Justin had spent enough time in bars before working in one to know that part of any patron's bar experience was watching the help do what they do, especially the young barbacks. Patrons often either shared their fanciful intentions upon the bodies of those hunks with their drinking buddies, or, in the alternative, if they were alone, just took the sweet images of the young things, bare torsos, pouty lips, gorgeous asses, cock bulges, back home for a more intimate relationship with the fantasies previously conjured at the bar. Justin had gone home alone himself a few times with those images, had then said to himself, "Fuck this," and had thereafter pursued the reality of his desires in the flesh within his Lodo loft just off Larimer Square, more times than he really wanted to admit.
The night Justin had seen Michael staring at him, he understood the underlying intent of the stare. On one of his treks to roundup errant glasses left on tables, window sills, and other surfaces not meant for the safe storage of glassware, he'd sidled up to the backside of what he knew was an admirer, gently placed his hand on Michael's shoulder, and whispered in his ear, "I'd love to fuck you." Michael, feigning incredulity at such a robust articulation of desire, had turned toward Justin, smiled into his eyes, eased his hand to Justin's dick (free-hanging beneath the denim), squeezed, nodded, and said, "Fine." Justin had bought Michael a drink just before closing, and their first intimacies sans clothes had ensued in Justin's loft at precisely 3:42 that morning, ending with a quick shower for both at 7:10. Michael had hurriedly dressed, suggested they get together again, saying, "Here's my number," placing his business card on the rosewood table next to the door, and, as he'd rushed out the door, added, "I've really got to get to work." And that had been that.
Justin was not one to pursue anyone after a first rodeo, believing the performance of the fuck more important, more ultimately meaningful than sitting over spinach quiche and mimosas, sharing inane quips about one thing or another after a satisfying debauch. He did, though, find the lingering image of Michael, his skin, his eyes, his voice, unsettling to the point of a second thought, and had actually considered calling the number on the card left untouched for two days on the rosewood table. After another day, he'd finally picked up the card, examined the words, "Michael Blu Esq. – Criminal and Contract Law," and made the decision that he would indeed seek a second encounter. And supping on pasta e fagioli and sipping Chianti would be just the ticket to commence a further understanding of what it was that made Michael tick, so to speak, with the certainty another fuck would follow. Not really knowing but suspecting Michael would be enchanted with a little gift upon their second meeting he'd determined (not really knowing why, as he'd never been particularly romantic in the noun sense of the word) that something old, perhaps something blue would be just fine for Michael Blu. To that end, he'd pulled his Z4 sDrive28i, silver metallic BMW top-down roadster, out of the underground parking garage of the four-loft building and headed for Antique Row on South Broadway Avenue.
"Jack Torrance." The middle-aged proprietor of The Dazzling Oldies Antique Nook and Emporium held his hand out before the door had fully closed behind Justin. Justin, just slightly startled, looked first at the pale almost gray hand held inches from his face, saw the pale almost gray head beaming a smile from too red lips, grabbed the hand, and felt the moist squeeze of it against his own.
"Did you say Jack Torrance?" Justin smiled, cocked his head a bit, and noticed that the man was dressed entirely in gray—suite, tie, and shirt.
Still grasping Justin's hand, and still staring into Justin's eyes as if he'd be delighted to just crawl into those lovely brown orbs and gobble them up from the inside out, Jack said, "Yes. Jack Torrance."
Justin pulled his hand from the slimy grip, wiped it on his pants, and said, "That was the caretaker in The Shining."
"Don't believe I know what the shining is."
"The movie? Stephen King? Family goes up in the Colorado mountains to a resort that's closed for the winter and..." Justin waited for Jack to provide some little hint that, yes, he understood the connection with the movie, and what a happy-crappy coincidence that was. When no such acknowledgment was forthcoming, he turned from Jack's creepy stare and looked into the shop's interior. "I'm looking for something small, old, nice, maybe blue, because the last name of the person I'm going to give it to is Blu..."
"Oh!" Jack very lightly clapped his hands together six times, gently stomped his foot once, added, "How perfect is that! Something blue for a Miss Blue! Or is that Blu, without the e?"
Justin inched down the narrow walkway between two floor-to-ceiling bookcases that held, as far as he could see was anybody's unsellable crap from about a thousand failed yard sales. "Actually," Justin said, reaching for a blue figurine depicting an upside-down cow with pierced teats (a salt shaker?) and thinking better of touching it, not knowing where it'd been, "I wanted something masculine. And, yeah, without the 'e'."
