Kevin’s been single since his last lover moved away two years ago, and he’s more than ready to find someone new. The trouble is, he’s hung up on his unattainable new neighbor, Tyler, who is a good fifteen years younger, six inches taller, and ten times more beautiful than Kevin. Even worse: so is Tyler’s boyfriend Ryan.
Tyler has just been broken up with again, but that’s OK. The handsome, virile, and built are practically lining up for their turns to f*ck him, date him, and dump him. He’s been on this train so many times he knows all the stops by heart. But then an energetic little guy with no fashion sense moves in down the hall, and Tyler likes him. A lot. He doesn’t understand why, he doesn’t know where it’s going, and, worst of all for his much-battered heart, he doesn’t know how it will end.
Features: a cisgend flamboyant fashion god with shampoo-commercial hair and an unironic affection for fairy figurines; a trans guy with an enormous and excessively affectionate family and a very troublesome cat; snarky yet supportive friends; flirtatious strangers; one too many ex-boyfriends; several cups of tea; a minor misunderstanding, a tragic misunderstanding; home-brewed beer; the novels of Jane Austen; and, in a surprise appearance late in the book, Ukrainian folk dancing.
Before the Story
After the Story
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Everyday Gay: A Kissing Book, by Su Penn. Date of publication: July 2017.
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Sincere Thanks To
The real life “Kevin” and his troublesome cat “Damien,” who were the initial inspiration for the story.
All the trans men I’ve loved and still do.
2016 US National Figure Skating Champion Adam Rippon, for being graceful, ethereally beautiful, and gay as fuck.
My partner David, who read every single draft.
My children, Carl, Carter, Eric, and Yev, who will but think it’s wonderful that I wrote it.
All the friends who read the first draft and said encouraging things about it.
Llyra, Julie, David C, Neil, Daniel, Judy Anne, Johanna R, Mary, and one unknown donor who pitched in to help with final production costs and promotional materials.
The delightful James at , who designed the cover.
Tyler Can Dress For Any Occasion
“Any fool can tell you how to dress for a first date,” Tyler told his friend Ryan, “but you are in the presence of the world’s foremost authority on dressing for a last one.”
Ryan was sitting on the edge of Tyler’s bed, watching Tyler dress. “Do tell,” he said drily.
Tyler turned from the mirror to face Ryan, hands on his hips. “Well, your first date ensemble should be alluring without making you appear desperate, right?”
Ryan said, “I suppose so.”
“Well, the final date outfit should also be alluring. You should put some effort into dressing in such a way that your date is reminded of how very attracted to you he is.”
“Why go to the trouble? Are you trying to get him to change his mind?”
Tyler laughed. “God, no. But you do want to inspire a sense of regret, and arouse feelings of…well, arousal.”
“And you do this why?”
“To remind him that, although he is dumping you, you still have power over him. Also! On a final date, you may freely indulge your propensity for the provocatively ladylike, which was what attracted him to you in the first place but which he has been trying to quash ever since the two of you woke up together for the first time. Hence the shirt.”
With the grace of a spokesmodel, Tyler gestured at his shirt. He was wearing a silky scoop-neck top in a lovely shade of byzantium. The sales associate had called it “plum,” but it had just a hair too much red in it to be a true plum, not that Tyler had bothered to correct her. Brandon would know perfectly well it hadn’t come from the menswear department, and it would annoy him because he was always wishing Tyler would “tone it down a little” and not be “always pushing it in people’s faces.” At the same time, Brandon found Tyler irresistible in soft drapey fabrics and would be wanting to touch him all night.
Ryan said, “Are you sure Brandon is breaking up with you tonight?”
“Of course I’m sure. Have you ever known me to be wrong about this kind of thing?”
“No, I guess I haven’t.”
“Well, there you go. I am so good at seeing the end coming that I sometimes know it before they do. It’s my own special form of precognition. I don’t know what I’d do without it. It’s bad enough being dumped when you can see it coming. I’d be absolutely shattered if it were ever a surprise.” He was putting on bracelets the whole time he was talking: one silver bangle set with hematite, one black leather braid, one black leather cord with a large blue glass bead, and one silver band etched with a flower design. He shook his wrist to settle them, looked at it for a moment, and added a twisted silver bangle and a silver chain with a small bell on it. They partly obscured his tattoo, a gauzy-winged fairy reclining in a misty moon.
Ryan said, “I guess I don’t understand why Brandon would spend a hundred and fifty bucks on a break-up dinner.”
“He wants me to feel obligated to him, and he wants to do it in a place where I won’t make a scene.” Tyler’s tone suggested that this should have been obvious.
Ryan said, “Ah. But—” He hesitated and Tyler glanced up from where he was, with great difficulty, sliding his ID, a credit card, twenty bucks cash, and some tinted lip balm into the front pocket of his second-tightest pair of black jeans.
Tyler said, “Spit it out.”
“Is there such a thing as a place where you won’t make a scene, I wonder?”
“No, there is not. But Brandon thinks there is, and he happens to be right in this case. I plan to enjoy myself. I am going to drink champagne cocktails, order extravagant appetizers, and, when we are lingering over après-dinner cappuccino and he finally breaks it to me, maintain an air of dignified acceptance tinged with regret. I’m ready to go if you are. Have I thanked you for the ride? I think I’ll catch a cab to Mystique after dinner. Brandon and I will be done by 11, I expect, and the crowd will just be getting good.”
Ryan picked up his car keys. “Tyler, if you don’t really like Brandon, why haven’t you broken up with him?”
Tyler waved airily. “Oh, please. Where would I be if I only dated men I actually liked?”
Going to the club after the break-up dinner was, in retrospect, a terrible idea.
Tyler had been more upset than he’d expected; the tinge of regret he showed while listening to Brandon’s carefully-rehearsed and scrupulously kind good-bye speech had been authentic. Instead of arriving at the club ready to throw himself with abandon into the exuberant throng, he’d been heavy with a sadness that felt too big, as if this latest break-up carried the weight of all the ones that had gone before.
He should have gone home, he supposed. He’d seen friends do it often enough. “I’m just not feeling it tonight,” they’d say on their way out. Tyler hadn’t been feeling it, but he wanted to feel it, and he had felt it often enough in that very same club that he was sure it was in there somewhere. He looked for it in the bottom of several highball glasses, and he stalked it, song after song after song, all over the dance floor.
He never found it. He did find a guy with big shoulders who asked him if he wanted to go somewhere private, but Big Shoulders had only been interested in a blow job, and Tyler, whose gag reflex was so easily triggered that he had to be sedated for dental cleanings, had declined. They were both disappointed, but Big Shoulders had been decent about it. Men weren’t always.
At home, Tyler had flung himself on his sofa, one arm over his eyes, like a damsel on a fainting couch. The petty satisfaction of the gesture was quickly overcome by discomfort. His back was starting to hurt, his second-tightest pair of jeans were digging into his crotch, his nineteen-pound cat Tinkerbell was sleeping right on top of his full bladder, and he could smell himself: stale cologne, sweat, and spilled booze.
The same voice that had suggested he skip his night at the bar recommended a trip to the bathroom, a quick shower, and a nice long sleep between clean sheets. It would help him feel better, that voice said. He would wake physically refreshed, emotionally recruited, and ready to meet the new day. This was the voice of Maturity.
Tyler had never been very good at listening to Maturity.
He was more likely to listen to Drama, which preferred staying put and making the most of his suffering. Drama liked the idea of a bad sleep and a sore back. Drama, which specialized in turning disappointment to disaster, and mischance to misery, whispered in his ear that if he were still unhappy enough the next day, Ryan would come fuss over him. Tyler enjoyed being fussed over.
Drama had been Tyler’s best and most loyal friend since second grade. Maturity was like someone he’d heard a lot about, third-hand, and hoped someday to meet in person. Tyler touched Tinkerbell’s head to make her purr, and settled in for a long and gratifying night of affliction.
If there was one thing that could pull Tyler out of both his doze and his self-absorption, it was the plaintive mews of an unhappy cat. Tinkerbell was still sleeping on his bladder and Tyler’s other cat Puck had settled on his feet at some point. Perhaps the crying cat had been a dream, but no, there it was again, the unhappy and demanding sound of a cat on the wrong side of a door. Tyler worked his feet out from under Puck, who got up and left in a huff, and slid out from under Tink, who didn’t so much as twitch. He opened his apartment door; there was a small black cat with a very long tail in the hallway. Tyler had never seen it before, so it probably belonged to the new neighbor in #4. Tyler had seen him moving in a few days earlier, an energetic little white guy in baggy jeans and a ball-cap. The cat mewed again and looked hopefully up at Tyler, then trotted toward #4 and mewed in a more bossy way. Tyler considered banging on the guy’s door at 3:30 in the morning to tell him his cat was in the hallway, but decided that was a crappy way to meet a new neighbor. Besides, he hated to ruin anybody’s sleep but his own. He supposed the cat was safe enough in a second-floor hallway, with two doors between it and the street. It would be fine until the energetic little white guy in #4 woke up in the morning.
He turned to go back into his apartment, but the cat followed him, still mewing. Tyler said, “You can’t come in with me.” The cat looked forlorn. Tyler sighed. “Fine. But only because I don’t want you keeping me up all night. Whatever’s left of it.”
Kevin, the energetic little white guy in #4, woke up alone. Damian was not sleeping by his feet, and didn’t jump trilling up onto the bed for a cuddle as he usually did when he heard Kevin stirring. Kevin called him and made kissy noises. Nothing. He rolled out of bed and searched the apartment. He checked the couch, the laundry hamper, and the tiny coat closet near the door. He opened the cabinet under the kitchen sink, and lifted up the easy chair, which Damian had been known to climb into. Damian was in none of those places. He wasn’t in the bathroom, either, or on the windowsill behind the curtains.
Kevin sighed. Hiding was one of Damian’s tricks. If he kept looking, he’d eventually find Damian sleeping in a drawer he couldn’t remember having opened, or in a closet he’d already checked twice. If he didn’t look, Damian would eventually appear, lounging in a sunny spot as if he’d been there all day, or snacking on kibble in the kitchen.
Kevin’s favorite diner was hardly a mile from his new apartment, and he decided to walk there for breakfast. Damian would certainly be un-lost by the time he got back. He dressed in a clean t-shirt and yesterday’s jeans, checked that his wallet was in his pocket, and opened the door.
Damian looked placidly up at him from where he was lying in a little round cat bed, its pink fabric decorated with cartoon mice. Bowls of water and kibble, and a small litter box, which Kevin could see Damian had used, were lined up along the wall. Damian stood and stretched, rubbed against Kevin’s shins, and walked into the apartment with his tail up.
Kevin pulled down the note taped to his door and read:
Dear new neighbor: I think this sweet little guy is yours. I heard him meowing but didn't want to wake you in the middle of the night to let him in. Welcome to the second floor! --Tyler #3
The notepaper was printed with little hearts around the border. In one corner, a fairy lounged on a toadstool. The note was written in purple ink. Kevin tipped the paper this way and that; sure enough, the ink glittered. Was his neighbor a girl? A 12-year-old girl? Did people name girls Tyler? Did a family live in #3? Wasn’t that a one-bedroom like Kevin’s? Well, if there was a cat-loving 12-year-old down the hall, at least it would be easy to find someone to feed Damian when he was out of town.
Kevin ripped the coupon flyer off the previous night’s pizza box and scrawled on the back, “Hey Tyler, thanks for taking care of Damian—sorry he bothered you—Kevin.”
He thought for a moment about the possibility—the likelihood, even—that he was writing to a 12-year-old girl, and added a little rough sketch of a cat, with a speech bubble saying, “Thanx! Mraow!” He pulled some packing tape off one of the moving boxes still stacked on the kitchen counter and used it to stick the pizza flyer to the door at #3 on his way out.
When Tyler woke up, sometime around noon, he was almost willing to admit that putting himself to bed properly after he’d dealt with the hallway cat had been a good idea. He felt clean, well-rested, and barely hungover at all, and his apartment felt spacious and full of fresh air. He imagined Maturity in the corner, giving him an “I told you so” look. He scowled back. “Don’t get used to it,” he told her. “You’re just passing through.”
He dressed in a t-shirt in ballet-slipper pink, and when no one suggested he wear a blue one instead, he realized that his apartment felt fresh in part because Brandon wasn’t there, and wouldn’t be again. Brandon had only slept over once or twice a week, but the air had become thick with his disapprobation. Tyler’s own mind had developed the habit of providing Brandon’s reproofs and sighs and barely-concealed disappointed looks when Brandon wasn’t around to provide them himself, but now it felt like a ghostly presence had been exorcised.
Tyler had tossed last night’s bracelets on top of his dresser instead of hanging them on the bracelet bar, so he scooped them up and put them on again. All of them. He struck a pose like Wonder Woman deflecting bullets, and grinned at himself in the mirror. A breakup was a new beginning, and Tyler liked new beginnings, even if he knew they were going to lead to the same sad end. He texted Ryan that he was free for lunch, and bounced down the stairs, pulling his hair into a ponytail as he went.
When Kevin came back from taking boxes to the dumpster for recycling, a slender white guy in skinny jeans and a pink t-shirt was unlocking the front door of his building. His dark brown ponytail ended in an appealing sweep between his shoulder blades. The guy turned when Kevin came up behind him, grinning and saying, “Oh, hey there! Kevin, right?”
How did this guy know Kevin’s name? Kevin hadn’t seen him before, let alone been introduced. He was tall enough that Kevin had to tip his head back to meet his eyes, but that was nothing new. When all the other boys’ bodies started pumping out testosterone, giving them Adam’s apples, nearly-invisible mustaches, and astonishing growth spurts, Kevin had been getting his first period and fighting with the principal’s office about being forced to wear a dress to middle school graduation. Kevin had his own Adam’s apple now, and a scruffy beard; he had a flat chest with enough hair to almost hide his surgery scars; and it had been a good fifteen years since a hysto-ovo put an end to the periods. But nothing would ever make him taller. He’d gone through puberty as a girl, and he would be five foot four forever. Five foot four and a half.
“Yeah, Kevin,” he said. “I just moved into #4.”
“I know!” the guy said brightly. “I met your cat last night. I’m Tyler.”
“Oh! I thought you were a twelve-year-old girl.”
The guy looked down at himself.
Kevin said, “No, I mean, your note? The, um, ink and stuff?”
The guy laughed and waved a dismissive hand, a gesture both graceful and campy. Something about it pleased Kevin. “Nope, not 12. Or a girl. Just gay as fuck.”
Kevin couldn’t help smiling at that. The guy smiled back and said, “I’m Tyler, by the way. Want to come in and meet my cats, since I’ve met yours?”
Kevin didn’t know what to say to that. He liked cats, and he thought he liked Tyler, who seemed…light-hearted. Bold. Appealing in the sunshine as he pushed some stray hair back with one slender wrist. But Kevin felt gritty from unpacking; he’d been looking forward to a shower and a beer, possibly at the same time. Besides, he’d run into one of his brothers at the diner, and ended up lingering over coffee with him and his wife, and that was usually enough social interaction for one day.
Tyler tipped his head and smiled at Kevin. When Kevin hesitated, the smile faded a bit. “We can do it another time,” he said. “You’re probably pretty busy unpacking and stuff.”
Kevin wanted the smile back. “No, I’ve done all the unpacking I can stand for today.”
Tyler held the front door open. “Then come meet my cats. I can make you a cup of coffee. Or a champagne cocktail.”
Kevin followed Tyler up the stairs. “Those are my choices? Coffee and champagne cocktails?”
Tyler winked at him. “They aren’t your only choices.” He unlocked his apartment door, and invited Kevin inside with a graceful sweep of his hand.
Tyler watched Kevin take in the apartment. He liked to imagine it was orderly without being prissy, playful without being ridiculous. But bringing in someone new—especially someone who was almost certainly straight—always made him look with fresh eyes. He knew that his extensive collection of fairy figurines was a bit precious; that the film posters (Bette Davis in Dangerous, Greta Garbo in Mata Hari, Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) were just a bit too on-the-nose; and that the two-guys-kissing throw pillow, a joke gift from Ryan, was in terrible taste by anyone’s standards. His boyfriend Michael, who’d stayed with Tyler longer than anyone else, had found the apartment embarrassing. “It’s a bit … overdetermined, don’t you think?” he’d said once. “If you were really comfortable being gay, you wouldn’t have to perform gay with such an excess of zeal.” Tyler wasn’t sure he believed in such a thing as too much zeal. But he couldn’t help wondering what someone like Kevin thought of him.
Tyler crossed his arms and watched Kevin as he made his way into the living room. Tinkerbell, who was shy with everyone but Tyler, had gone into hiding, but Puck was on the arm of the couch, and Kevin paused to rub Puck’s head.
Kevin was wearing jeans again today, a plain oatmeal t-shirt, dirty sneakers. The t-shirt might have been wheat, Tyler mused; it had a lightly-toasted quality to it. Kevin wore a watch, something bulky with a black band, but no jewelry. He looked around curiously at all of Tyler’s stuff.
Why did he do this to himself? “Come meet my cats.” Ha. More like, “Come see the real me…and judge.” He was too friendly for his own good. Too impulsive. Too open. He had no interior life to speak of; he was all surface. Not in a bad way, he thought. Not in a shallow way. In an open way. In a brave way. In an honest way.
But right now, as Kevin leaned in close to get a good look at a shelf full of fairies, Tyler wished a visit to his apartment wasn’t tantamount to a stroll through his psyche.
“Can I touch them?” Kevin asked.
Tyler said, “Oh, sure. As long as it’s not the bad touch.”
Kevin turned around and smiled at him. “This one is my favorite.” He held up a fairy in ruffled thigh-high stockings decorated with crimson hearts, and a matching dress. Her white wings shaded through pink into red at the edges.
Tyler said, “I love her! I dressed as her for Halloween year before last.” He could have bitten his tongue off.
But Kevin didn’t seem put off. He raised his eyebrows. “Yeah? I’d have liked to see that.” Tyler was charmed by his friendly, teasing tone. Not attracted, by any means. Tyler wasn’t attracted to nondescript little men with no fashion sense. But there was something he liked about Kevin.
Damian had squeezed in between Kevin’s leg and the arm of his chair and was purring. Kevin had a book in his lap but wasn’t reading it; there was a cup of coffee on the side table, but he wasn’t drinking it. He needed to buy groceries, he thought, but he didn’t get up. The kitchen was nearly unpacked, but the living room was full of boxes. He supposed he could get up and start sorting books onto the shelves. He didn’t get up.
He thought about Tyler’s shelves, full of playful and unexpected things. 12-year-old girl, indeed. Kevin was related to some girls, and at least one boy, who’d love Tyler’s apartment. They’d love the fairies, the mismatched collection of old china cups and saucers, the teapot shaped like a cat. Like Tyler himself, everything in Tyler’s apartment seemed to want to be looked at. Kevin had enjoyed looking. He wanted to look again.
Kevin Goes to the Bro-B-Q
Kevin had moved just seven blocks, so except for having to climb a flight of stairs to get home, and enjoying better light in the afternoons, not much had changed for him. It was still an easy bus ride to work. He still spent most evenings alone with Damian, reading or watching movies, because he liked to be home and he liked to be alone. He volunteered one shift a week with TransLifeline, taking calls from trans people in crisis, which made him feel good but didn’t require him to go anywhere. When he needed something to do with his hands, or was inspired, he made hand-bound books, a hobby that dovetailed nicely with his work as a conservator at the university library.
His social life was perfectly satisfactory. He hung out a few times a month with his best friend Jack, and Jack’s boyfriend Darnell; he let himself be lured out to the bar for trivia night once in awhile, where he tried to compensate for his complete uselessness by standing extra rounds; and he sometimes had dinner with co-workers.
And then, of course, there were his brothers, who summoned him periodically and could not be denied. Today, they were at Hunter Ridge Municipal Park, and so he found himself pulling into the parking lot with a cooler full of pop and beer, two bags of potato chips, and a quart of deli potato salad in the car. His nephew Jamie jogged over to help him unload; Kevin noted wryly that Jamie, 14, was now taller than him.
At the pavilion, he was greeted by his brother James, who side-hugged him enthusiastically. “Welcome to the Bro-B-Q!”
“I wish you wouldn’t call it that,” Kevin said. “Bro has such unsavory connotations.”
James’s twin Timothy hugged Kevin full-on, smashing Kevin’s face into the front of his sweaty t-shirt and whacking him vigorously on the back, as if Kevin’s lungs needed clearing. “I’m so glad to see you, bro!” he said. He pulled off Kevin’s cap, kissed him enthusiastically on the top of the head, and slapped his cap crookedly back on before letting him go.
Kevin adjusted his cap. He came from a tall family. He tried not to let it make him bitter.
The twins were just two days shy of a year younger than Kevin, and their youngest brother, Darwin, was born before Kevin turned three. Their mother had always said that she liked babies so much that she started working on the next one as soon as the first one was born. Kevin and his brothers had not cared to think too closely about that.
Darwin came up and draped an arm over Kevin’s shoulders. He was balancing a toddler on the opposite hip. The Bros always hugged Kevin like they hadn’t seen him in months, even if, like now, they’d all been together just a few weeks ago for one of the kids’ birthdays. The Bros didn’t hug each other; they fist-bumped or punched each other in the arm or just nodded and said, “Hey.” But they hugged Kevin. Back in the day, they’d hugged him because he was their sister, and when he began his transition, they hugged him even more. They’d been surprised and confused; they’d struggled with his new name and pronouns; they’d avoided asking stupid questions by asking none at all. But they were determined to show him they still loved him, so they hugged him. They hugged him hello. They hugged him good-bye. They hugged him, sometimes, just for the hell of it. They overdid the hugging the way they overdid everything. They always had been, and still were, like a litter of enthusiastic puppies, always knocking the wind out of him with their slobbery affection.
Darwin beamed down at him. “It’s good to see you, little brother!”
“That joke is hilarious no matter how many times I hear it,” Kevin said, “because I’m the oldest, but ironically the shortest. Now give me the baby.” Kevin’s brothers had produced, married into, or adopted eleven children, and this was the youngest of them. His name was, sadly, Norman, and he’d inherited his mother’s unfortunate ears, but he was cheerful as a lark. Norman and Kevin were very glad to see each other.
Norman pointed at a large beach ball under a nearby tree. Kevin set him down and Norman staggered eagerly toward it, still pointing. Kevin ambled after him. Time to play ball.
The Bros weren’t the only ones enjoying the beautiful day. Tyler, for instance, was currently rollerblading the river trail with Ryan. They’d skated about four miles so far, and were approaching the park, where they planned to lunch on hot dogs and ice cream bars at the concession stand near the splash pad. The trail ran down a long slow grade along this stretch, and they were moving fast. Ryan started to pull ahead, and Tyler reached out to grab his hand. They coasted into the park together.
For the past two weeks, although Kevin had very much wanted to see Tyler again, he hadn’t. He’d heard Tyler’s door opening and closing from time to time, but hadn’t caught sight of him. Nor had Kevin simply knocked on his door. Or left him a note. It would be too obvious to do anything like that. No, he needed to exploit an accidental meeting. He imagined running into Tyler on the front steps again and inviting him up to visit Damian. Or maybe he’d pretend to doubt the existence of Tinkerbell, who hadn’t come out of hiding the day he was there. “How do I know you really have a second cat?” he’d ask, and Tyler would take him home to prove it to him. Or maybe Kevin would say, “You know, I only drank half my cup of coffee last time—I wonder if I could have the other half now.” That was very clever, he thought. And it had only taken him an hour or so to come up with it.
But Tyler wasn’t on his way to the laundry room when Kevin came home from work, or on his way back from getting donuts as Kevin was leaving in the morning, or checking his mail as Kevin was heading out for a bike ride on a Saturday afternoon. For someone who liked to be looked at, he was proving to be surprisingly hard to see.
Kevin and Norman’s beach ball had attracted a small crowd of preschoolers. A couple of them were Kevin’s niblings, but most of them were strangers. Some were probably part of the Bro-B-Q, the children of his brothers’ friends or in-laws or co-workers, and some were probably from neighboring picnics. He didn’t care. He’d take all comers.
A wild kick from a stocky little redhead sent the beach ball flying, and Kevin chased it. He grabbed the ball, straightened up, and there was Tyler, skating down the river trail hand-in-hand with another man. Kevin watched the two of them as they coasted to a bench, laughing, and sat down hip-to-hip, bending to undo their skates. It hadn’t occurred to him until right then that seeing Tyler could be worse than not seeing Tyler. But it was.
Tyler tied his laces together and slung his skates over his shoulder. Ryan had carried shoes in his backpack, but Tyler was barefoot. “Really, Tyler?” Ryan said as they started walking toward the concession stand. “Dogs poop here, you know.”
Tyler ignored him.
Ryan said, “Children puke up soda and birthday cake.”
Tyler said nothing.
Ryan said, “Bird poop. Squirrel corpses. Salty snack foods spilled everywhere.”
Tyler said, “Oh, my god.”
“It was the salty snack foods that got you? I only said that because it looks like somebody dropped a bag of Cheetos, but it’s not like you can’t walk around that stuff, it’s bright orange.”
“No, it’s that neighbor I told you about, with the cat. Kevin. Look.”
Ryan looked. Some very organized people had taken over one of the pavilions. Picnic tables covered in matching tablecloths were lined up neatly. One was half-covered with 2-liter bottles; another with packages of hot dog and hamburger buns in tidy rows, bags of chips, pyrex dishes and deli containers, plastic plates and napkins; another was being used by some teenagers to play a card game. A huge cooler on wheels was parked near the grills. “MEAT” had been spelled out on the side of it in bright orange tape. A matching cooler sitting near the drinks table said “NO MEAT.” Two trash cans near the drinks table were labeled “RECYCLING” and “ICE.” A circle of people in folding chairs sat in the shade of some trees; they were laughing. One guy was standing by the grill with tongs in his hand, and a matching guy was standing there with him, holding a beer. And there was a guy rolling a beach ball around with some little kids.
