“Sex is emotion in motion.” -Mae West
Tonight, The Writer and I are attending a Murder Mystery dinner. From what I gather, we will be fed and served booze while we witness talented-but-struggling actors perform a theatrical act of homicide. Then, as audience participants, it will be our job to use clues from scenes intermittently put on between the dinner’s courses to deduce which character is the murderer.
When I arrive at The Writer’s house, I notice his jacket, the one that I’ve been harboring, on my passenger seat. I’m not ready to give it back just yet. Unsure of who will be driving, I roll it up and put it in the back seat, hiding it beneath another jacket. I climb the steps just like I always do and knock on the door like I have a hundred times before. I turn to look at the sky and notice grey clouds rolling in. He answers and gives me a strange look. “Are we supposed to get dressed up for this?” He asks. I’m wearing a black and white thinly checkered button-down with black pants and a skinny tie. “You don’t have to, but the tickets say ‘Invitation to the Millionaires Club’ and that guests should be encouraged to dress in character,” I reply…not that any of the millionaires I know dress like this.
I follow him into the house, and he begins searching for something—probably his keys. I hear someone else shuffling around by the bedrooms, but his roommate’s car isn’t parked out front, so I practice my detective skills and surmise that it must be Dalton.
“Hey,” I say, poking my head in the bedroom. “Hey, man. What’s up?” Dalton replies with a much more cheery demeanor than the last time I saw him. “Nothing much, just going to this dinner thing. What about you?” I watch him stuff clothes and a few other items into a backpack. “I’m headed to San Diego for a friend’s birthday. I was supposed to leave yesterday, but I missed my ride.” “Oh, fun,” I say with my coolest nonchalance. “Yeah, it should be a good time.”
Just then we hear a honk from outside. Dalton collects a few more items and rushes past me. “See ya!” He shouts to The Writer as he opens the front door. Alone in The Writer’s bedroom, I look around. I remember that feeling I used to get from this room, all of the promises I was naive enough to believe it held. I space out for a moment, getting lost in the crumpled receipts, the stacks of papers, the mounds of clothes.
“Did Dalton just leave?” My eyes flutter, and I turn around to see The Writer. “Yeah,” I answer a little breathless. “You find what you were looking for?” I ask. “Yeah, I had to find a pain pill. My back is killing me.”
We decide to take my car, which probably isn’t the best idea, considering we’re late, and I’m a slower drive. That, and my car doesn’t exactly have the best track record with, you know, getting to its destination. “I like these glasses,” The Writer says, picking up my hot pink wayfarer sunglasses. “They look good on me,” he continues, checking himself out in the mirror. “Yeah, but they look better on me.” “I don’t know. I think they complement my skin tone better,” The Writer says. “Now you’re just being a bitch,” I retort dryly. He takes them off and places them back in the dash. “I might keep them,” he says ponderously. “Go for it.” “Really?” “Yeah,” I say, picking them up and tucking them in his shirt pocket with my right hand.
“So how are things going with Dalton?” I ask like a concerned friend might. “He’s staying the weekend in San Diego.” “And?” “And…he’s going to some friend’s party.” The Writer pauses for a short moment. “You should spend the night tonight,” he says. I hesitate. Where is this going? What about those boundaries that took so much time to establish? “He won’t be back, so we can do what we want…” I think about how I was good before I met him. But then I realize: tonight, I just want to be bad.
“Sure,” I say with a little attitude. I clench my jaw and accelerate a bit. “Great,” he says, placing his hand on the inside of my leg. This could be it, I tell myself. And right then, I decide I’m going to be as aggressive as it takes to get what I want.
When we arrive, we give a doorman our tickets, and an usher escorts us inside. There is a large group of people ahead of us, and I’m anxious to see the layout. But when they move aside, I’m deeply disappointed. The intimate dinner-theatre atmosphere is nowhere to be seen. In its place is a dirty hall with fold-up tables, a space you would expect to see a low-budget Quinceañera.
The usher escorts us to one of the long fold-up tables, clad in a tacky plastic tablecloth. “Here are your seats, gentlemen. Enjoy your stay at the Millionaires Club,” he says. I am further irked to see that two middle-aged women are sitting next to each other across from where we are seated, meaning The Writer and I will both be facing them instead of each other.
But it’s all good after we introduce ourselves. The ladies, Karen and Cindy, are old friends. We learn that Karen, who has well-kept hair that goes just past her shoulders and masterfully achieved bangs, has been married for twelve years and has two kids. Cindy, single, city-hopped for a while a few years back in a failed attempt to launch a photography career. Now, she helps her mother run the family business. Both ladies live in Culver City, just down the street from where they grew up.
