CASUAL ENCOUNTERS by Jeremy Lakaszcyck
LAST TUESDAY THE SOPHOMORES attended an emergency assembly given by our health studies teacher, Mrs. Hurley, because of the gonorrhea scare that’s been going on for months. Everyone either slept through it or doodled pictures of Miss Richardson’s ginormous tits like they did during Schindler’s List in social studies. Not me. I actually learned a few things. Decided then it was time to quit looking at internet porn and do some exploring on Craigslist.
I realize looking for my ‘first time’ on a website featuring arts & crafts discussions and used appliances for sale isn’t what most people do, but I don’t have much of a choice. The only kid who came out of the closet got his nose broken last year by Anthony Brandolini, a badass who doesn’t play sports, respected by the jocks because he’s in a thrash metal band called Like Bloody Murder. Since then, the kid who got his ass beat, Ryan, hasn’t said a word to anyone other than his fag hag, Crystal Lewandowski, who is chubby and sad most of the time.
Ryan’s actually kind of cute. He’s in my chemistry class. Once in a while I catch him staring. The newly crooked nose gives him a distinct kind of look, almost Slavic, maybe even tough, despite the blonde hair. If I was ever seen talking to him I might be pummeled to a pulp. So I don’t. The other boys are suspicious enough that most of my friends are girls. Whereas they only refer to me as ‘a little light in the loafers,’ Ryan has to deal with a lot worse. Once at a school rally they were going through roll call for the members of track, and when they got to Ryan’s name a bunch of senior guys started chanting FAG, FAG, FAG. The teachers couldn’t quiet them down. I cheered along with them, not wanting people to think the same of me.
Mrs. Hurley said in that emergency assembly that your first sexual experience stays with you a lifetime, which sounds like a pretty long time to me. Hence, my reason for choosing an ad titled: “The Watcher”: 27/very dominant/6’1/205—I have a fantasy to have you watch me while I get rough with another guy. I want you to watch from outside the window. I DONT want the guy I’m with to know you’re there. The window will be cracked so you can hear me telling him how much he wants me to breed him. If you are interested we will arrange a time and what window you should look in. I like that there are no strings attached. I show up, watch this dude screw some other dude through a window, then I leave.
When we get down to instant messaging, the guy who posted the ad says he has a government job, and things have to be discreet. His name is Darren. I tell him mine’s Charlie. I almost write my real name, but it seems smart to lie. He has a really nice body in his pics. Face isn’t so bad either. Unshaven, all dark angles. The eyes are permanently relaxed, like everything is about as interesting to him as a closet full of old shoes.
My cover is Greg Gallagher, a kid I haven’t spoken to since middle school. In the fifth grade, my mother had a conversation with Greg over Shepherd’s pie one night about the Republican’s brilliant idea to spread Christianity through the Middle East and how it could change the world for the good of everybody. All he did was nod. She took this as a sign he was an extraordinary human-being.
“And how do you plan on getting to Greg’s in a car that has no brakes?” she asks loud enough for my dad to hear in the living room. According to her, the brakes have been going for months, and for just as long she’s been complaining to Dad that if she dies in a car accident it’s because he’s cheap. Truth is, Dad pays most of the bills and his job as a line cook at Patty’s Diner just doesn’t cut it in the extras department. Brakes are considered extras in my family, along with five star notebooks and fall jackets.
All I can do is look at her and pout. I think about complimenting her new haircut, the same helmet-shaped bob she’s had for years. Or the new cardigan she’s wearing that she bought at Marshall’s, the one that looks like every other cardigan she has except it’s purple.
Thankfully, I don’t have to. Dad emerges from what feels like a three-year-silence in the living room. He drops his keys on the kitchen table, a sour cloud of whiskey and cigarettes settling before plunking his ass back in front of the television. This is the first time he’s offered. Maybe he’s being drunk and generous, like the time he let me draw on my wall with markers when I was five. Mom was pissed that night. Dumped his beer, made me paint the wall over until it was back to its original color, urinal cake green.
She throws her head back, angry at Dad for giving in so easily. “There won’t be any girls…right?”
“We should be so lucky,” my father yells from the living room, drowning out his favorite rerun of Hogan’s Heroes.
My mother’s expression changes from fake anger to real irritation, one eyebrow arched. “What’s that supposed to mean, Frank?”
“He’s at the age.”
“Ah.” It’s the sound of dad clearing his throat. He’s done talking to her. Since he got laid off at Raytheon six months ago, he’s been doing a lot more drinking than talking. Wears the same over-sized Patriots jersey every night before falling asleep on the couch.
