, "how long
have you had to train to get that good?"
looks perplexed. "Train? Um... I'm not trained, really."
announcement... well, it floors me, and it's all I can do to keep my
eyeballs in my sockets and my mouth from hanging against my chest.
bit put off by my dramatic flair, he stammers uncertainly. "Um...
kidding me!" I exclaim, clearly in awe of him – not even
bothering to try holding it back to look cool and collected.
shrugs again, a bit of discomfort on his face, now a touch pinker
than before. "N-No... I don't know how to read music. I'm quite
stupid about it, really. We couldn't afford lessons when I was
young... I didn't know about lessons for a long time, actually. There
was just this old piano of my mother's still sitting around... We had
it at the house... Um, I just messed about on that as a kid back
home. When I came here, we got another one – a bit better, still
old, but at least it's in tune this time..."
sit back, exhaling noisily and absently scratching at my head.
"Wow... So you're, like, completely self-taught? Play by ear?
That sorta thing?"
head bobs about in a non-committal fashion, though his words are
clear: "Y-Yeah, basically... Like I said, `lessons' just weren't
an option – but I didn't think I'd need them just
That's really amazing, you know?"
narrows his eyes at me, but then must get a sense of how much I mean
it, because they grow wider, until he's practically gawking at me.
yeah!" I cry, insistent that he grasps the weight of his
proclamation. "A kid being inspired enough to do something on
his own, in his own way, not even registering that there might be a
certain way to do it – you were just a natural
guess. Don't most kids do that, though?" He's asking me this in
earnest. "Find what they like and just keep doing it?"
maybe," I reason, "but not so specific or so, um...
passionate, I guess is the word. And not usually about playing
He stares down at his hands, which lie limply on top of the notebook,
covering the sketch he was working on before. "I just... never
thought there was anything else to do. At least
nothing that made me feel like that did."
lock eyes again and I refuse to let him leave the gaze this time, a
tiny hint of a smile on my lips.
really don't know, do you?" I ask rhetorically.
Know what?" he replies, answering my question even if he doesn't
rare that is – finding that love and ability so easily?"
he's skeptical. "Um... Is it?"
yeah – not just anyone can teach themselves to
play Rachmaninov by ear. If that's not
classical training, then that's just... Well, probably a combination
of a natural gift and a lot of devotion and discipline – which kids
generally just don't have, unless their folks are strict."
His head tilts back slightly, eyes rolling up to study the ceiling.
"I, uh... I guess so?..." He giggles shyly and shakes his
head, lowering his attention to his notebook again. "Never
really thought about it that way..."
your folks heavily into that?" I press curiously. "Pushing
you into things?"
glinting wonderment and vague sense of reluctant pride instantly
begin to abate, and I find myself looking into the face of a much
more sorrowful version of the same pianist I'd just made blush with
my kind words.
N-No... Not exactly strict so much as, erm... Well,
he was more like, just..." He hesitates, eyeing me up
momentarily before saying simply, "He's pretty apathetic,
really." A sad, empty laugh escapes him, and he shifts
uncomfortably in his seat. Just these few slight movements tell me
that he's not nearly ready to talk about his family – at least, not
to me. Fair enough, I understand – so I decide to
change the subject.
where do you normally play? Like, performance-wise?"
nearly choke on my own saliva; coughing furiously, ignoring the
concern in his face, I repeat, "Nowhere?"
No – not really. Well, like last week at the club, sometimes the
guys there will let me get up and jam with 'em. But only 'cos I go
there on nights when I'm..." He comes to an abrupt halt, eyes
searching the air in front of him for the correct word. He finally
settles on, "Well, when I'm free."
gotten over my dramatized version of shock, I shake my head in
wonder. "You... You have that kind of talent and you're only
using it as an occasional hobby?"
bites his lip, shrugging helplessly. "There's no way for me to
do it for real, is there?"
I'm sure you could."
I don't think--"
serous!" I insist vehemently. "Believe me, it might sound
crazy to you, but I swear, you could truly do
something more with that talent."
He's still not buying it. "You really think so?"
I scoff. "Of course! Look – I love opera, right? Well, I never
thought I'd ever be able to do anything with it – I love to sing,
but me? An opera singer? I'm a
fucking accountant! So, okay, I never landed on a
real stage, but I did get to work as a
singing waiter for a time."
suddenly sputters over a high-pitched giggle, slapping a hand over
his mouth and his eyes bugging out. I make a face at him and taunt,
"Oh, c'mon, I know you wanna laugh--"
he pulls himself together and shakes it off, asking instead (though
still in a slightly shaky voice), "Really?"