Ryan said, “Which one’s Kevin?”
Tyler said, “Beach ball.”
“Let’s go say hi!” Ryan grabbed Tyler’s hand and pulled him in Kevin’s direction.
Kevin’s family were appalled by Ryan and Tyler’s plan to eat at the concession stand, and invited them to lunch. Kevin said hello to Tyler, and nice to meet you to Ryan. Having exhausted his capacity to deal with the unexpected, he used Norman to facilitate an escape. He fed the baby some applesauce, changed his diaper, and dressed him in a clean shirt. Darwin’s girlfriend Mel fixed a bottle, and Kevin lounged in a folding chair, Norman nestled in the curve of his arm. Norman went to sleep halfway through his bottle, and this suited Kevin just fine. He rubbed Norman’s back with his free hand, and closed his eyes on the sight of Tyler and Ryan chattering and laughing with one of his sisters-in-law. He tried not to think about anything but how good it felt to hold a sleeping baby on a warm spring day.
He didn’t realize he’d begun to doze off until he was startled awake by Tyler saying, “Hey there! I brought you a burger. Your brother did the toppings. He said it was what you’d want, but I’m not sure. Do you really like a slice of beet on it?”
Kevin said, “Yeah, I was in Australia for awhile, and I guess it stuck.” It was typical of the Bros that they’d brought beetroot just for him. He reached out with his free hand to take the plate Tyler was holding, and then didn’t know what to do with it. Tyler tipped his head and grinned. Kevin could hardly stand how cute that was.
“I can take the baby,” Tyler said, “or I can take the plate and leave you with just the burger.”
Kevin opted to keep the baby. Instead of walking back to the picnic tables, Tyler pulled a chair over and sat down. “Your family is certainly…”
Kevin took a bite of his burger while he waited to hear what Tyler came up with. Nice, maybe? Friendly?
After a moment, Tyler said, “Boisterous,” and Kevin laughed.
“That’s a good word for it,” he said.
“And fertile. You have how many brothers, and they have how many kids?”
“I have three brothers, two sisters-in-law, a long-term girlfriend-in-law, and eleven niblings.”
“The offspring of my siblings. It seems like there are more of them because they’re very loud and move around a lot. Also the Bros tend to roll up other people into the swarm like a big human Katamari. I’ve never seen some of these people before in my life.”
Tyler said, “You call them The Bros?”
Kevin said, “They call themselves that.”
Tyler frowned a little. “But not you?”
Kevin didn’t know what to say to that, so he focused on eating. He made a little show of re-settling Norman so he wouldn’t have to look up.
Tyler said, “Two of your brothers are identical twins! Timothy and…”
Tyler grinned. “Tim and Jim?”
“And for a brief, horrible period in early elementary school, Timmy and Jimmy. I might have had something to do with that.” He was gratified when Tyler laughed, and it emboldened him to continue. “The really hilarious part is that my mom didn’t want them to have matching twin names. She chose their names specifically because they weren’t anything like each other. The rhyming nickname thing never occurred to her. She was like that. She’d miss the most obvious things, but when it came to big stuff, nothing surprised her.” Like James and his girlfriend having a baby their junior year of college. Or Kevin’s gender transition.
Tyler said, “She sounds like Alec Bings.”
Kevin looked at him questioningly.
“From The Phantom Tollbooth. I’m Alec Bings,” Tyler quoted. “I see through things. I can see whatever is inside, behind, around, covered by, or subsequent to anything else. In fact, the only thing I can’t see is whatever happens to be right in front of my nose.”
Kevin said, “Ha! That was my mother exactly. That’s a kids’ book, right?”
Tyler said, “Not just a kids’ book. The kids’ book.”
“You must really like it if you can quote it like that.”
“I do like it, but being able to quote kids’ books is an occupational hazard. I’m a children’s librarian.”
Kevin said, "You're a librarian? I --" but just then Ryan called to Tyler, pointing to an imaginary watch, and the two of them took off in a flurry of good-byes and nice-to-meet-yous. Kevin let himself admire Tyler as he skated gracefully off, and then tucked his nose into Norman's hair and took a big comforting breath of baby.
Kevin is a Barbarian
Two books sat on Kevin’s kitchen table. One of them, a copy of The Phantom Tollbooth, had been in a gift bag hanging off his doorknob a couple of mornings after the Bro-B-Q. “To Kevin, who has plenty of time,” had been written inside the cover in hot pink glitter gel. Kevin had had to read the book to get the reference.
The other was not so much a book as a notebook. Its cover was lilac, and the interior pages were a very pale blue. Kevin had stenciled one corner of the cover with the silhouette of a fairy lying on her stomach, reading a book. Kevin had outlined her wings with a delicate line of glitter. He had sewn it together with a dark purple linen thread. It was perfect for Tyler, he thought.
It was also too much. Tyler had given him a $6 paperback copy of a classic children’s book. That meant Kevin was allowed to give him something in return. Kevin could give Tyler a novel, for instance, something he liked and wanted to share. Or he could bake him a batch of cookies. Or he could offer him a cold beer. What was called for here, he knew, was a friendly and casual gesture of appreciation between neighbors.
A hand-made fairy notebook was not a friendly and casual gesture of appreciation. Too much thought had gone into it; too much time and effort. Too much of Kevin. He might as well have made Tyler a heart-shaped pillow. With lace.
Kevin sighed. He missed Henry. He and Henry had been happy, and if they had still been living together in their little house near campus they’d have still been happy. The trouble with grad students, though, was that they eventually finished their degrees and went where they could find work, which in Henry’s case was a small college in North Carolina. Kevin wished he hadn’t had to go; right up until the last moment, he’d clung to the fantasy that Henry would find something within a couple hours’ drive, and their relationship wouldn’t have to end. It would just have to adjust.
Kevin knew exactly what Henry would say to that, because he’d heard Henry say it so many times: their relationship hadn’t had to end. Henry had wanted Kevin to go to North Carolina with him, and Kevin had wanted to want that, too. He had tried to believe he might do it, and so had Henry, but Kevin loved his job, and, more than that, he needed to be near his family. They’d pretended Kevin had a decision to make, but they both knew he didn’t. Not really.
After his job and his family, the thing Kevin loved most was a committed long-term relationship. He’d never been single so long before, and, being a romantic of a very pragmatic kind, he’d never been prone to hopeless crushes on unattainable men, either. He was lonely and filled with longing, and had little practice with either.
Kevin tapped the corner of the fairy notebook against the table. He hadn’t been this excited about anybody since the early days with Matt, his lover before Henry. His relationship with Henry had been a slow-growing plant, only coming into full bloom after years of cautious unfolding. Tyler was like a stick of dynamite with the fuse lit.
Well. He certainly couldn’t give Tyler the fairy notebook. But his parents would have been very disappointed if he hadn’t at least written a thank-you note.
Kevin opened his door to a knock the following evening to find Tyler standing there, holding the note Kevin had left for him on the way to work that morning. “Oh—hi,” Kevin said.
Tyler held up the note and read in a monotone, “Thank you for the book. I enjoyed it very much.” He looked at Kevin and raised an eyebrow.
Kevin was pretty sure the eyebrow meant that he’d disappointed Tyler somehow. He said uncertainly, “I did like it.”
Tyler sighed and rested a hand on his hip. “And is that all you have to say about it? Really?”
“Did you want a book report? You should have specified.”
Tyler laughed. “I do want a book report. It doesn’t have to be written. You could deliver it orally, over a cup of tea or a glass of wine.”
Kevin didn’t know what to say.
Tyler said, “That was a hint to invite me in. Would you like a cup of tea, Tyler? you might have said. Or, if you wanted to pick up on the double-entendre, you might have said something like, I can do oral.”
Kevin chose the safer option. “Would you like a cup of tea, Tyler?”
“I’d love one. I’m parched. So kind of you to offer. Shall I make myself comfortable while you put the kettle on?”
Kevin couldn’t help laughing. “You don’t really need me for this conversation at all, do you?”
“I can do both parts if I have to, but it’s draining and it worries my therapist.”
“Well, c’mon in, then. I’ll try to do my share. I have green tea, English breakfast, and PG Tips.” He stepped back and opened the door wider.
Tyler stepped inside. “PG Tips would be lovely. I don’t suppose you have Jaffa cakes?”
“Since I’m not a British housewife, that would be a no. I might have some shortbread.”
Tyler said with exaggerated forbearance, “It will do.” Kevin wanted to squeeze him like a plush kitten.
When Kevin came out of the kitchen with the tea and cookies, Tyler was slouched against the arm of the couch, his legs curled up beside him. Damian, that hussy, had already jumped up to be petted. Tyler’s hair was loose. He wore a faded t-shirt that said, “Take a look, it’s in a book,” and with it, a dark blue cotton skirt with white polka-dots that turned out to be tiny daisies when seen up close. Kevin had seen men wear skirts like this before, not like they were in drag but casually, and he’d always approved of it in a “fuck your gender” kind of way. Until now, he’d never found it sexy. But there was something about the way the skirt draped over Tyler’s slender calves. Everything under the skirt was both hidden and accessible. This, it turned out, was a very exciting combination.
He sat down in the easy chair and said, “You’re not wearing shoes. You weren’t wearing shoes at the park, either.”
“Do you disapprove?”
“I wonder why.”
“I like the feel of things on my feet. Fresh-cut grass, soft carpets, cool tile, warm cement, smooth wood floors—”
Kevin said, “Toast crumbs, dust bunnies, bits of litter the cats have tracked around. Tell me, which is better: the warm sliminess of a fresh hairball, or the damp clamminess of one that’s been there for awhile?”
Tyler laughed. “You sound just like Ryan.”
Kevin didn’t care to be reminded of Ryan. He said, “The tea’s ready,” as if Tyler hadn’t just seen him set a tray down.
Tyler raised the Eyebrow of Disapproval again. “Tea in mugs? Are we barbarians?”
Kevin bristled a little. “At least some of us wear shoes.” It didn’t come out as lightly as he had meant it to, but Tyler laughed anyway.
“Touché!” he said. “I will drink my barbarian tea without complaint, while you give your book report. Was this the first time you’d read it?”
Kevin said, “When I was the age for it, I only read books about penguins and volcanoes, so I missed a lot of the classics.”
“More science-minded, then?”
“It was a phase.”
“You didn’t devote your life to penguins and volcanoes?”
“No, I’m a book guy. Did I not tell you I’m also a librarian?”
Tyler gasped and put on hand to his chest. “No! How could you not have mentioned it?”
Kevin shrugged. “I think I was about to tell you at the park, but then you and Ryan left.”
“Ryan is always in a hurry to get to the next thing. He’s not much for savoring the moment. He’s like Milo that way: Wherever he is, he’s thinking about being somewhere else, and when he gets there, he wonders why he bothered.” Ryan was the boyfriend, Kevin reminded himself. When the boyfriend said, “Time to go,” Tyler got up and walked away from Kevin mid-sentence. He shouldn’t let himself forget that.
Tyler said, “Where do you work?”
Kevin said, “I’m a conservator at the university.”
Tyler loved his job, but the men he dated had never been impressed by it. Dan hadn’t understood why children needed their own librarian. Ben had considered “children’s literature” a contradiction in terms. Brandon said Tyler would never grow up if he kept spending so much time around children. Carey thought it should be beneath Tyler to work in a field dominated by women, though he knew better than to put it in exactly those terms. Michael had been glad that Tyler liked his job so much, but never could understand why he’d needed a master’s degree to do it.
Even within the profession, Tyler had encountered more than his share of homophobes, sexists, and pompous, self-satisfied snobs. He seemed to bring it out in them. Kevin didn’t strike him as that kind of person, but it was hard to think of two branches of librarianship more different than children’s librarian and conservationist. Tyler spent his time cutting out duck-shaped name tags for toddler story time, and reminding the after-school crowd to keep their voices down. He found the next volume of Captain Underpants for impatient 8-year-olds and Everyone Poops for toilet-training parents. Kevin’s patrons were scholars. He kept aging books in circulation, and preserved rare manuscripts, parchment, and ephemera, because they might otherwise be lost, and they were too important to be lost.
Tyler said, “And here I thought we finally found something we had in common.”
Kevin looked puzzled. “Don’t we?”
“Oh, yes, our work is exactly the same.” Tyler winced at how sarcastic he sounded. Where was it coming from? He tried to shut up, but shutting up was not in his skill set. “Half of my patrons aren’t toilet-trained, the other half are wildly hormonal, and their parents are always raising a stink because they want us to take The Kite Runner or The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian out of the collection. Do you even have patrons? Or do you spend all your time in the third sub-basement of the Bradley Memorial Library, pasting new endpapers into books nobody’s read in a hundred years and won’t read for the next hundred?”
Tyler had sat up straight at some point during his speech, his bare feet slapping onto the wood floor. Damian, startled out of a doze, fled to the bedroom. Tyler wasn’t sure where his vehemence was coming from, but he didn’t think he could stand it if Kevin looked down on him for being so femme, for working with kids, for being frivolous.
Tyler liked Kevin, and he didn’t even know why. Kevin was not interesting. He obviously bought his t-shirts in multi-packs; his beard was nothing but haphazardly-groomed scruff; and Tyler didn’t even know about his hair because he’d never seen Kevin when he wasn’t wearing a snap-back cap. Kevin was in his own house, for Christ’s sake, all alone and supposedly relaxing, and he’d answered the door fully dressed from his cap to his dirty sneakers.
What had Tyler expected? It had been Kevin’s brothers, not Kevin, who invited Ryan and Tyler to join them at the park. Kevin had barely even spoken to him until Tyler went to find him. Kevin had taken a week to say anything about the book Tyler had given him, and then it had been a thank-you note so dry and cold Tyler was surprised a Mars Rover hadn’t landed on it. It certainly hadn’t been an invitation to drop by unannounced, let alone an invitation to come in for tea. Tyler had invited himself in, and Kevin had been too polite not to let him.
Tyler stood up. “I should go. I’m sorry I bothered you. I’m glad you liked the book.”
Kevin stood up too. “OK. But. Well. It seems like you’re mad at me, and I don’t know why.”
Tyler blinked a few times. “I’m not mad. I’m….” Being unnecessarily dramatic, Brandon would have said. Exhausting, Ben had called him. Paul: Awfully intense. Carey: A little embarrassing. Dan: Seriously lacking in self-control. Michael, the one who’d come closest to really loving him: Not worth the trouble. He thought maybe he was going to cry, but he was determined not to do it until he was back in his own apartment.
Kevin was looking at him with concern. “Maybe you need to eat. Have you had supper? I don’t cook but I could heat up some soup or cut up some cheese, if you wanted.”
“No, I should go.”
“I wish you wouldn’t.”
“Are you sure? I didn’t mean to be so….”
Kevin huffed at him. “I’m sure. Sit down.” Tyler sat down. Kevin came around the coffee table and pulled a blanket off the back of the couch. “I know it’s not cold, but I’m going to tuck you in anyway because it feels good to be tucked in.” He nudged Tyler until Tyler turned sideways and put his feet up. Kevin wrapped the blanket around his legs, snugging it down tight. “That feels good, right?”
Tyler said, “Maybe.”
Kevin laughed again. “You’re cute when you’re sulky. Here, take your barbaric mug. It’s comforting and will give you something to do with your hands.” Kevin sat back down in his chair and picked up his own tea. There was a long silence, during which Tyler stared down at his tea, Kevin gazed off into the distance, and Damian crept back into the room and into Tyler’s lap again.
Finally, Kevin said, “I can’t think what I said to make you angry.”
Tyler sighed. “You didn’t say anything. That was all me. With an assist from the Greek Chorus of ex-boyfriends and library school snobs.”
Kevin nodded. “Do I need to beat anyone up?”
Tyler said teasingly, “Could you?”
Kevin shook his head. “Almost certainly not. The Bros, though, would probably do it.”
Tyler didn’t think so. “I know I’ve just met them, but that doesn’t seem like their style.”
Kevin admitted that was true. “But on the other hand,” he said, “if you ever need anyone fed or housed, you could do worse.”
“My burger was really good at the barbecue.”
“Of course it was. James is some kind of meat connoisseur. He didn’t tell you the cow’s name, which farmer raised it, which of several humane methods of slaughter were used, which cuts of meat were used for the ground beef, or whether James ground it himself or let the processor do it?”
“No. He did say that if I liked the hamburger, I should come over for steak sometime, or for a nice brisket.”
Kevin nodded. “That’s his modus operandi, all right. You get the free hamburger, but you have to pay for it in future sit-down meals at which James will explain exactly how much sustainably-raised beef we can each eat without destroying the environment, and how much it will cost us. He will also show you his meat.”
Tyler snorted tea. Kevin said, “Actual meat. In his meat freezer.”
“His freezer full of meat.”
And somehow, that made them both burst out laughing.
Kevin and Tyler in Hollywood
When the movie version of Kevin and Tyler’s story is made, Tyler will be played by a straight actor who refuses to wear skirts. Someone will decide it would fit the character better if he worked in fashion or the hospitality industry, and by the time the third of five screenwriters has finished with the script, all references to his master’s degree and his passion for literature will have been replaced with quips about Drag Race, Beyonce, and the Kardashians. In a scene that reviewers will describe as a comedy high point, he will have a panic attack in the men’s room at an upscale restaurant when he discovers an errant eyebrow hair.
Movie Kevin will realize Actual Kevin’s lifelong dream of being 5’ 10”, as it will be decided that it is “unrealistic” for the more feminine man to be taller. Kevin will also be played by a straight actor, because, as the director will say in interview after interview, “It’s not about sexuality. It’s about finding the best actor for the role.” That the best actor for the role is also cisgendered goes without saying. Kevin will be given a tragic backstory, and in a scene that reviewers will call “authentic,” “heart-breaking,” and “an Oscar-worthy moment for this courageous performer,” Kevin will be shown in a room illuminated only by his laptop screen, as he clicks through page after page of pornographic photos. The camera moves in ever-closer to the models’ erect penises; the pictures fly by faster and faster, until, finally, distraught over his longing for what he will never have, Kevin sweeps the laptop off the table and buries his face in his arms, the very image of despair.
That said, the getting-to-know-you montage that comes after that first evening in Kevin’s apartment is not bad. We see Kevin knocking hesitantly at Tyler’s door, and then the two of them eating ice cream cones as they walk through the park. We see Kevin blush and look pleased as Tyler runs his hand flirtatiously up Kevin’s arm; we see Kevin look downcast as Tyler flirts with a server, a patron at the upscale men’s clothing boutique where he works, his boyfriend Ryan. We see Tyler meet Kevin’s family (reduced to a single brother, his wife, and two young children who are given no lines and quickly disappear to play in another room). We see them laughing as they share takeout on the couch in Tyler’s colorful but tasteful and uncluttered apartment; we see Kevin’s smile fade as he spots Ryan and Tyler going out in club clothes on a Saturday night, and we see him turn sadly away from the window when they kiss good-bye on the front stoop the next morning.
What is happening between them? Neither one knows. They are both confused by Tyler’s behavior. Kevin doesn’t know what it means when Tyler flirts with him, or touches him, or stands too close. Tyler flirts with everyone. He touches everyone. He stands too close to everyone.
And Tyler doesn’t know what it means that, although he tells himself that Kevin is exactly the kind of man he is not interested in, he says yes to every one of Kevin’s invitations. No matter how busy he is with his other friends or with Ryan, he finds, to his astonishment, that he feels lonely if he hasn’t seen Kevin in a few days. Eventually, he addresses this loneliness by knocking on Kevin’s door. He makes his way, again and again, to Kevin’s apartment. He does not understand this urge, but he acts on it, as he has always yielded to his inclinations and indulged his desires.
This part of the story, and these feelings, are exactly the same for the boys in the movie and the real boys who met-cute over an errant cat. Therefore, let us pop the disappointing DVD out of the video player, and return to our own Kevin and Tyler. I suspect that we are in as much danger of falling in love with them, as they are of falling in love with each other.
Tyler Invites Ryan to Dinner
One day, Tyler came into Kevin’s apartment to find the couch shoved awkwardly into the corner to make room for a table Tyler hadn’t seen before. The table held an ancient-looking metal device with large flat plates and a crank handle on top. “Kevin, honey,” Tyler said, “you have some kind of medieval torture device set up in here.”
Kevin tried not to flush at honey. “It’s a book press. I’m binding a book for Diana’s birthday.” Diana was James’ wife. Tyler had met her when they’d invited him and Kevin to brunch.
“You bind books? For fun?”
“Sure, why not? You read books for fun, don’t you?”
Tyler said, “Touché! What are you making for her?”
“I’m not really making her anything. She likes Anne Sexton, so I bought an old copy of Transformations, and I’m putting a new binding on it.” Kevin pointed out various bits and bobs scattered over the table. “Fabric-covered boards, nice endpapers, ribbons for marking pages.”
“Wow. That’s really cool.”
Kevin shrugged. “I guess it is. I’m always doing books for gifts, though. Journals, notebooks, re-bound books like this one. I think it gets pretty old after awhile.”
Tyler didn’t think it would get old. Tyler thought it would feel pretty nice, to get a book like that from Kevin. He found himself hoping that maybe one day he would, and had to remind himself once again that he wasn’t attracted to Kevin. Because Kevin was not the kind of guy he was attracted to.
One hot night after he’d worked until closing time, Tyler came into Kevin’s apartment and found him on the couch, typing something on his phone. There were two empty beer bottles on the end table next to him. He glanced up, and Tyler showed him the the pint of Ben & Jerry’s he was carrying, two spoons sticking jauntily up out of it. Kevin smiled and said, “Ooh, my hero! I’m just chatting with Jack, I’ll wrap it up.”
Tyler dropped a book onto the coffee table, and dug into the ice cream while he waited for Kevin. Kevin was wearing navy cargo shorts, a light ash grey t-shirt, and crew socks. Tyler was embarrassed by how much he liked to see Kevin in his crew socks. They weren’t sexy or cool or trendy or quirky or charming or stylish. They were boring. But when Kevin took his shoes off, it meant he was relaxed. When he put his feet on the coffee table, it meant he was really relaxed. Relaxed Kevin talked a little more than usual. Relaxed Kevin laughed more than usual. Relaxed Kevin sometimes flirted back. Tyler liked it when Kevin flirted back. He always liked knowing men found him attractive, even if he wasn’t interested in them.
Tyler put his feet on the coffee table, too, and let one foot nudge Kevin’s. Usually when he did things like that, Kevin pulled away. Gently, and always trying to look as if he didn’t even notice he was doing it. But sometimes, if he was in the right mood, he let Tyler keep touching him. It wasn’t much, his bare foot against Kevin’s clean white sock, but Tyler was a touchy person, so he liked it. He couldn’t stop himself from running his toe along Kevin’s instep. To his surprise, Kevin responded by pressing his foot into Tyler’s. Kevin said, “You look pretty tonight.”
Kevin had to be very relaxed, a little distracted, and possibly tipsy to let something like that slip out.
After a minute, Kevin looked up from his phone, and saw the book. Tyler brought Kevin a new book every week or so. He didn’t understand that any better than he understood his affection for Kevin’s stupid white socks. It was just an impulse he had, ever since he’d met Kevin and given him The Phantom Tollbooth. Tyler had never been able to resist his impulses. This time the book was Two Boys Kissing. They were good enough friends now that he could safely give Kevin a kissing book, he thought, without anything being read into it. Anyway, it was Tyler’s new favorite and he wanted everyone to read it.
Kevin picked the book up and looked at it. “You don’t have to buy books for me, you know. If there’s something you think I should read, you could just bring it home from the library.”
Tyler dismissed that with an airy hand. “Oh, nonsense. If I just wanted you to read some books, I’d type up a list. I’m helping you build your library of classic and contemporary young adult literature.”
Kevin laughed. “I see. I’m very grateful, in that case. If only you knew how many times I’d stood in this very room and thought, the one thing this place is missing is a library of classic and contemporary young adult literature.”
“You’ll thank me when all those children you’re related to are like, Oh, Uncle Kevin, you have the best books, we had no idea you were so interesting and cool. Besides, I found the teacup you so cleverly hid in my cupboard. Consider this a thank you.”
Kevin had taken to picking up little odds and ends he thought Tyler might like. First there had been a vintage barrette for Tyler’s ponytail, which Kevin found while passing through a sidewalk craft fair on his walk home from work. Too shy to actually give it to Tyler, he’d slipped it into the jumble of elastics, clips, and hairbands that lived in a basket in Tyler’s bathroom.
When he found it, Tyler was as delighted with the surprise as with the barrette. Thus encouraged, Kevin had continued with other things he happened upon: he’d tucked a fairy door into the corner of Tyler’s living room, for instance, and left a pad of cat-shaped sticky notes near the other office supplies where Tyler sat to pay bills. The teacup Tyler had just found was shaped like a lily; the saucer, a lilypad.
If Kevin’s definition of “happened upon” had been stretched beyond recognition, if his walks home had started to take him into and out of an increasing number of junk shops, flea markets, and occasionally even Claire’s, well, that was nobody’s business but Kevin’s. His shopping history at Etsy, likewise. Where else could he find things like the vintage gay pride “Juicy Fruit” button that was still waiting to be discovered in Tyler’s junk drawer?