“We met in kindergarten,” Karen recalls. You can tell they’ve been through it all together…the way they interact, even on a basic level. It’s like they know what the other is going to do before it happens. There’s a trust between them but also something more complicated and guarded.
“I can’t imagine knowing someone for that long,” I say. “Well, you couldn’t,” Cindy says. “You two can’t be much more than 20 years old.” “Oh, he is. Much older,” I say jokingly, placing my hand on The Writer’s shoulder with a smirk. “And what do you do?” Karen asks. “I’m a writer,” he says. “You any good?” She asks. “He’s all right,” I answer for him. I don’t know why I keep giving him a hard time. I guess it’s my way of flirting.
The waiter comes over to take our order, and the four of us get a round of margaritas. “Not too sweet on mine,” The Writer requests. We also order our dinners as a second waiter places two bowls of salsa on our table. Meanwhile, the actors have begun gathering around the stage, but I notice there only four of them. “Seems like a small cast for a whodunit, don’t you think?”
“Welcome ladies and gentlemen, to the ever exclusive Millionaires Club. I am the founder and president, Gerard Busybody, and I will be your host for the evening,” one of them men in costumes announces in a hokey, stuffy voice. It is immediately evident that the people putting on this little production are not actors and have likely never had any kind of formal training in the craft. “I’d like to introduce you to our esteemed members tonight…” Mr. Busybody walks over to our table along with another “actor” dressed as a doctor, who carries a pile of binders and costume accessories. “Mr. Peacock!” Busybody announces. Really? They can’t even come up with names that aren’t Clue rip-offs?
They stop directly in front of The Writer, and I’m completely confused about what is going on. The doctor guy places pedophile glasses on The Writer’s face and puts one of those tacky old man beret hats on his head. I watch The Writer struggle with his decision to not let this mortify him, but even the bizarre disguise cannot hide his discomfort.
“Read the description and get into character, kid,” Busybody instructs The Writer covering the mic. This is so not what I signed up for. Where are the actors with the campy and clever scenes? “Here, you should be Mr. Peacock,” The Writer says, taking off the glasses as Busybody walks away. “You were chosen to be a member of the Millionaires Club!” The ‘doctor’ says. “You may not transfer membership!” The Writer sighs, but the waiter arrives with our drinks, and he looks a little more relieved.
“Excuse me, can we get some chips?” Karen asks the waiter. “We don’t have chips tonight,” the waiter informs her. “But you served us salsa. What are we supposed to eat it with? Our spoons?” “I don’t know, miss,” the waiter says. “What a joke,” I interject. “This things cost like $20 a head without drinks, and they don’t even serve chips?” “Well, at least we have our drinks,” Cindy chimes in. “Yeah but they suck,” The Writer says. It’s true. The margarita tastes like shitty sweet and sour mix, gasoline, and cheap tequila—in that order. “I’m drinking mine anyway,” The Writer announces. “You’re going to need it,” I say.
At this point, Mr. Busybody has chosen someone from each table to play a character, who will be a suspect in the murder. “Can I have all members meet me at the stage to introduce yourself. Information you should share is on page one. Please don’t look past page one.” I roll my eyes at the utter disorganization.
“How do I look?” The Writer asks. “Like a child molester. But you’re totally rocking it.” “You look adorable,” Karen says as The Writer gets up and walks over to join the other participants. “You two make such a cute couple,” Cindy says. “Oh, we’re—“ I don’t know what to say. But he saves me. The Writer’s bumbling voice comes over the speakers with a mild Russian twang to it: “I am Mr. Peacock. I have lots of money from cigar business. I have trouble with my wife Mrs. Peacock. I think she cheats on me with stupid American. She is cheap slut.” “We didn’t tell him to say that part, but the enthusiasm is appreciated. Thank you, Mr. Peacock,” Busybody says.
After the characters finish introducing themselves, Mr. Busybody suddenly starts coughing. And then he unceremoniously dies in front of us. The whole thing is very dramatic. “Can I get another drink?” Cindy shouts. “Mr. Busybody is dead!” The doctor pronounces. “And one of you killed him! Now, it is your turn. You must interview the suspects to learn who is the murderer! But don’t flip past page two!” I roll my eyes again.
The Writer and the other “characters” go around to each table and are bombarded with questions. “What can I do you for?” A very drunk woman, playing Mrs. Peacock asks with a southern accent. “Whenever someone uses that phrase, it always turns my mind to prostitution. Are you a prostitute, Mrs. Peacock?” “Why, I’d never! How could you even ask that?” “Well, you’re husband thinks you’re cheating on him…and I have it on pretty good authority that you’re not sleeping together because he ain’t exactly interested in the lady folk. Except for maybe one time.” “God, I need another drink,” Mrs. Peacock says with a slur in her normal voice and walks away. Most of the cast is sloshed. The whole production is a disaster.
