Steve came stumbling off the curb in cargo shorts and a polo shirt. Swung open the door and fell in shotgun, a movement so fluid I thought he’d rehearsed it. Sweating booze, he leaned over and put a tongue in my ear like it was supposed to be sexy.
“Not here,” I said, looking around to make sure no one saw us.
He belched and the stench of Bud Light bloomed throughout my Taurus.
“Jesus.” But who was I to judge? I was drunk too.
Looked around craning my neck from side to side. Not a body in sight, only darkness and a couple yellow porch lights. Coast clear. So I floored it.
Steve gripped the plastic clothes hanger handle over the door and shouted, “Whoa!”
“Welcome to the Batmobile, baby.”
Steve laughed. “This is the fuckin’ Batmobile!”
Shit, why did I say baby?
Steve came home from SUNY Potsdam for summer. I didn’t go to college. I got a job working at the Car Freshner plant. A puncher. You know the little hole where the string gets tied at the top of the Little Trees? Well, I’m the guy who punches that hole with a piston machine. All day I’m punching and sending them by the crateful over to the guy or girl who’ll be stringing.
He had a beard, too. Everyone was growing beards. I couldn’t grow one so I told people I thought shaving was manlier. Dragging razors across my face, hell yeah.
I was speeding down Flower Ave by the golf course, looking for a good spot when I saw a familiar face in a passing car. Whoever it was, we made eye contact for a second and I was sure he recognized me. Fuck. Don’t turn around and follow me. Maybe if I get it up to sixty they’ll forget they saw me and not turn around.
“Why are we going so fast?”
“I saw someone.”
“Zach, I think.”
“I think his name’s Zach.”
“The lacrosse player, Zach.”
“All lacrosse players are named Zach.”
Headlights winked in the dark behind me like they were saying, we know all about you, dude. We know and we’re comin’ to gitcha! When you’re living a secret life, every passing car, every stranger’s glance, every shadow cast has the potential to expose you.
Racing from my ghosts, I parked us in the lot of a funeral home several miles outside city limits. Red lights from the radio tower in a nearby field flashed across a stretch of darkened road.
I got out of the car and kicked some gravel and took a long pull from a bottle of Yukon Jack. Steve got close and breathed into my lips. “What was that all about? Driving like that?”
He peeled my shirt from my skin getting his hands underneath, kissed my gritty neck, and I dropped the bottle next to the tire hearing some of it slosh out into the dirt. Guys always kiss like they already own you, like they don’t care if you break apart in their mouths. He pulled me close by the button of my jeans, tearing them open.
“Sorry,” I said. “I just don’t want anyone to know.”
“Trust me,” he whispered between kisses, “everyone already knows.”
“Maybe I had too much to drink and said something?” He stepped back and I could sense his shame in the darkness, standing there all hairy chest and stooped shoulders. “Are you mad?”
I leaned against the hood of the car looking down. Avoiding eye contact, absorbing his confession. Probably could have taken him. Even just a sucker punch. I thought about getting inside my car and gassing it back to town, leaving him stranded half naked at the funeral home on an empty back road. I thought about the ways to ruin him. Ah, fuck.
My chapped throat burned. Feeling my gut wring itself out of booze and betrayal, I swallowed it down. Then I stood up and pulled him back to me. Everyone wants to play the tough guy in heartbreak.
We traded swigs for a couple hours looking up at the blinking lights over the radio tower before passing out in the backseat beneath a used beach towel.
Last I heard, Steve’s married and manages a bar down in Myrtle Beach. Me, I’m still punching away. Wonder if any of my ghosts are watching me now. Not mad about what happened between us. Not anymore. Goddamn
Daniel Eastman is a writer from upstate New York but he lives in Pennsylvania with his wife.