"I'm supposed to be in Vegas this weekend," Hal said. He was in bed, his body spooning Jack's, eyes gazing out to the gray winter view of the river.
"Vegas?" Jack echoed back, feeling his voice reverberate through his chest and into Hal's.
"I'm an alibi," Hal said. "My friend Richard doesn't want his lover to know that he really went to Arkansas to see his other boyfriend."
Jack turned his body so that he faced Hal. "That's pretty rotten," Jack said, his hand searching out Hal's and weaving their fingers together.
"Not really," Hal answered. "Everybody does it."
"Really?" Jack asked, feeling Hal twist the skin against the joint of his third finger. "Everybody?"
"Sure," Hal added. "They just started living together a few months ago -- Richard and John. The day they were moving in with each other, John found a letter in Richard's trash. Richard was moving into John's apartment and John was helping Richard move. John found the draft of a letter Richard had written to a guy named Tom telling him that they had to end their affair because Richard was moving in with John. John knew nothing about Tom, of course -- didn't even think that there could be a Tom. But he played it real cool and didn't mention anything to Richard after he discovered the letter. Since they were moving in with each other and everything, Richard was writing to end the affair. John was always so easygoing when they were dating, but when they started living together John began asking Richard about where he's been at night, why he gets home so late, where he's going in the middle of the day, and it started to drive Richard crazy because he hated to have to account for his time. But get this -- by then Richard was trying to be faithful. He was avoiding Tom. But he had no idea why John was being so nosy. He was never that way when they were dating and living in different parts of the city."
"Uptown, downtown?" Jack asked.
"East, west," Hal answered. "John had one of those rambling old apartments which Richard loved while he was dating John but hated the moment he moved in. Anyway, so one day John checks the mail and there's a postcard from Tom to Richard and it was signed with XXXXs and OOOOOs and 'Love, Tom.' So, of course, John's mind goes racing with all these crazy thoughts. When Richard gets home that night he sees the mail and the postcard and John on the treadmill -- John's so pissed off he won't even look at Richard. So the rest of the night he stays in one room and Richard is in the other. Finally, when they both have to end up in the bedroom, Richard tells John that it's over with Tom and he has no intention of seeing him anymore."
"So why did Tom send the postcard, then?" Jack asked.
"I'm sure that's just what John wanted to know but was too polite to ask," Hal said. "It seems that Richard never sent the letter to Tom. John only found the draft of it. And Tom didn't know that John and Richard had moved in together; he only thought that Richard had moved to a new apartment. They only saw each other once every couple of months when Tom came to the city -- he lives in Arkansas and was always staying at one of those pricey midtown hotels."
Hal lifted himself up and rolled over, shifting their position so that he was on top of Jack, his knees straddling Jack's waist.
"So this is where it gets sticky," Hal said, running his fingers up and down the indentions of Jack's rib cage. "Richard called Tom to tell him he wasn't going to make it to Arkansas to celebrate Tom's thirtieth birthday because he had to go to his brother's fortieth birthday party in Boston and Tom got so upset because they'd been seeing each other for almost four years and Richard had never come to Arkansas. Tom was always coming into the city to see Richard. So, of course, Richard, who is not exactly loaded with charm all the time, said, in his most condescending manner, 'But I have no desire to go to Arkansas,' which really pissed Tom off and he called Richard selfish and egotistical and hung up on him. Well, you know the worst thing you can do to a guy is to dump him and Richard went ballistic because he thought he should have dumped Tom. So Richard gets all upset and calls Tom back and apologizes and says he'll come to Arkansas the following week. Which is why I'm in Vegas this weekend."
"I thought you said Richard went to Arkansas?" Jack asked.
"He did," Hal answered. "He went to Arkansas but he told John that he went to Vegas. It's the one place John trusts him."
"Trusts him?" Jack responded, surprised. "In Vegas?"
"Money is the one thing Richard is more obsessed with than sex. John knows that Richard would be more absorbed with winning than scoring, if you catch my drift."
"And you're there to chaperone, I take it?"
"The thing is," Hal said. "They've been there before -- Richard and Tom. That's where they met. John doesn't know that. Richard met Tom before he met John. I think because Tom never wanted to leave Arkansas is why they're not together instead of Richard and John." Hal's fingers had now found their way to Jack's groin, and he worked his fingers through the stiff pubic hair matted together from where Jack's cum had dried. "Well, no, the truth is, they really met in Palm Springs but they drove up to Las Vegas together because Tom wanted to get a tattoo."