I hiss, waving off his bemusement easily. "I know, okay? It
sounds funny. But it was actually incredibly fun. I made decent
money, I got to sing, I entertained people – something, believe me,
I never thought I would be able to
do in a million years – and I'm sure I was much older than you are
now when I did it. So someone with your talent,
at your age- to not use that gift would be... well,
it'd be a sin."
specific words seem to strike a chord in him, and his smile fades
significantly as he ponders my words. "Um..."
grimace when I realize how long I've been going on. "Aw, man,"
I groan, already disgusted with myself. "I'm sorry, I'm gushing,
I know. It must be incredibly embarrassing."
gives a half-shrug, eyes shifting wildly around as he sets his head
slightly to the side. "I just..."
it's true," I reiterate, my tone low and meaningful.
can't look at me now for some reason. In fact, he even winces, as if
in pain. "I'm just not... used to..."
hold my hands out helplessly. "What?"
he answers, gesturing to me and himself. "Just... Whatever's
going on here, I guess."
smirk. "You mean being complimented?"
grimaces, planting a palm on his face to keep his head up.
"Being seen. At all..." He exhales
gently and dares to catch my gaze again, telling me timidly, "Look...
You said before something about how I must get it all the time –
both the compliments and the, uh... propositions... But,
um... I don't, actually."
raise my eyebrows at him in disbelief. "You?"
get approached when you're out in public?"
mere shake of his head is his answer.
laugh, running a hand through my short hair. "You don't leave
the house much, do you?" I cackle. "That's the only
explanation I can think of..."
smile is uneasy, and hard to draw out of him. "Um... No,
actually. I don't... But even when I do..."
nudge his leg underneath the table, startling him a bit, and probably
even more so when he catches my sneaky smile.
get invited up onstage to play with the band."
stops cold again: he's never thought about that before, how he'd
gotten up there in the first place. "Oh... Uh... Y-Yeah,
I explain to him, "if you did that more, believe me, you
wouldn't get so tongue-tied when a schlepp like me tells
you you've got incredible talent. You'd be rolling in offers for..."
I cut myself off as well, rethinking my crude words... "Well,
ah, probably a lot more than just to play piano for a scruffy jazz
band on a random Thursday night."
still unsure of my "gifted" accusation. "Um... I
I state matter-of-factly. "I may not be the best-looking
guy or the most ingenious person around, but I'm a bit older than you
and I've been around – I've had my so-called wild times.
So you can trust me when I tell you – if you did get
out more, no one would want you to go back in. Whether they'd want
you to play music, or just, um..."
eyes travel, unchecked, down to what I can see of his upper body
above the tabletop. Then slowly back up to the sweet and sharply
chiseled thin face. His gaunt features only accentuate the allure of
his large eyes and the delicate shape of his small bones. Comparing
him to most of the other patrons, he looks
downright... dainty. There's no doubt in my mind,
he'd be the perfect target for one bent solely on pure domination...
to... y'know... play."
I say seems to put the poor kid on edge – and that hint
certainly doesn't help matters. He scratches his ear, obviously a
nervous habit, and mumbles a few more incoherent words.
bad for putting him on the spot like this, I immediately jump in
with, "I'm sorry – was that too direct? I'm not usually like
this, I mean it – but seeing as I've already told you I'm not
trying to hit on you, I think it's safe to say that... Well, you
wouldn't have to worry about any kind of rejection from anyone –
you'd need to find a way to get out of a bar like this alive...
if you crawled out of your solitary corner, that is."
avoids my attention purposefully, and at his silence, I smirk
of course, you prefer your corner."
tugs at his lips a bit more, despite a mere, "Um...
– nevermind," I sigh, waving it off finally. "You don't
seem to be comfortable talking about how amazing you are, even just
close, I can study his slender hands more thoroughly – and I do so
discreetly, watching the long, bony, fidgety fingers toy with the
pencil still being clutched and worried at.
guy startles me again with a hushed, "Well... you don't
really know me, is all I'm saying... I could be
completely different to how you think I am – or hope I
am. Whether that's some sort of brainiac genius or just a stupid
wind-up doll. And to be honest, I can't clearly answer that question
legitimately – I'm biased against myself, I suppose, though I guess
I must have some good qualities... I'm assuming..."
trails off, as if trying to find a way out of this self-imposed
speech he hadn't meant to begin.
I see his regret over taking some kind of a stand, I decide to show
some mercy and pick up the conversation.
don't tell me you've actually got a substantial brain in
there to boot!" I laugh heartily, causing that nervous smile to
appear again. "Someone like you – it's been my experience that
a lot of attractive guys don't know the meaning of `humility.'"
just shrugs and averts his eyes. "If I knew 'em, I'd ask if they
again, I halt, puzzled by his odd choice of words. I blink at him in
vague surprise. "Know who?"
Y'know... Like you said... The guys everyone wants."
