Learning Curve, or,
fags-and-their-hags-committee and the vicious, militant straight girls
had hooked up for V-day that year and somebody asked somebody else who
called Rodney's house and to whom John said, "Oh, sure--I'll work your afterparty."
"Are you insane?
" Rodney hisses.
John rolls his eyes. "Are you honestly still
freaked by the club scene?" he asks, and shuts the car door, hitting
the lock button on the remote so that there's a tiny two-beep sequence
that startles the low bass in the night air.
They're those kind
of adults now: they
have reasonable car insurance and family health coverage, a mortgage
and a joint checking account and they had to get a fucking
to make this party.
As far as Rodney understands the particular
constraints of post-adolescent social rules, these are all indications
that John shouldn't look as comfortable as he does wandering through
the packed parking lot and toward the doors of Cherry Pie--where
through the glass darkly, Rodney sees gyrating bodies and smoke and
strobe lights. It's like he's having a fucking flashback to his first
time at the Boom Boom Room.
He turns and glares at John. "Is this some
feeble attempt to relive your youth?" he demands. "Are you having a
mid-life crisis? Because if you need an updated plane--we can do
John beams. "Yeah?"
Rodney frowns. "No, not really." His expression
darkens. "Do you know how expensive
that thing was?"
John waves it off distractedly, stuffing his
hands into the pockets of his leather jacket and jogging the last few
steps up to the club, bouncing on the balls of his feet at the door
until Rodney catches up. And when Rodney does, John just smiles at
him, low and lazy and it's like there was an actual wormhole,
somewhere between the car and the doorway of the club because John
looks twenty-six again, all golden with California sun and bright with
his youth and breathlessly beautiful in the shivery, metallic lights
of the club.
"Into the rabbit hole," John says, smiling at
Rodney can't help but smirk that that, watching
John's long fingers wrap around the door handle. "You know, that's
actually the exact thing I thought the first time I went into that
fire hazard you worked at during your master's."
"Yeah?" John asks, and leans in to press a wet,
sultry kiss to the left corner of Rodney's mouth, and he makes such a
purring, self-satisfied noise at that Rodney has to reach up one
gloved hand, cup John's cheek and bite John's lower lip, enough sting
to make John groan and let Rodney in.
"See, you're acting younger already," John
breathes against his lips when they break apart, and before Rodney can
for being a jackass, John's ducking through the door,
and the music that pours out into the night shakes the entire parking
Rodney's barometer of domestic tranquility is
based largely on his father's state of mild intoxication and his
mother's neuroses running the show. To this day he doesn't know what
the fuck Jeannie thought she was doing, getting married as young as
she did to a guy who plays the ukulele, and being so sure that she was
doing the right thing that Rodney played fucking New Kids on the Block
at her wedding and she'd only laughed and laughed and been more in
He's got a little perspective, though, with a lot
of years and wrong turns and car fights in his personal history now,
where John said he didn't want to talk about it and Rodney pushed too
hard and John got out and fucking walked home
They did the irresponsible, uncontrollable sex
thing; they did the tragic pining and carefully coded war mail dance.
John came back from Bosnia to their happily ever after and it somehow
morphed from something huge and romantic to something very small and
They have a blond wood kitchen table, fiestaware
china, heavy and brightly colored, a stack of letters and bills and
mail and cards. They have an answering machine without a cheesy
message and PTA meetings, two cars and two jobs. They've cut down to
two or three nights a week now, slow, lazy sex, where they know each
other so well that touching the curve of John's back is topography
Rodney knows better than his own body. They have Joanna (who was kind
of an accident) and Andy (who was definitely an accident) and they
sometimes peek in on the little bastards late at night and are
overcome with grateful awe that they are the only two guys in the
world who could accidentally
adopt two kids.
is Rodney teaches and John works
in Chicago and they have boring, mundane suburban lives, and the
memory of John all glittering, slick with sweat and lit red by
overhead bar lights, tasting fizzy and sharp like what Rodney imagines
citrus must be like, swaying to a beat in the club is part of a life
they've left behind--traded in.
The club is pounding and red like the interior of
a heart. Rodney can feel the walls perspire and thinks, "Oh God, so
we've come full circle," when he sees the head of the V-day committee
all but fall ass over tits to drag John behind the bar, her smile huge
and her eyes bright in the overhead strobe. Rodney learned long ago
not to be jealous of the way people take an instant shine to John and
want a piece of him; Rodney's got his teeth in him and he's not
John looks over his shoulder, flashes Rodney a
big smile, and shrugs off his jacket, tossing it under the bar and
suddenly he's on and Rodney's twenty-nine all over again, looking for
fucking Charlotte Abbot at the Boom Boom Room in Pasadena. Rodney
can't help it, and a smile crawls over his face because he sort of
gets this now--and hell, it's for a good cause.