"Well now..." Jack said, having somehow silently managed to place himself inches from Justin. "Dare I even ask if we're talking about a mister instead of a miss?"
Taking a step away from what he perceived to be the aroma of mothballs wafting from Jack's gray presence, Justin continued his inspection, nodded, and said, "You can dare."
"Puts things in a whole different perspective, I don't mind saying."
Joey Graham was suspicious of the package even before he opened it. It was small, brightly wrapped and had a bow on one bulbous end, which for his family was a sure sign it was something he wasn't going to like. Presents wrapped in last week's Sunday comics were good; presents that sparkled were nothing but a lure. He split the wrapping paper along the seam, tipped the small glass pipe out into his hand and turned to glare at his sister. "Oh, c'mon. Really?"
"What? What, it's legal there now, right?" Carla looked way too pleased with herself. "You can totally get away with it!"
"Maybe if I was a ski bum," Joey said, "but I'm going to be working in a federal research lab. I kind of doubt that they'd be so understanding of me getting high."
"They don't have to know," Carla said coaxingly. "Just get baked on the weekends."
"Or not at all."
She frowned, looking like a toddler on the edge of a tantrum. "Well if you're not going to use it, I'll take it back—"
Their mother smacked Carla's reaching hand. "There are no take-backs at Christmas. And it's just a gag gift, of course," she added, looking expectantly at her daughter. Carla shrugged and rubbed her hand, radiating righteous hurt. "Oh, stop it, those eyes don't work on me." She turned back to her son. "I still don't really understand why they hired you so late; you applied in May," she fretted.
"I think they had a problem with their last postdoc," Joey said, putting the little pipe on top of the rest of his Christmas gifts. He'd gotten a Denver guidebook from his mother, an REI gift certificate from his uncle, and a pair of plastic snowshoes from his grandmother. Hopefully those were something he would never have to use.
"So you're better than nothing," his sister said with a shrug. "I get it."
"Carla!" His mother looked as angry as a small, round woman with frizzy blond hair and a perpetually sunny disposition could look, which wasn't very angry at all. "Go and get a trash bag for all the paper, please."
Carla rolled her eyes but got to her feet, and his mother turned back to Joey. "I just think it's a bit inconvenient," she sighed. "I mean, I can't get time off work to go help you move in—"
"I've got it taken care of," Joey assured his mother quickly; Jesus, the last thing he needed was his mom coming with him to his first real job. "The U-Haul is all packed up, I've got an apartment waiting for me, I'm good, Mom. You know I am."
"I know, but January is a terrible time to be in Colorado, isn't it? Won't it be snowy?"
"This is Chicago, Mom," Joey pointed out. "It's not like I'm moving there from Florida. I can handle some snow."
"He can ski from place to place once he gets there," Carla called from the kitchen. "Or snowboard. Don't they mostly snowboard there? You could hitch up to the back of someone's ATV! Or..." She poked her head around the door. "You could get a snowmobile! I bet they're street legal there during the winter."
"Snowmobiles are death traps!" their mother scolded. "Remember what happened to Cousin Art!"
"Mom, Art was a dumbass who got drunk and drove his snowmobile into a lake. It was totally his own fault. Besides, they found him."
Freezing to death was supposed to be one of the most peaceful ways to die. Right before the end the body was filled with a pleasant warmth. Ivan knew that was a strange thought to have, even as he made his way through the drifts of snow in the dark woods. He had no idea if he was actually going to freeze to death, but he knew that the bitter cold part so far had not been peaceful. His toes and fingers had long ago gone numb.
At least this way he would die a free man.
He wasn't even sure if he was on the right path to the Blind Spot cabin, but he had nowhere else to go. This time of the year the cabin would be alone; not a lot of timeshare in the winter when it was too far from the luxurious Colorado ski resorts. When the snow started to fall, this cabin was left alone through the harshest months. At least here there would be a fireplace.
Blind Spot had once been owned by Agustin's grandfather and had been given to Agustin when his grandfather passed away. Agustin had quickly become friends with Ivan, Tate, Garrett and Braxton. It was a strange bond the five of them had together. As teenagers and even college students, they spent time together in the dead of winter, at least one weekend a year, as a way to catch up and see each other for a friendship bonding weekend.