“Fill up the gas tank before you get home. All the way,” he yells from the living room. Maybe my dad is materialistic like Mom says. He’s the one with the highest paying job in the family and he asks me to pay for gas. He knows they pay me crap at the supermarket.
I get out of the house without much more from my mother. She makes me take a change of clothes. Tomorrow’s a Saturday, which means Dad won’t need his car until the night shift, so if for some reason Darren gives an invite to join in, the coast is clear.
I go the speed limit, plagued by that nervous feeling of wanting to shit. The same as when I hear dad mumble in his sleep while I’m surfing Craigslist on the family computer.
I park at the top of Darren’s street, deciding to walk the rest of the way. Crazy as it sounds, I don’t want to risk anyone seeing the car parked out front, especially kids from school.
I’m flanked on both sides by tall, rectangular bushes, plainly sculpted in the shape of upright mattresses. The houses remind me of Newburyport, where I pick Mom up from Sunday service. We marvel at how big and old they all are and then at the end of the day share an ice cream at Treadwell’s. We don’t tell Dad. Ice cream is considered extra.
I walk by a Victorian with too many windows to count, shades halfway pulled down. A faint blue glow peering out of each, a hundred little eyes squinting at me. I imagine the family inside: The father reading a newspaper, the mother playing board games with their children. This seems ridiculous in light of what I’m going to do. Makes me smirk under a large Weeping Willow. The dark branches like strips of matted hair shaking dust into my eye.
White Shutters at the bottom of the hill, just like he said. The road stretches on, past the house, shadows of leaves from a street light sprinkling the asphalt like an Easter trail into thick darkness. I want to glide into that glove of night, to keep the nervous anticipation inside my belly brewing longer.
I amble past his red Mustang in the driveway. Locate the open window along the side of his house. The silhouette of a person hovers over a couch, the rest of the room bare in the little bit of light coming from a back room.
I’m shocked. Up till now I’d been convinced he’d chicken out, the whole thing a fantasy too weird for reality. A closer look reveals a cigarette in his hand. Smoke snakes up into the dark nothing of the ceiling. I feel dirty, but there is something so irresistible, so singular and unfamiliar about the whole thing I can’t pull away. Darren moves a little, so I duck down, the quick descent giving me a head rush. As I wait I can hear my beat in the center of my head.
I hear a car door slam shut, the guy who doesn’t know he’s being watched. The taxi rolls under a street lamp, the yellow and black checkers washed in green neon light, maneuvering a quick three point turn before speeding off. A door somewhere in the house rattles open. I wonder who the hell would take a cab to meet someone for sex. A desperate person, I think.
“In here.” Darren’s voice sounds unexpectedly like a croak, deep and baritone. Not like a voice from the beaming, tanned young guy with the glittery eyes in the photos.
I bob my head up slowly, until the contents of the room appear. Darren is still on the couch, just a flat shape, a black ghost barely visible in the blue light. The floor is covered in blankets and pillows, glimmering eerily like pastel colored lichen and coral. Maybe he does this kind of stuff all the time. Maybe used condoms are sprinkled around like dried up jellyfish.
I’m spooked by the flash of blonde hair as he plunges into the dark room with Darren, that nose – the little crook. And when he greets Darren it’s beyond question. Ryan. I’ve sat near him in the cafeteria a couple times, strained to hear him talk. I was curious if he had a lisp or didn’t. Here in the room with Darren, his voice has a weird tone, a little off, the ends of the words choking on themselves. I’m nervous thinking I’ll see him at school after watching him get fucked by another guy, but in a sick perverted way it kind of turns me on.
Darren’s voice like quick stabs, “Undress. Put your clothes in the corner,” his face dark, veiled in a violet bloom of smoke. He’s hairier than in the pictures, so I focus on Ryan, who kicks off his shoes, unbuttons his shirt.
It becomes clear that the voice might not be from the guy in the pictures. Sounds more like an older voice, like the voice of my white-haired gym teacher, Mr. Carlotti. Who knows what Darren looks like. Who even knows if his name is Darren. I begin to be a little scared for Ryan. There’s a stiffening in my pants, which doesn’t match what’s going on in my head.
Ryan steps forward, reaches for one of his sneakers. When he speaks for the second time his voice is high-pitched, the same way mine is in Chem when the teacher makes me explain formulas in front of class. “Uh. Hey. I just realized my parents don’t know I’m here. Should probably go outside to call them on my cell…so they don’t freak.”
A quick flash of the man’s swollen, unshaven face passes through a stray ray of light as he gets up from the couch. He lunges forward, burying his arms into Ryan’s body, the force of it knocking the sneaker into the air. I duck down, hold my breath. It’s for sure not the man in the photos.