He tried to tell himself that the trinkets he bought Tyler were the same as the books Tyler bought him: small friendly gestures. What else could they be? Whatever Kevin might find himself wishing for, he knew better than to let wishing become hope. But there was no reason he couldn’t indulge himself in pleasing Tyler. Pleasing Tyler had become one of his favorite pastimes.
Kevin gestured with his phone and said, “Jack wonders if we want to have dinner with him tomorrow night, if you’re not working late. He thinks I’m hiding something because he hasn’t met you yet. He says I’m too old for an imaginary friend, and he wants me to prove you exist.”
Tyler laughed. “Surely the Bros can vouch for my existence.”
“Jack thinks they’re humoring me. He notices that you’re never at the same Bro events that he is.”
Tyler put a finger on his chin and looked thoughtful. “Hmm. That is suspicious. Has it occurred to anyone that Jack and I might be the same person?”
“We can prove you’re not if we have dinner together tomorrow. Does that work for you?”
“Sure. I get off work at six.”
Kevin smiled. “Jack will be so happy to know you’re a real boy.”
Kevin got to Tyler’s library early the next day; he’d tried to make himself stay late at work, but he was nervous and excited, and it made him restless. He found Tyler at the info desk in the kids’ collection, putting tape flags in publishers’ catalogs. Tyler was wearing a short-sleeve dress shirt with the collar button undone, a tie he’d artfully loosened, and a sweater vest. His hair was in a sloppy bun, and he was wearing glasses. As a concession to professionalism he had on only about half his usual number of bracelets.
Kevin said, “Are the glasses a fashion statement, or functional?”
Tyler looked up at him. “Can’t they be both?”
“On you, they’d have to be. Everything you own is a fashion statement.”
Tyler scoffed. “Everything everyone owns is a fashion statement. I usually wear contacts, but I was aiming for hot nerd today. I’m excited to learn that you own a shirt with buttons.”
Kevin glanced down at himself. “Oh, yeah. I own a bunch, in a wide variety of styles. Solid blue, blue plaid, that other blue plaid, and, for when I’m feeling really daring, that one blue plaid with the green stripe.”
Tyler said, “Are you color-blind?”
“I’m just wondering how many different colors you’re calling blue.”
“Just one: the blue color.”
Tyler sighed. “Oh, honey. Sometime I’m going to show you how wrong you are about that. Pull up a chair and keep me company. I’ve got another twenty minutes or so, and I’m doing collection development.”
Kevin did as he was told, settling down a few feet away from Tyler. “Collection development? Is that what they’re calling ‘flipping through catalogs’ these days?”
Tyler said, “It’s a tough job, etc.”
Kevin pulled his kindle out of his bag and started reading. Tyler said, “I continue to be bemused that a man whose mission in life is the preservation of printed materials, and who makes books by hand for fun, does so much of his reading electronically.”
Kevin shrugged. “I am large. I contain multitudes.”
“Ah, the out-of-context Whitman quote. Where did you hear that, Facebook?”
“That was not Facebook Whitman. That was I’ve-read-the-poem Whitman.”
Tyler snorted. “Prove it.”
Kevin thought for a minute, but nothing came to him. He said, “I don’t really have a great memory for that kind of thing.”
Tyler gave him a disappointed look, and recited:
Listener up there! what have you to confide to me?
Look in my face while I snuff the sidle of evening,
(Talk honestly, no one else hears you, and I stay only a minute longer.)
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
Kevin said, “Wow.”
Tyler waved an airy hand. “It’s no big deal. English major, retentive memory, gay as fu—heck. I’ve got scads of Whitman in here.” He tapped his head. “I’ll do some of the man-on-man-action ones for you later.”
That flustered Kevin, and to hide it, he went back to reading. Tyler went back to his stack of publishers’ catalogs. After a couple of minutes, Tyler said, “What are you reading?”
“It’s called Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II.”
Tyler said, “You are doing the kindle all wrong. Don’t you know it exists so you can read porn on the bus?”
“Why would anyone want to read porn on the bus?”
“As usual, you’re missing the point.”
Kevin said mildly, “You’re on the clock,” and went back to his book.
Kevin let his hand rest on the small of Tyler’s back as they went through the library door. He opened Tyler’s door for him under the pretext of unlocking the car from the curb side. He liked having Tyler in his car. With both of them still dressed up in their work clothes, and on their way to a decent steakhouse for dinner, he couldn’t help feeling a little bit like they were on a date.
Tyler said, “Oh, hey, did I mention that Ryan is going to meet us at the restaurant?”
Kevin’s fantasy evaporated. “Ryan? No, you didn’t mention it.”
“Well, he’s been wanting to get to know you better, and I thought we could kill two birds with one stone. Jack can meet me, Ryan can interrogate you, they can meet each other. it’ll be fun.”
Kevin heart sank, but he mustered as much fake cheerfulness as he could. “Yeah, it’ll be great.”
Kevin and Jack hugged hello, the barest touch of chests and friendly back-slaps. It was their “saw you recently” hug. Jack’s edges were razor-sharp and he smelled like shea butter and So Sof Fro; he must have stopped by the barber shop after work.
Tyler hugged Ryan like he hadn’t seen him in ages, although Kevin knew they’d gone out dancing the previous Saturday. Ryan said, “Ty, you look adorable!” Ty.
Tyler said, “You know I always dress up for you, baby,” and Ryan laughed and pulled Tyler in for a quick peck on the lips.
Tyler stroked a hand down Ryan’s front and said, with a sly glance at Kevin, “Your shirt is such a lovely azure.” The azure shirt was silky, and when Ryan stretched his arm along the back of the booth behind Tyler, Kevin saw that it had french cuffs. Kevin had never before seen french cuffs on a person who wasn’t in a wedding party or receiving an Academy Award. Ryan looked at Jack and Kevin with open friendliness, and Kevin felt petty for wanting to dislike him. He felt weak for letting Ryan make him feel drab. He hated how good Tyler and Ryan looked together, and he hated the sympathy he could feel radiating off Jack. He wanted a drink. He wanted two.
He ordered club soda. Tyler had a Cosmo. Jack, Ryan, and the server had a long conversation about beer that ended with Jack and Ryan ordering flights of microbrews. They seemed to like each other. Kevin was miserable.
Tyler gestured with his glass. “Look at them, bonding over the brews. Ryan thinks I’m a cretin because I like mixed drinks and Mike’s Hard Raspberry.”
Kevin said, “Jack treats beer like fine wine. He makes you try new kinds, and the whole time you drink it he’s talking about how it’s malty or grassy or has a leathery note or a grapefruit overtone.”
Ryan must have heard them. “Are you two making fun of us?”
Tyler said, “Of course not! We’re respecting your commitment to the manly art of brewing and consuming fermented malt beverages.”
Jack asked Ryan. “Oh, are you a brewer?”
Ryan said, “I’ve been thinking about giving it a try.”
Jack nodded. “I’ve been brewing for a couple of years. When Henry and Kevin sold their house, I found Matt’s old brewing equipment in their basement and claimed it for my own.”
Tyler said, “I know who Henry is, but Matt?”
Jack said, “Matt was Kevin’s lover before Henry. They were together, what, 4 years? 5? Help me out here, Kev.”
Kevin wasn’t sure he wanted to get into this. “Six years.”
Jack frowned. “That can’t be right. You were with Henry for six years.”
Kevin said, “I was with Matt for six years, and I was with Henry for six years.”
Jack said, “And your first relationship? With what’s-his-name?”
Kevin rolled his eyes. “What’s-his-name and I were together five years, give or take. We really don’t need to get into all this.”
But Jack turned to Ryan and Tyler. “Do you hear that? Five years is his shortest relationship.”
Kevin said, “I beg to differ. My shortest relationship was probably about 45 minutes, from ‘is this seat taken?’ to ‘thanks for the orgasm, see you around sometime.’”
Ryan grinned. “What a coincidence! 45 minutes is the exact length of Tyler’s longest relationship.”
Tyler slapped Ryan’s arm. “Oh, shut your mouth. Michael and I were together long enough that I was actually thinking about first anniversary presents.”
Ryan said, “And just how premature was your anniversary planning?”
“Not more than two or three months. Maybe four. Shut up.” That last because Ryan had started laughing. And then, more seriously, “Anyway, it’s not fair to tease me about that. I’m not the one who did the breaking up. I’ve never been the one doing the breaking up.”
Ryan kissed Tyler’s temple. “I know, sweetie. I’m sorry.” He turned to Kevin and Jack, “Tyler is like a cake that is so delicious it makes men think they never want anything else, but then it turns out to be so rich they can’t finish it.”
Jack said, “Oh, Kevin loves cake!”
Kevin ignored Jack. “But haven’t you two been together for awhile?”
Tyler said, “You two who?”
Jack said, “You and Ryan. How long have you been together?”
Ryan looked surprised. “Tyler and I aren’t together.”
“Ryan has been dating a guy named Jeremy for, like, over a year now.” Tyler looked at Ryan. “And you started seeing Sean in…”
Ryan said, “In March.”
Kevin said, “So the two of you aren’t involved?”
Tyler said, “No! Ryan’s my best friend, my rock, my champion and defender, my agony aunt, my fashion critic, and my relationship advisor.” He gave Ryan an exaggerated smack on the cheek.
Ryan made a show of wiping it off. “Not that you ever listen to me. About the fashion or the relationships.”
Tyler said, “But he’s not my boyfriend.”
Ryan said, “Definitely not the boyfriend.” Tyler elbowed him. “Not that I wouldn’t be the luckiest and happiest of men if I were.”
Tyler laughed. “That’s more like it.”
Jack said, “You’re not together? I got a wrong impression from somewhere.” He gave Kevin a significant look.
Kevin said, “I just need to use the bathroom real quick before our food gets here,” and fled.
On the drive home, Tyler observed that Jack seemed nice, and Kevin agreed that he was. Kevin said that Ryan seemed nice, and Tyler said that was true. Tyler commented that Jack and Ryan seemed to like each other, and Kevin said that he thought he’d heard them set a time for Ryan to visit and see Jack’s brewing set-up. They agreed that dinner had been good, that the restaurant had been nice, that it was good to finally get to know each other’s friends.
It was horrible.
It was a relief that Kevin dropped Tyler off in front of the building and then went to park his car. It saved them from the awkward business of walking into the building together.
Tyler dropped onto the couch and petted the cats as they climbed over him, purring and butting him with their heads. He couldn’t quite understand why the drive home had been so awkward. So Kevin had thought he was dating Ryan. So what? Tyler flirted with Kevin because he liked flirting, and he liked it when Kevin flirted back because he liked being flirted with. It wasn’t like Tyler and Kevin were going to start dating. The idea was laughable. As if Tyler would date someone who couldn’t tell aqua from teal!
But then Tyler found himself remembering Kevin’s thoughtful attentiveness during his first brunch at James and Diana’s, how Kevin had helped Tyler navigate the crowd, how he’d made sure the tastiest dishes made it to their end of the table and onto Tyler’s plate, how he’d rested one hand on the back of Tyler’s chair as he leaned over to quietly remind Tyler of people’s names and how they were related.
He thought about his first visit to Kevin’s apartment, when Kevin hadn’t known him at all, but had taken patient care of him when he felt vulnerable and upset. He looked at the fairy door in the corner, and remembered the thrill of finding it.
Suddenly he wasn’t so sure of himself. Was it possible that Kevin wanted to date him? Was it possible that he wanted to date Kevin? Was it even possible that, somehow, they were already dating?
Tyler always knew exactly where he stood with men. He didn’t like this feeling of uncertainty. He needed to get to Kevin so he could find out what was going to happen next. He could just go down the hall—it’s not like he didn’t let himself into Kevin’s apartment a couple of times a week anyway—but now it felt awkward. Besides, if Kevin had been planning to spend the evening with him, he’d probably have said something. But maybe he was also feeling uncertain, because he liked Tyler. Or maybe he was feeling uncertain because he didn’t like Tyler, and now that he knew Tyler was single he’d want to put a little space between them, just to avoid any misunderstandings.
Tyler couldn’t stand not knowing. He texted Kevin. It’s early yet. Want to hang out?
Kevin didn’t reply right away, so Tyler fed the cats to keep himself from staring fruitlessly at his phone. Kevin still hadn’t answered, so he went into his bedroom and stripped off his work clothes. He decided to take a quick shower, but the spray felt so good he found himself dawdling. He washed and conditioned his hair; shaved his face and then, impulsively, under his arms; took his time with his body wash. He loofah’d. When he got out, he trimmed his nails and moisturized the heck out of himself. He hung his head off the edge of the bed to dry his hair. He pretended not to notice he’d fallen into his pre-date routine. He filed his nails and tried to remember he did not have a date.
It was a hot night, so he put on a crinkle cotton skirt in Bleu de France, and a racer-back tank top in a very muted rose. He poured himself a glass of water and sat back down on the couch. There was a text from Kevin, finally: Not home yet.
Well, that was terse.
Tyler typed, When will you be back? and then erased it. He typed, We could hang out when you get home, and erased it. He typed, We should talk, and erased it. He dropped his phone onto the side table and turned on the TV.
Kevin had meant to go home after he parked the car, but instead he walked to a neighborhood playground and settled on one of the benches. He wasn’t ready to knock on Tyler’s door. He didn’t even want to walk past it. He felt foolish for thinking Tyler was involved with Ryan, even though he knew it was an understandable mistake. Even at dinner, the way they touched each other, flirted, called each other pet names—anybody would have thought they were together. He thought he should be excited to find out Tyler was single, but he wasn’t feeling excited. He was feeling confused, because if Tyler flirted like that with a friend, then what, if anything, did it mean when he flirted with Kevin? And Kevin was feeling scared, because Ryan had been a safety net, an excuse for Tyler not to be interested in Kevin that had nothing to do with Kevin himself.
The thing is, if he wanted to be more than friends with Tyler, it was time to disclose. Kevin dreaded it. He liked Tyler. He didn’t want to see Tyler pull away. He didn’t want Tyler to tell him he “passed really well” or that Tyler would never have guessed he was really a woman—or, alternately, that he’d “wondered sometimes.” God forbid he offer tips on looking more masculine. He didn’t want Tyler to sleep with him once as a novelty. He didn’t want to hear Tyler say, “I really like you, but.”
Kevin tried to make himself imagine the alternative, that Tyler liked him and didn’t care about him being trans. That after Kevin told him, he said, “You were afraid it would be a deal? As if.” And then he let Kevin kiss him, and then he smiled at him. For a moment, Kevin could see it.
But then it occurred to him that maybe being trans didn’t make any difference at all, that Tyler, beautiful, graceful, lively, and young, would simply not want someone like Kevin: ordinary, plain, quiet, and on the cusp of middle age.
Kevin’s fears were at war with his hopes. His fears were winning.
Tyler heard Kevin pass by his door and go into his apartment. That wasn’t encouraging. Tyler gave up on TV, and decided to spend some time with his fairies. It always helped him settle his mind, cleaning them, dusting their shelves, arranging them in new configurations. Fairies that had been obscured in the back would have their turn up front; fairies that had never been near each other would have a chance to make friends. “Sorry, babies,” he said as he worked, “I’ve been neglecting you.” He had been; they were covered with a light gray coat of dust. He picked up one of his larger figurines, and gasped. Sitting behind it was a tiny red fairy he’d never seen before; she had antennae and a ladybug’s wings. She held a ladybug in her hand.
Another one of Kevin’s surprise gifts.
Kevin’s surprise gifts.
What had he been thinking? It was obvious that Kevin liked Tyler. He liked Tyler’s fairies and his colorful dishes. He liked Tyler hanging around home in skirts and he liked Tyler dressed up for work. He liked Tyler’s bracelets—all of them—and he liked Tyler’s hair. He had never even hinted that Tyler should tone it down around his family, or when they were out somewhere. He never told Tyler what to wear, or what not to wear. In unguarded moments, he called Tyler pretty.
Tyler picked up the ladybug fairy and headed out the door.
When Kevin answered Tyler’s knock, Tyler was standing in the hall with one hand on his hip, holding out the ladybug fairy on the palm of his other hand. Kevin said, “You found it!”
Tyler ignored that. He said, “So, you thought Ryan and I were dating.”
Kevin said, “Yes.”
“That makes me feel really, really stupid.”
“Why would it make you feel stupid?”
“Because I thought maybe we were dating.”
Kevin was taken aback. “Oh.”
Tyler was getting louder. “Because you seemed like you liked me. You said I was pretty. You gave me a fairy.” He waved the fairy in front of Kevin’s face.
Kevin said, “Why do you seem angry?”
Tyler rolled his eyes. “Duh. I’m fronting. Because slightly pissed is a more powerful emotional stance than bashful and ill-at-ease.”
Kevin said, “OK.” He pulled Tyler through the door, and kissed him.
Tyler Falls Into a Revery
Kevin pulled Tyler into his lap on the couch. They kissed for a bit, and then they kissed for a bit more. And then there was more kissing.
Tyler frowned a little to himself. He liked kissing well enough, and Kevin was good at it, but it didn’t take him long to be ready for more. He pressed himself against Kevin, kissed him harder, tried to work Kevin’s shirt out of his pants. Kevin wouldn’t let him. He shushed Tyler, pulled away when his kisses got forceful, moved his hands back to neutral territory. Tyler was confused; he knew how to have sex, and Kevin wasn’t doing it right. He wasn’t following the usual progression of kissing, groping, frotting, fucking/sucking/jerking. He was stuck on the kissing stage, normally a very short, almost perfunctory, prelude. In hookups, the kissing stage was optional. Tyler made a frustrated noise, and Kevin laughed a little and said, “Hey, shh, just relax. Just let me, just—”
Tyler closed his eyes and tried to relax. He felt agitated and off-center. Kevin kept kissing him, sweetly and softly. Every now and then Kevin would kiss him harder, opening wider and pressing into Tyler’s mouth; his hand, which had been stroking Tyler’s face and playing with his hair, would settle on the back of Tyler’s neck, and the arm that was around Tyler’s shoulders would pull him closer. Tyler would feel himself back on solid ground: he knew what this was about and where it was going. But then Kevin would loosen his hold again, give up kissing Tyler’s lips in favor of nuzzling into his hair or kissing his temple or breathing a string of endearments into his ear while he ran his fingers over Tyler’s skin.
Gradually, Tyler’s confusion faded. He couldn’t figure out what Kevin was up to, but little by little it stopped mattering. Kevin kept saying, “That’s right, sweetheart. Let me take care of you,” and every time he said it, it got easier to do. Tyler’s mind got quieter and quieter, his body heavier and more settled. He considered opening his eyes and couldn’t quite seem to do it. Kevin was stroking his back; his fingers toyed with the hem of Tyler’s shirt or, from time to time, slipped under the strap of his tank top to cup his shoulder or stroke his collarbone. Tyler wanted to touch Kevin, too. But one hand lay still against his own chest, and the other fell to his side, and he didn’t lift them again.
Kevin asked him a question; Tyler heard the tone but missed the words. Kevin asked him again. It seemed that he wanted to lift Tyler’s shirt. Tyler nodded, managed to say OK. He sounded sleepy to his own ears. Not sleepy. Drugged. Not drugged. Something better than drugged. It was so hard to talk that he hoped Kevin wouldn’t make him do it again.
Kevin slid the hem of Tyler’s shirt up and said, “God, Tyler.” He ran his hand up Tyler’s belly and took hold of his nipple ring, tugging it gently. After a moment he pulled Tyler tighter to him, lifting him so he could replace his fingers with his mouth. The warm teasing pressure gave Tyler the energy to move at last, to pull Kevin’s head down against him. And then Kevin was kissing him again, harder this time, and Tyler let him. It was Kevin’s kiss; Tyler took it from him and returned it to him, but it belonged to Kevin.
Kevin squeezed Tyler tightly to him, and said, “Oh, sweetheart.” Tyler managed to open his eyes, and Kevin smiled down at him. “Everything OK?” he asked.
Tyler said, “Yeah.” It was not much more than a breath.
Kevin spoke so quietly Tyler could hardly hear him. “Will you take your shirt off?” Tyler breathed again and moved his hands clumsily toward the hem. Kevin said, “OK, shh, OK,” and did it for him. His hands roamed over Tyler’s back and chest, and he was talking again, his voice low.
He called Tyler beautiful again; he said he was lovely. He said Tyler shone. He said “incandescent” and it would have been ridiculous, Tyler thought, if the room weren’t infused with a kind of solemnity. Kevin raised the hem of Tyler’s skirt above his knees, his hand slipping underneath to go even higher, and it was a kind of unveiling, as if something that had been deeply hidden were being shown for the first time. Some part of Tyler’s mind was still capable of scoffing at the thought, of reminding him that his thighs had been unveiled a great many times. And yet it felt true. It felt like the truest thing ever. As if when Kevin looked at him, he saw something that no one had ever seen before.
He was in some kind of trance. Kevin had done that. Not quite a trance. A reverie, he thought. Revery alone will do, if bees are few. It occurred to him for the first time that rapture might be a peaceful thing. This could be rapture he was feeling. He was practically lolling across Kevin’s lap, laying himself wide open. He would believe anything Kevin told him, he thought. He would do anything Kevin asked him to do. But all Kevin wanted him to do, it seemed, was to lie there and be petted, to let Kevin keep stroking him, sometimes with his whole hand, sometimes with just a finger trailing along a line of nerves, sometimes—not too hard—with his fingernails, sometimes with his tongue and lips. Tyler thought Kevin had touched every part of him, or soon would. He had a sudden vision of Kevin pouring golden light over him, covering him with honey. Every part of him turned sweet by Kevin’s touch. Divine am I inside and out, and I make holy whatever I touch or am touch’d from, he thought.
He was vaguely aware of Kevin asking to remove his skirt and briefs, and of saying yes, and of lifting his hips so it could be done. “Vaguely aware” was wrong. He was acutely aware. “Acutely aware” was wrong. It was like a dream and at the same time profoundly real. His mind was perfectly quiet, not with the quiet of the water’s surface but with the quiet of the whole lake. He was immersed, enveloped, held on all sides by something that Kevin had made from tenderness and the perfect fullness of his attention.
Kevin’s hand was between his legs. It slid forward, stroking Tyler’s balls, and wrapped around him. Kevin’s thumb pressed against the tip of Tyler’s cock. “You’re wet for me,” Kevin said. He wrapped his hand around Tyler’s cock, and finally, finally, he was moving with purpose. When Tyler came, he was clinging to Kevin as hard as he could, his face pressed into Kevin’s neck, and he’d have shaken apart if Kevin hadn’t been holding him together.
More things happened then. Something soft wiped him clean, and then there was more of Kevin’s hands stroking him, and Kevin laying soft dry kisses against his temple and neck and shoulder. Something soft and warm was wrapped around him. He rolled onto his side, pressing his forehead into Kevin’s stomach, and folded his legs so Kevin could get the blanket over his feet. Kevin said, “There you go, sweetheart. I’ve got you,” and Tyler said, “OK,” and went to sleep.
Kevin is Very Disappointed in Himself
Kevin sat on the couch, Tyler asleep with his head in Kevin’s lap, Damian squeezed in between Tyler’s stomach and the back of the couch. He thought about all the things he’d just done wrong.
He had meant to bring Tyler into the living room, kiss him briefly, and then talk to him. They were supposed to sit up and move apart; Kevin would indicate that he had something to say that was serious but not dire. Tyler would look concerned but his body language would convey active listening. Kevin would explain that he had been born anatomically female and that he had transitioned in his mid-twenties. Tyler would say…he didn’t know what Tyler would say. But even in a hypothetical broken-heart situation, Kevin would have the satisfaction of knowing he’d done the right thing.
Kevin had kept thinking that he would stop in just another minute. He didn’t. At some point, stopping began to feel like it was no longer an option. Kevin admitted that this was a self-serving lie. Every moment would have been a better time to stop than the moment after it. It was hard to imagine a worse stopping point than the one he’d chosen.
In an attempt to keep control of himself and avoid an inadvertent disclosure via crotch-grabbing or shirt removal, he had ended up taking control of Tyler. This was fine with him in many ways; he liked taking care of his lovers. He especially liked taking care of Tyler. He had been glad to have no distractions from his exploration of Tyler’s body.
But, by doing that, he’d put Tyler into bottom space. He’d kept touching him, shushing him, telling him to relax and let Kevin take care of everything. And Tyler had.
Normally, this would be great. Kevin had loved seeing Tyler go deep and open up to him. But he had no idea how Tyler felt about it. They hadn’t talked about it first. A person in subspace could be so mentally altered that they were incapable of giving consent. But Kevin had asked for, and accepted, Tyler’s consent to undress him, to touch him, and to get him off.
Kevin sometimes had sex without disclosing. He liked giving head, he liked giving hand jobs, and he was happy to get off by frotting, or by jerking himself later. He’d never had a hookup complain about Kevin giving him an orgasm he didn’t have to work for or reciprocate.
But he had to disclose if he wanted a relationship. And he definitely wanted a relationship with Tyler.
“Let me take care of you,” he’d told Tyler. And then he’d proceeded to comprehensively and exhaustively violate the trust Tyler placed in him. He had no idea what he was going to say when Tyler woke up.
Tyler Wakes Up
When Tyler woke up, it was dark outside. He wondered what time it was. He had no idea how long he’d slept, and no idea how long he and Kevin had spent…how long Kevin had spent making love to him before that. It had been timeless for Tyler, in that oddly peaceful place he’d gone to. That had been a new experience. Sex had always been about hunger and action and getting off. There had been times with Kevin when he had almost forgotten that sex was what they were doing. He’d luxuriated in being touched the way Kevin touched him, like there was nothing else in the world Kevin would rather be doing.
