One soiled, wet sock, frosted with duck squirt. Charred wood. A reeking heap of weeds that served as a bier for two dead fish. More crud, and still more.
I felt like a crime scene investigator.
“Cabo San Lucas it ain’t.” Kenneth, who’d shuffled through the sand with me, scanned the beach with a disapproving squint.
“Nope.” Sighing, I gave a desultory kick to a tangle of Christ-knows-what. Duct tape and monofilament, mostly, although I glimpsed a few feathers and what could’ve been a chipped lure. “But it’s mine.”
Kenneth glanced over his shoulder, casting more disapproval. “The house is rather small.”
“It’s a cottage,” I said. “A dwelling on a lake is called a cottage. You should know that. You’ve lived in Wisconsin long enough.”
“Well, those weren’t cottages I saw on Lake Geneva.”
“For all intents and purposes,” I said, “Lake Geneva is a suburb of Chicago.”
It was near noon, a Saturday. I’d just gone into town to meet Kenneth, have brunch with him and his son, and then lead the way back to my new summer retreat. I’d driven up yesterday to go to my closing and spent the night in a local motel.
Knowing I’d long wanted a modest piece of vacation property, Kenneth had told me about this place. He’d found out about it through one of his coworkers, who also had a cottage somewhere on Cloud Lake. Now Kenneth seemed to regret having passed along the info. I’m sure he would’ve liked something more luxurious, but I was satisfied, and he wasn’t the one paying the mortgage and property taxes.
Movement far off to the left caught my attention. Caught and momentarily held it. My neighbor immediately to the south, or one of my neighbor’s guests, walked to the lake and waded in. A tall, wiry man with tousled dark hair, he wore plain cutoffs. Not Speedos, nothing tight and microscopic. When he was about hip-deep, he gracefully tilted forward and slid beneath the water like a warm knife into butter. Resurfacing, he lapsed into a strong, smooth crawl. I wasn’t sure why the sight transfixed me.
Kenneth, of course, was.
I could feel him watching me watch the man. “Something grab your interest?” he asked.
“Seems my neighbors are here this weekend.” A casual observation, meant to undercut his archness. I was tired of Kenneth thinking he owned my eyes. Still, good boyfriend that I was, I laid a hand on his lower back.
He stepped away. “Don’t do that out here,” he muttered under his breath.
“Why? Nobody’s watching. And even if someone were—”
“See?” Kenneth said.
“Oh, come on. Like Carolyn doesn’t know. Besides, my hand was on your back, not your ass.”
I turned toward the deck at the rear of my humble cottage. Carolyn was gesturing for me to join her. Kenneth’s son hovered at her back. I didn’t mind Carolyn being there—she was one of my best buddies—but the boy, Kris, made me uncomfortable. Kenneth’s secrecy was to blame for that. He didn’t like his son seeing us together. At all.
Funny that I would prefer the company of my ex-wife to that of my lover’s kid. Actually, not so funny. Unfortunate.
“She probably wants me to look at curtains or some damned thing,” I said.
As I ambled back to the cottage, Kenneth stayed on the trashy beach. I knew why. He was going to keep scoping out the swimmer, assessing the man’s threat level.
I’d never understood that about Kenneth, that prickling suspicion. The odds were heavily in favor of swimmer-guy being straight, with a wife or girlfriend, and even more heavily in favor of him being altogether ordinary. That wasn’t a combination to inspire lust. Not in me, anyway. I’d worked long and hard to stop being an ordinary, married, straight guy, so the type didn’t interest me in the least.
As soon as I mounted the deck, Kris scurried down to join his dad. I got the impression the poor kid saw me as a rival. He probably still hadn’t adjusted to his parents’ divorce, and now his father had a new “best buddy.” Trying to include him in our activities only seemed to make matters worse. I felt sorry for the boy.
“He was following me around like a shadow,” Carolyn said, watching Kris jog awkwardly across patchy grass to littered sand. “I realize the kid has insecurity issues or something, but it still gets on my nerves.”
I chuckled. “Where’s your maternal instinct?”
“I traded it for objective judgment.” She looked at me, eyes shaded with one hand. “And don’t laugh. You know I’m not a fan of Daddy Dearest, either.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. Can we drop it?” I didn’t need to be reminded that I’d been growing disaffected with Kris’s father as well. “This is the start of my vacation. No grousing allowed.”
“Sorry,” Carolyn muttered. “I just think—”
“I know what you think. So I don’t need to hear the mantra again. Okay?”
Carolyn had never liked Kenneth. We’d been divorced for nearly two years, but she was still protective of me. It was as if I’d gone from being her husband to her little brother.