The only sound was the crunch of Ivan's boots on the untouched fallen snow. Thankfully, it was also a full moon with only a few clouds spotting the clear sky. The moon's light reflected off the snow, creating a bright glow almost making the forest bright as daylight. At least he could see where he was going, even though he wasn't sure he was on the right path anymore.
It seemed that Ivan wasn't sure of much. His foot slid on the pathway and sent him straight to the hard ground. Luckily, more of him was numb then he thought and the fall didn't hurt nearly as much as it probably should have. His movements were slow as he stood up, his arms and legs not wanting to cooperate.
He started again in the direction he thought the cabin hid, his mind wandering where it always did when he was scared and alone: to better days filled with his friends. He'd never had a million friends, just four really good ones, and honestly that was all he ever needed. Of course thinking of them, Tate's face instantly came to mind.
"Tate," Ivan whispered.
When Ivan had nowhere else to go, Tate and his family were always there for him. Even as Ivan grew up with only his strange and unfriendly aunt Sherry, Tate was there. His best friend was the one that stood up for him and supported him when he had come out. Tate was even Ivan's first crush. Of course he would never tell his best friend how he felt: he was too important to lose to a simple crush. And before Ivan could tell Tate his true feelings, 'the incident' happened.
After the incident, Ivan only saw Tate during visiting hours. Then one day, Tate stopped showing up at all. Ivan couldn't blame him; it's wasn't like Tate was ever supposed to see the light of day again, and it wasn't as if Tate owed him anything. They were just friends.
Ivan stopped, his feet almost frozen as he saw movement. A scuttering sound came from his left and he swung around as fast as his frozen body would turn. Movement between the trees made Ivan's eyes try to focus on the blur, but was too fast.
The shadows that always followed him had finally caught up. The meds had worn off so he had no choice but to see them now. He held his breath and listened for the next movement—the only indication where he would see them next.
As he spun to the small sound to his right, he let out a laugh when a small mammal scurried away and up one of the nearby trees. Just a squirrel or chipmunk. He was only frightening himself. Ivan let out another laugh, something he hadn't done in a long time. It felt good.
Brandon shuffled along the Sixteenth Street Mall looking for the little dance studio his daughter promised would be there. He found it after a few minutes, the old brick building sitting between a frozen yogurt shop and a used bookstore. Having never been to such a place before, he was apprehensive as he opened the glass doors and stepped out of the crisp fall air. The purple flameless candle on the high counter in front of him perfumed the room with the rich scents of lavender and vanilla while classical music wafted toward him through the open door.
He cautiously walked through the open doorway, unsure of what he really expected. His daughter had told him it was a good place, that the man running it would treat him well. But Brandon couldn't quite get past the idea of some of the stuffy, prissy ballet schools she'd begged to go to as a little girl. She'd been five the first time he'd helped her lace up her flats. Now she was twenty and getting married in just over a week. And he felt damn old.
Bach gave way to something harder as he stepped across the well worn floor. Cream colored walls stared back at him from the sides that weren't covered with a large mirror. There were three closed doors to his left, the mirror to his right and a blank wall in front of him. He'd felt like that blank wall for more than his fair share of years now.
"Hey, sorry I didn't hear you come in. Can I help you?"
Brandon turned around, almost running into a man easily ten years younger than him wearing a tank top and low slung track pants. His hair was still wet and he smelled like soft soap. Brandon stepped back. "I um..." The younger man smiled. "You're Kylie's dad, aren't you? You've got the same nose."
"Yeah," he said, nodding slowly and bringing his fingers up to touch his nose. Not many people caught that. They'd always said how much she looked like her mother, before Evie had died when Kylie was little. "You know my daughter?"
He stuck out his hand and Brandon gave it a tentative shake as he tried to ignore how well those long fingers fit against his palm. "I'm Crispin. She said you'd be coming to see me. Though that was a few months ago and I'd sort of thought you'd given up. Did you find the place okay?"
Brandon relaxed a little. Kylie had said he'd be meeting someone named Crispin. She'd left off a few details though. "Yeah, I did. And she said you'd be here. I just didn't know that my daughter knew someone that was..." He closed his mouth sharply. He'd been about to say good-looking. Maybe even hot. Did people still say men were hot?
"Gay?" Crispin supplied, his dark lips turning up into a teasing grin.