Kevin was asleep. Tyler had woken up, and Kevin was asleep. This was their first time sleeping and waking up together. It wasn’t the most comfortable first time, he had to admit. His neck had a crick in it, and he expected that Kevin, who was sitting up with his head lolling back and his nose pointing at the ceiling, would be in even worse shape. But it was still far and away the best first time Tyler’d ever had.
Kevin was something special, Tyler thought, but he didn’t show it to most people. He was perfectly ordinary looking—maybe even a bit less than ordinary, being so short and with his dishwater blonde hair starting to thin a little on top. He walked a lot, and rode his bike, but he didn’t work out. He was soft in the stomach. There was never anything surprising about how he looked: relaxed-fit jeans that were always a little long on him, a t-shirt Tyler suspected he chose each morning by plucking it off the top of a pile. Or, for work, any kind of button shirt you wanted so long as it was blue plaid. The plaids probably came in a multi-pack, too, just like the t-shirts and the infinite supply of blindingly white crew socks.
Tyler found that he liked this about Kevin, his unassuming appearance. It meant that getting to know him had been full of surprises, beginning with that first day when Kevin had been so pleased with Tyler’s apartment. He’d called Tyler a bower-bird, lining his nest with shiny trinkets to show what a good mate he was. Only Kevin had ever looked at Tyler’s apartment and thought it made him a good prospect.
If they were lovers, it would always be like Tyler had a secret that other people could never know. People would look at Kevin and dismiss him, Tyler imagined, never guessing what an extraordinary man he was. How kind, thoughtful, protective, comfortable, funny, caring, accepting. Tyler had always felt provisional with men he’d dated, known that sometimes they were ashamed to be attracted to him, that they looked down on feminine men, that they were afraid of the judgment they might get, from gay and straight alike, for being with him. From Kevin, Tyler only ever felt affectionate approval, heat, and even, somehow, pride.
Tyler wasn’t even worried about telling Kevin about his gag reflex. Because Kevin was going to be fine with it, even if blow jobs were something he really liked. He would be fine with it because he didn’t think Tyler owed him anything. Because, as he had just demonstrated, he cared about Tyler’s pleasure. He cared about Tyler.
It was ironic, then, that Tyler could imagine doing it with Kevin. Not sucking him off; that would be too much. But he could imagine taking the tip of Kevin’s cock into his mouth, or rubbing his lips over the head, or running his tongue over it. If would be so good to give Kevin something that he liked. And Kevin would understand what it meant to Tyler, and he’d look at him with surprised gratitude and love. Had anyone ever looked at Tyler like that before?
He wondered what Kevin’s cock looked like. Was he cut? Tyler appreciated the look of circumcised cocks, but he liked the feel of the uncut, how the foreskin moved over the head, how the head peeked out when it got hard, how fun it was to play with.
It didn’t matter. Tyler was going to love Kevin’s cock, because he loved Kevin. No, that was endorphins and satiation talking. But it was true that he really liked Kevin. So he was going to really like his cock.
When Kevin woke up, Tyler thought, they would go to bed. It must be very late; they would say to each other that they should go to sleep, that Kevin, at least, had to work in the morning. But they wouldn’t go to sleep; they would make love again. And this time, Tyler would get to see Kevin, and touch him, and run his lips over Kevin’s skin, and run his tongue over Kevin’s nipples. He would get to find out what made Kevin gasp, and cry out. He would touch him everywhere and find out where he liked it best. He would find out what Kevin looked like when he came.
Very slowly and carefully, Tyler worked one hand up to Kevin’s belly. He undid a button, and when Kevin didn’t move, he carefully undid another. He slipped two fingers into the gap, and gave a little inward laugh. Of course, Kevin had an undershirt on. Feeling bold, Tyler kept stealthily working until he’d undone all the buttons he could reach, until Kevin’s shirt gaped open. Tyler dared to run his hand down Kevin’s front. Kevin’s undershirt was as soft and white as his socks. His laundry skills must be exceptional.
He was getting impatient for Kevin to wake up. He was a little less careful as he began to tease the tails of Kevin’s shirt out of his pants, and when he’d accomplished that without rousing him, he did the same with the t-shirt. At last, he could see a few inches of Kevin’s belly, lightly covered with hair. Touching it felt wonderful. He ran his hand up under Kevin’s t-shirt until it rested on Kevin’s breastbone. He was just about to give into his impulse to lean forward and kiss Kevin’s exposed skin, when Kevin took hold of his wrist and said, “Tyler! What are you doing?”
Tyler smiled up at him. “Take a minute to finish waking up, and I think you’ll be able to figure it out.”
Kevin shifted, sitting up straighter, and pushed Tyler’s hand away. He pulled his shirt closed and began to do up the buttons. Tyler said, “Don’t bother with that. I’m just going to have to undo them all again.”
Kevin said, “Tyler—” and it didn’t sound right. It didn’t sound happy, and sweet, and full of wonder. It sounded serious.
Tyler sat up, wrapping the blanket around his shoulders. Damian mewed a protest and moved to the end of the couch, where he lay back down. Tyler said gently, “Hey. I’m sorry if I overstepped. I thought, you know, after earlier—” He put his hand on Kevin’s cheek, and leaned in to give Kevin a reassuring kiss.
Kevin let him, but pulled back after just a moment. “Not right now, Tyler.” He rubbed his hands over his face and twisted as if to stretch his neck and back.
Tyler said, “OK. Do you need to finish waking up? Or do you want to go back to sleep? You must be pretty stiff. How about we move into the bedroom? You can get out of your work clothes, we can stretch out. And I can hit the bathroom on the way, which I really need to do.”
“No, let’s stay here.”
Tyler resolutely clung to the vision he’d had while Kevin was sleeping. He did not feel a kind of squeezing around his heart, and he was definitely not in any danger of crying. Kevin was probably a slow waker. Or he was cranky first thing, even if first thing was happening in the middle of the night. This was a thing he would learn about Kevin. They’d joke about it, how Tyler woke up ready to jump out of bed and get going, and Kevin woke up like a grumpy child needing a glass of milk. Tyler forced himself to sound unconcerned. “Are you body-shy? That’s OK. We don’t have to be in a hurry. Why don’t you change into pajamas or whatever it is you sleep in? We can at least get comfortable.” He began to stand up, hoping that if he went Kevin would just follow, but Kevin stopped him.
Kevin said, “Tyler, we can’t…we need to talk.”
Tyler sat down again, this time in the chair. He suddenly felt foolish and exposed, wearing nothing but a blanket while Kevin sat there fully dressed. Kevin had re-buttoned his shirt, but at least he hadn’t tucked it back in. Tyler didn’t think he could have stood it, if Kevin had tucked it back in.
Tyler was determined to act like everything was OK. Maybe if he pretended not to notice something was wrong, everything would be OK. He said, “It’s late and I have to pee and I’m tired. And you seem tired, too, if your grumpiness is anything to go by.” He tried to smile. “Why don’t we get some sleep?”
Kevin said, “Tyler, listen to me. I should never have let things go so far tonight, and I’m sorry that I did.”
“You’re sorry?” Tyler wasn’t going to be able to keep himself from crying, if Kevin was sorry for what had just happened between them.
Kevin looked shaky now, too. “I have handled this so badly. And it’s not about you at all, you’re wonderful, it’s just that I’m—”
Tyler was not at all prepared for this. He hadn’t seen it coming, and he certainly wasn’t dressed for it. He felt hot, flushed, ashamed of the things he’d been thinking while Kevin slept. How could he have misunderstood Kevin so completely? He closed his eyes and put one hand to his mouth, trying to stay on top of his grief. He said, desperately, “Kevin, please don’t. Can’t we just go to bed? You can say whatever you need to say tomorrow.” My god, was he begging?
Kevin said, gently, “Tyler, you can’t stay.”
Kevin tried to keep talking, but Tyler couldn’t take any more. He said, “Kevin, stop.” He was crying in earnest now; in another minute he wouldn’t be able to breathe. His voice was high and shaky as he said, “Will you please leave the room so I can get dressed?”
Kevin said, “Tyler, no, you’ve got the wrong idea. It’s not what you think.” He pulled on his hair and made a frustrated noise. “Don’t go yet.”
Tyler exploded. “Go home, Tyler,” he said. “Don’t go, Tyler. Take off your clothes, Tyler. Don’t touch me, Tyler. Fuck you.” He collected his clothes from the floor and stalked to the kitchen, closing the door behind him.
When Tyler came out of the kitchen, Kevin was gone. Tomorrow, he knew, and for a long time after that, the proximity of their apartments would be painful. But for the moment, he was glad he didn’t have far to go before he could let himself fall apart. The way he felt—it was like all those times he’d been broken up with had been hangnails, and this was his hand in a wood-chipper. He’d had no idea it was possible to hurt like this. He’d had no idea it was possible for crying to be so ugly. The terrible noise he made frightened Tinkerbell into hiding. The world wasn’t ending, but something was, and Tyler wasn’t sure what would be left when it was over.
When Kevin came out of the bedroom, Tyler was gone. The blanket was in a heap on the kitchen floor, Damian comfortably asleep in the middle of it. A cast-iron frying pan sat crookedly on the kitchen table. He picked it up. The pieces of the ladybug fairy were underneath it.
Another Bro-B-Q. Because Bros.
The party the Bros threw on the Fourth of July was extravagant even by their standards. They encouraged their tweens and teens to bring friends and dates. The guest list included co-workers and their families, in-laws; the in-laws’ in-laws; people the Bros met at the grocery store while stocking up on chips and pickles; and even, in a testament to their basic human decency, at least a couple of ex-girlfriends, with their attendant friends and relations. Kevin found the Fourth of July barbecue overwhelming at the best of times. This year, he felt so flayed from what had happened with Tyler—he stopped himself. From what he’d done to Tyler. He wasn’t going to let himself start pretending it was anything but his fault. But he was one raw nerve.
He’d thought about staying home, but the party itself was slightly more appealing than dealing with his brothers’ protestations of betrayal and endless questions about what he could possibly have to do that was more important than being with his family on the most important day of the year. The Fourth of July meant more to the Bros than Thanksgiving or Christmas, not because they were especially patriotic but because the guest list was unconstrained by the size of any given room in any given building, because all the cooking could be done outside, and (for James, at least) because it was the national red meat holiday.
Kevin arrived as late as he dared, to find the party in full swing. Somebody was running egg races and water-balloon tosses for the younger kids; a pontoon boat had been rented for tubing; guys in tacky aprons were standing around the grills holding long-handled spatulas. Kevin sent a couple of niblings to his car to carry in his cooler and bags of chips. He ran the usual overwhelming gauntlet of Bro-hugs, supplemented by back slaps and handshakes from people he’d met at previous iterations of the event. All three of his brothers, plus Mel, asked where Tyler was, which stung. When had everyone gotten used to Tyler being with him? When had he?
He broke free from the scrum and looked around for Diana. Diana had a way of making you feel like everything would be OK, and he planned to attach himself to her for the rest of the afternoon. He spotted her at a picnic table, miraculously alone, and was just heading her way when his niece Clare appeared and greeted him with unaccustomed enthusiasm. “Uncle Kevin! Oh my god! I’m so glad to see you!” she gushed, and wrapped him in a hug that smelled like sunscreen and an excess of flowery perfume.
Like all of his relatives thirteen and older, she was taller than him, so he smiled up at her and said, “That’s a heck of a greeting. What’s up?”
Clare indicated another girl her age, about 17, standing a couple of feet away. The girl was holding a baby about six months old. An overstuffed diaper bag hung off one shoulder. “This is my friend Tabitha. I told Tabby you’d be happy to hold the baby while we went out on the boat for awhile? She’s a really good baby.”
Kevin smiled. “I’m sure she is. It’s nice to meet you, Tabitha. Of course I’ll take care of the baby.”
Four seconds later, the baby and diaper bag had been transferred to him, and all that remained of the two girls was a bubble of perfume, and the squeals of gratitude they tossed over their shoulders as they ran. Kevin went and sat down by Diana.
Diana said, “I see Clare and Tabby found you.”
Kevin bounced the baby on his knees. “Yes, and gave me about the only thing that could possibly cheer me up today. Bless Clare and her teenage mom friend. You don’t happen to know the baby’s name? The girls were in kind of a hurry.”
Diana laughed. “That’s Riley. We’ve been spending a lot of time together. Tabitha’s parents are having a bit of a hard time with it all.” Clare was Diana’s oldest daughter, who’d been three when Diana and James got together. Diana had another daughter, two years younger, and she and James had a pair of twins together. Eventually they’d adopted a pair of siblings from foster care, and at that point, with seven kids including the one James had had with his college girlfriend, even they admitted they’d had enough. Kevin suspected, though, that “spending a lot of time with Riley” meant that Tabitha and the baby were staying with them at least some of the time. James, like all the Bros, thrived on chaos, and Diana would have cared for all the world’s children, if she could.
Kevin lifted the baby up and looked into her wide blue eyes. “Hi, Riley. I’m Kevin, and I’ll be your escort for the afternoon.” He bounced the baby and got a smile in return.
Diana said, “You agreed to the whole afternoon?”
“No, I just assume that’s what the girls meant when they said they were going out on the boat for a little while.”
“I’m sure they think they mean to come back before too long.”
Diana put a hand on Kevin’s shoulder. “Why do you need cheering up today? Does it have anything to do with Tyler not being here?”
“Yeah. We….” Kevin could feel tears starting up, so he looked away for a moment and took a deep breath. “I fucked things up pretty badly. I slept with him, sort of, when I shouldn’t have, and when I tried to talk to him about it, I freaked out and said absolutely everything in exactly the most wrong way possible. He’s not speaking to me, and I can’t blame him at all.” He tried for another deep breath, hiccuped, and started sobbing.
Diana hollered, “Hey, James, can you take this baby for a few?” but it was Mel who appeared and, with a sympathetic look at Kevin, carried Riley away. Diana pulled Kevin close, and he let himself rest against her as he cried himself out.
After a bit, Mel returned with Riley, who was crying as hard as Kevin was. She said, “Sorry, I need to give the baby back. I’ve got a couple of my own to wrangle.”
Kevin nodded. He wiped his eyes and nose with one of Riley’s burp cloths, stood up, and took the baby. “C’mon, little person. Let’s go see if we can’t cheer both of us up.”
Tyler had let Ryan talk him into going along to a house party at the lakeside home of a friend of a friend of a friend, and now he was on a bed that belonged to god knew who, his legs pressed tightly together so that some guy whose name was probably Kenneth could drive his lubed-up cock into the tight channel at the top of Tyler’s thighs. Probably-Kenneth was pulling Tyler tightly back against him. One hand was playing with Tyler’s nipple ring, and the other one was jerking him more-or-less in time with the movements of Kevin’s hips. Probably-Kenneth’s hips. The head of Probably-Kenneth’s cock was stroking Tyler’s taint and pressing into his balls. Tyler was about ten seconds from going off. He was not thinking about Kevin. Kevin was not there.
Riley turned out to be a challenging baby, but Kevin liked challenging babies, so he gave Tabitha his phone number and a standing offer to babysit. Word had spread that he had man troubles, and the good-bye gauntlet included a great many sympathetic looks, manly shoulder-squeezes, and significantly-intoned reminders not to be a stranger. The family information network was so efficient that several of his younger niblings had even drawn him pictures to cheer him up.
His brothers, he knew, would be making excuses to drop by his apartment for the next week or two. Diana would call him on some pretext in case he needed to talk again. Everyone would suddenly have last minute baby-sitting needs. It would be almost suffocating, the way they would press in around him with their love. He would be the emperor penguin in the middle of the flock; they would protect him as best they could from the darkness and bitter cold.
This was why he’d let Henry leave without him. He had broken his heart once so that, when he broke it again, he wouldn’t have to be alone.
Kevin Takes a Holiday
Whenever he was in his apartment, Kevin felt like his skin was being attacked by biting ants. He had done everything he could to gain Tyler’s trust, and when Tyler was at his most vulnerable, he had let him down. Betrayed him. He was contemptible. He was worse than any of the other men Tyler had been with, precisely because he had made Tyler believe he was better than them.
He tried to talk to Tyler. Half-heartedly. He knocked on Tyler’s door and hoped Tyler wasn’t home; he texted Tyler and was relieved when there was no response. He wanted to repair things. Repair being impossible, he wanted above all not to have to face what he’d done.
He didn’t deserve comfort. But he wanted comfort. So he called Henry, and then he bought a plane ticket to North Carolina.
The first night he was there, Henry cooked. (Henry had always cooked.) They dawdled over dinner, and Kevin did the dishes. (Kevin had always done the dishes.) After dinner, they sat close together on the couch (They had always sat close together on the couch). Before long, Kevin was snugged under Henry’s arm, feeling cozy, his arm over Henry’s familiar round firm belly, smelling the familiar pleasant slightly-sweaty smell of Henry at the end of the day. After another little while, Kevin said, “I’m so glad to be here,” and Henry said, “I’ve really missed you.” Kevin looked up at Henry, and Henry kissed him. Then Kevin was straddling Henry’s lap and Henry’s hands were on his ass; and then they were undressing matter-of-factly and slipping into Henry’s bed; and then they were reminding each other that sex had always been one of the best and easiest parts of their relationship.
For a week, they did what they had always done. Kevin didn’t tell Henry about Tyler, and Henry didn’t tell Kevin what had happened to the guy he’d been dating the last time they’d talked. Maybe they were still dating; Kevin didn’t know, and he didn’t ask.
When he got home, his apartment smelled stale and unfamiliar. Clare had spent a couple of nights, taking care of Damian and practicing adulthood. There were clean dishes in the drainer from meals Kevin hadn’t eaten. Utensils were put back in the wrong places. The easy chair had been moved, a bath towel was hung on the wrong rack in the bathroom, Clare had forgotten her shampoo, things on his dresser had been shoved aside to make room for her stuff. He welcomed the strangeness of it. He needed it to be a new place, a place he’d never been in with Tyler. He rearranged the living room, putting the bookshelves where his work table had been, the couch where the bookshelves had been, the worktable along the wall by the kitchen door. He moved the little collection of books Tyler had given him from pride of place at eye level to a shelf so low it was partly blocked from view. He tried to make it a room where he had nothing to remember and repent of.
Tyler Relies on Kevin’s Basic Good Nature
Kevin was a heavy sleeper who woke up slowly. It often took him a few minutes to get his bearings, remember where he was, and figure out what was going on around him. When his phone chimed with a text at 2:43 in the morning, he struggled to wake up enough to look it at it, and then it took him another moment to understand what it said, and that it was from Tyler: Puck sick. Need ER vet asap. Will u drive us?
A part of him wanted to say no. He tried to summon righteous anger: how dare Tyler ask something like this of him after a month without speaking? But all he felt was concern and a desire to be helpful. He texted back: Will meet you in front. Going to get car now.
Tyler got into the car wearing pajama bottoms, a worn gray t-shirt that was much too big for him, and flip-flops. Puck lay very still in his arms, wrapped in a fleece throw. Kevin said, “The emergency clinic at the U?” and Tyler nodded.
They didn’t talk at all on the drive. Kevin didn’t feel he could be the first to speak, and Tyler said nothing. Kevin pulled up at the door, and said, “I’ll park the car and be right in.”
Tyler didn’t look at him. “No. Go home.”
Kevin said, “You might need—” but Tyler was out of the car and gone. Kevin sat there long enough to send a text: If you need anything, let me know. Then, after just a moment’s hesitation, he left. As Tyler had asked him to do.
Kevin didn’t go home. He drove to Darwin and Mel’s house instead. He let himself in with his key, quietly so as not to wake anybody. Norman and Mini-Mel were asleep in their room, Norman in his crib and Mini-Mel in a twin bed with a safety rail. Another twin bed waited for Norman to grow into it. Kevin took off his shoes and crawled into it. Norman hiccuped in his sleep, and rolled over. Kevin tried to settle, but he couldn’t stop thinking about Tyler. He tortured himself imagining that things were different, that he’d done everything right.
A voice said, “Hi, Uncle Kevin,” and he opened his eyes to see Mini-Mel standing by the bed. She climbed over him and curled up against his back, her knees poking his kidneys, a warm little human being. She sighed and said, “G’night, Uncle Kevin.” He fell asleep.
When Kevin woke up, Mini-Mel was gone, and Norman was awake, holding onto the crib rail and trampolining on the mattress. Kevin dragged himself out of bed, and changed Norman into a dry diaper and fresh clothes. Darwin was in the kitchen, making scrambled eggs. Kevin put Norman into his high chair, and Darwin put some scrambled eggs onto the tray. Darwin set a plate in front of Mini-Mel, then gestured to another one sitting on the counter. “You want these eggs, Kev? I can make myself some more.”
“No, thanks. Some coffee maybe?”
Darwin waved the spatula. “It’s made. Help yourself?”
“Sure. Eat your eggs while they’re hot.” Kevin put some bread in the toaster, poured himself a cup of coffee, and gave Norman some milk in a sippy cup. Mini-Mel wanted milk, too, so he got down a cup and poured her some. He sat down and stared into his coffee cup. Mini-Mel was chattering about a dream she’d had, and Norman was eating eggs with his fingers. Their little mongrel dog sat attentively under the high chair, hoping for dropped food. Kevin didn’t notice when his toast popped up.
Darwin said, “You gotta work today, or do you wanna hang with us?” Kevin loved Darwin. He’d done this before, when Henry first left, back when Mini-Mel was the one in the crib and Norman was in a bassinet in his parents’ bedroom. Darwin and Mel always acted like they were neither surprised nor troubled to find him in with their children of a morning.
Kevin said, “What are you guys doing today?”
“The park. Grocery shopping. Lunch. Naps. The park again, maybe. Maybe I-C-E C-R-E-A-M. I might clean something. There will probably be some Dora the Explorer. Someone will get cranky. Someone will cry. Graham crackers will be eaten. We have juice boxes.” He shrugged. “The usual. If you stay, you can have dinner with us. Mel’s on days and she’ll be glad to see you.” Mel was a doctor in the emergency department of a hospital in the next town over.
That sounded perfect. Kevin said, “That sounds pretty good. Yeah, OK. I’ll call in.”
Jack Brings It
Jack came through the door carrying a six-pack. He handed Kevin a piece of paper “That was stuck to your door.” He put the beer in the refrigerator, saying, “This batch came out way too hoppy, and bubbly as ginger ale. It’s perfect for lightweights with no taste. You’ll love it.”
“Thanks,” Kevin said drily, and unfolded the paper. It said, “I thought you’d want to know Puck is home and doing fine. He had a kidney infection, which cleared up with antibiotics. Thanks for your help. Tyler.” It was written in black ink on a plain white piece of paper. Kevin handed it to Jack and said, “Jesus. I feel like I killed a unicorn.”
Jack said, “I think you did. Ryan says Tyler wore a navy blue button-down the other day.” Ryan and Jack’s shared appreciation for beer had blossomed into friendship; they saw each other at least every couple of weeks, and texted constantly. “You should talk to him.”
“Jack, he won’t talk to me.”
“I’m ashamed of how easily you’ve given up.” Jack put two bottles of beer on the table and sat down. When Kevin just stood there, Jack raised his eyebrows and cocked his head toward the other chair. Kevin sighed and sat.
Jack said, “Listen, Kevin, you need to talk to Tyler precisely because he won’t talk to you. I’m not going to sugar-coat it: you fucked this up. It’s your job to fix this.”
“My job?” Kevin said.
“Yes! Look, Tyler is what, 26, 27? When you’re on the other side of 40, it’s easy to forget how young someone can still be at that age. And Tyler’s not just anyone, either. He’s so far out there on the long tail of the normal curve that he left ‘nelly queen’ behind a hundred miles ago. His last boyfriend was always trying to get him to give his dishes to Goodwill and paint his living room beige, and that was one of his better relationships. And then you come along, and it’s like you’ve been living your whole life in black and white, and he’s the first thing you’ve ever seen in Technicolor. Every other guy he’s dated has been like, ‘Do you really need all that jewelry, Tyler?’ and you’re like, ‘Tyler, are you sure your shirt is lavender enough? Have you ever considered matching eyeliner?’”
Kevin had never thought about Tyler in eyeliner. Now that Jack had mentioned it, he suspected it might be awhile before he could think about anything else. Kevin said, “I never said anything like that.”
“Shut up. I’m being figurative.” Jack set his beer bottle down and pointed a finger at Kevin. “And let’s not even talk about your family!” This meant he was about to talk about Kevin’s family. “Your family is incredibly close-knit, and at the same time, its boundaries are totally permeable. It’s like a giant single-celled organism, and when you come into its orbit, it extrudes a pseudopod and pulls you inside the cellular membrane. And then the whole gang sings a rousing rendition of ‘Consider Yourself One of Us,’ somebody adds you to the family mailing list, which is like the equivalent of a blood oath for anybody else, and then they just keep inviting you to things for the rest of your life. It’s kind of disorienting. I speak from experience. And you’ve all been living like that for so long you have no fucking idea how weird it is. Do you know I ran into Darwin and Mel the other day? They were on their way to a movie with Darwin’s girlfriend from 10th grade.”
“This thing you’re doing with the metaphors, Jack—”
“Shut up. What do you know about Tyler’s family?”
“He never talks about them.”
“Yeah, well, it’s the same old song and dance, right? No son of mine, never darken my door again, et cetera et cetera.”
Kevin said, “I didn’t know that.” He’d certainly suspected it, though.
“Imagine what your family seems like to someone who’s been through that. It’s wonderful in a terrifying way, or terrifying in a wonderful way. Whatever. And I know you think you’re not, but you are exactly like everyone else in your family. You are the nicest, most decent guy in the world. You like people, you think everybody is awesome just the way they are, and once you get attached, you stay attached. You’re like a cockle burr. Look at you and Henry. You dumped him, but he still thinks you’re better than a day at the beach. He’s like, Yeah, sure, come play house with me for a week, it’ll be great. The two of you aren’t broken up like other people are broken up. You’re just living at opposite ends of an infinitely elastic cord. It’s til death do you part with everybody, which is why Matt is the only one of your ex-boyfriends you don’t still talk to every week.”