The Writer returns from answering questions, and the ladies announce they’re going to split. “Can we leave, too?” The Writer asks. “I want to leave, too. But you’re a part of the show.” “Mrs. Peacock? I believe we have lost Mrs. Peacock,” the doc announces as she stumbles out the door. “If my fake wife gets to leave, then so should I,” he protests. “Let me see your binder,” I say, flipping to the last page. “Congratulations. You’re innocent,” I inform him. “Let’s roll.” The Writer bids adieu to his creeper costume, and we sneak out the side.
“God, that was fucking awful,” I say on the way to the car. “I mean, you were wonderful. Everything else was terrible.” “Seriously. Who serves salsa without chips?”
“So where are we going?” I ask when we get back in the car. Only traces of light are left in the sky, but it’s enough to see that the clouds have grown darker. “Do you want to go back to my place?” “Sure,” I answer. “You still spending the night?” Becoming an adult isn’t about making the hard decisions. It’s about following through with them. “Yes,” I answer. I guess I’m just not quite ready to grow up yet. “Good,” he says.
As we drive, I run my fingers through his hair, then squeeze the back of his neck. “That feels good,” he says. “You feel good,” I say cheesily. He looks over at me. I notice but don’t react. “You’re really, really cute, you know that?” He says. I bite my bottom lip and drive on.
“Let’s go lie down,” he suggests when we pull up in front of his house. It’s drizzling now, so we race inside. Before he gets in bed, he searches around for something. “What are you looking for?” “My back is killing me. I need another pill.” I locate a couple in the open drawer of his dresser. “Thank you!” he shouts, relieved as he grabs a pill from my hand and swallows it.
“Would a massage help?” I ask. “You are the best!” He says. “I do what I can.”
He lies on his stomach, and I climb on his back. My fingers dig into him with focused aggression. I hear him gasp over the sound of raindrops tapping on the window as I press deep into his back, my fingers releasing the tension from his knotted tissue.
Several minutes pass before I give his back one final squeeze and collapse next to him. I leave a gap between us, but he reaches out and scoops me into him. He wrestles me closer, and I don’t resist. Everything between us is naked in this moment. He cradles me there, interlocking his fingers with mine, and I’m home. It all begins pouring in. I’m nestled into him so exactly, as I have been. I’m washed away from the moment, sinking into whatever is left of what was before. He squeezes me so perfectly tight that every instant feels like I’m on the verge of being crushed. And I am, but he protects me.
His face is pressed into the back of my head. I can feel every inch of him. It’s surreal, as close as we’ll ever be. We’re not in sync like we once were, but I’ve fallen in and out of him so many times. The blur is calming. His chest heaves into me with each inhale, and I fall into him with every exhale. We’re a closed circuit. The heat from our bodies pulsates, and I can feel his energy burning through mine.
It’s the most intense physicality I’ve ever experienced in my life. All that we ever were rushes over me.
When he finally unhinges the lock that he has held on me, I collapse into him. Turning over, I face him. For someone with so many words, he has such quiet eyes.
I press my thumb to his lower lip, gently pulling it down before my hand moves across his cheek. “Hey, you,” he says, looking into me. I sweep his bangs up off his forehead. “Hey,” I say. I was so wasted on him for such a long time, but we lie here and all of that is washed away.
Finally, he breaks the silence: “You want to watch a movie? We can do something later,” he says with an intentional ambiguity.
We go through almost 100 movies on his TV menu before agreeing on a campy horror flick. We lie down, sharing a pillow and start the movie. It’s fun but predictable, exactly what I wanted. But I notice The Writer is all fidgety. His phone buzzes a couple times, but he ignores it. He keeps adjusting his head and tapping his fingers. I nudge him to let him know he’s being annoying, so he stops. His phone buzzes again, and he starts texting someone. I pause the movie. “No texting during the movie,” I tell him. It’s a pet peeve. “Sorry, hold on,” he says. After a few more seconds of typing, he puts his phone away, and I press play.
The movie picks up a bit when one of the main characters is murdered and rises again as a creature of the undead, but The Writer’s phone buzzes again. He looks at it. “Hey, do you want to go to a party?” He asks. “No.”
Another minute passes, and his phone buzzes again. “Can you pause it again? It’s the party…we don’t have to go, I just want to see what I’m missing,” he says, fetching his computer. “You want to know what you’d be missing? Me.” “I’m just checking it out,” he says defensively, examining the guest list of new-to-town, empty-headed gay boys on his screen—probably what he thought he would be getting with me the first time we met. The Writer wants every boy to love him. No one person will ever satiate him, but he doesn’t know that. “Go if you want to. I’m not going to stop you,” I tell him. I’m starting to feel like a total moron for what I let myself get into.