John's in his black t-shirt, his hair is a
tragedy like it's always been. He's got a few new wrinkles around his
eyes and a couple of scars and a metric ton of stories about eating
Balkan squirrels and this whole other, vanilla life--it's weirdly sexy
to see John shimmying drinks, laughing at the drunks already passed
out on his bar, to be mixing and schmoozing and tucking five dollar
tips into the V-day jar with a knowing wink.
Rodney should have known the moment John said,
"Oh, hey, so the girls from the V-day committee called me
up--apparently she's in one of your higher levels." That hadn't
translated into, "So I'm gonna reprise my role as an almost-hooker for
one special engagement on behalf of vaginas all throughout Illinois
this Valentine's Day," but it turned out that's totally what it meant.
Like John could resist the siren call of an
organization that called itself Vagina Day--Victory Against Violence
Day--like John could say no to bright-eyed girls at all.
What the hell, Rodney thinks. He can afford the
good beer now, so he sidles up to the bar and watches John work it
like he is
twenty-six, and maybe possibly one of those twinks
that are thataway, further down the alleyway.
"Jesus," he hears somebody curse low under their
breath, low under the music, next to him, and when Rodney turns to
look, he finds somebody looking at John, eyes heavy with want and
Rodney can't help but smile at that, jealously possessive and feeling
an illicit thrill at it. He's bad enough that when John comes over he
reaches out until he catches John's left hand, all shiny with a boring
gold band--something else out of their alter egos--before he slips his
fingertips just under John's shirt, feels the softening midsection
there and just smiles in response to John's raised eyebrow.
"That's not on the bar menu," John shouts over
the music, and Rodney bursts out laughing as John smacks away Rodney's
hand. "Keep it clean, buddy."
"In that case," Rodney says, "gimme a beer--a
good one. None of that horse piss."
John's eyes shine. "I don't know--you look like
you work for the university. You sure you can afford anything off
"Money's not an issue," he says, and he makes
sure it's an utterly filthy leer, looking John up and down. He can't
believe he's the same guy who picked up his kids from their
alternative-learning Montessori school in a fucking Jetta
"I'll keep that in mind," John says, leaning in
close so that Rodney can read the exact curve of John's mouth, and the
moment's broken when John turns away to grab Rodney a real live
And then some other boozers on the other end of
the bar call him away and Rodney is left admiring the profile John
cuts in the bar lights, listening to the half-drunk women in the
corner talk about how fucking amazing the production had been, their
toasts to Eve Ensler and their vulvas, their uproarious laughter.
It's kind of insane, and the music goes tribal--how fitting, Rodney
can't help but think--as Rodney listens to them talk about their
bodies like moons, waxing and waning, heavy with blood and history and
sex, and Rodney kind of misses women at that moment, watching a booth
of them toward the back of the bar flash their shining hair and
smooth, even skin, stretch their delicate necks. Women are
John--John is interesting. Rodney never met a
woman he found as interesting as John, and that's another trade-off:
smooth legs for math games, the taste of sweet skin, that soft crease
between the thigh and the red folds around a clit for John's angular
hips, the delicious scratch of John's five o'clock shadow when Rodney
kisses him, when John goes down on him.
And since Rodney's a guy and a pervert it's the
image that sticks with him:
John in his club clothes, high and sparkling,
skin sweaty and shining in the alley lights, hands splayed on Rodney's
hips and lips obscenely wet and tight, stretched around Rodney's cock,
on his knees in the dark.
Rodney met John when he was twenty-nine, with
exactly one major relationship under his belt, just two weeks after it
ended and while Rodney was attempting to stalk and coerce his ex into
going to a wedding with him. If there are auspices none of them had
been on duty that night.
He knows that his whole life post-John is just a
screenplay-in-progress for a gay romantic comedy after cock on cock
stops being cutting edge. They're When Harry Met Steve: quirky and
vanilla and too lucky, improbably hilarious crap and it was a story of
longing and long kisses. Fatalism seems unwilling to darken their
doorstep, and Rodney can't decide if that's because John is charmed
(Rodney has a working theory about this, equations and all, that he
hides from John because he's not prepared to be mocked for the rest of
his life) or if she's waiting until she can take both of them out at
the same time.
The thing that Rodney can't seem to shake though,
is this idea that they've been so lucky, and that even with all of
that, it's so fucking hard.
All the things he loves are all the things he
hates, too: coming home because there are people to come home to,
picking up milk on the way back from his office, calling ahead,
keeping promises, weighing the pros and cons of all his decisions
against what it might mean for John, for their family. It's the kind
of life he thought would elude him and that saying about marriage like
the walls of a city is true, everybody on the outside is desperately
peering inward and everybody trapped on the inside is trying to get
out. But Rodney sabotages his attempts to leave so he figures he must
not want it enough.