Kevin said, “Fuck you, Jack.”
Jack looked appalled. “Shit, Kevin, I’m sorry. I got carried away.”
Kevin said, “Oh, just forget it.” He didn’t want to talk about Matt.
Jack was more gentle when he spoke again. “You just never let anybody go. Not normally.”
“I let people go.”
Jack laughed. “Sure you do. You sent a Christmas card to my grandmother last year. You haven’t seen her since we graduated from college. And I assume you’re still sending care packages to Henry’s nephew in the army. What did you get Matt’s nephew you’ve never even met for his birthday this year, I wonder?”
Kevin drank his beer and said nothing.
Jack said, “When you were 21, you began a relationship that lasted 5 years. That relationship was with?”
Kevin sighed. “You.”
“Sixteen years later, who is your best friend?”
Kevin sighed again. “Also you.”
“Q. E. D.”
Kevin said, “I only hang out with you because I like free beer.”
“I know. I only hang out with you because you make me look tall and handsome.”
Kevin said, “Good coat. Short friend.”
Jack said, “Exactly.”
For a moment, they had their equilibrium back, and Kevin dared to hope that Jack was done with the lecture. But he wasn’t. He grabbed Kevin’s hand, almost too hard, and said, “Now listen: What happened on the night in question is understood very differently by you and by Tyler. You think you slept with him, panicked because you hadn’t disclosed, and chose the worst possible time to try to explain yourself, when you should have been making sure everything was OK with him instead.”
Kevin said, “That is actually a fairly charitable interpretation.”
“Tyler thinks you got carried away, slept with him when you didn’t really want to or mean to, which is why you were all squirrelly about him seeing you naked or touching you. He thinks maybe you got him off as a favor to him once you realized you’d created an expectation, or that what he experienced as the sweetest lovemaking of his life was not you being attentive, loving, and low-pressure, but was actually you not being that into him but not knowing how to say so, so you held off for as long as you could and then jerked him off as the only way you could think of to exit the situation.”
Kevin said, “Where the hell do you get your information?”
“Tyler, where else? He has no boundaries.”
Kevin was shocked. “You’ve been seeing Tyler?”
Jack said, “Once or twice, with Ryan. He’s a wreck, Kevin. Worse than you. You broke him, you fucking jerk. And it’s your job to fix him. Or at least make it possible for him to fix himself.”
Kevin pulled his hand free and sat back. He wasn’t sure he could stand Jack being mad at him. “Jesus, Jack, you’re being kind of mean to me.”
“I’ve barely gotten started. I feel bad for how shitty things are for you right now, but you’re the one who made it happen and you’re a grown-up, so you can just deal with it. What really gets me is that you’d fuck over such a sweet guy and then mope around feeling sorry for yourself instead of at least making sure he knows none of it was his fault.”
Kevin could hear the whine in his voice as he said, “I knocked on his door and he didn’t answer. I texted him and he didn’t answer.”
Jack said, not at all kindly, “When was that? Almost a month ago? How long did it take you to give up? For fuck’s sake, Kevin. People use e-mail. People write letters. People use phones for actual phone calls. People send messages through mutual friends. People take out Missed Connections ads in the newspaper. These days, people put personal messages on the jumbotron at football games. He lives 20 feet away from you! I simply don’t believe it’s beyond your power to get a message to him somehow.”
His voice softened. “Look, Kev, I get why this is so hard for you. You’re used to being really good at relationships. If relationships were an Olympic sport, you’d have more medals than Michael Phelps. But the rest of us aren’t like that. We make mistakes, and we learn to fix them, or make up for them. You don’t have a lot of practice at that. Now, if you’d asked me, I’d have suggested you start out slow, maybe show up late for dinner or forget an anniversary. But it’s the same basic idea: Admit what you did. Beg forgiveness. Promise to do better. And then, you know, if you get a second chance, do better.”
Tyler Opens The Door
Someone was knocking on Tyler’s apartment door. He considered not answering it. There was no law, after all, that said you had to answer the door just because someone knocked on it. Even if the person knew you were home. He could just stay where he was, on the couch, idly watching The Walking Dead, checking Facebook and twitter on his tablet, and half-heartedly reading The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal.
It was, of course, Kevin knocking on his door.
For the first week or so after that night, Tyler had been too hurt, too angry, and too humiliated to talk to Kevin. He’d ignored Kevin’s texts, and when Kevin knocked on his door, he hid in his bedroom until he was sure Kevin had gone away.
By the end of the second week, though, Tyler’s feelings had settled a bit. He began to miss Kevin, to think about their friendship before that night. Kevin had always seemed like a good person, and he had friends and family who seemed to think he was a good person, too. Maybe, Tyler began to let himself hope, there had been some kind of misunderstanding between them. Or Kevin had been having an unusually bad day. Or a flashback. Or a panic attack. Or…something. What if there were an explanation, and it was a good enough one that Kevin could be forgiven? What if they could be friends again? What if they could even be more?
He was ready to talk, he thought. The next time Kevin texted him, he would answer. The next time Kevin knocked on the door, he would open it.
And then, for nearly a month, Kevin didn’t text him. Kevin didn’t knock on the door. Just when Tyler was ready to have a conversation, Kevin disappeared.
He knew he could text Kevin, or knock on Kevin’s door—he’d done it when he needed help with Puck, after all. But he was the one who’d been screwed and then thrown out on his ass; he was the one who’d ended up naked, somehow, while Kevin never so much as undid his belt buckle. In his more cynical moments, he thought it was all just the logical extension of how he and Kevin were otherwise: Tyler, wearing his heart and everything else flamboyantly on his sleeve, while Kevin hid everything underneath a plain appearance and a composed demeanor.
Tyler’s feelings were so big and volatile he’d never been able to hide them. Kevin’s, on the other hand, were like disturbances deep in the sea, barely shifting the surface. Kevin’s unflappability both impressed Tyler and frustrated him. He admired Kevin’s calm in difficult situations, but was frustrated by how hard it was to read him. And now Tyler resented it, because he knew that, whatever had happened or would happen between them, it would hurt Tyler more, and for longer. Kevin would find his equilibrium soon enough. Tyler had never had equilibrium to begin with.
He got up to answer the door.
Tyler answered the door wearing blue jeans and a black t-shirt. It would have been a completely unremarkable outfit if Tyler hadn’t written “fag” on the left breast in tiny neat letters made of pink rhinestones. Kevin wanted to laugh: the Tyler version of conservative dress. And he wanted to cry, because he’d missed him so much.
Tyler said, “Kevin.” It wasn’t a greeting, but it wasn’t a rejection, either. It was neither “come in” nor “go away.” Less than Kevin had hoped for, more than he’d expected.
He said, “I was going to text you but I thought if you didn’t answer, I wouldn’t know if it was because you got it and didn’t answer it, or because you’d blocked my number. And I was going to leave a note on your door, but then I thought I couldn’t be sure whether you got that, either, if you didn’t say anything. So I’m just here to give you this because I wanted to know for sure you had it, and then I would know that if you didn’t say anything about it, it was because you’d decided not to say anything about it.” He held out an envelope.
Tyler raised his eyebrow and said, “I have been walking in the grove some time in the hope of meeting you. Will you do me the honor of reading that letter?”
Kevin knew it was a reference. As usual, he didn’t get it. He said, “Um…”
Tyler snatched the envelope out of his hand with a flick of his wrist. “I’ll read it. Even though you’re a disgrace to English majors everywhere.”
“I double-majored in linguistics and history.”
Tyler sighed. “Not the point.”
Kevin nodded.“Thank you for being willing to read it.”
“I can’t promise to answer it.”
Tyler looked down at the letter in his hand and sighed. “The adieu had better be charity itself.”
Kevin was lost again. He was always losing his way around Tyler.
Tyler rolled his eyes. “For heaven’s sake. Wait here.” He closed the door, leaving Kevin standing uncertainly in the hallway. After a moment, he opened the door. “Read the fucking book, you philistine.” He handed something to Kevin and closed the door again.
Kevin looked down at the paperback in his hand. Pride & Prejudice. That could have gone a lot worse, he thought.
Kevin Passes a Very Important Test
Kevin got a text from Tyler a few days after giving him the letter: Where r u in the book?
This was not at all what Kevin had expected to happen next, but he’d put things in Tyler’s hands, so he answered: Charlotte Lucas marrying Mr. Collins.
Tyler: Your progress is acceptable. Favorite scene?
Kevin: Mr. C proposes to Elizabeth.
Tyler: A classic choice. Favorite character: who and why?
Kevin: Charlotte L. Clear-eyed pragmatism.
Kevin waited a few minutes, but that seemed to be it.
Kevin’s letter was a good one. Perhaps not quite up to Mr. Darcy’s standards, but, then, Tyler was no Elizabeth Bennett. The adieu was, indeed, charity itself: “Since I met you, all I wanted was to make you feel a little happier, a little safer, a little more precious, than you felt before. I am ashamed of how very badly I failed.” Tyler thought that wasn’t half-bad.
Ryan agreed. “Either he’s not as big an asshole as it seemed like he might be, or he got someone else to write it for him. You should talk to him. It’s the only way to find out for sure which it is.”
Tyler texted Kevin again. He was glad he’d given Kevin the book; it gave him an excuse to text when he was missing Kevin the most, and something to talk about that wasn’t them. Best line: Darcy.
After a few minutes, Kevin replied: You must allow me to tell you how ardently I love and admire you.
Tyler ignored the little zing that sent through him. Weak. Did you get that off a tote bag or a coffee mug? Best line, Elizabeth.
Again there was a pause. Then: I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished women. I rather wonder now at your knowing any.
Tyler: Acceptable choice. Best scene?
Kevin: EB and Lady C in the wilderness. Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?
Tyler: You’re that far already?
Kevin: I’m finished.
Tyler: You read the whole thing? Because I asked you to?
Kevin: I read everything you give me.
Tyler didn’t know how to respond to that. He tapped the corner of his phone against his teeth and ignored an unsupervised toddler who was systematically emptying the lowest shelf in the “Series for Teens” section.
His phone vibrated again. I read them because you ask me to. I think I’d do almost anything you asked.
Well, that was too much. Tyler dropped his phone onto the desk and went to try to redirect Destructo-Tot to the puzzle table.
Kevin waited for an answer to his last text. He waited all during a departmental meeting, and then through a long day of fasciculing 18th-Century theater ephemera, carefully pasting each loose page to a strip of archival-quality paper to create a hinge, so that the individual playbills, tickets, advertisements, and coat check stubs could be sewn together into small bundles which could then be stored securely in a wrap-around case. It was painstaking work and his concentration was total—except for the part of him that was always waiting.
He waited all the next day, and the days after that. He waited through an evening of bowling with James and his teenagers, and he waited through a rather drunken dinner with Jack and Darnell. He waited through another re-organization of his living room; he waited while he cleaned the litter box. He opened a can of soup for lunch, and he waited. He made a sandwich for lunch, and waited. He went to lunch with a co-worker, and waited.
He sat in his easy chair, Damien on his lap, and he waited. He wondered how long he would wait for Tyler, and he thought he would wait a good long time. Maybe Jack was right: Kevin was attached, and he never let go. Even if Tyler had already let go of him.
Kevin’s phone buzzed several times during Wreck-It Ralph. The theater was full of restless, chattering children, including the ones he’d brought with him—a nephew and several of the nephew’s friends—but he waited to check his messages until he was standing in the lobby waiting for the kids to finish using the bathroom.
Diana: Jace’s mom says to remind you he’s allergic to tree nuts.
Jack: Did I leave my wallet at your place? Darnell thinks I’m faking to get him to buy lunch.
Work: We’re moving the department meeting to Tuesday, so no need to come in early on Monday.
Claire: tabitha and I want 2 go out 4 awhile. can u watch riley 2nite? just for a little while? xoxo ur r hero
Tyler: Come over Monday at 7. We can talk then.
Ryan Opens The Door
On Monday evening, Kevin was glad of his limited wardrobe. If he’d had more choices, he’d never have made it out the door. He tried on several t-shirts, each more neutral than the last, before deciding he’d be more comfortable getting back into a button-down. Things went more quickly after that, if only because he hadn’t gotten around to laundry over the weekend and most of his work shirts were in the hamper. And then he was ready, with nothing to do but wait until it was 7:00.
He was early. It was a ten-second walk from his door to Tyler’s, but his impatience had him knocking on Tyler’s door at five to the hour, and then he had to wait a bit before it opened. Kevin had steeled himself to see Tyler, but it was Ryan who let him in.
“I didn’t know you’d be here,” he said.
Ryan gave him a look. “I didn’t feel comfortable leaving Tyler alone.” Kevin tried to take comfort in that, in the idea that he might somehow be dangerous to Tyler, that Ryan had to protect Tyler from—what? If Tyler just wanted to tell Kevin off and throw him out, surely he could have handled that on his own. Ryan could only be there because he wasn’t sure what might happen. Kevin decided this was encouraging.
“Do you need something to drink?” Ryan said. “Tyler wanted to open a bottle of wine, but I said no. Then he wanted to make a pot of tea, but I said no. You can have a glass of water, if you want.”
“No thanks, I’m good.” Kevin was carrying a small paper bag, and when he shifted it from one hand to the other, he saw that he’d left a damp handprint on it. He walked over and set it on the coffee table, and sat gingerly on the edge of an ancient and faded velvet side chair with a heart-shaped back that Tyler claimed to keep around only because the cats liked sleeping on it so much.
Ryan settled on the couch, leaning comfortably back with one leg crossed over the other. He didn’t say anything; he seemed amused by Kevin’s discomfort. Kevin wiped his hands on his pants, not for the first time, and Ryan smiled.
Kevin’s watch beeped and he startled. He had forgotten the alarm he’d set earlier in the day—as though he might forget, get so caught up in something else he’d miss his chance to see Tyler. As if he’d been able to think about anything else since he got Tyler’s text.
Tyler walked out of the bedroom couple of minutes later, as if to say that when he’d said seven, he’d meant seven and not a moment sooner. He was wearing more clothes than Kevin had ever seen on him at home: a white baseball shirt with red sleeves, yoga pants, even socks. He had his glasses on. He sat next to Ryan on the couch, and Ryan rested his arm on the back of the couch. He was protective of Tyler; it wasn’t the first time Kevin had noticed it.
Kevin said hello, but Tyler just nodded, and then there was an awkward silence during which Kevin cleared his throat twice and wiped his hands again. Tyler was twisting the end of a lock of hair around one finger, winding and unwinding it. He didn’t look at Kevin.
Ryan was the first to speak. “Kevin, you owe Tyler an explanation. Perhaps we could start there.”
Kevin nodded. “OK. The thing is, I was born—”
Ryan cut in. “Really? The story of why you fucked Tyler and then threw him out of your apartment starts at birth?”
Kevin could feel himself flushing, and irritation at Ryan threatened to overtake nervousness as his primary emotion. “We didn’t fu—oh, forget it, that doesn’t really matter. The thing is, I was born anatomically female. I started my transition when I was 26 or so, but it was kind of a—”
This time, Tyler cut him off. “This explains so much!” He’d abandoned his hair-wrapping project and was leaning forward.
Kevin said, “It does?”
“Like, why you’re so short when all your brothers are so tall.”
Kevin said, “To be fair, the women in my family are usually pretty tall, too. My mom was 5’9”.”
“And why you freaked out when I tried to get your clothes off!”
Kevin said, “I was afraid of how you’d react when I told you, but that’s no excuse. I should have—”
Tyler cut him off again.“Oh my god, Kevin! The hours I spent thinking about your cock! Do you even have one?”
Ryan said, “Tyler!” and they subsided into awkward silence again.
Kevin had carefully thought through what he needed to tell Tyler, and how he wanted to say it. In retrospect, he realized it had been foolish to imagine he would be in control of the conversation. Letting people finish sentences wasn’t one of Tyler’s strong suits. And thinking on his feet wasn’t one of Kevin’s.
Finally, he said, “That is a really personal and kind of complicated question. It’s, um, also pretty much the classic example of the bad first question. Of course, most people who ask it aren’t having a conversation about sex, so—” He rubbed at his forehead.
“It’s fine, Kevin,” Ryan said. It was the first hint he’d given of having any sympathy for Kevin at all. “Tyler and I are just going to be quiet and let you finish what you need to say.” He gave Tyler a significant look.
Tyler dropped back. “Yeah. I’m sorry. Go ahead, Kevin.”
Kevin said, "Well, I was afraid of how you might react when I told you, so I didn't tell you. And when we kissed, I thought I would stop, you know, before..."-- he made a 'you know' kind of hand gesture -- "and talk to you, but I got carried away. I'm truly sorry. I mean, not sorry that it happened, because, well, I'm not glad that it happened. I mean, I am glad that it happened but I’m sorry it happened the way it did. Not in the way it did, but in the sense that I should have talked to you—”
Ryan said, “Jesus, Kevin, take a breath. We’re not in any hurry here. You get what he’s saying, Tyler?”
Tyler nodded. “I think so.”
“What were you afraid of?” Ryan asked. “That Tyler wouldn’t be interested in you anymore?”
“I guess mostly that. It wouldn’t be the first time. A lot of cis men won’t date trans men. My first lover left me after I transitioned. The changes in my body were hard for him, but so was being seen as gay when he identified as straight. He tried, but after awhile it was just too much for him.”
Ryan said, “Wait…I thought Jack told me he was your first lover.”
“But he’s gay.”
Kevin smiled for the first time since he’d arrived, just a little. “Ironic, isn’t it? Anyway, Henry had some trouble with it, too, at first. And when I try to date, sometimes guys are just put off by it, and sometimes they say stupid things, and sometimes you tell them you’re trans and all of a sudden you’re not a person anymore, they’re just really excited about checking off ‘slept with tranny’ on their purity test. I really like you, Tyler. It was going to really hurt if you acted like that.”
Kevin wasn’t sure what the nod meant. That Tyler understood why Kevin was afraid? That he would indeed have taken the news badly? That now that he knew the story, he was ready to put the whole mess behind him? Kevin supposed some part of him—the same part of him that still bought lottery tickets from time to time—had been hoping that Tyler would immediately express his outrage that anyone would treat Kevin like that, and declare himself completely fine with it, so taken with Kevin that it didn’t matter, so enlightened that he saw trans men as, simply, men, one kind of man among the whole dizzying variety of men in the world.
A nod. And then, again, the awkward silence.
Kevin wiped his hands on his pants one more time. “Well,” he said, “I thought I had a lot of things to tell you, and that being trans was just the first thing, but it turns out that once you know I’m trans, the rest of it is pretty obvious. I really am sorry.”
Tyler nodded again. He looked abstracted, like he was done with the conversation, already thinking it over.
Kevin said, “Maybe I should go.”
Ryan nodded. “That seems like a good idea.”
Kevin stood up. He said, “So, are we—if I see you, can I say hello?”
Tyler nodded. Kevin felt drained, and a bit tearful. Whatever he had thought might happen, he’d never considered a silent Tyler, a Tyler who sat still, apparently thinking things without immediately saying them out loud, who clasped his hands in his lap instead of drawing pictures in the air. Kevin loved Tyler’s ebullience and the graceful dance of his wrists. He didn’t like thinking he’d taken them away, even for awhile. He nodded back, and left.
The conversation with Kevin, brief as it was, left Tyler with many questions, most of them about himself. How did he feel about trans guys? Could he date one? How would he feel about whatever surprises Kevin’s body held? Kevin already took him out of his comfort zone, his comfort zone being gym bunnies and young professionals who always paid for dinner. Could he handle this as well? He’d never thought about trans people beyond a certain vague belief that they were probably just fine as they were. Trans people in the abstract, he was perfectly OK with. Trans people in the room: likewise. A trans person in his bed? How could he know?
He asked Ryan for a cup of tea, and Ryan responded by bringing him a white wine spritzer, because Ryan knew him better than anybody.
“Do you want to talk?” Ryan asked.
“I just need to think for awhile, if that’s OK.”
“Of course.” Ryan settled next to Tyler with his own drink, a bottle of beer from a recent Jack-and-Ryan joint brewing, and picked up his phone to read on. Puck settled on Ryan’s lap, and Tinkerbell on the velvet side chair so recently occupied by Kevin. The apartment was quiet apart from Puck’s quiet purr and the sound of the refrigerator cycling on and off. Tyler sipped his wine and settled in for some serious contemplation.
Two minutes later, he remembered that serious contemplation wasn’t really his thing.
Tyler got changed, and he and Ryan went rollerblading. Tyler didn’t think much about the conversation with Kevin, only about the pretty day and the wind in his hair, the occasional glance of appreciation for his bike-shorts-clad butt, how good he and Ryan looked together—something he always appreciated, although they’d never dated. The rails-to-trails path they were following passed by a playground crowded with kids, and a bit later, by a small wooded park with no amenities, favored as a hangout for gay men, where Ryan and Tyler stopped to get their breath. They were greeted cheerfully by a few guys they knew, and salaciously by a few they didn’t. Tyler found himself arm-in-arm with a guy he’d flirted with a few times before, at bars and parties. He declined a stroll into the woods, but as he and Ryan set out again, he thought, “This is who I am.” He knew himself perfectly well, and however confused he’d let himself get, the answers to all his questions were clear. He dated—and fucked without dating—gym bunnies. They were familiar. He know what they wanted from him, and what he could expect from them. He understood the perfectly choreographed dance of the hook-up, and the theme-with-variations of the Temporary Boyfriend Tango. It wasn’t perfect. Maybe sometimes he wished for something different, something a little better, but it was what it was. Its ecstasies and its insuffiencies were as known to him as the contents of his closet.
By dusk, Tyler was worn out from skating, and even more worn out from the thinking has brain had carried on without him, as it often did when he was lost in physical activity. The uncertainty he’d been feeling since that night with Kevin was gone. He remembered who he was. He remembered it perfectly.
Tyler woke up the next morning feeling clean and clear. He was cheerful as he got ready for work, fed the cats, ate a little breakfast. His phone had gone missing, and he wandered his apartment looking for it. It was on the coffee table, and also on the coffee table was a brown paper bag, the flat kind someone might bag greeting cards in, or comic books.
There were two things in the bag: a 12-pack of glitter pens, and a notebook. Tyler set aside the pens, and studied the notebook. Kevin had made it, obviously. The paper inside was a beautiful blue, the cover a pale lavender. Tyler could so easily imagine Kevin stitching the binding, using a fine paintbrush to outline the fairy’s wings with glue before sprinkling glitter, blowing away the excess. His perfect focus, steady hands, and tenderness as he created something beautiful.
Tyler found himself flushing as he remembered that focus, those hands, that tenderness, all directed at him. He pressed the fairy notebook to his chest, against his aching heart. Perhaps he’d been wrong. Perhaps Tyler shouldn’t have been thinking about who he was; perhaps he should have been thinking more about who Kevin was.
Tyler and Kevin Have Brunch
Tyler invited Kevin to brunch the next Sunday. Kevin couldn’t stop his leg from jiggling under the table. It wasn’t nerves; it was happiness. He was at brunch with Tyler. They were drinking coffee and chatting. Tyler kvetched a bit about an annoying co-worker; Kevin told a funny story about the last time he babysat Riley, who had only gotten more challenging since beginning to crawl. Tyler said, “Next time, give me a call. I can come down,” and that, Tyler’s casual suggestion that Kevin could call him, that he would come to Kevin’s apartment, was what really set Kevin’s leg in motion. Kevin pressed down on his thigh with one hand, but it didn’t help. He couldn’t get up and run a victory lap around the restaurant, or throw his arms into the air and yell, or call Jack and say, “omigod, he said give me a call, I can come down.” So he just smiled the most ordinary smile he could and said, “I’ll do that. God knows I could use the help with that kid,” while his leg went jiggle jiggle jiggle.
Tyler ran his finger around the rim of his glass—he was drinking a mimosa—and said, “So, I’ve met Jack. Were Matt and Henry pretty much like him?”
“Ha, no. Jack is kind of a guy’s guy, you know?”
“He does kind of remind me of—”
Kevin put up his hand. “Stop right there. We do not comment on Jack’s similarity to any hypothetical brothers a hypothetical person might hypothetically have, as it might make that person extremely uncomfortable.”
Tyler said, “Hypothetically.”
“Exactly. Anyway, Matt and I were pretty much like attracting like, you know? He was also trans, and also what you might call sort of a casual guy. And Henry is a big ol’ bear.”
“Were you monogamous?”
“With any of them, I guess.”
Kevin said, “Jack and I were. Matt and I—ha! Matt did not do monogamy. He was always dating. That last year, he’d gotten pretty serious with this one guy. We’d been talking about Matt spending more time at his place, or maybe even Peter moving in with us. Matt and I had always been us, and he made space for other guys around our our relationship, but Peter was different.”
“Was that hard for you?”
Kevin shrugged. “Yes and no. Things were really good between me and Matt, so no. But it was a big change, so yes. And then Matt died, and I’d have done anything—let any number of other men move into our house—to have him back.” He paused a moment, thinking back. “It was hard for Peter when Matt died. Everybody knew I was Matt’s partner, but not many people knew how much Peter meant to him. Peter and I ended up getting really close for awhile after Matt died, partly because of that.”
“Did you sleep with him?”
Kevin laughed. “Jack said you had no filters.”
“That’s not an answer.”
“Yeah, we did actually. A few times. Starting, I think, like, the night before the memorial.”