“Some of these boys are cute. Maybe you’d meet somebody interesting,” he suggests. A pang of anger cuts through me. “Probably not, considering I’m not interested in meeting anybody,” I shoot back.
I’m really starting to get annoyed—“We agreed we were going to stay in and watch this movie.” I sit up. “If we’re not going to finish it, then…I think I’m going to just go.”
“I’m not really into it,” The Writer says. I’m flooded with disappointment.
“Alright. Well, I’ll see you later then,” I say in an attempt to salvage whatever shred of dignity I might still have. I am such an idiot. What was I thinking? “Wait! Just come.” I look at him like he’s stupid. Did he not just hear me? “Do you want a drink? I’ll get you a drink,” he offers. “No.” He looks at me with confusion. “Pleeease. Please come?” “No, I don’t want to.” “Why not?” “OK, let’s start with who is hosting?”
“Brett Boykowski,” The Writer says. “That’s a reason not to go. He’s a creep. He poked me on Facebook like 10 times this week, and I’ve never even met him.” “He does that to everyone,” The Writer protests. “And that makes me feel better how?” I ask. “Just avoid him.” “At the party at his house? No. I really don’t feel like socializing with a bunch of mindless famewhores tonight. I just wanted to have a nice evening with you…to relax,” to get intimate again. “It could be fun,” he says. “Those people are seriously the last thing I want to deal with right now.” I can’t believe this…except that I can. How is it the men I think the most of make me feel so small?
The rain is coming down hard now. The roof sounds like it’s being tapped by a thousand little hammers. “What if…how about you stay here, and I’ll come back in like an hour?”
“Why would I do that?” I ask. He always hurts me in the ways I least expect. “So that you’re here when I get back.” A piece of me yearns to agree, but that pathetic fragment is dissolved into the disgust I have for his proposition.
Everything comes with a price, two sides, a cause and an effect. The most amazing parts of my life have been born out of the worst. But I deserved so much better than this. He’ll never be there for me like I am for him.
“And why would I want to be here when you get back?” I ask with more grit in my voice than he has ever heard.
“So I don’t have to be alone,” he says. And that’s it. That’s all I am to him. An object to shield him from solitude.
I don’t get it. I don’t understand how you can treat someone like this. Then again, I never understood how we could fall asleep all those nights and wake up all those mornings in each other’s arms, and it could mean so very little to him. And yet here we are.
“I don’t care.” It’s one of the hardest sentences I’ve ever forced out of my mouth, but anger is an extraordinary brand of lubricant.
Some looks erupts over my face, one which I don’t think this language has words to describe. I feel all of the energy in this room that I left behind, all of the positivity and love that was drained from me here. All the tenderness and all the passion, all the tension between us that has amassed in this room—it fills me with clarity.
Life is for living. This isn’t living. I’m just waiting for something that’s never going to happen.
I want to scream and cry and hit him and run away and just give up all at the same time, but something else happens. He begins to talk—he always has something to say. That’s his job, right? The Writer and all his charming words. But what happens… everything goes silent in my head. All my thoughts implode on each other, bringing down those ridiculous justifications I made for him in my mind. And for the first time, probably since our first kiss, I am completely honest with myself about him.
The thing is, deep down, we always know the truth. It’s just a matter of admitting it to ourselves. And the truth, the shitty honest reality of this situation that I refused all this time to admit to myself, that he covered up, that we both knew, is this: I never stood a chance. I was never meant to be anything more than a rebound toy. I just happened to show up after Dalton left, but things went wrong. I got attached. And to a lesser extent, so did he. Then he needed me…until he didn’t.
I’ve been here before. There’s this force drawing me away from the house. The last time I felt it, I resisted. This time, I have no reason to.
Without a word, I move to the end of the bed. His lips keep moving, as I grab my socks. I notice him coming toward me as I slip on my shoes. He tries to put something in my hand. I stare at it confused and then look at him. It’s one of his painkillers. I place it on the bed next to me.
I stand up, and when I reach the threshold of his bedroom door, I stop and look back for minute. I don’t see the place that felt more like home than anywhere else. I don’t remember all of the fun times or intense memories. I don’t feel any of the warmness, and I don’t hear any words because he’s finally, finally stopped talking. I don’t see the mounds of dirty clothes or the dozens of cups that cover every surface, or any of the other externalizations of the mess that is his life. I don’t see the man I cared for so deeply. I don’t see The Writer at all.
I just see a boy, who doesn’t realize why he isn’t happy. But I need him to know something before I leave: “I am more than a warm body.”
I don’t call again.