Brandon gulped anxiously. This was just what he needed. If Kylie had still been a teenager and living at home he'd have grounded her. She'd set him up on dates before, but nothing like this. And not with someone so much younger than himself. Crispin couldn't have been more than thirty-three. And he was clearly so out of Brandon's league that it was almost embarrassing.
"Yeah... sorry... I've got to... um..." He wiped his hands on his jeans, a nervous habit of his from childhood. He suddenly wanted a cigarette even though it'd been close to two years since he'd quit. His shoes squeaked on the waxed floor as he turned around.
"Oh... all right, then. I'll let Kylie know that her refund is in the mail," Crispin said, his voice soft.
Brandon came up short. "Her refund?" He turned back, curious.
Crispin nodded and rested his hand on the slight curve of his hip. "Yeah. She pre-paid for four dance lessons. I'll cut her a check right now and I should be able to get it in the mail this afternoon. The mailman doesn't come until about three, so I have some time."
His face flamed. Oh. "So this wasn't a... She didn't...."
One of Crispin's perfectly shaped dark brows rose. "Didn't what?"
"Nothing..." There was no way he was admitting that he'd thought this was a setup. Not at all. That was much too embarrassing. "So, four lessons?"
It all starts out well, as it always does. The candle on the table illuminates Ethan's face, casting shadow under his cheekbone and jawline, and setting a dancing light to his dark pupils. I smile at him, breathe out slowly, and settle back into the plush leather of the booth.
Ethan finds my hand under the table and strokes a finger over my palm. I resolve to enjoy the evening. He has done this for me—taken me to an overpriced dinner on this, the occasion of my twenty-fifth birthday. There, he does do some really nice things sometimes. As it has so many times before, my mind eagerly settles back into the comfort of knowing that my boyfriend would put me first if only he could. But the simple reality of our lives has dictated otherwise, for now.
He sits close to me in the booth; the fabric of his trousers brushes the denim covering my knee. I breathe in deeply—the scent of his cologne always sends a wave of well-being over me; I feel a familiar stirring in my groin. I should have worn a suit—I actually own one, and it's pretty nice. But it's black, and I thought it would be too much. Ethan likes me casual anyway, and for Christmas he got me the tweed jacket I am wearing. I did have the brains to put on a tie. Ethan tells me I'd turn heads in a gunny sack. Right now, I'm hoping it's true, and that he isn't embarrassed.
Ethan enjoys the pomp of formal occasions, and he makes a show of pouring us a third glass of wine. He toasts my birthday yet again. "You're going to do good things this year, Trev. I can feel it." (He's my biggest supporter.)
My gut tingles at his words, warm with gratitude and affection. Tonight, I believe him: I have been lost for a few years, but I am due to rebound. Before I met him, I earned that science degree with top honors—was it really me who did that? Seems so strange now to think of it—and I really would have gone on to veterinary school. It had truly been my fault, the fall from the horse—I knew better than to lean over to latch a gate. And it is true that the blow to my head had destroyed my short-term memory skills. I had been on crutches then, and Ethan still found me hot when we met.
Vet school would have been impossible. Now, lately, I can feel things coming back, slowly. But they are coming back for certain, just as the doctors said they would; I only lose one or two things a day now. I haven't forgotten the day of the week for at least a few months. Ethan has been so kind to help me through this time in my life. I'm more than weary of tinkering around the house—I have learned the intricacies of plumbing, electric wiring, advanced baking, and some carpentry. I can't take it anymore.
Here in the richness of this decor, the candlelight and the soft murmur of conversations at other tables, the smell of garlic and roasted meat and strong coffee, the heat of the liquor sliding down my throat, I believe in myself and the future. I eat Ethan's words greedily because somewhere in a deep dusty corner of my mind I know that they will have to sustain me for months to come. I learned that years ago—to hang onto stray hopeful words or thoughts when you get a bit of them, because they can feed you. You can fucking survive on them if you have to. Really.
I look out at the busy lamp-lit street here in Carbondale. Occasionally, a soft squeal can be heard as a car spins its wheels on the snow pack still lying over the pavement since a storm two days ago. A large round golden moon hangs over us. I think of all those people out there who know what they want, whose life paths have fallen easily before them. Surely I simply need to relax and follow mine now and all will be fine. Tonight, sitting here with Ethan, I can believe it.