“Wow, you didn’t waste any time.”
“No, I guess we didn’t. It made us feel closer to Matt, I think? It was a comfort. I don’t think we’d have slept together if Matt hadn’t died. I mean, if Peter had moved in with us. We liked each other, but that was it, as far as I could tell.”
“I never asked how Matt died.”
Kevin said, “Yeah. It’s hard to talk about.”
He didn’t say anything else, and after a moment, Tyler said, “So what about you and Henry?”
Kevin laughed again. “Henry and I were not monogamous in theory, but in practice I was because that’s kind of how I am, and he mostly was. He was in grad school. He hardly had time and energy for me. He would hook up sometimes if he went out of town. He goes to bear gatherings sometimes, and he always has something going on at those.”
Tyler said, “You seem pretty mellow about it.”
Kevin shrugged. “I am mellow about it, I guess. What about you?”
Tyler said, “I’ve never even been serious enough with anyone to talk about monogamy. Except Michael, I guess. We’d agreed not to see anybody else, but it wasn’t like a commitment. We weren’t really thinking in terms of the future. He loved me, though, I’m pretty sure.”
“Is a relationship something you want?” They were getting into dangerous territory, but he needed to know. Kevin didn’t really know how not to have relationships with men he really liked—with men he loved. He could do non-monogamy, if his lover wanted that, but he couldn’t do casual.
Tyler said, “I’ve always thought so. But you know how people say they want something, like they’re going to run a marathon or write a book or get a great new job, and then it’s five years later and they’re still saying they want to do it, but not doing it? Maybe I only think I want a relationship. But then, maybe I just haven’t a real chance to try one yet.”
There were a great many things Kevin wanted to say to that, none of them appropriate for such a tentative new beginning, so he got up and went to the buffet for another waffle.
Kevin and Tyler walked home from the restaurant, not talking much. Kevin felt a little tired. He was ready to be home with Damian, to think things over. The date had gone well. But maybe it hadn’t been a date. Maybe it had been a test to see if they could be friends again. Or maybe it meant they were already friends again. He didn’t know what Tyler was thinking. He wanted whatever Tyler wanted. Which is to say he wanted everything, and wasn’t sure what he was allowed to hope for.
They were almost to the top of the stairs when Tyler grabbed his arm. Tyler said, “Hey, Kevin, hold up a minute.” Kevin stopped and let Tyler turn him around. He was one step above Tyler, and he found that he liked liked not having to crane his neck to look up into Tyler’s eyes. Tyler said, “I’d like to kiss you,” and Kevin said, “OK.” Tyler leaned in and kissed him. It was gentle, but it went on long enough for Kevin to put his arms around Tyler’s neck, and Tyler to pull Kevin closer. They broke after a minute or two, hugging and laughing into each other’s necks. Tyler said, “I liked that,” and Kevin said, “I liked it, too,” and they grinned at each other. Kevin kissed Tyler again, just a quick warm press of the lips, and then hugged him again. “I missed you,” he said. Tyler said, “Me, too. So damn much.”
Tyler kept hold of Kevin’s hand as they finished climbing the stairs, and at his door, he said, “I’m going to say good-bye now, but I really like this.”
“I like it, too. Thank you for brunch. Maybe I can buy you dinner one night?”
“That would be nice. I’ll check my work schedule and text you, OK?”
“Yeah, that sounds good.” Kevin kissed Tyler one more time—standing on tip-toes, Tyler bending a bit to meet him—and headed home.
Kevin is a Victim of His Own Imagination
Sunday brunch was followed by an evening walk on Monday, during which Kevin and Tyler held hands. They kissed on the steps afterward. On Thursday, they went with Jack to watch Darnell’s softball team play. Tyler put his hand on Kevin’s thigh in the car on the way home, and they kissed goodbye outside Tyler’s door. On Friday, they were supposed to go out to dinner, but it was raining hard, so they ordered Chinese food instead, Kevin giving the delivery person an apologetic look and an extra-large tip.
Now they were on Tyler’s couch. Puck was on Tyler’s chest, trying to snag a bite of garlic chicken before Tyler could get it into his mouth, and Tinkerbell was glowering at Kevin from underneath the TV stand. Kevin had finished eating and had pulled Tyler’s feet into his lap. He was admiring the long bones of Tyler’s lower legs, his barely-visible golden-brown leg hair, and the One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish tattoo on his left calf. His hands were exploring Tyler’s sharp ankle bones, the perfectly smooth and hairless tops of his feet, and the slightly rough and callused skin of his heels.
Tyler said, “Do you have a thing for feet?”
Kevin looked up. Tyler was holding his chopsticks up, out of Puck’s reach. Puck jumped onto the back of the couch, and Tyler raised his arm higher. “Um…It’s possible I have a thing for your feet. Even though they’re always filthy because of your boorish habit of wandering around without shoes on.”
Tyler had managed to get a bite of chicken into his mouth via a serpentine avoidance maneuver, and when he’d swallowed it, he said, “If my feet are not clean enough for you, you are welcome to wash them anytime.”
The stereopticon in Kevin’s brain threw up a 3D image of him and Tyler, much as they were at the moment, minus the Chinese food and invasive cat, and plus a warm soapy washcloth which with Kevin was gently and thoroughly cleaning Tyler’s feet, while Tyler looked at him with quiet affection and simmering heat.
He reached up to play with the hem of Tyler’s skirt. “So, I’ve only seen you wearing skirts at home. I’ve been meaning to ask about it.”
Tyler nodded. “I love them in hot weather, but, yeah, I don’t wear them out. I feel like I’m basher-bait at the best of times, you know? But summer before last, Ryan and I went to Provincetown, and I wore skirts the whole week. It turns out that a skirt is even better on a breezy summer day at the beach. I loved it.”
The stereopticon served up Tyler, pink-cheeked from just a bit too much sun, standing barefoot in the sand, the hem of his skirt damp from the surf. Kevin said, “Apparently my brain can turn anything you say into an erotic vignette.”
Tyler grinned. “Did I ever tell you about the time I got food poisoning right after I’d eaten about a pound of spaghetti with red sauce?”
“Thanks for that. It’s a relief to know there are lines even my brain won’t cross.” Kevin had his hands on Tyler’s ankles, and, feeling bold, he scooted closer, sliding Tyler’s legs to either side of his hips. He ran his hands up, just barely under Tyler’s skirt, and stroked the insides of Tyler’s knees with his thumbs.
Tyler set his bowl down on the floor, and Puck jumped down to check it for leftovers. Tyler blew out a breath. “I’ve been wondering. Do you get hard?”
Kevin flushed a little. “Yeah, I do.”
Tyler said teasingly, “Are you hard right now?”
“Are you in the room? Then I probably am. Why do you ask?”
“I can’t decide if I want you to tell me about your…parts…or if I want to get to know them more….organically, I guess?”
“You’ve been thinking about my parts?” The stereopticon was sending up one image after another, so fast that it was beginning to smoke.
Tyler said, “Yes. Since before I knew you were trans. And now I don’t know what to expect, but I’m not sure I want to know what to expect? I’ve always liked the adventure of it, with a new guy. But before, it’s always been just variations on a theme. And now it could be something really different. I don’t even know what the new theme is, or what the variations might be.”
Kevin had leaned back, his hands in his lap. “The adventure option is pretty risky for me, if, you know, if you don’t like what you find.”
Tyler said, “You stopped worshipping my feet.”
“I thought we were having a serious conversation. I can’t worship you during a serious conversation.”
“I think you can. I feel better when you’re touching me. So get back to it, supplicant.”
Kevin shook his head. “I can’t. Not while we’re talking about this kind of thing.” He dropped Tyler’s feet off the edge of the couch and pulled Tyler around until Tyler was leaning against him, chest to back. He put his arms around Tyler and said, “How’s that?”
“You like to push me around like a big posable doll, don’t you?”
Kevin said, “No, it’s—if you want to sit a different way—I mean, we can—”
Tyler patted Kevin’s arm. “It’s fine. But don’t think I don’t notice you like to get us in positions where you can pretend you’re bigger than me.”
“It’s not that.” At Tyler’s skeptical glance, Kevin said, “Really! I just like to hold you is all.” He was flushed, hot, flustered, hard, nervous, shy, hopeful, and scared. His limbic system was in a panic, not sure which part of him needed blood the most. He kissed the side of Tyler’s head. “OK. So: map vs. no map. Tell me what you’re thinking.”
“I’m thinking that it’s not just up to me.”
“I know. But I want to hear what you have to say first.”
“Before I knew you were trans, I was really looking forward to—you know. I’d think, how long is he? How thick? Cut or uncut? How hairy? Does he manscape? And it wasn’t that I was hoping for one thing or another, I was just wanting to know it. About you. The way I want to know everything about you.” Tyler scrunched his eyes closed and bit his lip. “Maybe I should have written you a letter. This is kind of har—not easy.”
Kevin said, “No, hey, it’s fine.” He kissed Tyler again.
“So, there’s this way that it doesn’t feel all that different, because I think I don’t care, it’s not like I’m catalog shopping for a certain kind of genitals—not that I haven’t done that before—it’s that I really like you and because of that, I’ll like whatever you have. It’s like how if you’d asked me six months ago what the perfect height was for a man, I wouldn’t have said five four, but now that seems just right.”
Kevin said, “And a half.”
Tyler didn’t say anything.
Kevin said, “The perfect height for a man is now five foot four and a half.”
“I love how secure you are about your height. It’s inspiring. It’s also completely beside the point.”
“I understand your point. But this is different.”
“It is. I just don’t know how different it is, for me. I’ve never thought about being with someone who didn’t have, you know. I mean, I like cocks. But I like you, too. I don’t want to screw up or hurt your feelings, but I don’t know how not to screw up.” He sighed. “I guess even if it would be kind of spoilery, maybe you should tell me about it.”
Kevin said, “I can give you a general idea, and then maybe we could do a live demonstration. I mean, you don’t have to get your first look in the middle of, like, sex. You could just, you know, look me over. Henry and I did that after I had bottom surgery. I mean, we’d been together for awhile, so it wasn’t the same, but it was a good thing to do. Low-pressure. You could look, and we could talk about it.”
“And you’d be OK with that?”
“Probably? I think so. I’m basically up for anything that gets me a step closer to being allowed to worship you above the knees.” Or on my knees, his brain whispered.
Kevin Takes Off His Clothes
They did it in Kevin’s bedroom, on a Sunday afternoon. It seemed simple: Kevin takes off his pants, Tyler takes a look, they talk about it. But there were a surprising number of decisions to be made: Should Kevin be standing, or should he lie down? Or sit on the edge of the bed? Where should Tyler be? Should Kevin undress all at once, or in stages? Should he undress himself, or should Tyler do it? Would it be OK for Tyler to keep his clothes on, or should he undress to put them on more equal footing? Neither of them seemed capable of choosing. Their nerves radiated off them and bounced back off the walls, knocking them off-balance.
Tyler finally said, “Oh, for fuck’s sake. Here’s what we’re going to do: I’m going to go to the bathroom, because we’ve been dithering for so long I have to pee again. You’re going to undress and lie down with a sheet over you. I will come back and move the sheet as needed for purposes of observation and exploration. It will be just like a visit to the doctor.”
Kevin said, “That was never one of my kinks. Until now.”
Tyler grinned. “You go ahead and get undressed and into the skimpy paper gown, Mr. Yovenko, and I’ll be right back to take your vitals.”
When Tyler came back from the bathroom, Kevin was in the bed. He was lying on his back with the sheet pulled up almost to his chin. Tyler couldn’t help smiling at that. He said, “I think it’s pretty safe for me to see your neck, honey,” and pulled the sheet down as far as Kevin’s collarbone. He squeezed Kevin’s hand. “I’m going to just look at your chest, if that’s OK?”
Kevin said, “Yeah.” He sounded breathy.
Tyler pulled the sheet down and looked at Kevin’s chest. It was lightly covered with hair. Tyler remembered his fingers stroking the hair on Kevin’s belly. He wanted to do that again.
Kevin said, “So, uh, I had top surgery maybe fourteen years ago, so it’s really well healed. You can see I’ve got these scars right here”—he ran his fingers along white lines that ran beneath the muscles, pale enough to be almost hidden by the hair—“but they’re pretty faded now. You used to be able to feel them, but you really can’t anymore. When they did the surgery, they had to take more than they expected on the left side, I can’t even really remember why, something about fibrous tissue, so I’ve got this little divot here. You can’t really see it, but you can feel it.” He took hold of Tyler’s hand and ran it under his left nipple and up toward his armpit. “Do you feel that?” Kevin asked. “Just that spot there where it feels like there’s a kind of dent?” He ran Tyler’s fingers over it again, and Tyler nodded. Kevin said,“Except for that, I had a really good outcome. I’d have been happy with a lot worse. I was so ready to be done with breasts, I used to celebrate the anniversary every year.”
Tyler nodded again. His hand was still on Kevin’s chest. He dared to stroke it one more time, along the path Kevin had laid out, and then he laid his hand flat, Kevin’s nipple in the palm of his hand. He could feel a heaviness starting in his balls. Something growing below his breastbone made it hard to breathe. He let out a quick, heavy breath and said, “Kevin, I don’t think I can do this.”
Kevin started, and Tyler said, “No! Shit! Not this this. I mean—I don’t think I can just look at you like you’re an educational exhibit at the anatomy museum. I mean, fuck. I want to touch you.”
Tyler said, “Oh, thank god,” and a moment later he was straddling Kevin. He ran his hands over Kevin’s chest, thumbs stroking his nipples, and then bent down to kiss him. He’d never been on top of Kevin before, and it made him feel a little wild, like a cat with a fresh-caught mouse. He pinned Kevin’s hands and kissed him hard. Tyler groaned a little, but Kevin was quiet. Tyler pulled back. “This OK?” he asked, and Kevin said, “Yeah. Yeah,” so Tyler kissed him again.
Damian woke up from a long nap on the couch. He hopped up onto the windowsill and looked out, but there were no interesting birds or squirrels. He made a slow circuit of the living room and went into the kitchen, where he had a drink of water and a few half-hearted bites of kibble. He strolled to the bathroom, making note as he passed of the people on the bed. His litter box was nice and clean, and he came out of it mewing and full of wild energy after a really good poop. He batted a catnip mouse around for a few minutes, then jumped up onto the bed. The person’s hand was just lying there, unused, so Damian butted against it. When it failed to pet him, he butted against it again, then batted at it with one paw. It continued to ignore him, so he licked it a couple of times with his raspy tongue. Finally, he gave it a good hard nip.
When Tyler asked to kiss him, Kevin suspected that the right answer was something about finding a way to continue their conversation first. But Tyler said he wanted to kiss Kevin, and the look on his face was neither the soft yielding permission of their first night together, nor the sweet and tender yearning of their good-night kisses. It was keen, covetous, ardent, commanding. Tyler’s look asked Kevin to give in to him, and Kevin did.
Now Tyler was on top of him. His skirt had hitched up, and only the thin sheet and Tyler’s briefs were between them. The fabric made the steady movement of Tyler’s erection over his almost too much to bear, but he couldn’t imagine stopping. Tyler was propped above him, his arms like safety bars on either side of Kevin’s head, his head hanging, his breath coming hard. One of Kevin’s hands gripped Tyler’s wrist; the other was flat on the bed, pressing down as he lifted his hips just a bit, holding himself steady for Tyler to bear down on. He would come, he knew, as soon as Tyler moved the least bit faster or pressed the least bit harder. In a minute, maybe, he would ask Tyler for that. But not yet.
Kevin was underneath Tyler, legs wide and knees lifted. It wasn’t like being cock-to-cock with other lovers; Kevin was hard, but it was a different kind of hardness, a bump more than a ridge. It left more space for Tyler between Kevin’s legs than he was used to. It wasn’t bad. It was kind of good. It was very good. Kevin was pressed up into him, rising up for him. Kevin was quiet, but Tyler could read the story of his arousal and pleasure in Kevin’s breath. Kevin was close, too, he could tell. He wondered what that felt like in Kevin’s body, how it was the same for the two of them, how it was different. Kevin began to move with him, and Tyler picked up the pace. They were good, it was good, everything was good, Kevin was good, he could hear Kevin’s breath getting faster and his own babble starting up, “yeah, honey, that’s right, so good.” He felt good but, more important, he was making Kevin feel good, and any minute now he was going to know what it was like to get Kevin off, he’d know whether Kevin held himself quiet or strung out a line of profanity or grunted or sighed or even cried. He wanted to know everything about Kevin, but there was nothing he wanted to know more than this: what Kevin sounded like when he came.
Kevin cried out. It sounded like pain. He said, “Fuck, fuck, fucking cat.”
That was not what Tyler had expected at all.
Kevin pushed at Damian, trying to get him to go away, but Damian decided they were playing a game and pounced on his hand. Kevin said, “Fuck, Tyler, hold on, the cat’s an asshole.” Tyler rolled off him and the two of them looked at Damian, who had rolled onto his back and was kicking at Kevin’s hand with his hind legs while he bit at Kevin’s wrist.
Tyler said between panting breaths, “Wow, Damian, worst timing ever, you little shit.”
Kevin laughed. The sheet was down around his hips and he pulled it higher, then twisted away from Tyler to drop Damian off the edge of the bed. Damian hopped right back up. Kevin grabbed his boxers off the floor and wriggled into them under the sheet, then scooped up the cat. He kissed Damian’s nose and set him down on the living room floor, then pulled the bedroom door shut.
Tyler watched Kevin. Kevin in his boxers (21.99 for a handy four-pack in any big box store in North America) was more of Kevin than he’d ever seen before. The cheap boxers hung on Kevin’s flat butt; nobody had troubled to match the plaid at the seams. His legs looked strong and firm. Kevin’s back was just a bit hairy, and he had a farmer tan. Tyler was pretty sure he’d never slept with someone with a farmer tan before. Well, at least not since he’d left the farm.
Kevin got back into bed, curled up to Tyler, and snuggled under his arm. “So, we got kind of off-track.”
Tyler groaned. “I know. That cat has the worst timing.”
Kevin laughed. “No, I mean the anatomy lesson. I mean, sure, your genitals and my genitals—”
Tyler said, “Our genitals.”
“Yes, our genitals have gotten somewhat acquainted at this point.”
“Our genitals have gotten acquainted. Is that what you call it, really? You are so bad at talking dirty.”
Kevin put on an air of forbearance. “What I am trying to say, if you will listen, is that we got a bit carried away, not for the first time, and we should just stop right now and finish what we came in here to do.”
“Not that. I am going to take off my shorts and show you my parts.”
Kevin said, “No, hey, no laughing at me.”
Tyler said, “I am just amazed you ever got laid before.”
Kevin punched him in the shoulder. “Fine, be 12 years old. I am a grownup, and I am taking off my pants.”
Tyler laughed harder. “Oh, god,” he said, “It just gets better and better. Now I’m amazed you’ve never been arrested.”
“That didn’t come out quite the way I meant it to.” Kevin was laughing now, too. He shucked off his boxers and rolled onto his back. “OK, come take a look. Because nobody’s getting laid until you’ve had the tour.” He was acting braver than he felt. But then, so was Tyler.
Tyler lay on his stomach between Kevin’s legs, looking at his parts. The corner of his mouth twitched. Kevin said, “What?”
“No, no, it’s just…”
Kevin said sternly, “Tyler.”
“I’m just…I’m trying really, really hard to think of any word but cute.”
“Oh, for christ’s sake.”
“Also, there is a size joke which it is taking all of my will-power to keep to myself.”
Kevin hit him with a pillow. “You suck. You suck so bad.”
Tyler said, “I know! I know! I’m the worst! I can’t help it!” and then they both burst into laughter again.
One of Tyler’s fingers was touching a spot at the base of Kevin’s cute thing. There was a little fold of taut skin there that Tyler could just tuck the tip of his finger under. Kevin gave a little gasp, and Tyler grinned. “That’s a good spot, huh?”
“It’s one of the good spots, yes.”
“I don’t have a spot like that.” He made tiny circles with his fingertip.
Kevin said, “You do, though. The, um, homologue would be part of your foreskin.”
Tyler smoldered up at Kevin. “God, the way you say homologue makes me hot.”
“I can hit you with the pillow again. Don’t think I won’t.”
Tyler ran his finger from the base to the tip of the cute thing, a journey of a couple of inches. “Tell me about this.”
"That is my, um, cock." Kevin was blushing. "It's all original, but kind of super-sized by 15 years of testosterone. It is 100% good spot."
Tyler said, “Mmmm, good spot.” He made a ring around Kevin’s cock with his thumb and forefinger, and lazily stroked.
Kevin panted a little. “It, um, used to be connected all the way up except the very tip. The surgery I had is called a free-up because, fuck, Tyler, will you stop so I can talk.”
Tyler said, “It’s called a free-up because it frees it up? I’m just guessing here.” He stopped stroking but gave a little squeeze.
Kevin said through gritted teeth, “Yeah, so it’s only anchored at the base and it can get erect in a more, um, penis-like way.”
“And so someone can wrap their fingers all the way around it, like I’m doing now?” He voice was sweetly innocent, but he’d started running his thumb over the head. Kevin gave a breathy little moan, and Tyler grinned. He slid his hand down lower.“You have balls.”
“There’s more than one way to take that, but yeah. Implants.”
“They’re very nice.” Tyler stroked them a bit. “Just exactly as hairy as they ought to be. I could pet them all day. Here is something else I don’t have.” Two fingers were exploring the underside of Kevin’s cock. It was another good spot, if the little movements Kevin was making were any indication.
Kevin said, “Yeah, that’s the original plumbing there, for peeing. There are surgeries that can re-route it but I—.”
“If it doesn’t help me get you off, I don’t need to know it. At least not right now. You’re wet back here.” Tyler slid his fingers through the moisture and trailed it up the underside of the cute thing to the head.
Kevin said breathlessly, “Um, yeah, I still have a bit of an opening there. It gets wet. I don’t, um, quite know how to say it, but uh, nothing goes in the front hole, yeah?”
Tyler said, “Got it.” He ran his fingers through the wetness and then began stroking Kevin’s cock with two slick fingers and his thumb. He felt Kevin’s thighs tense. “It’s handy. You have a built-in lube dispenser. If people knew, everybody would want one.”
Kevin put his hand over Tyler’s stopping its movements. “That is not a joke that I can…that’s not really funny to me.”
“It’s OK, just.”
“Not again. I get it.”
Tyler rested his head on Kevin’s thigh, watching his fingers toy with Kevin’s cock, and cataloged Kevin’s noises and movements. After a bit, the awkwardness passed and they were comfortable with each other again. “I’m going to jerk you off now, if that’s all right,” he said. “Any advice?”
Kevin said, “Yeah. Don’t stop, don’t worry too much about being gentle, and find something useful to do with your other hand.”
When Kevin came he swore, made a sound almost like a sob, said Tyler’s name, and laughed. And then he went to sleep.
Kevin and Tyler Enjoy The Honeymoon Period
That autumn was the best time of Tyler’s life. He went to trivia night with Kevin; they went to Ryan’s to sample his first batch of beer; they took the tweenage niblings rollerskating; they took Mini-Mel and Norman to a zoo where they got to feed giraffes; sometimes Tyler helped on Kevin’s weekly babysitting gig with Riley. They bickered mildly about what kind of takeout to get and whether Tyler’s wi-fi password was sufficiently secure. Once they were officially seeing each other, Tyler had to run his own effusive gauntlet of bro-love at Yovenko gatherings, and he got close to Jacob, a book-loving nephew of about 13 who seemed to be always on the verge of asking Tyler something important about his sexuality.
Kevin, once he had permission to touch Tyler, never stopped. Sometimes when they were just talking, he’d spend ten or fifteen minutes rubbing lotion into Tyler’s hands, wrists, and arms. When they were stuffed into a restaurant booth with friends, he’d work his hand up under the back of Tyler’s shirt to rest it on his bare back. He actually made good on his threat to wash Tyler’s feet before letting him into bed. Once, Jack walked in on a foot massage and teasingly said, “Jesus, Kevin, next you’ll be giving him a pedicure.” Kevin just smiled and waggled his eyebrows at Tyler, like maybe he would, at that.
When Tyler shyly admitted that, while he didn’t entirely understand what had happened that first night, he wanted to try it again (“except the part where you kick me out.”), Kevin was more than happy. Tyler had been with guys who wanted to be in charge so they could boss him around, but never someone like Kevin, who wanted to be the boss so he could be sweet. “Just lie back,” he’d say, “and let me take care of everything.” And Tyler would.
One day, Tyler found a silver bracelet set with a blue glass bead hanging on his bracelet holder, in among his other bracelets as if it had always been there. He found a scarf in his accessories drawer, and a soft grey-and-purple hoodie folded under an old Henley as if it had been there forever. He opened his silverware drawer to get a spoon, and found three slightly-tarnished silver ice cream forks, their handles elaborately decorated with flowers and leaves. “What in the world made you think I needed ice cream forks?” he asked Kevin.
Kevin ticked his answers off on his fingers. “First, the fact that you knew they were ice cream forks is an answer in itself. Second, since when has need come into it where you’re concerned? Third, I got them cheap because the guy didn’t have a complete set.”
“When do you even go shopping?”
Kevin shrugged. “Little kids love flea markets. Older kids love malls. The Bros and the Bro-wives love it when I take their kids out on the Saturdays when you work.”
Tyler said, “Mel and Darwin aren’t married.”
Kevin shrugged again. “We don’t get hung up on semantics.”