"He couldn't get one in Palm Springs?" Jack asked.
"I think Tom wanted to go to Vegas," Hal said. "There's only so much you can do in Palm Springs anyway unless you want to chase boys or hunt for money and Tom already had money and he was just out of college then. So they drove to Vegas and get this -- Tom gets this tattoo of an angel on his shoulder. Angel on my shoulder, get it? Well, Richard likes it and he decides he wants to get a matching one on his ass, only he's too chicken to do it."
Jack placed one of his hands behind his head. With his other he massaged Hal's cock till he felt it begin to thicken.
"A couple of years go by and Richard meets John," Hal continued, leaning down and pressing a palm against Jack's chest. "After they've been hot and heavy for a while and it looks like they might last as a couple, they start talking about living together. Only Richard doesn't want to do rings or anything because he doesn't want to get that serious, so he says why don't they get matching tattoos?"
"Oh, no," Jack laughed.
"You got it," Hal laughed back, his hand clutching Jack's pectoral muscle. "Richard suggests that John get a tattoo of an angel on his shoulder and Richard gets one on his ass. So a few months later, when Tom finally sees Richard's tattoo, Tom's ecstatic because he thinks Richard did it for him, he finally made a commitment to Tom."
Jack stretched himself and tensed his body beneath Hal. Hal shifted himself again so that they were lying side by side, their hands still fingering each other's stiffening cocks. "So neither one knows about the other's tattoos?" Jack asked.
There was a silence, then, between them till Hal leaned into Jack and kissed him. "I've never been to Vegas," Jack whispered when they parted for air.
"Neither have I," Hal said, nibbling at Jack's earlobe.
"Aren't you worried if John asks you about it?" Jack asked, shifting their positions now so that he straddled Hal's waist.
"I've been to Atlantic City," Hal answered. "I'm sure it's similar."
"Where are you staying?" Jack asked, weaving their fingers together again and pushing Hal's hands against the pillows.
"Huh?" Hal asked.
"Where in Vegas?"
"I hear it's similar," Jack said, and clutched Hal's cock together with his own in his fist, rubbing them together. He shifted his eyes out into Hal's darkened bedroom, casting his gaze to find where they had discarded their clothes earlier in the evening. Beyond where his underwear had landed, Jack noticed the door of Hal's closet cracked open from when Hal had gotten up to get lubricant earlier in the evening. He squinted his eyes and tried to see inside, noticing only a row of shoes on the floor. "What if you had gotten him on the line tonight instead of me?" Jack asked.
"That's not his style," Hal said, propping one arm behind his head now. "He's the one guy in the city who isn't happy that he's in an open relationship."
"How do you know that?" Jack asked.
"John's the quiet type," Hal said. "But he opens up after a few drinks."
Jack continued to study the inside of the closet, till his eyes distinctly made out a row of sneakers at the edge of the closet door. From his angle it looked as if the shoes belonged to two different sized feet. "Why doesn't he just get out of it then?" he asked.
"It's one of those messy real estate relationships," Hal said. "Richard has the money but John had the co-op. Only thing is, Richard complains that John is draining them dry. They took out a joint checking account and John keeps writing checks without telling Richard and they're fighting like crazy over little things that John is buying for Richard's stuff -- like Halogen light bulbs and laser printer cartridges. But then I heard that John had taken money out to renew his gym membership which was why Richard decided to use the joint money to take his trip to Arkansas."
"Sounds like they're not going to last long, anyway," Jack said. He moved his eyes once again through the room, this time to where his watch rested on the nightstand beside the bed. He looked at the clock behind the watch, then noticed there was another clock on the nightstand on the opposite side of the bed. "There's got to be some level of trust tucked away in all the dishonesty."
"And where are you supposed to be tonight?" Hal asked, smiling.
"Not here," Jack answered. "But everybody does it," he added and leaned down and kissed Hal on the eyebrows. "So do you know anyone who went to Vegas this weekend?" Jack asked when he broke away.
"Nope," Hal answered, his eyebrows thickening with thought.
"And you trust him?" Jack asked, titling his head to the clock on the nightstand.