I steered Carolyn through the deck’s sliding double doors before she had a chance to expound on her opinion. The cottage had a tolerable false-fresh smell. I figured it was a bridge between the sour, musty staleness that had greeted us earlier and the true breath of nature that seeped through the open windows—sluggishly, for it was a hot, humid day.
Although the cottage came furnished, it didn’t come in move-in condition. I had to supply all the household accoutrements. Unloading boxes from my minivan was all I’d done after leaving the realtor’s office yesterday. It wasn’t until early this morning, after Carolyn arrived, that the set-up of my getaway home began in earnest.
“Well? See if you like it.” Carolyn swept a hand toward the bedroom I’d claimed as mine, the one closest to the bathroom. I walked into it and made my inspection.
I saw more than I’d anticipated. Not only were the curtains hung, the bed was made, lamps stood on nightstands, and grooming aids dressed the dressers. Everything appropriately understated, with a hint of rustic. A modest, Midwestern version of Adirondack chic.
“Is it masculine enough?” Carolyn asked uncertainly.
Laughing, I turned and gave her a hug. “If it were any more masculine, my voice would drop an octave.”
My ex could accept my being gay—well, now she could, although it had taken a few months of therapy and countless, tearful conversations with her mother and four sympathetic girlfriends—but I had a feeling she harbored a nagging fear of nellie. Charles Larkin wasn’t going to swish through the world if she could help it.
In mock exasperation, she tried to push me away as I gave her a kiss on the cheek. “Now listen,” I said, holding her arms, thinking how lovely she was with her L’Oreal-enhanced red hair in a thick braid and her brown eyes unenhanced by any extra coloration. “I didn’t invite you here to be a scrubwoman. I just wanted you to see the place and get familiar with it. You know it’s at your disposal when I’m not around. You and Joan and Sylvia and what’s-her-name with the ugly tattoo.”
“Zoe. What about Ira?”
“Yeah, her too.”
Carolyn’s eyes and lips compressed simultaneously, as if invisible drawstrings hung from their corners. Ira was her boyfriend. I gave her my best puckish smile. After a second’s resistance, she loosened the strings.
“It’s exactly because you’re letting me use the place that I’m cleaning it. ‘Rent-free’ isn’t in my vocabulary.” She flattened a hand on my chest. “Hey, I have to run to the grocery store. I’ll bring Junior along. Give him something to do and get him out of your hair. You call Kenny in here and work your magic. When I get back, I’m doing the kitchen. Then we’re making dinner.”
Kenny. Christ. If he heard that, he’d vaporize her with a look. “I get to do Kenneth and you get to do the kitchen. Doesn’t sound like a fair trade.”
“You’re right.” Carolyn said with a smirk. “I’m making out way better than you are.”
* * * *
“It’s shaping up.” Kenneth palmed the top of the vacuum cleaner handle, as if he were about to run the machine. Of course, he’d never entertain such a notion. He’d just found a place to rest his right hand.
I lifted that hand and laid it on my waist, getting Kenneth to face me. “Carolyn did a good job in the bedroom. It’s all put together now, tidy and earth-toned and totally uncorrupted. Like a monk’s cell.”
That got a smile out of him. Kenneth’s left hand joined his right. He pulled me closer. His gaze covetously ran over my face. “You’re so fucking pretty, Charlie golden-boy.” His fingers gripped my jaw. “So fucking pretty.”
He gave me one of his hard, sloppy kisses, and I noticed how off-center it was, recalled how off-center they always were. Our mouths never quite melded. His lower lip always landed beneath rather than on mine. Irked, I fractionally drew back, reconnoitered, and tried subtly to reposition our mouths. Same careless slippage. His lips didn’t kiss me; their lining did. Slurping didn’t bother me at the height of passion, but now…
Abruptly I drew back. My reaction made me feel petty, but I couldn’t help it.
Kenneth scowled at me. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. I just…” It took effort for me not to wipe the lower half of my clean-shaven face, only a bit less effort not to say you kiss like a goddamned carp. “Guess I’m preoccupied.”
That he could comprehend. Or maybe he couldn’t but was merely indulging me again. Kenneth liked indulging me when I was troubled—even when I didn’t need it, even when I didn’t want it. I think it made him feel in control to coo in sympathy and ladle on the understanding, although the sympathy and understanding always seemed superficial.
“I know,” he said, running a hand down my face. “Between worrying about the business while you’re gone and hoping your finances will stretch to cover this place…”
I was tempted to ask do I have to fail or be in distress for you to feel superior to me? Why do you even need to feel superior to me? But there was no sense getting into it. This was our last chance to be alone together for at least another week. So, instead of initiating some big, hairy discussion that wouldn’t go anywhere, I redirected Kenneth’s attention as well as mine.
I took a step back then slowly worked my t-shirt over my head. For good measure, I slipped my shorts down to my pelvis. Kenneth’s gaze slid from my chest to my abdomen.