In October, the archives of a famous writer who’d died 75 years earlier were unsealed, and Tyler went along with Kevin to the celebratory reception at the university library. He tried not to show how much it meant to him to be invited. He waited for Kevin to start making “helpful suggestions” about what he should wear, but beyond mentioning that it would be pretty casual, Kevin never did. At the reception, Kevin held his hand and introduced him with his usual look of doting pride, and Kevin’s co-workers greeted Tyler with an unforced friendliness that he realized must rise from their affection for Kevin. “Is there anyone who doesn’t like Kevin?” he asked Jack the next time they saw each other.
“Of course there are people who don’t like Kevin,” Jack said.
Tyler said, “Who?”
Jack said, “Well, I’ve never actually met any. But there must be some, somewhere.”
In early November, Tyler got a call from Diana. “Tyler!” she said. “We’re having a Bro-Wives outing and wondered if you wanted to come along.”
Tyler said, “But Kevin isn’t a Bro, and I’m not a…wife.”
“We don’t get hung up on semantics. It’s our annual pre-holiday-season spa day. Are you in?”
Was Tyler in? He was in heaven.
Kevin spent a day demonstrating book binding at a traditional trades expo, and came home with a tabletop letterpress. “It was an impulse purchase,” he said after he’d made Tyler help him carry it upstairs. “The guy at the next booth let me try it out. It’d be pretty cool to be able to do a whole book, printing and binding.”
A few nights later, Tyler was reading on Kevin’s couch, Damian in his lap, while Kevin experimented with the press. Kevin held up a card he’d printed, a picture of a blue whale, and after Tyler had admired it, went back to work. Tyler watched him for a moment. His other boyfriends had always taken him out. But Kevin was a homebody, so he brought Tyler home. Tyler felt something squeeze his heart hard, not for the first time. When Kevin dumped him, it was going to be different than any of the times before. It was going to be so much worse.
They were post-coitally snuggling at Tyler’s—Puck curled up against Tyler’s back, Tinkerbell hunched on the dresser watching Kevin like a vulture waiting for a roebuck to die—when Kevin asked, “What are your plans for Christmas?”
“Ryan and I usually spend it together. His mom’s always stationed at some embassy overseas, and my family, you know, well, they’re not in the picture. I don’t know about this year, though. I think Ryan might be going to Jeremy’s.”
“I’d like it if we could spend it together.”
“What would that look like?”
Kevin said, “Well, my brothers either go to their in-laws, or they do nuclear family things at home. Henry and I used to go visit his family, but since I’ve been on my own, I’ve watched the kids open presents at Mel and Darwin’s. Our big family party is always a few days after Christmas.”
Tyler said, “What do the Bros do for a family party if they can’t barbecue?”
Kevin laughed. “We rent the Ukrainian hall—”
“Ok, first: you rent a hall. Second: there’s a Ukrainian hall?”
“Yes. So we rent the hall, and then it’s us, the usual hangers-on, a few folks we know from the Ukrainian community here—”
Tyler started to open his mouth, and Kevin put his hand over it. “Just take it as a given, OK? You’ll get to meet some older folks who were friends of my parents. They have stories. It’ll be fun. Anyway, we get together around 1 or 2, dinner’s at about 3, then we open presents—”
Tyler pulled Kevin’s hand away. “Surely you don’t all buy presents for each other.”
“No. We have an age-old agreement that we only buy presents for kids and young adults. For them, we draw names. Tim and Paris are in charge of bringing extras for kids who show up unexpectedly, and we always get something for the old Ukrainian folks. You’ll get presents from all my siblings but that’s just because it’s your first year. The main thing we do for the family is that Darwin puts together a kind of yearbook, with pictures of the kids and news about milestones and stuff, and I bind a copy for each family.”
Tyler thought back to the October birthday party for Kevin and the twins. Timothy's wife had been behind a camera half the night, as she usually was. "So, when I asked why Paris was taking so many pictures all the time, and you said it was for the yearbook-- I thought you were joking."
Kevin said, “Oh, no, we take the yearbook very seriously. My parents started it when they first came to the US, to send back to their families. It was still part of the Soviet Union then, so they couldn’t always get them through, but they always sent them, and these huge care packages. We still send copies off to all these cousins we’ve never met. Well, except Darwin, because he spent a year in the Ukraine after college. At the new year, my mom’s sisters send us letters and big boxes of weird candy that we all fight over. Ever since mom died we have to have them translated. It’s kind of cool.”
Kevin said, “Yeah. I guess I should have mentioned that Christmas is the time of year when we get really ethnic? Tell me you like beet-sauerkraut salad.”
“Tell me you’re kidding.”
Kevin laughed. “Oh, hell no. It has potatoes in it, too, and carrots. Depending on who makes it, maybe pickles, too. You’ll love it.”
“I’m pretty sure I won’t.”
“No worries. You can fill up on dumplings and stuffed duck. And borscht. Also, there will be folk dancing.”
“You’re making this up.”
“I am not. The children will perform a traditional Ukrainian folk dance in costume—I was very good at this in my youth, by the way—and then Mr and Mrs Zavgorodny lead us all in simple village dances.”
Tyler said, “You are so making this up.”
Kevin looked smug. “Wait and see.”
The Ukrainian Hall was an unimpressive brown block of a building with a dirt-and-gravel parking lot. The inside was just as shabby, with ancient wood paneling, a big room with some folding tables and chairs, a bar at one end. A flag Tyler assumed was the Ukrainian flag hung behind the bar, and a long banner that said, “25 Something Something” in Cyrillic lettering. “25 Years of Independence,” Kevin explained. “It’s a big deal. Though it’s not like things have been great in Ukraine since. Not that we want to talk about that at a party. Oh, and don’t make any jokes about cannibalism.” And with that mystifying bit of advice, Kevin went off to greet people and help set out the food.
The party was exactly like Kevin said it would be. Jack and Darnell were also there, Jack greeting the old Ukrainian folks like he’d known them forever. Tyler supposed he had. A bunch of kids performed as promised, and then one of the old couples put a fresh CD into the boom box and everybody got up. Jack said to Tyler, “I look forward to this all year,” and trotted out onto the dance floor.
Darnell said, “I never guessed when I started seeing Jack that it would mean doing white-people folk dances with his ex-boyfriend’s whole family every Christmas for the rest of my life. That’s weird, right? It’s not just me?” But he followed Jack cheerfully enough.
Almost everyone danced. The watchers consisted of a few old folks who couldn’t dance anymore, some teenagers who looked on with studied indifference, and Tyler. Tyler leaned against a wall, half a piece of some kind of barely-edible poppy-seed dessert bread in his hand. He supposed sugar must have been in short supply when the Ukrainian people were establishing their national menu. The dancers did something that looked like a polka, then stopped to clap hands and stomp a little with their hands on their hips, and then grabbed their partners and polka’d some more. Kevin was a good dancer, and looked like he was enjoying himself immensely, laughing with Mel when they got a tricky bit right, and laughing even harder when they made a mistake. He caught Tyler’s eye and jerked his head as if to say, “Come on in!” but Tyler didn’t.
The old folks were all gone, and parents with young kids had begun drifting away, when Kevin asked if Tyler was ready to go. “Shouldn’t we stay and help with cleanup?” Tyler asked.
Paris, who’d been chatting with them, said, “Nah, it’s your first year. Go on home and be romantic. We’ll put you to work next time.”
Kevin was surprised that Tyler didn’t dance at the Christmas party; Tyler loved to dance. Perhaps Tyler was overwhelmed by all the new people—but then, when had Tyler ever been overwhelmed by people? When they got home, Kevin said, “Do you want to go to your place, or mine?”
Tyler didn’t look at him.“I think I should go home by myself.”
These were words Kevin had never expected to hear coming out of Tyler’s mouth. “Is everything OK? Did something happen? Is there something you need?”
Tyler said, “I think I just need to be alone for awhile.”
Tyler had never needed to be alone before. Kevin didn’t know what it meant that he needed it now. He didn’t think he liked it. But he gave Tyler a quick kiss, squeezed his arm, said, “OK. Text me tomorrow?” and let him go, carrying his unease home with him.
Tyler sat on the couch and unloaded his bag of presents. Two scarves, a pair of beautiful leather gloves, homemade Christmas cards from the kids, a couple of hand towels edged with traditional Ukrainian embroidery (this had had to be explained to him), his own copy of the family yearbook. One of the kids had addressed a card to “Uncle Tyler.” Darwin and Mel had included a note with the gloves; it said, “Welcome to the family.” One of the milestones in the yearbook was, “Kevin meets Tyler,” and Darwin had included a picture of the two of them with their arms around each other, framed in a heart. Tyler also showed up playing soccer with a bunch of teens, reading a picture book to Mini-Mel, and standing between the twins as the three of them saluted the camera with grill tools.
He wanted to burn it all.
He and Kevin had recently passed Milestone: Brandon. Milestone: Michael, also known as Milestone: Tyler’s Longest Relationship, was still three months away. Sometime in that three months, Tyler felt sure, he would figure out how and why it was going to end. It troubled him that he didn’t know already. He always knew the ending, sometimes from the very beginning, reading the clues in the ambivalent mix of attraction and discomfiture all the men he dated seemed to feel.
So far, Kevin had only shown the attraction part. So whatever happened, it wouldn’t be one of the usual things. But what did that matter? There would be something about Tyler he couldn’t deal with, that was for sure. Maybe Kevin would get tired of Tyler going out to clubs without him, even though he always said, “Go! Have a good time!” and claimed to be glad to have a chance to spend the evening alone. Maybe he’d stop being amused by Tyler’s habit of watching terrible romances, and start being irritated instead. Or, he’d start telling Tyler to grow up. Instead of laughing and kissing him, he’d start saying things like, “Do you really need to wear your Little Miss Stubborn t-shirt to my brother’s house?”
It didn’t really matter how it would happen. It only mattered that it would happen. Tyler had wanted to have a good time at the Christmas party, but every time Kevin or one of his stupidly cheerful siblings had said something about this being Tyler’s “first” year, or talked about next Christmas like Tyler would be around for it, he got angrier and angrier. He wouldn’t be around for next Christmas. He probably wouldn’t be around for Easter and the ridiculous Ukrainian easter eggs they apparently couldn’t wait to teach him how to make. By next year, there’d be some other boy in the yearbook, and a year after that, people would be saying, “Hey, do you remember Tyler? Whatever happened to him?”
Tinkerbell had come up onto the couch with him. He scooped her up and hugged her to him. He knew he was being ridiculously self-pitying. But he didn’t think he was wrong. Kevin, so imperturbable and level-headed himself, would lose patience with Tyler’s extravagant moods. What he found exciting at first, he would tire of eventually. He would start remembering the peaceful pleasures of his life before Tyler, and then he would start wanting that again, and Tyler would be gone. This was a thing everyone seemed to agree about, when it came to Tyler: he wasn’t worth keeping around.
Tyler Gets Cabin Fever
January was bitter cold, and midway through the month, an ice storm shut down the city for several days. The university and Tyler’s library were both closed, and the city was begging people to stay home while crews cleared fallen trees and branches from the streets and worked around the clock to restore power.
Kevin said, “I love being snowed in!” Tyler gave him a look. “No, really! I’ve got my cat, I’ve got warm clothes, I’ve got hot chocolate mix, I just bought a whole case of canned soup on sale, and you’re here. We didn’t even lose our electricity! I tell you, sweetheart, this is going to be great.”
Tyler said, “I’m skeptical, but give it your best shot.” Kevin accordingly shepherded them through a routine of hot chocolate, movies on the couch, sex, naps, and hot baths. Tyler enjoyed it for the first day; was restless but not unhappy on the second day; and, by the third day, was so stir-crazy he insisted they each go to their own apartments, not because he wanted to be alone but because he could feel himself getting ready to pick a fight. Kevin kissed him good-bye and went home, apparently with every intention of enjoying a third day exactly like the previous two (minus the sex), while Tyler’s apartment felt so small and confining he was ready to break windows and knock holes in the walls.
“If this doesn’t prove how wrong we are for each other, I don’t know what does,” he told Puck and Tinkerbell. “I have got to get out of here.” He was just going on-line to find out what had re-opened—he’d settle for a bowling alley or a dollar store if there were no other options—when his phone chimed. It was an email from Mystique. They had power again, and were going to open that evening. “Thank god,” he breathed, and grabbed his phone to text Ryan.
Tyler and Ryan were so ready to get out of their respective houses that they arrived at the club unfashionably early. They took advantage of the relative quiet to have a couple of drinks and a bit of conversation. Jeremy showed up after awhile, and sometime after that, Sean. Tyler danced with Jeremy, and then with Sean, flirting a little with each of them, by way of being friendly and keeping in practice. He got thirsty, so he had a gin and tonic, and a bit later when Sean was heading to the bar and pantomimed “do you want something,” he nodded yes, because he sure did. He felt like a condemned man who had been set free.
He had another drink after the one Sean bought him, and sometime after that he found himself dancing with a man who was not Sean, Ryan, or Jeremy. This guy was tall, and muscled, and wearing a tight shirt, and when he pulled Tyler against him Tyler felt a little pang of disloyalty at how good it felt. But then he wondered what the fuck he had to be disloyal to? Somehow, as he drank and danced, he had forgotten it was the house he’d been desperate to get away from, and began to feel that he’d been desperate to get away from Kevin.
Of course he was desperate to get away from Kevin, a man so boring he could spend three days in an 800-square-foot apartment, eating canned soup for every meal, and like it. A man so passive and heedless that he could let his sexy-as-fuck boyfriend go out dancing at a notorious meat market as if he was…was…on his way to a matinee of Mary Fucking Poppins. Did he think he was such a good lay that Tyler couldn’t be tempted by anyone else? Or did he think he was safe because nobody else would want Tyler? Or did it not matter to him, because he’d already decided he didn’t want Tyler anymore?
Tall and Muscled led Tyler to the edge of the floor, where he tucked some money into the front of a shot boy’s American-flag briefs, and took two glasses off his tray. The shot was cinnamon-y, and Tyler liked it. He wanted another one. Tall and Muscled bought it for him. Then they danced some more, pressing into each other and grinding. Tall and Muscled was hard against his hip, and Tyler thought the meanest, most cruel lie he had ever told himself, that after almost six months of Kevin’s… that after almost six months of Kevin, it was good to be in the arms of a real man.
Tyler woke up at Ryan’s late the next morning, relieved that, although there had been more kissing and grinding than he was quite comfortable remembering, he had not swapped orgasms in any manner with Tall and Muscled. He had Ryan to thank for that, not that he would. He was less hungover than he probably deserved to be, and ashamed of the horrible and completely undeserved things he had let himself think about Kevin.
Ryan was gone; he’d left a note saying he’d gone to work. Tyler wondered if possibly he was supposed to have gone into work also; the power outage had left him confused about what day it was. He couldn’t have said whether it was Tuesday or Saturday, and he might have been expected at work on either of those days. He checked his phone, and found an e-mail from the head librarian saying that they expected to have power by the end of the day and would open the next morning. He also had a text from Kevin, a couple of hours old: Hey, buttercup, it said. I hear you’re at Ryan’s. Let me know if you need a ride home.
Buttercup. He scoffed, and texted back, Good morning, Half-Pint. I think I’m going to hang out here for awhile.
Kevin: OK. How you feeling?
Tyler: Not as bad as I deserve. There were shots involved.
Tyler: Gonna sleep more.
Kevin: Drink water first.
Tyler: Yes, mom.
Kevin: I fed the cats. They seem fine. Well, Puck does anyway. Tink went into hiding.
Kevin: yw xoxo
What a fundamentally good human being Kevin was.
Tyler forced himself out of bed. He used the bathroom, brushing his teeth with his finger, and drank a big glass of water. He sat morosely on Ryan’s couch. Kevin being decent, thoughtful, and trusting had made Tyler feel unfaithful, duplicitous, and vile. How Kevin couldn’t see it was beyond him, but it was only a matter of time before he did. Tyler didn’t think he could stand the tension much longer. He was going to lose Kevin, and sometimes he wished Kevin would just get it over with.
Tyler Makes a Promise
It was the last Saturday in January, and the sun was going down. Damian was sleeping in Kevin’s lap, making a convenient rest for the book Kevin was reading. He was drinking tea from a mug that said, “Barbarian” and was decorated with a picture of a cartoon viking with a battle-ax. It had been a gift from Tyler.
Tyler himself came through the door, shedding outerwear as he walked, and threw himself down on the couch, nudging Damian out of the way so he could put his head in Kevin’s lap. “Saturdays in late winter are the worst,” he said. “Everybody brings in their stir-crazy children. It was like a brawl in a biker bar at the train table, three-year-olds threatening each other with broken bottles. Give me Percy or I will cut you.”
Kevin laughed, and Tyler looked up him. “How was your day?” he asked.
“I’m almost afraid to tell you now.”
“Go ahead, I can take it.”
“I had a great day. Jack and I went out to lunch, and then we met up with Ryan and Sean and saw a movie. A lot of people got shot. There were spies. I had Milk Duds.”
“I can’t believe you went to a movie with my best friend while I was fighting off rabid five-year-olds with nothing but a rolled-up copy of Highlights.”
“To make it up to you, I will do my best to make sure you have a terrific evening. What do you want to do? Would some food and sex cheer you up? I can make burgers, spaghetti, eggs, or sandwiches.”
Tyler said, “Burgers, spaghetti, eggs, or sandwiches is your entire repertoire. I hardly think you need to list them at this point.”
“And canned soup! Don’t be selling me short.”
“You’re just lucky you can offer a wider selection in bed.”
Kevin teased Tyler’s lips with one finger. “No, you’re just lucky I can offer a wider selection in bed. So, dinner and sex?”
Tyler nodded. “OK. But sex first.”
Tyler fucked Kevin on the couch, Kevin on his lap, his hands on Kevin’s hips. He came so hard he left teeth marks in Kevin’s shoulder. Tyler pitched the condom, and Kevin turned around and snuggled into him. “Mmmm,” he said. “I love it when you get all butch and man-handley.”
Tyler said, “I don’t think man-handley is a word.”
“Language evolves to serve the needs of the speech community.”
Tyler laughed. “Do you need to come?”
“Let’s save it for later. Me falling asleep is incompatible with me fixing you dinner.”
“I can open my own can of soup if you’re feeling the need.”
Kevin poked him in the side. “Nah, I’m good. I like it just being about you sometimes. I get off on it. You recovered from your crappy day yet?”
“I’m getting there. Do you mind if I check my phone? I think I got a text.”
“No, that’s fine. It was classy of you not to check it during.”
It was Ryan, wondering if Tyler wanted to go out. Tyler did. “Will you come?” he asked Kevin. “I’d really like it if you would.”
Kevin said, “You realize that two social outings is usually a whole week’s allotment for me.”
“I do realize that.”
“You really want to go out?”
“I want to go out, and I want to be with you.”
“What were you guys thinking?”
Tyler said, “Ryan suggested dinner and Mystique, but I know you hate Mystique, so I thought I’d counter-offer with Jake’s. We can have burgers upstairs, do a little dancing downstairs, and get you home in time for Old Guy Midnight at eleven.”
Kevin said, “I could do Jake’s. You guys could always go to Mystique after.”
“I’d need to take a costume change.”
“Would you really? Don’t guys just basically undress after 1 a.m.? Wear nice underwear and ditch your clothes at the door. Maybe you’ll get mistaken for a go-go dancer and you can pick up a little extra cash.”
Tyler flushed a little; Kevin didn’t know he’d literally lost his shirt during the Tall And Muscled incident. “I think I’d just as soon come home with you.”
Kevin said, “Really?” and the happiness in his voice made Tyler think, for a moment, that maybe he had more time left with Kevin than he’d thought.
When they walked into Jake’s, Kevin said, “Oh, no,” and grabbed Tyler’s arm.
Tyler said, “What is it?”
“I forgot they had that model train. Will this be triggering for you?”
Tyler punched him. “You are an asshole.”
Kevin laughed, and they sat down with Ryan and Jeremy, who already had a table. Kevin scooted his chair closer to Tyler and put his hand on Tyler’s leg. Jake’s was a good burger joint identical to many other good burger joints: a decent selection of beers, twelve fancy burgers with names like “The Train Wreck” and “The Pungent Pickle,” and a build-your-own burger option with toppings that ran the gamut from fried eggs to pineapple slices.
For reasons nobody could remember, Jake’s also had a bar downstairs. On Friday and Saturday nights, a DJ played a mix of oldies, pop music at least 10 years old, and a handful of semi-recent mega-hits like “Happy” and “Poker Face.” If they’d played the chicken dance and the Macarena, it would have been just like your second cousin’s wedding reception. The crowd, always small, was made up mostly of people whose jobs and kids had long since ended their wild weekends. They were given to saying things like, “Do you remember when we used to just be going out at 11:00?” and “How much do you think the babysitter would charge us if we stayed another half-hour?”
Kevin, who loved to dance, hated crowded clubs and electronic music, and hadn’t paid any attention to new music since high school, enjoyed the occasional outing to Jake’s, usually in the company of his sisters-in-law. It was a mark of how well-liked he was that even the most dedicated club bunny among their acquaintance would spend an evening at Jake’s for Kevin’s sake. Ryan and Jeremy, for instance, had demurred hardly at all when asked to substitute a basement, sparsely populated with middle-aged straight people, for a booming neon-lit dance floor crowded with half-naked guys who worked out six days a week.
“No beetroot,” Kevin muttered, looking over his order slip. “Never any damn beetroot.” He checked off a few things with his golf pencil and tossed it down on the table. He watched the model train run along its track near the ceiling. “I must be a very simple man,” he said. “These stupid trains always make me happy.”
Tyler felt so much for Kevin that he had long since understood that he’d never actually been in love before. And yet, he kept feeling more. Sometimes it built slowly, and sometimes it happened in a moment. Like this moment. This moment at a generic burger joint, watching Kevin get happy over a model train. He took Kevin’s hand and squeezed it, and Kevin turned to smile at him.
The server brought their drinks and took their burger orders. Jeremy sipped his beer, and said, “I’m so glad January is almost over.”
Kevin said, “I know! I love February.” They all looked at him in disbelief. “OK, I don’t love February, exactly. It’s just that when February comes, March isn’t far behind. February is the worst part of the winter, the part where you think you won’t make it until spring, but it’s only twenty-eight days long.”
Tyler said, “Twenty-nine in leap year.”
Kevin patted Tyler’s leg. “Thank you, my pedantic darling. But still! February comes and goes in no time at all, and then it’s March. No matter how cold and snowy it is, you can be sure that sometime in March there will be at least one day that feels like spring.”
Ryan said, “Your optimism fills me with despair.”
Jeremy said, “Ryan and I started dating in February, so that’s why I like it. Two years, on the 22nd.” He and Ryan kissed.
Kevin seemed genuinely happy for them. “Congratulations! That’s terrific! Tyler and I won’t have our first anniversary until August, but I was thinking we should celebrate our six monthiversary. Do something special one night. Prove to Tyler that I do know how to dress up. I only wish I’d thought of it sooner, so we could have used it as an excuse to go someplace warm for a few days. Maybe next year, though. You could come with us! We could celebrate our anniversaries together.”
Jeremy said, “I love that idea. Someplace with sunshine and a beach…”
Ryan said, “Boys in tiny swimsuits, drinks with fruit…”
Kevin said, “Tyler needing sunscreen on the hard-to-reach places…”
Jeremy said, “It is totally a date. Ryan, pinky promise me right now that next February, we’re going to the beach with Tyler and Kevin.”
Ryan and Jeremy linked pinkies, and Ryan promised.
Jeremy kissed Ryan again, then turned to Tyler. “C’mon, Tyler, make Kevin promise. Ryan’s shifty, but if Kevin says it’s going to happen, I know it will.”
Ryan said, “Oh, nice one, thanks.”
Kevin turned to Tyler, his hand out and pinky extended. He was smiling—beaming—at Tyler.
Tyler couldn’t move. Everyone thought he and Kevin would be together next year: Kevin’s family, Ryan and Jeremy, Jack. Most importantly, Kevin. Tyler wanted them to be right. He wanted so desperately for them to be right. But even though they were wrong, he should play along. Nobody took a pinky-promise in a burger bar seriously. They weren’t wedding vows. It was just friends joshing around. They probably wouldn’t even remember it.
When he opened his mouth, he thought he was going to link his pinky with Kevin’s, and say, “Pinky promise,” and then he was going to eat his veggie burger and go dancing and then go home and put Kevin to sleep the fun way.
Instead, he heard himself saying, “Seriously? Do any of you really believe Kevin and I will still be together in a year?”
Ryan said, “Tyler!” Out of the corner of his eye, Tyler saw Jeremy reach over to touch Kevin’s hand. Ryan said, “Tyler, you don’t mean that.”
“Of course I do, Ryan. You’ve been around for the end of too many of my relationships to pretend it’s going to be different this time.”
Ryan said, “Ty, I think it is different this time.”
“Well, it doesn’t matter what you think. Kevin and I both know we’re coming up on our expiration date.”
Kevin frowned. “We do? I don’t think I know that.”
Tyler shrugged. “Well, you know it now.” He felt good in a mean way. All that tension and fear he’d been carrying around, and he could finally let it out. He’d been so oppressed by waiting for Kevin to put an end to things. Why hadn’t it occurred to him before that he could be in charge? Fuck Kevin, and fuck Ryan and Jeremy and the Bros and the Bro-Wives and fuck everybody who seemed to think that he was Kevin’s as long as Kevin wanted him. Had he really been planning to just hang around until Kevin got tired of him? He’d made that mistake before. He wasn’t going to waste another minute waiting around to get dumped. He crossed his arms and glared in a general way at the whole world.
Kevin leaned closer to him, put a hand on the back of his neck, and said into his ear, “Nice try, buttercup. You think I don’t know by now when you’re fronting? We’ll talk about this more later. In the meantime, I promise, you and me and Ryan and Jeremy are going someplace warm next February. Give me your fucking pinky.”