Hal cocked his head back and smiled. "Sure," he answered. "Everybody does it."
"Nice watch," Jack said to the man seated next to him at the bar. "I used to have one like it."
The guy looked over and met Jack's stare and nodded. They were seated in the empty downstairs bar, away from the piano and the sing-along show tunes. An overhead pinspot highlighted the portrait of a nude man on the back wall. Cigarette smoke and stale beer wafted through the air vents.
"I was robbed a few months ago," Jack said, aware of a nervous edge to his voice. "Well, not robbed, you know. I told my insurance company I was robbed so I could replace it. I filed a police report and everything."
The man nodded again, taking in Jack and his nervousness and his story. "I don't usually wear one this expensive," the guy said. "My other one stopped. This was a gift."
"Mine, too," Jack replied back. He tried not to show his pleasure that the man had responded. Jack had liked the man's hard edge when he had sat next to him at the bar. There was a solid toughness to him that wasn't usually found among the business suit crowd which frequented this place. "A boyfriend gave it to me," Jack added. "But I'm not seeing him anymore."
"Was he still your boyfriend when your watch was stolen?"
"He knew I lost my watch," Jack said, moving in closer to the man, wanting to rub his tongue over the day-old stubble of the man's jaw. "One of those complicated things, you know. I left it some place I couldn't get back to," Jack said. "No number. No last name."
"There's always a price," the guy said, his eyes squinting as he smiled back at Jack.
Their eyes met again. Jack liked the dark country drawl of the man's voice. "Usually," Jack answered back with a light laugh.
Jack offered to buy the man another drink but when the bartender brought the glasses to their spot the man paid for both drinks.
"Thanks," Jack said and tipped his glass against the man's as a toast. The rest of the time was easy. They introduced themselves. The man placed a hand against Jack's thigh; Jack leaned in closer and closer until he succeeded in running his tongue against the man's stubbly chin.
They left the bar not long after that, ending up at the man's apartment uptown. Jack played the aggressor, kissing the man over and over, his tongue searching out the caverns and canyons of the man's mouth and face. He undressed the man in the dimly lit hallway, a light spilling out from the hood of a kitchen appliance. Jack unbuttoned the man's shirt, unzipped his pants, till the man reacted by leading him down a long corridor of rooms, past a door of a bathroom where another nightlight was on, and into the darkened bedroom beside it.
The man easily outsized Jack. Undressed, the tough edge of his face was echoed in his body. It was a hard, serious body, hairy and muscley, the kind which seemed to Jack impenetrable, distant, masculine. He had a thick cock of average length, his pubic hair trimmed close to the skin, throwing the focus of his genitals onto his large, weighty balls. In the room, the man took off his watch and placed it on a nightstand beside the bed. On the bed, Jack took the man's penis in his mouth and sucked on it, feeling it grow stiffer inside him. In a moment the man squirmed and pushed Jack back against the bed and his lips were moving over the top of Jack's cock. Jack groaned and the man lifted Jack's legs up and kneaded his asshole.
They broke apart when the man fumbled through the drawer of the nighttable and withdrew lubricant and condoms. Soon he was back, working two wet fingers into Jack's ass.
"Is this okay?" the man asked.
Jack was touched by the concern. "Do it," Jack said.
The man took a palm full of liquid and rubbed it up and down the shaft of Jack's cock and then onto his own. He wet Jack's ass again. Then he pressed himself inside.
Jack moaned and began rocking his hips. Before long the man was on his back and Jack was seated on his cock. Jack easily came in this position, shooting onto the guy's chest. Jack moved to the side and the man removed his condom. In a few seconds he came too, thick and white, soaking in what light had made its way into the room.
While he was drying himself off with a towel the man said, "You can stay over if you want."
"Sure," Jack easily answered. "For a while."
The man stood and walked to the doorway of the bedroom. "Want a beer?" he asked.
"Sure," Jack looked up and answered. The man's frame was silhouetted in the light. It reminded Jack of one of those perfect physique logos. The man turned and walked into the hallway. It was then, when the man moved into the light, that Jack first noticed a tattoo on the man's shoulder.
The man returned with two bottles of beer. Jack sat up and took a bottle from the man. They clinked bottles and each took a long sip. "This is a big place to have all to yourself," Jack said.