My head swims. What do I do? Run? I can hear things, heavy things overturn and something crack, muffled pleading. The bushes part in front of me: a path to the street, to freedom. I close my eyes, letting blackness take away everything around me, until I can’t hear or feel. Like I’m a blank piece of paper. I try to focus on something, anything other than the noises from the window.
The first thing I think of is that day at the rally. Ryan standing two rows over, everyone chanting FAG, FAG, FAG. He smiles at first, lifting his shoulders slightly, the expression of giving in to a joke among friends. But when he sits back down on the bleachers his grin straightens. He tucks his elbows to his sides like it’s cold. Smooths an out-of-place hair on the back of his head. The gesture only makes the cowlick worse. His pinkening cheeks, rigid posture remind me of the way well-behaved children sit at formal events. That no matter how well you follow the rules, you’re helpless. Just a warm bag of tubes and blood.
“You’ll fucking do as I ask you little queen!”
I run out to the street, stumbling on a boulder that lines the side of the lawn. I look both ways, forgetting where the car is. Anger, more than fear swelling inside my temples, I look back down at the boulder that almost tripped me, the surface rippled like a raisin.
I scoot penguin-like, the rock wobbling against my chest. I wind up as much as I can, squatting down, like they teach us in gym for shotput. Launch it at the center of the window. The glass shatters, but the rock falls back towards me, landing on my foot. I don’t feel anything. Just a throb, like my heart is slipping from my chest down my leg, settling uneasily in my shoe.
I stand motionless, waiting for a sound, any sound. A small rumble from the room, boards creaking. The front door flings open and Ryan spills out barefoot, shirt hanging from his waist, his body small and pale in his underwear. I yell at him to run. He’s already running. Blood threads his lip. I grab his hand when he gets close enough.
We ride in the car for what feels like forever. Past my neighborhood, past Grove Park, Patty’s Diner, the center of town, until we’re on a long stretch of road that’s not familiar, the houses on top of steep hills, far away where they can’t hurt us.
“How did you know I was there?” He says this with a weird hopeful sound in his voice, like an ember glowing at the bottom of a pile of ashes.
I wonder if he’s thinking I was there just to save him.
“Just meeting some guy from Craigslist.”
“Me too,” he says, looking out the window as we pass a sign for the highway. “You live by the old theater, right?” I remember his bus stop from middle school, the neighborhood only blocks from mine.
He pauses after he says yes, like he’s embarrassed about his voice. “Can we just keep driving?”
I don’t want to stop driving either. The police station blears by, a gray smudge wedged between bright lights. I want to turn, give him a knowing look. We sit there instead, quiet.
We go on driving for a while longer, windows fogged. I use my sleeve to wipe off the windshield. I remember the clothes my mother gave to me to bring. Hand them to him without looking away from the road because I don’t want to see my reflection in his eyes.
We end up parked next to a cemetery, down Ryan’s street, where it’s quiet. My shirt is tight on him. His lips are fuller than I thought, redder, but that could just be blood. He cries into my shoulder, gripping me with a force I haven’t felt from anyone else except my mother at Grandma’s wake. She embarrassed me in front of everyone doing that. But I don’t feel embarrassed with the way he clings to me and shakes. I’m shaking too. We sit in that position, his head on my shoulder, watching the stars disappear, one by one, like sheep over a red dune.
It’s strange how the body is involved in the kissing, but it’s the lips that do most of the physical work. How I don’t want to stop grinding my nose against the chafe of dried tears. How I’m not grossed out by the metal-salt aftertaste of blood in my mouth. Before I know it, my hands aren’t my hands, my body not my body. The sun pinkens the tops of tree branches like lit candelabras.
We don’t have sex, don’t even get close. I go before he even has my pants down. He doesn’t last all that long either. Mrs. Hurley was right. After I drop him off, I sit in my driveway, staring at the sloping shingles of the roof. I think about the tensing of his body, how it opened to the touch. How I’ll have to suck it back inside. Keep it safe.
The following weeks I won’t act any different towards Ryan at school. He won’t talk to me, either. We’ll be lab partners in Chem one day, not because we pick each other, but because we’ll be the last two left. I’ll stop looking at him full on in the hallway like I did before. We won’t become inseparable. Things won’t unravel like in the movies.
JEREMY LAKASZCYCK is a candidate for an MFA in fiction from the University of Massachusetts in Boston, where he teaches creative writing. He's won third place in the 2009 Playboy College Fiction Contest, as well as co-created and edited Consequence, a literary journal focused on the culture and consequence of war.