It's a horrible thought, but it's one of those
things that slaps you in the face when you're in your forties and you
drive an almost-station wagon.
Rodney's kind of glad he's in this miserable
club, though, because watching John mix drinks and top off beer and
flirt people out of their hard-earned money on behalf of the campus
women's organizations is really, really hot, and maybe Rodney just
needed to be reminded.
All of these things
that he thinks are the sum of their life together are really just
byproducts. Their quiet cul-de-sac existence happened because
they liked one another unreasonably, because their bodies fit together
like a duet, hands dancing across the white keys of a piano, and
because Rodney still worries he doesn't know exactly what love is, but
knows that it must, must, must be smaller than the breathless span of
whatever he feels for John.
On the next pass over, John smiles at Rodney and
Rodney says, "Hey, when's your break?"
"Oh my God," Rodney gasps.
"Do you think maybe this
is the actual
sign of a midlife crisis?" John huffs into his ear.
"Oh my God--why--why are you talking?
Rodney moans, and he digs his nails into John's shoulder, tightens his
leg, wrapped around John's thigh and jerks his hips into John's again,
feels their cocks slick with pre-come and lined up through their
hastily unbuttoned pants and shudders, full body.
John hisses, and bites down hard
Rodney's shoulder, where he knows it'll leave a dark purple mark,
which Rodney thinks is kind of juvenile but mostly mind-bogglingly
sexy, to know that he's going to be walking around for the next week
wearing John's teeth in his flesh.
"We're having sex in a bathroom in a--oh fuck
Rodney," John manages to say, and he shoves Rodney around until
they're jammed into the corner of the handicap stall, Rodney's
shoulder's bruising against the cement blocks as John just lays it
into him, rolls his whole body into Rodney's. They must look fucking
obscene, illegal in every state, even the ones that legalized gay
marriage and fly rainbow flags--they could burn down buildings from
sheer proximity, Rodney thinks, dazed and on the knife edge of an
orgasm, the cold bite of a zipper against his skin grounding him.
"Fuck fuck fuck," Rodney moans, and he's going to
leave a necklace of desperate half-moon wells of blood on John's back
at this rate. He grinds his heel into the back of John's leg and
babbles into John's mouth, slick and sloppy against his own: no
finesse, no familiarity, just fucking, skin on skin, knuckles burning
from where John's laced one of their hands together, slammed them
against the wall to help maintain their precarious balance.
John slams against Rodney one, two, three more
times before he gasps and comes, all over Rodney's stomach, staining
the edge of his shoved-up shirt, slicking Rodney's stomach and the
thought that when they wobble out of the bathroom everybody in the
goddamn club is going to see what they've been up to in here is so
fucking hot Rodney says, "Ohshit" and comes all over himself.
It takes a few minutes of leaning against the
wall and mumbling before they stagger out to the sinks with balls of
toilet paper and try to clean themselves up. And when they see the
sniggering twentysomething twinkette of the evening wink as he leaves
the bathroom, they stagger back into the stall and feebly try to make
themselves look like they didn't
just act out totally slutty
grainy porno in a bar bathroom.
"That was not married sex," John says to Rodney,
"And it was the best not married sex I've ever
had," Rodney says back, dabbing at his shirt and glaring at John, who
"I wasn't, you know, aiming
he apologizes, and looks at Rodney for a long time before he leans in
to kiss him, just as dirty as before, tongue fucking Rodney's mouth,
and thank God they're both old and tired and parents now, or else
they'd end up going again, and the way Rodney's luck runs they'd end
up breaking the fucking toilet
or something. When John finally
pulls away with a lewd swipe of his tongue, Rodney pants:
"Okay, you're forgiven."
"Almost-hooker get up got to you again, huh,"
John says, and it's all bright mischief now, twenty years too young.
"What can I say," Rodney admits. "I'm weak to
your cockteasing ways."
"That's kind of a compliment, Rodney," John says,
and winks before adding, "That'll be twenty, by the way."
Rodney smirks and leans in to murmur into John's
mouth, "Add it to my tab."
They get home just after three and give the
frazzled babysitter an outrageous amount of money. Rodney points out
if John had just kept his damn tips instead of donating them into the
V-day fishbowls of crunched up dollars and quarters and dimes they
could have just turned out his pockets and paid her in booze-stained
fives. John points out Rodney's kind of an asshole, and that he still
owes John twenty dollars for services rendered.
It's already Saturday so they don't bother
setting the alarm. Joanna and Andy haven't set anything on fire
getting their own breakfasts for almost three months now, so they take
a long shower together and crawl into their bed in old sweats and
figure their kitchen can take one for the team. They curl around one
another, and Rodney drops a lazy kiss on John's eyelid before he falls
asleep, one hand over John's heart and the other on his hip, and
later, when afternoon is coloring all the skies white gold, he will
wake up and John will still be there.