"I had a roommate for a while," the man said. "But it didn't work out."
"It's difficult to make a commitment in this city," Jack said. "I know."
"No one really tries to make it work," the man said. "They try to work around it." He took another sip of his beer. "I know," he added.
Jack nodded and took a sip of beer. The man leaned against the headboard of the bed. "He accused me of seeing someone else," the man said. "So he moved out."
"Were you?" Jack asked. "Seeing someone else?"
"Nobody's a saint," the man answered. "I'd meet somebody in a bar once in a while. Nothing that amounted to an affair. I never brought anyone back here when he was living here. I played by the rules."
"There are rules?" Jack laughed. "Tell me."
"His rules," the man answered. "But we weren't playing the same game." The man drank the last of his beer and sat the bottle on the nighttable beside his watch. "He kept telling me it was over with this other guy he was seeing. Long before he met me. But it wasn't. I know it wasn't. He said he was moving out because I was always cheating around on him. That I was unfaithful. He really moved out because his other boyfriend moved into town. He didn't tell me that. A friend of his told me about it. I was so mad when I found out he lied to me I was drunk for three days straight."
Jack rolled over and placed his bottle on the nightstand next to the watch and the other empty bottle. He turned back into the bed and gave the man a long, wet kiss. When they parted, Jack shifted the man so that he lay on his stomach. Jack straddled the man's ass and massaged his shoulders, conscious of trying to make out the outline of the man's tattoo. "Where was the other boyfriend from?" Jack asked.
"Arkansas," the man answered.
There it was, Jack saw. An angel on his shoulder. He worked his fingers back and forth against the tense muscles of the man's back.
"It wasn't really the thing that broke us up, though," the man said. "I set up a joint account for us to use for expenses. He was always struggling with money. Everybody always thought he was well-off because his family had been well-off, but he could barely pay his rent every month. I knew when he moved up here that things were going to be more expensive for him and I was lenient at first about him contributing to food and expenses and stuff. He borrowed money to pay the movers, he borrowed money to put some of his stuff in storage. But he never put any money into the account. We'd go out to the theater and he would take money out of the account to pay for tickets. The thing that ended it was when he bought his other boyfriend a birthday present from the account."
"How do you know that?" Jack said.
"He wrote out a large check from the account. He said he was going to Las Vegas with his best friend. His best friend's lover -- this guy named David -- works for one of my clients. I happen to see him from time to time at the gym. David went to Florida on business that weekend. He told me his lover never went to Vegas that weekend. He said there was over a hundred dollars of phone charges from that weekend on their phone bill. Of course David didn't go away on business either. He was in Boston with one of his boyfriends."
"Looks like everybody does it."
"I guess so," the man replied. "David knew I was upset when he told me. So he took me to one of those clubs downtown. I got smashed quickly and David took me back to his place and we fooled around some before I really fell off the deep end. David's boyfriend was away on business, or so he said. He gave me the watch to cheer me up. David said his boyfriend had found it on the street."
"On the street?" Jack asked. He reached over and studied the watch, holding the band between his fingers. The man rolled over beneath Jack and lifted himself up on his elbows and kissed Jack deeply.
"Did you love him?" Jack asked, still dangling the watch from his fingers.
"Who?" the man asked.
"Your boyfriend," Jack answered, teasing the man with the watch, dangling it in front of his eyes. "Your ex-boyfriend."
"No," the man answered. He reached up and clutched both the watch and Jack's hand. He slipped his fingers inside the band and Jack let the watch slip away from his grasp. "I loved our sex though."
"What about David?" Jack asked. "Did you love him?"
The man took the watch and slipped it onto Jack's wrist. It was a perfect fit. "No," the man answered. "Of course not. But I always love sex."
Jack lifted his arm toward the ceiling, trying to get the face of the watch to catch the light which spilled in from the doorway. When it failed to catch the light he moved his wrist to his ear till he heard the familiar ticking sound. Jack moved the arm with the watch toward his other hand. The man stopped him when he tried to remove the watch. "Keep it on for a while," the man said. "It looks good on you."
Jack lifted his arm again toward the ceiling. "It's never about love, you know," he said. "It's always about sex. Sex, sex, and more sex. Sex always uncovers the things love hides. Everybody does it, John. Everybody loves sex more than love."