“Maybe we can fix what ails me,” I said, “by corrupting that bedroom.”
“How long will they be gone?”
“You sure?” Kenneth looked and sounded dubious.
Kenneth pulled off his polo shirt and undid the fasteners on his Calvin Klein jeans. I turned and headed for the bedroom before he could give me another kiss.
We sat on opposite sides of the neatly made bed and shed the rest of our clothing. The whole cottage felt like a moist wad of heat, and I reminded myself to get the window AC situated while Carolyn “did” the kitchen. After I flung the lone blanket off the queen-size bed, Kenneth and I simultaneously stretched out on the top sheet. Our arms folded around each other. We pulled together in an awkward but familiar tangle—of knobby knees and rebar shins and flexing muscle.
Again I felt the familiar landscape of Kenneth’s body, more plains than rises. His skin was dusted with hair in only a few places, and only in two that I ever really felt—his crotch and his calves. The rest of him seemed flat and barren as the steppes of central Asia. I couldn’t remember if I’d noticed it before, but I definitely noticed it now. The awareness dismayed me. Instead of losing myself, I was discovering more things I didn’t want to know.
I let my attention funnel down to our butting cocks. That connection never disappointed. We were both hard, and we were both eager.
Kenneth shoved against me. “Did you like watching that man swim?” he murmured against my neck. He used the heel of his left foot to push my hips into his.
The question perplexed me at first. I didn’t know what Kenneth wanted or expected me to say. But the possibility I did like it seemed to turn him on as much as vex him. Shit, it could’ve been his own anger that turned him on.
“Not particularly,” I said.
He reached down and gave my cock a gentle squeeze. “You sure?” He squeezed again, more assertively.
I gasped. “Maybe I did like it.”
“Maybe?” His mouth hovered over mine, breath hot and quick.
“Okay, yeah, I liked it.”
“Tell me how much. Tell my why.” Kenneth’s hands ran over my chest, abs, back. He scoured his cock with mine, with my pubic hair. “Tell me,” he whispered against my mouth.
The game was getting exciting. My breath went shallow and choppy as I rocked against Kenneth’s crotch.
“I liked … his hair. And how well he … filled out those shorts. I liked his … strength. And his grace.”
Damned if I wasn’t starting to believe it. A picture of the man formed in my mind. I held it there, painting in the details. I imagined him swimming naked, clear water sluicing over the smooth, pale mounds of his ass. I imagined his cock thickening, responding to the lake’s cool caress.
Kenneth’s hand slid down to our bucking hips and feverishly fondled both our dicks, urging them together, making head nuzzle head. My breath gusted against his hair.
“Do you want to fuck him, Charlie?”
It was true, in a way. I wanted to fuck my image of that lithe, dark-haired man. I saw him striding out of the lake and onto the sand, his body wet, water trickling over his taut nipples and dripping from the tip of his cock. I saw him lift his face to the sun and squeegee his hair back from his forehead. He smiled as I approached him. “I thought that would get you over here,” he said, dropping his hands to his slender hips. He was taunting me … and I loved it. His cock swelled as I stared at him. Shameless, both of us. And we loved it.
Kenneth had pulled pillows from the head of the bed and coaxed me onto my belly, hips raised. The pillows cradled my hard-on. Realizing he planned on boning me snapped me back to reality.
“Lube,” I said half into the mattress, then tried to push through the haze in my mind and remember where it was.
“Don’t worry about it,” said Kenneth in a gruff mumble. He straddled the lower part of my body and partially encased it, his weight settling down.
The hell I wasn’t going to worry about it. I tried flipping over, but Kenneth pressed a hand to my back, forcing me down again. Before I could do anything further, his cock nestled vertically between my glutes. Immediately he started gliding, up and down instead of in and out. The movements became sharp jerks that nudged his cockhead over my tailbone.
“Go ahead and fuck him, Charlie,” Kenneth said in a rush. “Fuck him until you sweat.”
Jesus, he really got off on that fantasy. Panting, he pumped more furiously. His shaft seemed to carve its own groove between my cheeks. At the end of one stroke, his cock drew back and abruptly angled toward my hole. I felt the bump of his glans.
Just as I flinched, anticipating some hurt, cum began to spurt into my crack. Kenneth let out a wavering little cry with each shot. I relaxed onto the pillows and mourned the loss of my erection, for it had indeed gone south.
Just as Kenneth dropped forward, going limp on my back, a tight ache started gnawing at my groin. I shifted uncomfortably, and Kenneth lifted himself.
“Finish me,” I said. I pulled the pillows from beneath my hips, tossed them against the headboard, and slid out from under him. I turned and settled back, legs spread. Quickly, I wrapped a hand around my dick and began a gripping glide. “I’ve got some unhappy nuts here.”