The waiter is young and a bit shy, but he is well-practiced and says everything he should. His eyes had at first regarded us with mild curiosity and then warmth. Now as he bends and places a wine bottle between his knees, his dark hair falls forward over his cheek; and as he twists the corkscrew handle, the hair gently wafts in the air with the movement from his body. He wears a pressed white button-down and a black tie and trousers. And a dark red apron on which he occasionally wipes his hands or the corkscrew. Ethan's banter with him is also well-practiced—friendly, easy, and flirtatious.
On another night it might annoy me, this attention given to a pretty young man on my birthday. But tonight the alcohol and my mood moves me only to be proud of my date. Ethan's gray suit—which he has worn to work all day—still looks as fresh as it must have when he put it on this morning. His tie is lavender; it's the tie of someone who knows how to dress. I always liked that about him, his fashion sense.
"Maybe sometime I can teach you to hold the bottle a bit differently as you screw. Makes it a little easier," says Ethan matter-of-factly, with a smile. "Sometime when you're off for the night." He sets his eyes firmly upon the face of the young waiter, who does a tentative, nervous dance between avoiding Ethan's gaze altogether and making enough eye contact to be polite.
Pulling the car into the wide spot beside the narrow highway, Brian said, "Sure you aren't coming up to the ski area? They have lifts..." he trailed off suggestively.
"There's two feet of freshies out here in the backcountry," Lon told him, even if the country wasn't very 'back' when it butted up to a road. Access to the newly-fallen, unmarked powder snow didn't have to cost an arm and a leg and come with crowds. "You have fun cruising the groomers with the rest of the two-plankers." He swung out of the little Dodge and popped his board out of the roof rack. "Pick me up about five o'clock, okay?" Five was about half an hour from true dark, and they'd both get plenty of runs in, but Lon was sure he'd have the better time.
"See you later!" Brian waited just long enough for Lon to click the rack shut before he rattled off toward Eldora.
Five or six cars might line up along this section of road, though none parked there now. That might change later, but at the moment Lon had a really decent snowboarding hill to himself. He stepped over the guardrail, into his bindings, and aimed down the untracked, unpacked snow. Who wanted to pay for groomed snow with all this champagne pow pow to schriff on for free?
Curving ever so gently, Lon bombed through the fresh powder. The chilly wind kissed his nose with the scents of pine, spruce, and with every curve, less highway and more deer. Trees loomed before him on more level ground—he threaded a path between them and ran out of steepness before he ran out of momentum. He sailed far into the stand of trees, close enough to hear but not see the stream that ran toward Boulder Creek. Stroking the green needles of a ponderosa pine, he considered trudging to the stream or heading back uphill.
Uphill won. He cut east toward the highway, and when he reached pavement, he stuck his thumb out. Some friendly driver, like this guy in the pickup truck, would give him a lift to the top. Lon threw his board in the back of the truck and climbed in after it. "Just to the parking area!" he told the driver, who grinned and said, "I know."
Bet he played ski lift all the time. Lon hopped out with thanks, feeling his beard crackle in the cold with the movement of his grin. Wind was changing, too. He ran a hand across his face, smoothing the crisp brown hairs that framed his mouth but didn't cover his cheeks. Felt good.
Still no others had come to his playground. Lon strapped on his board again to sail down the hill. Shifting weight to his heels, this time he carved a transverse path below the highway, first one way, and then with a sinuous turn of his hips, back the other way. Letting his arms carry his balance and his spine absorb the bumps, Lon slid downhill under the impossible blue of the Colorado sky, cutting toward the road again. One more run—he had plenty of time.
Another motorist collected him after ten minutes of holding out his thumb to the sparse traffic and dropped him at the top, leaving him to the solitude that might vanish with the next vehicle to round the bend. Taking the nearly straight path down, Lon let his speed wrap his senses, the wind slapping his jacket and pants against his body and taking cold nips around his sunglasses. He tasted the air and the emptiness—the deer had fled at his earlier foray into the trees.
Lon had enough momentum to pass his last stopping point, traveling into denser stands of growth where the snow lay in shallow drifts. He unbuckled his board and picked his way between the white hills, ducking below the branches and leaving as few footprints as he could. The creek babbled louder with each step, calling him more surely than the moon called the wolves.
Tucking his snowboard beneath a juniper, Lon threw some snow over the protruding edges lest its bright colors attract notice, though who would come so far on the flat? Time, oh, yes, it was time. He shrugged out of his clothing and bounded to the chuckling waters.