– the humility bit. The hot but shallow blokes... Not that I know
many – well, I don't know many people at all, really..."
shake my head, taken aback that he didn't catch it: "You... I-I
was referring to you."
seems just as shocked. "M-Me?"
– you know."
mimics my previous head movement, proving that statement wrong –
he doesn't know, apparently, that he's fucking
guys you just – okay," I correct myself, "the guys I just
stand there and stare at enviously – the ones you either wish you
could be, or wish you could have..." I clear my
throat poignantly. "Well, you know..."
faint smile is back, and I find it's nice to see it. "Guys you
wanna shag, you mean?"
glances over his shoulder, peering into the massive crowd in the
other part of the bar. "What, like, that one there?" he
asks, pointing out some random muscular hunk. "Think he's got
I scoff. "Nah, and who cares, really? I don't."
don't think he's hot?"
They all are to me, but like I have a chance - these guys would
rather I get blown back to my own country than have to acknowledge I
exist at all. And quite honestly, at this point I couldn't give a
shit about them either. It's rare anymore for me to be impressed by
someone, even just judging by appearance. I've been here for a little
over two weeks, a completely different country than the one I've
lived my entire life in – and my eyes have only
been caught by one person so far – though I think it's a pretty big
accomplishment, since that one person's managed to, well... blow
anyone else outta the water as far as I'm concerned. If I were of a
weaker will, I'd be caught to the point of surpassing `Wow,
he's hot,' now arriving at 'Fuck, he's perfect.'"
chortle from him, as if making fun of my oh-so-precious feelings –
and then he's inexplicably back to peering at the crowd again. "So...
Okay, which one is it, then? Oi? Who'd you fancy? Anyone in there?
You said they're from here, right? I'm sure there's someone..."
stare straight at him with a heated gaze as he cluelessly searches
over his shoulder for someone he thinks I may be "into." I
can't help myself; a silly laugh bubbles out of me and I can only
hang my head in my hands.
back, he looks utterly bewildered. "What?"
lift my now red-tinged face again to him and demand, "You really
don't see it, do you?"
my head, I repeat myself, "Like I said, there is one,
but I get the feeling he wouldn't believe me even if I said it
straight. I have a hunch he's as self-deprecating as I am. Besides,
I'm not here to meet someone special. I gave that dream
up years ago. I'm just out to get drunk and maybe make a friend out
of someone I would've died to sleep with fifteen years ago. I'm too
cynical to have a lover these days, so any opportunity would just be
a waste for your talents – especially with fingers that fast."
confusion arises in his eyes as he asks, "Um... What are you
know – how you play piano..."
then that puzzlement morphs into a shocked, unbelieving stare. "Wait
– what? D'you mean me?"
he scratches at his head with a wry, twisted grin. "Oi, mate,
you could throw a dart in here and find someone better to shag,
I assure myself aloud. "Like I thought – doesn't see his own
toys absently with the pencil some more, anxiety surely growing over
my overtly flattering remarks. "Um... wish that were true."
I guess I can't nickname you Narcissus. That just makes it harder to
stick with my no-strings rule, though. Nice to meet a hot guy with no
ego for once."
now, the poor kid looks so damn tense that I swear he could pop right
out of his too-tight skin.
this, I decide it's probably best, especially if I want to stay on
his good side, if I let go of complimenting his looks so bluntly.
It's really too bad he's having a hard time taking kindly to it,
though – I could get more graphic if I had enough booze in me and
let my mouth run – regularly pausing to sop up the drool,
anyway... It's not important. Really. So c'mon: talk to me more about
like, how'd you hear of him? How'd you teach yourself those pieces?
And how the fuck did a brain that can do that end up in that body?"
much for cutting back on the come-ons.
he seems to have come to grips with the fact that I dig him, but am
not about to make a move – that I just like saying these things, or
just say them by accident, because they're right there on the tip of
my tongue and I can't stop them...
laughs good-naturedly, shaking his head and patting my arm across the
table. "Oh blimey, how much've you had to drink!? I think
someone needs to flag you--"
seriously," I insist, "like I said before – you wouldn't
have to worry about sleeping alone ever again if you weren't as shy
as you obviously are."
that first impression further, he starts wriggling again. "Erm..."
I can't seem to be able to give this kid room to breathe – peering
at him with a totally unselfconscious and lustful gaze, I murmur,
"But then again... maybe that's part of your charm..."
eyes me up suspiciously. "Charm?"
I answer absently, not even paying attention to what I'm saying
anymore. "Well, anyway – like I said before, it's not like
I'm seriously coming on to you – I'm just being
honest. Believe me, I don't expect you to sleep with me or anything.
I swore to myself that I wouldn't get distracted by sex on this trip,
so you can relax – I'm not after anything. It's just that
you are the first person to impress me in a
very... very long time – and you just happen to
be... really damn attractive."