“What happened?” Kenneth asked, taking over for me.
I dropped my head back and closed my eyes. There was my neighbor again, sloshing toward the shore. “Fucking my pillows didn’t cut it.”
The gnarled heaviness went from tormenting to exciting as Kenneth drew half my cock into his mouth. Unlike his kisses, his blowjobs were precise and workmanlike, each suck carefully executed. I really didn’t care how he did it, though, as long as he saw it through to the end.
The tightness gave way to tingles as my cock rapidly expanded once more, its core reforming. “Love that,” I exhaled, meaning that I did, not that Kenneth had to. My pelvis jerked in response to the suction. I felt at once weak and tense. My muscles seemed to crawl over each other and want to burst out of my skin.
I had to shoot.
The swimmer reappeared in my mind, naked and drenched and sleekly muscled. He held my gaze as he lowered himself to the sand and stretched out, prone, his bare ass to the sky. I knew I could have him if I wanted him. I could bury my cock to the root…
My arousal crested. I grunted as it broke, my dick pulsing cum into Kenneth’s mouth and the rest of me shivering and reeling like a wave-tossed boat. The orgasm was a minor squall, not a major tempest, but it shattered that godawful fullness in my balls.
Kenneth got up. I assumed he was going to get a drink of something, since he didn’t like any residue of cum in his mouth—not even his lover’s. That bothered me, too. We never kissed after one of us gave the other head.
Sighing, I sank into the pillows and draped my arms over my head. There were a lot of things we didn’t do. We never engaged in nipple teasing; for some reason, it made Kenneth self-conscious, as if he thought it was womanish to be aroused in that way. We didn’t laugh during sex. We didn’t play-wrestle or experiment with kink or recite poetry to each other. We took care of business. Predictably.
Although Kenneth and I had never agreed to exclusivity, I hadn’t been with anybody else since we’d met. Tired of come-and-go encounters, which were all I’d had until he came along, I was grateful to have a boyfriend. I could abandon the whole manic club scene and hours of humiliating, dispiriting Internet trawling. I could be queer safely, in private, and be assured of getting my rocks off on a regular basis with someone who actually gave a shit about me.
Advantages, there were many. Or so I’d striven to believe. Therefore, I’d made a subconscious vow to be true to him.
Pairing with Kenneth seemed to legitimatize being gay. He was intelligent and articulate, successful and impeccably groomed, and there was nary a whiff of queerness about him. It embarrasses me, profoundly, to realize I’d once thought that way, but not everybody comes bursting out of the closet wrapped in a rainbow flag and slips right into the pride groove. I’d never been mailed a handbook on the Right Things for Gay Men to Think, Feel, Say, and Do. So I just bumbled along, rejoicing in my finally freed, God-given sexuality, and stupidly thought this nice-looking, respectable man could help me erase any lingering traces of shame and self-doubt.
Until I began to realize he was the one still soiled with shame. And he’d given up scrubbing at it.
I got out of bed and pulled on my clothes. On my way to the bathroom, just a few steps from my bedroom, I glimpsed Kenneth in the kitchen, a navy-blue bath towel wrapped securely around his waist. His neatly trimmed brown hair was only slightly mussed, short spikes of it skewed at funny angles. Sure enough, he was sipping at a glass of lemonade.
I closed myself in the bathroom and did something I normally only did when I shaved and combed my hair. I stood in front of the mirror. You’re so fucking pretty, Charlie golden-boy. So fucking pretty. Yeah, I was. I guess. By most people’s standards.
I threaded a hand through my hair to put it back in place. A smooth, blonde wave swept from a side-part. Beneath it, a nice cut that wasn’t too long or too short, too shaggy or too severe. I pulled down my mouth—a “Christmas-bow mouth,” Kenneth called it, which would’ve given Carolyn the nellie jits for sure—then twisted it left and right. A shadow had formed. My nose, straight and even, was long enough not to look weak or, worse yet, pert. The seasonal freckling along my cheekbones remained a demure, sparse cascade. I had unremarkable blue eyes and tawny lashes.
How very Aryan. Hitler sure as hell would’ve liked me. Lowering my head, I shook it and laughed through my nose. At least he wouldn’t be hitting on me anytime soon.
After cleaning myself up, I left the bathroom and looked for Kenneth. I didn’t have to look far. Dressed now, he stood in the living room and gazed at the lake. Its corrugated surface tossed brazen winks through the screened doors. I thought of my neighbor, of his intimacy with the water. And my fear of it.
“You know, Charlie,” Kenneth said, turning to face me, “I have fucked around on you. More than once.” Both his face and voice were impassive.
My gaze fixed on the tumbler he still held. The glass was half empty. “No,” I said, sinking into a chair. Unconsciously, my tone mimicked his. “I didn’t know that.”
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