Tyler didn’t look at him, but he sullenly held up a pinky, and Kevin hooked it with his.
Kevin Appreciates the Tact and Discretion of His Friends
February was moving as slowly as a Chinese traffic jam for everyone except Kevin, who was so relentlessly cheerful on the subject of the coming spring that Jack told Tyler, “Hey! I finally found someone who doesn’t like Kevin.”
Tyler said, “Really? Who?”
Jack said, “Me.”
Everyone else—the Bros, the Bro-Wives, any niblings over the age of 13 (plus one precocious 9-year-old), Kevin and Tyler’s friends, and possibly the entire local Ukrainian community—passed the time as best they could by talking about Kevin and Tyler’s relationship. So little was happening otherwise that Tyler’s blow-up at Jake’s, and Kevin’s handling of it (which everyone agreed was both masterful and extremely romantic) were still being discussed when various Valentine’s Day bouquets had wilted and been tossed into the kitchen trash.
It was such a common topic of conversation that everyone knew immediately what Ryan was talking about when he said one night, over a game of cards at Jack’s, “I have a theory.”
Jack said, “It must be bunnies?” Darnell rolled his eyes; everyone else looked blank. Jack sighed.
Ryan said, “I’ve figured out the difference between Kevin and all of Tyler’s other boyfriends!”
Sean said, “I thought it was already well-established that the difference is that Kevin isn’t a dick.”
Ryan shushed him. “No, listen! Imagine you’re at Mystique on a busy Saturday night. And there’s Tyler, wearing, like, bike shorts and that black mesh shirt he’s got—”
Kevin, in an undertone: “Wait, why have I not seen this outfit?”
Tyler, whispering back: “It was just the once, during Pride week.”
Kevin: “But you’ll show me sometime, right?”
Ryan said: “And his hair is doing that shampoo-commercial thing it does, and his guyliner is perfect—”
Kevin perked up. “He’s wearing eyeliner?” Jack snorted.
Ryan raised his voice. "If everyone could please just settle down and listen for a minute. This is my point: gay guys all have, like, a range of gayness. Like, there's their Everyday Gay, which could be anything from Looks Like Random Straight Guy" -- here they all very pointedly did not look at Kevin -- "to Bowtie And Pinky Ring Everyday Gay. But then there's Date Night At The Straight Restaurant Gay, Date Night At The Gay Bar Gay, On the Prowl At The Gay Bar Gay, Provincetown Gay, Sydney Mardi Gras Gay, and so on. You get me?"
They all nod.
Ryan said, “So, imagine you meet Tyler at the bar, and you like what you see, so you take him home.”
Sean said, “As guided meditations go, I have to say this is one of the best ones I’ve ever heard.” He and Tyler grinned at each other.
Ryan sighed.“You have a good time, you like Tyler, so the next morning you decide to ask him out on a date.”
Sean said, “Wait! You skipped the best part!”
Tyler winked at Sean. “I can fill you in later.”
Kevin said, “Hey! I’m sitting right here.”
Ryan ignored them. “You expect Tyler to show up in something more, shall we say, subdued than what he wore to the bar, and here’s where things get dicey. Because Tyler doesn’t do subdued. His Date Night Gay is like roughly the equivalent of almost anybody else’s Night At The Gay Bar; his Everyday Gay is like anybody else’s Dressed Up Special For Pride Gay. Not just in terms of the specific clothes but in the sense Tyler being who he is, and how many points he scores on the Flamer Scale.”
Darnell said, “The Flamer Scale.”
Ryan said, “Right! Like, on the Flamer Scale Kevin’s range goes all the way from Not Flaming to Still Not Flaming. But my range runs from, like, Suspiciously Well-Groomed to Ever-so-Slightly Swishy—”
Sean scoffed. “Ever-So-Slightly?”
Ryan said, “Are you all getting the point? Guys who meet him at the bar think they’re seeing the high end of Tyler’s range, but they’re not!”
Tyler said, “If On The Prowl isn’t the high end of my range, what is?”
Ryan said, “Remember when you cross-dressed as a fairy for Halloween?”
Tyler said, “Oh, right!”
Kevin grumbled, “Still waiting to see pictures.”
Jack said thoughtfully, “I think ‘cross-dressed as a fairy’ is probably the high end of anybody’s range.”
Ryan said, “Will you all shut up and listen! The point is, these guys don’t get that the difference between Tyler’s Everyday Gay and his On The Prowl Gay is mostly about how tight his pants are and whether you can see his nipple ring. But he’s always flaming. So they meet him at the bar, and they think he’s hot, because he is. And they like him and want to see him again, because who wouldn’t? But they’re looking for a boyfriend whose Everyday Gay is within a couple of Flamer Points of theirs, because that’s where they’re comfortable. Tyler’s Everyday Gay turns out to be way out of their comfort range, and sooner or later they can’t deal with it anymore.”
Sean said, “OK. And how does this relate to Kevin?”
Jack jumped in like Hermione in Potions class. “I know! Kevin didn’t meet Tyler at the bar!”
Ryan slapped his hand down on the table. “Exactly! Kevin fell in love with Tyler’s Everyday Gay! He thinks Tyler’s Everyday Gay is just great! He doesn’t care that Tyler is, like, ten thousand points above him on the Flamer Scale.”
Jack said, “Now, see, I have a theory about that. And it’s not just that when Kevin saw Tyler for the first time, a whole vast unexplored region of his sexuality was suddenly opened up. [Kevin: “Seriously?”] Kevin doesn’t just not mind that Tyler is the human equivalent of a We’re Here We’re Queer t-shirt, he likes it. Because he longs to be an ambassador to the whole world. He wants to be the visibly gay guy in the produce aisle, but his personal style means he just looks like the guy in the produce aisle to most people. And by most people, I mean everyone.”
Kevin said to Tyler, “Do you get the feeling we don’t actually need to be here for this? Maybe we could have them work it out and send us a memo.”
Jack said, “Also, he gets off on having a super-hot younger boyfriend.”
Kevin said, “Hey, no!” He turned to Tyler. “You know it’s not about that, right?” Tyler patted his hand reassuringly.
Ryan: “And then there’s the whole blow-job thing—”
Tyler said, “Oh, my God, really?” at the same time that Sean said, “There’s a blow-job thing?”
Ryan said to Sean, “Tyler hates giving blow-jobs.”
Tyler said, “Hate is kind of an overstatement. It’s more of a gag reflex thing—”
Sean: “Does he like getting them?” His look suggested the question was not purely academic.
Kevin: “Are there no secrets? Is nothing private anymore?”
Ryan: “But a lot of guys think there’s no point in even being gay if there’s aren’t blow-jobs involved.”
Darnell said, “Hmmm,” as if he was wondering what the point could possibly be, if not blow-jobs.
Jack said excitedly, “Whereas Kevin is pretty much indifferent to blow-jobs!”
Kevin: “Indifferent is kind of an overstatement…”
Ryan turned to Tyler. “My point is, you’ve been wasting a lot of time worrying and you should stop now.”
Tyler threw his arms around Ryan.“I get it! I totally get what you’re saying! It makes so much sense! I love you so much!”
Kevin said, “Seriously? I’ve been telling you the same thing for weeks!” He turned to Jack, Darnell, and Sean. “I’ve been telling him the same thing for weeks. But suddenly Ryan says it, and it’s true?”
Jack slapped him on the back in an encouraging way. “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”
Sean, quietly, to Darnell: “So, do you know if they’re monogamous?”
Kevin and Tyler Have a Happy Ending
Despite Kevin’s optimistic predictions, March was a long series of gray days, punctuated by sleet and freezing rain. April was hardly better. So it was with even more enthusiasm than usual that the community came together for the Spring Fling on an unseasonably hot day in late May: square-built middle-aged lesbians in sensible shoes; the small but determined local chapter of Dykes on Bikes; a DJ and go-go dancers from Mystique; people raising money for homeless youth; guys in leather; women and, increasingly, men pushing strollers or riding herd on older kids; genderqueer people queering up their gender in all sorts of beautiful ways. Kevin stopped by the stage to watch an aspirational local drag act do 30 seconds of choreography over and over to a 5-minute song. The next performer was a young woman with a guitar whose songs were all about her most recent breakup. Kevin moved on.
Kevin was happy. He admired babies and chatted with parents. He said hello to acquaintances he hadn’t seen since last year. He shared flirtatious looks with shameless boys. He stopped to talk to a handful of very dirty young people sitting on the curb sharing a cigarette. They were traveling, they said, and had hitchhiked north after spending the winter squatting in an abandoned house in New Orleans with a bunch of other kids. They’d been up last year, too, doing some agricultural work here and there. He gave them forty bucks and wished them well.
He and Henry used to come to Spring Fling together. Henry would wear his black utilikilt, a black t-shirt with a paw print or the bear pride flag on it, steel-toed boots, a black bandana around his head. “It’s hard to be a bear,” he’d say, wiping sweat off his brow and watching the guys in shorts and tank-tops with cheerful envy. It occurred to Kevin that Henry, other bears, and leather men didn’t fit well into Ryan’s theory, being not-at-all flaming and yet so obviously and visibly gay. Clearly there were at least two dimensions at play. He’d have to bring it up next time they were all together.
Kevin wore what he always wore: cargo shorts, a t-shirt, sneakers, and a cap. His concession to the day was that his t-shirt promoted Trans LifeLine, and his cap had a rainbow heart embroidered on it. Somewhere, buried deep in a dresser drawer, he had a “cub” t-shirt Henry had gotten him, and an “I love my bear” t-shirt, also from Henry. Kevin had never worn them, which should have discouraged Henry. Instead, every Christmas brought a less tasteful iteration: I Kissed a Bear and Liked It. I Smell Bear Meat. Save a Horse, Ride a Bear. One had scratch marks down the back, with paw prints, and said, “You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.” One portrayed cartoon bears engaged in a sex act.
Thinking about it made him smile. He sat down on a park bench and texted Henry. At Spring Fling. Miss you.
Henry sent back a smiley and a row of hearts. Then: Wearing your cub shirt?
Kevin: You know I am. In honor of you.
Henry: I require photographic proof.
Kevin: No good at selfies, sorry.
Henry: Lying bastard.
Kevin: Ha ha.
Henry: Have terrible drag queens performed?
Kevin smiled. Yes. Also tortured lesbian folksinger.
Henry: All’s right with the world.
Kevin sent a smiley. Henry sent some hearts. Kevin sent a kiss-face. Henry sent ttyl. Kevin sent count on it.
He put his phone back into his pocket and sat back, smiling. All’s right with the world, indeed. The sun was shining, the people were all wonderful, his friends were happy. There was a bluegrass band on the stage at the moment, doing racy queer versions of traditional folk songs, and they weren’t bad. He was too lazy to look at his watch, but any time now Tyler would get off work and come to the park, and they’d spend the rest of the day together, and then the night. He thought about the night, about Tyler looking beautiful in his bed. Maybe he’d tie Tyler’s wrists, just to remind him that he had no responsibilities, and then spend as much time as he wanted, touch him anywhere he wanted with his mouth and his hands. Tyler would get all soft and loose and open, and he’d look at Kevin with wonder. Kevin lived for those looks, for those moments when Tyler let all his defenses fall because he trusted Kevin to take care of him. Tyler claimed to be all surface, to have no depths, but Kevin knew better, because he had seen Tyler fall into them.
Kevin shifted a little on the bench, and reached down to adjust himself. A passing man caught him at it, and winked at him. Kevin flushed but smiled back. The man stopped and gestured at Kevin’s crotch, saying playfully, “Is that available, or are you saving it for somebody?”
Kevin said, “I am saving it for my true love.”
The man put both hands to his chest and gasped. “True love! That is the best turn-down I’ve ever heard.”
“You can’t have heard many.”
The man said, “Why, you sweet thing.”
Kevin was so full of sexual energy and good spirits that, Tyler’s imminent arrival notwithstanding, he could have kissed this lovely man just to burn some of it off. Like letting a little steam out of a boiler before it exploded. He bounced to his feet, took the man’s hand, and leaned up to kiss him on the cheek. “You have a good day,” he said.
The guy kissed him back, quickly and affectionately, right on the lips, and said, “You too, sunshine.” He continued on his way, and Kevin watched him go. Tyler would have been proud to hear Kevin call the man’s t-shirt “arctic blue.”
Kevin, too restless to sit back down, walked briskly toward the entrance of the park, to meet Tyler when he got off the bus.
Kevin was late; Tyler had already arrived. He was talking to someone, a dark-haired man an inch or two shorter than him. The dark-haired man was wearing nothing above the waist but a simple leather harness with a single strap high across his chest. He tan was deep and even, and Kevin would have bet it stayed that way all the way down. As Kevin walked toward them, Harness Guy took a lock of Tyler’s hair between his fingers. He said something that made Tyler laugh, and Tyler let one hand rest on his bare chest.
It was fine. Even if Tyler didn’t flirt like he breathed, they were at Spring Fling. It was in the air. Had Kevin not kissed a man himself less than five minutes ago? Kevin was not a jealous man. He might have some lingering insecurity about his height and his commonplace appearance—Kevin would never walk around shirtless with a harness on and the waistband of his Andrew Christian underwear showing above his pants. But he had no lingering insecurity about Tyler.
At least, he didn’t think so. But when Tyler introduced them without taking his hand off Harness Boy’s chest, and when Harness Boy turned out to be Brandon, Kevin discovered that he was wrong about that.
For some time after it happened, Tyler hadn’t been able to think about that first night with Kevin; the painful ending overshadowed everything else. But he did remember it. He remembered thinking about how proud he would be, to be Kevin’s lover. He remembered thinking about how Kevin carried all his treasure inside, how it would be like a special secret, knowing all there was to know about him. How he would look ordinary to everyone else, but Tyler would know he was dazzling. Like he was a geode that only Tyler could crack open.
Tyler had forgotten, in his ecstatic imagining, just how much he cared about appearances. He couldn’t help it. As far as he could tell, he’d been born that way. And that made it hard, sometimes, to remember how proud he was to be with Kevin. It was easy around their friends, and Kevin’s family, who knew Kevin, and thought Tyler was both incredibly lucky and incredibly clever to have snapped him up.
It was harder outside that circle. Walking into a restaurant, Tyler would catch himself wishing that Kevin would exert himself just a bit more, go to a little more trouble with his shirts and shoes. Buy some pants that weren’t work khakis or jeans. Kevin would impulsively buy a $600 vintage letterpress machine because he thought it might be fun to try out, but he wouldn’t pay more than nine dollars for a haircut, and complained if he paid more than thirty for a shirt for work. He’d bought Tyler a pair of Converse high-tops hand-painted with scenes from Howl’s Moving Castle, had paid over a hundred dollars for them on Etsy—Tyler was wearing them now. But he hadn’t bought himself a new pair of shoes in over two years.
Tyler had been looking forward to seeing Kevin at the Spring Fling as much as Kevin had been looking forward to seeing him. He hadn’t expected it to happen when he was with Brandon. He knew what Brandon would think of someone like Kevin, what he would think of Tyler for dating him. He shouldn’t care.
He was disappointed, and a little ashamed, to find that he did.
Brandon worked out. Brandon tanned. Brandon loved his abs and his flawless bronze skin. He’d waxed a few days ago, and the slight oily sheen of his sunscreen accentuated his muscle definition. His stylist had streaked his dark blonde hair with hints of gold and copper, and if his striking blue eyes were gray when he took his contacts out, well, what of it? Brandon wouldn’t be young, hot, and beautiful forever, and he wanted to make the most of it while he could.
Tyler was young, hot, and beautiful too, and his palm was resting lightly on Brandon’s chest as he laughed at something Brandon said. Brandon hadn’t forgotten why he broke up with Tyler, but right now he was only thinking about how good they looked together, Tyler’s slenderness accentuating Brandon’s strength, Tyler’s willowy suppleness complementing Brandon’s solidity. Tyler’s delicacy making Brandon feel his manhood.
Brandon thought he’d like to take Tyler dancing later, and home to bed afterward. He’d been just about to shift the tone of their playful flirtation to something more intentional when they were interrupted by the arrival of a man whose only distinguishing characteristic was that he was unusually short. The poor guy, Brandon thought. He’d never been hot. He’d never been beautiful. Had someone like him ever truly been young?
Well, it wouldn’t hurt Brandon to be nice for a couple of minutes. Not too nice—he didn’t want Tyler to get distracted and slip away before he’d laid the groundwork for their night together. Brandon didn’t bother listening to the guy’s name, but he shook his hand in a friendly enough way, said, “Pleased to meet you,” agreed that they got a lucky break with the weather, and waited for the guy to leave.
The guy didn’t leave. He was looking at Tyler as if he was waiting for something…as if he wanted something. Oh! He wanted Tyler. Brandon almost laughed. The little guy had a crush on Tyler. Brandon felt a pang of sympathy which quickly gave way to irritation. If the poor guy had a crush, he wasn’t going to go away on his own. Brandon was going to have to get rid of him.
Tyler still had his palm on Brandon’s chest, and his other hand was open, gesturing toward the little guy as he made his introductions. Brandon just wanted to get laid. He had no idea that he was present at one of the most important moments of Tyler’s life.
Tyler had long since gotten used to Kevin knowing everything about him. Usually he liked it. But right now, Kevin knew that Tyler was embarrassed by him, and ashamed to be embarrassed. He knew that Tyler cared what Brandon thought about him, and was ashamed to care.
Tyler knew himself, too. He knew that he was a coward and a traitor. “This is Kevin,” he’d said to Brandon, and nothing more. Kevin my boyfriend, he should have said. Kevin my lover. Kevin who is not like anyone else in the world. Kevin who is better than you. Kevin who is better than me.
Kevin who would, Tyler knew, forgive him for this. Stalwart Kevin, whose belief in them was stronger than Tyler’s fear and doubt, Kevin whose courage was the foundation of everything. “My foothold is tenon’d and mortis’d in granite,” Whitman had written. Kevin was their granite. Kevin made them strong.
Imagine then, Tyler’s surprise when he looked at Kevin and saw that Kevin was not, at the moment, feeling strong. Kevin was scared. Tyler couldn’t tell how he knew, but he didn’t doubt it. Kevin was nervous. Kevin thought he might lose Tyler to Brandon, or some other boy who looked good in the sunshine with his shirt off.
It was ridiculous. Tyler saw dozens of men as handsome and built as Brandon every time he went out clubbing, and he’d never gone off with one of them, or even had a close call, aside from Tall and Muscled. But Kevin didn’t know that. Kevin didn’t come to the clubs. He didn’t watch Tyler dance too close with a dozen beautiful men and then leave them to go home to Kevin.
Was this what it was like for Kevin all the time? Kevin had always been able to see beneath Tyler’s surface; when had Tyler begun to see beneath Kevin’s? How did he know that Kevin needed reassurance right now, that he was feeling vulnerable, that he needed Tyler to claim him as much as Tyler had needed Kevin to claim him that day at Jake’s?
Kevin needed Tyler to be the strong one. This was novel. Tyler had never been the strong one. It had never occurred to him he could be. For Kevin, though, he was willing to try. He took a deep breath, and lifted his hand from Brandon’s chest.
“Kevin is my boyfriend,” he said. “We’re going to the beach next February with Ryan and Jeremy, to celebrate our anniversary.”
Apparently, Tyler being the strong one was a real turn-on for Kevin, because he absolutely ravaged Tyler later that night.
Tyler curled up against Kevin afterward, his hand resting between Kevin’s legs. Kevin hadn’t come yet, and his cock was hard against Tyler’s palm. He stroked Kevin’s balls very lightly with the tips of his fingers, and pressed a little harder. Kevin sighed.
Tyler knew a dozen ways to to get Kevin off by now. Times like this, when Kevin was hot and hard, but wrung out and a little tired from getting Tyler off, he could give Kevin a really sweet orgasm just like this, with light touches on his balls and the firm press of his palm. Or he could take Kevin’s cock between two fingers and a thumb, and stroke him off. Or he could roll over on top of Kevin, give Kevin a hip bone or a hard thigh muscle to press against.
Today was special, though. Today felt like a turning point. Today felt…almost like a wedding. As if Brandon was the sight of God and man, and when Tyler said, “Kevin is my lover,” he meant, “I take thee, Kevin,” and when Tyler said, “We’re going to the beach in February,” he meant, “Till death do us part.”
Kevin felt it too. Tyler could tell, because he was beginning to see inside Kevin. He could see inside Kevin, and he could see them in the future, just as Kevin had always been able to.
It was a special day, and he wanted to do something special for Kevin. His hand made idle little circles against Kevin’s cock while he thought it over.
It came to him. He said, “I’m going to lick it!”
Kevin said, “What?”
“I’m going to lick it.”
“Buttercup, you know you don’t have to do that.”
“I know. I want to.” Tyler scooted down and leaned over and very delicately touched the tip of his tongue to the tip of Kevin’s cock. Kevin gave a little gasp. Tyler took the very very tip in between his lips. Kevin groaned. Tyler touched the tip of his tongue to it again, still holding it in his lips. Kevin said something profane and accused Tyler of trying to kill him. Tyler touched his tongue to the underside, partway down, and boldly ran it back up, his tongue following a path his fingers had traveled a hundred times.
It occurred to him that anything he did with his fingers, he could probably do with his tongue, so he tried tucking the tip of his tongue under the little fold of skin at the base, and then he tried sort of tonguing Kevin’s cock while he teased the head with his top lip. He squeezed the base with his fingers while he licked the head, and then kissed it. Kevin seemed to like all of these things, but Tyler was so absorbed in exploring that he hardly noticed.
It was different, exploring with his tongue. His tongue found things his fingers had missed. He thought he remembered reading somewhere that the tongue was the most sensitive part of the body, with more nerve endings than fingers. Wasn’t removing foreign objects from someone’s eye using your tongue a thing? He was going to have to remember to look it up later.
Success breeds success, and everything Tyler tried was successful. Before he knew it, he had Kevin’s cock completely in his mouth, his nose being tickled by Kevin’s hair. If he was going to do this again, maybe he’d suggest a trim. He thought he would probably do this again. He found that Kevin’s cock rested very comfortably and safely against his hard palate. He pressed his tongue firmly against the underside and sucked. It felt good, fitting into his mouth beautifully without overwhelming him. He thought he could keep it in his mouth like that forever.
Kevin went nuts, gasping and groaning and digging his fingers into the mattress. This was very exciting. When Kevin came, his cock pulsed hard four or five times. This felt amazing to Tyler as well. No wonder people with normal gag reflexes enjoyed giving oral. Tyler felt like a superhero, a pleasure-giving superhero. Kevin’s cock was perfect. It was exactly what Tyler would have wanted, if he had known enough to want it.
Kevin put his hand on Tyler’s head. “OK, sweetie, enough. So sensitive.” Tyler rested his head on Kevin’s thigh, and Kevin stroked his hair, catching his breath. “God, Tyler. You’re amazing,” he said. “I love you so much.”
Tyler looked up at him. “I love you, too. I never thought I’d meet anyone like you. I didn’t think anyone like you existed.You’re the only man I’ve ever been with who didn’t want to change me, and yet you’ve changed me more than anyone else ever could. You’ve changed my whole life. You’ve made me so happy, and, even more important, you’ve let me see how happy I make you. Thank you.” There were tears in his eyes.
Kevin, of course, was already asleep.
All the books Tyler gave to Kevin. These are all very good books with people of color, outsiders, and/or lgbtq people front and center. Except for The Phantom Tollbooth, which in lieu of those things has a talking dog.
Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth (Always get an edition with the classic illustrations by Jules Pfeiffer. Tyler feels very strongly about this.)
Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner
Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
David Levithan, Two Boys Kissing
E.K. Weaver, The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal, Volume 1
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (My mistake. This one is all about more-or-less rich white people.)
In a previous draft of the book, Tyler also gave Kevin When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead.
When Kevin visited Tyler at the library, he was reading Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II, by Keith Lowe. Kevin, you may recall, was a history major.
About the Author
I almost forgot to write an “about the author,” but it doesn’t matter. I put most of what I love into the book: my favorite book from childhood, my favorite young adult novels, Jane Austen and Walt Whitman; straightforward trans men who wear nothing but jeans and t-shirts unless they have to go to a wedding; beautiful effeminate men with delicate wrists; people who are passionate about interesting things; librarians; cats; excellent sex; children of all ages; Eastern Europe; and friends who really love each other. If Tyler’s apartment is a stroll through his psyche, this book is a stroll through mine.
Kevin's been single since his last lover moved away two years ago, and he's more than ready to find someone new. The trouble is, he's hung up on his unattainable new neighbor, Tyler, who is a good fifteen years younger, six inches taller, and ten times more beautiful than Kevin. Even worse: so is Tyler's boyfriend Ryan. Tyler has just been broken up with again, but that's OK. The handsome, virile, and built are practically lining up for their turns to f*ck him, date him, and dump him. He's been on this train so many times he knows all the stops by heart. But then an energetic little guy with no fashion sense moves in down the hall, and Tyler likes him. A lot. He doesn't understand why, he doesn't know where it's going, and, worst of all for his much-battered heart, he doesn't know how it will end. Features: a cisgend flamboyant fashion god with shampoo-commercial hair and an unironic affection for fairy figurines; a trans guy with an enormous and excessively affectionate family and a very troublesome cat; snarky yet supportive friends; flirtatious strangers; one too many ex-boyfriends; several cups of tea; a minor misunderstanding, a tragic misunderstanding; home-brewed beer; the novels of Jane Austen; and, in a surprise appearance late in the book, Ukrainian folk dancing.